by Swami Krishnananda
The study that has been conducted up to this time concerning the teaching of the Bhagavadgita would have revealed to us that we are born with a duty, and we can never be free from some duty or the other. It also implies that we have no rights; we have only duties, contrary to what one would expect from the point of view of common human nature. The fight for rights is out of point in a world of duties, which is inescapable under the set-up of things. The duty that we owe to ourselves, as well as anything that is around us, is a necessary conclusion that follows from the nature of our relationship with things in general. The connection that obtains between us and the world at large is such that there is a mutual obligation, as it were, between ourselves and the world. This obligation is not a compulsion, but a necessary conclusion automatically following from the essential character of Being itself. Thus duty is an empirical manifestation of true being. Here is the sum and substance of the great gospel.
Our organic relationship with things is the reason behind the duty that we owe to things, and this also is the reason why we need not expect any fruit from the duty that we perform in respect of anyone or anything. To expect a fruit is a mistake. Ma phaleshu kadachana; ma karma phala he tur bhuh, ma te sangvasta karmani; karmanye vadhika raste: You have a duty, you have an obligation to do, but you have no right to expect a particular consequence or result or fruit to follow from what you do. This is a very difficult, pithy enunciation in the Bhagavadgita – that we have duties but we cannot expect any fruits from the duties that we perform.
This may look very odd and unpleasant to the selfish individual, but as I have tried to mention earlier, the law of the universe is not necessarily a pleasant dish that is served to the ego of man; it is a principle that operates, and it is neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Its reactions, under given conditions of personality, appear to be pleasant or otherwise. The duty that we owe to anyone or anything is the homage that we pay to the vastness of the atmosphere in which we are placed, and the grandeur of the relationship that is there between us and the whole of creation. There is a majesty ruling the whole cosmos; and it is this superabundance of magnificence, which is the law of the universe, that inexorably operates and impartially dispenses justice without any favour or disfavour in regard to any person or thing.
It is difficult to understand what all this means if we study this theme merely as an abstract science of logical philosophy. Perhaps I may place before you an analogy or a comparison that is more concrete and visible to our eyes than this pure abstract principle we are discussing in this context. We owe a duty to the body in which we are enshrined, and every part of the body owes a duty to every other part of the body, but no part of the body has a right over another part. This is something very novel that we see in the physiological organism of our own personality. Every limb of our body has a duty which it automatically performs without compulsion or impulsion, without any mandate or governmental enactment; yet, it does not expect anything from that particular limb to which cooperation is extended. If the stomach eats the food, the teeth, which have merely munched it and got nothing out of it, do not complain; and so on, with every other part of the body, there is an excessively friendly cooperation. 'Friendliness' is a poor word we are using to describe this immense unity of purpose that obtains between the limbs of our body. It is oneness in the midst of diversity of the organisational set-up. There is no expectation on the part of a limb of the body in respect of another limb, because the fruit that it might expect automatically follows from the duty that it performs. The privilege that you expect in this world, the right that you are craving for after performing a duty, is something which you need not expect – it will follow. When the sun rises, there will be light. Likewise whatever you need, which is called your expectation or the fruit so-called, will follow spontaneously from the very fact of your having performed your duty. You need not ask for the fruits; they shall drop from the skies, even without your asking for them. And we will be told sometime later in the Bhagavadgita that when one is united with the purpose of the whole creation, he shall be taken care of by the very law of the universe, and need not cry, "Let it come." Ananyascintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate; tesam nityabhiyuktanaam yogaksemam vahamyaham – is a great pendent hanging in the garland of the verses of the Bhagavadgita as a central gospel. God, the universe, the law, whatever you may call it, shall protect you and take care of you more than a mother can do – provided you have that affection which you expect from the world.
Thus it is that we cannot expect any fruit of our actions, because our actions are duties that we owe and are not something grudgingly that we do under compulsion from outside. There is no 'outside' in this world. You have to listen to every sentence that I uttered last time and earlier; otherwise, I may not be able to repeat the same thing again and again because we have to cover a large area of study within a short time. The debts that we owe to things, if we would like to call them debts, are the same as the duties that we have to perform. It is the acceptance of an organic connection between ourselves and all things. It is the cooperation that follows from the very structure of creation. There is no competition possible; it is a word which has no sense under the sun – there is no such thing as that. There is only cooperation; there cannot be competition in this world. One cannot vie with the other, because there is no 'other' in this world. This will be made more clear as we move further on from the chapters of the Bhagavadgita, how there is no other. Your neighbour is an extended form of your own self – so the service that you render to your neighbour, which is the whole world outside you, is a service that you finally render to your own larger existence. This you will know further as you go deeper. This much about the verse: Karmanyevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana – Don't expect fruits.
Secondly, while you have to perform duty, the nature of the consequence that follows from the performance of duty is not clear to your mind. So to expect a particular result to follow from a particular action would be like a blind man groping in the dark and catching hold of what he does not know is there. While under the given circumstance of your existence you have an obligation towards things, which has to be clear to your mind, you cannot clearly perceive the result that will follow from that action because results are conditioned by infinite factors; not necessarily the thing that you do from the point of view of your only limited understanding. There are other factors which conditions things. Again, we shall revert to this theme as we go further towards the chapters that are to come.
You can sow the seed in a field and expect a harvest. In a way, you may be justified in expecting a large harvest to follow the fact of your sowing a seed, putting the manure, watering it, fencing it, guarding it. But do you believe that this is the only thing that determines the harvest? There are other conditions necessary for the harvest to be reaped apart from your tending it, and apart from all that you have done for it – the rainfall, the seasons, and the other natural conditions necessary may be greater conditioning factors than your need to sow the seed and pour manure and water into it; and many other invisible factors also are involved. Because we are not omniscient, we cannot know all the things in the world, we cannot know what result will follow from what action. Hence, it is not proper on the part of the person to expect a particular fruit from any action because the fruit is not in your hands, while the duty is your obligation. You can present a case before a court, but you cannot decide the case yourself – that has to be done by the judge. If you already decided the case, there is no need of presenting the case at all. So, the performance of duty is something like presenting a case, and the judgment is not in your hands, so don't expect the fruits.
"Knowing all this, how is that we seem to be sorrowful, bereaved, and not satisfied? Why is it, O Krishna?" Thus, the question is raised by Arjuna. "I understand what you say, but still I am very unhappy. Man is driven to the wrong, he always performs what is not good for him – he perpetrates error. Even though one can understand what you are saying, what is the reason?" Kama esakrodha esa rajo; gunasamudbhavah mahasano mahapapma vidhyenamiha vairinam: The enemy of man is his own inner instinctive impulsions. There are instincts that are emotional in nature, impulsions which are sometimes overwhelming and impetuous in their action. They can even confound the intellect and the reason of man. When a passion preponderates, reason subsides; the intellect will not work when the emotions are too strong. A man perpetuates offences though he knows that there is a law which will not permit me the perpetration of this act. A person who does wrong under normal conditions knows that such an action is wrong. But when a person is in height of passion, he is not a normal person – the normalcy is absent there. He becomes a temporary 'out of gear individual' who has lost the common sense that is required of a normal human individual. Like a flood that can devastate villages and destroy people, emotions can rise under given conditions. Then law does not operate, because one cannot be even aware that such a thing as law exists. A person may be hanged for an acute offence due to the operation of a law. It does not mean that the person is unaware of the existence of such a law, but at that particular moment he becomes unaware of it because reason fails. So, while the reason is a great guide indeed, perhaps the only guide that you have, it can get deflected out of its normal course by the vehemence of the flood of emotion which is the impulsion behind the feelings, which can gain an upper hand. These feelings, which are purely personal, selfish and would not take into consideration even the existence of other people, these emotions are called kama, krodha, lobha.