To live, we must work. This is the way of the world. It is an iron law not always easy to follow. Swami Vivekanda thought deeply about it — why we work, how we go about it. And he said: “Do you not see how everybody works? Nobody can be altogether at rest. Ninety-nine percent of mankind work like slaves, and the result is misery. It is all selfish work.”
We can argue this point. It is true that many work for their own selves. But does that make them selfish? And for the majority who need to work to support their families, is it fair to call them slaves? Does not society or country expect us to work as dutiful citizens? Here Swami Vivekanda gave his clarion call: “Work through freedom! Work through love!” He then explained, “Love never comes until there is freedom. There is no true love possible in the slave. If you buy a slave and tie him down in chains and make him work for you, he will work like a drudge. But there will be no love in him. So when we ourselves work for the things of the world as slaves, there can be no love in us, and our work is not true work. This is true of work done for relatives and friends, and is true of work done for our own selves. Selfish work is slave’s work.”
So how shall we know if we are working selfishly or not? Swami Vivekanda gave this test: “Do you ask anything from your children in return for what you have given them? It is your duty to work for them, and there the matter ends. In whatever you do for a particular person, a city, or a state, assume the same attitude towards it as you have towards your children — expect nothing in return. If you can invariably take the position of a giver, in which everything given by you is a free offering to the world without any thought of return, then will your work bring you no attachment. Attachment comes only when we expect a return. If working like slaves results in selfishness and attachment, working as masters of our own mind gives rise to the bliss of non-attachment.”
So every act of love brings happiness. But what about seeking our rights and justice in work? Dismissing such concepts as baby’s talk, Swami Vivekanda explained: “There are two things which guide the conduct of men — might and mercy. The exercise of might is invariably the exercise of selfishness. All men and women try to make the most of the power or advantage they have. Mercy is heaven itself — to be good, we all have to be merciful. Even justice and right should stand on mercy.”
Swami Vivekanda saw the whole universe busy working. But for what? For salvation, for liberty; from the atom to the highest being working for the one end — liberty for the mind, for the body, for the spirit. All things are always trying to get freedom, flying away from bondage. “Work is inevitable, it must be so; but we should work to the highest purpose. Work incessantly, but give up all attachment to work,” he said.
There may be exceptiol minds who can stand aside and give up the world — attaining perfect satisfaction with the Supreme Self. Such exalted beings cannot work, for in them there is no attachment. But apart from them, everyone else has to go slowly through the world of work. Swami Vivekanda spoke of them thus: “The vast majority of mankind chooses the positive way, the way through the world, making use of all bondages themselves to break those very bondages. This is also a kind of giving up; only it is done slowly and gradually, by knowing things, enjoying things, thus obtaining experience, and knowing the ture of things until the mind lets them all go at last and becomes uttached.”
Thus it was that Swami Vivekanda gave a high position to the ordiry householder, saying: “The true life of work is indeed as hard as, if not harder than, the equally true life of renunciation.” Reminding the householder that the opportunity to live and work is a supreme privilege, he told him to go out into the world and work much as he can. He may work and be non-attached with the strength of his will. Or he may take the easier route if he believes in a persol god. He can simply give up the fruits of his work to God, and be truly free. Such was the wisdom of Swami Vivekanda, a treasure he has left for posterity in his writings on Karma Yoga.
— the harbinger