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Life And Health

Essentials For Effectivity
By Prabuddha Bharata, September 2004

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Copyright Prabuddha Bharata

No one likes to work for nothing. Even a dunce does not work without a purpose, says a well-known Sanskrit adage. Yet, there are as many different ways of doing work, as there are people. Irrespective of how we work, all of us would certainly like our endeavors to be effective and successful. Is there a recipe for affectivity? Yes, says the Chandogya Upanishad. Its first chapter tells us what contributes to effectivity: ‘Yadeva vidyaya karoti sraddhayopanisada tadeva viryavattaram bhavati; Whatever is performed with knowledge, shraddha and meditation becomes more effective.’ The word viryavattaram literally means ‘more strengthening’. It is also taken to mean ‘effective’ or ‘more powerful in bearing fruit’. Effectivity has two dimensions external and internal. ‘External’ refers to the effective accomplishment of the work to one’s satisfaction. ‘Internal’ refers to the work’s long-term influence on the individual’s inner growth. Knowledge, shraddha and meditation-we discuss these factors one by one.

                                                           A. Doing Work with Knowledge
According to the Tamil classic Tirukkural, one should Think well before taking up any work. To start thinking after beginning the work is disgraceful. A sound knowledge of the nature of work, technical expertise, tools required and so on-obviously, all this is needed to be considered before embarking on any venture. But is there anything more? Yes, according to the Bhagavadgita there are certain important things we need to know before taking up any work. There are both objective (external) and subjective (internal) factors. First, the objective; these are discussed in the Gita, 18.25.

1. Consequence    -    Every work leaves its pleasant and unpleasant effects on people - one who does the work as also those affected by the work. ‘No work is free from blemish, even as fire is covered by smoke,’ says Sri Krishna, and advises Arjuna not to shun work just because it is associated with defects. For work to be effective, one needs to consider all possible consequences of work and choose that option which will mean maximum good to the maximum number of people.

2. Expenditure of Power and Wealth    -    Cost of human resources, fixed and running costs of systems need to be studied beforehand in order to be free from surprises and shocks later. Of course, we have cost escalation during project execution due to incompetence, inefficiency and other factors, but that doesn’t concern us here.

3. Injury    -    Any possible violence to people or animals resulting from work needs to be anticipated earlier.

4. Human Resources        -    This is perhaps the most important factor influencing effectivity. Having incompetent people at the helm of an organization is a sure recipe for ineffective work. The inefficiency and incompetence at the top effortlessly percolate down the line. Even otherwise, competent people too reach their level of incompetence sooner or later, following the Peter Principle: ‘In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.’ A sound knowledge of who is suitable for what and periodic quality audits of human resources can greatly contribute to the effectivity of an organization.

So we have seen some of the objective factors, knowledge of which can make-work effective. Now for the subjective factors; these are discussed in the Gita, 18.30.

5. What to Take up, What to Leave Alone

True assessment of one’s abilities: A dispassionate knowledge of our strength and limitations helps us maintain sobriety and ensure that we don’t live in a fool’s paradise. Embarking on a venture without adequate competence is a compelling invitation to inefficiency, ineffectiveness and frustration. Says Swami Vivekananda:

“There is, however, one great danger in human nature, viz. that man never examines himself. He thinks he is quite as fit to be on the throne as the king. Even if he is, he must first show that he has done the duty of his own position; and then higher duties will come to him. When we begin to work earnestly in the world, nature gives us blows right and left and soon enables us to find out our position. No man can long occupy satisfactorily a position for which he is not fit”. (Emphasis added)

Taking care of the means: Cutting corners or adopting unethical means might help further the end sometimes, but the negative samskaras (mental impressions) arising from the questionable means can cripple an individual’s character. It is good to keep in mind Swamiji’s golden pronouncement: ‘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 our attempts to change others when we reflect on how difficult it is to change ourselves. In trying to effect to external change, it is good to remember the 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.’

6. What to Fear, What Not to Fear    -    ‘Fear arises from duality,’ says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. True fearlessness is concomitant with God-realization, since in that state of Oneness, there is no second object to fear. Till we reach that blessed stage of realization it is profitable to cultivate some healthy fears. These fears have been discussed in ‘From Fear to Fearlessness’, editorial for April 2004.

7. What Is Bondage, What Is Freedom    -    Work binds when selfishness is the motive behind. According to Vedanta, the Atman is the eternal, blissful and infinite core of our personality. It is again the source of real Knowledge and everlasting Bliss. Ignorance (avidya) of our real nature makes us look for happiness and fulfillment in the world. So we desire (kama) sense objects. Desire drives us to action (karma) for its fulfillment. Work done with desire steeps us more in ignorance, and the vicious cycle of avidya-kama-karma ensures continuity of the ‘misery-go-round’ of birth and death.

While desire-prompted work forges more links in the chain that binds us to the world, selfless work, done without anxiety about its result (if the means are taken care of, the end must come), purifies the mind, strengthens the will and triggers our progress on the path to freedom.

7. The Effect of Samskaras on Character    -    Samskaras are closely related to our discussion on bondage and freedom. The first chapter of Swamiji’s illuminating lectures on karma yoga discusses this important topic. We recapitulate the salient points. Every action and thought is registered on our mind as a subtle impression (samskara). These impressions have a built-in property: they goad us on to repeat the action or thought. Each repetition strengthens and deepens the impression. The algebraic sum of these good and bad impressions, accumulated over years, nay, births, is what is meant by character. If the sum is positive, we have good character and if negative, bad. This sum total determines our reaction 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, good samskaras make us act good in spite of ourselves. So freedom implies becoming free from the hold of good impressions too. Augmenting good impressions can ‘drive’ our life on the path of good. The first step in strengthening our character is, thus, the cultivation of good thoughts and performance of good deeds.

Anything done consciously for long becomes a habit, thanks to the samskaras. Work done in a slipshod way or with questionable means also leaves its impression on the mind. The work may be accomplished all right, but the cumulative impressions resulting from how we work and the means we adopt will strengthen our bondage and slavery to the mind. We can appreciate how powerful these impressions are only when we attempt to turn a new leaf, try to live a moral life. The mental resistance offered by the bad impressions will be enough to unnerve us and make us retract from our resolves at self-transformation.

Vedanta, however, offers hope to every one and condemns none. Only more bad impressions will means greater struggle. Everyone can turn a new leaf provided he is prepared to pay the price and struggle unremittingly. There is also an inspiring assurance from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi that japa, or repetition of God’s name, can minimize the intensity of karma.
                                                                       B. Doing Work with Shraddha

Usually translated as faith for want of a better word, shraddha signifies a special mindset. It is a self-propelling force in us that keeps us riveted to the task in hand till its completion. Swamiji gives an example to clarify the point: What will be the mindset of a thief adjacent to whose room is a room full of gold? He will keep thinking about how to break the separating wall and acquire the gold. He will not rest till he accomplishes the task. The force that eggs him on despite obstacles is what is called shraddha. Some impressions too. Augmenting good impressions can ‘drive’ our life on the path of good. The first step in strengthening our character is, Thus, the cultivation of good thoughts and performance of good deeds.

Anything done consciously for long becomes a habit, thanks to the samskaras. Work done in a slipshod way or with questionable means also leaves its impression on the mind. The work may be accomplished all right, but the cumulative impressions resulting from how we work and the means we adopt will strengthen our bondage and slavery to the mind. We can appreciate how powerful these impressions are only when we attempt to turn a new leaf, try to live a moral life. The mental resistance offered by the bad impressions will be enough to unnerve us and make us retract from our resolves at self-transformation.

Vedanta, however, offers hope to every one and condemns none. Only more bad impressions will mean greater struggle. Everyone can turn a new leaf provided he is prepared to pay the price and struggle unremittingly. There is also an inspiring assurance from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi that japa, or repetition of God’s name, can minimize the intensity of karma.

1. Implications of Shraddha    -    First, a man endowed with shraddha has an ideal, which goads him on to action till attainment and endows him with the strength to overcome all obstacles in the way. The ideal of human life is Self-realization. Swamiji begins his lectures on karma yoga by saying, ‘The goal of mankind is knowledge. That is the one ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy. Pleasure not the goal of man, but knowledge’ (emphasis added). Second a man with shraddha will not need supervision for the work. Third, quality. He will set his own lofty standard for work and will strain every nerve to accomplish it. Fourth accountability. Such a worker is more accountable to his higher Self. His accountability to the organization is a matter of course. Fifth, enthusiasm. A worker endowed with shraddha does not let mental restless influence the quality of his work. He is endowed with fortitude and enthusiasm, two important traits of a sattvic worker outlined in the Gita.

2. Faith in the Atman    -    Swamiji never tired of exhorting people to have shraddha, burning faith in themselves, in their real, divine nature: ‘The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves. That faith calls out the divinity within. You can do anything. You fail only when you do not strive sufficiently to manifest infinite power’.
                                                           C. Doing Work with Meditation

1. Working with an Awakened Buddhi    -    Meditation during work refers to a mindset that helps us detach ourselves from the body and mind and remember our real nature (Atman) or, what amounts to the same, God, who dwells in the heart of all beings. For a beginner this amounts to refusing to identify with the body and the untrained mind, and trying to be a witness to his mental gyrations without getting affected by them. Practice enables one to become more alert and identify oneself with buddhi, the discriminative faculty. Incidentally, selfless work as a spiritual discipline is expected to result in this identification with buddhi, a step fundamental to any fruitful spiritual endeavor. We don’t work mechanically anymore, but with an awakened buddhi watching the movements of the mind and bringing it back to the task in hand every time it strays, following the Gita dictum. ‘Whenever the unsteady and restless mind strays, rein it in and bring it back to dwell on the Atman’.

Doing work with an alert mind is what Swamiji advocates in his prescription for inner transformation through work: ‘When you are doing any work do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship and devote your whole life to it for the time being.

2. Need for Practice    -    Such a meditative awareness during work needs preparation and practice. When Arjuna asked Sri Krishna how to control the wayward mind, the Lord replied that it was possible through practice and detachment - detachment from anything that is inimical to the attainment of one’s goal. When someone remarked that it was extremely difficult to proceed towards God while leading the life of a householder, Sri Ramakrishna taught with a beautiful example how with practice one can work in the world with a major part of the mind fixed on God.

‘What about the yoga of practice? At Kamarpukur I have seen the women of the carpenter families selling flattened rice. Let me tell you how alert they are while doing their business. The pestle of the husking machine that flattens the paddy constantly falls into the hole of the mortar. The woman turns the paddy in the hole with one hand and with the other holds her baby on her lap as she nurses it. In the mean time customers arrive. The machine goes on pounding the paddy and she carries on her bargains with the customers. She says to them, ‘Pay the few pennies you owe me before you take anything more. You see, have all these things to do at the same time nurse the baby turn the paddy as the pestle pounds it, take the flattened rice out of the hole, and talk to the buyers. This is called the yoga of practice. Fifteen parts of her mind out of sixteen are fixed on the pestle of the husking machine, lest it should pound her hand. With only one part of her mind she nurses the baby and talks to the buyers. Likewise, he who leads the life of a householder should devote fifteen parts of his mind to God; otherwise he will face ruin and fall into the clutches of Death. He should perform the duties of the world with only one part of his mind’.

3. Regular Prayer and Meditation amid Work    -    Regularity in spiritual practices amid work is a great help in cultivating meditative awareness. Holy Mother underlined its importance with an example:

‘No doubt you must do your duties. This keeps your mind in good condition. But it is also necessary to practise japa, meditation, and prayer. One must practise these at least in the morning and evening. Such practice acts like the rudder of a boat. When a man sits in the evening for prayer, he can reflect on the good and bad things he has done in the course of the day. Then he should compare his present mental state with that of the previous day. Unless you practise meditation morning and evening, along with your work how can you know whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong?’

Swamiji has a name for work done with an alert mind: ‘self-conscious activity’. What are the benefits of such an activity? Over to Swamiji: ‘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.

In order that work becomes effective, three important things need to be factored into it. Knowledge, shraddha and meditation. Besides making work effective these factors convert work into a spiritual discipline effecting inner transformation.

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