Action and Result: are they correlated?

In my childhood, I used to read a children’s magazine called “Chandamama”. Every issue of Chandamama carried one story from a series called Vikram and Vaital. The premise is thus: Vikramaditya was a very wise and honest king. A tantrik (a spirit doctor) requests Vikram to help him in completion of a major ritual by carrying a Vaital (A corpse occupied by a ghost, which is lying on a tree) from the tree to the place of his ritual. Vikram overpowers this “Ghost in a corpse” and carries it on his shoulder to the place of ritual. However, the Ghost puts a condition that, during this journey, Vikram must not utter a single word, and if he does, the corpse will fly back to the tree. To pass the time, the Ghost tells Vikram a story, and at the end of every story is a question. Vaital asks Vikram to answer that question truthfully, but the moment Vikram gives the answer, the corpse flies back to the tree. Vikram goes after Vaital again, is told a story, answers the question, and the cycle continues.

Every issue of Chandamama carried one story from Vaital. One of these left a deep impression on my young mind and I remember it even today after over 60 years. It ran like this.

The Story

A shepherd was grazing his sheep in a jungle. It was a hot day and he felt very thirsty. While looking around, he spotted a well full of water. Just as he was about to draw water from the well, he heard a loud warning from the sky. “Careful! If you draw water from this well, you will cause a major war and destruction of a city.” The shepherd was puzzled – how could a mere act of drawing water from the well cause a war? Since, he was very thirsty, he decided to ignore this heavenly warning (which anyway did not make any logical sense to him) and went ahead with quenching his thirst. He was happy to notice that nothing happened after he drank the water. So, he assumed that the warning was a hoax.

But, unknown to him, his action of drawing water from the well set a chain reaction. The well had a large beehive on its inner wall. When the shepherd drew water, it disturbed the honeybees and they angrily flew out of the well. One of them stung the tail of a wild bison. Due to the pain, the bison started running around like mad, and in this mad stampede, half trampled a highly poisonous snake. In reaction, the snake also started slithering around. At the same time, the King of that kingdom, was roaming around the jungle on a hunt. As he stepped close to this agitated snake, the snake bit the King. Due to the deadly venom, the King died within a few minutes. The King was young and not yet married. He had no heir to the throne. Using this opportunity, a neighbouring King attacked this Kingdom and after a fierce war, annihilated it. Ultimately, unknown to the shepherd, the celestial warning came true. 

Vaital asked Vikram whether the shepherd was guilty of all this destruction. After pondering on this, Vikram replied that the shepherd could not be held guilty, as it is beyond a human to even comprehend how his one innocent action could trigger such a trail of events.

After reading this story, a seed of doubt was sown in my mind about how random the result of any action could be. And therefore, what’s the point of shooting a potential misguided arrow?

In later life, many other incidents happened which fed my mind with this conflict and dichotomy between action and result; taking charge of life or leaving everything to fate?  After a lot of search, I found a reasonable answer in 2 places.

Teachings of Bhagwat Gita

The Bhagwat Gita has tried to answer this dilemma very well. In my simple understanding, it says that everyone must do whatever is expected of him (his Karma) to best of his ability (using the available information and reasonable prediction about the future behaviour of the related environment). After having done his Karma, one should leave the result to God (or Destiny) as the result depends on many external factors which we cannot even begin to visualise. 

We generally tend to take all the credit for a favourable result and curse our fate for the unfavourable result. This leads to either too much happiness (or ego satisfaction) or too much grief. We lose our sense of balance. Hence Gita propounds the concept of Equanimity, i.e. one should not be too elated if the result comes in your favour and similarly, not feel too despondent on getting unfavourable result. 

Parallelogram of Forces

Once, I had the good fortune to meet a monk of Ramakrishna Mission. This Swamiji was a scholar with a Ph.D. in Physics. His explanation was based on the principle of the parallelogram of forces. According to him, we are born with a force consisting of our past accumulated Karmas. This force propels us forward or pulls us backward depending on the nature of those accumulated Karma. Another force acting on us is from our current actions or Karmas.  Assuming that past Karmic force is on X axis and the current Action Force is on Y axis. Then, the Resultant of these two forces represents the direction in which we will move (as in the theory of parallelogram of forces). Example: A person may achieve a lot with little effort (low Y, but getting acceleration from a high X) whereas someone else may achieve very little even after substantially more efforts (high Y which is getting retarded by a low X).

My Take

I find both these explanations and the resultant philosophy useful and practical to attain a sense of peace and equanimity in both success and adversity.

  1. The only thing in one’s locus of control is his/her current action, so give it your best.
  2. The result of that action is influenced not only by the past actions, but also from the actions of other things in the environment (Butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can cause floods in Bangladesh)
  3. Hence take the result of every action in one’s stride and do not dwell a lot on the causality between action and the eventual result.

Last ExampleAbout 40 years ago, when I was living in Delhi, we used to often take a train to visit my hometown Jodhpur. At 6.30 in the morning, the train would stop at a small, non-descript station called Khunkhuna. Surprisingly, its halt was for almost 30 minutes. The reason was that the Steam Engine needed to refill its water tank and in the arid landscape, Khunkhuna had a source of abundant water. This was a good time for breakfast and a few enterprising villagers set up shops selling hot milk, tea, Jalebi, Samosa, Kachori which made for a sumptuous satisfying breakfast. So, the moment the train stopped, almost everyone would run to these shops for the welcome treat. The train halt was a clear boost for the employment of the sleepy small town of Khunkhuna. Once, while travelling, belly rumbling in happy anticipation of the hot breakfast, I waited for the train to make its usual 30 minutes halt. But to my disappointment, the train barely stopped for two minutes, and all the hawkers were gone. Then, one co -passenger, who was a regular traveler on that route, informed me that the Railways had replaced the Steam Engine with a Diesel Engine (which did not need to fill a water tank), and hence no longer needed to halt at Khunkhuna. I often wonder whether the hawkers preparing the hot breakfast ever thought that this upgrade decision, though seemingly unrelated, would ruin their livelihood.

%d bloggers like this: