Leadership Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita #28 – Misunderstood

Chapter 2 Verse 47

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

karmaṇiin prescribed duties; evaonly; adhikāraḥright; teyour; not; phaleṣhuin the fruits; kadāchanaat any time; never; karma-phalaresults of the activities; hetuḥcause; bhūḥbe; not; teyour; saṅgaḥattachment; astumust be; akarmaṇiin inaction
Translation – You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
This is probably the most famous verse of the Bhagavad Gita courtesy the TV serial, Mahabharata. According to me its also the most misunderstood verse … Bhagwan Sri Krishna always spoke of taking responsibility for one’s actions, he never expects anyone to just believe in him (God), lie down and play dead, while receiving the bounties of life. Even the way he makes Duryodhana and Arjuna to choose between him and his army is classic – just before the Kurukshetra war, Lord Krishna says, since both the sides are related to him, he will fight on one side and his army will fight on the other side, and that he personally will only be a charioteer to whosoever chooses him. Duryodhana thinks he is better off with Krishna’s army because anyway he wasn’t going to fight, he would just ride the chariot. Arjuna is thrilled to have Krishna as his charioteer because he is his closest friend and mentor.  Note carefully – in this incident, as in many others, Krishna lets Duryodhana and Arjuna make a choice, without interfering, even as he may have had a preference, he doesn’t enforce that on either.
This particular verse has always been interpreted as “do your duty/work, and don’t focus on the results of your labor” or “God decides what should be the fruits of your labor” …. and everyone would quote this in colloquial terms as “Karm Kar, Phal Ki Chinta Mat Kar”, “just do your duty, don’t worry about the results/fruits of labor”. How defeatist is that !! My interpretation is that Lord Krishna is saying to Arjuna “Either evaluate the consequences of your actions beforehand or suffer them”.. so be responsible for your actions and the choices you make. Don’t dump your responsibility of the consequences on someone else or God. And for thousands of years we have mis-interpreted this verse. We throw garbage on the streets and expect the government to clean up – “Karm Kar, Phal Ki Chinta Mat Kar” in action. But if you throw garbage, the street will remain dirty, and when many people like you and me throw garbage on the street, the entire country will stink !
Every action of ours has a consequence attached to it. Either we evaluate the consequence first and then decide on the action or else we suffer the consequence. Its a simple thing – if you eat a lot of junk food, you will gain weight, whether there is a God or not. Sometimes the consequences are not seen immediately, especially in the cases of wealth generation and corruption. You have a Nirav Modi and a Mallya seemingly enjoying the fruits of their ill-gotten wealth. But the consequences do catch up, not always in the public realm so regular folks like you and me feel nothing is happening to them. A Bill Clinton might have been rated the greatest President that the US has known if only he hadn’t strayed … there are consequences always and take an action after evaluating the consequences or suffer them.
In certain instances the consequences may not be clear, and in that case, evaluate as best as you can and hope for the best. The truth is – every action has a consequence, and the person taking the action is responsible for the consequence as well – there is no God sitting somewhere in the clouds altering the consequence to suit your preference.
The sooner we interpret this verse correctly, the better it is for us Indians :). I attribute our population explosion to mis-interpretation of this verse. Just have babies and someone will take care of us. As we travel and work for ShikshaDaan, we are realising that BPL families on average have 3 to 4 children – how stupid is that. They don’t have enough to eat a decent meal everyday and end up having 3 to 4 children who obviously cannot be fed, educated and taken care of. You don’t need education to figure out that having more children is a problem. There is access to inexpensive contraceptives, so that’s not the issue, but its the irresponsible attitude thats the issue. Let me have the children, God shall provide for them and if not, we will blame the government. We are poor, so help us. Nope, YOU help yourselves. Some religious agenda also gets into this heady mix and we have a population explosion to deal with.
Hoping for the interpretation of this verse to be corrected soon and folks to become more responsible for their actions and the consequences. Jai Sri Krishna.

2 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita #28 – Misunderstood”

  1. Hi Bindu
    So very true, I have felt this exists the same way across the length and breadth of society, it’s not just the interpretation of this verse that is responsible. It is the unwillingness to think of the consequences before taking any step and exercising discretion or the lack of it. God has given us stomachs so HE will provide bread as well. That’s the issue.

  2. Bindu,
    Good post. I think taking responsibility for your own actions is a sign of maturity. However, I also think governments around the world have encouraged irresponsibility in their citizens, by assuming too much paternalistic control. Thus, at least in the US, government has taken on what used to be the roles of charities and churches, to feed the poor, for instance, and to some extent, care for the sick. Now the churches and charities are “non-profits” and looking for government help for what they formerly relied on church members and volunteers to provide.

    In don’t know about India, but in the US there are tax and other incentives for having more children. And, of course, there are those “pro-lifers” who want to stop abortions, yet they offer no help for raising the children they want to save.


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