karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi
Literal Meaning: You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
This is undoubtedly the most famous verse of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. In fact, this was my first introduction to the sacred text. We had a big poster in our living room with Lord Krishna and Arjuna’s picture with this verse on it. I was a teenager at that time, and never quite understood the meaning. Truth be told, I used to think what Lord is saying is some utopian concept and not practical. How can anyone do any work without an outcome in mind? How can not one worry about an outcome, and if is not attached to the outcome, why would the person work in the first place.
To say that, someone as insignificant as me has grasped the inner meaning of the verse of this divine text will be the most ignorant way to look at life, but with Lord’s grace, I found my meaning of this verse when I found my Guru. His way of living, his conduct is living example of this verse. With Lord’s grace alone, I got glimpses of truth in these verses after I observed the way our beloved Swamiji perform his actions. I also understood that it’s possible to work in this way even in this day and age, that these instructions are not bound by any time, place, and circumstances. These are for seekers of all ages and times.
My Limited Understanding of the verse:
What Lord is telling a seeker here, is not that he just needs to do work and not think of the outcome, as different efforts and actions will get a different outcome. Someone who wants to be a pianist has to learn music and some who want to be an athlete have to work on increasing their stamina. Hence, one should be able to ascertain the outcome before he puts any effort so that he put efforts in the right direction. Like if you want to increase the devotion, it would not happen just sitting in meditation pose, one needs to establish a relationship and bond with his/her deity, on the other hand, if one wants to increase his awareness, concentration, and be able to hold that awareness for a long time, it would not happen just by devotion, one has to practice for long tiring hours to sit in meditation and try to be able to hold the concentration, there is no other way.
Lord here is saying that although every action will produce certain fruits, one should work in a spirit that he alone is not entitled to the fruits of your actions, that although he is putting the efforts, the fruits produced by those efforts are for all.
Why are the fruits belong to all? This is the doubt that can come to any intelligent seeker, that when I am putting the efforts, why should fruits of my actions belong to all? I mean, if I want I can share, but why the Gita is saying that they do not belong to me alone, why they belong to all, this doubt has been answered by Lord Krishna in chapter 18, verse 14: The body, the doer, our instruments of perception, various resources, and Divine Providence—these are the five factors of action. Here Lord is telling the seeker that he alone is not the cause of action, there are five factors, and he, the doer, ego, is only one of those factors. Hence, ideally, he is only entitled to one-fifth of the results. If ego contemplates on this truth that ego alone is not responsible for the outcome, then, we begin to understand what Lord is saying and asking us to do. He is saying since you are not the only cause of the outcome, hence do not feel entitled to the outcome. If you are successful, only 20% of success belongs to you, and if you fail, then also, you alone have not failed. If we sincerely practice this, and not just listen or try to understand it intellectually, then slowly and slowly you get detached from the fruits of the action, the attachment that we feel is actually the result of the sense of entitlement we feel towards anything, if we feel something belongs to us, there is a natural sense of attachment that develops, however, if we know we are not entitled to something, we do not feel attached.
Over time, as the seeker contemplates this truth and brings this fact to his/ her awareness every time he is putting effort, a sense of detachment dawns upon him naturally, and then with his grace alone, he offers his little entitlement also to the divine. This stage can only come when are detached from the fruits of results. Only when we are not attached to something, we can part with it and offer it to someone. This is the great secret of right action that Lord Krishna suggested. I would like to also share that there are two stages to this practice:
- In the first stage, the seeker has to start observing and understanding that he alone is not the cause of the outcome, good or bad. The true seeker starts to observe that anything that happens to him, he alone is not the cause, he starts to see the coincidences, things that were already aligned before that made something possible, a certain sense of gratitude naturally flows from the heart of such seeker.
- In the second stage, he observes that now he is able to freely share the fruits that he received by his actions, yet he is attached to the fruits since he has experienced some level of detachment and also experienced the sense of peace, contentment, and freedom that comes as a result of this detachment, he wants to be shed this cage, leave all the attachments, and be free. At this stage, he wants to be free of this little attachment also to be free from all, then he offers it all to the divine alone and works to please Lord alone, he works with a sense of responsibility, as a servant of Lord alone. He no more wants any outcome and works in the spirit of service to the Lord alone, his every act, be it material, mental, or spiritual, becomes an offering to the divine alone, and he remains free. Something transformational happens as an outcome of this complete surrender to the divine. The divine fills this person with endless enthusiasm and fervor to perform the act, he becomes the perfect instrument to do the works as per divine plan, one can feel the divinity in his presence, speech, thoughts, and action. Our Beloved Swamiji is a living example of this. Every act of his is performed for the sake of work alone, be it his writing, or talks, or charity, or a simple conversation with a person, at all times, every act of his is offered to the mother divine.
You alone are the efforts one put, You alone are the place where we perform the action, You alone are the one through which we perceive the action to be performed, You alone are the resources through the support our actions, and You alone are the divine presence that makes all possible. All Glories to Lord of infinite possibilities!!!