The Work To Be Done, and the Way To Do It

Keeping in mind the developing thought process sequentially set forth in the Gita, the early pronouncements about “the work to be done” and the manner in which we are to approach that work, need to be tempered by the later more comprehensive teaching that ensues.

Sri Aurobindo explains the psychological state of the individual who is asked to undertake work: “The equality which the Gita preaches is not disinterestedness….; it is a state of inner poise and wideness which is the foundation of spiritual freedom. With that poise, in that freedom we have to do the “work that is to be done”, a phrase which the Gita uses with the greatest wideness including in it all works…and which far exceeds, though it may include, social duties or ethical obligations.”

It is not up to the individual to “choose” the work or desire the result.

As another interim statement, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that he has the right to the “work” but not the “fruits” of the work. He is more or less saying at that point, that Arjuna needs to do his duty, but it is not up to him to determine the results or act on the basis of attaining a specific result. Some hold this to be one of the essential points of the Gita, and it certainly helps move the individual away from the purely egoistic position from which we basically all start.

Sri Aurobindo points out that even this teaching needs to be viewed in a larger perspective: “It is practically superseded at a subsequent stage. For the Gita goes on to affirm emphatically that man is not the doer of the action; it is Prakriti, it is Nature, it is the great Force with its three modes of actionthat works through him, and he must learn to see that it is not he who does the work. Therefore the “right to action” is an idea which is only valid so long as we are still under the illusion of being the doer; it must necessarily disappear from the mind like the claim to the fruit, as soon as we cease to be to our own consciousness the doer of our works.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 4, The Core of the Teaching, pp. 32-33,