Saturday, July 1, 2017

Action Without Expectation ?

There is a general misconception about a famous and perhaps most quoted verse (usually in translated form) from Bhagavad Gita. 
The shloka or the verse is quoted as:
“Perform your actions well without expecting any fruit or reward
 As you only have control on your actions but not on the outcome.” 
And the emphasis is placed upon “without expecting any reward”

This obviously creates doubt in the minds of many. Many people find it ‘hard to follow, impractical and even illogical. 
Numerous times I have been asked “how can anyone work without any expectation whatsoever? How can any worker, working in any field or employed in any company can go to work without expecting any wages? How can a student study without expecting to pass the exams? Why would anyone cook without expecting to eat? Why would someone run a business or open a shop without expecting any profit? Why temples, Gurudwaras, Churches and other religious or Satsang places are built if there is no expectation of having visitors and seekers? And so on….
Such questions can arise at every moment of our lives, for every action; no matter how small or big it is. 

Did Lord Krishna really say this?

There are numerous books - translations and commentaries on Bhagavad Geeta available. They all provide their own interpretations – their own views - according to their own understanding. 
I must admit that I am not a Sanskrit scholar. My knowledge of Sanskrit language is very limited. But after searching for the real meaning by going through several translations and commentaries on Geeta by different authors, I found that mainly there are two versions of translation of this shloka. The most common translation is the one mentioned above – which seems to be translated by someone originally and then many writers of the later period simply followed the same.

Before going into the second version of its meaning, let’s see the actual shloka; actual verse in the 
Bhagavad Gita: 
             कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन 
             मा कर्मफल हेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोअस्त्वकर्मणि  [2 - 47] 

Karmanyevaadhikaarstay Ma phaleshu kadaachina
Ma karmphal heturbhurma Tay sangoastvakarmani”
                                                (Bhagavad Geeta chapter 2, Shloka 47)

Before trying to understand the real meaning of the whole shloka - it will be helpful to understand the meaning of each individual word - which I have confirmed from two Sanskrit dictionaries* and few books on Geeta by different authors as well:

Karmani (Action),  Eva (Only), Adhikaar (Right - control) Tay (You), Ma (no - not) 
Phaleshu (of Fruit, result, outcome), Kadaachina (Never) 
Ma (not) Karm-phal (Fruit, outcome of the action), Hetu (cause, reason), Bhu (Be or Become) 
Ma (do not) Tay (you) Sang (Attachment) Astu (let there be), Akarmani (into inaction or not doing any action)

Now…. By taking a different meaning of ‘just one word’ or rather leaving it out from the 2nd line of this shloka changes its concept and - in my opinion - creates the confusion in the minds of many.
That one important word is Bhu (bhoo)
According to Sanskrit dictionaries*, it means ‘to become’. 
Therefore, the actual and literal meaning of the 2nd line of this shloka would be as this:
                 मा  कर्मफल हेतुर्भू  - मा  ते सङ्गोअस्त्वकर्मणि 
            (न कर्मफल का कारण बन  - न ही कर्म का त्याग कर) 

             "Ma karmphal heturbhu - ma Tay sangoastvakarmani"
- Neither become the cause or reason of the outcome of your actions, nor (you) be disengaged from action. 

In other words, do not think that ‘you are the reason for that particular outcome’ of the action you performed. Do not think that it happened the way it happened because of me - because I did it. 

This is a great psychological Mantra – and a hard-core reality as well. 
There are several problems with the notion that “it happened this way because of my actions”
First, it gives us a false ego – because there is nothing that can be done or achieved individually. A simple statement such as “I made a cup of tea” is completely wrong and ‘false ego’. All I did was – I put a tea bag in a cup of boiling water and perhaps added some milk and sugar. Neither I grew the tea plant nor processed it. Many people had contributed in growing the plants, plucking the leaves, processing and packing it. I did not make milk or sugar either. I could not have been able to make it if there was no source of heat or fire; a stove or microwave etc. 
If I covered a hundred-mile distance in a short period of time is not entirely because of me. I could not have done it without a proper mode of transportation or a proper road. I could not have done it if there was some obstacle on the way or if the vehicle had broken down. There are many factors to consider that help in the outcome of any kind of action we perform. No outcome – good or bad - is because of just one single individual’s action. Hence, "I did it" is a false sense of ‘ego’.

Not considering “I” to be the reason of the positive outcome or beneficial rewards of ‘the actions’ is a great management skill as well. There are several people who work and participate in the functioning of any business, company or organization. If the owner, manager or a leader claims all the credits for progress and certain achievements, then he or she alienates the other good hard-working employees and helpers who might have also played some important role in achieving those results. Eventually, out of frustration, many good employees or workers may leave. By taking all the credit all the time, and not acknowledging others, may leave us alone - isolated and even be detrimental at some critical times. 

Secondly – considering ourselves solely responsible for the unfavorable or bad results can also be harmful. It gives us a sense of guilt – makes us feel guilty and brings depression. We lose all motivation and do not want to ‘try again’. We become ‘inactive’ and don’t want to try anything new anymore. (The second part of the second line of this shloka says “do not become inactive either”)

In both scenarios, considering “I am the reason for the outcome”, regardless of whatever the outcome is - good or bad - is harmful. 

But, as mentioned earlier, many translators and commentators have translated this shloka either by leaving out the word ‘Bhu’ (become) and based their concept accordingly - "work without expectation" - or translated as “Do not let your 'actions be' for any reason (motive)”.  
This creates doubt – how can I work without any expectation? And why should I even work then?
One argument given by few highly revered saints and scholars is that “performing actions purely for the sake of performing and not for any reward will provide real happiness - Eternal Bliss and Moksha”. 
Again…… performing action to achieve ‘real happiness, bliss or Moksha’ is also an expectation – hope for some higher and eternal ‘after life’ reward. Nevertheless - regardless of ‘small or big, lower or higher, transitory or eternal’ - it is also indeed an expectation of some reward.
Therefore, I believe Lord Krishna did not say “do not expect results” – or “perform action without desire or motive”. Because no action can be done without desire of doing it or without having a reason to do. 
The real and practical message of Geeta in this Shloka - according to some other scholars and authors as well**- is “Do not ‘Become’ the cause of your actions – do not consider yourself to be the reason of the outcome of your actions.” 
At the same time, Do not become ‘inactive’ or demotivated either. Perform action well - to the best of your capability but remember – there are many other factors that can also have their impact on the outcome. 
This is a great spiritual and psychological message and an excellent advice for management as well. It's a great Mantra for keeping peace with our self and others. 

                                    ‘Rajan Sachdeva’ 

*Sanskrit - English Dictionary - by Vaman Shivram Apte
  "The Concise Sanskrit English Dicationary" by Vasudeo Govind Apte               
**Shrimad Bhagavad Geeta - By Geeta Press Gorakhpur
Bhagavad Gita as it is” By: A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada


  1. Now this is one level up than almost all of the interpretation.... thanks ... Dnj

  2. Purjayoo motor de ade raho te juday raho :)

  3. Thanks a lot for the wonderful concepts .
    Premjit Singh & Satwant Kaur .

  4. Dhan Nirankar Ji, uncle ji.
    I am very grateful for you having given your precious time to send this message across in such a beautiful way. It answered so many questions that had remained unanswered in my mind for a long time. This cleared my doubts and confusions! Thank you so much, Uncle Ji!
    Dhan Nirankar Ji!

  5. Very nice clarification. Thank you so much. Keep blessing.
    Regards and Dhan Nirankar Ji

  6. Just a response that some of us are listening out for you. thank you.
    Michael Lal

  7. Dhan Nirankar Ji
    I was delighted to see the other meaning/interpretation of the second line. I had been referring to second line the same way since the literal interpretation goes that way and it felt right. I have an old copy of Bhagvad Geeta from my Dad's time with Marathi commentary which I refer mostly. In it's commentary, it is said that many times great philosophers tried to read between the lines even when the meaning is straightforward!!!
    Please keep blessing with these insightful and thought-provoking blogs ��


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