What is Action and what is Inaction?
There is a general understanding that spiritual life means giving up activities, giving up work, giving up material purists, etc. There is truth to this in the sense that a transcendentalist gives up all actions that are not meant for the service and pleasure of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead however people generally become confused when trying to determine what is action and what is inaction.
A person in Krishna consciousness is not inactive but his activities are all performed for Krishna therefore he does not enjoy or suffer any of the effects of his work and he is naturally free from the bondage of karma. Therefore the devotee is intelligent in human society even though he is engaged in all sorts of activities for Krishna. In this way the devotees achieve the platform of akarma or freedom from the reactions to work.
The impersonalists are also trying to achieve this platform of akarma or freedom from the reactions of work but they have no information about Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and no inclination to work for Him. Therefore the impersonalists try to stop all fruitive activities because of fear of the reactions to these activities, they understand that such reactions would be stumbling blocks on their path of self-realization. This is a very difficult path to follow as the impersonalists have no positive actions to perform, they have no service to Krishna, thy are simply trying to stop all material activities so the reactions to these material activities will not become a problem for their advancement in spiritual life. However for the living entity to be in a position of not performing any activities is very unnatural and a very difficult.
The devotees know their position correctly and realize they are eternal servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead therefore they engage themselves in the activities of Krishna consciousness. Because they do everything for Krishna they enjoy only transcendental happiness in their execution of devotional service. Devotees who are engaged in this process of devotional service are known to be without any desire for personal sense gratification. This sense of eternal service to Krishna makes one immune to all reactions to work.
“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up in the fire of perfect knowledge. Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.” (Bhagavad Gita 4.19-20)
Only a person in full knowledge can understand the activities of a person in Krishna consciousness. Because the person in Krishna consciousness has no interest in performing any activity for his own sense gratification it is to be understood that he has burned up the reactions of his work by the perfect knowledge of his constitutional position as the eternal servant of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One is actually learned when he comes to this platform. Development of this knowledge of the eternal service of Krishna is compared to fire. Such a fire, once kindled, can burn up all kinds of reactions to work.
This freedom from the bondage of actions is only possible in Krishna consciousness when one is doing everything for Krishna. A Krishna conscious person acts only out of love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore he has no attraction for the results of his actions. He is not even attached to his personal maintenance for he leaves everything to Krishna. He is also not anxious to get things he does not have nor is he anxious to protect things he already possesses. He simply does his duty to his best ability and leaves everything to Krishna.
Such a devotee is always free from the reactions of good and bad; it is as though he was not doing anything. This is the sign of akarma, or actions without fruitive reactions. Therefore even though a devotee is performing many activities in the service of Krishna because these activities have no reaction this is “inaction in action.” Although he is acting for Krishna there is no reaction so it is as if he was not acting at all because his actions are spiritual there is no material reaction to such actions.
Any other action however, which is not performed as service to the Supreme Lord Krishna, which is not meant to please Krishna, which is devoid of Krishna consciousness is binding on the performer of this action. He will have to either suffer the bad reactions from this action or enjoy the good reactions and this will keep him firmly bound in the material world.
“Such a man of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over his possessions and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working he is not affected by sinful reactions.” (Bhagavad Gita 4.21)
A Krishna conscious person does not expect good or bad results from his activities. His mind and his intelligence are fully controlled. He knows that he is part and parcel of the Supreme, and therefore the part played by him, as part and parcel of the whole, is not by his choice but is chosen for him by the Supreme and is done only through His agency.
When the hand moves it does not move by itself but only by the endeavor of the whole body. A Krishna conscious person is always dovetailed with the supreme desire, for he has no desire for his own personal sense gratification. The devotee moves exactly like the part of a machine. As a machine part rrequires oiling and cleaning for maintenance, similarly, a Krishna conscious man maintains himself by his work just to remain fit for action in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. He is therefore immune to all the reactions of his endeavors.
A Krishna conscious person, fully engaged in self-realization, has very little time to falsely posses any material object. For maintaining his body and soul he does not require any unfair means of accumulating money. He does not therefore become contaminated by such material sins. He is free from all reactions to his actions.
Therefore in a devotee of Krishna we can see that he is always busy acting in the service of Krishna but because all his activities are for the pleasure of Krishna there is no material reaction to his activities therefore from the material point of view it is as if he was doing nothing. This is inaction in action.