कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

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

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate

 Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment to success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. Evenness of mind is called yoga.


बुद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

buddhi-yukto jahatiha
ubhe sukrta-duskrte
tasmad yogaya yujyasva
yogah karmasu kausalam

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Krishna’s advice to Arjuna follows when the warrior declares his intention of opting out of the war he himself had decided to wage. At the penultimate moment emotion takes over Arjuna’s intellect and he becomes incapable of fighting as a soldier and takes refuge in weakness and extols passive abdication as a virtue. At this moment of confusion Arjuna ceases to think of his objectives as a Warrior and a General and his focus collapses to dwell on his own emotions as a person. Dejected and demoralized he asks the Supreme lord to guide him out of this confusion.

Krishna says:

कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

‘Your rights are limited to action alone, but not on the result.’ The focus is on the word ‘rights’ or adhikaar. ‘Do not ever occupy your mind with the fruit of your action.  And neither should you attach yourself to inaction.’

The word karma like dharma has several meanings depending on usage and context. Karma is in some cases all encompassing wherein it refers to cause and effect together, and in some cases, as in this, it is used in a very limited sense to mean immediate action.

Now Krishna makes a statement of fact. He Says, ‘your right is to action alone’. The right to results rests with the laws of cause and effect. You can only act in the immediate present and no matter what you do it is not possible to predetermine the consequences of your action.  The only mastery anyone can achieve is to attempt a perfection of his current action.

The fruit of an action will always be in the future. Whether seconds later or years. Thus anxiety for something in the future will dissipate mental energy.

Having chosen your course of life on the basis of your swadharma (deep inner nature) you work with a goal in mind, you fix objectives, you plan your actions, you think of several impediments that can come your way and accordingly plan out your action. You accordingly work out a strategy. Then why does Krishna say ‘do not be attached to the results of your action’.

Let us suppose an archer participates in a contest. Obviously he means to win. On his turn he focuses on the target, summons his skills refined over years of practice, balances the bow, senses the wind direction and speed, loads the arrow, and aligns it to the target and fires. This is the best he can do. If he were to start imagining the consequences of his success and failure in hitting the target, if he starts imagining the expressions of onlookers were he to fail, if he were to begin thinking of the prize money in the future, his attention will waver. That is all Krishna is saying. Do not ‘be’ for the fruit of action once you have decided to act. ‘Be’ only for the quality of action.

Examine further in a complex action such as a manager or a general.

‘No strategy survives contact with the enemy’ these famous lines were said by Helmuth Karl von Moltke , German Field and the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years. He is regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter 19th century, and the creator of a new, more modern method of directing armies in the field.

Once you have strategized to win on the battlefield, thinking of the spoils of war will divert your mind. Keep on with the struggle of completing the task at hand with constant focus on here and now.

As a politician, once the election campaign starts, strategize to win and not worry what comes after that. Why worry about your position when the results are announced. Give everything to the campaign and plunge into the contest.

Be mindful of action in the present at all times through total and conscious absorption. Do not give up on your objectives, keep trying and in that there is great joy. Never give in to inaction believing in fatalism and shun laziness to continue your struggle.

But how will this be achieved

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment and being the same in success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. An evenness of mind is called Yoga

Krishna declares that to achieve this kind of absorption with the task at hand it is required to renounce or give up the attachment to success or failure. To treat them as if they were just two sides of a coin. Krishna refers to Arjuna as Dhananjaya meaning conqueror of wealth suggesting that this doctrine is useful in achieving material success too. No philosophy or methodology is all encompassing till it is useful in being applied uniformly.

It is natural for a student to question as to how success and failure be treated alike. Success is likeable and failure causes misery.

But the Gita is insistent and uncompromising on this. It is reiterated in several verses across the text. Renounce entanglement, attachment, preoccupation with success or failure and only then it is possible to be engaged in working effectively.

Go on and on with your work. Believe in yourself. Act with commitment and dedication. Why worry. Intense work is victory and joy and peace. Evenness of mind is karma yoga

Without evenness/equanimity sub optimal work will be produced.

A significant portion of time is wasted in brooding over past failure or indulging in past victory. The mind then proceeds to imagine the joys of future victory and thereby an anxiety about possible reversals. The present is ignored. S

The doctrine of karma yoga warns against this habit of the mind.

बद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Most people mistake renouncement as a display of disinterest while in fact it is a consequence of mastery. Nothing can be ‘renounced’ in a vacuum. When a larger ideal occupies the mind the lower ideal is renounced. As a CEO your large ideal is the success of the enterprise and not your personal victory or defeat. The larger picture requires you to set aside your exhilaration and dejection at small victories and defeats. The larger picture requires that you can put your ego and personal likes and dislikes aside and make the best use of available talent in the organization.

Go for the big ideal of taking the organization forward. Once free from preoccupation with your personal victory or defeat you will without stress do your job.  This evenness of mind, this calm and collectedness is karma yoga

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

In the Gita United with knowledge is having attained self realization. That is the ultimate state of perfection for a karma yogi. As skill in action advances, as you become more consummate good and bad deeds (sanskaras or mental impressions) are transcended and nothing disturbs your calm and therefore the lord says’ Skill in action is yoga’

Examine this: A soldier returning from war after having killed several enemies will carry no imprint of having done a bad deed since his motive and intent was driven by a desire to live up to his job. On the other hand a criminal who kills people out of purely personal reasons will carry an altogether different imprint of that action. In the first case the ‘action ‘can be discarded as it were, and in the second it will be carried as baggage. This sanskara or mental impression is good or bad deed and not action per se

United with knowledge is not the same as learning or studying. When study and reflection result in intuitive, instinctive and effortless skill you unite with knowledge. This skill in action is in itself, joyful.


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