Essentials for Effectiveness
Doing Work with Knowledge (Continued)
Taking Care of the Means
Cutting corners and adopting unethical means might help in attaining a desired end sometimes, but the negative impact of such questionable means can cripple an individual’s character. It is good to keep in mind Swami Vivekananda’s important teaching: “Let us perfect the means; the end will take care of itself. For the world can be good and pure, only if our lives are good and pure. It is an effect, and we are the means. Therefore, let us purify ourselves. Let us make ourselves perfect.”
Trying to Change Others
We will understand the futility of trying to change others when we reflect on how difficult it is to change ourselves. There is a well-known prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
What to Fear, What Not to Fear
“Fear arises from duality,” says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.2). True fearlessness is God-realization, since in that state of oneness there is no second object to fear. As Swami Vivekananda says: “Be bold and fearless, and the road will be clear.”
What Is Bondage, What Is Freedom
Work binds when selfishness is the motive behind it. According to Vedanta, the Atman is the eternal, blissful, and infinite core of our personality. It is also the source of real Knowledge. Ignorance (avidya) of our real nature makes us look for happiness and fulfillment in the world outside. So we desire (kama) sense objects. Desire drives us to action (karma) for its fulfillment. Work done with desire steeps us more and more in ignorance and, being caught in the vicious cycle of avidya-kama-karma, we continue to revolve on the wheel of birth and death.
Desire-prompted work forges more links in the chain that binds us to the world, while selfless work, done without anxiety about the result, purifies our mind, strengthens our will, and enables us to progress on the path to freedom.
Effect of Subtle Impressions on Character
According to Swami Vivekananda, our actions and thoughts are registered on our mind as subtle impressions, or samskaras. These impressions have a built-in property: the tendency to make us repeat the action or thought. Each repetition deepens the impression. Impressions accumulated over lifetimes create our character. Our character determines our reactions to situations, our personal life, work environment, and so on. In short, what we are at any given moment is governed by these impressions. Just as bad impressions make us act badly in spite of ourselves, so good impressions force us to be good and do good in spite of ourselves. Freedom means being free from the hold of both good and bad impressions.
Anything we do consciously for a long time becomes a habit. For instance, if we do work in a slipshod way or with questionable means, it leaves an unfavorable impression on our mind. The work may be accomplished all right, but the cumulative impressions resulting from how we work and the means we adopt for the work may strengthen our bondage and slavery to the mind. We can appreciate how powerful impressions are only when we try to turn over a new leaf and live a good and pure life. We may want to change, but our past bad impressions are powerful and unrelenting. Their strong resistance may be enough to unnerve us and induce us give up our resolve to transform ourselves.
The only way we can free ourselves from the hold of bad impressions is by strengthening our good character. We accomplish this by cultivating good thoughts and doing good deeds. As seekers of freedom we have also to become free from the hold of good impressions by strengthening our aspiration for the divine, diligently doing spiritual practices, and performing work as worship.
Vedanta condemns none but offers hope to everyone. Anyone can progress spiritually provided he is prepared to pay the price and struggle incessantly.
(To be continued) —Swami Yuktatmananda
Copyright© 2011, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.