Now, what is the meaning of working without motive? Nowadays many understand it in the sense that one is to work in such a way that neither pleasure nor pain touches his mind. If this be its real meaning, then the animals might be said to work without motive. Some animals devour their own offspring, and they do not feel any pangs at all in doing so. Robbers ruin other people by robbing them of their possessions; but if they feel quite callous to pleasure or pain, then they also would be working without motive.
If the meaning of it be such, then one who has a stony heart, the worst of criminals, might be considered to be working without motive. The walls have no feelings of pleasure or pain, neither has a stone, and it cannot be said that they are working without motive. In the above sense the doctrine is a potent instrument in the hands of the wicked. They would go on doing wicked deeds, and would pronounce themselves as working without a motive. If such be the significance of working without a motive, then a fearful doctrine has been put forth by the preaching of the Gita. Certainly this is not the meaning. Furthermore, if we look into the lives of those who were connected with the preaching of the Gita, we should find them living quite a different life. Arjuna killed Bhishma and Drona in battle, but withal, he sacrificed all his self-interest and desires and his lower self millions of times. (V, 247)
The concept of ‘work without motive’ is another of India’s unique contribution to the world thought. Only such work can help man manifest the divine potential within him. It is an easy way to purify the mind and evolve man towards his greater destiny. Three things have to be taken care of. Firstly the feeling of ownership of the action (that I am the doer) must be eradicated from the mind. Secondly, feelings of likes and dislikes should be kept at bay. Thirdly, attachment to fruit of action should also be removed totally. Once these three negative ingredients are removed, our actions, the work which we do, get transformed into worship. It releases the mind from vasanas or impressions which gather as impurities.
Is this practical? In our recent history Acharya Vinoba Bhave and the Father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi were two shining examples who lived and acted according to this wonderful principle of Nishkama Karma Yoga.