The central message of the Gita is that we should live in this world like an observer and perform our duties in a detached manner. Almost the same message is given by other religious scriptures also. It is said that all our pleasures and pains are the results of our attachment to our Karmas. If we detach ourselves from our Karmas, we free ourselves from their effect. Then we achieve harmony in life and are able to face all situations gracefully.
All this seems simple but is difficult in practice. For most of us, even the suggestion that we should rise above pleasure and pain seems strange. We may at best understand the need to rise above pain but not pleasure. We forget that pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin and both have to coexist. The exclusion of only one is not possible and we have either to accept both of them or to accept none. Rising above both is a state of mind which gives us eternal joy and makes our life happy in the true sense. Such a state can be achieved only when we perform our Karma in a detached manner for the sake of our duty. We then live in the world like an observer.
I realised this fact when I was appointed as an observer by the Election Commission of India during the 1991 assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh. I was on duty in one of the most tension-ridden districts because the then Chief Minister was contesting from there. Some officers had avoided the observer’s duty in that district and I was also advised to do the same by my well-wishers. But after some contemplation, I decided to accept the appointment and to perform to the best of my capability. I thought that, after all, I was to act as an observer and my job was only to observe and report. The instructions issued by the Election Commission to the observers clearly mentioned that at best they could advise the district authorities, if the situation demanded it. The discretion of acting on such advice lay with the district authorities only. However, the observers were free to report their observations to the Election Commission, which in turn, took appropriate decisions.
My thoughts made my mind clear and I performed my duty not only fearlessly but also with a peaceful mind. As expected, the election in the district was full of problems. There were incidents of booth-capturing, snatching of ballot-papers and then killings. I observed them in an objective manner without being mentally affected by them. I reported my observations to the Commission soon after the election process was over and, finally, the election was countermanded. Here the outcome was not so important as the state of mind I retained during the time. Subsequently, I was congratulated by my friends for performing a difficult task well.
A similar job was given to me by the Election Commission in November 1993 during the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections. It was a very peaceful election and there was not a single untoward incident. I enjoyed my job which took me to some remote villages of the state and gave an opportunity to mix with the native people. I also saw some of the most beautiful scenic spots of Himachal Pradesh.
I was again posted as an observer in the assembly election of Bihar in March 1995. This duty was also considered difficult. Firstly, there was so much uncertainty about the schedule of the elections that proper planning of the visits became difficult. Secondly, there was apprehension about the fairness of the elections and, thirdly, the infrastructure in the state was so poor that it became difficult to cover the whole area satisfactorily. I maintained the same attitude towards this task also and performed it in a very objective manner. Fortunately, my district was relatively peaceful and the district administration was alert. So everything went on well and I enjoyed my duty despite a hectic travel schedule. Again, the cause of the enjoyment was the fact that I was an observer and thus detached from the actions involved in the election process.
If we adopt a similar attitude in all our actions, they cease to bind us and we rise above both pleasure and pain. Life becomes enriching and its purpose is then achieved. Thus, living as an observer is the answer to all our problems.