The resilience of Indian culture is legendary and unique. Her people remain psychologically resistant and healthy today as a direct result of Lord Krishna's immortal message to Arjuna on the eve of the great transcendental battle of Kurukshetra, thousands of years ago. The ideals of duty, selfless service, efficiency in action, and struggle, as a means of self-transformation, realization and ultimate triumph, echo down to us throughout the recurring events of history.
Karma yoga is the health and wealth of the nation. Even today, it remains the very backbone of Indian life. Because the principle and practice of karma yoga have been woven into the social structure for thousands of years, the spirit of selfless service as a path to self-realization permeates the collective unconscious mind as the guiding principle in personal, community and social life.
Now psychologists and psychiatrists from other countries are looking anew to India to provide solutions to some of the endemic social problems in their own countries. They are beginning to realize that we live a unique and transcendental way of life in India. From the material point of view, India is a living miracle. Where else is the burden of ¼ of the world's population nourished and sheltered using only 1/15 of the global resources? At the same time, where is there a more stable, disciplined, and balanced society on earth?
India possesses a different kind of culture, and it is now being recognized everywhere. She is spiritually very rich. The whole world will seek to emulate the yogic culture in the difficult years ahead as material resources become more scarce. India is a living example of yoga, and yoga is her most important export to the world. Now, it is India who must show the ailing, materially wealthy nations how to carry more while taking and consuming less.
How does India carry her mighty load? As a race, we are a puzzling enigma indeed to foreign eyes. How can a society of such contradictions survive today? What is India's secret? What nourishes all her people, giving them joy, fulfilment and peace of mind in the midst of hunger, crowded conditions and social inequalities? We should not measure the level of evolution of a culture only in terms of how efficiently its trains are operated. We must also consider the burden the culture bears and the state of mental health of its people.
In sad contrast, an epidemic of mental disease has broken out in the affluent countries in recent decades. Loss of purpose is rife and neurosis is widespread. The people have a surplus of material goods, yet many are desperately unhappy. The more the wealth of the world accrues to them, the unhappier they seem to become. They would gladly give it all away in return for the precious secrets of happiness, peace of mind and fulfilment.
In India, duty is life. Deprived of duty, life quickly becomes empty and meaningless. It degenerates into an aimless quest after sensual pleasure and ego gratification, because there is little else to occupy the mind. The senses soon tire, but the mind becomes more and more restless. Worries begin to multiply, tormenting the mind night and day without relief. The symptoms of psychosomatic diseases begin to manifest in the body, and a life of pain and suffering ensues. Truly, life degenerates into misery when we drop the golden bow of duty and turn our eyes away from the Lord's feet. This is the mental disease and anguish which many societies are now facing. How blessed is India in these times, that we are aware of Lord Krishna's message.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna exhorts us to adopt a warrior's attitude in life. This is the best way to rapidly overcome personal limitations. Each of us confronts his own particular difficulties and responsibilities. No one is an exception. Our prime task is to daily encounter these difficulties and to fulfil our duties capably and courageously. The message of Sri Krishna is that the difficulties we face can become the stepping stones in our personal evolution if we will only cultivate the attitude of karma yoga.
Just to stay afloat in the torrid stream of modern family, social and business life, a warrior's attitude is necessary. Notice, it is 'warrior' and not 'worrier'. There is a world of difference between the two. A warrior is a soldier, self-disciplined, yet ready to do battle and act decisively at a moment's notice. Because he is confident of his own capacities and determined to fulfil his duties, his life is simple and straightforward. He works hard, eats moderately, laughs frequently and sleeps soundly. He harbours little anguish or fear for the future, because death, like life, is out of his hands.
In contrast, the worrier is a sorry spectacle. He dwells in a pit of misery, engrossed in imaginary fears and difficulties. He fails to see the challenge and mystery of life, and can find no joy or fulfilment in the part he must play in it. His vision is clouded and his duties are a burden. He worries too much over minor problems, and is rarely happy or spontaneous. Even the smallest decisions cause him to lie awake at night, and his health is usually poor. He is troubled by niggardly symptoms, aches and pains, which always seem to recur at times when worries are mounting up. Few medicines can offer him much relief. He is forever engaged in an imaginary inner battle with so many illusory fears. What if my business should collapse? What if my wife should fall sick? What if my son should fail? What if the dowry is too high? What if my job should be lost? What if the sky should fall down? What if... what if... what if...? So the worrier's mind runs on and on and on.
Actually, both Sri Krishna and Arjuna are within our own psyche and the battlefield of Kurukshetra is really the struggle we face in daily life. The message of Sri Krishna is that human life is transformed in the twinkling of an eye if we firmly grasp the bow of duty courageously and without fear or expectations. The worried, unconfident, insecure and ineffectual state of Arjuna's mind vanishes before the blissful experience of inner purpose, satisfaction and peace, which comes to us when we strive for perfection in duty and service.
Life is indeed miserable so long as we seek to evade the joyful performance of our duties. However, it is magically transformed the, moment we accept the challenge and recall Sri Krishna's immortal promise "Do your duty that is best, leave unto the Lord the rest."
Suffering and failure are a part of life, so we must accept them. But if we want to experience true happiness, the price we must pay is courage. We must be valiant. The other alternative is to sink into the gloomy pit of illusory worries and imaginary pains which in modern psychology is known as 'neurosis'.
Neurosis is the slate of mind which can never accept life as it is. It is always in turmoil and fails to experience peace, even for a single moment. The neurotic person suffers tremendously because his life lacks any significant purpose. He has nothing worthwhile to strive for. When we recognize the value of performing our duties with intelligence, devotion and efficiency, life becomes a valley of peace, joy and relief, devoid of pain, darkness and imaginary fears.
In former times, survival of the fittest was known as the law of the jungle. Today it has become the law of the bazaar, the market place, the railway platform and the national and international political arena as well. To survive and triumph in today's increasingly complex world, efficiency is demanded, and the yoga of efficient action is karma yoga.
Modern life is complex indeed. It demands that we develop stress resistance so that we will not wither and succumb, but will stand firm in the stormy and difficult days ahead. The greatest secret of success in life, spiritual and material, is to practise the yoga of efficiency, karma yoga.
Without karma yoga, our actions are tainted by personal motive and expectation. We entrap ourselves in a web of our own making (karma), where we give, not as a duty, but because we expect to get something in return. This is the genesis of suffering, unhappiness, neurosis, fear and anxiety so characteristic of modern life. In karma yoga, this attitude of expectation has to be mercilessly burned out of the mind. Duty must become all pleasure and fulfilment in itself. It is diseased thinking to expect something in return for duty. Of course this does not mean that we should not accept whatever comes to us from our dutiful work, but only that we should not expect. This is the path of wisdom, efficiency and peace in the very midst of worldly responsibilities.
The great secret of mastery in life, not only in spiritual life, but also in material life, is to do more and expect less, give more and take less, produce more and consume less. This is efficiency; this is karma yoga.
Life is meant to be a struggle. It is not meant to be 'easy street' and we should not expect it to be so. Struggle evolves efficiency and develops perfection. If life is too easy, we should suspect that something is wrong somewhere. We are missing out on a sublime opportunity to evolve ourselves further.
Without struggle, nothing good will ever emerge. A mother has to struggle to give birth, a child must struggle to walk, a student must struggle to complete his examinations. Without resistance and opposition, we never realize our hidden potentials. Hard conditions are blessings in disguise because they teach us most of all. This is why the yogis and those who rise to greatness in any field of human endeavour - artistic, creative, administrative, political, economic or domestic, are never averse to struggle. In fact, they sometimes seem to relish it. Many saints have recorded that they always pray for difficulties in life. This is one of the greatest secrets of success.