“There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.14)
न मां कर्माणि लिम्पन्ति
न मे कर्म-फले स्पृहा
इति मां यो ऽभिजानाति
कर्मभिर् न स बध्यते
na māṁ karmāṇi limpanti
na me karma-phale spṛhā
iti māṁ yo ‘bhijānāti
karmabhir na sa badhyate
Every person has an angle. No one is working out of the goodness of their heart. This explains the theory behind charging for a good or service. Even if you want to do something for free, where you truly love what you do, it is better to insist on payment from the other side.
This is to avoid suspicion. If someone knocked on my door and offered to give fruits without charge, I probably wouldn’t accept. There must be something wrong. Why would they be willing to part with something so valuable?
You could say that every person wants something in return for their work. Even in non-government organizations or a nonprofit charity, there is some return on investment. The people employed have to be paid. There must be a way to keep the lights on, so to speak. Relying on donations may carry a different classification within the tax-code of the local jurisdiction, but the underlying principle is the same.
That interest has a binding effect. The interest leads to work, and the work leads to consequences. I suffer or enjoy, based on the outcome. The result does not have to manifest immediately. The enjoyment or suffering does not have to last for a significant amount of time. Work is still the root cause.
अदृष्टगुणदोषाणामध्रुवाणां तु कर्मणाम्
नान्तरेण क्रियां तेषां फलमिष्टं प्रवर्तते
adṛṣṭaguṇadoṣāṇāmadhruvāṇāṃ tu karmaṇām
nāntareṇa kriyāṃ teṣāṃ phalamiṣṭaṃ pravartate
“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
This network of interest and consequence is important to understand, as it is the leading cause of our suffering. As a simple example, let’s say that my place of employment is contemplating forcing everyone back into the office.
This is after a few years of working from home. I begin to panic. Will I be able to transition back to the old way of life? What if the boss doesn’t give me a choice? What happens if I get fired? How will I pay the monthly bills?
The misery has the external cause, with someone else responsible. The issue is that my initial action of taking the job is what created the condition. I had a certain desire. Carrying out that desire led to consequences. Some reactions were expected and others were not. Some took several years to manifest.
This kind of work is known as karma, and the effects stretch across lifetimes. I will suffer or enjoy into the future, after quitting the body. The circumstances at present were due to work from the past. The cycle continues.
पुरुषः प्रकृति-स्थो हि
भुङ्क्ते प्रकृति-जान् गुणान्
कारणं गुण-सङ्गो ऽस्य
puruṣaḥ prakṛti-stho hi
bhuṅkte prakṛti-jān guṇān
kāraṇaṁ guṇa-saṅgo ‘sya
“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.22)
The review is important because it provides another window into spiritual life. We can understand God through His immunity from what everyone else experiences. He is never bound by karma.
He works. He has activities. You could call that karma, but the nature is different. It is divyam, or Divine. The same applies to His appearances. This is also janma, or birth, but not the typical kind.
As Krishna describes in Bhagavad-gita, a person who knows this about God does not suffer. The feature of transcendence essentially extends to them. They will be involved in work, but it will not have a binding effect.
This does not mean that suddenly fire will not burn or that others will treat me nicely. The sun will rise and set, and the bitter cold of winter will still have influence. The spouse will still yell at me without cause, or so it seems. The stinging discomfort of allergy season will still arrive, as if on schedule.
The difference is that all the work performed is in transcendence. There is no karma in the sense of effect on the material body. Shri Krishna will be entirely in control, as He is with His own work. He never seeks fruits to activity, since He is always satya-sankalpa. Whatever He wants, turns into reality just through contemplation.
If I know this about Him, if I am firmly convinced of His presence and His superior standing, then I get assistance in the journey through life. My karma gradually turns into bhakti, and I am placed in situations favorable to the further exercise of devotion, which continues lifetime after lifetime.
Not by piety or sin,
Work not binding for Him.
As Divine making it true,
Same for janma and karma too.
Such that to devotion extending,
Work with benefits not ending.
Into future births to go,
Where same bhakti to know.