How do we find the right work—the work that we are meant to do? The first thing to do is to look within. Ask yourself, “What is my natural aptitude, taste, temperament, and capacity?” You don’t have to do anything that does not feel natural. All you have to do is to look back over your life and ask yourself, “What are the kinds of activities that I have enjoyed and was good at ever since I was a kid?” When you discover what this is, then you will discover your natural dharma.
Embrace that dharma and use your capabilities for the benefit of humanity. We put too much emphasis on what a person is doing—judging them as superior or inferior based upon their roles, jobs, or positions in life. Every type of ability is needed and has a place in this world—otherwise God would not have created you to fulfill your special purpose.
But more important than finding the right work, is working with the right attitude. That is what constitutes right action. You may be a builder, an artist, a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or a laborer—there is no superiority or inferiority in any of these positions. Every action and activity is beautiful except if it is not done with the proper motive. And what is that? The only condition is to let your action bring some benefit to somebody and no harm to anybody. This is the definition of a Yogic act: an action that will bring at least some benefit to somebody and no harm to anybody, including you.
Let’s look at some specific actions or this will seem like just some philosophy. So, imagine that you have a job as a teacher. You are responsible for the education and training of your students. What is the proper attitude you should have and right action needed in order for you to fulfill your duty? We already said it should bring some benefit and no harm. But if you correct your students they may not like it. They may feel harmed by your criticism and they may even bring you some harm!
But shouldn’t you set some goals for the students or expect certain results in your work? You can have an interest in seeing some good results in your work without losing your patience. Because you are interested in the welfare of your students, you are interested in patiently finding out whether they did well or not. You are interested in their welfare, but you don’t have to lose your patience. You should show that you are interested in their welfare and if something goes wrong you have to correct it. That’s your duty.
You are duty bound to correct your students but that doesn’t mean you are attached to the results of your actions for your own personal benefit. You want all your students to succeed well and go out and say, “Hey, I got a great training under this teacher!” We have every right to look for the result. But you should not be attached to the result and lose your patience or peace of mind. That’s the distinction and that is where one has to have a lot of control over one’s mind. You have to look within and question yourself: “Am I getting impatient because I wanted something to happen for my benefit?”
A teacher should examine his or her students. If they fail you should help them all you can so that they can pass, but you should always remain neutral. You shouldn’t lose your patience or your peace. You should establish yourself in a neutral state of non‑attachment. The idea here is not to go to one extreme or another. You should not get all upset and distressed because your students don’t perform well. At the same time you should not be so “neutral” that you don’t even care about the results and let it all be. Neither of these attitudes is the proper one. You can care about your students without becoming overly and inappropriately involved. That is what real equanimity or balance of mind is all about. With a neutral or balanced mind, you can serve others better.
The right attitude is something we see when a doctor performs an operation. Let us say it is a highly qualified doctor who has done a particular surgery hundreds of times. Under the normal circumstances, the doctor does his or her best to perform the procedure well. It is not that the doctor is so detached that he or she says, “Never mind the operation, let the patient just die.” But if the patient is a close relation, perhaps the mother of the doctor, the doctor might be hard-pressed to perform the operation in a calm and neutral manner. This is precisely the reason why most doctors do not operate on their own family members. And that is the other way the pendulum can swing. But neither attitude is correct. If the doctor is a real Yogi, he or she will know how to keep their equanimity and then can perform the surgery very well no matter who the patient is.
Whatever our job or duty in life, we should learn how to perform it with a balanced mind. Some people get very confused about this point and think that it means you become a cold, heartless, or uncaring person. They take this to mean that they should have no feelings at all. To be neutral is misunderstood as unfeeling or uncaring. Not at all. What we mean by equanimity is that you are the master; you are the one in control. Because you remember who you are. You are not your body, or your mind, or your feelings. You are the Self and as the true Self you have a body, and a mind, and various feelings. Do you understand the distinction here?
Let me illustrate this by an example. Suppose that you take part in a drama. Your job is to act in that part and to act well. To really be good in the part, you should really feel what the character is feeling. You should learn how to think, behave, and feel like the character you are playing. But the minute you walk off the stage, if you think you really are that character, then you have a real problem. The same way in life: you are expected to play your role well but to also remember who you really are behind the character
If the play calls for a little crying, you cry. But are you really crying? No. So, you are not crying. You are crying but not crying. That means that the actor is crying, but that the true person who acts that part is not crying. There is a dual sense in that. Now, again, it is very easy to misunderstand this point because it is a subtle one. Some people will think I am talking about being phony or not genuine. Not at all. The real meaning of detachment is that you play your part in the drama of life as a great actor would. You play the part with all sincerity and feeling. Yet, you always remember the truth behind the play—that you are playing a part in the world drama but the real you, is behind the makeup and tears. That real you is the witness to the drama and is like the sun that is always present and radiant—even when the clouds are blocking its view.
The entire world is filled with actors. They’re all given different makeup, different roles to play, different dramas to be performed. But only very few people know that they are acting. The others forget themselves and they become that part. We should always have this vision. The scriptures describe it as two visions to be maintained at one time. One is the divine vision, and the other is the worldly vision. They are different levels of the same truth. Both exist at the same time. The spiritual person is the one who is able to hold these two visions simultaneously. That is what we understand as enlightenment.
One level of truth is the level of the divine, recognizing that you are a spark of the divine living in a human body. The other level is recognizing that you have been given a part to play in this world. At the level of the divine vision, we see that everything and everybody is the same spirit appearing as many. At the worldly level, everyone seems to be different and separate; we live in a world of diversity. Human beings appear as human beings. Plants and animals appear to be different, but same spirit dwells in them. Both visions are true, just different levels of the truth. It is only when we remember the unity within the diversity that we can find real peace and harmony.
You can play any role and you can enjoy everything this material world has to offer, as long as you keep your eye also on that divine vision. Some people think that if you have the divine vision, if you are a spiritual person, then you should not involve yourself at all in the material world. This is a wrong understanding. The proper understanding is more subtle than that. You can have all the material wealth. You can be anybody. You can rule a country. You can amass multi‑million dollars, name, fame, etc. You can have everything. However, if you have it, you should have it, but it should not have you. Do you understand my point here? You should not get your real identity confused; you can own the things, you can utilize them but don’t allow them to own you—you should not become all these things. Rather, you should make use of them all in the proper way. You should learn to enjoy them well, to remember who you are, and to offer all you can for the good of humanity.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time a swami was giving lessons to some monastic students during a Yoga retreat. The retreat was being held within the palace grounds so that the king of the country could also participate. The swami told the students to meditate upon the Self. Like good students, they all became very immersed in thinking of the Self. All of a sudden a group of people came running and said, “The palace is on fire!” Everybody jumped up from their meditation and ran in great frenzy and fury toward the palace, except for the king. The king sat peacefully meditating.
After a few minutes all the students returned looking relieved and lighthearted. They even laughed as they told their teacher, “Oh, it was a hoax. It’s not true, somebody goofed! There’s no real fire!” The teacher asked them, “Then why were you all running? The palace doesn’t belong to you so why were you overly concerned?” One student spoke for the group saying, “No, the palace doesn’t belong to us, but we had our loincloths hanging on the drying line next to the palace.” It seemed they each were very concerned to save their little scraps of cloth.
Then suddenly all the monks realized that the king was still sitting there peacefully. They asked their teacher, “Why didn’t the king move? The entire palace belongs to him.” The king replied to the teacher, “I thought you were asking us to contemplate on the Self. I was fully immersed in that. It’s not my palace. I was given the palace to do my duty and I am not a firefighter. I am not going to fight the fire. There are people who are trained to do that and I knew they would do their duty. And is there a more important thing than contemplating on the Self? So I was contemplating on it.” Thus the king proved that even though he owned the entire palace and all the riches within it, he was not attached to them. Whereas the monks, who didn’t have anything except their loincloths, ran to protect these little pieces of clothing.
We can make use of anything and everything: your position, your possessions, your name, your fame. You can utilize everything but don’t try to possess anything. You are in the world but not of the world. That’s what we see in the beautiful example of the lotus flower, a symbol of spiritual unfoldment. The lotus grows in water, in the midst of the mud and mire. But do you see any trace of water, or mud, or mire in the lotus flower? The lotus leaf floats on the water and the water is on the leaf. The water simply rolls off like pearls. When you take the leaf out, not even a drop of water will be left there.
We can all live like that, like lotus leaves in the water of the material world. Utilize all the material things of the world; make use of them in order to serve the world in an unattached manner. How different that would be then clinging to our possessions. Don’t let your possessions possess you. Some people will misunderstand this and think that detachment means that you don’t look after things or care about them. That is not a correct understanding. Detached attachment means that you are attached to people and things but at the same time you keep some detachment. The attachment is the interdependence that we must learn to cultivate in our lives and relationships. We depend on the air, water, food, and so on. And our families depend upon us to fulfill our responsibilities. The detachment is the equanimity that we need to develop in order to keep our minds calm and centered so that we can be responsive and effective in our lives.
Do your duty to the best of your ability. You are put in a particular position, with certain responsibilities, and with a job to do. You should do it well. To further illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the job of being a bank teller. When you go to the counter and give the teller a check, you get money in return. You give a one-hundred dollar check, you get a one-hundred dollar bill. If you give the teller a check for a thousand dollars, you will get a thousand dollars. Suppose a good friend of this teller has been watching these transactions. The friend then approaches the teller and says, “Listen, I saw you giving that other person some money and I myself need some money. Can you give me some? Or at the very least will you let me borrow some?” What would the teller say? Is it a lie if he or she says, “I don’t have any money to give you.” Obviously, there is no shortage of money sitting there in the bank. The teller has a lot of money and is openly giving it out. But the teller says to this person, “I don’t have money to give you.” Why? Because the money doesn’t belong to the teller. The teller is authorized to use the money to conduct authorized transactions. Bank tellers cannot take out any amount to use for themselves or for a friend because they are only trustees of the bank’s money.
In the same way, all the material things in life are entrusted to us. We are using them according to necessity. But we should never feel that they are “ours.” Nothing is really ours. Things are given to us to make use of and to help us to be of service. Truly we don’t have anything of our own. What did we come with? Is there anybody born with a dollar in their pocket? No. We are not born even with a penny in the mouth. We come with an empty hand and we go with an empty hand. In between, we are given things to utilize for the common good. They are all entrusted in our care. They come to you so that you can utilize them for others. Don’t make anything or anyone “yours.” Anything you label as “mine” is ready to explode.
It is not that you have to push things away or renounce anything to be a good, spiritual person. The only thing you have to renounce is your possessiveness and selfishness. You don’t have to go without anything. Without material things you can’t even survive and you can’t even serve. We need material things in order to live well and be of service to humanity. Even the body and mind is given to us to serve. It’s not ours to own, but instead it is an instrument to be taken care of and utilized properly.
With this kind of understanding, the mind can remain peaceful, balanced, and centered. Nothing and no one will be able to disturb your peace because you will be in right relationship with the world. You can accept everything that comes to you and you don’t have to push away or get rid of anything either. The right attitude that will allow you to keep your peace is to say, “Whatever wants to come to me, let that come. If anything wants to go, let it go.” That will create a very free flow of energy, without blockages. If money comes to you spend it, use it for a good purpose—recognize it not as yours but think of yourself as its trustee. Then you can freely make use of anything for the highest good of all concerned. Once you learn that lesson you don’t have any attachments or possessions. Instead, you have nothing but joy. Then, and only then will you live happily ever after.