In Indian villages, a donkey is often called as ‘Vaishaka nandana’, a friend of the summer season.
The hot summer dries up grass in the fields, and the donkey glancing around, sees there is hardly any left. Thinking that he has eaten all of it, he feels happy and gets fat. However post monsoon, the fields are filled with lush green grass, and the donkey is busy eating all day. Still as he looks around, he imagines he’s hardly eaten anything because of which there’s plenty still lying around. He gets worried at the formidable job ahead, and loses weight. The ass is thus called a fool; he imagines he’s responsible for the grass lying in abundance. Little does he realize that independent of his eating, the grass grows or lessens depending on the rains.
When human beings work hard imagining that they are responsible for all that is happening in their lives, they carry the ‘burden of the beast’. Working hard is healthy, but the unhealthy thought patterns of being the controller and doer of everything, and being personally responsible for all success and failures is the ass mentality.
Lord Krishna exposes this foolish mindset in the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita. He first explains how intelligent people should always work and inspire others to also work in devotion (3.26). He then contrasts such a worker with the foolish one,
“The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature”(Bhagavad Gita 3.27)
The scriptures implore men and women to work hard but in a spirit of detachment from the results, being fixed in the knowledge that factors beyond one’s control could always influence the outcome. If the fruits are indeed contrary to your efforts and expectations, you could then still be peaceful.
Who’s responsible for a good crop, the farmer or the monsoon? If the farmer refuses to harvest or work hard or ignores the seeds and resigns to his fate that’s going to be determined by the merciful monsoon, would he attain success? On the contrary if he works really hard and is super confident of success, but an unexpected cyclone destroys it all, what would happen to his mental state? Both the farmer- his attitude and endeavor, and the weather- it’s independent actions affect the consequence. If the farmer works hard with this wisdom guiding his life, he’d most likely be humble and grateful at success, and would be unruffled when the result is undesirable. He’d also be able to regroup his efforts and think more clearly when reversals strike unexpectedly.
To recognize factors beyond ourselves that influences our life is maturity. Sometimes devotees of Krishna perform extraordinary services like distribution of thousands of books, managing massive festivals, or building communities of dedicated people. The leader is careful to not fall prey to the ass mindset; he doesn’t think he’s been doing a lot of work; he knows the ‘grass’ of success would grow or shrivel by the ‘rains’ of Krishna’s mercy and we can’t do anything about it. Therefore instead of worrying too much about his being the cause of it all, his focus is more on his own individual efforts and the mood of service.