Duty without Attachment
Published: Apr 16, 2017
Lord Krishna tells Arjun in the Geeta – Fight the battle but keep your mind attached to me simultaneously. (8.7) Readers of the scripture wonder how it is possible to live in the world and at the same time remain mentally attached to God constantly. To get the answer to this very important question, let us first understand that all works performed by us fall into two categories, and we perform both these types of work every single day.
Suppose a woman is expecting her husband back from a very lengthy business trip. She is very excited and goes to great pains in preparing a special meal for him. In spite of the time and effort spent in preparing the meal she does not feel the least bit tired. All she feels is the sweet delight of anticipation. When her husband comes home, she eagerly waits for him to have dinner and enjoy her food. How happy she feels when her husband takes seconds and appreciates her cooking!
Suppose the next day, both husband and the wife go out to the movies, and the wife insists on returning home for a special meal once again. She tells the maid to cook dinner, telling her a list of dishes to be prepared. Just like the woman, the maid too cooks dinner, but unlike the woman she does not experience satisfaction. Instead, she resents the return of her employer. After all, he has created extra work for her. She cooks the dinner as a part of her job and nothing more.
Both the women outwardly perform the same work, but inwardly there is a big difference in both their works. The wife prepares dinner not only with the involvement of the body and the mind, but also with the attachment of the mind to her work. This attachment is due to her love for husband. The maid prepares dinner only with the involvement of the body and the mind, minus the attachment of the mind to the work.
This simple example shows us that we can perform works in the world with the mind attached to the work or with the mind detached from it. While performing an action we require only the co-operation of the mind, not its attachment. This is why Lord Krishna instructs us to use our mind in the performance of worldly duties, but to have it attached to Him at all times.
A snake is dangerous as long as its fangs are intact. Once the fangs are removed, even the deadliest reptile becomes a tame creature, incapable of harming anyone. Likewise, the works we perform in the world become a cause of bondage for us only if our mind is attached to the fruits of our actions. If we work with a detached mind - without hope of gain or loss - these actions are no longer a source of bondage for us.
The next question is: How do we go about working without attachment to this work? Well, you may be surprised to know that you are already in the habit of working in this way. In fact, 90% of your actions are performed without the attachment of the mind. The series of detached actions starts right from the time you get up in the morning. You don't really want to leave your cozy bed, but you do it anyway, because your intellect reasons that if you don't do so, you will certainly be late for work. Therefore, you leave your bed reluctantly and start the morning rituals such as brushing your teeth and taking a shower. But note that all these works are being performed without the attachment of the mind to them. Furthermore, when you go to your workplace, you still work with a detached mind. How many people are really attached to the files that keep them occupied all day long? Most workers would agree that the most enjoyable part of any job is the coffee and lunch breaks.
Let's take another example. A nurse working in the maternity ward of a hospital helps bring thousands of babies into the world, yet she does not get attached to any one of them. If the child is born healthy, she congratulates the parents, and if there is a problem, she offers her sympathy. But in both cases, she remains neutral and goes about her work as usual. Although she is using her mind in doing her work, yet she is keeping it detached from the work.
Just as we keep the mind detached from most of our daily actions, in the same way we must keep it detached from most individuals of the world. The attachment of our mind is reserved only for a handful of people such as parents, siblings, spouse and children. With the rest of the world, we only behave politely. If you perform your duty towards these individuals without attachment, there will be no difficulty in attaining God.
Moreover, it may surprise you to know that no one in your family wants your love. Is there any such wife who would still love her husband even if he refused to go to work and asked her to manage the finances on her own? Would she be willing to take his word that he loves her? She will say, “I don’t need your love; just do your duty.” If you ask a child whether his parents love him, he will say ‘yes.’ If you ask him why he is so sure, he will say, “I know they love me because they buy me things, take me to the library, give me nice food to eat, and take me to the park.” Like this child, all your family members simply want you to do your duty towards them. After all, you too want the same from them.
Lord Krishna says, “Do your duty towards the world and keep your mind attached to me.” The world does not want attachment of the mind, and God only wants attachment of the mind. This is why there is no problem. Problems would have arisen if both had wanted the same thing.
Some may argue that it's impossible to perform our duty in the world unless our mind is attached to family members. However, the fact is that you can only perform your duty properly with a mind which is neutral towards the world. It is only when we are free of both love as well hatred that we can carry out our duties towards others. A judge can only carry out her duties effectively if she is impartial to both parties. If she loves or hates either one of the parties, her judgment will be tainted. A surgeon will refuse to operate on his own wife, whereas he may perform even the most delicate surgery on others with the greatest of ease and confidence. The reason is that he is attached to his wife, but not to his patients.
It is well known that a mother takes the best care of her child since no one can love the child more than the mother. At the same time, a mother’s attachment to her offspring often makes her blind where the welfare of her child is concerned. Her heart is easily moved if the child persistently cries for something. She often lets him play or sleep when he is supposed to be studying. She may end up spoiling the child due to her excessive attachment.
So, we see that since our mind is affected by both love as well as hatred, it fails to give impartial judgment, and consequently we fail to carry out our duty properly. This being the case, it makes sense to keep our mind detached from the world and attached only to God. Our mind should be like a compass on the ship which always points towards the north, regardless of the direction in which the ship is sailing. Our mind should be directed only towards God at all times, regardless of the duties we may be performing in the world.