Own Reward – In Gita Verse 18.40 There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from these three modes born of material nature.

Krishna does not talk about one’s release from action itself, he emphasizes release from attachment to the fruits of action. He does not ask you to give up action and become inactive; he only urges you not to do something with a motive, with an eye on the results of the action. There is a meaningful difference between action and the fruit of action. It is in the interest of action itself, to make action real and total, that all wise men urge you to give up your desire for its result. Action without attachment to its fruit is what forms the heart of Krishna’s teaching.

So the question is: How to work without attachment to results?

To understand this thing rightly, it is first necessary to know that there are two kinds of action in our life. One of these is what we do today in order to achieve something tomorrow as a result. Such an action is future-oriented; future is leading you into action. Just as an animal is dragged by a rope tied to its neck, so our future is dragging us into action. I do something with an eye on the future when my actions today will yield some results for me. While action takes place in the present, its fruit lies in the future. And the future is unknown and uncertain. Future means that which is not in existence, which is only a hope, a dream, an expectation. In that hope we are being dragged like cattle by our future.

The Sanskrit word for animal is pashu, which is meaningful. Pashu is derived from pash which means bondage. Hence pashu is one who is a captive, a slave. In that sense we are all animals, because we are captives of the future, we live in future hopes. The reins of our life are in the hands of the future. Man always lives today in the hope of tomorrow. And likewise he will live tomorrow in the hope of the day after, because when tomorrow comes, it will come as today. So he never lives really, he goes on postponing living for the future.

And he will never live as long as he lives in hope for the future. His whole life will pass away unlived and unfulfilled. At the time of his death he will say with great remorse, “All my life I only desired to live, but I could not really live.” And his greatest sorrow at the time of death will be that the future is no more, there is no hope of achieving results in the future. If there was a future and a hope beyond death, he would have no regrets. That is why a dying man wants to know if there is life after death. In reality he wants to know if there is any chance of reaping a harvest of hopes in the future, because it was only hopes that he had sown in the soil of his life.

He had wasted all his todays in the hope of a tomorrow that never came. And on the last day of his life he faces a cul-de-sac beyond which there is no tomorrow, and no hope of any fruits of action. That is the despair of a future-oriented life.

There is another kind of action which is not future-oriented, which is not done with a motive to achieve some future result, which is not based on any ideas and patterns. Such an action is natural and spontaneous; it arises from the depths of our being. It springs from what I am, not from what I want to become. You are passing down a street when you come across an umbrella dropped unaware by a person walking ahead of you. You pick up the umbrella and hand it to the owner without any fuss. You don’t look around for a press reporter or a photographer to report to the public your great act of selfless service to a fellow traveler. You don’t even expect a “thank you” from the person concerned, nor hope for any results in the future. This is what I call a natural and spontaneous act.

But if the owner of the umbrella goes his way without thanking you, and if you feel even slightly hurt thinking how ungrateful the man is, then your action is no more natural and spontaneous, it is not without motive. Maybe you were not aware of your expectation of a thank you when you picked up the umbrella and handed it to him, but it was very much there in your unconscious mind. An expectation even of a thank you destroys the spontaneity and purity of action; it is no more free of attachment to its fruits. Then it is a contaminated act, contaminated with the desire for result.

If action is total in itself, if it is self-fulfilling, a love’s labor – if it has no other expectation outside of it, then it is what Krishna and I call action without attachment to its fruits. This action is complete in itself like a circle; it has no expectations for the future. It is an end unto itself. In that case you will feel thankful to the other person – say the man with the umbrella – for giving you an opportunity to act totally, to do something without desire for results.

A future-oriented mind is full of desires for achieving results in the future, and its action is always fragmentary and partial. But when there is no such desire for results, when the action is without any motive, such an action fills you with tremendous joy and bliss. 

In Krishan’s vision action without attachment to its fruits is so complete, so total, that there is nothing beyond it. It is its own fruit, it is its own end result. It is fulfilling at the moment. Such an action is its own reward, there is nothing outside of it.


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