That was a lot of knowledge and information to integrate instantly. It’s like being handed a concise comprehensive summary of an entire encyclopedia in a one hour lecture. I need to digest bit by bit. Let me start with understanding the first step required in spiritual evolution, the Yoga of Action or Karma Yoga.
I am Indian, and we tend to be very social people. Our get-togethers are very interesting because we don't feel shy about voicing our opinions, or giving advice. We are also very passionate and emotional people. We are NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) living in Silicon Valley, and guess what? We're all in IT.
So what do you think most of the conversations are about? Work, companies, technology, stocks, IPOs, H1, green cards, deals to buy...but because of my interest in spirituality, sometimes the conversations turn into philosophical discussions. My friends know how passionate Kesari (that’s me) is about spirituality, and loves to preach her knowledge!
Though I’m quieter now, less enthusiastic about sharing and more focused on integrating. Spirituality, knowledge, and devotion are the anchors of my life, and they come naturally to me. But spirituality is a boring topic for a lot of people. Some say it is too heavy, too serious, impractical, and others wear the sign "Just Not Interested" on their face!
Some ask, "What is spirituality anyway?"
Some say that spirituality makes people lose their drive to succeed in life.
Silicon Valley is full of successful people. It's noble to pursue success in life. Who will tell you to be a failure? But how you define success, how it's achieved, and with what attitude, is also important. People respect those who have done well through intelligence and hard work.
There's nothing wrong with earning money: it's quite useful, but at what cost? I definitely don't want a stressful job. I may not even realize that I have developed these traits! I don't want to sacrifice my conscience. No one respects those who have earned money using the wrong means or who have become arrogant from it. It nullifies everything. Would I be happy? Would I be healthy? I don't think so. I look at others and see how their health has deteriorated. Those chasing money, power, or fame are struggling feverishly to achieve it, fretting to maintain it in fear of losing it, and then suffering great misery when it starts going away. In this entire cycle, meant to eventually and inevitably achieve happiness, where and at what point does one feel satisfaction or joy?
So then how do I do well without becoming greedy, jealous, egoistic, arrogant, selfish, or addicted to money?
Here's one of my favorite jokes:
A top executive on vacation at a Mexican beach watches a fisherman get up late every day, work a few hours, eat lunch, sleep in the afternoon, and party in the evening with his amigos (friends).
The ambitious executive is very restless so he asks the fisherman: Why do you go fishing only for a few hours?
Fisherman: I earn enough for my family; I'm happy…
Executive: Well, you can work double the number of hours, earn double, get another boat, then two, then open a company…then take the company public…then you will be rich!
Fisherman: Okay. How long will that take?
Executive: About ten to fifteen years.
Fisherman: After all that hard work, then what?
Executive: Then you can retire!
Fisherman: Retire and do what?
Executive: Then you can get up late, do some fishing, eat, sleep, and party with your friends.…
Yes of course we should work hard, during our working years, earning money to support our family. The lazy want easy money, to make the most but do the least. There are some who take the easy route in life, like a man who marries the only daughter of a rich man and then doesn’t work another day in his life. He doesn’t get much respect from his wife, children, or relatives, but he doesn’t care. He is so lazy that he doesn’t even help with anything at home or with the kids. He gets up late, reads the newspaper, eats, sleeps, and hangs out with friends. What a waste of human life!
There are some very interesting people in the world who are good examples of what not to be. I think perhaps some of the worst of them are the corrupt Indian public officials and their partners in crime. I know them well. If there is a definition for demon, they would fit it exactly. They are a disease in society. The whole country is suffering from their sins. Yes, they, too, have an undying thirst for money and power, any way they can get it, even if it’s illegally or immorally. What's the point of such money? People often justify their wrongdoings, saying, for example, that “Everyone is doing it, and why should I miss out?” Unfortunately for India, these corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are the dominating driving force.
In short, three examples of what not to do are clear to me. My actions should not be driven by unending selfish desires, nor should I pursue my goals using illegal or immoral means, and I definitely should not be lazy. And this is the gist of the second verse of the Isha Upanishad.
As Buddha also said, the cause of grief is desire. Greed, ego, and craving lead only to self-destruction. I firmly believe that, even though it may not seem like that in the short term. This is also said in the third verse in the Isha Upanishad.
Then what is the right attitude for doing well in the world?
Vedic wisdom teaches us that spirituality is not antagonistic to success. Two of the four goals of life (Purushartha) are material prosperity (Artha) and fulfillment of desires (Kama) to sustain oneself. But the only sustainable way is through Dharma— through moral, legal, and healthy means, without greed, lust, jealously, ego, anger, etc. Dharma is all about desire management. The Vedic wisdom says awake, arise, realize your potential! There's nothing wrong with being a rich business owner, a famous celebrity, or a powerful President. Finally, it's not about how much you have but how content you are.
There is a good example of this in history. Long ago there lived a very powerful king with a huge royal treasury. He held the responsibility for his large kingdom very well. He was very just and kind to his people, so they loved him. He was a role model for all. He was rich, powerful, and famous. But he was also a spiritual king, wise and skillful. His name was Krishna. He taught his friend, prince Arjun, how to be successful while being spiritual, such as not to drop his role or duties and run away into the forest and meditate. He guided him on the principles of Karma Yoga, how to excel in the materialistic realm through righteous actions and a noble attitude. That this would lead him to the ultimate goal of being a better, wiser person.
Let me explore this Wisdom in Action that Sri Krishna explained to Arjun; let me give it a chance. It may make my life better, happier, and more successful. What do I have to lose? Firstly, I should not assume it's hard to practice. It may be a better option than being greedy, lazy, or immoral. So I read chapters two, three, four, and five of the Bhagavad Gita. Definitely a very good guide for life. Chapter Two, which is like a summary of the Gita, verse forty-seven famously says this:
"Karmanye vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachna. Karmaphalehtur bhurma te sangostv-akarmani."
Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.
Which basically says the key to happiness is have a goal, give 100 percent effort, but drop the desire for the results. If you've done that, then there are no regrets either. Usually the desire for a result drives our actions and we end up either unhappy or wanting more. Like a rat on a wheel, we are stuck in this endless cycle.
If I could do my best in life, but from a sense of service (Seva) and duty toward my family and our society, and not just for myself, then there will be no greed, no insatiable selfish desires. Makes sense, right? I could achieve the max I can in life and at the same time offer all I do to the divine, and take whatever is the outcome as His offering to me; there would be no desires (I want…), no ego bragging (I did this), no selfishness claiming (this is mine), and no attachment—and therefore no misery. No matter how much wealth, power or fame I get, I will have no side effects from them; I will enjoy them with a sense of renunciation.
When I look at them from a broader perspective, if I realize that everything is God, that it's all Him, then He is doing and achieving everything, not me. I am not the doer.
So I have to purify my mind and emotions. When I'm free of anger and ego, the world will seem like a better place, and I will be happy. I have to change, not others. There's a Michael Jackson song I really like called "I'm talking about the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. No method can mend and deliver. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make that change."
Gandhi-ji also said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
As I change, so will the world.
But what if I don't change? What happens if I keep doing things that are driven from some desire, to satisfy my ego, to gain something as a result?
I will be trapped in the endless cycle of Samsar: of birth and death, happiness or unhappiness, like being stuck a giant wheel going up and down endlessly. When we act from our desires it creates certain patterns, impressions and tendencies in us called Vasanas. The oldest patterns in us are those of eating, having sex, and fear. They are the hardest to get rid of. These tendencies create desires. For example, if we have a tendency to eat sweets, it will create a desire to eat desserts. Then we will act upon these desires and eat sweet things. The memory of the enjoyment will deepen the tendency, which will again lead to desires in an endless cycle. These patterns and impressions carry on from lifetime to lifetime.
That's why we need to reduce these patterns and bad habits through Wisdom in Action—acting with awareness and dispassion. Anyway, nothing is permanent, right? Money, titles, jobs, houses, and cars come and go. They are ours only for a short while. Whose wealth is it, anyway? Then why should I be so attached to them? It will only bring misery. Sometimes on the road someone will race past me and the next thing I see is that they are waiting at the next red light next to me. We can keep racing through life but we'll all end up in the same place, in a pot full of ashes!
Extra credit:They say a picture speaks a thousand words. The image of the Bhagavad Gita with Krishna and Arjun on the chariot in the battlefield says so much. The chariot, in modern times, can be replaced by a car and its parts.
1. Chariot: The physical body, the instrument through which the Self, intellect, mind, and senses operate.
2. Charioteer: Krishna represents the Self/soul/consciousness, is supposed to be the wise giver of instructions to the mind.
3. Passenger: Arjun represents the individual Soul, the embodied Atma, the pure center of consciousness, which is always the neutral witness.
4. Horses: Sensory organs, such as eyes (vision), ears (hearing), nose (smell), tongue (taste), and skin (touch), through which we relate to the external world by perception and action.
5. Reins: Mind, through which the senses receive their instructions to act and perceive.
6. Roads: The countless objects of senses and desires in the world and in our memory.
7. Wheels of the chariot: right effort.
8. Destination: “Perfection” or “Self-realization.”
9. Kurukshetra battlefield: the inner battlefield, the only place where one can confront, do battle with, and vanquish the inner demons.
10. Two armies: One hundred Kauravas represents one hundred demonic tendencies and the five Pandavas, the five divine virtues.
The battle (Mahabharat) is still going on every day within us; this is the fight between our demonic and divine qualities. There has always been a struggle between the two. In this conflict between opposing forces, consciousness (Krishna) is ever on the side of righteousness (Dharma), the reality that sustains, not the delusion that undermines. With the guidance and wisdom (Gita) from one who has merged with consciousness (Krishna) I can overcome the one hundred inner negative tendencies with only five inner divine virtues. Then this chariot is to be driven to the destination that is Self-realization. It is the same on the outside macrocosmic level also. In the world I find the ration of good people to bad people as 100:5.