On Janmashtami, while celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, what generally grab our attention are the colourful festive dances and the whole array of puja offerings. It may help also to think for a minute about the most popular message of Krishna, delivered through the Bhagavad Gita, in the middle of battlefield, as an instruction to the best of warriors, Arjun: “Karmanyevadhikarasthe maa paleshu kadachana, Ma karma phalaheturbhuh matey sangah astu akarmani.” This verse in Sanskrit is commonly translated as, ‘Do your duty, do not expect the results.’ Is that the right way of understanding the sloka, I asked S. Prakash Kaushik, a renowned Sanskrit teacher?
No, this is not the correct interpretation, he begins. “If we are doing any duty, hundred percent the results will be there. This world is called Karma Bhoomi. So, here, we have to do karma, and whatever karma we are doing, for that the fruit will be there. The correct meaning, therefore, is that your right is only in karma. Maa paleshu means not that you don’t expect fruit; you don’t have the right on the fruit. That means, giving fruit according to time is in Krishna’s hand. We have to do karma. Sure, we will get fruit, but fruit timing, we cannot calculate. Bhagwan Krishna will decide at what time, what kind of fruit, will go to whom.”
The sloka goes on to say that you should not do any action for enjoinment, because if you are going to enjoy, you have to take birth again; for that matter, don’t stop your karma. “Simple example, you are sitting and doing meditation, or doing service to poor people, please do it. Don’t expect appreciation from people. You just thank god that he gave you the opportunity to help people. This is called karma,” Prakash explains. “We must do action. We should not expect any appreciation because work, in itself, is a gift; our work is merit, it is gifted by god.”
When doing karma, we should not think, ‘I am doing,’ adds Prakash, underlining the Vedantic depth of the sloka. “What is this I? You cannot give reply. We don’t know from whom we are going to take birth. We don’t know why I am fair, why I am dark, why I am short? You don’t know anything, either birth or death. Then don’t have that much ego that I am doing, because beyond that ‘I’ it is actually that Parameshwara, that Lord Krishna, who is doing. Therefore, do your action without expectation of fruit. Hundred percent, fruit will be there. You please don’t wait for that fruit. ‘I know what kind of fruit to give, and that fruit also I am, and the action what you are doing, that also I am,’ says Krishna. So, this is the meaning of Karmanyavadhikarasthe.
Relating these profound thoughts to the lives of many entrepreneurs, I feel there is something that often eludes explanation when it comes to what drives them. Dig deep, and you may find that the startup that consumes all their time and energies is what they perhaps think is their karma, irrespective of whether they receive any appreciation from those around. And, even when the fruit comes to them, if ever, it is highly probable that the spirit of entrepreneurship keeps them going after the next venture, pushing the limits of work at their personal level, rather than lapse into a cushy life.