The challenge: Work, regardless of the fruits

The Bhagavad Gita is a sacred text in the Hindu religion, particularly for those who are devoted to the god Krishna.

There are many parallels, both theologically and philosophically, with Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts, such as the immortality of the soul, differences between the physical and spiritual worlds, and a call to prayerful action to enable global harmony.

“Bhagavad Gita” is Sanskrit for “Song of God,” and is part of a greater Hindu epic. The story follows prince Arjuna into a battlefield, where he is dealing with a profound moral dilemma about the conflict. As he nears the battleground, he comes to the realization that those on the other side of enemy lines are his own relatives, friends and teachers, miring him further in a moral quandary.

Krishna, the driver of his chariot, gives Arjuna advice about his plight, and in the process, reveals himself as a god. Krishna proclaims the battle to come as Dharma Yuddha, which means that the war is justified for the greater sake of justice.

Regardless of the reader’s personal position about the concept of “just war,” there is an essential truth here: Sometimes we’re called to difficult work, the result of which is less than satisfying. But the call is to do what is right, not what is most beneficial to ourselves.

There is a quote from the Gita that summarizes this responsibility: “No matter what conditions you encounter in life, your right is only to the works – not to the fruits thereof. You should not be impelled to act for selfish reasons, nor should you be attached to inaction.”

How many of us would be willing to accept a job without first understanding the pay, benefits, hours, potential for mobility and so on? Before investing so much of ourselves, we want to know what’s in it for us. One of the most counterintuitive things about our respective calls to ministry, however, is that we’re called to the works, regardless of the fruits thereof.

I can already envision the letters, claiming that the fruits are those of salvation and of eternal life. Depending on your own take on faith versus works, this may jive, or it may not. But if the motivation of your actions as a person of faith is only the fruits, you’re not really doing ministry. Instead, you’re doing a job for what you perceive as reasonable compensation.

Imagine the job description for Jesus’ call to ministry: “Upper management seeks worker who can do it all. Skills in teaching, ministry, healing and strong interpersonal skills a must. Job involves 100 percent travel, no pay and no long-term security. Vacation time includes 40 days with no food in the desert, sharing a room with the Prince of Darkness.

“You will begin with 12 people working directly under you, but ultimately, you must be able to finish the job on your own. Must be able to do heavy lifting, endure ridicule, abandonment and, ultimately, death.”

Any takers? Didn’t think so.

Though we’re not called as people of faith to exactly the same path as Jesus, we are called to a sacrificial, challenging and not necessarily easy life. If we approach our calling by asking, “What are the benefits?” we’re already missing the point.

Does this mean we have to suffer in order to know we’re really fulfilling our call? Not really. The very first tenet of the Buddhist faith is, “Life is suffering.” This isn’t a way of glorifying the inevitable hardship we will endure, but rather an urge to recognize, and finally accept, that suffering will be a part of our walk.

In the end, what our work as people of compassion and faith is about is self-evident. We love for the sake of love itself, even if we’re not loved in return. We give for the sake of generosity, even if we are taken advantage of. We avail ourselves to a world that needs our gifts, even if they are not appreciated in the ways we think they should be.

The work is hard, the pay sucks and the hours are 24/7. Are you ready?

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