Art of Working

By Chirag Dangarwala - 19.9 2023

karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani [ B.g. 2.47]

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty”.

The above mentioned verse is one of the most famous verses in Bhagavad Gita, although many know this verse and probably might have recited and heard them many times, very few of us are able to take it to heart and follow it as it is. The verse here is directing us on the art of working, in chapter 2 of Bhagavad Gita Lord Krsna gives Arjuna a prelude to Art of Working. Technically it is called “Karma yoga”, yoga means connection to God and karma means our fruitive activities. In general every living being is working for some results, if a person is working day and night at a factory he is doing so to get money or get a high position etc. So every one practically is motivated to work based on the results he or she may derive after that. But from what we understand in this verse what Krsna is saying looks to be exactly contradictory at the first glance.

As per the Vedic knowledge the mentality to enjoy the fruits of our actions is one of the causes of our sufferings in this material world. When the results are favorable we enjoy and when the results are unfavorable we become morose. So either we perform good work or bad work we will have to enjoy or suffer its results if we do them on our on accord or in other words if we work for our sense gratifications. Some may think so what is wrong in that, that is a obvious law of action and reaction, so if we abstain from doing any impious work we will not have to suffer, and we should therefore engage in pious activities only so we will get good results. Undoubtedly it is always recommended to perform pious activities, like charity, sacrifice etc, these are virtuous deeds indeed, but what Lord Krsna is pointing here is how to transcend both good and bad work so that we will not have to either suffer or enjoy any reactions of either work.

Again a question may arise as to what is the need for that , if I transcend both good and bad work, then it is ok that I will not be suffering , but what about enjoyment, then how will I be happy? So isn’t it better to perform pious acts and enjoy their results? As per the Vedic literature, this material world is compared to a forest fire, in a forest nobody goes to set fire, but still due to friction between trees in the forest, fire is ignited, Similarly in this material world though we may resolve only to perform pious activities and hence reap the good fruits and enjoy we may have unknowingly committed some sin against some other living entity, this material world is so designed that it is not possible to be saved from sinful activities. An illustration of this is that while walking though we may not want to kill any ants we unknowingly kill them, for which we will be accounted for and face the reactions for that. So it is practically impossible to only perform pious activities and be always happy in this world. Then the next question is, Is there a way out? The above verse and many other such verses from Bhagavad Gita is the answer to our question.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna instructs us in this verse that , we as living entities are eternal loving servants of God and hence it is in our duty and best interest to work for him. He indicates that we have the right to perform our duties as per our natures, but we are not entitled to the results, and again he tells us that because we are not entitled for the results we should not stop working. Since our motivation to perform any action or work is the anticipation of some benefit from that work, one may ask if I am not entitled to the results then what is the use of working? Elsewhere in Bhagavad Gita Lord Krsna says that without working one cannot even maintain one’s own material body so one has to work anyhow. So it is better to work for Krsna or God as his instruments and be free from the reactions of work and remain peaceful and happy. One crude example in this connection could be that if we perform some work in the office on our own accord we will be responsible for its success or failure, but if we work on behalf of our supervisor or Manager, the success or failure is the responsibility of the superior or Manager. Similarly if we work as instruments of Krsna, All perfect Lord promises us to free us from all the reactions which will in turn make us happy and peaceful.

So the point here is that though we are not entitled to the results of the work, we should not stop performing our prescribed duties and we should perform them for the satisfaction of the Supreme without considering our personal success or failure , this is called yoga, or connection with the supreme.

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate [ B.g. 2.48]

“Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga.”

In the third and fourth chapter Lord Krsna explains the process of fruitive work or karma by devotional service or bhakti. There are nice processes of devotional service, which starts with hearing and chanting about God, and the best method in this age of Kali is to chant the holy names of God, Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hara Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

It should not be misunderstood that since Lord Krsna says that we are not entitled to the results we will be left starving and we will have to just work and get nothing in return etc, No that is not the case. As mentioned in the verse above Krsna says that we should not falsely think that the results that I am getting are solely due to my work and nobody else’s and hence I should only enjoy the results. It is mentioned in the eighteenth chapter of Bhagavad Gita that there are five causes for the accomplishment of all action the five causes are as follows

“adhisthanam tatha karta
karanam ca prthag-vidham
vividhas ca prthak cesta
daivam caivatra pancamam” [ B.g. 18.14]

“The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul—these are the five factors of action.”

Only after the final sanction of the Supreme Soul any action is accomplished and the results for that action will depend on the sanction of the Supreme Person and our past activities. It is a common occurrence that every one must have experienced, many times it so happens that although we may have planned everything very neatly and precisely the results are not satisfactory or even worse and sometimes even though we do not plan perfectly we still get exceptional results. So again many may ask then if everything depends on God then why should I work, let God decide and give me the results, to answer this very question Krsna says

ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani [ B.g. 2.47]

“Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty”

Sadly, in today’s world it is often seen that people misinterpret the texts in Bhagavad Gita to suit their own purpose or understanding. When Lord Krsna asks us to work for him and do not worry about the results, people do not accept this part of Bhagavad Gita thinking it to be too much of a demand from God. If one studies the instructions from a bonafide source and tries to understand Bhagavad Gita As it is, without his or her own interpretation, one will definitely benefit from the instructions of Lord Krsna and will be peaceful. Just like Arjuna did not want to fight the Battle of Kurukshetra for he was thinking in terms of his own happiness and distress, but after listening to Bhagavad Gita from Krsna, he decided to work as an instrument of Krsna and says

arjuna uvaca
nasto mohah smrtir labdha
tvat-prasadan mayacyuta
sthito ‘smi gata-sandehah
karisye vacanam tava [ B.g. 18.73]

“Arjuna said: My dear Krsna, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.”