REFLECTIONS ON LIFE AND EDUCATION - "SPIRITUALITY AT WORK"
While we may have progressed significantly from primordial times with regard to our understanding of nature, thereby losing much of our fear of survival, we have remained enmeshed in the ego-centred entrapment of nature (Prakriti). Fear of physical survival has been replaced by fear of egosurvival. The aim of the Gita is precisely to bridge the gulf between the separate ego-centred self and the One Divine Source of all existence, between man and God.
Spirituality may not be a popular word in today's technological world. It is considered 'unscientific' and often viewed with suspicion and scepticism. Whether we are spiritually inclined or not, we all basically seem to want to be happy and successful, be inspired and find fulfilment in our lives. That indeed is the very objective of Spirituality at Work, properly understood and lived.
Sadly, the harsh reality is that we are rarely able to find and sustain such fulfilment at work and in our relationships. Stephen Covey summarises this human condition in modern times in his book, The 8th Habit, based on decades of research conducted worldwide: 'Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organisations they work for. They are neither fulfilled nor excited. They are frustrated. They are not clear about where the organisation is headed or what its highest priorities are. They are bogged down and distracted. Most of all, they don't feel they can change much.'
Clearly, in order to live life whole-heartedly, and to enjoy what we do, we need to be motivated by some inner inspiration or meaningful purpose in life. Mostly, we are driven by shortterm goals, but the motivation is extrinsic, and the promise of enduring fulfilment does not come to us. We need to have clarity on the very purpose of our lives, our dharma, on who we are and why we are here. We need spirituality.
Spirit is what keeps us inspired - a word that in fact is derived from spirit! We need daily inspiration to keep us motivated and to sustain our enthusiasm. We also need to develop the unique skills and potentials that lie latent in us, and put these into creative use for a higher purpose. We need to individuate and self-actualise, so that the unique potential given to each one of us is authentically realised - which means not just being part of the herd, or caught in some rat race. In the process of growing self-awareness, we will naturally discover the need of our higher nature to unify with the universe around us. This is the kind of spirituality explored in this book. Our inner transformation gets increasingly reflected in outer expressions of light, love, joy, beauty and creativity in all our work and our relationships.
The Bhagavad Gita is a resource that gives inspiring guidance to us on all the above issues. The yoga of the Gita reflects a profound spirituality, not only aiming at ego-transcendence and unification (called Self-realisation), but also authentic individuation and excellence in performance at work. The integrated practice of spirituality through work (karma), knowledge (jnana) and devotion (bhakti) - referred to as Integral Karmayoga in this book - is the way recommended in the Gita. The Gita does not support the view that spiritual salvation implies abdication of responsibilities in life or doing just the minimal work needed for sustenance, and that too half-heartedly, not seeing any higher purpose in creation. It is not renunciation of work and life that the Gita advocates, but the higher renunciation of egocentred desire and attachment to the fruits of action. Unfortunately, this fundamental message of the Gita seems to have got lost in the very country of its origin! The message of Integral Karmayoga in the Gita is meant for immediate practice, while working and living in the world, and not something to be dabbled with, post-retirement!
Sri Aurobindo referred to the Bhagavad Gita as 'our chief national heritage, our hope for the future'. Composed several thousand years ago, it has been recognised worldwide as a classic text and scripture, giving the gist of ancient Indian wisdom. However, it remains largely unknown to most Indians, and is not easily accessible in education, even in our leading institutions. It is with the objective of rediscovering the inspiring message of the Gita in a modern context that a 'free elective' course on Integral Karmayoga was introduced in the curriculum at IIT Madras in 2014. The focus is on finding fulfilment in life through the application of conscious will - through Karmayoga - in a way that is also integrated with knowledge and devotion. This book has emerged from the lecture notes prepared for this course, and its contents are based on a theme-wise selection of 162 verses spread across the Gita, which comprises 700 verses. The interpretation is primarily based on Sri Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita and his other writings. In each of the 162 selected Gita verses, the translation is preceded by the original Sanskrit verse (in Devanagari script). Corresponding to every line in the 'free verse' English translation, the relevant Sanskrit phrase is also shown in Devanagari.
For a deep and experiential understanding, the Gita needs to be studied and contemplated upon, again and again. Every time, it is likely to reveal a deeper understanding to the sincere aspirant, resulting in a growing inner wakefulness, calm, communion, integral knowledge, harmony, love and compassion, as well as a more purposeful and fulfilling engagement in the world. The spiritual journey cannot be said to be complete until we get to see and feel the One Divine Presence in everything and every being: always, everywhere.
In the spiritual journey, it is helpful to be able to maintain an earnest, humble and ever-learning beginner's mind. This journey is typically full of ups and downs, and often after making seemingly rapid progress initially, we tend to slow down, hit plateaus and sometimes even descend into delusion and cynicism. Spiritual knowledge of the academic or dogmatic kind sometimes proves to be a burden, closing us to fresh learning and giving us a foolish know-it-all arrogance. True knowing is not separate from being; it has to be experiential: as implied by the term, Self-realisation.
May we be inspired and initiated by the selected Gita verses in this book into a daily spiritual practice that is likely to unfold uniquely for each of us!