There are two paths to achieve liberation from the bondage of karma. They are renunciation and non-attachment. On the first path we say, “I don’t want any pleasure which is not practical in helping me achieve my goal. Thus I choose to lead a monastic life.” This is a path for very few. It is a razor’s edge. On the second path we learn to live in the world but to do our actions properly. It is this second path we are going to study—the method of non-attachment.

Normally we are slaves of our duties. We become attached to our activities and their consequences and thereby plunge further into bondage. If you do something purely out of a sense of duty, then you will understand nothing and make no progress. If you fulfill a desire for your husband or wife out of duty toward him or her, then you will be attached either through resentment or guilt or annoyance or some other kind of disturbing emotion. If your duties and actions are not oiled with love, you are creating greater bondage for yourself. If you perform your actions out of love, then you are doing them selflessly. This is very easy to understand, for if I do something selflessly for you, then you, not I, will receive the fruits of my action. Learn to do your actions for humanity and to let humanity reap the fruits. This is the way to become free through non-attachment.

We learn to live in the world but to do our actions properly.

Tyagi is the Sanskrit term for one who renounces the fruits of his actions, not the actions themselves. In this world you cannot avoid performing actions, but you must do them selflessly and skillfully. Non-attachment does not mean not to love, and it also does not mean indifference and aloofness. Rather, it means to act with love. You should not disturb your life and your mind with attached, selfish acts. Life is too short for that. As it is, we spend most of our lives eating, sleeping, talking, and going to the bathroom. We must learn to take life lightly but also to do our duty seriously with love, skill, and selflessness. It is not the action itself which binds us but the fruits of action. Action, like a policeman, arrests but does not punish us—the fruits of our actions punish us. We should not seek satisfaction in life but rather santosha (contentment) in all of life’s circumstances. It is the inability to achieve satisfaction in life which finally motivates us to seek liberation. Desire is motivated by the fruits of our actions. Do not try to preserve and protect the fruits of your actions by coveting them. This is how jealousy, hatred, and pride come to you.

We are, in fact, passing through a series of dutiful actions to be performed in this life. We cannot live without doing these actions, but by doing them selflessly, skillfully, and lovingly we can avoid becoming attached to them. This does not mean indifference, for that is mere escapism. We seek escape from our problems when we cannot cope with them. Non-attachment means doing our actions with equilibrium and tranquility, especially when we are offered the fruits of these actions. This is the real trial, for we bind ourselves either when we receive the fruits of our actions or when we are denied them. Through non-attachment we learn that the true enjoyment of the fruits of our actions comes only when we offer them to God or to humanity.

Source: Freedom from the Bondage of Karma by Swami Rama
More in this Series

Attachment and Non-Attachment