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The basics of karma yoga PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango 'stv akarmani


You have a right to work, but never to the result thereof. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.


We are back to the shlokas now. This shloka forms the anchor of the karma yoga. Doing karma is in our hand. We can decide and choose what karma we do. But, the result is not in our hand. This is a simple and yet very accurate statement.

Yet there will be no result if there is no karma and perhaps that is why Krishna in the second line emphasizes on the fact that we should not become attached to no doing any karma. If the result is not in my hand why should I do any karma? Kabir says:

Ajagar kare na chaakari
Panchi kare na kaaj

So, why should we do any work? Krishna says to Arjuna that he should not become attached to not doing any karma. As far as the result is concerned, doing karma is just one factor, but is an important factor.

Doing karma is an important factor in obtaining a given result. So we like Arjuna have to work in order to get any results. But, the result also depends on other factors. This reality is reflected in our every day life. Recently I had to fly to New York from Portland. The flight was in the morning at 6 A.M. I was heading to the Airport. The weather was bad and the roads were icy. I got to the airport half an hour before the flight and the gates were closed. I miss the flight and then had to reschedule. There went the plan of my meeting in New York at 10 a.m. I should have left early. I could have done this or I could have done that. And it could have been worse. I could have been off the road and so on.

Krishna is not against planning and he is not against success. He simply wants us to understand the ground realities. Amongst these other factors that influence the results are divine factors as well. Krishna asks Arjuna to pray to mother Durga before the start of the Mahabharata war. Rama worships Shiva at Rameshwaram before he heads for Lanka to fight with Raavana. Vedas are full of descriptions of yagyas to fulfill certain results.

Doing karma is one factor in the eventual result. External elements like weather, the car, and other people are another. Divine influence is also significant. Therefore it important to realize that you or me play a small part in the overall result, but that part still is fundamental. It is fundamentally important to plan and execute the plan into action.

The results depend on many factors and they all should be considered. But, expecting the result is a different issue. Because the results depend on many other factors, we should be prepared to fully embrace if the result turns out to be sour, and move on from there. Krishna is not saying in these shloka that we should not expect the results. He is saying that it just is not solely in your hand.

Expectations bring their own problems. Once we start expecting results, a certain proportion of our energy moves from the action and is attached to the expectation. We are not fully with our karma. Attention is diverted to the expected result, and therefore we cannot give 100% to the karma. How can there be full productivity if the effort is not 100 percent? Moreover, we get frustrated when the expected result does not happen. Instead of accepting and moving on, we get into the cycle of anger and repentance. More energy is wasted and then how can we be as effective as we ought to be? Then comes the divine factor or luck factor. There is a common saying that ‘Luck favors the brave.’ The divine does not flow along with people who are busy being frustrated and angry.

Krishna here is not just stating the law of karma but is also giving a formula for success. He is giving us means to become more effective in our lives. We have to understand the basics of karma. It is important that we do our karma. What karma we do depends upon what our intellect level is. And that is where the importance of buddhi yoga comes in. Krishna has already talked some aspects of buddhi yoga and we have also discussed the nishclatattva concept of Shankaracharya in our previous column. We shall explore more of this in coming shlokas where Krishna looks more into this buddhi yoga and the state of sthitapragya.

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