The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, August  6, 2000
Lead Article

Performing to Perfection

Every action has a result, says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. The trick is, however, to limit the result-oriented nature of each action by performing it to the best of one’s ability. One should use all of one’s faculties while doing any action, and not do it on an impulse. When one acts impulsively, one doesn’t think of the result of one’s action and may get trapped in the consequences of that action, says Sai R. Vaidyanathan.

ALL of us are burdened with duties and responsibilities. Apart from the duties of being a son, father, brother, husband and employee, we have the responsibility as a member of society and a human being. One is required to do all these duties and do them perfectly. All the actions that one has to perform to do these perfectly would take more than one lifetime. So, there is a big need to regulate and rationalise our actions so that we get the most out of them in one life.

Dynamism in Krishna’s theory of Karma

Performing to Perfection"Action is what you do with body, mind and speech." Always act using your ever-increasing determination, understanding and knowledge.Always act - "As no being can refrain from doing action even for a moment," going by this, even sleep is considered to be an activity. But sleep should be regulated to being "neither too much nor too less".

Ever-increasing - one’s determination, understanding and knowledge should keep increasing with every action one performs. Otherwise that action only amounts to inaction.

Using determination, understanding and knowledge - one should use all of one’s faculties while doing any action and not do it on an impulse. When one acts impulsively, one doesn’t think of the result of one’s action and may get trapped in consequences of action.

Thus, one cannot be lazy or indolent even for a moment. This can be understood very easily if you draw an analogy with cricket. By losing concentration even for a moment, a player could drop a catch, misfield or get bowled out. This could cost the team the match. In a battlefield, such a lapse could cost many lives.



At home, if you think you have nothing to do, think again! There may be a refrigerator to clean, a leaking tap to be fixed, garbage to be disposed off, some letter to be dispatched.

In the office, there could be some machines which have to be cleaned and oiled, some cables to be set right, some papers to be arranged in their folders.

Renunciation of prescribed duties

When Krishna talks about so many responsibilities and actions, shouldn’t one renounce one’s duties and head for the wilderness and be happy forever?

Krishna never advocates the renunciation of one’s duties. Duties have to be performed and the fruit has to be renounced.

Doesn’t he, who walked away, have any responsibility towards his old parents, his wife and little children? He, even in the jungle, will have to worry about his food, clothing and shelter. So, he never really is able to get away.

Societal responsibility of actions

Why should our actions be regulated ? Because each one of us is a ‘role model’ for someone or the other, and our actions are copied by our subordinates. Rampant corruption, red tape or the absence of a work culture that exists in this country is due to our emulation of this behaviour from our work-mates and leaders.

Rationalising actions

"An intelligent person is one who sees action in inaction and inaction in action," says Krishna.

Action in inaction - The act of sowing a seed is a very small act and can be considered very close to inaction but the huge tree that grows from that seed makes that inaction (of sowing a seed) a phenomenal action.

The work of scholars, researchers and thinkers doesn’t involve much physical action but their results could move nations.

Inaction in action - When one is angry, every part of the human body is in motion in phenomenal terms, but what comes out of it is nothing or worse still, foolishness. Here we can see inaction in action.

While gossiping or chatting, one’s tongue goes through so many movements but at the end of it, energy is lost and nothing is gained.

So ones’ actions have to be regulated by this principle. Krishna is in favour of automation where a lot of repetitive and monotonous work is taken care of by some machine, thus saving a lot of time which could be used to pursue knowledge.

Avoiding unnecessary action

Some actions like the speaking a lie lead to a number of actions which could have been avoided.

Another example is the falling down of a lead pencil due to a loose grip and the consequent breakage of its sharpened lead. Due to laziness (which comes under mode of ignorance) shown for a moment, one will have to pick the pencil up, find a sharpener, sharpen the pencil and throw away the residue. All this action could have been avoided if one had held on to the pencil properly.

Because of our shortsightedness, we are cutting down forests, but a few years down the lane, we would be forced to grow them again. Consider the phenomenal amount of effort that would be required that could easily be prevented if we stop now.

Badly done action

Every action has a result i.e. fruit. But the trick is to limit the result orientated nature of each action by performing it to the best of one’s ability. For example while constructing a road, the contractor should use the best means possible, and thus eliminate the need for future repairs.

Similarly, as a parent, one must take care of one’s children’s education so that the child doesn’t feel the need to take up studies after once completing them.

Avoid someone else’s karma

Krishna cautions against performing someone else’s karma. As every action could have good and bad reactions, if some good comes out of that action neither the person, who did it, would get its fruit as it wasn’t his karma originally, nor the person whose karma it was, would reap the benefit as he didn’t do it. Why? The person whose duty it was, would get negligent as there is someone else to do his job and may in the end, lose his job, and the person who did it well would now have to deal with the additional pressure of doing the first person’s work too. This will lead to some negligence in his own duties.

Equally, if the karma is performed badly, both of them will get the discredit as it was not a part of one’s duty and for the other, it was his duty to do it properly. Plus, an additional effort is required to undo this badly done action.

Insufficient karma worries

Krishna advises Arjuna to stop worrying about his actions and surrender to Him. Let’s try and figure out when does one worry? One worries only when one hasn’t performed his karma well. A student who hasn’t written his exams well is worried about the result; he tries to influence his examiners. A student who has made proper efforts in his exams is not affected before or after the result is announced.

Don’t consider yourself to be the doer

Krishna warns against being vain about one’s ability to do a certain job. He maintains that even if the doer is the best of his kind in the world and does the job to the best of his ability, every job still has many factors that the doer cannot control. It is only by the will of the Almighty that everything is done. Before an interview, the best candidate may think that the job is in his pocket but a flat tyre could well rob him of his chance.

Caution against working in mode of passion

The symptoms of a worker in the mode of passion are intense endeavor, fruitive activity, unlimited desires and longings. Krishna warns against getting trapped in this mode. If we passionately do something i.e. spend a lot of time and energy doing it, we are bound to neglect other duties. A lover waiting for his beloved forgets to eat and sleep while an over-zealous worker neglects his family and children. Most of us endure a sedentary lifestyle and hardly do any physical work. It is because of this, that lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, pain in back and neck result. It is vital to find and maintain a balance between different responsibilities.

Not opposed to growth

If Krishna advocates being free from the mode of passion, He should not be considered to be opposed to growth. Krishna wants knowledge and understanding to precede growth. If one is qualified to grow further, he should as Krishna wants one’s knowledge not to be limited, but all-encompassing.

In a higher position, he would be able to do more productive action.

Final goal—desireless karma

Krishna reveals to the world the secret of happiness - being desireless. Should one’s karma be desireless? Yes, but we should see this distinction clearly that we don’t desire the karma but its fruit. So surrender the fruit of your karma to Krishna i.e desire nothing from your action. By practice and selection, one would indulge in desireless karma. Sow a seed of a tree, water it and nourish it. But the planter should know that he may not enjoy this tree’s shade or fruit. This karma is desireless.

Married couples produce children so that they might have a helping hand when they are aged. To desire such a result is wrong as no one knows what is in store for them. The son may not live to support his parents; he may not be able enough to support them or he may desert his parents. So parents, do all you have to do for your children but don’t expect the result to match your expectation.

Only by detached karma can one become perfect for "only those who endeavour for perfection can achieve Him".