Finding Meaning & Purpose at Work
India’s ancient Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical guide to the various paths of yoga—but it can also help you love, give, and serve the greater good through your job.
Written in approximately 200 C.E., the Bhagavad Gita unfolds as a dialogue between a warrior prince named Arjuna and Lord Krishna, who serves as his spiritual guide and charioteer as Arjuna prepares to fight against his own kinsmen to reclaim his kingdom’s throne. Along the way, Krishna and Arjuna discuss the various paths of yoga; the laws of karma; personal dharma; and the purpose of life. Here is Krishna’s advice for finding (and doing) work that really matters in the world, as interpreted by three spiritual teachers: Ram Dass, Sally Kempton, and the late Eknath Easwaran.
1. Work for a Cause That’s Bigger Than Yourself
In a Yoga International article, Blue Mountain Center for Meditation founder and author Eknath Easwaran reminds readers that according to yogic philosophy, divinity is present in every living thing. That’s why it’s important to engage in work that helps (instead of harms) other people, creatures, and/or the planet. Even if your current job doesn’t make a direct, positive impact on the world on a daily basis, he says, you can seek out opportunities for selfless service (both on and off the job) where you can offer your time and talents for the greater good.
2. Choose the Right Work
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna offers Arjuna the following adage: “Better your natural duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged.” In other words, do work that suits your swadharma (nature), says meditation teacher and author Sally Kempton in a Yoga Journal article. She interprets this as “work that you are good at, but…also work that feels right, natural, and aligned with your higher values."
3. Choose the Right Means
Easwaran points out that the Bhagavad Gita addresses the concept of karma and explains that “every act we do, even the thoughts we think, has consequences.” So it’s important to choose the right means for your work. “Selfish acts bring the fruits of selfishness...” he says, while “generous work brings the fruits of giving: loyal friends, security, faith in human goodness, and the increasing capacity to give more.”
4. Do Your Best, but Don’t Be Attached to the Results
Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have a right to the work alone, not to its fruits. Therefore, do not set your heart on the results of your actions.” Ram Dass, founder of the Seva Foundation and author of numerous books including Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita, interprets this statement as, “Do your work…but without attachment…[and] without thinking of yourself as being the actor.”
5. Make Your Work an Offering
Krishna also tells Arjuna, “Whatever you do, make it an offering to me.” In other words, do your work in a spirit of love and service. How can you apply this teaching at work? Kempton suggests, “before taking action ask yourself, ‘Who or what does this serve?’” Whether you’re listening to your coworker, guiding your employees, working to improve human dignity, or doing something to help the planet, she says, “True service includes a sense that you serve the evolution of consciousness—that your work is at least incrementally helping to create a better world.”
Kempton suggests saying a prayer, such as, “I offer this day asking that my actions be beneficial for all beings,” or “I offer this task to God,” or “I offer this day for the evolution of consciousness.” When you make your work an offering, she says, it can “make everything you do feel intrinsically more meaningful…and the work itself will be a path to liberation.”