कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||
karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi
karmaṇi—in prescribed duties; eva—only; adhikāraḥ—right; te—your; mā—not; phaleṣhu—in the fruits; kadāchana—at any time; mā—never; karma-phala—results of the activities; hetuḥ—cause; bhūḥ—be; mā—not; te—your; saṅgaḥ—attachment; astu—must be; akarmaṇi—in inaction
You have the right to work only, and not to the fruits of work. Let not the fruit of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.
The doctrine of Karma Yoga is declared in this verse. Man has a right to work, and not to the fruits of his work. It means that work should be done in a spirit of surrendering the fruits to the Lord. At all times, and under all circumstances, man should keep the mind free from the desire for the fruits of work. Otherwise, the mind cannot be brought to a condition of peace and restfulness, and one-pointed concentration becomes impossible. As a man thinks of the results of work, anxieties and fears rush into the mind. Demons of failure haunt the mind. Difficulties and dangers born of imagination, bar the way to work. The emotions are disturbed by the shame of failure and the frustration of defeat. Mental energy is thus wasted in painful passions, and man’s personality is wrecked on the rocks of anger and hatred. Life becomes miserable. This is the practical experience of every individual in the world. Thus, we see that work prompted by desire is a disturbing and not a purifying factor in spiritual sadhana. Unless the mind is purified, man cannot get a glimpse of the Self. Therefore nishkama karma is absolutely essential for spiritual realisation.
Let not your attachment be to inaction:- This should be clearly understood. The Lord’s command is that attachment to the fruits of work should be given up, and not the works. To give up work is a sign of laziness and inaction. It is tamas. It is the negation of spiritual progress. In sleep one does not do anything at all. But sleep is not self-realisation. The walls and polls do not work. They are not philosophers for that reason. Therefore inaction born of tamas should be counteracted in every possible way. The Lord’s command is a hammer blow on all forms of idleness and weakness, which apparently looks like the peace of Jnana. Some people, out of ignorance, spend their time in empty nothingness, imagining that state to be Brahmanishta. Such people fail both in material and spiritual life. It is imperative for them to recognize tamasic inaction as the first enemy in spiritual life. They should wake up from tamas and start doing something good. No one can live without work. Man must do some kind of work or other. Let that work which you do, be done without attachment is the Lord’s command. That will yield the highest fruit of liberation. Nishkama karma is one of the main tenets of the Gita. This is the message which roused Arjuna to the level of heroic action from his present state of despair and delusion.
This key verse of the Gita has confused some commentators and common people who interpret it to mean that one should work without expecting a fruit. This would mean that Lord Krishna should not expect Arjuna to understand and follow His teachings! No one can perform action without expecting some result. This verse means that we should not expect only favorable results of our choices and should accept all results as Prasada (Grace) from God. This is called Prasada Buddhi, BuddhiYoga, KarmaYoga and surrendering to His Will. (See also 18.66).
The right outlook on life develops when we fully understand that we have the ability to put our best effort into all endeavors, but we cannot pick the results of our work. We have absolutely no control over all the factors that determine the results. The affairs of the world would not run if all were given the power to choose the results of their actions or to satisfy all their desires. One is given the power and the ability to do one’s respective duty in life, but one is not free to choose the desired results. To work without expecting success or good results would be meaningless, but to be fully prepared for the unexpected should be an important part of any planning. Swami Karmananda says: The essence of KarmaYoga is to go to work just to please the creator; mentally renounce the fruits of all action; and let God take care of the results. Do your duty in life—to the best of your ability—as God’s personal servant without any regard for the personal enjoyment of the fruits of your work.
Fear of failure, caused by being emotionally attached to the fruits of work, is the greatest impediment to success because it robs efficiency by constantly disturbing equanimity of mind. Therefore, duty should be performed with detached attachment. Success in any undertaking becomes easier if one works hard without being bothered by the outcome. Work is done more efficiently when the mind is not bothered continuously—consciously or subconsciously—with the outcome, good or bad, of an action. Stress is produced when fruit or goal becomes more important than the work itself due to ego.
One has to discover this fact personally in life. A person should work without any motive as a matter of duty for a greater cause of helping humanity rather than just helping oneself, one’s children, or a few individuals. Equanimity and spiritual progress result from selfless service, whereas work with selfish motives create the bonds of Karma as well as great disappointments. Dedicated selfless service for a greater cause leads to everlasting peace and happiness here and hereafter.
The boundary of one’s jurisdiction ends with the completion of duty; it never crosses the garden of fruit. A hunter has control over the arrow only, never over the deer. Harry Bhalla says: A farmer has control over how he works his land, yet no control over the harvest. But he cannot expect a harvest if he does not work his land.
When one has no desire for the pleasure of victory, one is not affected by the pain of defeat. Questions of the pleasure of success or the pain of failure do not arise because a KarmaYogi is always on the path of service without waiting to enjoy the fruit or even the flower of work. He or she has learned to enjoy the joy of service. The myopia of short-term, personal gain, caused by ignorance of metaphysics, is the root of all evils in society and the world. The bird of righteousness cannot be confined in the cage of personal gain. Dharma and selfishness cannot stay together.
The desire for fruit takes one to the dark alley of sin and prevents one’s real growth. Acting only in one’s own self-interest is sinful. The welfare of the individual lies in the welfare of society. The wise work for all of society, whereas the ignorant work only for themselves or their children and grandchildren. One who knows the Truth does not let the shadow of personal gain fall on the path of duty. The secret art of living a meaningful life is to be intensely active without any motive, as stated below:
Swami Vivekananda Says —
“To work we have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.” Leave the fruits alone. Why care for results? If you wish to help a man, never think what that man’s attitude should be towards you. If you want to do a great or a good work, do not trouble to think what the result will be.[Source]
The karma-yogi asks why you require any motive to work other than the inborn love of freedom. Be beyond the common worldly motives. “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.” Man can train himself to know and to practise that, says the karma-yogi. When the idea of doing good becomes a part of his very being, then he will not seek for any motive outside. Let us do good because it is good to do good; he who does good work even in order to get to heaven binds himself down, says the karma-yogi. Any work that is done with any the least selfish motive, instead of making us free, forges one more chain for our feet.[Source]
Krishna did everything but without any attachment; he was in the world, but not of it. “Do all work but without attachment; work for work’s sake, never for yourself.”[Source]
How hard it is to arrive at this sort of non-attachment! Therefore Krishna shows us the lower ways and methods. The easiest way for everyone is to do [his or her] work and not take the results. It is our desire that binds us. If we take the results of actions, whether good or evil, we will have to bear them. But if we work not for ourselves, but all for the glory of the Lord, the results will take care of themselves. “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.” The soldier works for no results. He does his duty. If defeat comes, it belongs to the general, not to the soldier. We do our duty for love’s sake — love for the general, love for the Lord.[Source]
What is your motive? Are you sure that you are not actuated by greed of gold, by thirst for fame, or power? Are you really sure that you can stand to your ideals, and work on, even if the whole world wants to crush you down? Are you sure you know what you want and will perform your duty, and that alone, even if your life is at stake? Are you sure that you will persevere so long as life endures, so long as there is one pulsation left in the heart? Then you are a real reformer, you are a teacher, a Master, a blessing to mankind. But man is so impatient, so short-sighted! He has not the patience to wait, he has not the power to see. He wants to rule, he wants results immediately. Why? He wants to reap the fruits himself, and does not really care for others. Duty for duty’s sake is not what he wants. “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof,” says Krishna. Why cling to results? Ours are the duties. Let the fruits take care of themselves. But man has no patience. He takes up any scheme. The larger number of would-be reformers all over the world, can be classed under this heading.[Source]
“To be weak is to be miserable”, says Milton. Doing and suffering are inseparably joined. (Often, too, the man who laughs most is the one who suffers most.) “To work you have the right, not to the fruits thereof.” ([Source]
This world is not for cowards. Do not try to fly. Look not for success or failure. Join yourself to the perfectly unselfish will and work on. Know that the mind which is born to succeed joins itself to a determined will and perseveres. You have the right to work, but do not become so degenerate as to look for results. Work incessantly, but see something behind the work. Even good deeds can find a man in great bondage. Therefore be not bound by good deeds or by desire for name and fame. Those who know this secret pass beyond this round of birth and death and become immortal.[Source]
Those great masterminds producing momentous results in the hearts of mankind were content to write their books without even putting their names, and to die quietly, leaving the books to posterity. Who knows the writers of our philosophy, who knows the writers of our Puranas? They all pass under the generic name of Vyasa, and Kapila, and so on. They have been true children of Shri Krishna. They have been true followers of the Gita; they practically carried out the great mandate, “To work you have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.”[Source]
By the by, I have made a discovery as to the mental method of really practising what the Gita teaches, of working without an eye to results. I have seen much light on concentration and attention and control of concentration, which if practised will take us out of all anxiety and worry. It is really the science of bottling up our minds whenever we like.[Source]
Despair not; remember the Lord says in the Gita, “To work you have the right, but not to the result.” Gird up your loins, my boy.[Source]
Though the ideal of work of our Brahmavadin should always be “कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन — To work thou hast the right, but never to the fruits thereof”, yet no sincere worker passes out of the field of activity without making himself known and catching at least a few rays of light.[Source]
Bring all light into the world. Light, bring light! Let light come unto every one; the task will not be finished till every one has reached the Lord. Bring light to the poor; and bring more light to the rich, for they require it more than the poor. Bring light to the ignorant, and more light to the educated, for the vanities of the education of our time are tremendous! Thus bring light to all and leave the rest unto the Lord, for in the words of the same Lord, “To work you have the right and not to the fruits thereof.” “Let not your work produce results for you, and at the same time may you never be without work.”[Source]
Let me remind you again, “Thou hast the right to work but not to the fruits thereof.” Stand firm like a rock. Truth always triumphs. Let the children of Shri Ramakrishna be true to themselves and everything will be all right. We may not live to see the outcome, but as sure as we live, it will come sooner or later. What India wants is a new electric fire to stir up a fresh vigour in the national veins. This was ever, and always will be, slow work. Be content to work, and, above all, be true to yourself.[Source]
This wonderful national machine has worked through ages, this wonderful river of national life is flowing before us. Who knows, and who dares to say, whether it is good and how it shall move? Thousands of circumstances are crowding round it, giving it a special impulse, making it dull at one time and quicker at another. Who dares command its motion? Ours is only to work, as the Gita says, without looking for results. Feed the national life with the fuel it wants, but the growth is its own; none can dictate its growth to it.[Source]
Question: What is the man qualified to do?
Answer: Man has a right to work, but not to seek for the fruits of work.
Question: What should be given up?
Answer: The fruits of work, and the negation of work, both should be given up.
Question: What then is the law?
Answer: To work without desire for the fruits of work is the law.
Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 🔻 (72 Verses)