The Bhagwad Gita on Work

[Chapter 18, Verse 45-48]

Eknath Easwaran, explaining the verses 45 to 48 in The Bhagwath Gita, says:

sve sve karmany….

It is in our work and relationship that we contribute to the rest of the world. It is not enough therefore, to make progress in meditation; we also have to be sure that we share the fruits of meditation with those we work with and live with, primarily through our personal example. This is the only way in which our personal karma can be undone.

Sri Krishna is trying to make it clear here that how we work is as important as what we do. Spiritual values are not so much taught as caught, from the lives of those who embody them. Your job may be nothing more glamorous than a janitor in the hospital, but if you are practicing sadhana sincerely, you will be contributing to other people’s lives, even though you may not see it happening. These are spiritual laws.

Every one of us can enrich his sadhana, improve her contribution to the world by giving the utmost contribution to the job at hand, in a spirit of detachment. Both these are necessary: concentration and detachment. When they are present together, it is enough to go on giving our best in fulfilling the responsibilities with which we are entrusted. As sadhana deepens, new opportunities will open up to suit our growing needs and capacities.

“Duties” in verse 48, means karma again, and the word gives some valuable clues. We don’t have to envy others because the jobs they do seem to be more prestigious or creative, or because other people seem to have more skill; we are where we are, doing what we are doing, because we have something to learn from that particular context. Our karma – what we have thought, done and desired – has brought us to that job and to those co-workers, because this is just the situation to work out the mistakes we made in dealing with others in the past. As that karma is worked out, we grow. Soon, we may need a new context to work in, new people, new challenges, and greater opportunities for service.

Lastly, He reminds us gently, is there any job that is 100% perfect? Is there a position where you do only what you think you should do? Where an employer allows you to tell him how to conduct his business according to the interpretation of the eternal verities? Every job has its requirements that are not ours. Very few jobs are pure. No occupation is free from conflict. No task guarantees to protect us from stressful situations or from people with different views. And no job is free from drudgery; every line of work has a certain amount of routine. Sri Krishna says, don’t ask if you like the work, if it is creative, if it always offers something new. Ask, if you are part of the work that benefits people. If it does, give it your best attention. In that spirit, every beneficial job can become a spiritual offering.

It is humbling to read this, more so when you realize that these words have been spoken more than 5000 years ago, on this very land. We get so caught up in the small picture that we rarely see the big picture.

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