“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.47)
कर्मण्य् एवाधिकारस् ते
मा फलेषु कदाचन
मा कर्म-फल-हेतुर् भूर्
मा ते सङ्गो ऽस्त्व् अकर्मणि
karmaṇy evādhikāras te
mā phaleṣu kadācana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr
mā te saṅgo ‘stv akarmaṇi
“One of the more famous verses from Bhagavad-gita deals with action and reaction. This verse is familiar to even those who might not have studied that classic Sanskrit work in great depth. The instruction aligns with common sense, but the principle is otherwise easily forgotten.
“The shloka deals with this idea of fruits to work. Karma-phala. We have a right to perform our duty, but we should not be attached to the results. Basically, put in the effort. Follow the proper course. Be committed to the work, but understand that the end-result is ultimately out of your hands.
“Moreover, the results to the work should be sacrificed. They should not be used for personal enjoyment. That is the best way to live, as it removes the greatest source of anxiety. The more I am attached to results, the more I will be under the control of the senses instead of the other way around.
“Let’s take that same principle and apply it within the devotional scope. We celebrate acharyas from the past based on their accomplishments. Perhaps they authored a wonderful poem or collection of verses. Maybe they discovered important sites related to the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“I am not arguing against the idea of worshiping and honoring someone who is successful in pleasing the Supreme Lord. But what about those who are not as successful? The ones who worship with heart and soul but who do not necessarily have the statistics to prove their worth. What about those who fail in trying to achieve objectives outlined in the beginning of their work?
“Does that mean their devotion is less? Are not they as committed to the path? Are the results to successful work the sign of accomplishment and elevation in the purification of the consciousness?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the different kinds of work assigned within bhakti-yoga are merely ways to engage devotees so that they can apply the principles of devotional living for the purpose of practical realization of the principles.
As an example, one of the first principles taught to Arjuna by Krishna is the distinction between matter and spirit. The living entity takes identity from spirit. Nothing can kill the individual. The changes we see, including birth and death, are actually related to the body only.
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
There is the principle of work itself, that the results are due to the cooperation of material nature, or the lack thereof. I am not the doer, although I am under the illusion that I can entirely effect outcomes with my decisions.
गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः
कर्ताहम् इति मन्यते
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
These principles and many more might make sense under a philosophical review, applying sober and rational thought, but superior to the verbal acknowledgment is practical realization. That is where the field of play becomes important. The kshetra upon which to apply the principles of devotional life, sanatana-dharma, will help me to realize the true meaning to those very same principles.
In that respect, success and failure are not so important. They are not the determining factor in the level of realization. We see that the vulture Jatayu fails in trying to stop the wicked Ravana from taking away Sita Devi. Jatayu applies a specific kind of service in his devotional life, but the end-result is failure. He is celebrated to this day, as he nobly defended dharma in the best way he could. The specific result did not matter much.
Arjuna was successful in the Bharata War, under the direction of Krishna, but he later failed in protecting Krishna’s queens. This does not mean that Arjuna was an elevated devotee only on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and a materialist under the spell of illusion in other venues.
We should be thankful to have different potential activities passed down to us. We can slowly realize the meaning to Absolute through activities such as chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
We can see for ourselves if there is a different kind of taste in the food prepared with love and offered to the Lord of the universe. We can compare our life in devotion to the life we previously led, to see if there is a difference, if we have increased renunciation, due to the change in experience.
रस-वर्जं रसो ऽप्य् अस्य
परं दृष्ट्वा निवर्तते
rasa-varjaṁ raso ‘py asya
paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate
“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.59)
Not to result bound,
More the experience found.
That noticing a higher taste,
Less and less time to waste.
Jatayu failing in the air,
But not for the outcome to care.
To Rama forever dear,
Because of devotion clear.