Work and mentally renounce the fruits achieved thereafter. Don’t let the shadow of personal prejudice affect how you perceive work.
This is the essence of karma yoga. The wise work for common benefit whereas the ignorant work only for themselves or their near and dear ones. A farmer has control over how he works in his fields, but not over the harvest. Krishna tells Arjuna: “Yoga is karmasu kausalam, doing work skillfully in the first attempt.”
Work is external but our attitude to it is internal. A certain attitude may make us feel work is miserable while another kind of attitude makes it pleasant. By cultivating the right attitude, we will become spiritual. That is meditation.
Once in a village several people were engaged in construction of a temple A wandering sage passing by wants to know what is happing there, so he asks a person cutting stone: “What are you doing?” The labourer replies with frustration: “Don’t you see that I am cutting stone? It’s a hard stone. Look at my hands! They have become red. Work is hell. And to make matters worse, you ask me what I am doing. How I wish I were not doing this!” The sage asks: “ I see you are cutting stone, but let me know what is coming up here?” The stonecutter replies that he has no idea; it does not concern him. He is disinterested.
The sage next goes to another man and asks him the same question: “What are you doing?” The man replies: “I’m cutting stone here; that’s my job. For eight hours of work I get paid Rs 100. I have a wife and children to take care of. I’m doing my duty.” The sage asks him: “Do you know what is coming up here?” He says: “Yes, they say they’re making a temple. How does it matter to me, whether what is being constructed is a temple or a jail, as long as I get paid?”
Then the sage goes to a third worker who is also cutting stone and poses the same question. The man replies: “We are building a temple. There is no temple here; every year at festivals we have to trek to the temple in the next village. You know, every time I hit the stone I hear wonderful music. The temple work has put the sleepy village in a festive mood.” The sage asks: “How long do you have to work on this project?” The man says the timeline is not his concern for as soon as he wakes up in the morning, he gets ready for work and begins cutting stone. He tells the sage that he spends the entire day here, taking a break between mealtimes. “When I go home in the night and sleep, in my dream I think of this construction and feel grateful that I enjoy the work I do, I am truly blessed,” he said.
Three men doing the same work have three different attitudes. The first person thinks it’s hell, the second looks upon his work as his duty. However, the third worker thinks what he is able to do is a blessing. If the work itself had the qualities inherently, good or bad, then, these three men might have felt the same. But in reality, it’s not the work itself that is good or bad. It is not the work that disturbs us but something that’s subtler; it’s the attitude we have towards work.