Everyday Bhagavad-Gita: Prescribed Duty.
Verse 2.47: You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.
Prescribed duty. How do those words make you feel?
Personally, when I hear these words, I feel a sense of dread. My mind conjures up adjectives such as responsibility, burden and weight, which although honorable and necessary, can feel overwhelming sometimes.
You’ll be happy and relieved (if you’re anything like me), to find out that the meaning of prescribed duty, as per the Gita, is as follows—performing those activities that are in line with our nature. That is, those activities that we perform in order to ensure our livelihood, which are based on our qualities and proclivities.
Once again, note how the Gita is so practical. We all possess a particular mentality and are gifted with particular talents which the Gita encourages us to use to meaningfully contribute to society. So, why fight against this?
However, most of us face another challenge. Whenever we perform any action, whether it be at work, in our personal lives, or as a service for society we expect a result. Thing is we not only expect a result, but feel entitled to it and want to be identified as the the person who is responsible. And the Gita is telling us that this is a trap.
A little confusing? Perhaps an example is in order.
Let’s say I make a sandwich for a friend. I go about putting the pieces of bread together with some fresh veggies and spread, arrange it nicely on a plate and present it to her. What’s the result that I’m expecting? Well, first off I’m hoping she likes it. But, in addition, my expectation is that she appreciates the time I took to make it for her and will thank me. Whether we realize it or not, we always expect some result.
The secret of applying bhakti yoga in our everyday actions and receiving no karma (remember every action results in good or bad karma and binds us), is to be unattached to the results of any work that we perform. As A.C. Bhaktivedenta Swami describes, “One who is attached to the result of their work is also the cause of the action. Thus they are the enjoyer or sufferer of the result of such action.”
Now for some this may sound odd, and others may like the concept but maybe thinking “How in the world do you actually go about doing this?”
To my dear skeptics, I say it sounds odd because we have been indoctrinated with the need to take credit for, or feel entitled to the result of any action that we perform. But if you think about it, it’s a tad bit selfish to go through life like that, no? By living this way, it becomes all about “me.” I invite you, instead of dismissing this idea out right, to instead reflect on it. By performing an action for the pure joy of doing it, or out of a sense of giving without expecting anything in return, we are getting the opportunity to practice selflessness.
For those who may like the concept but are a little confused, let me just say: it takes practice!
It’s not something that happens overnight. One thing that helps though is gratitude. When we consciously think of all the things we have been given in terms of talents, facility, and faculty it reminds us that these are gifts we have received. By performing our prescribed duties without the “I’m entitled to the results of my work” attitude, we’re getting an opportunity to give back the results by utilizing those gifts we’ve been given to the one who gave them to us in the first place.
In this way, we can genuinely live and experience the appreciation we have for all that we have been given.
Simultaneously, we will also experience a wonderful freedom—the freedom of throwing off the overwhelming weight that always comes with having expectations and feeling entitled.
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Editor: Thaddeus Haas