Ramana Maharshi on Sense of Doership, Karma and Karma Yoga

The present difficulty is that the man thinks that he is the doer. But it is a mistake. It is the Higher Power which does everything and the man is only a tool. If he accepts that position he is free from troubles; otherwise he courts them. Take for instance, the figure in a gopuram (temple tower), where it is made to appear to bear the burden of the tower on its shoulders. Its posture and look are a picture of great strain while bearing the very heavy burden of the tower. But think. The tower is built on the earth and it rests on its foundations. The figure (like Atlas bearing the earth) is a part of the tower, but is made to look as if it bore the tower. Is it not funny? So is the man who takes on himself the sense of doing. (SourceTalks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 63)

Visitor: Our work-a-day life is not compatible with such efforts [for Self-realization].
Ramana Maharshi: Why do you think that you are active? Take the gross example of your arrival here. You left home in a cart, took train, alighted at the Railway Station here, got into a cart there and found yourself in this Asramam. When asked, you say that you travelled here all the way from your town. Is it true? Is it not a fact that you remained as you were and there were movements of conveyances all along the way. Just as those movements are confounded with your own, so also the other activities. They are not your own. They are God’s activities. (SourceThe Core Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Roy Melvyn)

The feeling “I work” is the hindrance. Enquire, “Who works?” Remember, “Who am I?” The work will not bind you. It will go on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce work. Your effort is the bondage. What is bound to happen will happen. If you are destined to cease working, work cannot be had even if you hunt for it. If you are destined to work you cannot leave it; you will be forced to engage in it. So leave it to the Higher Power. You cannot renounce or hold as you choose. (SourceTalks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 268)

In the seventh chapter, Arjuna asks if Karma is a method (sadhana). Krishna answers that it is so if done without the sense of doership. So also are Karmas approved by scriptures which deny Karma. The Karma disapproved by them is that which is done with the sense of doership. Do not leave Karma. You cannot do so. Give up the sense of doership. Karma will go on automatically. Or Karma will drop away from you. If Karma be your lot according to prarabdha, it will surely be done whether you will it or not; if Karma be not your lot, it will not be done even if you intently engage in it.  (SourceTalks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 41)

What does the Gita say? Arjuna refused to fight. Krishna said, “So long as you refuse to fight, you have the sense of doership. Who are you to refrain or to act? Give up the notion of doership. Until that sense disappears you are bound to act. You are being manipulated by a Higher Power. You are admitting it by your own refusal to submit to it. Instead recognise the Power and submit as a tool. (Or to put it differently), if you refuse you will be forcibly drawn into it. Instead of being an unwilling worker, be a willing one.
“Rather, be fixed in the Self and act according to nature without the thought of doership. Then the results of action will not affect you. That is manliness and heroism.” (SourceTalks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 58)

Ramana Maharshi: The Gita starts saying that you are not the body [by ‘body’ he means the body-mind complex], that you are not therefore the karta [the doer].

Visitor: What is the significance?

Ramana Maharshi: That one should act without thinking that oneself is the actor. The actions go on despite his egolessness. The person has come into manifestation for a certain purpose. That purpose will be accomplished whether he considers himself the actor or not.

Visitor: What is Karma yoga? Is it non-attachment to Karma or its fruit?

Ramana Maharshi: Karma yoga is that yoga in which the person does not arrogate to himself the function of being the actor. The actions go on automatically.

Visitor: Is it the non-attachment to the fruits of actions?

Ramana Maharshi: The question arises only if there is the actor. It is being all along said that you should not consider yourself the actor.

Visitor: So Karma yoga is kartrtva buddhi rahita karma – action without the sense of doership.

Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Quite so.

Visitor: The Gita teaches active life from beginning to end.

Ramana Maharshi: Yes, the actor-less action. (SourceTalks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 643)

Question: Without the sense of doership — the sense ‘I am doing’ — work cannot be done.
Ramana Maharshi: It can be done. Work without attachment. Work will go on even better than when you worked with the sense that you were the doer.
Question: I don’t understand what work I should do and what not.
Ramana Maharshi: Don’t bother. What is destined as work to be done by you in this life will be done by you, whether you like it or not. (Source: Day by Day with Bhagavan, 3-1-46 Afternoon)

If one keeps fixed in the Self, the activities will still go on and their success will not be affected. One should not have the idea that one is the doer. The activities will still go
on. That force, by whatever name you may call it, which brought the body into existence will see to it that the activities which this body is meant to go through are brought about. (Source: Day by Day with Bhagavan, 9-10-45 Afternoon)

If you are not the body and do not have the idea ‘I-am-the-doer’ the consequences of your good or bad actions will not affect you. Why do you say about the actions
the body performs “I do this” or “I did that”? As long as you identify yourself with the body like that you are affected by the consequences of the actions and you have merit and demerit. (Source: Day by Day with Bhagavan, 20-6-46)

What exactly did Lord Krishna tell Arjuna? He told him, the deed will get done according to the ‘doing’. I am the ‘doer’ watching the whole thing from above. Why do you worry? It is your body which does the killing of your relatives. Are you the body? No! Why then this bondage for you? Renounce the idea, He said. This means that He asks Arjuna to do the thing but to give up the feeling that it is he that is doing it. That is personal effort. The feeling that one is, or is not, the body, comes from one’s own ignorance. One only has to give up that feeling; that which one has, one must oneself reject. Who else can do it? If by personal effort that bondage is removed, action, under the orders of the ‘doer’, Ishwara, goes on of its own accord. Every one has his work allotted to him and he will do it automatically. Why should one worry? Arjuna, when he felt that it was not proper to kill his relatives, was only told to give up the feeling that he was the ‘doer’, yet it was Arjuna himself who ultimately fought. By listening to the Gita, he lost the feeling of being the ‘doer’ and the doubt he had had was no longer there. The work had to be done with that particular body, and it was done. Even Duryodhana was like that. Not that he was not aware of the correctness or otherwise of what he was doing. He knew that what he was doing was not right, but some force was leading him on to that work. What could he do? That work had to be done in that way by that body, and it was done. He is reported to have said so at the time of his death. Hence it is clear that some Force is making all people to do things. Getting rid of the feeling that ‘I myself am doing’ is personal effort (purushakaram). All spiritual practices (sadhanas) are towards that end. (Source: Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 184. The Doer and the Doing)


  1. Thank you so much for making this content available and grouped by topic – it has really helped me with answers to so many questions, but easily searchable and shared with others.


    1. Thank you so much for this write up.
      God used you to write this topic.
      For the last 2 months I was wondering what’s happening in my life.
      Now I understood ” what has to happen is happening “.
      Now my mind is very clear.


  2. This is an enlightening post. However, I do have one question. Maharshi talks about Duryodhana knowing he was in the wrong but yet doing what he has to do — as is ordained by divine will.
    Doesn’t this in a way take away our responsibility to do rightful things? I understand that we are not the “doers” but that doesn’t mean we intentionally hurt others or perform immoral actions and then simply say “this was ordained by divine will”..

    Any thoughts? Would love to hear from you about this.


    1. Here is what Ramakrishna Paramahansa says in the Gospel: “Those whose spiritual consciousness has been awakened never make a false step. They do not have to reason in order to shun evil. They are so full of love of God that whatever action they undertake is a good action. They are fully conscious that they are not the doers of their actions, but mere servants of God. They always feel: ‘I am the machine and He is the Operator. I do as He does through me. I speak as He speaks through me. I move as He moves me.’

      “Fully awakened souls are beyond virtue and vice. They realize that it is God who does everything.”


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