I’ve often pondered Paramhansa Yogananda’s guidance to “be in the world but not of it.” At first glance it may strike many people as guidance to avoid attachments by avoiding the world.
Yet Yogananda was incredibly dynamic. He bought property, built temples and ashrams, wrote and sold books, lectured extensively, met and maintained friendships with many people all over the world. Yogananda hardly avoided the world—he took it by storm. What, then, does he mean?
From minister to corporate executive
Five years ago, after twenty years living and working in Ananda communities as manager and minister, the economic necessities arising from having four children, presented me—shall we say—the opportunity to start my own business.
Five years later, I am President and CEO of Tristream, a marketing and web development firm. We help clients get dot.com’s started, create websites for fast growing Silicon Valley high tech firms, and routinely advise clients on their business and marketing plans. I’m not sure you could get any more “in” the world if you tried.
The real question I ponder, therefore, is whether the inner attitudes that guide me are toward more dependence on outer things for my happiness, or toward more inner peace born of non-attachment?
Two God-reminding questions
There are two questions, culled from my years with Ananda, that I continuously ask myself to help keep my inner compass pointing toward God.
1) Is my work making me behave in a way that my heart tells me is wrong?
Not long ago I found myself in a dilemma. Two of my partners, who have been instrumental in getting Tristream off the ground, had reached a point of mutual dislike. I was caught in the middle. I began to lose my peace of mind. And I began to hear distant alarm bells—was being in a business inevitably going to steal my inner peace?
After much introspection, meditation, and prayer, I realized that what was stealing my peace was the thought that I needed to fix the problem between my partners. I realized that the only reason I thought this was to protect the business. And furthermore, I realized that what I’d been saying to them wasn’t from the heart and a true reflection of my feelings, but rather what I thought would make the business go better.
The simple act of letting go
This process finally brought me to the point of understanding that I needed to “let go” of making the business work out the way I wanted it to. I began to visualize moving on to something else and leaving the whole thing behind if necessary. I immediately felt lighter and more at peace. I understood, not for the first time, but with the fresh joy these moments always bring, that I didn’t need to make anything work. God has a plan for me—and for everyone. Nothing outside ourselves is needed for inner peace and happiness.
The simple act of letting go brought almost immediate clarity as to what I should do. Instead of my trying to mediate my partners’ issues, I put it back on them (where it always belonged). If they worked it out fine. If they didn’t, fine. In either event, I was certain God would guide me to what I should do next. I came away grateful for the subtle lessons of non-attachment I was learning.
2) Are my working methods and attitudes based in serving others?
Business is often seen as inherently self-serving, because people seek to profit by it. And profiting in business is often seen as a form of taking from others. However, my experience has shown me that when businesses are successful, it is not because they take from people, but because they have figured out a way to give to people. From giant companies such as Dell Computer to the small store around the corner, you give them your business because you feel served by them.
As a minister, I served people—and through them God and guru—by trying to inspire them, teach them, and give them techniques and tools that would improve their lives. As a businessman, I have found that this same basic dedication to serve God through my clients is the key to success.
Inner freedom through service
I have found the business world a challenging arena for honing one’s service because it is intensely demanding. But Yogananda said that you don’t get strong by wrestling weaklings but by wrestling people stronger than yourself. Be “in the world, but not of it”—and you’ll find great peace of mind and ever-deepening non-attachment and inner freedom.