Our natural talents and inspirations can accompany us when we replace our material goals with spiritual ones.
By Rukmini Vallabha Dasa
A fundamental principle of bhakti-yoga is to engage the work we have a passion for in the service of the Lord.
Many people regard spirituality as inaction. They view it as the resort of social outcastes, failures in life, and the jobless. They think that youth and adulthood are meant for unleashing our passion within to make it big in life and enjoy, and that spirituality is something to be looked into after retirement. Thus they are apprehensive of taking to spirituality, fearing they may lose their passion for life. Beginners in devotional service are often confronted by the question “Am I missing something by taking to bhakti-yoga too early?”
From childhood I had great zeal for technology and an aptitude for logical thinking. I completed my bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering in one of India’s premiere institutes. During my college days I was introduced to spirituality in the form of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Lord Krishna. In my initial days of practicing bhakti-yoga, a few of my acquaintances often discouraged me, saying that spirituality would make me inefficient and less ambitious. They were echoing the sentiments of a famous India media personality: “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
What Is Passion?
The word passion suggests an intense and often overpowering drive within. Let us study its effect on various aspects of our life.
(a) Passion as an intense inclination for a particular activity
Generally a person has interest and competence in a particular trade or profession, such as science, technology, business, art, or commerce, and is naturally eager to learn that trade or profession and becomes focused on it. Lord Krishna confirms in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13) that we have individual tendencies. He says that according to our personal traits and our inclinations to perform certain activities, we can belong to one of four classes: intellectual, administrative, mercantile, or labor. Some discover their place and feel comfortable there, and some don’t. For example, according to a survey done by the research group The Conference Board, forty-seven percent of employees in the USA are dissatisfied in their jobs. One of the main reasons is that many people are unable to identify their niche and thus end up doing something they don’t like. Dissatisfaction in professional life can spread to other aspects of life, such as family relationships. Therefore, to have a satisfied professional life it is important to identify one’s passion for a particular occupation or trade and engage in it.
(b) Passion as an obsession for sensual enjoyment
Every one of us craves bodily pleasures – eating, sleeping, sex, and so on. And we crave the money to secure these things, as well as things that lead to addictions like smoking and drinking. A major part of the modern economy capitalizes on catering to these human cravings and intensifying them. The nature of a craving is that if one indulges it, it intensifies. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (3.37) that lust is born of the mode of passion. Often passion as lust overpowers our sense of discrimination, our moral and ethical values, and our conscience. Excessive passion is one of the most prominent reasons behind, for example, financial frauds, political scandals, and sexual violence. It is one of the biggest distractions for modern youth, disrupting their studies. Once passion gets out of control, it damages all aspects of life – mental, physical, social, professional. Therefore people must become aware of the ill effects of overindulging their passions and of the need and ways to regulate them.
(c) Passion as harsh behavior
If we look into our lives, we’ll see times when we acted harshly because we acted in haste. We had to repent afterwards. Arrogance, impudence, and condescension are commonplace in personal and professional lives in today’s fast-paced world of increased self-centeredness. These attitudes and behaviors, glamorized by the modern media, lead to strained and broken relationships and even violence and crime. They also impel one to make snap decisions and judgments. Therefore it is important for everyone to recognize the ill effects of passionate behavior and develop polite and pleasing behavior.
Regulate or Reject
In summary, every one of us possesses a set of passions. We need to discover them and then decide which we must regulate and which we must reject. For example, a new smartphone comes with various default settings and enabled features. The user may find some default features, such as unwanted ads and notifications, distracting and irritating and decide to disable them. This is similar to situation (c) above. The user may find some default settings, such as volume, screen brightness, or vibration intensity, too high and reduce them to a comfortable level. This is similar to situation (b).
In a situation similar to (a), the user may be interested in a few specific features, such as Production Scheduling Profile or Schedule SMS. The user may be unable to locate them at first, and it may take some time to find them. Or the user may do so with the help of friends or end up contacting customer support and ultimately locate them that way. The user is anxious and not content with the smartphone until finding the features of interest.
What Is Spirituality?
Spirituality can have various definitions. Here I’m speaking of it as a reasoned study of the metaphysical aspects of our existence, including the influence of the metaphysical reality on the physical reality we experience. Bhakti-yoga fits that definition. It educates us in the process of correcting our misgivings about our metaphysical and physical existence, leading to peace and happiness in this life and beyond.
Each of us is a spirit soul covered by a subtle covering of mind, intelligence, and ego and a gross covering of a physical body with five knowledge-acquiring senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin) and five working senses (hands, legs, speech, anus, and genitals). The perception of outer reality happens through the gross body; the perception is captured, stored, and processed in the subtle body; and the response is delivered through the gross body. The gross body is like a computer’s hardware, the subtle body is like software, and the soul is like the user. We can understand that our existence is beyond the physical body by considering that the cells in our body all get replaced but our identity and memory are retained. This implies that our memory, feelings, and so on are stored in some place beyond the physical body. During sleep, the physical body is shut down completely, but still one is conscious and experiencing a reality beyond physical reality.
Effects of Spirituality
Spirituality influences our passions in the following ways:
(a) Spirituality helps us look within and uncover our hidden potential.
Every one of us has a conception of what we are and what the world around us is about. Our mind is a storehouse of all the conceptions we acquire through our education, through our interactions with different people, and in various other ways. For example, in every country certain professions are glamorized, and this glamorizing influences people’s definition of success. The mind is like a dusty mirror that portrays a distorted image of our self. Bhakti-yoga helps us clean the dust accumulated on our mind and thus understand and realize our true self.
We are different from what we think we are. Every one of us is gifted with certain talents and interests we can use to benefit ourselves and others. Hence spirituality helps us discover our passion and engage it in a purposeful way. Every one of us has something wonderful to contribute to the world. Taking to the practice of bhakti-yoga helps one move from the mindset of taking for oneself to that of giving to the world. As we take to devotional service seriously, the Lord from within helps us discover the gifted talents we can offer in service to Him and humanity. This is the way most of us can render devotional service – by dovetailing our abilities and resources in the Lord’s service rather than renouncing them in the name of so-called spirituality. The Bhagavad-gita (18.46) says that by worshiping the Lord through one’s work one can attain perfection.
(b) Spirituality connects us to real happiness.
Every one of us seeks pleasure. In general, we acquire the definition of happiness from the society around us. But the happiness defined by any given society is transient. We end up pursuing things that initially promise a lot of happiness but eventually end up in frustration and suffering.
Unless we know what we are, we cannot clearly understand what can make us happy. By helping us regulate our sensual urges, bhakti-yoga connects us to a source of happiness beyond the worldly limitations of time and space.
(c) Spirituality helps us choose our responses to whatever life sends our way.
Our thoughts add up to make our attitude, which influences our speech and actions, our behavior. Negative thoughts result in negative responses to the things that happen in our life. Bhakti-yoga teaches us to see everyone as a spirit soul and to ignore the superficial differences with respect to race, education, social position, and so on. This enables us to have harmonious relationships with everyone.
Spirituality also enhances our ability to discriminate between positive and negative emotions, with positive thoughts eventually crowding out the negative ones. For example, someone interested in sports will search online for sports websites, and the default auto-fill suggestions in the search engine will be related to sports. If that person finds an interest in music and starts searching for music content, the suggestions will start to change to music. In this way positive thoughts can eventually replace negative thoughts. Hence spirituality replaces our passionate emotions and reforms our behavior.
Bhakti-yoga does not emphasize disconnecting from the world around us. Rather, since everything and everyone belongs to the Supreme Lord and is divine, bhakti-yoga helps us to be more conscious of the world around us and more concerned with benefiting it. Bhakti-yoga helps us use everything we have and everything around us in the service of Lord. In bhakti-yoga the ultimate motivating force is selfless love, in contrast to selfish gain, the motivating force in the world around us.
In my own life I can see how bhakti-yoga helped me realize my own potential and direct it for a right cause. After college, I ended up as a software developer in a multinational corporation. I was caught up in the corporate rat race, with hardly any time for myself. Later, with guidance from my spiritual mentors, I began to use my technical talents in sharing spirituality. I oversee a media department that broadcasts spiritual seminars over social media. It manages e-learning courses that reach spiritual seekers and practitioners across the globe.
I also discovered a new interest in the analytical study of the spiritual wisdom of books like the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Thus I find great fulfilment and meaning in using my talents for a higher, selfless cause.
Spirituality in the form of bhakti-yoga does not destroy our passion; it helps us discover our passion and direct it in a purposeful way. It does not reject our passions; it refines them and regulates them. The following process can make life fulfilling and meaningful by adding spirituality:
- Pursue bhakti-yoga with passion.
- Discover your innate passion by inner exploration and give it a positive direction.
- Refine and regulate your lower passions.
- Transform your outlook from one of selfish passion to one of selfless compassion.
- Share with passion the message of bhakti-yoga.