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How Does an Enlightened Person React to Success and Failure?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

यदृच्छालाभसन्तुष्टो द्वन्द्वातीतो विमत्सर: |

सम: सिद्धावसिद्धौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते || 4.22||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 22

Content with whatever gain comes of its own accord, and free from envy, they are beyond the dualities of life. Being equipoised in success and failure, they are not bound by their actions, even while performing all kinds of activities.

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 22 (English Translation)

Suppose an enlightened person is engaged in an activity. They remain content regardless of the outcome of the situation. This is because there is zero attachment. 

We define attachment as emotional dependency. Usually, we are emotionally invested in our activities. If our activities go well, we feel good, and if they do not, we don’t feel good. That’s emotional dependence, and the enlightened person is free from this type of bondage.

Even though an enlightened person is engaged in action, they are not bound by that action. When we are driven by raga-dvesha, there is an emotional investment to getting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want. This attachment binds us to a life of suffering. Being completely free from raga-dvesha, the enlightened person is no longer bound by the light of suffering brought about by karma

Shri Krishna describes the behavior of an enlightened person. In particular, instead of being driven by raga-dvesha, they are free from these compulsions. By seeing the nature of an enlightened person, we can learn the direction to steer ourselves toward. In the verse above, the enlightened person is entirely fulfilled by whatever is obtained by accident, meaning whatever comes. Whatever happens, it’s perfectly okay. 

Dualities result in being driven by raga-dvesha. You find complete equanimity in the absence of dualities, or likes and dislikes. In this context, it means being content in the situation as it is. This should not be confused with passivity. The enlightened person is driven by dharma instead of raga-dvesha. If there is a responsibility to get up and act, the enlightened person will do so. The enlightened person has nothing to lose in getting up and acting. 

For example, when pythons hunt, they will lay coiled up and wait for their prey to approach. The python is content with whatever comes its way, and when no prey comes, it remains coiled up under its rock without having to chase its prey. The python is a metaphor for one who is free from the compulsivity of raga-dvesha.

Does The Enlightened Person Cease to Perform Spiritual Practices?

गतसङ्गस्य मुक्तस्य ज्ञानावस्थितचेतस: |

यज्ञायाचरत: कर्म समग्रं प्रविलीयते || 4.23||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 23

They are released from the bondage of material attachments and their intellect is established in divine knowledge. Since they perform all actions as a sacrifice (to God), they are freed from all karmic reactions.

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 23 (English Translation)

After becoming enlightened, the person continues to perform the same kind of spiritual practices but is no longer driven by need or desire. 

Before becoming enlightened, that person was driven by spiritual growth. Even when you are on a spiritual path, you are still driven by desire. Before the spiritual path, you have a desire for worldly things. On the spiritual path, you continue to desire spiritual growth. But the difference is the desire for worldly things is an endless cycle. However, the desire for spiritual growth is a unique desire that comes to an end. You become enlightened, and you find yourself fulfilled and complete and free from suffering. 

To gain spiritual growth, that pre-enlightened person was engaged in spiritual practice, such as studying the Gita or engaged in meditation. That person, before enlightenment, was driven and involved in various kinds of spiritual practices or sadhana.

The enlightened person never makes the mistake of thinking that the true source of contentment is outside. Because whenever that enlightened person engages in any action or thought, that wisdom they have gained is always present. That wisdom bears upon all the enlightened person’s thinking and behavior. The enlightened person never again makes the mistake of thinking that something outside is worth chasing after or running away from.

For that enlightened person engaged in karma, whether that is fulfilling some responsibility or engaging in spiritual practice, those deeds are done for the sake of worship. An enlightened person’s deeds are performed with the attitude of worship. The inner divinity expresses itself as various kinds of actions performing dharma. Engaged in sadhana, that inner divinity naturally expresses itself in all actions. One way it expresses itself is by acting with a sense of worship. 

Deeds not compelled by raga dvesha do not produce suffering. And the bondage melts away.

What Does It Mean to Act With a Sense of Worship?

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् |

ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना || 4.24||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 24

For those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as God, easily attain Him.

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 24 (English Translation)

This verse is a metaphor that compares the deeds of an enlightened person to a ritual sacrifice. For the enlightened person, not being driven by raga and dvesha, your life is sacrificed to God. When you are freed from your individual agenda, then what drives you? The metaphor suggests that instead of acting according to your own will, you are now acting according to Ishvara’s will.

Dharma means conforming to the laws of the universe or Ishvara’s laws. A fundamental meaning of dharma is that which holds or supports the entire universe. Ishvara’s intelligence is what gives order and structure and even meaning to the universe in which we will, and we can say figuratively speaking that intelligence is Ishvara’s will. 

We can envision dharma as being an expression of Ishvara’s will. Therefore, to conform to dharma is to conform to Ishvara’s will. When you break free from raga-dvesha, you are no longer driven by your will or agenda. You now conform to Ishvara’s will, and you act according to his will rather than your own will. This is a kind of sacrifice by offering yourself for dharma.

With the knowledge that everything is brahman, the enlightened person performs karma.

What is The Right Way to Perform Sadhna?

दैवमेवापरे यज्ञं योगिन: पर्युपासते |

ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजुह्वति || 4.25||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 25

Some yogis worship the celestial gods with material offerings unto them. Others worship perfectly who offer the self as sacrifice in the fire of the Supreme Truth.

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 25 (English Translation)

Before enlightenment, one performs sadhna practices driven by the desire for spiritual growth or moksha. At this stage we are still attached to the results.

Rituals performed for spiritual growth are continued after attaining enlightenment but with an attitude of worship. Different enlightened persons perform different kinds of sadhana, but all perform these practices with this attitude of offering and sacrifice.

Shri Krishna gives the first three examples of enlightened ones who continue to perform various kinds of sadhana even after becoming enlightened but with this attitude. Everything is an offering, including fulfilling responsibilities, eating meals, waking up, and all else.

What the Gita Teaches Us

An enlightened person is not bound by desire, and they accept their successes and failures equally and are not attached to the outcome of their actions. Even though the goal to attain spiritual growth is a form of desire, this desire gradually dwindles until one finally reaches enlightenment. By following dharma, we offer our life to Ishvara as a form of ritual sacrifice.