Be detached from results, not goals
People familiar with the Bhagavad-gita often question the practicality of its instruction (02.47) to work without attachment to results: “If we are detached from results, what will motivate us to work?”
Actually, the Gita asks us to be detached from results, not goals. Results come after the work is done, whereas goals are set before the work is done.
Arjuna, the Gita’s original student, set goals regularly. Most famously, during the Kurukshetra war, he set a goal to kill Jayadratha before sunset on the fourteenth day. And Krishna actively assisted Arjuna in achieving that goal, conveying thus that he didn’t consider goal-setting contrary to his teaching of detachment.
The importance of goal-setting is implicit in the Gita’s call (18.46) that we worship Krishna through our work. This call implies that our work should be as meticulous and devotional as is our worship. To make a high-quality offering in our work, we need to know the highest standard and strive to approach it as much as possible – that is, we need to set a worthy goal.
What role does detachment from results play in all this? Results often depend on factors beyond our control. Attachment to results will make us worried about things beyond our control and thus distract us from the thing in our control: the work at hand. Moreover, elation on getting results and dejection on not getting them both will distract us from the devotional mood of worshiping Krishna, who is more pleased with the content of our heart than the product of our work. Detachment from results helps us sustain our devotional mood, thereby attracting Krishna’s grace. That grace unleashes our latent abilities and uncovers our spiritual potentials, thereby maximizing our contributions.
Thus, the combination of goal-setting and detachment helps us bring out our best as a devotional offering.
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