Attending to the work

“Attending to the Self means attending to the work. Because you identify yourself with the body, you think that work is done by you. But the body and its activities, including that work, are not apart from the Self. What does it matter whether you attend to the work or not? When you walk from one place to another you do not attend to the steps you take and yet you find yourself after a time at your goal. You see how the business of walking goes on without your attending to it. So also with other kinds of work.” Ramana Maharshi

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, David Godman, Arkana,
ISBN: 0140190627. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

6 thoughts on “Attending to the work

  1. “When you walk from one place to another you do not attend to the steps you take and yet you find yourself after a time at your goal. You see how the business of walking goes on without your attending to it. So also with other kinds of work.”


  2. I also wonder what Ramana means to say with this. And I agree with Ramesam that there is more to reaching the goal than just walking.

  3. I did point out when we started these quotations that posting did not necessarily indicate agreement! I posted this one because it seemed contentious.

    Here is what Ramana said in the preceding paragraph. It may help:

    “The Self is all. Are you apart from the Self? Or can the work go on without the Self? The Self is universal so all actions will go on whether you strain yourself to be engaged in them or not. The work will go on of itself. Thus Krishna told Arjuna that he need not trouble to kill the Kauravas because they were already slain by God. It was not for him to resolve to work and worry himself about it, but to allow his own nature to carry out the will of the higher power.”

  4. Yes, absolutely clear now. And yes, of course it was just a quote, not your opinion. Thanks, Dennis.

  5. Thanks Dennis for the para that precedes the Quote from Ramana.
    Glad that Sitara found the extra info made the things “absolutely clear” to her.

    But I would suppose that the matter has become more contentious!

    On one hand very often statements like “all things are already done by the God” could lead to Fatalism.

    On the other hand, even the doubt or any retrograde action of a seeker can be self-gratifyingly explained away as God-given leading to pseudo-advaita.


    We have from Bhagavad-Gita Ch III – sloka 8:
    sharIra-yAtrApi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmanNaḥ

    Meaning: Through inaction, even your bodily maintenance is not possible.

    The word yAtrA in the verse is usually translated as maintenance. But the significance of the word, IMO, is lost in that translation.
    yAtrA (journey) implies a movement from a point of origin to the point of destination. yAtrA of the sharIra (body) would then mean as the movement of body from birth to death.

    The first part of the verse exhorts one to perform the prescribed works (as ordained by scriptures). Why (should one do so)? It is said that it is better to perform rather than not. The second part of the verse then talks of the need for action even for day to day living. The scriptures do not mention any result for such daily actions of body maintenance. Shankara in his commentary, however, adds from his side, that Heaven or purification of the heart is the result because all actions have to yield some fruits.

    Sage Vasishta teaches in Yogavasishta that actions performed exclusively by the motor organs do not have any carry forward effects. Even in the absence of physical movement, however, actions done by sensory organs and mind have carry forward effect (karma phala). Several examples are given and a detailed discussion occurs in the sthiti prakaraNa of Yogavasishta. It is said:

    “Doership accrues dependent on three things: (i) knowledge; (ii) desire; and (iii) effort. Knowledge means awareness of the outcome of an action. Desire is the wish to acquire that result. Effort is to act with the sensory and action organs. Work is done when those three conditions are fulfilled. Even if the three conditions exist silently in the mind, it is as good as doing a deed, though no obvious external action has taken place. Then the person gets doership.

    “An act even if done openly but without the three factors will not attract authorship to the doer. This is the case with jnAni-s (Liberated Men). Whether it is a worldly action or yogic action, they will not have any desire to do or the awareness of doing it. Mere movement of organs takes place based on the strength of the past practices. Hence they do not get any doership clinging to it.”

    Bhagavad-Gita Ch 18 – sloka 49 speaks of naishkarmya siddhi (freedom from the effect of actions done):

    “One who is self-controlled and unattached and who disregards all material enjoyments can obtain, by practice of renunciation, the highest perfect stage of freedom from action.”

    Swami Krishnananda says: “Naishkarmya siddhi is a state where karma-s automatically find their fulfillment, and we need not have to engage ourselves in any work later on. Just as rivers move, but they need not move after they reach the ocean, so too one has to work hard until the Universal Being is reached.”

    At another level, the point that needs to be mentioned is that ‘attention’ is required in the initial ‘learning phase’ of a repetitious action when the frontal lobes of the brain are involved. Later on the performance of the action gets transferred to the cerebellum when it becomes a routine motor action (e.g. dancing, driving) and then the actions are done without conscious thought.

    Neuroscientists tell us that over 90 percent of brain activity goes on without our conscious awareness. The metabolic and many physiological actions (heart beat, respiration, blood circulation, digestion, immune protection, body growth etc.) take place without our conscious intervention. Most of our body cells can duplicate themselves up to about 50 times (mitosis) and beyond that they die as the length of telomeres at the end of the chromosomes becomes too short to support cell division. Then the body dies. All of this happens without a ‘you’ there.

  6. Dear Ramesam,

    My interpretation, building on what you have said. . .

    Everything in the world runs according to its own genetic / environmental programming. The ‘I” and its imagined characteristics / preferences is also clearly just a function of this programming. And all the innumerable inter-penetrated factors that contribute to the development of this ‘I’ are beyond the control of ‘I’; so the concept that I has any control over its actions can only be an illusory comfort / security crutch in order for the ‘I’ to justify itself. All things truly are done by God [aka the unknowable], not by the ‘will’ of an imagined ‘I’.

    “When alas even the gods Vayu and Agni respectively had no power at all either to stir or burn a flimsy and insignificant wisp of straw, who can accomplish any task through the power that rises in him as ‘I’? How would it be possible?”
    – Guru Vachaka Kovai, vs 170, in a reference to Kenopanishad

    And when, for whatever reason, the programmed ‘I’ thought starts attending to itself, it seems that it attenuates – K would say that the brain cells undergo a mutation – i.e. the conditioning unravels. And then the body-mind-world continues its natural course, witnessed by consciousness (which of course it is non-separate from), without the intervention of a veiling ‘I’. In Taoist terms, wu wei – acting without [the ‘I’] acting. And in such action, personal desire must, by definition be absent.

    I think that is the import of what Bhagavan was saying in the quote – which I think is in agreement with your references too.



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