Dynamics of Desires, Actions and Results
There are several spiritual clichés about desires, action and results:
-Many spiritual teachers advise their disciples not to have desires or to minimize their desires.
-Similarly advice is given that one has to have equanimity in action and treat everyone regardless of who the person is with love and compassion.
-Finally people are told not to expect the results of action.
None of the above are in keeping with traditional teaching. Let us see what the reality is:
Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:
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dharm?viruddho bh?te?u k?mo’smi bharatar?abha ||7- 11||
In all human beings, I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma. (Bhagavad Gita VII,11)
It means: I (the Lord) am in form of desire which is unopposed to Dharma (universal ethical values). The tradition looks upon desire as a privilege given to human being and not something that one has to get rid of. Human beings are endowed with capacity to desire, to know and to do. For example, a person comes to learn Gita because the person has desire to know. In act the final human end as envisaged in Veda is Moksa. The person who desires Moksa is called Mumuksu. The one who desires to know is called Jignasu.
If that is so, why desire is commonly presented as a problem amongst spiritual teachers? The problem lies in a fact that often desires have a great force. They impel a person to go against Dhrama. Therefore we can not as such label desire as unwelcome thing. But the challenge lies in managing these desires- this is where ones discretion comes in play. One has to learn to use the privilege of desire wisely. Growth lies in ensuring that we don’t act on those desires which go against dharma.
Sometimes what is dharma is not very clear. For example, one person came up to us and said I am comfortable with my husband but not in love with him. I know someone from my work and I am very much in love with him. Whenever I am with the person I love, we talk, laugh, share many things and there is a deep connection we enjoy which simply does not exist with my husband. So what should I do?
There is no clear cut answer to this question. One really has to see many factors before one can even begin to assess what is to be done. The factors are: (i) relationship between husband/wife is it abusive? (ii) Is it just boredom born of monotony or there is a serious relational problem? If it is just boredom, that can even take place in a new relationship, because the spark does not always last for long. (iii) are children involved? It is often highly unsettling for children when parents separate. (iv) Is the dissatisfaction in present relationship stemming from childhood need because the person felt unloved? If it is coming from childhood experience, than nobody can satisfy that lack. In this case, external situation is only a trigger for the real problem that lies in ones unconscious and one needs to take care of that.
Therefore, desires can be pursued and one can be free to have one more desire provided desires don’t create pressure in you. Spirituality is all about gaining mastery over ones desires so that they don’t take you on a tangent and make you do inappropriate things. One can utilize the privilege to desire to gain Moksa and discover complete freedom in this life.
Of course compassion and love are important, but life is full of nuances and requires varied responses depending upon what the situation calls for. Mahabharata and Gita are classic examples for need for interpretation in performing actions. For example, Lord Krishna did not teach Arjuna to give up the battle and have unconditional compassion towards his brothers. Of course, Lord Krishna tried to negotiate to avoid the battle. But at one point, Lord Krishna asked Arjuna to fight to uphold dharma, for larger good of humanity. The logic was, if you let someone like Duryodhana who is greedy and unethical to rule the kingdom, many people will suffer due to his abuse of power. Since Arjuna born as Kshtriya was wronged and placed in a position where he could do something, he had to do what needed to be done. The love for ones cousin can not come in a way for what needs to be done.
Lord Krishna also had to fight against many wicked people including his own uncle Kamsa. He also came to rescue Draupadi when everyone else was quiet in the name of Dharma. Through these examples, Lord Krishna showed that universal values require interpretation. Of course for this interpretation to be right, the criteria for choosing an action can not be self-interest but larger good. Of course, the person has to be mature to use the capacity to interpret wisely and not to abuse it for justifying ones wrong actions.
The need for nuance in interpretation is highlighted through this example. One of the person’s father passed away, he had two daughters and one son but no will was written regarding how his property should be distributed. His son claimed the whole property and Aunt (father’s sister) objected. She told the daughters to object and stand up for their right and not let their brother usurp the property in name of love and compassion for their brother. It looks like a right thing to do. However, upon further investigation it was discovered that daughters were given cash equivalent to the value of property at the time of their marriage. Father thought that since daughters were leaving the family at the time of marriage, he would give them their share of wealth in cash. Since son was physically living on this property, he would get the property. Therefore, their son had right to property. The right thing for daughters to do was not to claim property. Even though well intended, their aunt’s advice was misguided. Not to claim the property was not out of ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ for brother but out of the understanding of ‘right thing to do’.
The above example shows that standing up for ones right is also not necessarily appropriate choice if other important factors are not examined to arrive at right course of action.
Therefore, choosing appropriate actions in the world requires a lot of discerning. It can not be arrived at by one fits all advice of being compassionate and loving.
Of course as one becomes more objective and mature, one becomes a contributor in the society. One recognizes that one has received so much in life and spontaneously begins to give back. But this can not be idealized to the point that one loses discretion in choosing actions that are called for in a given situation.
We can define our role in this world more broadly and reach out to others. In fact, Lord Krishna says that those who are only self-centered, are eating Papa. This is because in this interconnected world, you depend upon many people for your life. If you just take and not give back enough, you are a thief. To come up with right choice of action, one has to examine ones place in entire scheme of things and realistically assess ones scope of influence in a given sphere.
The advice that one should be detached and not expect result is impractical. This advice is often termed as ‘Nishkama Karma’. The logic seems to be that when results are less than or opposite of what is expected, there is sense of failure. Since many things don’t happen our way, all of us have sense of failure. Therefore, the way to tackle with this is not to expect any result in first place.
However, things are not quite as simple as that. Behind every action, there is expectation of result. In fact, in Sanskrit there is a saying that Prayojanam Vina, Murkha Api Na Pravartante. Without some result in mind, even a dull witted person does not engage in action.
Then what is the right way to respond to results of actions? This is indicated by the famous verse of the Gita:
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karma?yev?dhik?raste m? phale?u kad?cana | m? karmaphalaheturbh?rm? te sa?go’stvakarma?i ||2- 47||
Your choice is with reference to action only but definitely never with reference to its results. Do not (think yourself to) be the author (or the cause) of the results of action. (Bhagavad Gita II,47)
This is not an advice given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. He is making a statement of fact. He says a human being has choice over action but never over the result of action. If we could choose our results, there would not be any failures.
The question is, if results are not in our hand, then who determines it? Are they random? If things were random, there would not be any predictability. There would be no relationship between our actions and results. This will certainly make it impossible to choose any course of action.
Here Lord Krishna says results are determined by Isvara which exists in form of order. We think that there is order when things happen according to our likes. Order means there is cause-effect relationship which connects our present action (cause) with past causes to produce an effect (result). Because of the presence of this order that connects various past and present causes to produce effect, things are predictable.
Predictability also implies that we don’t totally control results. One striking example to understand lack of control is with reference to birth and death not being in our hand. There is a story in Mahabharata where king Parikshit goes to Sage Shuka and requests him to teach the king the truth as he has only 7 days to live. Sage Shuka replies to the king by saying, ‘at least you know how many days you will live, I don’t know what will happen next minute’.
A lot of our life is lived with anxiety about future. How future will unfold nobody knows. The wise person lives one day at a time. Of course we can plan, but focus on a day, make most of it. Nothing is too big for one to manage for one day. A lot of our anxieties, worries and fears about what results are going to come to us through events of life can be handled if we live one day at a time with awareness that results are taken care of by infallible order of Isvara.