Action – Morality

“When you understand and are able to act from right action, morality is no longer necessary. It’s instantly obsolete and discarded. This is at the heart of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna, as a moral creature, throws down his weapon and refuses to launch a war. Krishna converts him to a creature of right action by freeing him from delusion and Arjuna takes up his weapon and launches the war. Right action has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or evil, naughty or nice. It is without altruism or compassion. Morality is the set of rules and regulations that you use to navigate through life when you’re still trying to steer your ship rather than let it follow the flow”

from ‘Spritual Enlightenment; The Damndest Thing’, Jed McKenna, Wisefool Press, 2002. ISBN 0971435235. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

17 thoughts on “Action – Morality

  1. Quote 1: “Classification of positive/negative or desirable/undesirable or sin/merit and so on requires an a priori standard in relation to which we can compare and judge the things. Who and what for does one set these standards? Are the standards not highly contextual, local, artificial and subjective? Does qualifying anything – vasanas or actions – based on such purely judgmental aspects have any holiness? A society’s imposition of rules and regulations, howsoever high may be the value and whatsoever may be the morality and nobility, does not have Absoluteness. They may have a societal sanction but lack intrinsic Sanctity. Who to say right or wrong or good or bad? Things just exist. Nothing is positive or negative until a ‘thought’ interferes.

    Osama is as much a part of the world as Obama is! Perhaps I should even omit “a part of” because Oneness does not have parts in it. It is simply indivisible. Non-duality is not exclusive. It does not sieve out, winnow or filter. It is all inclusive.”

    Quote 2: “When one is a Jivanmukta, he is already a complete renunciate – has no desires, preferences, likes and dislikes, wants and fears. There is a natural nobility and a spontaneous morality in a Jivanmukta – not any showy or artificial morality sanctioned by an authority.


  2. I don’t believe in dissolution of egos. A j~nAnI is one whose ego no longer has any ‘ruling influence’. He still has desires but is no longer bothered whether or not they are satisfied.He still needs to eat and drink etc and wishes coffee rather than tea and so on. A body-mind cannot function without an ego.

    • The presence of / need for / form of / an ‘ego’ in the body-organism of a jIvanmukta, as you know well, is a much discussed topic. Even Rama raises this issue several times in Yogavasishta and the Sage Vasishta explicates each time using different models.

      2. We find words like ‘mano nAsha’, ‘amanaska yoga’ are also used in the literature to convey the final position of a linnberated individual denoting the ‘dissolution’ of the mind (and hence ego). This is the very end position when the mind does not return at all – the jnAni’s body not requiring even food and water. Some hold that it would be possible only on ‘videhamukti.’

      3. Sage Vasishta talks of Seven-fold Knowledge Path wherein the position as at # 2 above happens at the 6th to 7th stage.
      Swami Vidyaranya too accepts this Seven-fold classification in his short work “brahmavid ashIrvAda paddhati.”

      4. We come across three metaphors in the scriptures to describe the jnAni’s position vis a vis world (whose counter part is the ego):

      a) The world disappears like a dream (or like the snake in a rope) on liberation. That means there will be no trace of it left.
      b) The world will be like a mirage (or like the Sun seemingly moving from the east to the west). That means the phenomenal world is perceived to exist though it is not taken to be real – so there is still a perceiver, the trace of an ego.
      c) The mind will be present but like a burnt rope (or cloth). The past accumulated ‘impressions’ (vAsana-s) which are said to be causal for the origination of mind (desire/ego) are compared to burnt seeds which cannot germinate. That means the form is retained and the functionality is lost.

      Yogavasishta takes the clear stand that a seeker cannot attempt to end the world, but can only dissolve his/her mind in order to attain nirvANa .

      Thus, we may say that even on “Realization” of the Truth (which happens at the 4th Stage in the Seven-fold Knowledge Path), non-perception of objects does not happen until the 6th Stage (i.e. the Stage of padArtha abhAvana) which roughly equivalent to sasmita samAdhi in aShTanga yoga. This is called the ‘amanska yoga’ by Shankara. Recognition of objects (separate entities) means mind (and hence some form of ego) is present.
      Perhaps the metaphor (b) is applicable till the Stage 6.

      The metaphor at (a) is perhaps valid at the Turyaga Stage (the Seventh on the Knowledge Path). This is the asamprjnAta samAdhi in aShTAnga yoga. Also called ‘yoganidra’ by Shankara.

      Unless and until the mind (ego) dissolves totally, this Turyaga cannot obviously happen.


  3. I don’t dispute any of what you say but the emphasis of the site is on Advaita as explained by Shankara, and elucidated by those who still regard Shankara’s ‘version’ as the authoritative one. Vashishishta is much later and diverges from this teaching. Accordingly, I do not subscribe to the ‘Sevenfold Knowledge’ path. To my mind, there is ignorance, partial ignorance and knowledge; not knowing anything is there, thinking that what is there is a snake, and realizing that it is a rope.

    As regards manonAsha, I have stated my views on this myth in the article at

    • Dear Dennis,

      I wish I had also the ‘capability’ like you to post a short and sweet reply to your Comment!

      What I write here below in response is, as you can guess, addressed more to the general reader.

      First in way of a preamble:

      1. At the outset one has to admit that whatever one may express or write about a jnAni’s position is not what is expressed or written!
      2. Talking about a fully “realized” man (jnAni, sthitaprajna, jIvanmukta) or nirvANa is like explaining the ‘flow’ in a stream by attempting to lift it in the palm.
      About Yogavasishta:
      3. While Shankara more often structures his arguments in the form of a debate to establish the advaitic siddhAnta contesting other prevalent theories of his time, Yogavasishta adopts a simpler format of a discourse of questions and answers between the teacher and the seeker in imparting the advaita siddhAnta.
      4. It is true that the date and the authorship are not definitively known; but I did not see any fundamental difference in the teaching between Shankara and Yogavasishta in the “version” of advaita – both ultimately conveying the message of ajAti vAda, both adhering strictly to the upanishadic jIvabrahmaikya vAda. The basic design of Yogavasishta text is developed following the dictum of ‘yatova imAni bhUtAni……….’ of taittirIya Upanishad.

      Taking the example of the Sevenfold path about which you mentioned, it is not that the Ylgavasishta avoids the three broad phases of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana of Br. Up. They are taught as such and at a couple of places, they are presented in seven stages in greater detail – for easier understanding. The first three stages of the Sevenfold Knowledge Path correspond to the shravaNa and manana phases. The next four stages comprise what constitutes the omnibus term nididhyAsana.

      About manonAsa:
      5. Having been not fully familiar with Ramana’s teaching and not having read much of his works, I am incompetent to say on his usage of the term.
      But let me say that the Sanskrit word ‘nAsh’ also connotes ‘quieting’ down. So while manas (mind) itself is considered to represent movement in Vedanta, manonAsha conveys not necessarily ‘death’, but quieting down the mind resulting in a tranquil mind. A tranquil mind is a steady mind, a steady mind is a blemishless or pure mind and a Pure mind is non-different from brahman (i.e. the vRitti (modulation) has taken the nature of brahmAkAra).
      6. While it would demand the space of a full essay to talk about the other points made in the linked article of yours, I may be allowed to make two quick observations:
      a) Quote: “ …. but the awareness itself, which is what we truly are, is beyond all movement, beyond space and time.” (Ref. 6)
      I would like to add that the above teaching may be carried forward further to say that the apparent thing is itself the awareness (brahman) in the true sense of jIva-brahmaikya.
      b) Quote: “As II.71 says: “That man who, giving up all attachments, moves about desirelessly, without owning anything, and without egoism ¬– he goes to peace.” (Ref. 4)
      Exactly. That is the point – “without egoism.”
      Shankara also says in his commentary on this verse (II-71) – Swami Gambhirananda’s translation: “nishpRhah, free from hankering, becoming free from any longing even for the maintenance of the body; nirmamah, without the idea of (‘me’ and) ‘mine’ even when accepting something needed merely for the upkeep of the body; and nir-ahankArah, devoid of pride, i.e. free from self esteem owing to learning etc….”
      It is easy to appreciate that if a full-fledged jnAni keeps on ‘thniking’ in his mind that “I am not this body or that object and mind etc. etc. but I am brahman”, he / she is still clearly seeing and wallowing in duality!


      • Dear Ramesam,

        Just by way of a quick clarification, I do not know Yoga Vashishta very well but from what I have read, I have great respect for its teaching, especially ajAti vAda related. I was just pointing out that, where there are divergencies, I always look to Shankara first and, poviding I find satisfactory explanations there, I don’t tend to look elsewhere. Later expositors almost invariably take influence from other sources and then confusion creeps in. (I am thinking particularly of neo-Vedanta but even the arguments between bhamatI and vivaraNa cause confusion for the reader).

        Regarding your quote from my essay of ‘without egoism’, I meant not having egoistic thoughts such as ‘I am doing this’, ‘I am X’ and so on. I did not mean not having an ego!

        Best wishes,

        • The last para above confuses me more than clarifying the issue!

          The “ego” is itself a thought, not an entity.
          The “ego” is the thought “I am X.”
          There could not be an “ego” and a “thought” possessed by the ego.
          In other words, there cannot be a thoughtless ego!
          The first or primal thought is I-consciousness (chidAbhAsa) – I am ‘separate’. Rest of the thoughts are only re-inforcers.


          • This reply does not appear to tally with the one you just made to Martin! There you say: “The lumped up English word “mind” includes the four components – thoughts-counter thoughts (manas), memory (citta), intellect (buddhi) and ego or I-consciousness (ahamkAra).”

            I agree with that statement, not the one you make here. Of course, all these are concepts in the end but we are discussing the concept of ahaMkAra. Within the context of that teaching, ahaMkAra is considered to be one of the ‘organs’ of the antaHkaraNa; it is not a ‘thought’.

            Best wishes,

  4. The problem here is: what do we mean by ‘the ego’? For instance,

    1. Dennis: “A body-mind cannot function without an ego.”

    In my understanding, a body-mind cannot function without its mind aspect, logically, but to say that it cannot work without an ego appears to me to be something quite different. We all know that, whatever mind is, it is not exactly the same as ego (it has four aspects, one of them being ahamkara, ego sense). It is the ego sense, is it not?, which can become either inoperative, inactivated, or annihilated (as a burnt out rope or cigarette) – or even better, transmuted into pure consciousness which in reality it is. That ‘ego’, being a reference center for the one who sees him/herself as a separated individual, its desires, decisions, etc., no longer count once the false identification ceases. So everything turns around this false identification. Its counterpart or opposite is choiceless action or egolessness.

    If I go shopping, is it not the mind (and its background of consciousness), not “I”, that functions the best it knows how to with the help of past experiences, training, inherited traits?

    2. Ramesam: “Unless and until the mind (ego) dissolves totally, this Turyaga cannot obviously happen.”

    The same thing applies here. I suppose, Ramesam, you mean by ‘ego’ the false identification I was referring to and which you implied above, except that you appear to equate it with mind – best match, 4c, in my opinion. Is the ‘ego’ in the end not a phantom, an illusory entity, such as a mirage — but not so mind? But if you say that, on realization, mind ceases to be mind and appears in all its glory as consciousness itself, then no problem.

    • Thanks Martin, you brought out a very important point.

      The lumped up English word “mind” includes the four components – thoughts-counter thoughts (manas), memory (citta), intellect (buddhi) and ego or I-consciousness (ahamkAra). One needs to specify clearly whether all the four components or only one or two of them dissolve on “Realization.”

      The ancient Indian scriptural texts too do not follow any standardized terminology either between them or even within the same text! Sometimes (perhaps oftener than not) poetic license is taken in choosing a term in the euphoric rhapsody of expressing the Joy of “Awakened life” by a Sage.

      What is clear is the “end” of a sense of separation – now whether that sense of separation is distributed in all the four components and/or in what proportion in each of them is a matter to be separately examined, IMHO.

      The ‘burnt seed’ metaphor (4c) you referred to relates to the genesis of desires (which are also thoughts!) and the mind is the name given to them. As you know, BG defines true sanyAsa (renunciation or relinquishment) is renouncing sankalpa (desire at its very beginning).


  5. I think that ego is one of those words that really highlights the problem of talking about reality. From the standpoint of paramArtha, there clearly is no ego. But then there is no body, mind, jIva, world etc, either. From the standpoint of vyavahAra, there is a person functioning in the world, whether j~nAnI or aj~nAnI, and a person cannot function in the world without an ego, even though this will be severely attenuated in the case of the j~nAnI. ‘The’ mind doesn’t decide what to do; it is ‘my’ mind (or intellect, if you prefer) that decides. I cannot respond to someone calling my name without an ahaMkAra.

    Both ego and mind are ‘in the end’ illusory entities. They are superimpositions upon Atman as a result of ignorance.

    I was going to make ‘ego’ one of the ‘topics of the month’ when we get to ‘E’ so I don’t want to go into all this in too much depth. (Or we could make ‘ahaMkAra’ the topic, in which case it will be quite soon!)

  6. Dennis: “Within the context of that teaching, ahaMkAra is considered to be one of the ‘organs’ of the antaHkaraNa; it is not a ‘thought’.” — Comment on the 20th Nov (08:53)

    Dear Dennis,

    I fully agree with you that what we are discussing are ‘concepts’ – perhaps distant surmises.

    As you suggested in your reply to Martin, maybe we could discuss the point you made re: ahaMkAra – when you take up ahamkAra or Ego as the case may be. The issue is also tied up with, as you are well aware, chidAbhAsa sphUrti – the throb taking place in sat-chit-Ananda or, expressed differently, the flash-wave of false appearance of Pure Consciousness.


    (P.S.: The system does not allow the posting of this response immediately below your Comment).

    • By all means let us postpone further discussion! (But I can extend the depth for discussion if we all agree it is needed.)

      No, I am not well aware of sphUrti. I would hazard that it is nothing to do with Advaita. Maybe Kashmir Shaivism? Or Yoga? Do you have a scriptural (or any other) reference?

  7. “Right action has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or evil, naughty or nice. It is without altruism or compassion.”

    I do think that this is absolute nonsense. And not particularly helpful to cast Advaita in an amoral light.

    The Bhagavad Gita (and Shankara’s commentary) makes clear that a jnani’s actions should be for the benefit of the world, and to set an example. And there are enough teachers like V.S.Iyer, Chinmayananda and Vivekananda elaborating on this, that it cannot be simply brushed under the carpet as relative, ‘showy’ moralities.

    Of course, that does not mean a jnani is guided by society’s moral values, but his own absolute view of right action. And there are two clear principles upon which right action can be built – ahimsa and advaita – non-injury, and a clear understanding that there are not two, and therefore treating the “other” as you would “yourself’ becomes self-evident.

    Of course, a seeker’s priority is to free himself from ego – but this is the greatest benefit he can deliver the world in any event – one less competitive ego in the rat race. Thereafter, like Bhagavan Ramana, his mere presence confers peace and a yearning for liberation, far more beneficial than any activism could deliver.

  8. I think the point that is being made is that right action has nothing to do with what happens to be the current view of right and wrong by a particular society (e.g. human sacrifice, slave trade); it is action in accordance with the universal laws of Ishvara.

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