No one can remain, even for a moment, without action, says Lord Krishna to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita. Everyone is compelled to act by the qualities of nature — prakriti.
What is meant by action? Any activity, at the level of the body, mind or intellect, is considered an action. Even if I say: “I will just sit and not move. I am not doing anything!” That also is “doing”; it requires an effort. Though, I may be physically inactive, I do not stop breathing or thinking. All the physiological activities of the body continue. When overtaken by hunger, thirst or sleep we are forced to act. Apart from them, our endless desires, likes and dislikes prompt us into action.
Nobody can remain without action; this is an undeniable truth. However, someone may feel that he can remain absolutely still. He sits down and restrains all the organs of action. But, what about the mind? From experience — especially during meditation — we know the mind cannot be stopped from wandering and remembering the past. To remember is a function of the mind. Memories are related to the world of sense objects, of form, smell, touch, taste and sound. They lie dormant in the mind. But, when the organs of action are restrained, they resurface. The mind indulges and enjoys these memories.
Lord Krishna makes a powerful statement. He declares that a person who remains physically still, but indulges in sensuous memories is a hypocrite. Though outwardly not indulging in activity, mentally he is very active. He is only deceiving himself. Such a person who restrains all physical action, but continues to brood over pleasures will, sooner or later, be forced by those desires into action. Desires arise not just when we see objects, but also when we dwell on them. They force a person into action. Physically restraining the body, but allowing the mind to dwell on various pleasures enjoyed previously, may lead to indolence, suppression, incorrect conduct and eventual destruction.
Bhagavan then presents a contrasting scenario — of a person who physically acts while keeping his senses under control. For one who has gained mastery over the senses by controlling them with the mind, by right thinking and engages in Karma Yoga, there is no suppression, only an unfoldment of the personality. The mind reaches a higher level of thinking; it evolves and excels.
Since we have no choice but to perform actions, it becomes important to know what to do and what not to do. The choice is between the types of actions to be performed. Therefore, before we act, we must have complete clarity about the category of actions to be done and those to be avoided.