Renunciation of Reward

13 Aug


In many wisdom writings, detachment or renunciation seems to be a common theme. I think it’s because our attachments are what bring pain and suffering. Think about it. I was fishing one day. I cast out the bait into the water and then placed my favorite rod and reel on the floor of the boat. I turned and was baiting up another hook when I heard a commotion behind me. I turned just in time to watch my favorite pole being pulled into the lake. I got really upset, even though I had four other poles I could use. While my brother, on the other hand, howled with laughter. He wasn’t attached to the fishing pole. I was. He saw the humor in it and I saw a hundred dollars worth of equipment sink into oblivion. Instead of thinking, Well, that was a dumb thing to do. I won’t do that again, I lost my cool and my peace of mind. Only later could I laugh about it. I learned two lessons. One lesson was not to leave a fishing pole unattended if you haven’t secured it in case a fish grabs your bait and runs. Lesson two was that my emotional reaction taught me how attached I was to a material object. Your emotions alert you to things you value. And we always value our stuff more than others value our stuff.

We get attached to our possessions. If they are lost or stolen, we suffer regret or irritation or anger. We lose our peace.

I write about this because I’m trying harder to listen to what the universe brings me. This morning, I decided I need to read the Bhagavad Gita in its entirety. I’ve listened to it on tape several times but I tend to be a visual learner. When I opened the book, it opened to Chapter Five: Renounce & Rejoice. First it spoke about selfish attachments to things and the value of actions done in service to others. In verse twelve, it said this: “Those whose consciousness is unified abandon all attachment to the results of actions and attain supreme peace. But those whose desires are fragmented, who are selfishly attached to the results of their work, are bound in everything they do.”

Detach from the results of your actions? What does that mean? It doesn’t mean you do a crappy job. It means you do the best work you can and don’t wait around expecting to be paid a compliment or an expression of gratitude. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. Then I arbitrarily flipped to the back of the book, Chp. 18, verse 5-6, and read this: “Self-sacrifice, giving, and self-discipline should not be renounced, for they purify the thoughtful. Yet even these, Arjuna, should be performed without desire for selfish rewards. This is essential.”

Giving and self-sacrifice are not about rewards. The universe spoke to me. I’ve heard this on the audio tapes and it’s been in the back of my mind for a few months. The cause of any frustration I have right now is my “need” to receive positive feedback for the work I am doing. I think my frustration is more about ego than purifying my spirit and bringing harmony to it. Rather than allowing the action of giving to help others which feeds one’s spirit, my ego wants to feed on the reward of my efforts. This serves only to build and nourish the ego and neglects the spirit.

Renouncing rewards sounds counter-productive when we live in a rewards-based culture. But that only means it’s an ego-based culture. Getting the results your employer expects is much different from renouncing personal rewards. Allow the good work you do to feed your spirit rather than your ego. Peace and harmony come to your spirit if you do the best work you can and become less attached to the size of the paycheck or the need to be appreciated. It’s not easy, but it is if you recognize the true payoff.

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