Right Action, Continuous Effort, Perfect Finish

EightfoldPathThe 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?”

Perfect Finish


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.

Overcoming Obstacles

Slide14Someone 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

bellcurveThe 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

While it is important to balance the inner work of sadhana (spiritual meditation) with productive service work in the world – the inverse is also true. It is so important not to just get attached to accomplishing work – even if it is for dharma – and neglecting our inner connection to the Divine through sadhana.
After choosing this topic – which seemed the most natural to me  – thinking that I love action and I am passionate about manifesting his mission, I began to reflect more deeply.  I reflected on all of the projects I am  doing and how temporary everything is. Yet  I invest so much energy in these things – to the extent that my inner life gets neglected and I start to feel exhaustion. So reflecting on this point was a good reminder to give more attention to the my inner life and connection to the source of inspiration – without which everything dries up.
There is a lovely story to illustrate this point. Narada – the great devotee of Krsna is walking with Krsna one day when he asked Krsna to say who his greatest devotee was – expecting in his heart that Krsna would recognize his own devotion and praise him…However, to his surprise, Krsna named a very humble farmer. Narada was shocked and travelled to observe the man and discover why Krsna considered him a great devotee. To his surprise – he notices that the farmer simply remembered the Lord in the morning before he went to work in the fields, and at the end of the day before returning from the fields, again turned…..jar of water etc.
So in the midst of action and busy lives – it is easy to get swept up in our goals – even if our goals are related to pleasing the Lord by not spilling a drop of water – and to neglect our spiritual practice. But when we do – it multiplies the Lord’s appreciation.
So again, it is important to keep remembering our real work on this planet. It is not just the material or intellectual accomplishments we manage to achieve that are important.  Our deeper work  is  to develop  devotion and surrender.  So we need to step back and keep the bigger picture in mind – as Calvin does here.  This is part of the practice Iishvara pranidhana – in the sense of remembering our true goal, our Divine “Iishta” and not letting other smaller goals become more important than Iishta. Rather, to make each and every action, through our practice of cultivating the awareness of divinity (Brahmacarya), a part of our sadhana.
When we change our perspective and sense the reality of the great universe around us – we are essentially doing what Calvin talks about here and this practice helps us to remember what is truly important.
So many people begin the spiritual path with great enthusiasm – but the obstacles and difficulties cause so many to give up.   Starting the spiritual journey, is already a big first step, as many people think it is just too difficult or troublesome to find time to dedicate to cultivating their inner lives. However, many people give up when obstacles arise.  So if you are already practicing, that is a great thing. Remember the long term perspective. Spiritual practice is not instant coffee. Develop the patience and determination to keep going no matter what obstacles come up.
  • Right action
  • Continuous effort 
  • Perfect finish
So be great by your actions. Do something concrete for suffering humanity. Just go ahead and break it down into small easy steps and take the first step. Begin.  Then keep making continuous effort – putting one step in front of another.
Never give up.  The story is never over until it is truly over.  In theater, the playwright must choose an ending. If the play ends right after a failure, the story is a tragedy. However, in real life, even after the worst tragedies,  life keeps moving forward, and sometimes even tragedies can turn into inspirational success stories – if we don’t give up and keep moving forward.