patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati | (IX, 26)
…the water, or the flower, or the leaf: our action may be regarded in the form of these three things, and we offer it to the Lord. If you continue to do this, a stage can come when it becomes automatic and we become free from clutching at any action and grasping at it and therefore, we are liberated.
In the process of sacrifice, we have said that this is the second step and we shall go to the third, but between the second and the third, there is a long procedure. This second step is a very, very long procedure, because normally we offer our actions to ordinary objects, ordinary instruments. To offer our action to the Lord is a long procedure, because first of all we do not see the Lord, we only see ordinary instruments around us. Therefore in the first place, we seem to be offering to ourselves even if we say, ‘I am offering to the Lord’; usually the objects to whom we offer are ordinary. At a higher stage, greater forces are visible, which in the language of the Veda are called gods, cosmic powers. We begin to offer them to the gods, and then after that we begin to offer it to the Supreme Lord.
Therefore sacrifice is supposed to be a process of ascent. In Sanskrit, there is a word, adhvara; adhvara is a path of ascent and sacrifice is also called adhvara; that is why one who does a sacrifice is called adhvaryu, the priest is called adhvaryu that is because sacrifice is a path which moves upwards. It takes us from lower level to the higher levels. But ultimately, when we reach that point, the third movement of Karmayoga starts.
What is the third movement? In the third movement, we find that action no more proceeds from us; till that time we are feeling, although it is not a correct feeling, but it is a feeling that the action proceeds from us and you are offering the action to the Lord. But, when you reach a stage when you have been offering to the Lord, you begin to perceive that action proceeds from the Lord Himself. This is the distinction between the second step and the third step.
In the second step when you are offering, you have the perception that the action proceeds from yourself and you are offering it to the Lord. But, in the third step, you find that the Lord Himself is acting. This is the culmination of Karmayoga. When the Lord himself is acting and the action proceeds from Him and you find that it proceeds through you, then you realise you are simply the instrument of the action. You are no more offering even. It is simply a movement from above, and you are the instrument, and you are not depleted at all because by now the process of offering has become so great that clutching, that consciousness of clutching at things disappears.
Therefore, without any obstruction from your part, the action flows, as a flute for example: when the flute player plays on the flute, if the flute is absolutely smooth and pure, then the wind which is blown into the flute receives no obstruction. And therefore the flute plays the tunes exactly as the flute player wants to play. The flute gives no resistance at all. When our instrumentality becomes so pure by the action of offering all the time, and there is no movement of clutching at anything, then the Lord’s will proceeds from Him, but proceeds through us.