In the vedantic view, karma must be shunned to make way for knowledge. However, what constitutes karma is not outward action but the feeling of ‘doership’.
There is a common misconception about the view of Adi Shankaracharya and Advaita Vedanta on karma. People believe that Adi Shankaracharya equated moksha to a life of renunciation, a life of non-action, and that he suggested that one who is desirous of moksha or has achieved moksha should live the life of a sannyasi. This is not really true. Let us try and understand what Shankara really meant by first understanding the view of Vedanta itself on karma in relation to moksha.
The reader of this article will say, “I am reading this article”. He considers himself as the reader and he considers himself as separate from this article. However, in the vision of Vedanta, the reality is that it is only the body and mind which is engaged in reading, ‘I’ which is pure, unchanging, consciousness, is not at all involved in the process of reading. Rather, ‘I’, the consciousness, is that limitless reality on which both this article and the reader depend for their existence. This is the understanding of ‘I’ or ‘self’ in Vedanta.
According to Vedanta, ‘I’ or ‘self’ is not this ever-changing assemblage called body and mind. ‘I’ is pure consciousness and it is the truth of not just this one body-mind complex but of the entire universe. It is limitless. Everything depends upon it for their existence. However, it remains unaffected by the changes that happen to this one individual or the entire universe. It neither really causes anything, nor gets affected by anything.
Example: A clay pot depends upon clay for its existence. Even if the pot is broken, clay will still remain. Clay is unaffected by the coming and going of the pot. Clay was before the pot came into being, clay is when the pot is, clay will be when the pot is gone. Therefore, clay is the invariable truth of the pot. In fact, there is only clay. ‘Pot’ is only a name and form which has no existence independent of clay. When there is only clay, then there is no question of causing a second thing like a ‘pot’. So, clay neither causes, nor gets affected. Also, clay is the truth of not just that one pot, but of all the different pots and pans in the potter’s shop. The shapes of these pots may all be very different and their utility may also be very different but the reality is that they are all the same clay. Similarly, consciousness is the truth of the entire universe, all the diverse forms and names, and yet it is unaffected and unchanged by the goings-on of the universe.