How can we find hope in a time of permanent warfare, environmental destruction and mass extinction?
I often get asked this question. Humans seem to have a need for hope to go forward into an uncertain future with a positive attitude. I am proposing that we do away with the need for hope. The future is entirely uncertain and by relying on hope we may get disappointed and eventually dejected.
In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says, “Surrender the fruits of your actions to me- karma phala tyagah” The fruit of an action is its outcome, its result. For example I may be a peace activist and my desired outcome would be success in achieving peace. What will I do if peace does not come? Give up my peace activism? To work towards peace is the right thing to do whether I am successful or not.
If I am an environmentalist the desired outcome could be to reduce greenhouse emissions or halt the mass extinction of species. These are noble aims. But what if the outcome does not come? What if only partial success is obtained? What if too many people are so lethargic and disconnected that they can’t get themselves to support our goals? In this case we may lose hope and stop our dharmic (right) action and fall into adharma.
Lord Krishna exhorts us to do what needs to be done even if there is no hope. To ask for hope essentially means to say, “I know what is the right thing to do but I will only do it if there is a reasonable chance that I succeed.” This means that we are outcome oriented instead of process oriented. It also means that we only do the right thing if we get rewarded for it with success.
Lord Krishna asks us to do the right thing even if there is no chance that we can obtain the fruit of our action, i.e. success. He wants us to keep going cheerfully in service to the Divine even if there is no realistic change of success. He wants us to identify what the right (dharmic) action is and then go forward with a sense of service without having reward in our vision. That is to go forward in service to humanity, all creatures and nature, which are all expressions of the Divine, completely free of thoughts for reward and success.
I found this approach incredibly liberating. Whenever I wondered about how we can achieve lasting peace between all nations so that we can move forward by cooperating to reverse climate change and mass extinction I found myself thinking about many citizens of the planet do not share these goals. This was profoundly worrying. Krishna’s advise, however, meant that success is not within my scope, but to identify what right action is, is within my scope.
Once this is identified we only need to go forward and do the right actions, and become the best person we can be. But not wanting to be right, or better, but out of service to the Divine, all beings, and nature. By surrendering the fruits, i.e. outcome, to the Divine. In the Bhagavad Gita this karma phala tyagah is exhorted as the most direct road to the Divine.
PS: When I am talking about the Divine I am not referring to an anthropomorphic conception. If you are struggling with anthropomorphic conception of the Divine or want to know more please read the following articles: