Questioner (Q): The Bhagavad Gita says, keep doing the work, don’t worry about the rewards. That has been my ideal in life—be a jack of all trades, do whatever gives you mental pleasure, and do it freely. If I want to do this, I just do this—that has been my motto.
I have been into many things in my life following this philosophy, but people around me have started to ask why I am not giving my full potential to some particular thing, like studies, for example, to get a good placement and such things. I have never listened to such advice, but these days I have started feeling a little guilty. It is a fast-changing, competitive world, and I cannot always stay as I am. What if the people around me are right?
So, how can I get rid of these feelings of guilt? I don’t want a big cheque; I want to check all the things on my bucket list!
Acharya Prashant (AP): See, the Gita is probably the most misunderstood scripture among the popular ones. The Gita doesn’t say at all that you must do whatever you do without caring for the result. Such a thing is not only not said, it is also impossible to execute.
The Gita does not ask you to just randomly follow your whims and desires. First thing it says is, don’t do anything for your personal pleasure or gratification. And when you don’t do something just for your personal pleasure or gratification, then, and only then, will you be able to execute it without bothering for the results.
As long as you are doing something for your own benefit, in your own self-interest, it will be impossible for you to not care for the results. You will be result-oriented because to the ego, to the common actor, the result comes first. You first covet a result and then you initiate an action to achieve that result. In such a scenario, how can you be unmindful of the result? You can be unmindful of the result only if it is not for yourself that you act.
So, the Gita is not at all telling you to follow your pleasures or your interests in a free and indiscrete fashion. Niśkāma-karma , action without bothering for rewards, is about a higher center of action. You have to say, “My action is not coming from a deluded point; my action is not coming from blind desire. My action is coming from a higher point, and because it is coming from a higher point, it has blessed me with detachment for the results. The action itself is so potent, so loveable, so powerful, and so inexorable that I have forgotten to bother about what will happen next. This action is love itself. How can I ask what will happen tomorrow when today itself is so beautiful?” That’s what the Gita is saying.
The Gita is not asking you to make a mess of today and then say, “I don’t care what happens tomorrow.” But mostly, that’s the way people misinterpret and misuse the Gita. That’s also the way so many popular gurus have sold the Gita. It is very harmful.
First thing, right action. Only right action can give you detachment from the result of action. Right action and detachment will always go together. You have right action, and detachment you will get for free; you don’t have to work for detachment. False action, deluded action, and you will find it is impossible to get rid of attachment; you will always have one eye on the result. In fact, if you have one eye on the result, you must tell yourself, “What I am doing is not alright; else how could I have worried so much about the outcome? This worry itself is an indication that I am not living rightly, not choosing rightly, that I am not right.”
So, you said you have an entire bucket of hobbies, interests, things to pursue. You must investigate this bucket quite carefully. In this bucket you might find gems, and they are worth cherishing, nourishing. And in this bucket you also might find trash; obviously you must throw it away. No point keeping gems with trash.
So, have discretion first; figure out what is worth doing. See that a lot that we decide to do or pursue is just conditioning. People around us are doing this or that—and it is not always the people around us or the situations around us that compel us to do something; more dangerous is the bodily impulsion. External compulsion is easier to detect; since it is easier to detect, it is easier to resist. Bodily impulsions, inner slavery is more difficult to detect because it is inner. Because it is inner, we feel it is our own. We do not call that compulsion as bondage at all; we start calling it as an internal desire.
Please see that a lot of what we call as desire is not actually internal; it might be bodily, physical, hormonal, social, situational, whatever. Once you get rid of a lot of things that need not be pursued, you will be left only with the gems, and those gems deserve all your attention, all your love. And the added benefit that you get is freedom from worries. You don’t want to worry whether the sun will rise at all tomorrow; today is sufficient, because today is extremely occupied. Today is so loveable that it has enveloped you completely; you are left with no time, no space, no need to worry for tomorrow. And that is a beautiful life.
Q: Sir, I also believe that we have two births. One birth is the normal birth, and the second birth is the birth when we discover the higher purpose of our life.
AP: Yes, go for the second one.
Q: But I have to try to find the purpose, I have to try different things.
AP: You have to try very, very hard, and you have to try without being attached to any of the trials. You have to remember that these are merely attempts; they should not become fixations. When you are experimenting with something, the experiment is not the conclusion.
So, let the experiment, the trial remain a trial; do not get possessed or fixated. Keep moving on, keep moving on, and surely one does come to something that is worth giving one’s life to. There, do give your life.