कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि |
This is an extremely popular verse of the Bhagavad Gita, so much so that even most school children in India are familiar with it. It’s the 47th verse of the second chapter.
But what does it really mean?
It offers deep insight into the proper spirit of work. It’s a deep thought on expectation and assumption.
The verse gives four instructions regarding the science of work:
- Do your duty, but do not concern yourself with the results: We have the right to do our duty, but the results are not dependent only on our efforts. A number of factors come into play in determining the results—our efforts, destiny—our past karmas—the divine intervention, the efforts of others, the cumulative karmas of the people involved, the place and situation etc. Now if we become anxious for results, we will experience anxiety whenever they are not according to our expectations. The fact is that when we are unconcerned about the results, we are able to focus entirely on our efforts, and the result is even better than before.
- The fruits of your actions are not for your enjoyment: To perform actions is an integral part of human nature. Having come into this world, we all have various duties determined by our family situation, social position, occupation, etc. While performing these actions, we must remember that we are not the enjoyers of the results—the results are meant for the pleasure of the supreme. The individual soul is a tiny part of our creator, and hence our inherent nature is to serve the supreme through all our actions.
- Even while working, give up the pride of doership: when we perform actions, then why should we not consider ourselves as the doers of those actions? The reason is that our senses, mind, and intellect are inert; the supreme energizes them with power and puts them at our disposal. Thus, we must give up the ego of doing, remembering that the supremehead is the only source of the power by which we perform all our actions.
- Do not be attached to inaction: Although the nature of the living being is to work, often situations arise where work seems burdensome and confusing. In such cases, instead of running away from it, we must understand and implement the proper science of work. However, it is highly inappropriate if we consider work as laborious and burdensome, and resort to inaction. Becoming attached to inaction is never the solution and is clearly condemned.
In short, the verse means that just keep doing your stuff, don’t do it with a preset expectation and assumption. Give it your best and perform your duties and when you get the result, desired or not, don’t attach yourself with it. Don’t get super-excited and become mad if you achieve the desired result or don’t become depressed and attempt suicide if you don’t achieve the desired result.
For example, if you achieve a sales target, don’t drown in pride that you alone did it and become narcissistic. And for example, if you don’t achieve a sales target, don’t blame yourself anyone and become depressed to the extent of committing suicide.
The same goes for human relationships if you keep excepting—without discussing it—all the time from your partner, you’re bound to have surprises. But don’t attach yourself with the surprises. Don’t stress or kill yourself because you don’t certain things as your desired because expecting is not the right thing to do in the first place.
Life hasn’t promised you anything.
Expectation and assumption are really bad for your mental health and well being. This verse from the ancient scripture is trying to give a practical and important message.