Who is the Doer?
In his article (BTG Nov 2011), Vaibhav Joshi quotes the Gita (3.27), “The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.” If it is true that the activities are actually carried out by the three modes of material nature, than why does a soul get reward for pious activities and punishment for sinful activities? – Shantanu Patil, 
Our reply: Those who are alert among us will observe that we are but witnesses in this world, observing the body’s physical movements through our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing since all our activities are within the purview of the modes of material nature (Gita 3.33). Nature takes its own course every day a fact that is visible in the regular occurrence of natural events such as the rising of the sun and the changing of the seasons, etc. Vainly thinking ourselves as the doer, we the bewildered spirit souls endlessly try to control our own life and also the world around. Falsely identifying with our bodies, we fail to understand that, aside from willing or desiring, our spiritual selves do nothing at all in the material arena. Thus, the spirit soul is the doer in that he initiates actions by desiring and yet remains dependent on the facilities of material nature for the fruition of his desires. The Bhagavad-gita explains our present environment material nature as a separated (bhinna) and inferior (apara) energy of the Lord. Yet, since nothing can escape the Lord’s control, even this inferior and separated material energy moves under the supervision of the Supreme Lord (Gita 9.10). Thus, the spirit soul is subject to the direct control of material nature and indirect control of the Supreme Lord.
Is the spirit soul then just a powerless pawn in a deterministic world, where everything is pre-decided? As per Gita (7.5), the spirit souls are the superior (para) energy of the Lord engaged in exploiting the inferior (apara), material nature. This means that the spirit souls are superior to material nature but have mistakenly become subordinate to the control of material nature by misidentifying with its forced “gift” the material body. As long as we misidentify ourselves with our material bodies, we remain dependent on material nature to transform our wishes to actuality. The moment we seek to act on the basis of our spiritual identity, we are free from this unnecessary dependence on material nature. Yet, the conditioned soul within this material world, while still under the control of dominating material nature wants to think himself as the independent doer, because he seeks recognition and thus becomes responsible for whatever he does. Because he chooses to act not on God’s account but on his own account, he becomes accountable.
In essence, the Supreme Lord Krishna, the material nature and the living entities are all doers. The living entity desires to act, Krishna (as the Super soul) sanctions it, and the material nature facilitates the activity. Yet the weight of responsibility for the action rests solely upon the living entity. Although the living entity has no independent power to act, he initiates actions by his desires, while both the Super soul and the material nature, being neutral, facilitate their fulfillment. 
An example from common life will help: The spirit soul can be compared to a person who wants to learn driving an automobile. The car and the environment necessary for him to do this can be compared to material nature. In order for him to start learning, a driving instructor has to allow him to sit in the driver’s seat and teach this person to drive under his personal supervision. This driving instructor can be compared to the Supreme Lord. The learner’s desire is the main motivating force for everything else to happen and so he is the prime doer. Yet, this desire is not necessary enough for things to start happening. The driving instructor ultimately has to allow the learner to start driving and control the car so that it serves to teach the learner. Thus, under the sanction of the driving instructor, the car starts moving and the learner learns to drive. Yet, all this is happening to facilitate the “doer” learner’s desire to learn.
Reply to the letter was written by Nanda Dulal Dasa.
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