Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ma Phaleshu kadaachana !

The field is ready for a great battle. The people on the other side are all your kith and kin. And yet, you need to fight them for the sake of your own dharma, to reclaim what is rightfully yours. But the champion warrior in your team is reluctant. He is filled with deep emotion at the thought of slaying his own grandpa in whose lap he played as a child, his own guru who taught him how to hold weapons, his own brothers with whom he grew up. He is toying with the idea of leaving everything else and running away to do penance. What do you do?

It is exactly at this point of time, the lord of the universe comes in the form of your friend and charioteer and guides you with lessons so powerful, so true that the whole world admires even to this day. It is during one of such lessons, he comes up with these magical lines:

Karmanyeva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadachana |
Maa karma phale hEturbhoo maa te saMgostvakarmani ||
{Bhagavad-Gita 2.47}

Yes, these lines are taken from the holy Bhagavad-Gita given to us from the lord himself. When Arjuna was in a dilemma whteher to fight his own kin or flee from the battlefield, Lord Krishna gave him these words of wisdom. The Bhagavad-Gita is a treasure house of knowledge. Each and every shloka in it is truly a masterpiece and its teachings are valid even to this day. But sadly, most of the teachings are often misinterpreted either because of utter ignorance or failing to see the larger scheme of things.

For instance, let us consider the above shloka itself. It is literally translated thus – “You have rights to perform your karma (duty) but not entitled to its results. Never consider you are the cause of the results, and never wrest from doing what is your true duty”. It is very easy to interpret this as “You are not entitled to the fruits of your action” and many people actually do so. They fail to perform their actions in full faith and blame it on fate/almighty when things don’t bear expected results. A student does not study well for the exam and then says after the exam that he has no control over the result. A team does not give its full commitment to a project and then say they are not really responsible for anything going wrong.

This is actually only half truth and not the real meaning of the verse. In this world where everyone thinks “what’s in it for me?” it is impossible not to think of the results of your actions. And it is imperative that we should always be concerned about our actions and even be responsible for it. What we should not be thinking is about how the verdict is delivered. This is a little complex to understand. So let me make it clear with few examples.

A student’s action is to study hard for the examination and put in his best effort. He should always aim for the highest rank while preparing for the exam. He cannot give up preparation thinking that external factors (like erratic evaluation, competition, etc) might influence his result. But at the same time, he should not be too dejected if he does not get the rank that he aimed for due to some external factors. The preparation and the efforts that he has put in will definitely help him in some way or the other. Similarly, a cricket team must always enter the playing arena hoping for a win. They cannot be thinking of their tough opposition, weaknesses, past records, pitch conditions, etc which will influence the result. If they give their 100% and still lose the game, the effort that they put in will definitely help the team in the long term. At work, you should always give your best in delivering a project on time, regardless of whether the client will ultimately take it or not. The efforts you put in will definitely be recognized and help you in your career. In short, the result of your actions will come in ways that you might not expect. And yet, you will always be rewarded for your efforts.

Now that we know a better interpretation of the shloka, let us try and understand the context in which the shloka was delivered. While asking Arjuna to concentrate only on his duty and not on the results, the lord was referring to the results with regard to “moksha”, i.e., liberation of the soul. Not even for one moment did Arjuna or the lord think that they were going to lose the war. They were surely confident of a win in the war. Not even for a moment did Arjuna doubt whether the arrows shot from his bow would kill the target or not. He was concerned only about the long-term result of his actions, i.e., whether the killing of his own kin would grant him moksha or not. So, the actual result which the lord asks us to be ignorant about is not the results of our short term actions. It is the ultimate result in life for which we all crave for – the truth of life or salvation when we become free from the happenings of the world.

So, the next time you say that you are not responsible for your actions because the Gita says so, please be forewarned - The Gita never said it. It was your interpretation which made you think so.

1. The example of a student is taken to be that of a boy just for ease of explanation. It could as well be a girl.
2. The vast amount of knowledge contained in the Gita has been hotly debated/criticised/praised due to its various connotations. This explanation reflects the author's simple understanding of the lines. There can always be better interpretations.


Anonymous said...

Nice and complicated post :)

Hope I can follow whatever you have said. Really need to follow the Shloka on 1st Feb :)

Anantha said...


But what inspired you to write about this? any background you want to share..?

Shashia said...


I dont know why you feel it is complicated. If it is because of Sanskrit in it, I suggest you skip it and just read the contents.
And ya, good luck for whatever actions you have scheduled for the day!

@ananth anna,

I see many people saying "Phal ki ichcha mat karo" these days without understanding the whole thing. So, I just wanted to tell what I feel about the whole thing.

You can expect more about the same in the following days :)

Ankit said...

Good post thing which i think i should say that the word "Karma" should have been used instead of "Action" at some places(like in para 6 1st line)....It will sound more pertinent to The Gita

Shashia said...


Thanks :)
Agreed, it would have made more sense to use the word 'karma' there. It is just that i wanted it to make it easy to follow.