Success of an endeavor is usually determined by the outcome, because it is the immediate objective measure available to us. Effort and outcome are the two aspects of any endeavor.
Individual effort is subjective. Outcome is the result and is objective. The Gita teaches that you can control the effort but not the outcome. instead of judging success by the outcome, it should be judged by the effort. Effort is what a person can control. One is able to do the best that one can, not any better. Outcome is determined by factors all of which are not under the control of the person who makes the effort. There are many unknowns that may influence the outcome.
Lord Krishna says, “May you perform actions in a responsible manner. As far as the outcome is concerned maintain the sameness of the mind.” Sameness of mind can be called success. Vedanta says that success is a subjective phenomenon. Social and economic success is generally measured by wealth, name, fame, power etc. These are accepted as the criteria for determining success. However, all these can be called success provided they create satisfaction in one’s mind. It is the individual who determines whether he is successful or not.
Self-satisfaction cannot be willed, it has to arise. Satisfaction is an inner feeling and one knows when it occurs. Success should be measured in terms of the inner satisfaction and worthiness one feels about oneself. Even though other people may think of a person as worthy, based on the criteria that they have accepted, the person himself may not feel so. What ultimately matters is, what the person thinks about himself.
One may be wealthy but wealth could have been acquired by unfair means. A person is aware when he has violated the values. He knows it is due to his weakness. Violation of values creates a loss of self-worth, which creates self-dissatisfaction. The pleasures acquired through unrighteous – adharmika – ways do not produce inner satisfaction. There is no real joy in them. To enjoy things, not only do we need objects of enjoyment, but also the capacity to enjoy. Dharma, the righteous way of life gives this capacity. With that, one becomes less dependent on things of the world for his joy and gains a greater self-satisfaction.
Success is subjective and is determined by the extent to which one is satisfied with oneself, feels worthy and good in his or her perception. This is the measure of success. To gain this, Lord Krishna teaches that may you perform your actions well. Do what is right in a given situation even though it may be painful and may not bring immediate desirable achievements. Remain indifferent to the outcome as far as personal gain is concerned. This is karma-yoga.
It is true that we live in a world where outcome alone is the criterion of success because effort, being subjective, cannot be judged. Hence, we should not be indifferent to the outcome. It should be given the place it deserves. But the outcome should not become so important that one has to compromise the means for the sake of the end. Good outcome will come today or tomorrow if the actions are Virtuous. That is the law of karma good begets good, evil begets evil. For social and economic success, values alone are not sufficient. Right kind of skills, training etc. should also be acquired. Material success requires the capacity to manage the material. Effort involves good values, good intentions and a commitment to do an action well. One should pay attention to all these. There should also be recognition of the realities of life. Accept all personal limitations and gracefully accept the rewards as they come. According to the law of karma, rewards are commensurate with effort made. Reward will come, if not today, tomorrow, if effort is righteous and made with required skill. One can continue to perform good actions with that faith and confidence. Learn from results and make changes where necessary.
Success is a process of learning and growing. Growth is in terms of one’s goodness, inner strength, poise of mind, tranquility of mind; reactions in adverse situations, large heartedness etc. Vedanta looks upon life as a process of inner growth. Righteousness and sincere effort are the means of gaming inner growth and success in the real sense.
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati