karmany evaa’dhikaaras te...

karmany evaa’dhikaaras te
maa phaleshu kadaachana

This is a much-quoted verse from The Bhagavad Gita (‘Song Celestial’), one of the sublimest spiritual poems of Hinduism in which Krishna the Charioteer gives a discourse to Arjuna the warrior on the real meaning of a warrior’s duty. Great scholars and analysts have stressed the point that a reader of the Gita should forget all about the battlefield of the epic Mahabharata, and the story of Krishna and Arjuna in the epic; but should see that the poem symbolizes the great spiritual struggle of the human soul. As one interpreter wrote, the three central themes of this immortal poem –Love, Light, and Life – arise from the symphonic vision of God in all things and of all things in God.

The two lines are from chapter 2, stanza 47 of the Gita, in which Krishna explains to Arjuna the significance of being a brave warrior in the battlefield. The lines mean literally: Your concern should be with action alone, not for any benefits ever.

It would be beneficial to the reader to see here the commentary given by none other than Sri Sankaracharya to this passage. Sankara says: You are qualified for works alone, not for the path of knowledge. And then, while doing works, let there be no desire for the results of works under any circumstances whatever. If you should have a thirst for the results of works, you will have to reap those fruits. Therefore let not your motive be the fruits of your action. When a person performs works thirsting for the results of those works, then he will be subject to rebirth as the result of action. Neither may you be attached to inaction, thinking “Of what avail are these painful works if their fruits should not be desired?” (Translated from the original Sanskrit into English by Alladi Mahadeva Sastry)

The concluding two lines of the stanza should also be read here to get the meaning in toto. And those lines are:

    maa karma phala hetur bhuur
    maa te sango ‘stv akarmani

And the lines mean: Do not become benefit-motivated; be not attached to inaction, either. Sri Sankaracharya gives the meaning as this: “Let not the fruit of action be thy motive, not let thy attachment be for inaction”. The fruit (phala) of action referred to here must mean, not results that are desirable in the proper context of wisdom, but only third or extraneous “fruits” or ends in the context where ends the means are treated dualistically, argues Nataraja Guru, famous absolutist.

From Sankara onwards several scholars and analysts over centuries have highlighted the greatness of this saying. But there have been vehement criticism has also come up from noted scholars. To expect reasonable results from any action that a man might do is but normal, hence purposely to minimize the importance of results would be absurd, argue some of them. Aurobindo Ghose denounces what he calls the gospel of duty and renouncing the fruits of action which, he says, has become almost a mahaavaakya (great dictum) of the Gita, by popular usage.