The competitive spirit pervades the world we live in. Students fiercely compete to clinch university placements and graduate positions. Colleagues deviously compete to intercept each other in the ascent up the corporate ladder. Neighbors become engrossed in ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Believe it or not, even aspiring spiritualists can end up competing with each other in the quest for distinction, fame and adoration. As the founder of McDonalds once quipped “If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth!” In a world which impels one to pursue grand success, it’s no wonder that rates of stress, anxiety and depression are also soaring. The pressure to demonstrate a successful life through eye-opening achievements is immense.
The Bhagavad-gita offers a unique perspective – the idea of detached work, technically referred to as karma-yoga. The wisdom of the Gita posits that we are not the only factor in our success or failure. In reality, there are higher universal laws and factors beyond our control which are simultaneously contributing to our fortunes. Thus, in times of success one cannot take the full credit, and in failure one is not deemed the sole culprit. The first attitude nullifies tendencies of arrogance and complacency, and the former attitude guards against feelings of despondency and self-pity. Real Success, the Gita states, is demonstrated by determined, dutiful and conscientious endeavor. For the spiritualist, more important than output and external results, is the sincerity of purpose, motivation and devotion with which one works.
One may develop the notion that lack of focus on goals and outputs can easily lead to lethargy, laziness or indifference. A true karma-yogi however, can stand on the cutting edge of material competence and spiritual acumen simultaneously. When one invests complete attention in making the best endeavour, and when such attention is not diverted by the externals of success, failure and worldly opinion, it’s a no-brainer that the output will naturally be improved. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “what lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us, out into the world, miracles happen.”