One of the most important lessons that one can learn from the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, is to perform one’s duty with the sole aim of doing it to the best of their ability but with no attachments whatsoever, either to its success or to its failure. This simply means that one should never allow emotions to come in the way while planning and executing an action because they affect the intelligence of the person and impede his or her capability to make proper choices. Doing work with a balanced mind which is not clouded by illusion or delusion ensures stability of mind whatever the result of the work done may be. It is the lack of clarity and firm principles that unsettle one’s mind when things don’t go as desired. Refraining from doing one’s prescribed work or giving up on the pretext of surrendering everything at the feet of Krishna is totally against Dharma.
The first words of Bhagavan Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita are:
(SBG 2:02)(The Supreme Lord said) : O Arjuna, where, in this hour of crisis, where did these qualities like weakness, which are unbecoming of honourable men, come from and take over you? Such qualities will prevent you from reaching higher levels in life and will also ruin your honour and get you a bad reputation.
(SBG 2:03) Do not give in to cowardice which is not manly and does not suit you. Shed this weak-heartedness and get up, O destroyer of enemies.
This clearly indicates that Krishna did not want Arjuna to quit the battlefield or to sit back and do nothing while his cousins, who had turned sworn enemies, fought and devastated his army.
The term Sharanaagati is often misunderstood to mean giving up everything at the feet of Krishna and doing nothing. The fact is that Sharanagati or total surrender, means surrendering oneself and also THE RESULTS OF ONE’S ACTIONS before Krishna. It means accepting wholeheartedly the results of the action done because every success or failure that one meets with, is a learning experience that is necessary for the person’s Karmic evolution. Sharanaagati most certainly does not mean giving up, folding one’s hands and abandoning action. When a man, who has already attained Sharanagati at the Feet of Krishna, sees that someone is attacking his spouse, child, parents or anyone else, he should do something in order to protect them and not sit idle thinking that Krishna would take care.
Action is a part of life. No one can ever be without performing any action.
(SBG 3:08) Do the duties prescribed for you because action is better than inaction. Even the maintenance of the body cannot be done without doing work.
Performing the right action is crucial. Duties are prescribed to people by destiny. People have various duties like those of being a son or a daughter, a father or a mother, brother or sister, employee, employer, teacher, student, law officer, doctor, soldier, politician, etc. Destiny leads people into different professions. The duty of a doctor is to help cure patients and save lives; the Dharma of a soldier is to be loyal to his motherland and protect it even at the cost of his own life; the job of a teacher is to ensure that each and every pupil has learned what he or she taught them; and so on. Work done sincerely but without any attachment to the results or claiming ownership, is Yoga. It is devotion and surrender to the Supreme Being.
(SBG 2:48) You have to do your duty without any attachment to its success or to its failure. This kind of equanimity is known as Yoga.
The following story should explain the importance of doing one’s prescribed duty and, the divinity in doing it as a sacrifice to the Supreme Being without any attachment to the results.
There was once a sage named Kaushik who had left his aging parents behind in his village in order to live in a forest since he desired to seek higher knowledge and spiritual powers through penance and meditation. He came across some ascetics in the forest and learned some powerful Mantras and the method to meditate. One day as Kaushik meditated, a crow arrived and perched on a nearby tree. It crowed loudly and incessantly probably because it was frightened by a falcon that was chasing it a few minutes earlier. Kaushik was enraged because the crow disturbed him during his meditation. He turned around, spotted the crow and gave it an angry stare. The crow burned instantaneously and turned to ashes. Kaushik was at first shocked to see such a sight and then saddened to realise that his ire had burned an innocent crow. However, deep in his mind, he felt proud that he had acquired such powers with which he could burn beings and objects with a mere stare. He felt satisfied with the work he had done for that day and proceeded for lunch. Wandering sadhus and other ascetics who lived on alms would usually walk to a nearby village, stand before some house and announce their presence. One of the women in the house would come out and give them whatever food she could share. Kaushik who now felt very proud of his powers, walked to the village that was hardly a mile from the place he sat for meditation. He went to the first house that was situated right at the beginning of the village and called out for the lady in that house. The lady who was busy with something answered, “Please wait for a while Sadhuji , I will get you some food.” Kaushik waited for a quarter of an hour and began to grow impatient.
He found it difficult to bear his hunger and this time called out for the woman a bit louder. The woman said exactly what she had said earlier, “Please wait for a while Sadhuji , I will get you some food.” Kaushik waited for some more time but finally lost his patience and started yelling at the woman, “How dare you insult a sage like me! Don’t test my patience anymore lest you incur my wrath.”
The woman did not respond to the yelling but in a few minutes, came out of the house with a pot of food. “Here is your food Sadhuji. Enjoy your meal. Once you have finished eating, you may leave the pot on the doorstep. I need to go back to my work.” Kaushik who was now seething with rage for being disrespected said, “You are insulting me you foolish woman! Never humiliate an enlightened sage like me!”
“Wait a moment Sadhuji! Did you by any chance think I am like that crow you burned?” said the woman with a twisted smile. Kaushik froze out of shock. There was no possibility of anyone knowing about what happened to the crow because there was nobody else there when it happened. He tried to calm himself down and asked her, “How did you know about it? Who told you? How is it possible that you know about it when there was no one else apart from the crow and me when the incident took place?”
The woman, who was going back into the house, turned around and looked at him. She said to him, “People respect you and address you as ‘Sadhuji’. They honour you for your knowledge of divine scriptures. But I can only say that you don’t seem to have learned much from the scriptures you claim to have studied.”
Embarrassed, Kaushik said, “Wait a moment! How did you know about what I did to the crow? Are you also some kind of an enlightened person, a muse or an avatar of a goddess?” The woman who was in a hurry to get back to do her work said just before entering her house, “I am sorry to say that I have no time to answer this question. Please forgive me Sadhuji. I suggest that you go to the town and see the butcher there. He will be able to give you the answer to your question.”
Kaushik was totally puzzled. He forgot about his hunger as he wanted to find out how the woman knew about the crow incident. He walked to the town.
As he entered the town he asked someone for directions and walked towards the butcher’s house. On the way, he met some passersby and casually asked them about the butcher. All of them said that the butcher was a wise man and was well respected by everyone. He soon arrived at the butcher’s place. The butcher shop was adjacent to the butcher’s house. Being a Sadhu, Kaushik walked reluctantly up to the door of the butcher shop and called out for the butcher. The butcher, who was over sixty years of age, was busy chopping meat. He paused for a moment, looked up at him and said, “Ah! You must be the one who burned the crow with a single stare and I suppose you have been sent here by the lady in the village. Please wait outside for a while until I complete my work. I will soon be with you and give you my answers to all your questions. You will need to have some patience Sadhuji!” Hearing what the butcher said, stunned Kaushik and he was absolutely bewildered.
He patiently waited outside the butcher shop. A few hours went by but this time Kaushik sat quietly and patiently without uttering a word. Finally, it was almost sunset and he heard the butcher closing the shop after a hard day’s work. The butcher went to a well nearby, had a wash and walked to Kaushik. He then said, “So you are surprised how an ordinary woman in a village could know what you did in the forest when no one was around you and how a butcher like me who chops meat and sells them for a living, could also know all this. You seem to be under the impression that you being a sage, who has studied the scriptures and undertaken severe penance, are the one who is eligible to possess such powers of the mind.”
“Of course that’s right!” exclaimed Kaushik and said, “I have given up everything I had for the sake of gaining knowledge and being closer to divinity and it has taken me many years to acquire the power I possess now. But how could you and that woman who have nothing to do with spirituality be so wise and possess the power of clairvoyance?”
The butcher almost smiled and said,”My dear young Sadhuji, doing one’s duty to the best of one’s ability is the highest form of worship. That woman in the village was attending to her sick husband who needed to be cleaned and fed when you arrived at her doorstep. Her duty came first which she completed before attending to you. Similarly I am a butcher because my parents and their parents were also butchers. Butchery is the only profession I have learned which I do with utmost dedication and perfection. I care for my old parents, wife and children. Being modest, performing my work well and also discharging my duties sincerely and efficiently is my Dharma. I worship my work. When I do my duty, I do it as an offering unto the Supreme Being and therefore I am freed from all sins. The virtues that the lady and I have, make us sanyasis although we are not dressed in ochre coloured clothes as you are.”
Kaushik immediately thought of his aging parents that he had left behind before he set out in pursuit of knowledge and spiritual powers. He realised the grave error he had committed by shunning his duties. He bowed before the elderly butcher and hurried back to his parents in order to care for them like a dutiful son would do.
Bhagavan Krishna says,
(SBG 8:27) Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practise as austerity, O Arjuna, do it for Me and as an offering unto Me.
(SBG 8:28) By doing so, you will be freed from the bonds of action that result in good and in bad. By being free and with your mind guided by the principle of the Yoga of renunciation, you will attain Me.
Work binds people to the material world because every action creates new Karma which again has to be balanced over a period of time through many Janmas. The cycle goes on forever unless it is broken through non-attachment to the work and to its results, and through Sharanaagati.
(SBG 3:09) Work binds people to the material world. Hence O son of Kunti, do your work perfectly well as a sacrifice for the Supreme Being so that you can be free from all bondage and attachment.
(SBG 5:03) A person who neither hates nor desires the results of his actions is known to be a Sanyasi or one who has renounced everything. Such a person is free from dualities and is therefore liberated from material bondage.
(SBG 5:10) One who performs actions dedicating them to the Supreme Bhagavan and gives up all attachment, is untouched by sin, just as a lotus leaf is by water.
Thoughts and the state of a person’s mind dictate his or her well-being. They are affected by various factors which can be broadly classified as external and internal ones. The external factors are the societies that people live in, injuries and accidents, illnesses, climatic conditions, availability of nutrition, natural conditions and also natural disasters. The internal factors are the sense of perception, the ability to mentally process inputs received through sense organs, the various feelings and emotions such as ego, arrogance, anger, jealousy, passions, lust, greed, fear, hatred, vengefulness, etc. The external and internal factors are constantly influencing peoples’ states of mind. However it is one’s ability to stay unattached, that protects them from undergoing emotional upheavals that destroy peace of mind. A person who thinks, “I am doing my duty as a sacrifice to the Supreme Being and I will humbly and gratefully accept whatever the result may be, is always steady and peaceful. As mentioned above, no one can abstain from doing any work which means that performing work is also a continuous process. However, a person who has offered Sharanagati, although performing work and experiencing successes or failures, is simply not affected by them but always has a balanced mind. Such a person is known as a ‘Sthithapragnya’. This is explained in verses SBG 2:47 through 2:57.
Feelings of being euphoric, upset, enraged, afraid or devastated are states of mind which are a result of attachment. A person, who sees the same Supreme Being residing in all beings, hates no one.
(SBG 6:31) He who worships Me residing in all beings in a spirit of unity, becomes a Yogi and, whatever circumstances he may be in, resides in Me.
(SBG 12:25) A person who neither causes fear to others nor is frightened by others, and is not agitated due to euphoria, anger and excitement caused by the world, is dear to Me.
Everyone is in a different stage of Karmic evolution. Chronological age has nothing to do with the level of evolution an Atman may have reached in a particular Janma. The good or bad that people do depends on their respective levels of Karmic evolution. When someone does something bad to you, it is a part of his or her process of evolving but that does not prevent you from reacting or fighting back within the framework of Dharma. Sitting tight and allowing them to harm you further is ‘Adharmic’. Such an attitude of getting hit or being killed in the hands of attacking enemies, may have been taught by cowardly and self-centred leaders with convoluted ideas of spirituality, but they are totally opposite to the Teachings of Bhagavan Shri Krishna. It is important to understand and remember that facing situations boldly, fighting challenges, strategising, studying the opponent, taking the support of others and bringing out the ‘Kshatriya’ in oneself, are absolutely essential and totally ‘Dharmic.
(SBG 2:31) Considering your duty as a Kshatriya, you should not falter as there is no greater work for you than a battle which protects Dharma or righteousness.
(SBG 3:30) Renounce all your works completely in me, have full knowledge of the Self and fix your mind on me, don’t expect any benefits, be clear of arrogance and laziness and fight.
(SBG 2:33) If you don’t fight this battle of righteousness, you will be a sinner by failing in your duty and it will cause the loss of your standing as a warrior.
(SBG 2:37) Either you will be killed in this battle and you will enter heaven or, you will win this battle and enjoy the kingdom on earth. Therefore arise and fight with resolution.
This however does not justify vigilantism. Even those who followed the evil Duryodhana and fought for him in the Mahabharata war mostly adhered to the rules of engagement.
Arjuna had a question to Bhagavan Krishna about renouncing all comforts in life and living a life of a hermit offering devotional service to Bhavan Krishna and that of a dutiful person who performs his or her duty.
(SBG 5:01) Arjuna said:
O Krishna, you praise renunciation of all actions, and then you talk about devotional Service or Yoga. Please tell me for sure, which one of the two is better.
(SBG 5:02) Bhagavan Shri Krishna said: Renunciation and the Yoga of performing selfless action both lead to liberation. But among the two, the Yoga of performing selfless action is superior to the Yoga of renunciation of action.
A true Sanyasi is a Karma Yogi who, with loyalty to humanity, family, nation, organisation and to the society they are a part of, does his or her duty renouncing all attachment to the results. Performing one’s duty is the highest form of worship that makes one a true Karma Yogi who is closer to the Supreme Bhagavan Krishna.
Jai Shri Krishna