Karma Yoga – Our Life

karma yoga

Q: Swamiji, what is your opinion about the importance of work: the humble jobs verses the more glamorous jobs; how do we feel the same inspiration no matter what we’re doing?

A: If we are on the spiritual path, I’m not talking about worldly work, (which of course, you have to just let people have their head on that) but if
you’re talking of the spiritual path, then the purpose of the spiritual path is simply one, from the human point of view: to get rid of the ego. And therefore, humble work is just the same as important work. There is no important work. I used, when I was lecturing in church, to feel slightly envious of those people who were at Mt. Washington not lecturing. I felt it was my bad karma to have to be a lecturer because I couldn’t meditate. It’s all relative. But the point is that humble work is the wonderful opportunity to really say that my ego does not matter, and what I do does not matter, as long as it’s for God. God is just as pleased if you clean the toilet well, as if you write a book. He doesn’t care what you do; he cares about the spirit with which you do it. I know that I used to say to Daya Mata, “you can have me just cleaning toilets if you like, but I’ll tell you one thing- if I do clean toilets, everybody will soon see it as the most important job at Mt. Washington.” Because I was so enthusiastic by nature, that anything I did, I did with full energy. But we should do as good a job as we possibly can, just to please God. And it isn’t the job that pleases God, it’s our energy to serve him.

karmaQ: Swami, what happens if there is a job assigned to us that we feel repulsive towards?

A: That’s the best opportunity we can have. Then we have something to overcome. If you only do jobs that you like anyway, what kind of a service is it? But to do that which you don’t like…  Master gave me the job of working as a carpenter on building India Center in Hollywood. And I am not a carpenter. I would hit a nail ten times, missing it nine times- the tenth time the nail would bend. And this pall of despair would come over me. But it was a good training. And we have to accept that God will give us things for which we’re adept in time, but it’s a very good training to do what we even don’t like to do, and like it for the sake of God.

Q: But is it important to actually seek out things that we don’t like?

A: No, I don’t say that. I say do what is useful. I mean in the worldly sense certain work is more useful than others for sure.  I write books; it would be silly for me to say I don’t want to do it because I enjoy it. And in fact it’s very hard work. And I never let anybody touch my work with an editorial pen, but I may go over it sometimes 50 times. It’s hard work, but at least it’s work for which I feel competent. And if you gave me the job of being a carpenter, I would fumble it, and I would not be a great help to anybody, and it might be good for me, but I think that when I finally didn’t have to do that work anymore, I was relieved.

Q: So Swamiji, what inner dialogue should we have when we’re forced to, or asked to, clean the toilet, or do something that’s physically repulsive?

A: Do it mentally for God. Say, “God, I am doing this for you.” Don’t think of God in the third person, think of him in in the second person: “I am doing this for you. Every move that I make is for you.” And you’ll find that everything becomes blissful then.

Q: And that’s probably how  St. Theresa, Mother Theresa, could wash the bodies of the lepers, because she was feeling it was Christ’s body.

A: Yes, of course.

Q: So Swamiji, how do we keep that inspiration strong, how do we come up with that energy in ourselves?

A: Well, the whole thing bases itself on devotion. We have to have devotion for God. And everything that we do should be an act of devotion. Devotion can be of various kinds. A person can be devoted to wisdom, for example. But in the meaning of devotion as I am talking about, is the heart’s natural love. We should develop that heart’s natural love. And this energy should flow upward, toward God. So in your work, if you work with the right spirit, God will give you what you should do at the right time. But anything that he gives you, accept it as coming from Him. And you’ll find that that energy will continue to flow, whereas if you say, “no, I don’t like,” … we’ve got to get rid of our likes and dislikes! We can’t be yogis otherwise. We have to become impartial. So that you realize that what you are doing is not the important thing. It’s what you feel inwardly. You see a beautiful sunset: a turtle could see the sunset and perhaps wonder if it was something to eat. You enjoy the sunset, not in the beauty but in your reaction to it. So we have to realize that our likes and dislikes, our attachments, our desires- all these things, if we’re sincere about our spiritual path, we have to cancel them out and see it only as a part of our search for God.

Q: Swami, did you struggle with likes and dislikes in the first part of your time on the path?

A: I don’t remember that I did. I just was eager to serve God in any way that Master told me to. He gave me certain work to do, and I admit that when he got me into editing and office work it was more compatible with me, but I was happy to do anything that he gave me. He had told me  to give him my unconditional obedience, and when I challenged him on it, he said, “I will never ask anything of you that God himself does not ask.” So from then on I just accepted it as God’s will. There was one time when I had a little trouble with it. Because he had wanted me to overcome intellectuality- I was much too intellectual. He had wanted me to develop devotion. And I was working hard on developing devotion, so I was happy to work in the garden, although it was not my nature. I was happy to do this carpentry work for which I was not at all qualified. I was happy to do cleaning work; whatever they gave me. But I really became upset with him when he asked me to start editing something. I thought, “that’s bringing me back into the intellect.” But I accepted it as God’s will. In fact I challenged him on it. All he answered was, “living for God is martyrdom.” That wasn’t much of an answer for me. But I accepted it. And I realized in time that it was the right advice. You don’t need to kill your intellect in order to develop your devotion. He wanted me to develop both. And because I do have a good intellect, he wanted me to develop that. And I had misunderstood him on that point. At first I thought he wanted me just to become a simpleton. But that wasn’t his desire.

Q: Swamiji, it seems a great survival tool to be able to just see everything as God’s will. Is that true?

A: Well, I think that when somebody is murdering somebody- that is not God’s will. Except in the most cosmic sense possible.

Q: No, I mean for our own self- the jobs that come to us, the situations, the circumstances…

A: Well, I think that we have to use discrimination too. If some superior in a monastery told me to plant a plant upside-down, I would challenge that. I do not believe in that kind of monastic obedience that offends against your own sense of discrimination. And much of monastic obedience really weakens the will power. We need a strong will to find God. To just say, “Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir,”- that doesn’t get you anywhere. So no, I don’t agree with you. It should be God’s will that helps to strengthen us, too. But if this is to be done, then go out and do it.

Q: I guess the question then, is how do we know?

A: How do you know. Well, first of all- is it a job that needs to be done? If it needs to be done and there’s nobody to do it, then you do it. Is it a job that gives happiness inwardly? Then it’s more likely to be God’s will, than if it’s something that makes you unhappy by hurting people for example. That can’t be God’s will. You’ve got to use discrimination. If you don’t know, then take the best will that you can understand as His will, and go in that direction, but don’t go to the horizon, just keep asking. He may tell you at the next corner to not go north any more but go west, and so then you turn. So always keep your mind uplifted and ask for His advice.

Q: That really seems as though the energy has to be high.

A: You can’t serve God without energy. There’s  got to be energy and enthusiasm in everything that you do. You’ve got to enjoy the spiritual path. And, don’t do anything without joy. If it’s just cleaning glasses, then do that with joy. That’s why I said to Daya Mata, if you give me the job of cleaning toilets, people before long are going to think that’s  the most important and desirable job at Mt. Washington. Because whatever I did, I did with enthusiasm. It’s not only my nature, it’s what I believe should be my nature. Everything you do should be done with the thought that God is joy, and everything I do, I want to do with joy. God is every-new bliss. Ever-conscious, ever-existing, ever-new bliss. And we should constantly be expressing Him. I think that creativity on the spiritual path- many monastics will try to kill your creativity- I don’t think that’s right. I think that we should express God, and express Him creatively in everything that we do. We should look for ways to serve Him better; we should look for ways to improve on what we’re doing. So that no matter what it is, you can do your job better: you can do it with more joy, you can serve more people, do it more efficiently. All these things God asks of you.

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