Why Am I Doing, What I Am Doing? (Developing Right Attitude towards Action)

I was recently watching a youtube video where our Acharya was being interviewed. The interviewer seeks Swamiji’s message on the occasion of His completion of 60 years on this earth.

Swamiji replied, beggars can become kings and kings’ beggars. (Of course the saying was in Telugu and I am presenting here the closest meaning in English). If God decides He can do anything. He can make someone who is unworthy, well respected in the society and one who is well respected, lose his position. He is running this world with a mission. Anyone who aligns with the mission will be rewarded with an appropriate place. He will be seated in the driving seat to take forward the mission. And those who don’t will be stripped down.

why am doing this

Surprised, the interviewer queries, ‘we thought you are beyond all these’? Swamiji laughs and responds, ‘being beyond something’, is subjective. No one is beyond the universal law and the laws of nature. As long as we are aligned with the universal laws and His mission, we will be rewarded. If one thinks he is driving things around, pruning that ego becomes imminent. It is important for us to understand that we are all being driven by Him (Read, universal principles). As long as we align ourselves with these principles we evolve. If you violate those principles, it doesn’t matter if you are a big leader, business tycoon, sage, or a common man, you have no option but to face the axe.’

We discussed briefly about aligning ourselves and being in harmony, in the previous month’s edition. We tried to understand the principle, taking Lord Rama’s example in Sri Ramayanam. We also delved briefly on the steps to take to align ourselves with the world around.

The question that arises next is… Is the alignment at a superficial level or is it a spirited one? As we act in alignment with the world around, how comfortable are we within? When we ask ourselves, ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’, What’s the answer that comes up? What is the attitude driving our actions?

Spirited alignment keeps us happy. Forceful alignment leaves us miserable and stressed. This statement probably sums up the reason behind stress around. While right action is the first step in alignment, developing the right attitude towards action keeps us happily aligned. Action is at the gross level and easy to monitor. Attitude is more at a personal level and needs conviction.

In the seventeenth chapter of Gita, this process has been dealt with at length. Based on the attitude which motivates people to act the Lord elaborates, people fall under three broad categories or levels of action.

The Tamasic action happens when one is compelled to act. When, one feels there is no other option but to fall in line. You don’t like the job you are in. You hate the boss and the way things happen in the organisation. But you stick on as there are bills to pay at the end of the month. You cannot afford to quit. You just exist and life is a big burden. When someone asks, how’s life? The response is ‘going on’. Does this sound familiar?

The Rajasic action happens when one is lured with some benefit. Rewards and recognition drives such action. Name and fame excites. You may not like the job or hate the boss, but can smile away happily as long as there is appreciation or the pay check is big enough and motivating. With either reward or recognition or both in place, other aspects take a back seat. The moment the reward or recognition is pruned, you feel depressed and stressed. The blame game, complaining and lamentation starts. Life is a journey of roller coaster ride. A positive outcome makes life exciting for a moment. A negative outcome the next moment can be disappointing and at times depressing.

This is typical of external motivation. One goes around begging for recognition or reward to remain happy. No wonder social media is exciting as it fills the gap. People post an update, and visit it often counting the likes. And it’s not wrong to love a roller coaster ride. It’s also an experience.

The Sattwic action happens when one feels responsible from within and gains a sense of fulfilment in doing so.

You may not like the job, you may not like the boss, you may not agree with the way the organisation is functioning. Still fulfil your role responsibly, in the interests of the organisation. You understand there will be differences in opinion and in a team disagreements are but natural. You take them in their stride and do your duty not because you like, but because that is appropriate to do in that situation. Personal preferences take a back seat.

Functioning within limits, you take efforts to add value to the organisation. If it warrants, you also take efforts to build strength and make amends in the organisation or move on. Either ways, relationship stays. Typical of internal motivation or spirited action, outcomes act as a direction for the next step and not a cause for stress, blame game or lamentation.

You assume 100% responsibility for your life, and are open to inputs of all kinds – criticisms and appreciation, taking them in their stride. There is no aspiration for rewards or recognition. Neither do you brush them aside when given. You may be active in social media too, not for counting the likes, but to spread the goodness around and inspire others by example. Everything around, becomes a tool to spread the goodness that stems from within.

Lord Rama was convinced of mother Kaikeyi’s love for him. He could accept her as she was and happily fulfil the boons she sought from King Dasaratha. He knew it is his responsibility as a son to fulfil his father’s commitment given in right spirit. Even though it was not a cosy and comfortable situation to be in, devoid of all the royal pleasures, he surrendered to his father’s dictat happily and vowed to fulfil his step-mother’s wishes. No stress, no complaints, and no blame game. Doing what is to be done irrespective of our personal preferences is the mantra.

Was Rama incapable to have surrendered to His father’s wishes and retire to forests with His wife and brother. Definitely not! When separated from mother Sita, Lord Rama recognised the situation they have put themselves into. He along with Lakshmana, builds strength by befriending Sugriva, wages a war against Ravana and frees Sita from his clutches. He took 100% responsibility for the situation and acted as the situation warranted to re-unite with his wife.

While He was willing to let go of the kingdom for the sake of His brother and step-mother, He helped Vibheeshana and Sugriva defeat their brothers and ascend the throne. He was wise enough to draw boundaries as appropriate and be discrete in making decisions. He was a good student to two great Gurus, Sage Vasishta and Sage Viswamitra, that His life was moulded beautifully. Are we a good student / disciple to our Acharya? What is the mark out of 10 we get in our discipleship ?

Pandavas, in exile took responsibility for their life situation, took time to build strength, waged a war against Kauravas and emerged victorious. Repeated defeats and humiliations from Kauravas since childhood did not deter them. They persevered, took stock of their situation and each time emerged stronger than before under the guidance of the Paramaguru, Lord Krishna.

Our freedom fighters took responsibility for the prevailing situation in the country and systematically worked towards gaining freedom.

Leaders’ actions are Sattwik in nature. They take responsibility for their life situation, seek help from right source and work towards improving their situation. They do not waste time in blame game, lamentation and complaints. They persevere, rise up quickly each time they fall down, and strive to excel despite the outcome. They focus on the process
and continually improve the process for getting the desired outcome. In the process, they evolve into a better individual.

While developing the Sattwic attitude and evolve beyond is the goal, being in Tamasic or Rajasic state of action isn’t a crime. They are actually intermittent stages in the journey.

A child cries and throws tantrums if its balloon bursts. It may be equated to a rajasic attitude. An adult understand the balloon’s nature and just laughs it away. He may choose to let go or buy a new balloon. His stage may be equated to Sattwic.

As children we complain about strict discipline enforced by our teachers or elders. But fall in line out of compulsion. From this Tamasic stage, we grow up and gain motivation through rewards and recognition. Later on, as elders we become Sattwik, understand the value and intention behind their action. As we enjoy the fruits of certain disciplines and habits inculcated early in life, we feel grateful to them. Alumni gettogethers abound with such experiences. At this stage one doesn’t find it challenging or stressful to develop new habits or fall in line with elder’s instructions. Is this kind evolution happening in us?

Knowledge and understanding is the differentiating factor and each level – tamasic, rajasic and sattwik is a stage of evolution in the path of Shreyas. There is nothing right or wrong in being in any of the above levels. Each is just that, a level, a stage in evolution.

In some aspects, we may be Tamasic, while in others we may act Sattwic or Rajasic. The message is the level of understanding we have about different things in life is different. If we are uncomfortable about something, but feel helpless and continue to be in that situation, it only means we do not have the knowledge to come out of that situation or do not know whom to approach to seek guidance. If effort is taken to approach the right source, we become free. Till then stress rules.

Taking action is the first step, albeit with resistance. Developing the right attitude comes next. As we take up different roles at different stages in life – Brahmacharya, Gruhastha, Vanaprastha, Sannyasa, we go through this process.

Initial discomfort and stress each new change brings may seem compelling and overwhelming (Tamasic). A reward, recognition, and a word of encouragement keep us going and motivated (Rajasic). Later as we gain knowledge and deeper understanding dawns, we act without seeking recognition, despite criticisms (Sattwic). It is because at this stage we are aware that we are internally driven under His Guidance. The motivation and fulfilment is from the understanding developed within. External obstacles then hardly discourage us

The question that is probably arising in your mind is… What’s the attitude behind my action? Ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing, what I am doing?’, especially when you feel stressed or compelled

– If your attitude is in the right direction, but still feel compelled, may be contemplating on the stories of Lord Rama in search of Sita or Pandavas in exile or the struggle of freedom fighters or the experience of any achiever around you, will pep you up.

– Further a check on the lifestyle – to strengthen the physical, vital and mental aspects of your personality will help go the extra mile to fulfil the role and responsibility based on your life stage. What are your food habits? Are you taking adequate rest? What is the company you keep? Are you regular with your asana-pranayama routine?

– While on this ask yourself, if you are taking some time out for seva (service).

Our elders say seva is an essential aspect in the path of Shreyas. Me… to my family and friends… to my world around…
the more inclusive we become, stronger we emerge in the path of Shreyas. As it is said, we cannot wait to complete all our ‘personal’ responsibilities to get involved in seva. Because, the so-called ‘personal’ responsibilities will not cease till we breathe our last. Seva, infact makes the definition of ‘personal responsibility’ complete. Seva – giving some time to add value to someone’s life with the skills and abilities we are bestowed with, will open up the channel of grace to flow in our life because that is the way to align with His mission. Using our skills and abilities to build harmony in HIS WORLD is the primary responsibility with which we descend on earth. Developing right attitude towards our actions, converts the action (Karma) into Seva (Karma Yoga). This, our scriptures say, is the shortest route to get rid of stress and troubles in life.

Finally, while on Seva / volunteering – ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing, what I am doing?’

    1. Is it because you feel it is your responsibility to contribute to the world around, with the skills and abilities you are bestowed with, without expecting any return
    1. Is it for the certificate or to get rid of your troubles – expecting an outcome
    1. Is it because your organisation/country rules, mandates you to do so – feel compelled ra:ma:nuja:rya divya:jnya: vardhatha:m abhi vardhatha:m !

-Contributed by Balaji Gorantla, Chennai