Letter: “We Think We Are the Doers”
10 September 1914
. . . I am glad to know that you have learned many new ideas about karma yoga from my previous letter [27 July 1914]. It does not matter whether your actions are with desire or without desire, the main thing is: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give away, and whatever you practice in the form of austerities, O son of Kunti, do it as an offering to me.” [Gita, IX.27]
Hold this idea constantly in your mind: “Within me art thou; outside me art thou. I am the machine; thou art the operator. I act according to thy bidding.” What more is needed? Can it be achieved by one stroke? Practice is necessary and through repeated practice comes success. God will then truly be the operator of the body. This is a fact: “By some artifice the Divine Mother remains bound by the cord of devotion.” She is doing everything. Incapable of understanding this, we think we are the doers and thus get bound by action. Suppose a person is cooking rice in a pot with potatoes and other vegetables. After a while, when the vegetables begin to toss to and fro, children think that the vegetables are jumping. But those who understand say that it appears that way because of the fire below the pot. Take the fire away and everything will be quiet. Likewise, God is doing everything, residing within us as the power of consciousness and the power of action. Unable to understand this, we say we are the doers.
Is there anyone but the Lord in this universe? It is he alone who is manifested in different forms. Because of our ignorance, we see many things in place of him. If one can perceive him, one will not see diversity anymore and will not suffer. He is within everyone. He is everything. When one is established in this knowledge, one becomes free. . . .
You have quoted from the Gita: “He who is free from the feeling of I-consciousness and whose understanding is undefiled—though he slays these men, he slays not nor is he bound.” [XVIII.17] If you reflect a little, you will understand: When a person does not have any ego-sense or thinks “I am the doer,” there cannot be any bondage. It is the sense of “I” that binds. “When shall I be free? When I will cease to be.” If there is no “I,” where is the bondage? “Not I, not I, but thou, thou.” He who has no ego-sense sees God only. So he is not bound.
– Spiritual Treasures: Letters of Swami Turiyananda
(Swami Turiyananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and brother monk of Swami Vivekananda, was in charge of our Society from 1900 until 1902. He was responsible for naming and developing the Shanti Ashrama retreat.)