REFLECTIONS ON LIFE AND EDUCATION - "SPIRITUALITY AT WORK"
Professor and Head, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras
In professional education today, we place, or misplace, emphasis on getting jobs and pay packages. We miss out on inner development, which is essential to find fulfilment and deal effectively with the demands and challenges of society around us. All around, we see a 'rat race' culture: desperation, selfishness, lack of concern for others, greed, corruption, frustration and despondency (including suicidal tendencies). We need a holistic development of the individual, with spirituality at the core. Unfortunately, this is not actively patronised or even discussed in our modern temples of learning, in sharp contrast to our more renowned ancient universities at Takshashila and Nalanda.
In an attempt to fill this vital gap in education, my esteemed colleague, Prof. Devdas Menon, author of this book (and also of Stop sleepwalking through life!) has introduced 'elective' courses titled Self-awareness and Integral Karmayoga at IIT Madras. These have turned out to be popular and transformative courses at our Institute, and some of us have had the good fortune of attending them. The teaching notes related to the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita have been carefully worked upon by the author to result in this seminal work, titled Spirituality at Work. This is a sacred offering of a truly learned person, who has experienced the nectar of the Gita and has chosen to share his insights and joy with those who seek a truly meaningful and fulfilling existence. He is also widely known as a teacher, researcher, consultant and author of popular textbooks in structural engineering.
This book, like the Gita, comprises eighteen chapters, each devoted to a particular theme, based on a careful selection of key verses from the Gita. Each chapter is replete with insights worthy of deep rumination, containing the essence of the Gita, made relevant to modern times. The analysis of human psychology and the presentation of ancient Indian wisdom is deep and awe-inspiring, particularly because it also includes actionable items of the yoga of the Gita for authentic transformation. Clearly, we are all in need of clear insight, self-awareness, inspiration and strong inner motivation to do the 'right thing', our dharma. The Gita's yoga shows a way to realise complete fulfilment through union with our Divine Source. This book advocates an integral approach, with Karmayoga as the fundamental basis, and with our actions supported by the wisdom of Jnanayoga and the devotion of Bhaktiyoga. It is pointed out that the best place to seek the Divine is in our innermost being, in the cave of our hearts. For it is there that we can truly find an inner delight and ease of being, as well as an inner radiance that can show us with certitude the 'right way' amidst all confusions.
We are urged to excel at work, to self-actualise and bring our inherent talents and potential to fruition, dedicating all our work to the Divine, and eventually transcending the egocentred notion of 'doership'. We are urged to discover our true inner calling and life purpose, to achieve mastery and serve as instruments of the omniscient Divine. We will then find ourselves frequently in a 'flow' state of perfect action. This is referred to as our 'higher nature', and it is here that we can find enduring fulfilment and consummation of our life purpose.
But attaining to that state of perfection and union is not easy. We find ourselves pulled down, time and again, by various forces (inner and outer) beyond our control. These can be well understood in terms of the three gunas (qualities) of nature: tamas (inertia, ignorance), rajas (dynamism, restlessness) and sattva (lucidity, balance). The inter-play of these three gunas, and our total identification with a narrow separate ego-self keep us trapped in 'lower nature' (Prakriti). In order to see this play objectively (without getting affected) and to discover our hidden True Self (Purusha, Atman), we need to withdraw periodically into the stillness of deep meditation. We can then contact the divinity hidden in our innermost being, and remain free from the tumultuous world around and inside us. This is true freedom.
However, we are likely to lose that freedom when we reengage with the world. There are cravings that spring up, and we find ourselves getting entrapped again in the karmic cycles of action and reaction. Through insight and practice, we begin to gain better control over ourselves. While acknowledging that there are authentic 'deficiency needs' in us that need to be satisfied ethically, we realise how easily 'need' can change into 'greed'. We also gain increasing understanding of how the three gunas operate, and we work towards increasing sattva-guna in our being, becoming more and more selfless in our actions and compassionate in our relationships.
Yet, there are limits to our efforts, because our capacities seem to be limited. We need help, and that help is always available to us in the form of Divine grace, which manifests mysteriously, especially when there is a strong aspiration and devotion (bhakti). In this regard, the Divine Teacher of the Gita gives a guarantee that regardless of the stage of spiritual evolution of the aspirant, as long as there is steadfast faith and diligence in the practice of yoga, the goal will be realised. As we progress along the path of Integral Karmayoga, we tend to place more and more reliance on the One Divine Source, and aided by Divine grace, are bound to ascend from our lower nature to the higher nature. This brings to us fulfilment and maximises our contribution to the well-being of the world.
May this book inspire you, dear reader, to discover fulfilment in life in all its dimensions: in being, in doing, in knowing and in loving!