As our mind expands and we grow in our understanding of the world, we observe the artificial social structure that is based on material accomplishments.
As our mind expands and we grow in our understanding of the world, we observe the artificial social structure that is based on material accomplishments. On the basis of this observation, we conclude that what we are is of little consequence to the world except in what we possess.
And so with a song in our heart and spring in our step, we forge ahead to chase this grandeur of material success that the world constantly validates. We set out to be the kings of our world and enjoy the intoxicating taste of success. In the great Indian epic Mahabharata, Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince, points out that there are three ways one can become King — be born one, become a hero or lead an army.
Hence, given the fact that we human beings view each other in relation to our place in the world, we look to our dormant potential to turn us into a hero. However, the success we strive for comes to us only when we try to realize our potential for the sake of excellence, not as a means to an end. When we exploit our potential as a means to seek validation from the world, success eludes us. This is because when we are consumed by our self-image and use our potential solely to enhance our ego, it interferes with our performance. We get distracted by inter-personal comparisons and worry about measuring upto people’s expectations.
Success cannot be chased; it happens to us. It happens to those who find joy and meaning in drawing out their potential as a means to liberate themselves. When our potential is not a source of ambition, but a source of nourishment to our being, then the outcome of such an expression is peerless.
The Indian epic Ramayana for instance was written by a bandit turned poet named Valmiki. He was so taken by Ram’s and Sita’s story that he decided to compose it in verse. He was filled with a sense of self-importance, because he had a great story to tell and it would be known as Valmiki’s Ramayana. For him, whenever people read the Ramayana, his name would also be mentioned, making him immortal through his work.
However, when the sage Narada heard his Ramayana, he told Valmiki without mincing his words that Hanuman’s (Ram’s devotee) Ramayana was better. On hearing this, an offended Valmiki set out to read Hanuman’s composition. Sadly, he admitted it was far better than his. When Hanuman saw Valmiki weeping, he immediately tore up his Ramayana. Aghast, Valmiki asked “Why?” Hanuman told him that he had written his Ramayana to remember Ram, whereas Valmiki had written his so that the world remembers him. Valmiki knew then why Hanuman’s Ramayana sounded so much better.
Hanuman may have torn his Ramayana, but it is out of such dedication, when the person is completely submerged in his work, what in Dhyana Buddhism is known as “self-forgetting” and the Japanese call “Zen,” a state where the doer and his deed become one, that timeless pieces of art and life-changing works of science emerge. And such selfless dedication to cause is what humanity thrives on.
Any expression of potential (work) that is born out of the need for self-validation reeks of ego; it’s more of an expression of individual vanity. But a work that is expressed out of solidarity for humanity, when we operate not out of our ego-self, but as a part of an organic whole, is truly classic.
Such an expression is not time bound, it is perfection bound, hence the doer is neither impatient nor restless. It is based on perseverance, hard work and sincerity. There are no shortcuts to success. Any endeavor that we take up requires tremendous self-discipline and dedication.
However, there’s no denying that luck also plays a key role in the success we taste in life. And yet, what is luck except our karmic credit, a credit we build with our sincerity. As long as we are centered in realizing our potential, sooner or later,our hard work and sincerity is bound to reap rewards.
Impatience to succeed makes us resort to shortcuts. When we turn to unfair means or give up our cause out of dejection or by allowing rejections to demotivate us, our karmas are driven by our ego.
And when our karmas are driven by our ego, the focus is always on the outcome. In a famous episode in the epic Mahabharata when a dejected Arjuna refuses to fight what is rightly called a dharma yudha (a just war), Krishna prods him to focus on his duty rather than the outcome of the war.
By thinking of the consequence of war, Arjun is allowing his sentiments to overtake his sense of duty. Krishna sees emotions as a sign of weakness as they distract one from doing justice to the task at hand. He tells Arjun, “Be intent on the action, not on the fruits of action.” This moral insight is famously called Nishkamakarma Yoga or Nishphal Kama — an action performed without thinking of its fruit or, an action performed without desire.
However, Krishna warns that the detachment is meant for the fruit of our action, not the action itself. For people who read the philosophy of Nishkamakarma Yoga as an excuse to renounce action itself, Krishna advises, “Perform necessary action, it is more powerful than inaction; without action you even fail to sustain your own body.”
He adds, “Perform actions firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success — this equanimity is called Yoga.”
According to the Bhagwad Gita, actions performed with equanimity lead to greater skills in performing the action.
As humans we have an impressive capacity for thinking and imagining. This capacity allows us to shape our world and is linked to cosmic energy. When we align our actions with this cosmic energy we become instruments of that ultimate principle of the universe — the Brahman.
It is only when we see oursel instruments expressing our inherent potential that we are able to overcome obstacles and rejections. In the Gita, Krishna says, “Be just my instrument”and therein lies the key to success.
As instruments of the divine, will we become mere witnesses to the unfoldment of our potential. And it is here that the world comes to us. But the applause of the world fades in comparison to the joy we derive in being completely immersed in the unfoldment of our divine potential.
Such is the story of success, beyond the verdict and validation of the world.