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Karma yoga : Life rewards action’

Sankhya yoga/Topic of knowledge(Chapter 2 …continued)

In our last post we dealt with the topic: who is a wise person? One question that comes up for the serious seeker is: how can I gain this wisdom and live my life, or should I just junk everything, become a sanyasi and study this full-time? Every sincere seeker, at some time, will be faced with this dilemma. The other question that will come up is: you have talked about this knowledge but you have not given any sadhana; what is to be done? There’s nothing to be done. So the topic starts in the second chapter itself where Krishna talks about karma yoga and it’s elaborated further in the third chapter. That’s why I did not do this topic of karma yoga earlier and I’m doing it now as we are entering the third chapter.

Karma yoga is a very popular topic and also a much misunderstood one. One of the main misconceptions is about working without expecting results. Nobody, not even a fool, will do that. A fool will have foolish expectations and a sensible person will have sensible expectations from an activity that he is engaged in. Even Krishna wouldn’t have taught Arjuna the Gita without expectations. Yes, Krishna did not expect to be showered with gratitude by Arjuna, but he did expect Arjuna to understand him. That’s why he went on and on for eighteen chapters, otherwise he could have just told Arjuna that you are all-pervading awareness, now shut up and fight, but he did not do that. He taught him sincerely and systematically, which shows that Krishna expected Arjuna to understand. Therefore, working without expectations is not possible; you always have expectations, you always have desires.

But Krishna makes a very interesting observation here. If you are functioning purely on the basis of your desires and you expect to be happy when your desires are fulfilled, you have lost the game even before you have started the game. Because no human being can fulfill all his desires, there will never be a time in your life when all your desires will be fulfilled. As you fulfill your desires, more and more desires arise…. it’s a losing game. If you expect that at the end of the fulfillment of all your desires you will be happy, you have lost the game before you have even started. So what is the way out?

Krishna makes an interesting statement, he talks of vyavasayatmika buddhi

Vyavasayatmika buddhirekeha kurunandana

Bahushaka hyanantasca buddhayo’vyavasayinam.  (2.41)

A buddhi  that has resolved. Resolved what? Resolved its priorities. When I say `priorities’ everybody understands it as `I have so many things to do and I will list them in order of performance’. My work comes first, my family comes first, or my child comes first….. But this is order of importance, not priority; we are using the word `priorities’ in a slightly different sense here. I am talking about `priority’ as the need behind the desire. Like someone comes and tells me, `Swamiji , I’m getting married, you must come for my marriage.’

I say, `Great ! Of course, I’ll come. But tell me why are you getting married?’

He says, `Well, I have found a woman to love.’

`Love is great, to find love is really great, but why do you want to get married?’

`Swamiji,’ he says, `everybody gets married.’

No, look at me, I am not married, I love everybody, I can’t get married to everybody, can I ?

He is at a loss for words. What are you expecting out of a romantic relationship that would be the need behind the particular desire for that woman or man? The need is the emotional and physical companionship and satisfaction that you are seeking from the other. The need to love and be loved. That’s why if a relationship with one person doesn’t work out, an intelligent man or women doesn’t become a devdas. He recovers from his broken heart and finds someone else. That would be the logical thing to do if you are in touch with your priorities.

Similarly, someone is looking for a job and I ask him, `Why do you want this job?’

He says, `Because I want money.’

If money is all you want, why don’t you start a paan-bidi shop?

He says, `No, Swamiji,  paan-bidi shop is not sophisticated enough.’

I said, `Says who? There is a paan-wala in Mumbai with a website, Muchchad Paanwalla,  he has got his own website! So who says it’s not sophisticated?’

`Swamiji, with that job I won’t have any social standing.’

So look at it: the stated desire is a need for a job. The need behind it is financial independence, social standing, recognition from peers etc. This is the hidden priority behind the stated desire. You can have a hundred desires. If you look at all of them and identify the need behind those desires, you will find you have about half a dozen, eight or ten priorities in your life. Like, for example, your priority being your health which you can fulfill in many ways. You can’t say `I don’t like to go to the gym, therefore I cannot be healthy’. There are other ways of doing it; you can go jogging, you can take up yoga or tai chi or martial arts or football or play a game, there are a hundred ways of doing it. What you like would be what you desire but behind the desire lies the need you could fulfill directly. You could still fulfill it through a desire or two, but you will not be heart-broken if a particular desire doesn’t get fulfilled. Because you know the underlying need, the priority can be fulfilled in another manner. You fulfill the given priority and all the desires coming out of that priority are as good as fulfilled. If you don’t get the financial security and social standing from one job, you will not be heart-broken because you will get it through something else. May be you’ll become a consultant or you’ll start a business. You will not be heart-broken because you know there is another way of doing it.

So getting in touch with this sense of priority, the need behind one’s desire becomes the first step of karma yoga. Without this there is no karma yoga. One needs to understand one’s priorities first and the ultimate priority will of course be moksha.  Why am I doing anything, why are these priorities itself coming up? Because I want fulfillment through financial security, through esteem of friends and colleagues, and at the bottom of it all is the most hidden and final priority of them all–moksha. I expect all those who read this blog on the Gita to have at least a vague desire for and understanding of moksha. What one needs to do is examine one’s desires and understand the underlying need or priority behind them. Once this is understood, I can lead a more intelligent life and have a better chance of fulfilling all of them. Nobody can fulfill all of one’s desires but all of one’s priorities can definitely be fulfilled. In fact, this is how I look at  success; a successful person is one who has fulfilled all his priorities.

We saw one dimension of what it takes to be a karma yogi. We need to focus on a priority, not just the desire. At the same time, it’s a priority that’s expressing itself as a desire. Therefore, when I am working to fulfill it, I am still working through one desire or another. So Krishna gives us a very interesting verse which is also a very misunderstood verse:

Karmani eva adhikaarah te ma phaleshu kadachana

Ma karmaphalaheturbhuh ma te sango’stvakarmani. (2.47)

Your choice or right is only over the action and not over the result. This is misunderstood–people take this to mean that one should work without expecting results. Nothing can be further from the truth as we saw before. What Krishna means is, `Focus on the action and not on the result’. Your activity is goal- oriented, there is no doubt about that, there’s a desire to fulfill and a goal to achieve. Once the goal is decided on, then let your focus be on the process and not on the end. If the process is taken care of, the end is taken care of. Example: In any manufacturing, let it be idli or a computer, if the process is right the end product is good.

The idea is to make your life process-oriented rather than result-oriented. Of course, the results are kept in mind. Today, management is management by objectives and not merely by goals; it is the objective which is broken down to goals. Therefore, the objective in your life is now your priorities. These priorities are then broken down into desires which you fulfill, and in order to fulfill them you pay attention to the process.

Krishna elaborates here that you have freedom of action. All of life is nothing but situations impinging on you and you responding to them. You have a desire, you have to focus on what you can do rather than hoping that a fairy god-mother or Santa Claus will give it to you; these things don’t exist. Therefore, what one does is focus on what one can do. Here all my self-awareness in terms of my strengths, my weaknesses, what I am really expecting, my culture and background will come into the picture as well as how imaginatively I can fulfill my desire and your will to pursue it. It’s easy to have a lot of desires and get in touch with your priorities, but life rewards action, and if your action has to be rewarded, then you need the will to carry it out. And, of course, your personal values, cultural values, universal values, all these will influence your action. That’s why Stephen Covey in his book `The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ presents it as responsible, proactive functioning. I can happily quote him because he too has acknowledged the Bhagvad Gita in his bibliography. This will be the first part of karma yoga–focus on the priorities and focus on the action.

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