Nishkam Karma Yoga
कर्म करो फल की चिंता मत करो
This is probably the most commonly talked of and mis-understood message of Bhagavad Gita. Ask anyone who has never touched Bhagawad Gita and chances are that that person will mention this wisdom, probably with some skepticism. It usually gets interpreted as
“we should do our work without desire for results”.
Clearly Maharshi Vyasa, when writing Bhagawad Gita could not have had this meaning in mind. Desire is the fundamental driver of all human action. Nothing gets initiated without an element of desire. If a task is done without desire to succeed, it is likely to at best lack quality. Look at any achievement by anyone in any field, chances are that it was backed by burning desire backed by relentless effort.
So what does Nishkam Karmyog of Bhagavad Gita means?
It means two things.
1. Do not think of results while performing the task.
At the time of working on any individual task, our full focus should be on doing the best in that task. We should be totally in the moment and absorbed in that task. For example if we are preparing a recipe, the full attention is on the details that would go on to prepare best possible recipe. As part of it, if we need to cut vegetables, at that time the attention is fully on cutting, not on the whole recipe. The reason for this is simple. Any distraction, whether it is related to end result or otherwise, is likely to adversely affect the quality. Imagine a student anxious over repercussions of passing or failing during the exam – do you think with that mind set, the student will be able to perform his/her best?
This applies equally at the time of planning. The planning for any activity should be primarily driven by the end result in sight (passing an exam with high honors, getting a good job, excelling in an sport or hobby). At that time too much focus on individual steps or ‘action’ can be a distraction. As an example, too much focus on the pain of potential hard work and sacrifice of fun activities, may prevent the student from setting high goals to begin with.
2. Be prepared if desired results not achieved.
The second part is that one must understand that even after best planning and hard work, success is not guaranteed. There are just too many variables and unknowns in the world we live in. Even if we ignore uncertainties, in many situations like in a competition, there can only be one winner, so in a way, all except one are bound to fail (not achieve the desired result).
So on one hand, the the knowledge that result is not guaranteed (point 2 above), should not deter us from setting ‘result oriented’ high goals, but instead provide us with strength to deal with adverse results.
On the other hand, at the time of execution, we must have the attitude of not being concerned about results (point 1 above) and instead focus exclusively on the task at hand.
It is interesting to note that when interpreted this way, ‘not desiring of results’ actually gives us the best chance of achieving the results we truly desire.