Chapter 11: Universal Action and Duty Towards Others
Visitor: I have a question about your book The Problems of Spiritual Life, about Hitler's action if it was his action or not his action. You said:
"Ultimately it was not Hitler's action but yet he felt it was his, and so he paid for it. It is your feeling that binds you or frees you. It is not the action that you do that is important. Your feeling that is connected with that action is important, your feeling that you are doing it. When you feel that you are doing it, you are responsible for it. Your consciousness is your bondage; your action is not the point."
I don't understand when you say that your action is not the point.
Swamiji: The whole universe is acting perpetually for the purpose of the evolution of the lower categories into the higher ones. Actually, there is only one action taking place in the universe. This is why some people say that God is doing everything. The idea behind it is something like the action that the physical body does. For example, whether you lift your hand, walk with your feet, see with your eyes, eat with your mouth, digest with your stomach, whatever be the diversity of these actions, you will agree that it is one action being done by the whole body. In a similar manner, the universe, being a large organism (sometimes in religion they call it the body of God), all these diversities of action which differ one from the other are actions of the central force which is the will of God or the Centre of the cosmos.
There are not many actions taking place in the universe; only one action is taking place, regardless of who is appearing to do it. The problem is that each individual part imagines that it is doing it. It is something like the legs not agreeing with the eyes. You can imagine that they can assert and not give any credit for the cooperation received from the other limbs. Each one could say that it is independent.
The different limbs of the body do not quarrel among themselves. Each one performs its function, one totally different from the other, yet it is a total action of the body. In the same way, it is a total action of the Universal Centre that is operating the cosmos. But the parts of the cosmos, which are like limbs of the body of the Universal Whole, due to the egoism of their nature, appropriate everything to themselves: "I am doing it." This is a dangerous thing, because the doing by the "I" – individually is always motivated by selfish ends for the pleasure of the body, ego, feelings and emotions, and then that action becomes either good or bad. If it is done only for the pleasure of the individual outlook, irrespective of what consideration it has on other people, it becomes a destructive activity. But the same person can do a good action also by taking into account the welfare of other people, all things.
There are people in this world who do bad actions and good actions. Really, neither good actions nor bad actions exist in themselves. These are names that we give by segregating different aspects of nature, like saying that seeing is better than walking.
From the spiritual point of view, real action is not anybody's action. It is one action that is taking place, and anything that you do is supposed to be thus offered to the Almighty. But be careful to see that you don't do it with feeling of egoism or any selfish motive. That is the commentary on this little recipe.
Visitor: So, the answer is from the spiritual view, but then in daily life there is this problem...
Swamiji: In daily life always we make the mistake of appropriating action to ourselves, and if you are a little sattvik in your nature, you may be doing it for the welfare of people; but if you are rajasik or tamasik, you may do it only for your pleasure. Then it becomes destructive. There are only two kinds of activity in this world: – constructive or destructive. In daily life, this is the drama of action. Individuals do either constructive work or destructive work, but really it is a transcendent action taking place, if you see it from a wider point of view.
Visitor A: What is the responsibility of a seeker towards others – the relationship between the responsibility of the individuals towards his or her own growth, and the responsibility towards other people?
Swamiji: What is the conflict? You have a duty to everybody. I cannot see any conflict. You have a duty to family members, the nation, society, God, your Guru. Now, in what way are they self-contradictory? They are only different forms of your obligation which you call duty, but they cannot be regarded as contradicting themselves.
Visitor A: But all these duties take time.
Swamiji: Let them take time. What is the objection?
Visitor A: But the amount of time that you devote to one as against the other...
Swamiji: No, you can do all of them, if you are wise enough. You can harmonise all these duties in a systematised manner, and you will find time. It is not true that you have no time. You have enough time; the only thing is that you have to organise these duties in a proper manner. It is not possible to have a duty and then have no time to do it; that is not possible. It ceases to be a duty if there is no time for it. If you consider it as a duty you have time for it. You will find time; otherwise, it is not a duty.
Visitor A: At the beginning, when one starts, does one start by working on oneself (focusing down on oneself, increasing self-awareness), in the hope that spiritual growth will take place, or does one serve others at the same time?
Swamiji: Yes, do it. What is the problem now? Self-help is the first help. Why do you consider it as a problem? Unless you are alive, you cannot make others alive. You must be alive first. So what is the difficulty? You see that you are safe first; if you are not safe, how will you make others safe? So, you are right. Take care of yourself, and then you gain strength enough to take care of other people. If you yourself are not there, then what is your problem? Understanding oneself is primary. Duty towards others is secondary; it comes afterwards.
Visitor A: May I give an example of what I was thinking? We all want a peaceful world; we all want inner peace, but we see a separation between the two.
Swamiji: It is not necessary that there should be any such conflict between outer peace and inner peace. You have to strike a harmony between these two, also. If you want to live in human society, you have to be in harmony with human society. If you say that you cannot be in harmony with human society for reasons of your own, then you should not live in human society. Isolate yourself from society completely, if it is true that you cannot get along with human society. But be sure that it is so. Don't come to hasty conclusions.
Is it possible for a person to live in the world dissociating oneself totally from human society? If you say it is possible, your problem is solved. But if you say that it is not possible – that you have to gain sustenance of some kind from human society, that your life is social, not merely personal and individual, then it is your duty to make the sacrifice necessary for the purpose of your living in society.
You cannot have everything that you want. A little bit of sacrifice also is called for. If society needs something from you, you have to give it, as a sacrifice. Society also will make a sacrifice for your sustenance.
The government protects you, but also takes a tax from you. You cannot say that you will not pay any tax, but still the government should take care of you. There is a mutual collaboration between government and individual, society and the person, etc. I don't think any conflict is there, and it is necessary for you to strike a harmony between the two, the inner and the outer, the personality and the human society.
Visitor B: Swamiji, I feel that taking care of my family pulls me away from my sadhana.
Swamiji: You cannot call a duty as a problem. You should not complain against your duty. Don't you want to take care of your family? Who asked you to marry, and then complain afterwards? You deliberately enter into marriage, and afterwards say that a problem has come. You should not complain like that.
When you have done something, the consequence also is yours. You cannot have only fifty percent of it, and except the other fifty percent to go to somebody else. You have married with a specific rationality behind it. You have done it with a good purpose; what that purpose is, you know very well. When the consequence follows from that, you must take care of it also. How can you consider the family as a bondage?
Everything is a part of sadhana. Your walking, sitting, talking, any necessary unavoidable thing cannot be regarded as outside sadhana. If it is an unnecessary thing, you need not do it, and it is up to you to find out which things are necessary. You must use your reason there.
Free yourself from doing unnecessary things. You waste your time on things which are not connected with you. Keep yourself free from them. But if it is unavoidable, why do you complain? The word "unavoidable" explains the whole situation, and you should not say anything further afterwards. You must bear it without complaint. Bearing it with complaint is no good. You must bear it without complaint; only then it becomes sadhana. If you curse and cry and then bear it, then it is not sadhana.
You should bear the troubles of life without complaining. If you ask for a thing, that is your responsibility. Suppose you are employed in some office and have to do hard work. It is not a very pleasant thing to go on doing hard work in an office for eight or ten hours. But you find out whether it is necessary to do that work or not. If you don't do it, what happens? You may be in a worse condition. So you stop your complaints; you do the work.
If you say that it is not necessary, then, you can give it up. It is up to you. Nobody forced you to go into the office and work, but you want to do it because you know the beneficial consequences are there, also. Pain and pleasure are mixed together in life. Even to eat a meal, have your lunch, somebody has to work hard in the field, plow the earth and grow the crop, thrash the husk, grind it, cook it. It is also a painful thing. So much work you have to do for a little meal. Now, is sweating and toiling in a field an unnecessary activity? Nobody likes to do such a painful thing, but if it is not done, food will not go into the mouth.
You cannot have only one side of the matter, so don't complain. Bear life for what it is. Even if you complain, who will listen to you? What is the use of complaining? It is called crying in the wilderness. It is no use, so don't waste your time in unnecessarily saying things.
Visitor C: Swamiji, I want to do some service in the hospital. Is it beneficial for my sadhana?
Swamiji: Now you are alive. Suppose you, yourself, are not alive, then who will serve? If you destroy yourself by illness, then who will do the service? You serve yourself first so that you may be alive, at least. If you don't exist, then who will do the service? The person must exist first. Suppose one defeats the very purpose of one's existence, then who will serve? Service is necessary, but the person who serves must be existing, and he will not exist if he engages himself in self-destructive activities.
Visitor C: What do you mean by self-destructive?
Swamiji: Anything that ruins bodily health, disturbs the mind, and obstructs aspiration for God. These three things are the self-ruining things. That which obstructs the realisation of God, that which disturbs the mind, and that which spoils the health of the body – these three things must be avoided. Otherwise, suppose there is bodily ill health, then you will be in the hospital, and who will do the service?
The body, mind and soul should be intact first; then you can go ahead with service. But if that is not assured, then it is dangerous. Somebody else has to serve you afterwards, instead of your serving others. The boot is then on the other leg.
Visitor C: But sometimes when you serve others, you are also doing good to yourself.
Swamiji: It will not be good to yourself, unless you know the reason why you are doing service. You may be doing it for some selfish motive, or some egoistic satisfaction like name or fame. These are all important matters. Why are you doing service? Some subtle motive may be there inside. If the motive is not unselfish, service will not bring any benefit. Politicians also are doing a lot of good service, while they are doing it for their subtle benefit. It is not easy to do service with no motive whatsoever.
If you expect something in return, that is selfish action. Let anyone analyse this matter. Is this work done with the expectation of return of some kind, or do you expect nothing? If you expect nothing – wonderful; go ahead, but you should not expect even thanks. If you think that you have done so much and people should thank you, then it is no good. Why should anybody thank you? You have done your duty. They may not thank you, they may even insult you after you do service. You may receive a stone instead of thanks.
Visitor C: Swamiji, it is very difficult.
Swamiji: Then you must bear it. People who did a lot of service to humanity were killed by the very people who received the service.
Visitor C: How can you bear it?
Swamiji: It depends upon your motive. Who asked you to do the service? Do you want a stone on your head in return for the service that you did? If you are prepared for that, do it. Or do you want something else worse than that? There are people who did a lot of social service, and got a bullet in their head in return. Why did it happen? How is it that people who receive service react in such a negative manner to the person who did service? What is the reason? Each one should find this out. There is some irregularity in the handling of things. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as Shakespeare says. Some little trouble thing is there. One little sand particle in the eye is sufficient to cause irritation.
The particle will look like a mountain sitting. You will be worrying the whole day because one little dust particle is sitting in the eye. Likewise is karma yoga. A little small dot of irregularity will spoil the entire structure, and it will collapse.
Visitor C: So we must perfect ourselves first?
Swamiji: Your motive should be clear. And also, you must know if the people whom you serve are deserving your help.
Visitor C: Everybody is deserving.
Swamiji: No, that is why they thrust a bullet in return. When you handle a lion, you don't go and put your hand into its mouth. There is a way of handling it. Each thing must be handled in the proper manner. Some people go to excesses, extremes, and they lose their lives. Each thing has to be handled in the proper manner. If there is a snake caught in a wildfire, you may like to save it. Will you go and touch it with hand, or will you handle it in a different way? It can also strike you for the service you have done. Each thing has to be handled in the manner necessary, with care.