There is an assertion to which I’ve occasionally been exposed: namely, that if there is something you’re not good at—assuming of course that you have enough intelligence for the job—you should try to become good at it in order to “perfect” your personality.
The motivation behind this advice is the belief that perfection of the human personality is a goal toward which every idealistic person should aspire. People also sometimes insist that you must strive to become good at anything you consider difficult. For example, one lady I knew believed she needed to become wealthy in order to achieve spiritual perfection. Her attempt to become wealthy—apart from the fact that she failed at it—became her greatest obstacle on the spiritual path!
The work you do, considered in light of the goals of the spiritual path, should be that which can help you to grow, spiritually. Measured by that standard, what should that work be? It depends on your nature. What is right for one person would be wrong for another. The attitudes fostered and strengthened by your work are more important than any specific thing you do. The attitudes you should develop are above all those which lead to superconsciousness. What, then, are those attitudes?
1. Servicefulness: Seek work that will enable you to set aside self-interest through service to others. Serviceful work is expansive. Anything that takes you toward greater expansiveness will help you as well as others. When your sympathy for others expands, you become more appreciative of the world around you, less attached to the body, and more aware of the indwelling soul.
Try to be conscious of how the work you do might affect others. The more you can put yourself in their shoes, the more rapid will be your spiritual progress. Seek also to become skillful at whatever work you do, but don’t allow skillfulness to encourage pride. Always be aware, however, that for many people in the workplace, self-interest predominates. Nearly everything they do will revolve around their egos.
2. Calmness: Another attitude, important to the selection and pursuit of the right line of work, is calmness. Some work is by its very nature agitating to the heart and the mind. Consider the madness on the floor of a commodities exchange market where people shout and scream agitatedly, waving paper notes desperately to attract attention. As Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “To the peaceless person, how is happiness possible?” There is much in the process of money-making that creates nervousness. Avoid such work as you would the plague.
3. Truthfulness: Do not work under anyone who asks you to be untruthful. One who is strictly truthful finds the divine law itself directing him or her into activities that are aligned with dharma, right action. If, on the other hand, you are untruthful but seek an excuse in the fact that you are only obeying someone else’s request, yours, too, will be the sin. Truthfulness should always be combined with kindness and consideration for others.
Another person’s understanding of what is true may be different from your own, after all. Respect others, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with them. Seek work, therefore, where the people themselves are, as far as you know, honorable.
4. Expansiveness: Whatever path you follow in life, and whatever work you do, try always to relate it to a broader reality. Your job may be something quite simple like selling groceries. If so, be conscientious in the selling. Look for the best food available within your store’s budget. Become knowledgeable about right diet. Study what makes some foods more healthful, or better tasting, than others.
When you know more than most of your customers know, they will be much more likely to continue shopping with you, and to urge their friends to patronize your store. If job promotion is possible, you will be among the first to be considered for a higher position.
In choosing, or in developing, a work, don’t seek a merely comfortable niche. Look for enough variety to keep you energetic and interested. The more energy the work demands, the more you will benefit from it.
5. Flexibility: If you want to be creative and happy, seek work where sensible innovation is appreciated. If you have inherited a work that was started by someone else, and you want to honor its principles and traditions, try to discriminate between the way things are done and the spirit that first animated them. The surest way to mummify an organization is to bind it to the wheel of “what is done,” rather than being creatively responsive to new needs and new realities as they confront one. Flexibility is essential if you want to address new situations appropriately.
To live creatively in the present requires that you live more guided by inspiration, and less by institutional habit. My Guru, when he gave me advice on how to lecture, emphasized spontaneity over preparation and attunement over giving intellectual discourses. Over the years, this advice has resulted in my seldom needing to prepare for a lecture I must give. I have learned to tune in to the audience, as well as to divine inspiration, and thereby to give them what they themselves need at the time.
6. Repay karmic debts: In addition to strengthening spiritual attitudes, another question to be faced when selecting a line of work concerns the karmic debts remaining for you to work out. You probably have no idea what they are, and that is one reason why it is important to have a wise guru. A guru, however, is a rare find, and a blessing that must be earned. Many people, however, do have at least some intuition as to what may be blocking their further progress.
Look back to your childhood. Reflect on your earliest tendencies and see how they might fit into your present realities. These memories will give you clues to the personality traits and skills you developed in other lifetimes—especially the last one—and therefore to what is most likely to bring you success in this life.
Another question is the kind of good karma you specially need—karma that will help you in terms of your happiness, and also in your spiritual development. An important consideration would be to divert harmful tendencies into constructive channels in order to reduce their hold on you. For example, if you feel an impulse to deprive people of anything, look for ways of giving to them. If you feel an urge to compete with them, look for ways of giving them the victory.
7. Seek divine assistance: Above all, if you sincerely want to find truth, even while working to earn a living, ask for divine assistance. Of supreme importance is the attitude you hold while praying. Don’t ask God to help you; rather, ask Him what you can do to serve Him. Self-giving prayer is much more effective than a beggarly attitude.
Ask God to inspire you in what to say or do. Never tell yourself, “I can’t do that,” even if what you’d like to do seems impossible, particularly if the job is important to you. Tell yourself, rather, “I certainly couldn’t do it, myself, but God through me can accomplish anything.” Indeed, everything on earth is created by God through instruments—usually, human ones.
Rather than trying to figure everything out in advance, intellectually, try to live more in the moment, seeking guidance from God step by step. The more you learn to depend on higher guidance, even though taking only little steps at a time, the more you will find intuition flowing. Intuition is an aspect of normal human awareness of which most people are entirely ignorant.
As often as I’ve expressed myself in writing or in lecturing, it is always as if for the first time. I grant you that more energy is required this way: It is always easier to rely on what one has said or done before than to seek guidance ever anew, especially in familiar matters. That is the way, however, to mental ossification.
Always be completely true to yourself.
Allow no self-image to build up in your mind. I grant you here, also, that if you have a negative self-image it will help you to substitute for it a positive one. Nevertheless, I’ve found it an even greater help not to hold any image at all. Respond sensitively to each new situation as it arises, as if you’d never faced that situation before. In this way your responses will be always fresh, as well as particularly meaningful.
Don’t be ruled by any image others hold of you. I don’t mean in any way to suggest you outrage their sensibilities by trying to be “original.” Respect others, even for any exaggerated image they hold of you. Be guided, however, by your own conscience from within. It isn’t what one says or does that spells either triteness or originality. It is the sincerity of one’s expression. Be, in that sense, original: That is to say, be completely true to yourself.
Another way to apply the principles I’m been describing is to be willing to laugh with good cheer at yourself. Having no self-image to live up to will keep you from becoming a pompous ass! On the plus side of the ledger, you will then find it easier to be original in the true sense, and to be guided by your own understanding.
Joy and calm enthusiasm are states of mind to be sought in any work one accepts. Don’t look upon employment as a means merely to make money. Seek work, rather, that—at least according to your present understanding—promises happiness.
From Material Success Through Yoga Principles, Lessons One and Twenty-Three