A.W.O.L

A young investment banker recently approached me. Frustrated with the corporate climate, demanding lifestyle, and the stresses and strains of worldly responsibility, he was seriously considering giving it all up. Such cases are not uncommon. In numerous passages of the Bhagavad-gita even Arjuna proposes he leave the battlefield and retire into the contemplative, secluded life of a monk. Would such renunciation be wise? Is it possible to work in this dog-eat-dog world and simultaneously maintain your spirituality? Can one connect to the higher reality via their worldly profession? The Bhagavad-gita offers the “3R” formula, which gives a succinct but comprehensive checklist on how to spiritualize your daily work.

Righteous – Firstly, one must endeavour to engage in righteous work. Certain occupations and livelihoods are based on exploitation, violence, dishonesty, and generally cause harm and disruption in the world. Such work is neither progressive for the individual nor prosperous for society at large. Although every type of work in today’s world is covered by some fault or imperfection, the spiritualist nevertheless endeavours to pursue a career which promotes harmony, upliftment, kindness and compassion.

Results – Secondly, our work in this world will yield certain ‘fruits’. Such fruits come in the form of monetary remuneration, knowledge, expertise, skills and influence in a particular field. While such fruits help us to survive in the world, providing the necessities of food, clothing and shelter, a certain portion should be reserved for a spiritual cause. By offering charitable contributions towards the spiritual upliftment of others, one develops the qualities of detachment, selflessness and compassion which are the very hallmarks of a spiritualist.

Remembrance – Thirdly, one should attempt to cultivate an active spiritual consciousness while at work. When a famous king, also renowned as a deep spiritualist, was asked by some sages how he managed to think of the worldly and the spiritual simultaneously, he answered by inviting them over for lunch. Hanging above each dinner plate was a huge sword on a thin piece of string. The sages were reluctant to sit down, but after some reassuring words from the king they agreed and proceeded to quickly finish their meal. Later, the king inquired whether they had eaten sufficiently and also digested the food, to which they replied “yes”. He then asked them what they were thinking of while eating – “the swords!” they replied. “My life is like this” the king replied, “I perform my daily tasks with attention and care, but in the back of my mind, I am constantly remembering the ultimate purpose – in this way I can contemplate the worldly and spiritual simultaneously”.

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