Well, then, is this path — performing one’s duties with the sole purpose of pleasing Bhagavān — an easy journey? Śrīkṛṣṇa himself was uncertain about it. Bhagavān is not in front of our eyes; dharma is not in front of our eyes either. Performing our duties only for the sake of Bhagavān or for dharma — single-minded devotion to our duty without even an iota of selfishness — is difficult. It is not easy to be a devoted servant who does his duties conscientiously even in the absence of the master who distributes the wages. Many people perform karma with the desire to obtain something or the other in return. Let them do so, but let them perform it with the notion that the fruits of the karma (or the lack thereof) belong to Īśvara. If they obtain what they desire, let them think that it is the blessing of Īśvara and not their earning. If their effort doesn’t bear fruit, let them bear it with the reasoning that it is punishment meted out to them, and that this will erode their defects. Thus, one has to live in the belief that good or bad results both belong to Īśvara and not to us, and remember him always.
sarva-karma-phala-tyāgaṃ tataḥ kuru yatātma-vān ॥
“With effort, suppress the ego that says that you are the doer, or that you achieved this. Accept the results of your action as given by Bhagavān, and not as your own. Seek refuge in him, in happiness and in adversities”.
What does “giving up the fruits of karma” mean? We have to understand this for ourselves.
tyaktvā karma-phalā-saṃgam ॥
yuktaḥ karma-phalaṃ tyaktvā ॥
mā phaleṣu kadācana । mā karma-phala-hetur-bhūḥ ॥
Anāśritaḥ karma-phalam ॥
As we note above, this instruction is seen many times in the Gītā. What does “giving up the fruit of karma” mean? Does it mean that one should cook food and throw it out without eating? Or plant a garden, and when it yields fruits and flowers, throw them in the gutter? No, it isn’t like that. Instead of eating cooked food by oneself, it should be shared with others. Surely, there’s no harm in the cook smelling the aroma of the food he cooked? Or should he crumple his face saying that the pāyasam is bitter or spicy, just because he prepared it? Should he not experience pleasure? Even if he experiences pleasure, should he not express his experience of pleasure? Is dharma only in calling a flower disgusting? Is karma-phala-tyāga only about calling a steaming bowl of rice as plain mud?
We should try and deliberate upon what constitutes karma-phala-tyāga. There are four aspects in this sādhanā. If we are not clear about them, karma-phala-tyāga becomes just a word — an imposing sound that hits the eardrums. Let us look at these aspects.
1.Karma means kartavya-karma. Kartavya is that work, failing to perform which amounts to dereliction. The three main deciding factors for this karma are three -
The first is the felicitous inspiration that arises in us. It is a feeling that if this work is done, it is good for everyone.
The second is the capability and means to do the work, something that we already possess.
The third is an understanding of the necessities of the world around us — to our family, society and country.
Kartavya is work done using our energy and wealth to better the lives of others. We might make mistakes when we try to undertake certain activities. We might try to take on more than we can handle; or display our worldly benevolence where it is not required. Thus, we might start performing something that is not our kartavya; and also forget our kartavya. Taking unnecessary karma upon oneself might create problems. Karma entails coming in contact with the world; coming in contact with the world means that we are stepping into the lives of others. Thus in our haste to perform a duty that we think we have to do, we get embroiled in the pains and pleasures of others. To perform a pūja with a hundred thousand jasmine flowers, one may have to enter the gardens of unknown people and jostle among them to obtain the flowers. To feed a thousand people, he may have to fall at the feet of unworthy people. Thus, even an activity done with the objective of puṇya might cause us to come in contact with pāpa during its course. Therefore, one must be careful when deciding what is kartavya and what is not. Kartavya should not be given up, a work that is not kartavya should not be taken up.
2. Secondly, once a kartavya is decided upon, we should not procrastinate, thinking whether this activity will be beneficial or not. Regardless of whether it results in victory or defeat, a kartavya in accordance with dharma should be performed. If our conscience proclaims something as dharma, we should consider it divine ordinance and do it, even if a hundred people are against it or a hundred obstacles are in its way. Just because it faces defeat, a dharmic kartavya does not become adharmic. Whether a kartavya is indeed a kartavya or not, whether dharma is indeed dharmic or not does not depend on its result — profitable or detrimental. Dharma is dependent on Universal Truth and existence; Therefore, kartavya is performed as an offering to Bhagavān. “Parameshvara prītyarthaṃ”, “Śrīkṛṣṇārpaṇamastu” — this is the method of kartavya.
3. Thirdly, one should not worry about the fruit of karma that has been performed. The fruit of karma or the lack thereof, is decided by daiva. Who knows our karmas in the past, or the eligibility of others related to our karma? There is no one who can figure out the cause and effect-relationship among various entities in this world thoroughly. The fruit of karma is accorded to each jīva, based on their ability accrued for many lives from past karmas. The important philosophy here is to not to be mentally stirred by this change. Whatever comes, due to Bhagavān’s will, and therefore it has to be surrendered to. If we are impatient, we will become defiant towards the Divine. Therefore, we should always be indifferent towards the fruits of our karma, and not let our mind be disturbed by it.
Sukha-duḥkhe same kṛtvā lābhālābhau jayājayau ।
samaḥ siddhā-vasiddhau ca kṛtvā’pi na nibadhyate ॥
4. Fourthly, we should accept what comes to us, as the prasāda from Īśvara.
Tena tyaktena bhuñjīthāḥ ॥
Īśopaniṣad - 1
The above statement does not mean that one should not experience pleasure. One should experience pleasure, but with the feeling that it is a prasāda obtained in a temple.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.