Free of Charge: Understanding Incentives in Faith — Jaitri Joshi

As I closed my eyes, I ran through the list I had practiced asking for: good grades, a dog, not having to run the mile in gym class the next day. From an early age, I was able to find solace in the idea that I could have my greatest wishes come true in exchange for clasping my hands, bowing my head, and asking. If I was good, I would get good in return. Though I did have to run the mile the next day, my mother convinced me that my prayer was unfulfilled because it was a part of a greater plan I just didn’t know about yet. Attending my Hindu temple school allowed me to find something I wanted more than my wishes for good grades: moksha. Moksha, as I understood it, is the end of the cycle of death and rebirth. Though we currently exist as a combination of mind/body/soul, we aim to be left with the soul alone. This state, which the Upanishads (Hindu texts) liken to a drop of water returning to the ocean, is moksha. I found this idea liberating, especially after already having spent (at that time) 12 long years alive. But it was an interesting paradox: to achieve moksha I had to relinquish all desires, including the one for moksha itself.

For me, desire was the biggest motivator. Without desire for moksha, I would have no reason to pursue it. How is it that I could challenge myself to live an idealistic life with no expectations in return? It is obvious to many that faith should not simply be transactional, but putting this into action in my own life was a difficult task. If I studied hard and skipped family movie night, I would get an A on my exam. If promised nothing in return, there was no reason for me not to be eating popcorn on the couch with the rest of them. Even in my “selfless” acts,  I still had desire: the desire for others to have better. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, like many of my peers, I struggled to stay motivated. I no longer had the ability to work in my research labs in which I could directly apply skills and see progress in return. With open-book exams, it was harder to study well in advance. The most difficult reality came in regard to one of my biggest aspirations, medical school. I knew medical school was no easy goal, but the realities of being an international student began depleting my hope and along with it, my aspirations. It was then that I realized that the cycle of aspirations and hard work would not be able to sustain me alone, and I had to turn to faith.

Surprisingly, what helped me most was a quote from the Bhagavad Gita that I had never really understood. The translation reads, “you have a right to perform your work, but not to the fruits of this labor” (Ch.2 Verse 47). I was to do my duties but not concern myself with the results. The outcome would be the culmination of many factors, but the work was always my own. What motivated me was letting go of the idea that every effect was a direct result of my actions. Lack of motivation has had detrimental effects on many of us as students and working professionals, and though I don’t believe organized faith is the only answer, it is a type of support system that allows us to see beyond our lives—to understand that we are a culmination of actions and circumstances beyond our own control.

I am still searching for that balance between incentive for motivation and faith. The word “detachment” seemed cold at first, but it now brings me peace, knowing that I can be detached from the results of my actions while still trying my best. The pressure of today almost requires the ability to let go and put one’s faith in another system of support: for me, Hinduism as a guide to reaching moksha. As I enter my last year of college, I once again find myself closing my eyes and clasping my hands–not asking for anything this time, rather, giving worries of my own away.

14 thoughts on “Free of Charge: Understanding Incentives in Faith — Jaitri Joshi”

  1. Jaitri,
    This was a ridiculously interesting piece to read. I’m really excited now to learn more about your personal practices and thoughts, and about Hinduism as a whole. I really connected when you described your religion as a support for seeing beyond ourselves. I agree it’s not the only answer at all, but my Judaism helps me with that a huge amount and it’s really cool to see that you feel like Hinduism does the same.

  2. I very much relate to this blog posts. This post was beautifully written. I also spent the pandemic working on introspection and letting go of desire and things I can not control. It is still very difficult when there can be so many expectations or standards we feel like we have to meet.

  3. This journal is beautiful & I find myself able to relate to it in my own life. Although the concept of moksha is new to me, similarly I find my desires and wants coming out in prayer. I find this relatable to when I find myself only utilizing prayer when things are going bad or wrong in my life. I am actively trying to work on constantly being mindful of when I pray, and making sure that it is not a reflection of just when I desire something, as you mentioned above. Thank you again for sharing!

  4. Your experience as a young child trying to use prayer as an immediate reward hub was something that rang true for me as a christian as I am sure it does for many others. I think you are lucky to have had the realization or teaching that greater good might not be immediate for you but in the long run is worth it.

  5. This post was wonderful and interesting to read! It’s very cool to hear about other people’s experiences with faith during the pandemic; I also found myself leaning into my religion in the face of a difficult school year. I think that because Covid created such a sudden lack of control over health, loved ones, etc, the natural response for many was (and remains) to focus more tightly on portions of life that might seem totally controllable. I’m not sure how healthy or possible this is, though, and I really appreciated the quote you shared as an antidote to that mentality. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the work instead of the outcome!

  6. Jaitri,
    This is so beautifully written, the last line especially gave me peace reading it. Your whole post really reminded me of when I was growing up and my mom would call on me several times a day to pray. When I was young it just seemed like a chore and I remember asking her why I needed to do this, and especially why so many times a day. She answered me by saying that God didn’t need our prayers, rather we pray because we need God. It took me years to understand the nature of what she was saying, but now I pray because I need to relinquish my own worries and practice putting my faith into something greater than myself, your last line really reminded me of that.

  7. Hello Jaitri,
    This was very nicely written and I could relate to a couple points you make as well! I think it’s awesome that most of us can relate to using prayer as a way to seek something you want when we are younger. I also think it’s a great point that you make when you say that it is beyond our control and could use faith in different ways. My view on how faith is used has changed as well and it made things much easier when I was able to use it correctly. Best of luck with your last year and I’m excited to learn much more about Hinduism!

  8. Dear Jaitri
    What a piece of work! It’s amazing that a little angel could think and understand Shrimad Bhagwad Gita so well!
    We are proud of you!

  9. This artical guides you to think and how to get your goal.
    Good job LAGE raho.👍👍👍
    You are blessed.💐💐💐

  10. Hey Jaitri! I related to your post on a personal level. I loved reading your post because you touched on one of my greatest dilemmas on Hinduism of detachment and actions. The quote you mentioned from Bhagavad Gita is one of my favourite quotes too. I was talking to my grandfather once about this and he said that people spend multiple lives trying to unfold and fully understand this concept because it is difficult to grasp and even more difficult to practice. I am so excited to have more conversations with you about Hinduism. It is challenging to explain Moksha and detachment but you did a phenomenal job putting your thoughts into words!

  11. Jaitri, this is a wonderful piece you have written. Your struggle to find motivation during the past year resonates with me as it does with so many people. I am grateful for your insight through a faith inspired prospective. I often wonder if my lack of religious background has left me short of direction in life. I am reflecting on the parallels in our coping mechanisms, ones that I gained through therapy. This makes me want to pick up a book on Hinduism and learn more. Now I ask, what things am I missing only reading about religion rather than practicing? I ask this under the impression that the gap is huge.

  12. Jaitri,

    This was an incredibly well written blog post and I enjoyed reading it all. In particular, the last paragraph really resonated with me and how I handle the pressures of college – which were only amplified by the pandemic and online schooling. I agree that the word “detachment” may not seem like the perfect word to describe how I feel, and possibly how you feel, but the idea of giving your best effort and accepting the results, whether they be good or not-so-good, is comforting to me.

  13. Jaitri,
    Wow! This was such a beautiful piece to read! In Sikhism, I think we also believe in the idea of moksha (we call it mukti). It is something that I, myself, haven’t really thought much about. During the pandemic, I spent some time self-reflecting and realizing how important my faith is to me but also realizing how much I don’t know about Sikhism and how much more I can learn from the Guru Granth Sahib’s (our holy book) teachings. At one point in the pandemic, I was listening to a podcast discussing Sikh philosophy and teachings in our day-to-day life, and it was talking about praying – how when we pray, many of us are asking for something from God, but maybe not always expressing gratitude for what God has given us. Ever since then, and every time I do pray I try to remind myself of this. I’ve begun to think of my faith as my support system, like how Hinduism is yours!! I really enjoyed reading your post, and I hope to learn more about Hinduism this upcoming semester!

  14. Jaitri,
    I greatly enjoyed reading this piece and for me, it was the perfect response to why I wanted to become an Interfaith Fellow. I am deeply curious about the inner workings of major faith systems and the ideas that form their foundations. However, despite being familiar with the more complex notions behind the traditions of these faiths, I was unsure how these ideas about the nature of the divine or of life after death impacted the everyday life of a follower of these traditions. Your post eloquently illustrated to me exactly how a concept as abstract as moksha could provide very real comfort and guidance to a follower of Hinduism.

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