To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, June 20, 2011

Action or contemplation - which is better?

It's not unknown for many of us, engaged in the daily hustle-bustle of life's responsibilities, to get hassled beyond a point, every once in a while.  At such moments is it alright, for a conscientious believer in the value of relentless work and discharge of responsibilities (we're not counting the conscientious shirkers here!), to drop whatever they're doing and rush to the comforting arms of whatever be their inner sanctuary (whether reading or meditation or whatever)?  That's a question which has probably plagued a lot of people since long.

The guidance provided by the usual sources seems equivocal at such times (but is not: read on...).  For instance, Bhagvad Gita, the great Indian holy book, seems to place equal importance, among others, on Karma Yoga (the value of work, of the nishkama karma or 'work without demanding returns' variety) and Bhakti Yoga (devotion).

Say, you're engaged in some mundane work (maybe signing a few cheques, or cooking dinner), but something which is bound to be of some benefit to someone (maybe settlement of dues to a former employee? or providing nourishment to the family), when suddenly you feel like you're at the end of your tether.  You long to stop the 'productive' work and have a few minutes (hours?) of quiet contemplation, probably with some reading of/listening to your favourite peace-inducing material.  But here's the dilemma: at what point does it become justifiable (quite apart from the disciplinary and 'paying your dues' aspect, if the mood hits you while at office!) to 'take a break', and for how long?

In this respect, probably a better source of guidance could be the life experiences of our past masters.  Swami Vivekananda, of the World Congress of Religions fame (and the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the 19th century sage of Bengal), is believed to have said something to the effect that 'if you can't do anything, steal, for work is above everything' (now, now, don't try this at home...!).  Many seekers have found the value of work through their personal experiences with both a 'no-work' and 'happily engaged in work' situations.

On balance, it seems that the value of work in our life is paramount.  After all, you could say that we were probably put on this earth to be of some use!  The least we could do is to 'pay our dues' to mother Earth and rightfully 'earn our living' (beyond the usual material sense).  Even in this, the best kind of work could be the one carried out without any longing for the fruits thereof (I know, I know, easy to preach...) - now we are back to the core teaching of Bhagvad Gita!.  This kind of work/service seems to have the potential to free us of the cycle of desire, fulfillment (including ego fulfillment) and more desire (as someone rightly said, our needs are limited but our wants are unlimited).  But of course this is an inner journey which each one of us has to travel in our own way...

The title of a movie made on the life of Ramakrishna Paramhansa was 'Joto Mot Toto Path', loosely translated as 'That many paths, as many views/faiths'.  So as long as our chosen path leads us to the ultimate objective of selflessness...

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