The Yoga of Excellence

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

I have taken it upon myself to excel in everything that I do: excel in anger, excel in compassion, excel in love, excel in understanding, excel in relationships, excel in communication. At all levels, excellence has to become the hallmark of my life, and there is nothing to negate.

Look at the intention

You can say, "How can Swamiji say 'excel in anger'? Yogis are not supposed to be angry." You can say, "How can Swamiji say he excels in hatred? Yogis are not supposed to hate." Don't look at the word, look at what the intent is. Look at the example of Sri Krishna: He was Yogeshwar. He was an avatara. Did he not get angry ever? When he became angry, he lived his anger to perfection. He did not harm anybody in that anger, he did not slap anybody in that anger, he did not kill anybody in that anger – he just became angry. That was excellence in anger, without harming another person with the anger. You can excel in hate too, without projecting the hate on another person, just as you can excel in love without imposing your love on another person. It is an awareness and it is an understanding of knowing when not to react.

Reactions are there. Everyone reacts. Reactions allow you to see another aspect of yourself and control it. Observe your reaction, allow it and yourself to excel in it, and then pacify it. There is nothing wrong in excelling in the bad or the good, as long as you know that your bad will not affect the other person.

Excellence versus perfection

There is a difference between perfection and excellence. Obsession comes when you want everything to be perfect. Even the straws lying on the ground have to be aligned, not thrown at random. This is a perfectionist mind set, and that creates problems, for if things do not happen as you desire, you react, you rebel, are frustrated and angry. Excellence does not have that problem. Excellence is not perfectionism. Excellence is putting the best foot forward. Whether you succeed or not, whether you are perfect or not; it does not matter. Whatever you are doing presently, give your head, heart and soul to it. Believe that you are doing it for the first time in your life, and it is a new experience, and it will be for the last time in your life; so give your best. This is also the understanding of karma yoga.

People ask, "What is karma yoga?" We say, "In the ashram we teach you karma yoga." People say, "What do you mean? You give us a jharu, a broom, ask us to clean and then you say this is karma yoga?" This is an aspect of karma yoga; it is not all of karma yoga. This aspect of karma yoga indicates that there is no difference between any type of work. There is no work that is superior and there is no work that is inferior. Sweeping the ground is not an inferior job; it is an act of hygiene, and how can an act of hygiene be considered inferior by anybody with common sense?

If you feel ashamed to pick up a broom, that is your shortcoming. It is your ego and arrogance which says, "How can I pick up the broom when there are servants to do the job?" Picking up the broom and sweeping the room with a clear and peaceful mind indicates that you do not see any difference between any kind of job, and there is no confusion as to the status or ego identity of the individual.

No job is dirty

Sri Swamiji himself used to clean the toilets. It is not a dirty act. The dirt is the junk in your mind, and that junk is in your perception. A mother also cleans the bum of her children. Is it a dirty act? No. Yet you are unable to clean your own toilet seat due to the conditioning of your mind. Does that mental conditioning make you into a better human being? No. Rather, it indicates a retarded nature of mind, for you are not willing to see what your kartavya, your duty, and dharma is, and where your dharma lies.

In a family household where four people live, husband, wife and children, where there is supposed to be no projection of the ego, and where there is supposed to be understanding, cooperation, sahayoga, and mutual respect for each other, even there the husband will never attempt to put his clothes in the washing machine; the wife has to do it. The husband will never attempt to take his cup of tea to the kitchen sink; the wife has to do it.

That is the ego which you all live with, and that ego becomes the status of an individual: "I am like this." If you identify with your status, you are identifying with your ego. It is as simple as that. You are connecting with arrogance. You are not supporting or encouraging cooperation, sympathy, harmony and communication.

Put the best foot forward

In this situation, how can anybody seek excellence? In all situations people can be perfectionists and demand that something should not be a particular way. They become aggressive that "Why did you do it like that, when it should not happen in that way?" The perfectionist mentality gives birth to aggression, frustration, and there is loss of human creativity and excellence. Excellence is just trying to put your best foot forward, and leaving everything in the hands of destiny: 'I have done my best – this is my first and this is my last time.'

When I speak to you, this is the thought that makes me speak to you: that I am speaking to you for the first time, and this may be my last time too. Therefore, what I have to convey, I should be able to convey. When I clean my room in the ashram, I think that I am doing it for the first time ever in my life, and put all my attention in cleaning. I ensure that not a single spot is left dirty, for I want it to be the epitome of cleanliness. At least for me, that is excellence.

—11 April 2014, Worli, Mumbai, India