The questions asked here are these:
- Even if you are getting good results, should you do something just because others are doing it?
- Does your reason behind the action matter more than the outcome?
These are very important questions because they deal with the most important element of life: work. Our work is not just something that we do. It is the way we express ourselves and go through life. At its highest state, work is devotion and a path to spiritual progress.
As I try to answer her questions, I also want to explore the deepest ideas related to our work and actions.
Motive and Intention
There is always some motive or intention behind what we do. Some people work to become rich, some work just to get through life, some work to become excellent at what they do…and so on. Even the most unselfish people work and meditate with the intention of liberation.
So there is always an intention or a motive behind whatever you do. It is very important because it is the guiding force that gives meaning to our actions.
So, should you do something just because others are doing it?
You should ask yourself a counter- question, what is your motive for doing it?
Doing something that others are doing is neither good nor bad. It is just an action. It is always great to take inspiration from good work of other people. But before you imitate them, you must make sure that it is congruent with your goals, life situation and overall desired life qualities.
Blind imitation is monkey business. Humans must know the intention behind their every action, even if it is imitating others.
I would ask myself these questions before I do what someone else is doing.
- Does it resonate with my life goals, plans and situations?
- Will those actions help me achieve my goals faster and more effectively? Is it a better way of getting what I want?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of those actions?
Only after carefully analyzing these questions, I would make a decision. This answers the questions that were posted in the beginning, but I want to get deeper into the nature of ‘work’.
An underlying state of mind
It is different from intention. An intention or motive is your reason for work. But when you are executing work, there is an underlying state of mind. It represents how attached you are with your work and its results. Let me explain it with a story:
“Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg tells a story about a terrifying encounter in Calcutta, when she was grabbed out of a rickshaw in a dark alley. Her teacher’s response when, still shaken, she later described the incident: “Oh Sharon, with all the loving-kindness in your heart, you should have taken your umbrella and hit that man over the head with it!”
In our society, the action of violence is considered wrong and sinful. However, it is the underlying state of mind that matters more than action itself.
Action is neutral. The sin is not in the act of violence. it is in the state of mind that is filled with violence. There is no better example than the Bhagvad Geeta.
When Lord Krishna directs Arjun towards a war, he suggests him to keep his mind purged of all emotions and just fight the war. At that time, the act of killing was not a sin, but rather his duty.
These two examples emphasize the point that the underlying state of mind is what binds us with Karma. The action is just an action. It something that is done or not done, but the real change is made by the state of mind that works behind that action.
Detachment from results
‘Karmayoga’ is the science of using action (Karma) as a path to spiritual growth. The backbone of that is this verse from Bhagvad Geeta:
“To work we have the right, but not to the fruits thereof.”Bhagvad Geeta
These simple words are very liberating. You have the right only over your work, the results of actions are not your right and not under your control. Therefore the way to be free from Karma is to just do your work and devote the fruits of Karma to the lord.
When we become detached from the expectations of results, we become free from our self interest and thus, we become free from the bondage of Karma.
When a child plays, he plays for the sake of playing. He is not bound by any Karma. When he grows up he learns the concept of winning and losing. Now when he plays, there is a constant wish to win. It is an impurity added to his Karma. Winning makes him happy, losing makes him sad and frustrated. Thus he gets bound by the Karma because of the expectations of the results.
“If you wish to help a man, never think what that man’s attitude should be towards you. If you want to do a great or a good work, do not trouble to think what the result will be.”Swami Vivekananda- KarmaYoga
If we are pursuing Karmayoga, our ultimate aim is to reach the state where we are completely unselfish about our work. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. Complete unselfishness is the path to knowledge.
“We may all hope that some day or other, as we struggle through the paths of life, there will come a time when we shall become perfectlySwami Vivekananda- KarmaYoga
unselfish; and the moment we attain to that, all our powers will be
concentrated, and the knowledge which is ours will be manifest.”
I hope this post gave you good insights and helped you look at your work differently. Here are some questions to ask yourslef:
- How do I look at my work? Is it just something I do or can it be something more?
- What is the motive and intention behind my work? Am I just trying to make money or become successful? Or can it be something more?
- What is my usual underlying state of mind when taking actions? How can I change it to become more mindful and compassionate?
- How can I become more unselfish about my work?
Thank you for reading.
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Featured image by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash