What does ‘non-attachment to the results’ mean?

What does this actually mean in practice? People feel, “Well, I’ve got to sweep the room. If I don’t have a catchment to the fruits, I won’t care whether I sweep it properly or not. I’ll leave some mud there. What does it matter? I’m not attached to the results.” No, that’s not sweeping. To be able to do it very carefully, sweep it up beautifully.

What does ‘non-attachment to the results’ mean? A Jesuit father of novices, the teacher of the novices, he told me one of the final tests is that the novice is given a floor and he’s told to… Stone floor. He’s told to swab it, scrub it absolutely spotless. It takes him two or three hours and it’s gleaming.

Then the master of novices comes in and looks at it. “Ah,” he says. He puts his hand outside, and he’s got a bucket of mud and he goes, “Whoosh.” To be able to accept that, not slavishly, not in a cowardly way, not furiously, to wash it again, that is their test for independence of the results.

The Gita has another one, but this is a very important psychological element in their training of action: to be able to act and simply to do the action. We have illustrations in this country which are not available elsewhere, but many people in this country play golf. The golf focus is unity of the body, but most beginners, and many golfers throughout their whole life, they learn to make a swing quite smoothly and easily, but when they come to actually hit the ball, before they’ve hit it, they’ve gone to see where it’s gone and so the body comes up.

Before they’ve hit the ball: “Where’s it gone?” This is attachment to the fruits. Doesn’t it sound silly? Yet they spend their whole golfing life, many of them, and periodically they’ll top the ball because, before they’ve hit it, they’ve gone to see where it went..

This is an illustration which wasn’t available to the Indians, (Laughter) but they knew about this point. So did the Chinese. One of the qualifications of every superior man, as Confucius put it, was to learn to shoot with a bow and arrow. He says, “If you want to put an archer off, offer him a gold piece for putting it in the bull’s-eye. He won’t do it .The thought of the gold piece, that’ll put him off because he can’t detach himself from the fruits.”

In practice – and now this is a traditional story – an old man, he was retired and he decided to look after a small stone temple in India. He used to polish the stone. It was in a grove, as they often are, which is sacred, and he did this service. People used to come, but he got the idea that they didn’t realise just how much he was doing. Nobody ever said, “You know, you’re doing great work here. This is fine, your unselfish service” so he began to get impatient at this.

Then he noticed that some birds had built a nest just where the path came into the little wood where the temple was. He noticed, when guests came from the nearby town, the birds would caw and fly away. One day he saw, or he heard, the birds give a tremendous caw. He thought, “There’s a whole party of them coming,” so he got out his brushes and so on, and he went round to the side – not right in front of the door, but the side, where he’d be seen – and he polished away like mad.

Sure enough, this party then came up and they saw him. They went in, they did their devotions, and he was still polishing away. He thought, “That’ll impress them.” Now, the rule was that they shouldn’t speak while they were in the grove, but he knew that the moment they got out of the grove, of course, they would say something, so he sprinted along a little side path and he got to where they would come out.

Sure enough, one of the party said, “Did you see that chap working? It was absolutely terrific, wasn’t it? He couldn’t have known we were coming, either. You can’t see the path from the temple through the wood.” The other one said, “He must have known we were coming. How could he possibly keep that up? That was ham acting. That wasn’t working. He must somehow have known we were coming.”

Then he thought, “Ah.” He knew the story would go around: ham acting, ham act. Then he gave up working on the temple for a bit, and then that didn’t suit either, so he started working again. Then one day when he was working, he noticed a change coming over himself, a sort of peace coming into him.

Then, a little later, some young people came up and they said, “We’ve seen you polishing this temple. A cousin of mine, who’s a stonemason, says this stone is very difficult to polish. You tell us about it.” So, he told him the story. He said, “Well, I used to think, ‘The Maurya stone of 200 BC is marvellously polished, and I’ll make this temple like that,’ but then nobody seemed to appreciate it.” Then he told him the story about the ham acting and he said, “I gave all that up and now I’m just polishing.”

The young people said, “Can we help you?” so they joined in. Then one day, one of them asked him and he said, “You know, we get tired, but you don’t seem to get tired.” He said, “I’ve been doing this a long time.” They said, “No, it’s something else, isn’t it?” The old man said, “What do you think of when you’re polishing?” He said, “I think I’ll get this bit really clean, and then I’ll move on to the next one. Perhaps, by the end of the week, I’ll have done the whole part of the wall.”

The devotee said, “I don’t say it’s wrong, but, if you think like that, you’ll get tired.” He said, “Well, how do you think?” He said, “I just think of this which is in front of me, and polishing this. When I’m polishing, I feel I’m polishing my heart.” Then he said, “Sometimes I feel the Lord’s polishing, and I feel the Lord’s polishing my heart.”

There is something in the yoga meditation which will change our movements. Children love to wave. They like the movement, but we’ve lost all that. There’s something about the movement. If yoga is practice, yoga meditation is practice on the Lord as movement, then our movements will begin to change.

The favourable time for practising these meditations is on the jobs which don’t require a lot of mental activity: what we call ‘chores’. These are the times. A long pipe with rust on it: “It’s going to be an awful business, the wire getting the rust off the pipe. Still, it’s got to be done. Half an hour a day for a week, it might get done.” Not like this, but to polish it, and to see the metal begin to gleam, and to feel in the heart something begins to gleam. Then the quality of the movement changes.

This is what he means. Without fever, without wishful longings, thinking, “Other people are watching me. Shall I impress them? Will somebody come and thank me for what I’m doing?” without hopes and fears, the quality of the movement itself will change. This is the first element in the Karma Yoga: to become independent of the other things, and to become absorbed in the movement, in the action itself or in the perception itself.

This was from Bhagavad Gita – Zen & Gita – T.Leggett – 1-8-1984

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Yogas of the Gita are Yogas for when life is in crisis
Part2:  What does non-attachment to the results mean?
Part 3: The first element in the Karma Yoga
Part 4: There should be some creative expression
Part 5: Inspiration in science
Part 6: Zen & Gita Q&A 1 01.08.1984

Part 7: Zen & Gita Q&A 2 01.08.1984