Shree Krishna explained Karm yog to Arjun. To perform Karm yog one must not be attached to the outcome of one’s actions, nor must one be attached to inaction (chapter 2, verse 47). While keeping your mind in God, you must perform your duty free from attachment and be unaffected by either success or failure (chapter 2, verse 48). Then you will transcend good and bad actions and attain freedom from the bondage of karm (chapter 2, verse 50). By performing your actions while renouncing the fruit of those actions, you will be freed from the bondage of birth and death and will attain a perfect, eternal Divine state (chapter 2, verse 51). This brings up several questions.
1) How can an action be performed without being attached to the outcome?
By nature, when we undertake an action, it is with a specific goal in mind. In fact, Darshan Shastras say ‘prayojan manuddishya mandopi na pravartate’ (even a total fool doesn’t perform any action without having an aim in mind). Thus, we first form a goal in our mind, and then we undertake the action. In this case, how could we not be attached to the outcome? Here we must understand some of the nuances of karm and deeper workings of the mind with an example.
Example: Building a Temple
Let us say someone has a goal in mind to build a temple so more people can be inspired to do devotion to God. He desires this positive outcome, and it is only because of this that he will undertake the many years worth of actions required to achieve this goal. But is he attached to the outcome? Let us understand more.
Gita encourages us to undertake good actions, but advises us not to be attached to the outcome. If we are attached, then it means that we will be disheartened if our goal is not achieved, and we will be elated if our goal is achieved. A person undertakes many such endeavors in his life, from trying to graduate with a particular degree, to trying to land a particular job, to trying to marry a particular person, to trying to raise good kids, to trying to attain optimum health, to trying to help others through charitable projects, etc. No person is successful in all their endeavors. Thus, if we are attached to the outcome of those endeavors, we will spend our whole life on a roller coaster ride of emotions – sometimes elated, sometimes disheartened, and always vacillating between the two. This type of emotional instability makes our life stressful and unhappy. In karm yog, a person undertakes the action with a positive goal in mind, but is not personally attached to the outcome (success or failure) of the action. In other words, if the action produces the desired result, they are not elated – they move on the the next good undertaking. And if the action fails to produce the desired result, they are not disappointed – they simply try again. There is a saying which illustrates this facet of karm yog: “Take your job seriously, not yourself.”
Let’s return to the temple example. If the person fails to build the temple, even after years of effort, he may be embarrassed and be ashamed to admit his failure in front of others. This shows that he was not doing it as an act of karm yog – he was personally attached to the outcome of his endeavor. Even while trying, he would have been experiencing the fear that, “If I fail, I will be embarrassed. Others will think less of me.” This fear would have paralyzed his creative thinking to some degree and inhibited him from giving his best effort. The same fear may prevent him from persisting and trying again if he is met with failure. In the same way, if he succeeds in building the temple, he may feel proud of his accomplishment, feeling that he has done something great. This also shows that it was not an act of karm yog – part of his undertaking was due to his personal attachment to his own success and failure, and how he will be viewed by others.
Let us discuss another example of “Arjun Fights the Battle Of Mahabharat” to understand Karm Yog completely – continued in next article.