Modern world has witnessed many instances of diseases and disasters - one of which is the current Covid-19 pandemic. This has left man distressed. Some have lost their near and dear ones and others are worried about losing them at any moment. In the Shrimadbhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Whatever happens, is for good,” which directs one’s thoughts to the concept of non-attachment to what is transient. Can we apply this concept to the current pandemic situation? Can surrendering ourselves to what is happening, bring us peace? To answer these questions, we have to go back to the essence of ‘Karmayoga’ as laid down in the Shrimadbhagavad-Gita. Lord Krishna says in the shloka forty-seven of the chapter second:
“Karmanyevaadhikaaraste Maa Phaleshu Kadaachana/
Maa Karmaphalaheturbhurmaa Te Sangostvakarmani//”
This means, “You have the right to work only, but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”
Man, only has control over his action and not on its results. By getting afraid of results, if someone falls into inaction, he will only be committing a sin. One who is born, is bound to do Karma –action. Now the question arises, “What Karma?” The Shrimadbhagavad-Gita answers it as ‘Nishkamakarma’ – doing action with no desire of its fruits. This is Nishkamakarmayoga, performing one’s duties selflessly and with dedication – being in communion with God, or, let us say, surrender one’s Karma unto Him. Keeping the pandemic situation in mind, Nishkamakarmayoga teaches us to practice non-attachment, which does not mean callousness or being insensitive but being compassionate to all in need without being selective. It also emphasises the fact of staying alike in joys and sorrows, to be a Sthitapragya –to be stable in even when one loses his loved one(s) or faces any material loss.
Over the years, man has fallen prey to a relentless materialism. Material gains have become the be-all and end-all for us. Almost all our actions have been directed towards the material world only. All spiritual texts iterate that the body is only a matter, which will perish when the time is ripe, and so will all that is related to this matter. Then why do we worry so much about the material reality? The pandemic has taught us a lesson that Shakespeare so beautifully put in, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport.”
We have no control over any situation, but only over our mind, speech and action मनसा वाचा कर्मणा –Manasaa, Vaachaa, Karmanaa. The theory of Karma also propounds that every cause has an effect, every action has a result, good or bad. What we are facing today is the consequence of what we did yesterday. Nature has its own way of shaking us up to mend our ways. The principle of Nishkamakarmayoga teaches us to perform our righteous duties with no desire of its fruits. Right deeds will always bear the right fruits.
The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to stop and think of where we are heading. Seeking happiness with an intention for material possessions and inability to get them, gives rise to stress, anger, depression and other mental illnesses. It can be said undeniably that modern materialistic society is suffering a lot due to it. Nishkamakarmayoga frees an individual from all temptations and helps him attain inner peace. It motivates us to act selflessly for universal good, –Loksamgraha. It believes that being free from illusion and false prestige, serving for the welfare of all with pure intentions takes us a step closer to divinity. In the fifth shloka of the chapter fifteen of the Shrimadbhagavad-Gita, it appears:
“निर्मानमोहा जितसङ्गदोषा अध्यात्मनित्या विनिवृत्तकामा: /
द्वन्द्वैर्विमुक्ता: सुखदु:खसंज्ञै र्गच्छन्त्यमूढा: पदमव्ययं तत्//”
“Nirmaanamohaa Jitasangadoshaa Adhyaatmanityaa Vinivrttakaamaah/
Dvandvairvimuktaah Sukhaduhkhasamjnairgacchantyamudhaah Padamavyayam Tat//”
This means, “Those who are free from vanity and delusion, who have overcome the evil of attachment, who dwell constantly in the self and God, who are freed from the desire to enjoy the senses, and are beyond the dualities of pleasure and pain, such liberated personalities attain the Supreme –the Eternal Abode.”
It encourages non-attachment to the outcome of our actions and focus all our energy on doing work with the right intention without worrying about the result. By practising this principle as a way of life, one is able to gain freedom from his or her desires and also from whims and anxieties of a fool. Attachment brings bondage to materialistic pleasures, aspirations, and ambitions and non-attachment brings liberation through heightened perspective. We experience divine bliss by being caring, compassionate and empathic to our fellow beings. It was Nishkamakarmayoga that inspired many individuals to feed the hungry ones during the crisis of Covid-19. It was Nishkamakarmayoga that pushed the doctors and health workers to perform their duties relentlessly day in and day out. It was Nishkamakarmayoga that led many to drop the bags of essentials at the gate of the quarantined ones. The Indian wisdom of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam –one world one family, is the only principle behind all good deeds. It has been the collective wrong Karma that has marred the human community and it will be the collective right Karma that will set everything right on earth, re-establishing peace and order.
Authors: A Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National awardee Indologist Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) and Dr. Seema Sharma is, besides being associated with higher education department of Haryana, an eminent poet and writer in the field of education and Indian mythology.