(I am republishing an answer that I wrote on Quora)
The concept of karma yoga in Bhagavad Gita actually insists that one should do the required action without getting attached too much on the results.
Because getting hung up and attached to the fruits of action rather than giving your full attention on the actions you do will be actually a hindrance to the performance of action itself.
I actually read the same advice in a Forex trading website which asks traders to focus on action instead of results, and treat losses and profits alike because losses do happen in trading (like Gita teaches that one should have a calm and same attitude towards success and failure).
If anyone is having a goal but focused more on daydreaming about the fruits of actions, then he won’t focus on the action with full attention, involvement and love. Doing an action for the pure joy of doing it rather than doing it only for the results it gives, will also make the action easy. Because you are doing what you love to do. This is the essence of Bhagavad Gita.
The situation of Gita is very complicated. It is a fight between the relatives. One side has more people and one side has less. The beauty of Mahabharata story is that it doesn’t show reality as black and white as some middle age Tamil movies do.
In some slightly old Tamil movies, we would have a hero who loves his mother and sister, helps the poor, works hard, gets humiliated but first responds with peace then in climax fights like Bruce Lee, can dance and sing well and cannot see a single flaw. Then there is a villain who is the most cruel person that you will ever see.
But in the epic, it is different. First, both sides have good people and bad people. But none of the good people are shown without any flaws; this applies to Dharma and even Krishna. And none of the bad people are shown entirely evil. Duryodhana helps Karna when others reject him and Karna helps poor with charity. So, the it is quite realistic.
Now, one side grabs a state/land because of jealousy and greed, and other side loses it because of the temptations to gamble. All these are human weaknesses that one should overcome. Also, the war in the epic represents symbolically the struggle that an individual goes through in overcoming these, purifying the mind, conquering the ego and living the rest of the life with full contentment and peace. And Gita tells us to do all these without withdrawing from the world, without renouncing it and without stopping your actions and duties which are obligatory.
Then, Arjuna’s dilemma is this: His gurus are standing in the other side. He is asking, “How can I wage a war against my own gurus Drona and Bhishma? Instead, it is better to beg and live (those days it means nothing but taking sannyas).
As soon as Arjuna refuses to fight, Krishna talks about something practical. He is not interested in talking about spirituality at this moment. He just says casually in two slokas, ‘come on, Arjuna.. From where are you getting all this at this moment. This will only bring defame. This doesn’t suit you. Get up and fight’.. This is a very practical advice.
The very first thing Arjuna utters after that is, “How will I fight Bhishma and Drona with my bow and arrow? They deserve to be worshiped. It is better to beg and eat rather than ruling this world and the next world by killing my own gurus.”
Looking at it superficially, Arjuna sounds wise. But the two armies are ready to fight and the war is about to begin (in spite of many attempts to avoid the war). This is not the right time to say ‘I won’t fight’. That is why Krishna says that the war has happened by chance ( ‘yadruccaya ca upapannam – Gita 2–32’). A person who refuses to fight after coming to the war field will be seen as a coward rather than a non-violent man. When the army general refutes to fight for India, in India- Pakistan war by saying that his high school teacher is fighting for Pakistan army, especially when the war is ready to begin the next moment, it doesn’t look practical. In fact, the duty of the army general is to fight and that is his responsibility.
It also talks about svadharma. The essential meaning of this is one should only do the work or pursue a career that one is qualified for, the work that suits one’s personality and abilities. This very well applies to the modern day situation., People choose higher studies and careers based on its scope, based on money etc. Money is important; but what is more important is enjoying your work. If you are in a profession that doesn’t suit you, a job that doesn’t satisfy you, than obviously you are doing some job that is not compatible with your svadharma.
Many people link svadharma to varna but the inner and original or intended meaning of svadharma is just this. And that is one of the important messages in Gita.
Since Arjuna’s svadharma is being a warrior Krishna reminds him that it is people like him who are needed for the society when such a war occurs. A lot of attempts have been made to avoid the war and it is of no use.
Also, since this is about waging a war in an emergency situation even if our favourite people are on the other side, it teaches that one should be impartial, unbiased and neutral minded.
Then it gets into deep spiritual discussion. Krishna says, “you sound wise; but you forget that true jnanis do not worry about birth and death. (which means Bhishma and Drona themselves do not worry about death). wise people understand the impermanence of things in life”
But without getting into the deepest philosophy of Gita, this much can be taught to school children.
I have a 3 year old son. I have taught him a Gita verse, a Tirukkural, and a few other lines like, “yadhum ure, yaavarum kelir’ ‘anbe sivam’ and ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam. You can watch him telling these lines by heart here: Shanmugam Piramanayagam was live.
An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas