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Fight the right battle and forget the outcome || IIT Kanpur (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
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Questioner (Q): The Bhagavad Gita says, don’t focus on the outcome of your work. But a book called The Secret says, visualize a positive outcome of your work. Which of these is true?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You are comparing fine apples with rotten oranges. When these pop best-sellers and neo-spiritual classics tell you, “Visualize what you will get,” then they are just stoking the fire of your greed and imagination. They are not asking you, what is it that prompts you to go for that particular thing? What they are saying is, “There is something you desire, alright, now start gratifying yourself in advance.” That is one way to wet your appetite, no?

After all, the normal human being chases nothing but his desires. “I am going for something because I feel that the thing is going to provide me with physical pleasure and/or mental happiness. I will not ask whether the thing is actually worthy of desire. I will not ask whether I really need to go after that thing. I will not ask, who am I and what it is that I really need? Do I even need that thing?” These are taboo questions.

In the modern world desire reigns supreme. You are neither supposed to ask yourself, and certainly not others, why they desire what they do. You can desire anything in the name of free will, and that is sacrosanct. You say, “Well, you know, this is what I want. My truth is my truth, to each his own. Who are you to interfere in my personal preferences?” So, desire is taken as an absolute. And when desire is taken as an absolute then statements like these come in: “Visualize the outcome of your desire”—and that is just an appetizer before the main dish, no? All this will just egg you on towards the disastrous outcomes of blind desire.

What Shri Krishna is saying is an absolutely different dimension of realization. He is saying: Do not go by what you desire. Do what is right. And when you are doing what is right, then the doing itself should be your only concern.

When you chase that which you desire, then obviously you can visualize the result as well because you are doing something that is within the purview of your imagination. You are doing something that is connected to your past. Will you chase something if you have absolutely zero experience of that thing in your past? Tell me. If you are chasing something, you have surely either experienced it in the past, or heard about it, or read about it, or dreamt of it, all of which are just versions of experience.

The right action does not really have much relation with the past, so you do not know what the outcome would be. Therefore, how would you visualize it? To visualize something in the future you must have had some experience of it in the past. It must already be known, only then you can visualize it; otherwise, visualization cannot take place. Shri Krishna is saying the right action would be absolutely fresh and new, so it is simply impractical to visualize the outcome.

Further, the right action is so demanding, so all-consuming that you cannot devote your energy towards thoughts of the fruits of action. Let the fruits come; do not bother about the fruits. Do the right thing. And that involves so much of courage and so much conviction. You are being told the right deserves your complete involvement, total immersion, total surrender. And if the action is right, if the motivation is right, if the actor is right, rest assured, the result will be right. So why are you bothering about the result? The result is anyway going to be right. “What if I don’t like the result that comes?” You may not like the results that come, but it is still going to be right.

If you do not like the result that comes from the right action, then your like is not right. The result is still right. Challenge your likes and dislikes, not the rightness of the result.

So, the entire emphasis in Shri Krishna’s teaching is on checking your desire, investigating it, not leaping into action, not just jumping the cliff. You are being told: Wait, wait. What really is worth doing? Figure that out. And once that is sorted, then give everything that you have to the right action. Once you have given everything that you have to the right action, you don’t have anything left to worry or worry for.

Fight the right battle and forget the outcome. This is the way I put it. If the battle is right then even defeat is victory. If the battle is right—and you have to pick the right battle. It is very difficult to pick the right battle because all the wrong and trivial battles are so alluring. Pick the right battle and then even defeat is victory. Whereas, if you have in the beginning picked the wrong battle, then how is defeat distinct from victory? Having picked the wrong battle, how does it matter whether you win or lose? So, it is not about winning or losing. It is about fighting the right battle. First thing—the right battle.

And the right battle is bound to be impersonal. Anything that the person does for his limited interests cannot be good for him because the person is limited. And if you are doing something for your limited self, it is only going to reinforce your limitations. And are you alright with your limitations? It is your limitations that agonize you so much, don’t they? So, first of all, you are already so fed up with your limitations, and then you act in a way that just reinforces your limitations. Is that wise?

Therefore, the right action has to be for a bigger cause. It cannot be for your little personal interests or gains. That great cause for the sake of which you must act is also euphemistically called as Krishna. You could either say, “I work for Krishna, I dedicate my actions to Krishna,” or you could say, “I work for an immense cause.” And these two are the same things.

Q: I am currently pursuing a MSc in physics. After watching your videos and reading the Bhagavad Gita , I have understood that whatever we achieve in this world to please ourselves does not really give us peace. I am afraid that science might be a way to just please myself or my ego, and it will not give me peace. So, should I quit doing my MSc?

AP: If you have read the Bhagavad Gita , Shri Krishna clearly says there that a living being, jīva , has no option to quit action. Action will continue to happen. Right now, it is one action to pursue a particular course, and then it would be another action to not pursue that course.

Whatsoever comes from the actor is called an action. The actor decided at some point, “Let me do this course”—that is an action. The actor decides at some point, “Let me not do this course”—that too is an action. Have you gone beyond the actor? And if it is the actor still playing himself out, it is going to be called an action.

So, it is not that you can quit acting. If it is the Bhagavad Gita you are referring to, then go to the core message. The core message is: Act not for yourself. That is not going to bring you contentment or peace. Act for the sake of Krishna. And ‘Krishna’ is just a euphemism. Act for the sake of completion. Act for the sake of freedom. That is what ‘Krishna’ stands for.

Krishna is not a person. Krishna is not some fellow talking to another living being called Arjuna. Krishna is not an author. We said Krishna is a euphemism, a metaphor, a symbol. Krishna stands for freedom, peace, and totality, in contrast to the feeling of incompleteness we live in, the feeling of incompleteness that guides us. That is the constitution of the actor: a point driven by incompleteness.

Now, either the actor can work for himself—and what would it mean for the actor to work for himself? It would mean that the actor is working in a way that continues his incompleteness. The actor works, gets a particular reward, and what is the reward? Your existence will be maintained, that is the reward. Is that not the reward all of us seek? What is it that we all want? Security, assurance. We want to be more of ourselves. And what are we fundamentally? Incomplete beings.

So, that is the common mode of operation. The actor says, “I am functioning so that I remain what I am, and I have to function that way because I am not sure of my sustainability. Given the way I am, given that I have very little confidence in the way I am, it is imperative upon me to do something to secure my existence.” That is the way we commonly are. That is our common motivation. That is how most people work, and that is what most people work for—to try to somehow secure their fundamentally insecure selves.

Shri Krishna says, “No, do not work to secure yourself. Work to reach a point that is not at all what you are. Work for Me. And I am dimensionally different from you, Arjuna. You would either work for yourself or for Me. You have to work for Me. Working for yourself would mean that you want to remain as you are. Working for Me would mean you are working for something beyond yourself; you are working for something that is just not you.”

So, you are pursuing your MSc in physics. See what you are pursuing it for. If you are pursuing it for your own personal pleasures to get a job of some kind and then earn a secure salary and feel alright and respected, then that is the common mode. What if you can dedicate your knowledge to something beyond yourself? Then that is another way of living. Another way of living that is possible. Try.

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