Why does the Gita recommend working with detachment?
Question: Whenever we work, it is the desire for the result that motivates us to work. Why, then, does the Bhagavad-gita recommend that we work without desiring the results?
Gita wisdom outlines the sublime art that can transform our work in the temporary realm into a ladder for ascending to the eternal realm. Just as every art needs an aesthetic sensibility, the Gita’s art of work needs a metaphysical sensibility to discern that work has the potential to yield two everlasting results: spiritual wisdom and spiritual devotion.
Here’s an example to illustrate how obsession with the material can blind us to the first result of spiritual wisdom. When students study with an obsession for marks, that obsession causes them to study selectively instead of comprehensively. This lop-sided approach may yield the short-term result of marks, but deprives them of the long-term results of deep understanding of the subject, healthy study habits and an educated mind trained to learn. Similarly, when we work with an obsession for the material results of our work, that obsession constrains us to see all the events of life only in terms of our success and failure. This uni-dimensional fixation deprives us of the holistic vision that sees life as an experiential learning ground for the philosophical truths like the role of higher powers in determining the results of our work, the insubstantiality of material gains and the indestructibility of our own spiritual identity.
Now, let’s consider an example of how working without obsession for the material can yield the second result of spiritual devotion. Consider salespersons working in a cloth-shop with their employer overseeing. If they focus on demonstrating their sincerity and diligence to their employer by their prompt service, courteous behaviour and gentle persuasion while dealing with the customers, then their employer will become pleased and will provide their remuneration, even if they don’t succeed in every sales attempt. Similarly, when we work in the world, the Lord is overseeing from within our own hearts. If we focus on trying to please him by doing our work to the best of our capacity, then he will grant us everlasting devotion to him, even if we don’t get the material results in our every endeavor.
Thus the Gita doesn’t demotivate us by teaching us to neglect or reject the worldly results of our work, but it urges us to not get stuck in them. By providing us with a loftier motivation for our work, it inspires us to work to the best of our capacity and to relish everlasting results.