The Eight-Fold Path lies at the core of Buddhist teachings. The eight practices are designed to help us to align our lives more closely to Dharma – our divine potential. Each of the practices : right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration and right understanding helps to channelize our energy towards spiritual realization. The word “samyak” is translated as “right” – but it could also be translated as “good”, “accurate” or “well-done”. In this case, these things are “right” when they take us closer to our spiritual self. Spiritual practice is not something limited to the moments we spend with our eyes closed on a meditation cushion. It is a way of life. Every moment presents us with the opportunity to live from a deep place of harmony with our soul, and these eight points help us to reflect on the different ways we can train ourselves to remain aligned. I was recently asked to give a presentation at a spiritual conference on “Samyak Karmanta” – or “Right Action” so this article will limit itself to just reflecting on that point.
The Lottery Ticket
Perhaps you have heard the story about a devout meditator who had been very conscientious in practicing the Eight Fold Path – watching his speech, thinking positively, being careful with his actions. He was certain that he was accumulating positive karma through all of his right actions – and he had developed the firm determination that he must win the lottery – because that way, he could, of course do a lot of service. He already had plans to open a school, create a sustainable farm and open a shelter for homeless children with the winnings. Yet week after week passed, and he still hadn’t won the lottery. He analyzed and reanalyzed his behavior wondering what he was doing wrong that his efforts weren’t being graced. He was feeling discouraged and hopeless, when one morning during his meditation – his Guru appeared and said in an exasperated tone, “Would you please at least go out and buy a ticket?”
So Samyak Karmanta is usually translated as “right action.” Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii often referred to this point as “perfect finish”. He had a saying “Right action, continuous effort, and perfect finish.” Indeed, he was certainly a man of action – and encouraged spiritual seekers to have an active, engaged attitude towards the world. Many times, he directed his followers to “Do something concrete for the suffering humanity.”
Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii often said – if you want to do something bad – procrastinate….but if you want to do something good – do it right away. Buy the lottery ticket. Do the right actions necessary to materialize the inspirations and dreams that you receive in your heart.
Samyak Karmanta – Morality
Right action: For the Buddhists – this is one of the points of the Eight fold path directly related to morality – together with the points on right speech and right livelihood. This point thus encompasses both ahimsa – non-harming, as well as asteya – non-stealing from the yogic ethical practices of Yama. These are all practices that give us specific guidelines to guide our actions and channelize them towards collective elevation of human society as well as our own individual elevation.
Continuous effort: For an action to be crowned with success, in the first place – you must begin. As the old saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Any great, ambitious project, such as “doing something concrete for suffering humanity” is going to require a lot of smaller steps.
Make smaller steps
Many productivity experts tell – that if you want to increase your productivity – vague, amorphous piles of things to do are your enemy. You need to identify very precisely and clearly – what is your very next actionable step. Because everything – including very big, complex projects – but also even making an efficient shopping trip to the grocery store – require you to first become clear on what is the very next step. When we get stuck – and goals seem unreachable and we are in danger of giving up on them altogether – often it is because the step we have identified is too big, too vague -and doesn’t give us something small, manageable and actionable that we can do now. So keep breaking it down. For example – i struggle with the goal of wanting to go to bed earlier….But when I directly take on this goal – I just end up frustrated and not changing much. But when I decided instead to focus on getting ready for bed and in the bed – even if I still have a computer on my lap – that was more reasonable and easily accomplished and gave me the momentum that comes from the feeling of success – towards chipping away at the larger goal, now that I had some feeling of success. Athletes inspire us with feats of strength, endurance, and perfected performance – yet this is also simply the result of steady, continuous effort.
When I met Dada Chandranath – he said to me – you know if you practice for 10 years regularly and sincerely – then you will start to hear the cosmic sound and other signs of progress appear. It was so matter-of-fact, ordinary, attainable. It was just a matter of time – not “instant coffee” – but rather a by-product of continuous effort.
Someone once approached me and asked me why we have so much success in Romania. I was really touched by her sincerity – but inside I was just thinking about the so many more failures and obstacles that we experience. When you stand back – there is progress – but from day to day it isn’t always easy to see that. – even if every now and then something works out – there are so many other projects and plans that didn’t.
In fact, this brings up an important point. When Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii refers to right action – while he certainly put pressure on workers to be productive and become assets to human society – if we look a little closer at the stories of how he dealt with workers in reporting, it is clear that it wasn’t only outputs that he valued. There was something else that often seemed to be even more important – and that was the spirit of surrender.
“You have the right to action but not to the fruits of actions.” There are so many stories of Guru where the person who was proud of opening 10 schools was scolded for laziness – whereas the sincere, devoted person who approached the Guru in a spirit of inner surrender and humility – was praised for a single school with only 5 children. So the last point of “perfect finish” is not only about productivity – results, indicators etc. But rather it is also about bringing in that 7th factor of success- the part that doesn’t depend only on effort – the Grace factor that comes when we let go.
Slowing down at the end
The Chinese consider that the ending phase of a job is the most dangerous phase. If we were to graph how we we often approach a task in the west it would probably look like a straight rising line – with increasing energy and effort towards the end. But instead of hurrying up to just finish and accomplish the task, the Chinese suggest that that is the stage that one would be wise to actually slow down and be more deliberate and careful. Indeed, the desire to quickly finish can lead to carelessness that can ruin the entire effort.
The Buddhists also say 80% is perfection. If we think that we have done something 100% – it is difficult for ego not to creep in and poison the otherwise perfect action with pride. Baba also mentions that karma yogis are particularly prone to the pitfall of pride and ego when becoming too attached to their actions. If a single drop of urine falls into a pot of milk, the entire pot of milk is ruined, and in the same way if a drop of ego comes into an action we offer to the Supreme, it is tainted.
In spiritual surrender, one must let go of the fruits of actions and cultivate the constant remembrance that it is not “me” doing the action, but rather I am allowing the Divine to act through me. When this state of surrender is achieve, perhaps only then do we find the true meaning of “perfect finish”. I believe this is the perfect finish to actions – to remember who is truly doing the actions and let go of our ego identification. To surrender the fruits of action.
Finding balance by staying connected
- Right action
- Continuous effort
- Perfect finish