Duty holds society together. My duty is your privilege and vice versa. Action performed with this ideal in view is dharma. It holds people together in love and harmony. Both selfish action and the performance of another’s function (obviously taken over through selfish desire) are to be abandoned, but not one’s own duty. Not even a monk should renounce his own duty; Krsna gives a revolutionary definition even to samnyasa.
Our scriptures give us several instances of yogi attaining perfection while leading their normal household lives in the right spirit, i.e. without desire and without attachment. An exaggerated value of worldly objects creates desire in the mind. This desire gives rise to attachment to the actions calculated to secure the desired object and the reward too. This attachment is the source of all sins; it itself is sin. Renunciation of attachment is the surest way to attain perfection. The world is not a hindrance. Work is not a hindrance either. But attachment is a definite hindrance on our path to perfection.
What is popularly known as ‘detachment’ is not the true opposite of or antidote to attachment: that is another form of attachment – attachment to self-interest, self-esteem and the adoration of one’s ideology, and aversion to others. Non-attachment is the discovery of the truth concerning attachment itself. Even so with ‘duty’. It is the discovery of what is ‘natural’ to oneself, not some injunctions an prohibitions prescribed or proscribed by others.
There is another reason why one should not abandon one’s duty. People are fond of imitation and a sinful action is more readily copied than a virtuous one! People blindly follow their leader and if the leader is even slightly negligent in his duties, the followers totally abandon theirs!
So, then, firstly as a kind of reciprocity in return for the benefits that the yogi enjoys in this world, and secondly in order to set the right example for others to emulate, one should engage oneself in the performance of one’s duty, even though he has nothing to achieve thereby. This is a double-edged sword and has to be handled wisely. If the only motivation is to be an exemplar, it might give rise to hypocrisy; but rightly understood, even a initial hypocritical example might lead to right action.
Again, the sage who has cut off all attachment and who lives in complete dissociation of even his own body, will let the body exhaust its own karma and the past momentum. He does nothing; it is the body and mind that function in the world of matter. Why will he prevent them from doing so if he is unattached to them? True, he will not supply them with fresh fuel to gain more momentum. He is unattached, desireless and egoless, but if he even forcibly restrains them, he comes into contact with them and identifies the self with them. The worldly man is a slave of the senses, the ascetic holds them back, but they are both in contact with them. The sage is not.