Since childhood we all grow up hearing the expression- Do your duty! What is duty? In literal sense “duty” is a term that conveys a sense of moral commitment to something or someone. This moral commitment makes one do all actions with responsibility, not just passively or for any recognition. When one becomes aware of one’s duties, one commits oneself to them without any the selfish line of actions that may have been pertinent in the past. It does not mean that leading a life of duty precludes one from a pleasurable life, but duty does involve some sacrifice of immediate self-interest.
Now, the most complex dilemma we face since the dawn of civilization is, what our duty is and what not is our duty! A simple answer that I have learnt from my Master is, in general, any action that causes us to move towards our spiritual goal is our duty whereas any action that makes us deviate from our path is not. Every individual is nurtured by the society he or she is born into. An immense amount of social contribution goes towards moulding one into a self-sufficient productive unit of the society. Thus in the material world, everybody has a certain duties to fulfill as a responsible member of the society. We are expected to perform different duties at different stages of life; we have student’s duty, parent’s duty, children’s duty, spouse’s duty, citizen’s duty etc.. However, there is one duty that is common to all stages of our lives. It is the duty dictated by our hearts, the supreme duty to the self, the God Realization. In the spiritual world, it is our primary duty to live and work towards our final spiritual goal by co-operating with our Master and allowing Him to work on us with complete faith. There can be no greater duty than to realize the Inner Divine Master whilst fulfilling our material duties in our lives.
How do we fulfill in parallel both our material and spiritual duties? It is possible only when we learn to perform our duties without developing any attachment to it. It is natural that while carrying out one’s duty there will incidentally be some desires and there will also be some results, in other words, some fruits. There is no harm in that. We must just continue doing our duty. Master has not taught us that actions will be without fruits. People who have not correctly understood the meaning of detaching from the fruits of action are giving up the action itself. However, actions must be engaged in. We have to understand that detachment in action and not detachment of action. Until the food is cooked, there is need for the fire. We must understand the deeper secrets of duty sacrifice and need to develop detachment because attachment ruins duty.
One comes across many examples of this;
a) A surgeon cannot operate on his own child even though he is qualified or
b) A Judge is not allowed to sit in trial when his own son is the guilty or
c) A Teacher who would show favoritism in giving grades to his own child or
d) Parents yielding to children’s request for toys or dresses even if they have surplus.
Even in Gita, Arjuna’s false compassion is based on his “fuzzy” love towards his own people even though in the past he had killed people who were not his relatives. In short, whenever there is attachment, there is a failure of duty.
Lord Krishna taught us that we have complete control over our action, but no control over the results of our action. Like a farmer has control over how he works on his land, yet no control over the harvest. However, he cannot expect a harvest if he does not do his duty with dedication. Spiritually ignorant people work to enjoy the result of their labor and become attached to it because they think they are the doer. They do not realize that all our work is done by the power bestowed to us by God. With the power to do our duty and the intellect to choose between right and wrong action, we become responsible for our actions.
We all are fortunate to have a Master, who is a living example for all of us to learn and live by. We get to observe Him performing His duties so perfectly with love and dedication to His Master. Therefore, to optimize our performance towards our duties, we must choose the work that we are capable of doing well and do our duties in life to the best our abilities, unselfishly and without attachment to the results of our work. A duty bound person remains calm in both success and failure and has no likes or dislikes for any person, place, object, or work. Our Master has taught us that the best way to do all our duties is to work in His remembrance and dedicate all our actions and accomplishments to the Divine.