Swami Vivekananda’s Way to a Drudgery Free World
(Presented at International Youth Conference 2013 on “Shaping A Drudgery Free World – Swami Vivekananda’s Perspective” organized by Vivekanand Swadyay Mandal and Sanskritic Chetana Parishad, Pantnagar on January 12-13, 2013)
A few months back a first year student of a college in Bangalore came to me and asked, “Sir, how can I popularize Swami Vivekananda in my college?” He had studied in Ramakrishna Vidyashala in Mysore, which is one of the best residential schools for boys in Karnataka. Naturally, he was highly impressed by Swami Vivekananda and wanted to popularize him in his new college. I asked him, “Why should you popularize Swami Vivekananda?” He said, “Because Swami Vivekananda is great. He is the ideal for youth.” I told him, “That is your opinion. Why should someone else agree with you?” We are so obsessed with great personalities that we miss the principles that they stood for. This is exactly what the great personalities like Swami Vivekananda himself have warned against.
In this respect, I would like to share a very interesting episode in the life of Swami Turiyanandaji, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. One day, Turiyanandaji asked a junior monk, “If Sri Ramakrishna appears before you and tells you, ‘My boy, forget about all this monastic life and spiritual life. Go home, earn a lot of money, marry and enjoy life’, what will you do?” The junior monk was perplexed and confessed his inability to decide his own response, and asked Turiyanandaji to tell him what he should do. Turiyanandaji replied, “If this happens to me, I would tell him, ‘You are not the Sri Ramakrishna whom I worship and follow. This may be a hallucination. Sri Ramakrishna taught and stood for renunciation. You may look like him. But you are someone else. Please go away.’ ” This is what is putting the principle above the personality. Sri Ramakrishna is great because of his renunciation, his truthfulness, his sincerity in devotion and so on. When we see the picture of Sri Ramakrishna, these are what we should see.
Swami Vivekananda is not great for what he looked like. He is not great for his youth, physique or music. He is not even great for his extraordinary mental powers like intelligence, memory and concentration. Giving too much attention to these aspects of his personality is a distraction. He is great for his life and message. So, whenever you propagate Swami Vivekananda, ensure to put the principles before the personality. The teachings of Swami Vivekananda, and the principles that he stood for in his life, are greater than Swami Vivekananda himself. This should be very clear.
Then the student planned to start a study circle in the college, to read Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings. The objective is to see if Swami Vivekananda has answers to the current problems of students.
A year or so back, I was reading a book with the proceeds of a conference on Vedanta. The author of one of the papers had made a very valid observation that, the people who discuss about Vedanta present the philosophical problems in a manner, which is difficult to map them to our everyday life. Similarly, the solution presented also is not presented in a form, which is relevant to our everyday life. Because of this, people are not interested in Vedanta. It is the duty of the scholars and practitioners to cast the teachings in a manner that is directly relevant to everyday life.
I am very happy that this conference attempts to do this. It has taken up a very relevant down-to-earth problem in our everyday life, and seeks to find answers and approaches in the light of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. It is to be noted here that Swami Vivekananda taught the same ancient Vedanta, as taught in the Vedas and the Gita. His presentation was tuned to make it relevant to everyday problems. We need to do the same thing with Swami Vivekananda’s teachings to make it relevant to everyday problems of our times. Most of his teachings are directly relevant to today. Some of them have to be tuned to situations of today.
What is drudgery?
When a person wakes up in the morning, he should be cheerful and look forward to a great day. Every day should be a festival and every moment should be a celebration. If that is not so, then something is wrong in the way that person is leading his life. How many people are able to wake up looking forward to the day, especially on a Monday?
If you ask a person, “How are you?” out of courtesy, usually the answer is, “Fine.” If you are close enough and wait for some time, and when the person opens up, you usually find that it is not so fine. Some people are more open. If you are ask them, “How are you?” the replies are like, “Yeah, going on …”, “Not bad” and “Pulling through”. How many people can genuinely give replies like, “Top of the world”, “Superb” and “Life could not be better than this”.
Swami Vivekananda says, “The first sign that you are becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful. When a man is gloomy, that may be dyspepsia, but it is not religion.” (CW I-264) “We must be bright and cheerful; long faces do not make religion.” (CW VIII-7) “What business have you with clouded faces? It is terrible. If you have a clouded face, do not go out that day; shut yourself up in your room. What right have you to carry this disease out into the world?” (CW I-265) Swami Vivekananda himself is the standing example of this. Everyone who has interacted with him has said that he was always cheerful and full of vitality.
Why would a person not look forward to the day? The person is not interested in the activities that he would be doing during the day. This lack of enthusiasm is what is called drudgery. This lack of enthusiasm can come from two sources – himself and from others. So, we need to handle three problems:
- How to avoid creating drudgery to one self?
- How to avoid drudgery that may be imposed by others on us?
- How to avoid causing drudgery to others?
Now, how to derive the answers to these questions from the teachings Swami Vivekananda? First, let us recapitulate his message.
Swami Vivekananda’s message
The essence of Swami Vivekananda’s message is, “Manifest the divinity within.” His famous quotation from the Kathopanishad, uttishthata jaagrata praapya varaan nibodhata – “Arise! Awake! Stop not till the goal is reached”, comes to our mind whenever we think of Swami Vivekananda. Now, what is the goal here? Swami Vivekananda says elsewhere, “The goal is to manifest the divinity within.” (CW I-257)
We need to understand what this divinity that he is talking about is. The word divine means illuminated. It comes from the same root as deva, deepa, etc. What is the illumination or light that we are talking about here? There are two levels to this light. First level is the light of the will. The subtler level is the light of the Consciousness.
First we should understand that we are not the body. If I were a part or product or property of the body, then everything that I think would be the result of some chemical and electrical activity in my brain. If that is the case, then there is no place for freewill. If there is no freewill, then there is no freedom of action, no responsibility for action, no purpose in life, no scope for development, etc. Every human pursuit becomes invalid. So, I have to assume that I am the holder of my freewill. I am responsible for my actions. I cannot escape my responsibility for my actions even by death. I will have to take another body and continue. I am that entity that takes body after body to express and experience the world.
When we understand this, there is no more fear of death. I know that I am what I am because of my past actions. My current actions decide my future. I am fully responsible for everything that happens in my life. My life is in my hands. Swami Vivekananda says, “You only get what you deserve.” (CW II-367) This is the truth. This understanding brings enormous power and responsibility. This is the first level.
As my understanding matures, another level of understanding opens up to me. Behind the will is the life; the Consciousness. This is best explained by the story of the two birds from the Mundaka Upanishad, in Swami Vivekananda’s own words: “The whole of the Vedanta Philosophy is in this story: Two birds of golden plumage sat on the same tree. The one above, serene, majestic, immersed in his own glory; the one below restless and eating the fruits of the tree, now sweet, now bitter. Once he ate an exceptionally bitter fruit, then he paused and looked up at the majestic bird above; but he soon forgot about the other bird and went on eating the fruits of the tree as before. Again he ate a bitter fruit, and this time he hopped up a few boughs nearer to the bird at the top. This happened many times until at last the lower bird came to the place of the upper bird and lost himself. He found all at once that there had never been two birds, but that he was all the time that upper bird, serene, majestic, and immersed in his own glory.” (CW VII-80)
I am the subject, which can never become the object. Sankara explains this beautifully in his book, “Drk Drishya Viveka”. When the eye sees a flower and judge the colour of the flower, the eye is the subject and the flower is the object. When the mind judges the eye as colour-blind, myopic, etc., the mind is the subject and the eye is the object. When the intellect sees the mind as angry, peaceful, restless, etc., the intellect is the subject and the mind is the object. Now, when this sequence goes on, the real “I” is that subject, which can never be an object of the sense organs, mind or intellect. I am that pure Consciousness.
As you can see, at every level, all properties belong only to objects and not to the subject. Thus, I am beyond all properties. All change is only change of properties. As I am beyond all properties, I am changeless. Thus I am beyond space and time. I am omnipresent and eternal. As pure Consciousness, I am infinite.
This Consciousness is the real light. Suppose, we are all in a room, and suddenly, the light goes off and it is pitch-dark. I cannot see anything. At that time, you shout out in the room, “Are you there?” What will I say? Will I say, “It is very dark here. Let the light come. I will see and tell you if I am there or not”? I will say, “Yes. I am here.” Now, what light did I use to know that I am here? That is the light of Consciousness. I am aware of other objects only by using my own Consciousness like a torch. My entire life unfolds before me like pages of a book. Swami Vivekananda says, “The pages of nature are turned before us like the pages of a book, and we think that we ourselves are turning, while in reality we remain ever the same.” (CW IX-501)
What you should understand is that you are the Conscious being. You are infinitely greater than any object or situation in life. There is no situation or object in this world, which can overwhelm you. You are of an order of reality higher than this world. The water and fire in the movie cannot affect the screen on which it is projected. The screen is more real than the movie. The screen can affect the movie. But the movie cannot affect the screen. Similarly, nothing can affect you. You are the one that gives reality to this world.
Swami Vivekananda explains this in a beautiful way. “A huge locomotive has rushed on over the line and a small worm that was creeping upon one of the rails saved its life by crawling out of the path of the locomotive. Yet this little worm, so insignificant that it can be crushed in a moment, is a living something, while this locomotive, so huge, so immense, is only an engine, a machine. You say the one has life and the other is only dead matter and all its powers and strength and speed are only those of a dead machine, a mechanical contrivance. Yet the poor little worm which moved upon the rail and which the least touch of the engine would have deprived of its life is a majestic being compared to that huge locomotive. It is a small part of the Infinite and, therefore, it is greater than this powerful engine. Why should that be so? How do we know the living from the dead? The machine mechanically performs all the movements its maker made it to perform, its movements are not those of life. How can we make the distinction between the living and the dead, then? In the living there is freedom, there is intelligence; in the dead all is bound and no freedom is possible, because there is no intelligence. This freedom that distinguishes us from mere machines is what we are all striving for. To be more free is the goal of all our efforts, for only in perfect freedom can there be perfection. This effort to attain freedom underlies all forms of worship, whether we know it or not.” (CW I-333)
So, remember these two things:
1) You are alone responsible for your situations in life. You are what you are, because your own past actions. Your have full control and responsibility to your future.
2) You are infinitely greater than any object or situation in your life. There is no situation in life that is greater than you. Life is like a road that you walk on. You are above and life is below your feet. Never be overwhelmed by life.
This is what Swami Vivekananda means by “Manifest the divinity within.”
With this goal and strength, march forward in life as a king. Have no pettiness. Don’t live like a beggar. Never give up your dignity. There is a lot of beggarliness that we need to give up.
The root of all beggarliness is “emotional beggarliness”. If someone does not wish me on my birthday, I feel so bad. If I wear a new set of clothes and no one notices it, I feel the world to be rude. I carry my emotional begging bowl around wishing if someone will satisfy me by noticing my clothes. When I help someone, I expect the person to thank me. When I do a work, I expect results. I expect appreciation. If I do not get what I expect, I feel so dejected. I am pressed down by this begging bowl. I start hating life itself. I start hating everyone around. I start thinking how to exploit them. I start thinking how to cheat; how to pull down others. All evil comes because of this beggarliness.
Throw away this begging bowl. You are the pure Consciousness. Give up this weakness. Declare your strength. Swami Vivekananda says, “Strength is life, weakness is death.” (CW II-3) “Ay, let every man and woman and child, without respect of caste or birth, weakness or strength, hear and learn that behind the strong and the weak, behind the high and the low, behind every one, there is that Infinite Soul, assuring the infinite possibility and the infinite capacity of all to become great and good. Let us proclaim to every soul: uttishthata jaagrata praapya varaan nibodhata – Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached. Arise, awake! Awake from this hypnotism of weakness. None is really weak; the soul is infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient. Stand up, assert yourself, proclaim the God within you, do not deny Him! … Teach yourselves, teach every one his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping soul is roused to self-conscious activity.” (CW III-193)
When you see yourself as the Consciousness, you will see everyone as yourself. The difference between one person and another is only in the body and mind. Within everyone is the same spark of divinity. Every living creature is an expression of the spark of self-conscious life. When you start seeing this, there will be no place for anger, jealousy, lust, greed, hatred, etc. You will naturally help everyone as much as you can.
This is what Swami Vivekananda has packed in the crypt motto of the Ramakrishna Math as aatmano mokshaartam jagat hitaaya ca – “For the liberation of the self and welfare of the world”. Working for the welfare of the world purifies the mind towards liberation of the self. Liberation of the self expresses itself as working for the welfare of the world. This is the explanation of the words of Buddha that Swami Vivekananda quotes often – “Be good and do good.” Swami Vivekananda says, “First, let us be Gods, and then help others to be Gods. ’Be and make.’ Let this be our motto. … Manifest the divinity within you, and everything will be harmoniously arranged around it.” (CW IV-351)
Now that we have recapitulated Swami Vivekananda’s message, let us try to address our questions on drudgery.
How to avoid creating drudgery to one self?
Having a purpose in life is very important. The purpose of life is to lead a life of purpose. The purpose can change over a period of time. But, at any point of time, there should be a purpose. This will ensure that when we wake up in the morning, there is a definite set of things to do, about which we will be proud of when we go back to sleep in the night. Swami Vivekananda says, “Everyone can see the sky, even the very worm crawling upon the earth sees the blue sky, but how very far away it is! So it is with our ideal. It is far away, no doubt, but at the same time, we know that we must have it. We must even have the highest ideal. Unfortunately in this life, the vast majority of persons are groping through this dark life without any ideal at all. If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I am sure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand. Therefore, it is better to have an ideal.” (CW II-152)
Each person can have a different purpose in life. One person can have making a lot of money as the purpose. Another person can have going on a tour of the world to see different places as the purpose. Another person can have helping others as the purpose. Like this, different people can have different purposes. When one purpose is reasonably realized or given up because of better understanding, another purpose will take its place. Of course, our purpose should be legal, ethical, noble and useful to us and others. Otherwise, we cannot be proud and happy about it.
Then, we should have self-confidence. Swami Vivekananda says, “We can see that all the difference between man and man is owing to the existence or non-existence of faith in himself. Faith in ourselves will do everything. I have experienced it in my own life, and am still doing so; and as I grow older that faith is becoming stronger and stronger. He is an atheist who does not believe in himself. The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself.” (CW II-301)
As we have discussed before,
1) We are what we make ourselves to be.
2) We are infinitely greater than any situation in life.
Understanding this essential teaching of the Vedanta, which Swami Vivekananda has brought to the door-step of every home, is the best way to gain self-confidence. Swami Vivekananda says, “Let the whole body be full of that one ideal, “I am the birthless, the deathless, the blissful, the omniscient, the omnipotent, ever-glorious Soul.” Think on it day and night; think on it till it becomes part and parcel of your life. Meditate upon it, and out of that will come work. ‘Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh,’ and out of the fullness of the heart the hand worketh also. Action will come. Fill yourselves with the ideal; whatever you do, think well on it. All your actions will be magnified, transformed, deified, by the very power of the thought. If matter is powerful, thought is omnipotent. Bring this thought to bear upon your life, fill yourselves with the thought of your almightiness, your majesty, and your glory.” (CW II-302)
How to avoid drudgery that may be imposed by others on us?
We should understand that our happiness does not depend on external people, objects and situations. We are affected by external factors only to the extent that we allow them to affect us. This is true even about situations in our life.
Swami Vivekananda says, “We must learn that nothing can happen to us, unless we make ourselves susceptible to it. … No disease can come to me until the body is ready; it does not depend alone on the germs, but upon a certain predisposition which is already in the body. … From this very analysis will come a note of hope, and the note of hope is: ‘I have no control of the external world, but that which is in me and nearer unto me, my own world, is in my control. If the two together are required to make a failure, if the two together are necessary to give me a blow, I will not contribute the one which is in my keeping; and how then can the blow come? If I get real control of myself, the blow will never come.’ ” (CW II-7)
If we find something wrong, we should stand up to it. If we are not convinced about what we are asked to do, we should question it. We should never sell our intellect to anyone. Standing by our conviction is very important. And, towards what we are convinced about, we should be ready to move the Sun and Earth.
There are some kinds of works, which are inherently monotonous and boring. We need to give a higher direction to these. Anyone can do an interesting work diligently. But to do a monotonous work diligently needs great skill. We can take it as a challenge to do it diligently. Swami Vivekananda says, “If you really want to judge of the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.” (CW I-29)
Every work will develop some skills in us. Instead of focusing on the external fruit of the work, we can look at what skills the work will develop in us. Even the most boring work has the advantage of developing qualities like patience and diligence in us. This skill of converting work into a means of self development is what Gita calls as Karma Yoga: yogah karmasu kousalam (Gita 2-50) Swami Vivekananda says, “As the outcome of work for the sake of others, the angularities of the mind get smoothed down, and men are gradually prepared for sincere self-sacrifice for the good of others.” (CW VII-111)
It is the Lord who has become this world and all the living beings. So any work done is an offering to the Lord. Swami Vivekananda says, “So work, says the Vedanta, putting God in everything, and knowing Him to be in everything. Work incessantly, holding life as something deified, as God Himself, and knowing that this is all we have to do, this is all we should ask for. God is in everything, where else shall we go to find Him? He is already in every work, in every thought, in every feeling. Thus knowing, we must work.” (CW II-150) When we take upon this attitude no work can be drudgery. It will be a loving offering to God.
How to avoid causing drudgery to others?
As discussed, we should understand that every living being is a spark of the divine. Every one is a thinking and feeling entity. So we should treat everyone as how we would like to be treated. Moreover, what we do will come back to us by the law of nature. So, to avoid our own future drudgery, we should not impose drudgery on others.
Swami Vivekananda says, “Therefore do not hate anybody, because that hatred which comes out from you, must, in the long run, come back to you. If you love, that love will come back to you, completing the circle. It is as certain as can be, that every bit of hatred that goes out of the heart of a man comes back to him in full force, nothing can stop it; similarly every impulse of love comes back to him.” (CW I-195)
Understanding thus, we should adequately compensate work caused by us to others by payment, recognition and gratitude. Also, give them the bigger picture, so that they see the value of what they are doing in a larger perspective.
Thus, by understanding and applying the principles of Vedanta, as taught by Swami Vivekananda, it is possible to lead a life free of drudgery and also try to create a world free of drudgery. Then everyday will be a festival and every moment will be a celebration.
Let us all take up the study of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and understand them to enrich our life and the life of the people who come in touch with us.