yavan artha udapane
tavan sarvesu vedesu
As on obtaining a reservoir of water flooded on all sides there is no use for a small reservoir of water. So a Brahmin, who obtains enlightenment, has the same use for all the Vedas, or says no use at all.
A small reservoir of water is useful, in a place where there is no other source of water. But nobody ever, pays any attention to such a reservoir of water where there is a big reservoir of pure water. Moreover that such a small reservoir of water becomes dirty and impure and cannot be used for drinking purpose, after washing and bathing in it. But water from a large stream remains clean and pure, even after washing and bathing in it. Likewise oblations, charities, penances and pilgrimages etc., mentioned in the Vedas, are of use to those who are ignorant. But these become meaningless to the illumined souls who have realized God. The great soul after realizing God transcends the three attributes (modes), rises above the pairs of opposite viz., becomes free from attachment and aversion, gets established in the self and remains unconcerned about provision and preservation. He always remains devoted to God.
There is no end of worldly pleasures. There are endless universes and there are endless pleasures in them. But if they are renounced and one becomes detached from them, they come to an end. Similarly there are endless desires. But if they are renounced, they come to an end and the man becomes desire less. To one who has the ‘brahmajnana’, there is nothing to be gained by any action either spiritual or secular as he has no desires to be fulfilled. Hence the Vedas are not of any use for him as there is no happiness to be gained by the fruits of actions prescribed by the Vedas either in this world or the next. He is filled with the bliss absolute and all the other joys are like bubbles when compared with that. Hence Krishna compares the Vedas, meaning the fruits accruing from them to the water in a small reservoir like a well or pond when the whole area was flooded with water.
karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani
You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.
There are three considerations here: prescribed duties, capricious work, and inaction. Prescribed duties refer to activities performed while one is in the modes of material nature. Capricious work means actions without the sanction of authority, and inaction means not performing one’s prescribed duties. The Lord advised that Arjuna not be inactive, but that he performs his prescribed duty without being attached to the result. One who is attached to the result of his work is also the cause of the action. Thus he is the enjoyer or sufferer of the result of such actions. As far as prescribed duties are concerned, they can be fitted into three subdivisions, namely routine work, emergency work and desired activities. Routine work, in terms of the scriptural injunctions, is done without desire for results. As one has to do it, obligatory work is action in the mode of goodness. Work with results becomes the cause of bondage; therefore such work is not auspicious. Everyone has his proprietary right in regard to prescribed duties, but should act without attachment to the result; such disinterested obligatory duties doubtlessly lead one to the path of liberation.
Arjuna was therefore advised by the Lord to fight as a matter of duty without attachment to the result. His nonparticipation in the battle is another side of attachment. Such attachment never leads one to the path of salvation. Any attachment, positive or negative, is cause for bondage. Inaction is sinful. Therefore, fighting as a matter of duty was the only auspicious path of salvation for Arjuna.
God has bestowed this human birth, the very last of all births so that by performing actions in the form of selfless service to others, a person may achieve salvation and be freed from the bondage of the cycle of birth and death. If he remains engaged in selfish actions, these will result in bondage. In case he is given to indolence and heedlessness, he will follow a cycle of birth and death. Therefore, the Lord advises human beings, to render selfless services for common good. Favourable or unfavourable circumstances cannot make a man happy or sad. It is merely his ignorance, which makes him happy or sad as he identifies himself with those circumstances and becomes the ‘experiencer’ of happiness or sadness. If he gives a serious thought, he will come to know that the external circumstances cannot make his internal self, either happy or sad. He should make proper use of the favourable circumstances by serving others and of the undesirable ones, by renouncing the desire to enjoy pleasure. You cannot claim the fruit of action, because you are not free in getting it, which is dispensed by the Lord. If you perform actions with a desire for fruits, you will get into bondage. Secondly, all actions are performed with the help of worldly objects and persons. So it is dishonest, to desire the fruit of those actions, for only one’s own self.
The means to be free, from the desire for fruits of actions are as follows-(i) Desire cause a feeling of lacking something. Its fulfilment makes one a slave. Its non-fulfilment causes suffering. The pleasure derived out of fulfilment of desire, gives birth to new desires and a man goes on getting interested in performing new actions, in order to reap their fruit. By understanding this fact in the right perspective, a man becomes free from the desire for the fruit of action. (ii) Actions have a beginning and an end, these are not eternal. So, how can their fruits be eternal? But the self is eternal. How can the eternal get any benefit from the perishable? By understanding this fact, one becomes detached from the world and attains God-realization. In order to be free from the desire for fruits of actions, an aspirant should have discrimination as well as feelings to serve others. Discrimination will be helpful to an aspirant in renouncing his comforts, while the feelings of service to others, will enable him to do ‘good’ to others. By doing so, a devotee can follow the discipline of ‘Detached Action’ in the right sense. Let your attachment not be to inaction, because by leaning towards inaction, you will become lazy and idle, and like the desire for fruit it will also mislead you to bondage.
In this verse there are four points which need attention-(i) your right is to perform your duty (action) only. (ii) Never lay claim to its fruit. (iii) Do not be the cause of the fruit of action. (iv) Let your attachment be not to inaction. Out of these four points, the first and the fourth, have the same theme as both of these lay emphasis on the performance of duty or action. Similarly, the second and the third points have the same theme, as in both of these it is mentioned, that you should not desire or be the cause of the fruit of action. Actions done with an expectation of results cause bondage because they are done with desire. But the same act done as an offering to God releases one from bondage.
The important fact about Karmayoga is-protection of the rights of others by performing one’s duty and renouncing the fruit of action viz., renouncing one’s right. By protecting the right of others, old attachment is wiped out and by renouncing one’s own right, new attachment is not born. Thus when old attachment is wiped out and new attachment is not born, a man becomes ‘vitaraga’ (free from attachment).By becoming ‘vitaraga’ one realizes the self. The reason is in attaining Self-realization, attachment to the unreal things is the only obstacle.
Swami Vivekananda said “work for work’s sake; duty for duty’s sake” meaning that one should do work for its own sake and not out of desire to get the result. But the question is will anyone do anything unless he wants the result? Certainly not! There is nothing wrong in starting a work with a specific result in mind but Karma yoga consists in not getting attached to the result. This is not as pessimistic as it seems to be but sheer common sense. When we begin a work we cannot help fixing a goal to achieve as otherwise we would not have started at all. But once started we should concentrate on the action only without worrying about the result constantly as the anxiety will reduce our efficiency. On the other hand, if we put our heart and soul into the work we are doing, the result will automatically follow, and even if it does not, due to some factor on which we have no control, we will not feel frustrated as we have already had the satisfaction from the work itself.
This is the most misinterpreted and misused verse in the whole of Bhagavad Gita. People give unbelievable meaning and quote this verse to suit their actions or inactions.
- This clearly exploits the working class as they have no right to their fruits of actions and they must keep on working without rest irrespective of! – Union leaders.
- Why work when we cannot look for results? – Common man
- If I do not get credit for the order why I should I work for the case? – Salesman.
- In spite of all my hard work, I never get the results. This is my destiny! – Pessimist.
If you send an important mail for instance, you have the power only to send it and not over its being replied. It may never reach the recipient or he may never answer it but that is not in your control. If you worry about the possibility of not getting a reply the chances are that you will never send it.
yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate
O Dhananjaya (the conqueror of wealth), perform actions (duties) being steadfast in the path of Yoga, renouncing attachment, having become even-minded in success and failure; and that equanimity (equilibrium) is called Yoga.
The fundamental question which might be raised is what then is factually to be done? This is now being answered in this verse. Established in the science of yoga perform all activities. Yoga is the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness. Being established by this yoga, perform actions relinquishing attachment, motivation for rewards and depend solely upon the mercy of the Supreme Lord in all one’s activities. Totally unconcerned about success or failure, attainment or non-attainment resultant surrender in righteousness all actions as an offering unto the Supreme Lord. This is the eternal path called yoga by the wise as it consists of fixed concentration of the mind.
Renunciation of attachment will result in evenness of mind. A man should be even-minded, in favourable and unfavourable circumstances, in honour and dishonour, and in praise and reproach. A follower of the Discipline of Detached Action, should be so even-minded while performing actions, that he should not bother about their accomplishment or non-accomplishment, for getting the fruit or not, for getting salvation or not. He should remain devoted to his duty. If an aspirant has not realized detachment and equanimity, he should aim at evenness of mind. By having this approach, he will attain equanimity finally, which will lead to God-realization or Self-realization.
To give up attachment one should be free from desire and aversion. Then success and failure do not affect him. Whatever comes is accepted with equanimity. Then he concentrates only on the work at hand. We all live with memories of the past and hopes, expectations and fears of the future. And forget to live the present! Only present is available to us to think and work for better future, so why waste these precious moments in worries?
durena hy avaram karma
buddhau saranam anviccha
O Dhananjaya, action with a selfish motive is far inferior to that performed with equanimity of mind. Seek refuge in this evenness of mind, for low are those, who crave for fruit of action.
Action without equanimity, mislead to pain, as well as to the cycle of birth and death, because they have no power to lead one to salvation. Equanimity is the ability to neutralize actions. If there is no equanimity, one will develop one’s egoism and attachment, to the body. This egoism and attachment are beastly. An action performed with equanimity leads to God-realization, while motivated actions mislead to the wheel of birth and death.
tasmad yogaya yujyasva
yogah karmasu kausalam
A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, O Arjuna, which is the art of all work.
Lord Krishna speaks of directing one’s consciousness by spiritual intelligence. The merits one gains in the course of human existence such as fame, relations, power and wealth though pleasant should not be deemed important or be attached to. But those superior merits one has acquired by surrender and meditation to the Supreme Lord such as righteousness, compassion for all living entities, devotion and love of God should be most attached to. But one who is engaged in actions performed in spiritual intelligence is superior. By the grace of the Supreme Lord one acting in this way is relieved of both good actions which lead to heaven and evil actions which lead to hell even in this very life.
In the state of equanimity, a man while living in the world detaches himself from the world, and remains untouched by virtues and sins, as a lotus leaf by water. When one does all actions as karma yoga, without attachment to the result, it means that his mind is free from desires and his actions are not desire motivated. Thus he attains the evenness of mind. Then he does not accumulate fresh karma by his actions. His past karma which has not yet started giving result is demolished by his shedding off his ego as a result of evenness of mind.