Success and Failure, a perspective from Gita

There are many reasons to read and love Gita, one of which is its simple, matter of fact explanations of concepts – very clinical and very efficient, no scope for confusion what so ever.  Often though, shlokas and their meanings get lost in translation.  Take this, one of the most popular verses from Gita –

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

“We have adhikar, or right over our action, but no right or control over its results. Let not the potential results be the motive of  action, and do not get attached to inaction either”

Often, the shloka is interpreted as – कर्म करो फल की अपेक्षा मत करो (Do your action, do not expect results). This leads many to ask, “if I have no expectations what is the motivation to act”. A fair question indeed.  But Krishna doesn’t say – Don’t expect. Rather he says, we cannot know for certain if we will win or lose, whether the task  we set out to do will turn out the way we expected or not. The result can be known only after the task is done. So what determines the eventual result? Arjun wants to know and Krishna explains in the 18th Adhyaya (shloka 13-14).

पञ्चैतानि महाबाहो कारणानि निबोध मे |साङ्ख्ये कृतान्ते प्रोक्तानि सिद्धये सर्वकर्मणाम् || 18.13||
अधिष्ठानं तथा कर्ता करणं च पृथग्विधम् |विविधाश्च पृथक्चेष्टा दैवं चैवात्र पञ्चमम् || 18.14||

“Arjun, listen from me, as explained in Sankhya*. Five factors determine the accomplishment (or result) of tasks.  1. The Doer (Karta) , 2. The instruments being used (karanam), 3. Guiding principles and boundary conditions (adhishthanam), 4. Activities/effort undertaken (cheshta) and 5. the fifth is “daivam” i.e. grace/fortune/Luck”

In this one Shloka, Krishna explain Project management 101.

Wikipedia defines Project Management as the practise of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success in stipulated time. And what does the project plan look like?

  1. Activities to be done : चेष्टा (cheshta)
  2. Resource needed: करणं ( karanam)
  3. Activity owner: कर्ता (Karta)
  4. Guiding principles – location, timelines, quality index etc: अधिष्ठानं (adhishthanam)

Project Management therefore is about planning, managing, controlling these four factors for proper execution in order to achieve the stated goal. But are these sufficient to ensure success? Do tasks always work out as per plan? Unfortunately not,. Hence every smart project manager without exception builds in a risk factor into the project plan – a risk factor for “unforeseen circumstances”.  We call it risk factor, Krishna called it Daivam – the fifth factor of task accomplishment. This “Daivam” is what one may choose to call God, or Prakriti (Nature) or Destiny or Fortune or what an atheist may call Randomness. A professor I know, beautifully explained “Daivam” as that what Mathematics calls probability.

How do we manage this risk? However well prepared we are, the risk factor cannot be wished away. So be it, says Krishna, it is  “panchamam daivam”,  this uncertainty is only the fifth factor which can come into play Only and Only if the other four factors are in order. And the uncertainty need not always be a hindrance, it could also work in your favour. But it (Daivam) can only attempt to help those who get up and put their shoulders to the wheel. Not otherwise.

Dharma is not fatalistic, nor is destiny . Hence, those who say, “I have no control over results, it is all destiny anyway, why do anything at all”, need to understand that destiny is like the water in the tap. You can quench your thirsty only when you get up the sofa and open the tap.  Getting up and opening the tap is your karma. Possibly, there may not be water in the tap. You may be required to do some more karma, like getting the pipes of the tank cleaned, getting the municipal authorities to deepen the lakes and such other. Daivam follows Karma (Fortune follows the action)

But there is an additional issue to be understood here. What is Success and what is Failure?  In what frame of reference can we definitely say – this is failure and this is success?  Being thrown out of Apple, a company he founded, was a failure for Steve Jobs at that point in time. But had that not happened, Pixar wouldn’t have been, neither would have the eventual resounding success of Apple followed. The abject loss of Pandavas in the game of  dice and the ensuing “vanvaas” was a victory for Duryodhan. But it was this victory that paved way for the annihilation of unjust Duryodhan and his entire clan.

Real life examples such as these abound.  Only proves that success and failures too have a shelf life. Hence Krishna says, do not worry too much success and failure– do what you must do and give it your best.  Become a Karma Yogi. Achieve excellence. Yoga  indeed is excellence in action. (योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्), say he. And after you have given your best, whatever be the result accept it and move on. What matters is the worthiness of your fight and how well you fought. That is in your hands (कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते)

What could be those tasks worthy of fighting for be? I reckon, the answer is for us to figure out for ourselves. Those worthy of survival will survive and others will perish, eventually.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः , धर्म एव हतो हन्ति |
Dharma protects when protected and destroys when destroyed


ॐ शांति


Word meanings:

महाबाहो—mighty-armed one (i.e Arjun); निबोध —listen; मे—from me; साङ्ख्ये —Sānkya;कृतान्ते—conclusively ;प्रोक्तानि—explains; पञ्च —five; एतानि—these; ; कारणानि—causes/factors ; सर्व—all; कर्मणाम् —of task/Goal सिद्धये—for the accomplishment

अधिष्ठानं—place of action ;तथा —also; कर्ता —the doer (soul); करणं—senses; च —and; पृथग्विधम् —various kinds;विविधा—many; पृथक्—distinct; चेष्टा —efforts; पञ्चमम्—Divine Providence; दैवं चैवात्र—these certainly are (causes); पञ्चमम्—the fifth

*Saamkhya/Saankhya: The oldest of the 6 darshanas (schools of philosophy)  in the Sanatan Dharma, that explores the nature of things – material and non-material.




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