Monday, August 9, 2010

Bound by Duty

It is hard when you have to bear the consequences of actions not done by you. The point is we understand our actions and consequences so little. We do things impulsively, sometimes also after a good judgement. No matter what, the judgement is bound to be constrained as it is not possible for us to think beyond our reason allows. It comes back in some form to us, though we cannot relate the distant cause and its current effect. As much as you cannot move the chairs if you are sitting on it, you cannot change, observe, understand the reality if you are engulfed within it.

How to go beyond it ? How to decide on an action and how to execute it ? These are long-standing questions asked by humanity for ages. A well-known treatise on this is Gita, a discourse given to Arjuna by Krishna just before the battle of Mahabharata. It categorically says, you have only the right to duty, not the results. Now, this is confusing for us to the very basics. The question also received attention in blog-dom (here). How to leave apart the results and do the thing nicely. In the world of circuits and state machines, how the system improves without having a feedback loop ?



Two questions can be formulated from it, in order to resolve the confusion. First, is it possible to efficiently execute a task without expecting a result ? Second, what is a duty/responsibility ? The second question is particularly important as, we apparently, are driven by a keen sense of duty over everything else, even morals. Let me look into what Swami Vivekananda has to say over these. The second question first (stack-mode).

"What is duty after all? It is really the impulsion of the flesh, of our attachment; and when an attachment has become established, we call it duty. ... It is, so to say, a sort of chronic disease. When it is acute, we call it disease; when it is chronic, we call it nature. It is a disease. So when attachment becomes chronic, we baptize it with the high-sounding name of duty. We strew flowers upon it, trumpets sound for it, sacred texts are said over it, and then the whole world fights, and people earnestly rob each other for this duty's sake."
[Reference :
Class on Karma Yoga. New York, January 10, 1896. Complete Works, 1.103-104.]


That's calling a spade a spade. Are we brave enough to accept our desires ? Are we intelligent enough to understand our hidden passions, which we cover in the name of duty and try to fool ourselves ? Attachment, to a material world, can drastically change our view. Let me try with an example. I am highly motivated to teach a group of underprivileged children and I call it my duty. Hey, even Swami Vivekananda calls it a duty to serve our brothers. Am I sure, if I am not looking for a selfish desire to appear magnanimous in front of a million onlookers ? I am not. It is like the scale of a fish to uncover. Attachment and duty, moves very close to each other. Very very close. To settle it without performing anything at all ? No duty, no attachment. It does not help either. Apart from a horrible fallout of social fabric, it does not prevent us from the basic duties. We start with hunger, move to food and the quest for more brings us to the ultra-thin laptop. We must work, as simple as that.

Getting back to the first question then. How is it possible to work, achieve perfection, without expecting the result ? This seems a no-brainer. Do you need to "expect" anything to improve the quality of your work ? You just need to see the results. We, mere mortals, fail to see the abstract results and associate things with it. As much as duty and attachment moves together, so the results and its rewards.



Care as much as we do for the materialistic rewards, we lose the fine balance of perfecting the work at hand. Focus is the key. What about immaterialistic reward ? You strive to become a better painter, fine. You strive to become a better programmer, fine. Those will pay. That is a desire, too. But, much more abstract than the desire to earn millions by selling your code. It is like fighting a battle with some arms in the arsenal. We will fight better if we strive to improve our arms or our mastery over the arms. We will fight worse, if we ponder over a little palace that we may conquer. The palaces are the material rewards, distracting us every moment. The arms are our intellect, our discipline, our morality. The sannyasin also expects, he/she expects to improve his/her soul - the purest form of arm we carry.

1 comment:

  1. Khub sundor lekha ta..pore khub bhalo laglo..

    As you rightly said - to excel in life we need to improve our mastery over arms rather than thinking about petty palaces. Difference between a sannyasin and us is- a sannyasin has expectations from himself and we just care about other people's expectations.

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