Karma and Fortune (daivam), 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 || 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. That can be known only after the task is done. So get up and give your best to the task you take up. Yogah karmasu kaushalam (योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्), say Krishna. Yoga is excellence in action.  But eventually whatever be the result accept it and move on. What matters is if cause is worth the fight and how well you fought.

While Krishna says, you have no right over the result, he doesn’t say there will be no result. That would be denying the law of Physics, that every action has a reaction. And Krishna does not deny Science, nor does Dharma.  So what determines that reaction? Arjun wants to know and Krishna explains in the 18th Adhyaya (shloka 13-14).

पञ्चैतानि महाबाहो कारणानि निबोध मे |
साङ्ख्ये कृतान्ते प्रोक्तानि सिद्धये सर्वकर्मणाम् || 13||

अधिष्ठानं तथा कर्ता करणं च पृथग्विधम् |
विविधाश्च पृथक्चेष्टा दैवं चैवात्र पञ्चमम् || 14||

Rearranged for easy reading, word meanings given at the end:

महाबाहो, निबोध मे, साङ्ख्ये कृतान्ते प्रोक्तानि , पञ्चैतानि कारणानि सर्वकर्मणाम् सिद्धये.
mahā-bāho nibodha me, sānkhye kṛitānte proktāni, pañchaitāni kāraṇāni sarva-karmaṇām siddhaye

कर्ता, पृथग्विधम् करणं, अधिष्ठानं, विविधा: पृथक् चेष्टा, पञ्चमम् दैवं चैवात्र
kartā, pṛithag-vidham karaṇaṁ, adhiṣhṭhānaṁ, vividhāśh cha pṛithak cheṣhṭā, pañchamam daivaṁ chaivātra

“Arjun, listen from me, as explained in Sankhya*, the five factors for the accomplishment (or result) of all tasks.
The Doer, the various instruments used, the place of action or the environment, the various activities/effort undertaken and the fifth is “daivam””

Now think of any task undertaken, say a scientific experiment . It involves,

  1. The Scientists/Engineers – The Doer  -> कर्ता (Karta)
  2. Various instruments and resources ->पृथग्विधम् करणं (prithag-vidham karanam)
  3. The laboratory –  the place of action -> अधिष्ठानं (adhishthanam)
  4. Various tests to be performed – activities undertaken -> पृथक् चेष्टा (prithak chestha)

Any task will involve these four factors. Project Management 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? In absence of any 5th element, managing the four factors should be able to ensure success every time the recipe is replicated. But is that the case? Every smart project manager without exception builds in a risk factor into the project plan – a risk factor for “unforeseen circumstances”.  This factor of risk, or call it factor of success, is what Krishna calls Daivam – the fifth factor of task accomplishment that cannot be controlled by the best of brains and mightiest of brawn. This “Daivam” is what one may choose to call God, or Parkriti (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.

In saying, “panchamam daivam (the fifth is daivam)” Krishna also implies that Daivam can come into play only when the other four are in order. Daivam can only attempt to help those who get up and put their shoulders to the wheel. Not otherwise.  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.

But there is an additional issue to be understood here. What is Success and what is Failure?  In what frame of reference can we necessarily say – this is failure and this is success? As the time period for reference widens, these definitions start blurring. Being thrown out of Pixar, a company he founded, was a failure for Steve Jobs in that point in time. But had that not happened, Apple wouldn’t have been. 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 Duryodhan and his entire clan.  Real life examples such as these abound.  Only goes to show that success and failures too have a shelf life, the only thing that sustains is Human character – the righteousness of  our intentions, the conviction in our goals and the will to pursue those.

Therefore, rather than being constantly bogged down “Will I succeed or not”, better to spend time in developing your character, in figuring out what really matters in the larger context of things and if what matters is worth the effort. And then do your best, let Daivam will do the rest.

कर्मण्येव कर्तव्यम् शेष: दैवं करिष्यति  🙂

Such an attitude towards action – where what matters is the action and the need for action surpasses the need to bother about short term results – is what Krishna probably calls “निष्काम कर्म “. What could be those actions? 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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