karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana |
maa karmaphalaheturbhoormaa te sangostvakarmani || 47 ||

You only have authority over action, not ever to the result. Don’t be motivated by the result, and don’t get attached to inaction.

karmani : action
eva : only
adhikaaraha : authority
te : your
maa : not
phaleshu : result
kadaachana: ever
maa : no
karmaphalahetuhu : motivated by result
bhuha : become
maa : don’t
te : you
asangaha : attached
astu : happen
akarmani : inaction

Now let’s move into the main teaching of this shloka. Here Shri Krishna urges us to not worry about the outcome, i.e. the result, of the action. How will this work? Let’s recap two important points. We have seen earlier that when we perform our svadharma, we derive joy from the performance of  action itself since we have the interest, desire and aptitude for it. We also learned in the last shloka that we do not have complete control over the outcome.

Therefore, we should never be motivated by the outcome when we know we have executed our actions with perfection, and that we do not have complete control on the outcome. Motivation for the outcome creates bondage – it is like a rope that ties us into the future. Instead, if we give up motivation for the outcome, there is no such binding created.

Let’s address a few doubts that most of us may have when we hear this teaching. The first doubt could be : “If I am not motivated by the result, how will I know where I am heading? I want my project to be executed on time, I want my team to be inspired by a goal, I want progress in my career. How can I do all these things if I am not motivated by the result?”

To answer this, lets closely look at what Shri Krishna has prescribed. There is nothing wrong with aiming for a specific goal, or even to be inspired by it. Setting a vision, defining a goal, making a plan – all these things are absolutely required for the perfect execution of any work. We can always be motivated by the goal, but not be motivated by the outcome. There is a subtle but important difference.

Another doubt could be as follows: “If I know that I am only partially responsible for the outcome then why should I do any action at all? I will just quit my job, sit at home and do nothing.”

Shri Krishna cautions us not to do so in the last part of the shloka – do not get attached to inaction. If we know that we have performed our svadharma and our actions to the best of our abililty, we know that in the end we will achieve our goals, even if things may not turn out as anticipated sometimes. But we should never totally give up and do nothing.

What we have learned so far is just the tip of the iceberg. This shloka is the seed for the topic of Karmayoga, or the discipline of action. Shri Krishna expounds on this topic at great length in the forthcoming chapters. Arjuna has several questions and doubts in regards to this teaching, all of which will be addressed by Shri Krishna one by one.