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Papers presented in plenary Sessions, Panel Discussions and Sectional Meetings Of  


[Golden Jubilee Session of The Indian Philosophical Congress]

(December 28, 1975 to January 3, 1976) 

Edited by


Department of Philosophy

University of Delhi 

Paper presented by Dr. K.K. Mittal, in Panel Discussion on


I thankfully appreciate my commitment to the act of participation in the discussion on “Commitment and Action’ by the executive committee of the Indian Philosophical Congress. On being invited by the general secretary, Dr. R.C. Pandeya, on behalf of the said committee, I gladly accepted the obligation. But suppose, instead of doing the same I had pleaded my diffidence to Prof, Pandeya on the ground that this commitment went against another commitment of mine i.e. to the code of conduct involving the etiquette of not joining the issue with professors so senior as the ones who could as well have been my teachers as I an required to do while participating in this discussion. He like a good friend, philosopher and guide, might have tried to persuade me in a manner some thing as follows:-

“Placed as you are in the responsible position of a person holding a responsible post in the University of Delhi, that is hosting the golden jubilee session of the Indian Philosophical Congress, and serving as a joint-secretary of the Congress itself, it ill behoves you to run away from your natural normal duty. Your taking refuge under a supposed commitment to etiquette is an excuse that cannot be accepted. You need not be afraid of loosing in discussion, for, it is meritorious to go down doing one’s duty than to indulge in that which does not pertain to one’s own work. A wiseman is unperturbed by the thought of victory as well as defeat. Moreover, as far as you are concerned, you would be a gainer in both ways - if you win glory and fame shall greet you and if you loose you would be happy in the thought that by participating in the discussion you did what should have rightly been done. Defeat in a discussion or debate is not the end of one’s career, one does survive many-rather-all such debates. If you meet with an end as a debator you can emerge as an author whose propoundings may as well be discussed by others. You, in essence, are unassailable, even though you may fail in the performance of many a task. Do ye perform your action disinterestedly for, to act alone is your right and never to covert its result.

“Futhermore, you think not that you can desist from such a task, as the one before you, forever. Your own nature- your training and temperament, your having philosophizing as your job as well as a hobby- will drag you out for the same. Now, if you think that the persons ready to enter into discussion with you are formidable enough for you to meet their challenge, I lay before you all the various positions that can be maintained on ‘Commitment and Action’ and also show it to you that none of them is, in fact, unassailable”. After taking me through a wonderful experience of listening to all the pros and cons of the question, he might have exhorted me in the words “Be ye just formally instrumental in doing the thing that has already been done, namely the assailing of the various positions that your adversaries in discussion might occupy”. Finally, he might have asked me to enter the area through a very personal appeal saying, “you be commited to me- as a friend and colleague- and leaving aside all other considerations do my bidding, i.e. the needful, I will take care of all your blemishes, if any”.

Those of you who are acquainted with the reasoning that goes into the dialogue between Sri Krsnaand Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita might have already discerned the purpose of my drawing freely from that ‘Song Celestial’. That purpose needs to be laid down explicitly not only for the benefit of those who have not yet grasped the same but also for the sake of a proper progress of the points that I want to make in the discussion. My contention is that whatsoever be the kind of action may it be as stupendous as that which Arjuna faced or a most ordinary one as the action that is before me- wherever and whenever we come to think of the commitment or commitments connected with it we cannot escape considerations that call for having a Philosophy of life.

Not only is every action preceded by a commitment but also by its result it gives rise to fresh commitments issuing forth into further actions and reactions. No action can be concerned as taking place in isolation from other action or ‘packages of actions’ i.e. commitments. If an action, performed in fulfillment of a commitment does relieve us of a certain tension, it also results in further tension insofar as it generates further commitments. This does create a formidable problem that we meet so frequently in the entire process of commitment-action-commitment. Identifying this process as the phenomenal world or Samsara the ancient Indian philosophers were grappling with the problem of ‘Commitment and Action’ itself when they were concerning themselves with the problem of Samsara. When they accepted the phenomenal world as beginning less or anaadi; all  they meat was this that we were born with certain commitments to act in certain ways and acquired fresh commitments to act in certain other ways as a result of the actions that we performed. This is what is the meaning of rebirth or Punarjanmathrough Karma i.e. Action. They, however, did not accept that the Samsara was endless or anantainsofar as they held out the possibility for an individual to be free finally of all commitments and actions. The question hinged on the status, nature or character of the self as the real doer of action, the fulfiller of commitments or of his being so only apparently. There are systems of thought, say for example, theAdvaita Vedanta, the Samkhya and the Jainism, which hold that the doership as vested in the self is only apparent, in the ultimate analysis and freedom of the self from the bondage of Karma consists in the realizing of the self its real status as that of a knower- knowing not construed as an activity- and never as that of a doer. It is true that they differ significantly. If Advaita Vedanta regards ‘Commitment and Action’ as pertaining to the sphere of Mystery (Maya) and the Samkhya considers them as the self differentiation, or the game of predominance of one or other, of the three constitutive qualities- Sattva, Rajas and Tamas- of Prakrti or Nature apart from the Purusa or Man, then Jainism gives an account in which the Jiva or living-being, the self does appear to come in contact with a real non-living (Ajiva) material force called Karma (the actions as well as the packages of  actions) that affects the Jiva in eight of its aspects in as many as 148 ways. The Karma, according to this elaborate scheme of theJainas, obscures vision or faith as well as knowledge of the Jiva, arouses feelings in it, infatuates it, adds to or substractes from its name and fame i.e. brings praise or blame to it, aligns it to or misaligns it from a group or groups, increases or decreases the longevity of its life i.e. affects its mental and physical health in one way or the other, and obstructs its efforts to come out of the rut of ‘Commitment - action - commitments’. Yet they hold that, in the final analysis, the relation between Karma and Jiva is like that between dirt or dust and a cloth which can be brushed off or washed away- of course not very easily.

Another system of thought, namely Buddhism, with its emphasis on change ( Pali; Anicca, Sanskrit; Anityata), non-substantiality (Pali; Anatta, Sanskrit; Anatmavada) and dependent origination (Pali; Paticca, Sanskrit; Pratitya Samutpada) of all phenomena does tell us, in one of its formulations i.e. themadhyamika school, that the ‘doer, deed and the done-upon’ or ‘commitments and actions’ do not make any sense. They are devoid of reality, non-reality, both or neither i.e. Sunya. When suchness (Tathata) of such a characterless character of the world of phenomena (Samsara) is realized the final release (Nirvana) is there from all actions and commitments.

I am well aware of the fact that most of us are not interested in any final freedom from all actions and commitments, and many never were. I have made a mention of some centuries old schools of philosophy with the belief that they still serve as howsoever distant light-houses and guide-posts for those few who care to look upto them with sympathy and understanding. Besides, each one of them, conscious of the differing interests and capabilities of different individuals have prescriptions for all according to their needs.  

We are, perhaps, interested today much more in such social and political commitments that seem to guide or misguide our present day actions and those that result from them. Commitments we have of all sorts. Many of them are picked up in the process of socialization. These are by and large beyond our control. Some others are such that are drilled in us through the modern techniques of propaganda and indoctrination by agencies like political parties, state and the church. Very few commitments are such that are acquired consciously, through serious thought i.e. those as serve our convictions for which we are ready to act in a spirit of dedication and genuine concern.

The first of these three kinds of commitments an hardly be distinguished from superstitions and we hardly ever think about them. They are habitually acted upon. We think about the second kind, occasionally, but our thinking about them amounts to a mere rationalization and that too through a borrowed reasoning. The third kind of commitments dominate very few lives and since most of us lead our lives as guided and controlled by the first two kinds our living is not authentic, it is either steeped in ignorance or marred by hypocrisy. Those saints and heroes who have not only convictions but also courage of convictions are rare among us and it is their and their commitments and actions alone that deserve to be lauded, appreciated and emulated. Not freedom from them but a willing involvement in them is to be welcomed, lived and enjoyed. It is in this context, that we can understand the commitment of a Bodhisattva who undertakes the alleviation of the suffering of the countless number of creatures by himself going through the pain of a great number of births and deaths; and the wish of Swami Vivekananda, which in his own wards is: “May I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, of all species,… … …”. (The complete works of Swami Vivekananda; Vol. V page 136).

Dr. Kawel Krishan Mittal
University of Delhi.



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