Life Skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enables individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
Core Life Skills
1. Self Awareness
2. Effective Communication
3. Interpersonal Relationship
5. Creative Thinking
6. Critical Thinking
7. Decision Making
8. Problem Solving
9. Self Control
10. Self Management
11. Social Awareness
12. Relationship Management
Self-awareness includes recognition of ‘Self’, our Character, our Strengths and weaknesses, Likes/desires and dislikes. Developing self-awareness can help us to recognize when we are relaxed or feel stressed. It is often a prerequisite to effective communication and interpersonal relations, as well as for developing empathy, to understand what others feel when they are in the same situation.
Effective communication means that we are able to express ourselves, both verbally and non-verbally, in ways that are appropriate and acceptable to our cultures and situations. This means being able to express opinions and desires/thoughts, without hurting others. And also are able to ask for advice and help in a time of need.
Interpersonal relationship skills help us to relate in positive ways with the people we interact with. This may mean being able to make and keep friendly relationships, which can be of great importance to our mental and social well-being. It may mean keeping, good relations with family members, friends, peers and whom so ever we come across in day to day life. We need to learn the art of relating with every one we come across in our day to day life with a positive and acceptable ways.
Empathy – To have a successful relationship with our loved ones and society at large, we need to understand and care about other peoples’ needs, desires and feelings. Empathy is the ability to imagine what life is like for another person. Without empathy, our communication with others will amount to one-way traffic. Worst, we will be acting and behaving according to our self-interest and are bound to run into problems. No man is an island, no woman either! We grow up in relationships with many people – parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, classmates, friends and neighbours. When we understand ourselves as well as others, we are better prepared to communicate our needs and desires. We will be more equipped to say what we want people to know, present our thoughts and ideas and tackle delicate issues without offending other people. At the same time, we will be able to elicit support from others, and win their understanding. Empathy can help us to accept others, who may be very different from ourselves. This can improve social interactions, especially, in situations of ethnic or cultural diversity Empathy can also help to encourage nurturing behaviour towards people in need of care and assistance, or tolerance.
Creative thinking – is the ability to think something different or new. Creative thinking is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learnt. Without creativity there would be no progress, we be forever repeating and doing the same things again and again. It is to generate a new idea by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. We should think that there is always a room for improvement. We should be open for Brain storming, keep probing means keep asking questions, it there a better way of doing this?
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skill-fully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
Decision Making -This is a process of selecting a logical choice from the available options. When trying to make a good decision, a person must see all the positives and negatives of each option, and consider all the alternatives. For effective decision making, a person must be able to forecast the outcome of each option as well, and based on all these items, determine which option is the best for that particular situation.
Problem solving helps us to deal constructively with problems in our lives. We should be able to identify a problem, and then generate alternatives, we should be able to evaluate and select alternatives and think about the solutions. The main objective is to find out the causes of problem.
Self-control is the ability to control one’s emotions, behaviour, and desires in the face of external demands in order to function in society. In psychology it is sometimes called self-regulation. Self-control is the quality that allows you to stop yourself from doing things you want to do but that might not be in your best interest.
Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviours, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances. Maintain the standards of discipline required as per the acceptable standards.
Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.
Personal development includes activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations. The concept is not limited to self-help but includes formal and informal activities for developing others in roles such as teacher, guide, counselor, manager, life coach or mentor. When personal development takes place in the context of institutions, it refers to the methods, programs, tools, techniques, and assessment systems that support human development at the individual level in organizations
Personal development includes the following activities:
Improving or learning new skills
Becoming a self-leader
Building or renewing identity/self-esteem
Developing strengths or talents
Identifying or improving potential
Building employability or human capital
Enhancing lifestyle or the quality of life
Initiating a life enterprise or personal autonomy
Defining and executing personal development plans
Improving social abilities
Any sort of development—whether economic, political, biological, organizational or personal—requires a framework if one wishes to know whether change has actually occurred. In the case of personal development, an individual often functions as the primary judge of improvement, but validation of objective improvement requires assessment using standard criteria. Personal development frameworks may include goals or benchmarks that define the end-points, strategies or plans for reaching goals, measurement and assessment of progress, levels or stages that define milestones along a development path, and a feedback system to provide information on changes.
There are many ideas surrounding personal development, one of which is detailed below – Abraham Maslow’s process of Self Actualization.
Maslow (1970) suggests that all individuals have an in-built need for personal development which occurs through the process called self-actualization.
The extent to which people are able to develop depends on certain needs being met and these needs form a hierarchy. Only when one level of need is satisfied can a higher one be developed. As change occurs throughout life, however, the level of need motivating someone’s behavior at any one time will also change.
At the bottom of the hierarchy are the basic physiological needs for food, drink, sex and sleep, i.e., the basics for survival.
Second are the needs for safety and security in both the physical and economic sense.
Thirdly, progression can be made to satisfying the need for love and belonging.
The fourth level refers to meeting the need for self-esteem and self-worth. This is the level most closely related to ‘self-empowerment’.
The fifth level is the need to know and understand the environment, this level includes more abstract ideas such as curiosity and the search for meaning or purpose.
The sixth relates to aesthetic needs of beauty, symmetry and order. At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, is the need for self-actualization.
Maslow (1970, p.383) says that all individuals have the need to see themselves as competent and autonomous, also that every person has limitless room for growth.
Self-actualization refers to the desire that everybody has ‘to become everything that they are capable of becoming’. In other words, it refers to self-fulfillment and the need to reach full potential as a unique human being.
For Maslow, the path to self-actualization involves being in touch with your feelings, experiencing life fully and with total concentration.
Able to communicate effectively is the most important of all life skills.
Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place to another, whether this be vocally (using voice), written (using printed or digital media such as books, magazines, websites or emails), visually (using logos, maps, charts or graphs) or non-verbally (using body language, gestures and the tone and pitch of voice).
How well this information can be transmitted and received is a measure of how good our communication skills are.
Developing your communication skills can help all aspects of your life, from your professional life to social gatherings and everything in between. The ability to communicate information accurately, clearly and as intended, is a vital life skill and something that should not be overlooked. It’s never too late to work on your communication skills and by doing so improve your quality of life.
In the information age, we have to send, receive, and process huge numbers of messages every day. But effective communication is about more than just exchanging information; it’s also about understanding the emotion behind the information. Effective communication can improve relationships at home, work, and in social situations by deepening your connections to others and improving teamwork, decision-making, and problem solving. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust. Effective communication combines a set of skills including nonverbal communication, attentive listening, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you’re communicating with.
While effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously. Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.
Effective communication skills
Effective listening can:
Make the speaker feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger, deeper connection between you. Create an environment where everyone feels safe to express ideas, opinions, and feelings, or plan and problem solve in creative ways.
Save time by helping clarify information, avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
Relieve negative emotions. When emotions are running high, if the speaker feels that he or she has been truly heard, it can help to calm them down, relieve negative feelings, and allow for real understanding or problem solving to begin.
Tips for effective listening
If your goal is to fully understand and connect with the other person, listening effectively will often come naturally. If it doesn’t, you can remember the following tips. The more you practice them, the more satisfying and rewarding your interactions with others will become.
Focus fully on the speaker, his or her body language, and other nonverbal cues. If you’re daydreaming, checking text messages, or doodling, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation. If you find it hard to concentrate on some speakers, try repeating their words over in your head—it’ll reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns, by saying something like, “If you think that’s bad, let me tell you what happened to me.” Listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk. You can’t concentrate on what someone’s saying if you’re forming what you’re going to say next. Often, the speaker can read your facial expressions and know that your mind’s elsewhere.
Avoid seeming judgmental. In order to communicate effectively with someone, you don’t have to like them or agree with their ideas, values, or opinions. However, you do need to set aside your judgment and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand a person. The most difficult communication, when successfully executed, can lead to the most unlikely and profound connection with someone.
Show your interest in what’s being said. Nod occasionally, smile at the person, and make sure your posture is open and inviting. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” or “uh huh.”
2: Nonverbal communication:
When we communicate things that we care about, we do so mainly using nonverbal signals. Wordless communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing. The way you look, listen, move, and react to another person tells them more about how you’re feeling than words alone ever can.
Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.
You can enhance effective communication by using open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact with the person you’re talking to.
You can also use body language to emphasize or enhance your verbal message—patting a friend on the back while complimenting him on his success, for example, or pounding your fists to underline your message.
Tips for improving how you read nonverbal communication
Practice observing people in public places, such as a shopping mall, bus, train, café, restaurant, or even on a television talk show with the sound muted. Observing how others use body language can teach you how to better receive and use nonverbal signals when conversing with others. Notice how people act and react to each other. Try to guess what their relationship is, what they’re talking about, and how each feels about what is being said.
Be aware of individual differences. People from different countries and cultures tend to use different nonverbal communication gestures, so it’s important to take age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state into account when reading body language signals.
Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group. Don’t read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal cue. Consider all of the nonverbal signals you receive, from eye contact to tone of voice to body language. Anyone can slip up occasionally and let eye contact slip, for example, or briefly cross their arms without meaning to. Consider the signals as a whole to get a better “read” on a person.
Tips for improving how to deliver nonverbal communication
Use nonverbal signals that match up with your words. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel you’re being dishonest. For example, you can’t say “yes” while shaking your head no.
Adjust your nonverbal signals according to the context. The tone of your voice, for example, should be different when you’re addressing a child than when you’re addressing a group of adults. Similarly, take into account the emotional state and cultural background of the person you’re interacting with.
Use body language to convey positive feelings even when you’re not actually experiencing them. If you’re nervous about a situation—a job interview, important presentation, or first date, for example—you can use positive body language to signal confidence, even though you’re not feeling it. Instead of tentatively entering a room with your head down, eyes averted, and sliding into a chair, try standing tall with your shoulders back, smiling and maintaining eye contact, and delivering a firm handshake. It will make you feel more self-confident and help to put the other person at ease.
3: Managing Stress:
In small doses, stress can help you perform under pressure. However, when stress becomes constant and overwhelming, it can hamper effective communication by disrupting your capacity to think clearly and creatively, and act appropriately. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior.
How many times have you felt stressed during a disagreement with your spouse, kids, boss, friends, or co-workers and then said or done something you later regretted? If you can quickly relieve stress and return to a calm state, you’ll not only avoid such regrets, but in many cases you’ll also help to calm the other person as well. It’s only when you’re in a calm, relaxed state that you’ll be able to know whether the situation requires a response, or whether the other person’s signals indicate it would be better to remain silent.
Tips for stress relief for effective communication
When stress strikes, you can’t always temper it by taking time out to meditate or go for a run, especially if you’re in the middle of a meeting with your boss or an argument with your spouse, for example. By learning to quickly reduce stress in the moment, though, you can safely face any strong emotions you’re experiencing, regulate your feelings, and behave appropriately. When you know how to maintain a relaxed, energized state of awareness—even when something upsetting happens—you can remain emotionally stable and engaged.
How to deal with stress during communication:
Recognize when you’re becoming stressed. Your body will let you know if you’re stressed as you communicate. Are your muscles or your stomach tight and/or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Are you “forgetting” to breathe?
Take a moment to calm down before deciding to continue a conversation or postpone it.
Bring your senses to the rescue and quickly manage stress by taking a few deep breaths, clenching and relaxing muscles, or recalling a soothing, sensory-rich image, for example. The best way to rapidly and reliably relieve stress is through the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. But each person responds differently to sensory inputs, so you need to find things that are soothing to you and will work for you.
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress when communicating. When you or those around you start taking things too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or amusing story.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you can both bend a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone concerned. If you realize that the other person cares much more about something than you do, compromise may be easier for you and a good investment in the future of the relationship.
Agree to disagree, if necessary, and take time away from the situation so everyone can calm down. Take a quick break and move away from the situation. Go for a stroll outside if possible, or spend a few minutes meditating. Physical movement or finding a quiet place to regain your balance can quickly reduce stress.
4: Emotional Awareness:
Emotions play an important role in the way we communicate at home and work. It’s the way you feel, more than the way you think, that motivates you to communicate or to make decisions. The way you react to emotionally driven, nonverbal cues affects both how you understand other people and how they understand you. If you are out of touch with your feelings, and don’t understand how you feel or why you feel that way, you’ll have a hard time communicating your feelings and needs to others. This can result in frustration, misunderstandings, and conflict. When you don’t address what’s really bothering you, you often become embroiled in petty squabbles instead—arguing with your spouse about how the towels should be hung, for example, or with a coworker about saying it is your job not mine etc.
Emotional awareness provides you the tools needed for understanding both yourself and other people, and the real messages they are communicating to you. Although knowing your own feelings may seem simple, many people ignore or try to sedate strong emotions like anger, sadness, and fear. But your ability to communicate depends on being connected to these feelings. If you’re afraid of strong emotions or if you insist on communicating only on a rational level, it will impair your ability to fully understand others, creatively problem solve, resolve conflicts, or build an affectionate connection with someone.
Emotional Awareness—the consciousness of your moment-to-moment emotional experience—and the ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately is the basis for effective communication.
Emotional awareness helps you:
Effective communication requires both thinking and feeling
When emotional awareness is strongly developed, you’ll know what you’re feeling without having to think about it—and you’ll be able to use these emotional cues to understand what someone is really communicating to you and act accordingly. The goal of effective communication is to find a healthy balance between your intellect and your emotions, between thinking and feeling.
Emotional awareness is a skill you can learn
Emotional awareness is a skill that, with patience and practice, can be learned at any time of life. You can develop emotional awareness by learning how to get in touch with difficult emotions and manage uncomfortable feelings, including anger, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and joy. When you know how to do this, you can remain in control of your emotions and behavior, even in very challenging situations, and communicate more clearly and effectively.
Do you know how we learn communicating effectively?
Learn by doing:
Personality” is a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences their environment, cognitions, emotions, motivations, and behavioral science in various situations. Personality also refers to the pattern of thoughts, feelings, social adjustments, and behaviors consistently exhibited over time that strongly influences one’s expectations, self-perceptions, values, and attitudes. It also predicts human reactions to other people. Personality can be defined as consistency in a person’s way of being — that is, long-term consistency in their particular ways of perceiving, thinking, acting and reacting as a person. Organized patterns of thought and feeling and behavior.
Perfect personality means those who come in contact with you, are really pleased to meet you and would like to remain in your company. It is very natural that every living being wants to be loved, needed, wanted or missed when not present. With little effort on your part, you can Transform yourself into a Pleasing Personality, a sought after Person. A Pleasing and Attractive Personality can blossom by your own efforts by constant self-Improvisation.
Following are the ways to Self-Create a Pleasing/Perfect Personality and become the Person you have always wanted to be:
(a). Firm hand Shake: A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. Using the right hand is generally considered proper etiquette. Customs surrounding handshakes are specific to cultures. Different cultures may be more or less likely to shake hands, or there may be different customs about how or when to shake hands. Since, a Hand Shake is the first contact when you are introduced to any one, it has to be perfected. While Shaking Hands, apply just enough pressure to impress that other person is Welcome and Wanted. A Smile is the pre-requisite for any Warm Hand Shake denoting Friendship, Warmth and Bonhomie.
(b). Voice: When Speaking, your voice must be Cool, Calm and well Modulated. Voice should not be loud nor should it be shrill or high pitched. By constant practice, you can achieve this. When something is said, take time to react or respond. Always, behave like a big Airliner, not like a fighter plane.
(c). Be a Good Listener: Always work on being a Good and Attentive Listener. When others are talking, do not interrupt them. Even if you disagree with what is being said, never let your disagreement be known abruptly or aggressively. Always put forth your viewpoint Calmly but Effectively. A Good Listener is more popular than a good speaker. Gift of Patient Listening is most valued by most of the people.
(d). Interest in others: You can only attract others by first attracting yourselves to them. You have to be amply interested in others’ Lives, Family, Hobbies, Habits, Interests and Profession. Talk about them and ask questions about them to show your sincerity and eagerness to be genuinely interested in them.
(e). Personal Bearing: Stand or Sit erect to exhibit confidence and poise. Avoid drooping posture when sitting or walking. Dress adequately for the occasion. When attending Office or Social Functions, avoid casuals. Dress smartly and Smile, and you will find only smiles awaiting you wherever you go. A smile is infectious and others would only smile back when they find you smiling at them. Always be punctual but do not question others if they are late unless you are the boss.
(f). Positive Attitude: Foundation of Sound Positive Character is the basic ingredient of any Pleasing Personality. ‘Positive people attract while negative repel’. Inculcate a Positive Attitude in life which would not only transform yourself into a Pleasing Personality but also shall help you in many more ways in life. You must get yourselves into the habit of looking at brighter side of things. Never crib about things in others’ presence and do not tell your troubles to others. Be patient. Never give the impression to others of impatience and irritation. Exhibit Tolerance and Self-control attitude. Say ‘Yes’ and make it your Favorite Word. All these characteristics inspire confidence in others and they shall flock to be in your company.
(g). Appreciation: It’s a basic human need to want to be appreciated. Meet it. Get into the habit of identifying what is Good and Appreciable in others and express it unhesitatingly. In other words, always be appreciative of things, people and good qualities they possess. But avoid sycophancy and flattery. When you are a Team Leader, be liberal in praising your Team Members for their efforts which result in much needed motivation and enhanced performance. When the Team performs well, give credit to the Team but own up the responsibility of team’s failure and short- comings.
(h). Avoid the Blame Game: You can avoid ill-will by avoiding the tendency to blame or criticize others without thinking. You may disagree but never appear disagreeable. Put forth your viewpoint firmly but politely, making it clear that the idea is to improve the things and definitely not to blame someone for what has gone wrong. When you blame others, they become defensive about what they have done which generates avoidable arguments and counter arguments. Your Words and Actions should reinforce the genuineness of your thoughts. Never let it appear from what you say or from your body language that you want to take advantage of the situation by putting the other person down. A Pleasing Personality comes handy when things go wrong which they often do. Always be fair especially to your subordinates.
(i). Cheerfulness and Enthusiasm: Always be Cheerful and Enthusiastic about things and events. People would like to be in your company if you are Cheerful, Enthusiastic and Possess a Positive Attitude in life. Create Humor and interesting anecdotes. No one likes to be in the company of morose, serious and sad looking people. Fill your mind with Positive thoughts aggressively and then, it is easy to remain Cheerful and Enthusiastic.
(j). Hold your Temper: Again a matter of habit-creation. Circumstances and Situations may sometimes, tempt you to lose Temper, go out of control and think negatively and in anger, say things which you never mean. Remember, Anger is only a letter short of ‘Danger’. Once a word goes out, like an arrow, it cannot be retrieved. Be cool and hold your temper. Never take action when you are angry. It will save you lot of embarrassment in life if you are even tempered, Calm, Cool, and maintain your poise even in the face of difficult situations and provocations. Mind you, ‘Both Human and Steel lose their values, once they lose Temper’.
(k). Admit your mistakes: Saying ‘I am sorry’ or ‘I think I was wrong’ or ‘ I stand corrected’ are signs of magnanimity, not weakness. Everyone makes mistakes, but unfortunately few admit them. Try to be one of those few. A person who never makes mistake, never makes anything. Admitting your mistakes before children, fetches you children’s Confidence and Goodwill. By apologizing, parents teach children that anyone can be wrong and it is worth it to admit. Another important aspect is to accept others’ sincere apologies graciously and sportingly. Do not ever try to take advantage or taunt the person who has sincerely apologized for his mistake or wrongdoing.
(l). Be Helpful, Kind and Generous: Create a Helping Attitude wherever you can. And when others offer help, accept it graciously. As a saying goes ‘In the same degree you are helpful, you will be happy’. A Helpful and Kind Person is always Happy, Trusted and Respected by all, and is Self -Assured, Self-Confident and at Peace with himself.
(m). Avoid confrontation: Specially, in minor inconsequential issues. Remember, you can go up the ladder with others’ Support and Co-operation only. Always, look for the opportunity to co-operate with others. When you co-operate with others, others will automatically co-operate with you. Many times, you might win the argument but lose the person. Sometimes, it is better to lose the argument than losing an important relationship.
(n). Thanks and Gratitude: Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude. For any service rendered, always express Thanks and Gratitude profusely. No act of service is too small to acknowledge. Always be on the lookout for any opportunity to acknowledge and convey THANKS and GRATITUDE. When complimented, respond by saying just ‘THANK YOU’.
(o). Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Always, keep these two things high about yourselves in your own mind. Keep your intentions good, with no intention to harm anyone. Such an attitude will give a big boost to your self-confidence to face Life, Challenges and Situations. Abide by the rules specially while Driving. Do not blindly ape others. Make your own standards and never lower them. Stop worrying about things over which you have no control. Do not boast of your achievements or accomplishments. Let others notice and evaluate them. Also avoid the temptation to criticize others, events or actions.
Remember, your only limitation is the one which you setup in your own mind. You should have a burning desire to improve your personality, make it Attractive and Effective, for others wanting to be in your company. By constant practice, you can self create yourself on the lines of above points and be the person you have always wanted to be. There is a treasure of Good Habits inside you waiting to be unearthed. Your dedication to become a Pleasant Personality, should be such that when you could be Brilliant or Pleasant, you would always choose Pleasant.
It is necessary in the study of Karma-Yoga to know what duty is. If I have to do something I must first know that it is my duty, and then I can do it. The idea of duty again is different in different nations. The Mohammedan says what is written in his book, the Koran, is his duty; the Hindu says what is in the Vedas is his duty; and the Christian says what is in the Bible is his duty. We find that there are varied ideas of duty, differing according to different states in life, different historical periods and different nations. The term “duty”, like every other universal abstract term, is impossible clearly to define; we can only get an idea of it by knowing its practical operations and results. When certain things occur before us, we have all a natural or trained impulse to act in a certain manner towards them; when this impulse comes, the mind begins to think about the situation. Sometimes it thinks that it is good to act in a particular manner under the given conditions; at other times it thinks that it is wrong to act in the same manner even in the very same circumstances. The ordinary idea of duty everywhere is that every good man follows the dictates of his conscience. But what is it that makes an act a duty? If a Christian finds a piece of beef before him and does not eat it to save his own life, or will not give it to save the life of another man, he is sure to feel that he has not done his duty. But if a Hindu dares to eat that piece of beef or to give it to another Hindu, he is equally sure to feel that he too has not done his duty; the Hindu’s training and education make him feel that way. In the last century there were notorious bands of robbers in India called thugs; they thought it their duty to kill any man they could and take away his money; the larger the number of men they killed, the better they thought they were. Ordinarily if a man goes out into the street and shoots down another man, he is apt to feel sorry for it, thinking that he has done wrong. But if the very same man, as a soldier in his regiment, kills not one but twenty, he is certain to feel glad and think that he has done his duty remarkably well. Therefore we see that it is not the thing done that defines a duty. To give an objective definition of duty is thus entirely impossible. Yet there is duty from the subjective side. Any action that makes us go Godward is a good action, and is our duty; any action that makes us go downward is evil, and is not our duty. From the subjective standpoint we may see that certain acts have a tendency to exalt and ennoble us, while certain other acts have a tendency to degrade and to brutalise us. But it is not possible to make out with certainty which acts have which kind of tendency in relation to all persons, of all sorts and conditions. There is, however, only one idea of duty which has been universally accepted by all mankind, of all ages and sects and countries, and that has been summed up in a Sanskrit aphorism thus: “Do not injure any being; not injuring any being is virtue, injuring any being is sin.”
The Bhagavad-Gita frequently alludes to duties dependent upon birth and position in life. Birth and position in life and in society largely determine the mental and moral attitude of individuals towards the various activities of life. It is therefore our duty to do that work which will exalt and ennoble us in accordance with the ideals and activities of the society in which we are born. But it must be particularly remembered that the same ideals and activities do not prevail in all societies and countries; our ignorance of this is the main cause of much of the hatred of one nation towards another. An American thinks that whatever an American does in accordance with the custom of his country is the best thing to do, and that whoever does not follow his custom must be a very wicked man. A Hindu thinks that his customs are the only right ones and are the best in the world, and that whosoever does not obey them must be the most wicked man living. This is quite a natural mistake which all of us are apt to make. But it is very harmful; it is the cause of half the uncharitableness found in the world. When I came to this country and was going through the Chicago Fair, a man from behind pulled at my turban. I looked back and saw that he was a very gentlemanly-looking man, neatly dressed. I spoke to him; and when he found that I knew English, he became very much abashed. On another occasion in the same Fair another man gave me a push. When I asked him the reason, he also was ashamed and stammered out an apology saying, “Why do you dress that way?” The sympathies of these men were limited within the range of their own language and their own fashion of dress. Much of the oppression of powerful nations on weaker ones is caused by this prejudice. It dries up their fellow feeling for fellow men. That very man who asked me why I did not dress as he did and wanted to ill-treat me because of my dress may have been a very good man, a good father, and a good citizen; but the kindliness of his nature died out as soon as he saw a man in a different dress. Strangers are exploited in all countries, because they do not know how to defend themselves; thus they carry home false impressions of the peoples they have seen. Sailors, soldiers, and traders behave in foreign lands in very queer ways, although they would not dream of doing so in their own country; perhaps this is why the Chinese call Europeans and Americans “foreign devils”. They could not have done this if they had met the good, the kindly sides of Western life.
Therefore the one point we ought to remember is that we should always try to see the duty of others through their own eyes, and never judge the customs of other peoples by our own standard. I am not the standard of the universe. I have to accommodate myself to the world, and not the world to me. So we see that environments change the nature of our duties, and doing the duty which is ours at any particular time is the best thing we can do in this world. Let us do that duty which is ours by birth; and when we have done that, let us do the duty which is ours by our position in life and in society. There is, however, one great danger in human nature, viz that man never examines himself. He thinks he is quite as fit to be on the throne as the king. Even if he is, he must first show that he has done the duty of his own position; and then higher duties will come to him. When we begin to work earnestly in the world, nature gives us blows right and left and soon enables us to find out our position. No man can long occupy satisfactorily a position for which he is not fit. There is no use in grumbling against nature’s adjustment. He who does the lower work is not therefore a lower man. No man is to be judged by the mere nature of his duties, but all should be judged by the manner and the spirit in which they perform them.
Later on we shall find that even this idea of duty undergoes change, and that the greatest work is done only when there is no selfish motive to prompt it. Yet it is work through the sense of duty that leads us to work without any idea of duty; when work will become worship — nay, something higher — then will work be done for its own sake. We shall find that the philosophy of duty, whether it be in the form of ethics or of love, is the same as in every other Yoga — the object being the attenuating of the lower self, so that the real higher Self may shine forth — the lessening of the frittering away of energies on the lower plane of existence, so that the soul may manifest itself on the higher ones. This is accomplished by the continuous denial of low desires, which duty rigorously requires. The whole organisation of society has thus been developed, consciously or unconsciously, in the realms of action and experience, where, by limiting selfishness, we open the way to an unlimited expansion of the real nature of man.
Duty is seldom sweet. It is only when love greases its wheels that it runs smoothly; it is a continuous friction otherwise. How else could parents do their duties to their children, husbands to their wives, and vice versa? Do we not meet with cases of friction every day in our lives? Duty is sweet only through love, and love shines in freedom alone. Yet is it freedom to be a slave to the senses, to anger, to jealousies and a hundred other petty things that must occur every day in human life? In all these little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear. Women, slaves to their own irritable, jealous tempers, are apt to blame their husbands, and assert their own “freedom”, as they think, not knowing that thereby they only prove that they are slaves. So it is with husbands who eternally find fault with their wives.
Chastity is the first virtue in man or woman, and the man who, however he may have strayed away, cannot be brought to the right path by a gentle and loving and chaste wife is indeed very rare. The world is not yet as bad as that. We hear much about brutal husbands all over the world and about the impurity of men, but is it not true that there are quite as many brutal and impure women as men? If all women were as good and pure as their own constant assertions would lead one to believe, I am perfectly satisfied that there would not be one impure man in the world. What brutality is there which purity and chastity cannot conquer? A good, chaste wife, who thinks of every other man except her own husband as her child and has the attitude of a mother towards all men, will grow so great in the power of her purity that there cannot be a single man, however brutal, who will not breathe an atmosphere of holiness in her presence. Similarly, every husband must look upon all women, except his own wife, in the light of his own mother or daughter or sister. That man, again, who wants to be a teacher of religion must look upon every woman as his mother, and always behave towards her as such.
The position of the mother is the highest in the world, as it is the one place in which to learn and exercise the greatest unselfishness. The love of God is the only love that is higher than a mother’s love; all others are lower. It is the duty of the mother to think of her children first and then of herself. But, instead of that, if the parents are always thinking of themselves first, the result is that the relation between parents and children becomes the same as that between birds and their offspring which, as soon as they are fledged, do not recognise any parents. Blessed, indeed, is the man who is able to look upon woman as the representative of the motherhood of God. Blessed, indeed, is the woman to whom man represents the fatherhood of God. Blessed are the children who look upon their parents as Divinity manifested on earth.
The only way to rise is by doing the duty next to us, and thus gathering strength go on until we reach the highest state. A young Sannyâsin went to a forest; there he meditated, worshipped, and practiced Yoga for a long time. After years of hard work and practice, he was one day sitting under a tree, when some dry leaves fell upon his head. He looked up and saw a crow and a crane fighting on the top of the tree, which made him very angry. He said, “What! Dare you throw these dry leaves upon my head!” As with these words he angrily glanced at them, a flash of fire went out of his head — such was the Yogi’s power — and burnt the birds to ashes. He was very glad, almost overjoyed at this development of power — he could burn the crow and the crane by a look. After a time he had to go to the town to beg his bread. He went, stood at a door, and said, “Mother, give me food.” A voice came from inside the house, “Wait a little, my son.” The young man thought, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet.” While he was thinking thus the voice came again: “Boy, don’t be thinking too much of yourself. Here is neither crow nor crane.” He was astonished; still he had to wait. At last the woman came, and he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, how did you know that?” She said, “My boy, I do not know your Yoga or your practices. I am a common everyday woman. I made you wait because my husband is ill, and I was nursing him. All my life I have struggled to do my duty. When I was unmarried, I did my duty to my parents; now that I am married, I do my duty to my husband; that is all the Yoga I practice. But by doing my duty I have become illumined; thus I could read your thoughts and know what you had done in the forest. If you want to know something higher than this, go to the market of such and such a town where you will find a Vyâdha (The lowest class of people in India who used to live as hunters and butchers.) who will tell you something that you will be very glad to learn.” The Sannyasi thought, “Why should I go to that town and to a Vyadha?” But after what he had seen, his mind opened a little, so he went. When he came near the town, he found the market and there saw, at a distance, a big fat Vyadha cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people. The young man said, “Lord help me! Is this the man from whom I am going to learn? He is the incarnation of a demon, if he is anything.” In the meantime this man looked up and said, “O Swami, did that lady send you here? Take a seat until I have done my business.” The Sannyasi thought, “What comes to me here?” He took his seat; the man went on with his work, and after he had finished he took his money and said to the Sannyasi, “Come sir, come to my home.” On reaching home the Vyadha gave him a seat, saying, “Wait here,” and went into the house. He then washed his old father and mother, fed them, and did all he could to please them, after which he came to the Sannyasi and said, “Now, sir, you have come here to see me; what can I do for you?” The Sannyasi asked him a few questions about soul and about God, and the Vyadha gave him a lecture which forms a part of the Mahâbhârata, called the Vyâdha-Gitâ. It contains one of the highest flights of the Vedanta. When the Vyadha finished his teaching, the Sannyasi felt astonished. He said, “Why are you in that body? With such knowledge as yours why are you in a Vyadha’s body, and doing such filthy, ugly work?” “My son,” replied the Vyadha, “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environments. In my boyhood I learnt the trade; I am unattached, and I try to do my duty well. I try to do my duty as a householder, and I try to do all I can to make my father and mother happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a Sannyasi, nor did I go out of the world into a forest; nevertheless, all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached doing of the duty which belongs to my position.”
There is a sage in India, a great Yogi, one of the most wonderful men I have ever seen in my life. He is a peculiar man, he will not teach any one; if you ask him a question he will not answer. It is too much for him to take up the position of a teacher, he will not do it. If you ask a question, and wait for some days, in the course of conversation he will bring up the subject, and wonderful light will he throw on it. He told me once the secret of work, “Let the end and the means be joined into one.” When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being. Thus, in the story, the Vyadha and the woman did their duty with cheerfulness and whole-heartedness; and the result was that they became illuminated, clearly showing that the right performance of the duties of any station in life, without attachment to results, leads us to the highest realisation of the perfection of the soul.
It is the worker who is attached to results that grumbles about the nature of the duty which has fallen to his lot; to the unattached worker all duties are equally good, and form efficient instruments with which selfishness and sensuality may be killed, and the freedom of the soul secured. We are all apt to think too highly of ourselves. Our duties are determined by our desires to a much larger extent than we are willing to grant. Competition rouses envy, and it kills the kindliness of the heart. To the grumbler all duties are distasteful; nothing will ever satisfy him, and his whole life is doomed to prove a failure. Let us work on, doing as we go whatever happens to be our duty, and being ever ready to put our shoulders to the wheel. Then surely shall we see the Light!
Helping others physically, by removing their physical needs, is indeed great, but the help is great according as the need is greater and according as the help is far reaching. If a man’s wants can be removed for an hour, it is helping him indeed; if his wants can be removed for a year, it will be more help to him; but if his wants can be removed for ever, it is surely the greatest help that can be given him. Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy our miseries for ever; any other knowledge satisfies wants only for a time. It is only with the knowledge of the spirit that the faculty of want is annihilated for ever; so helping man spiritually is the highest help that can be given to him. He who gives man spiritual knowledge is the greatest benefactor of mankind and as such we always find that those were the most powerful of men who helped man in his spiritual needs, because spirituality is the true basis of all our activities in life. A spiritually strong and sound man will be strong in every other respect, if he so wishes. Until there is spiritual strength in man even physical needs cannot be well satisfied. Next to spiritual comes intellectual help. The gift of knowledge is a far higher gift than that of food and clothes; it is even higher than giving life to a man, because the real life of man consists of knowledge. Ignorance is death, knowledge is life. Life is of very little value, if it is a life in the dark, groping through ignorance and misery. Next in order comes, of course, helping a man physically. Therefore, in considering the question of helping others, we must always strive not to commit the mistake of thinking that physical help is the only help that can be given. It is not only the last but the least, because it cannot bring about permanent satisfaction. The misery that I feel when I am hungry is satisfied by eating, but hunger returns; my misery can cease only when I am satisfied beyond all want. Then hunger will not make me miserable; no distress, no sorrow will be able to move me. So, that help which tends to make us strong spiritually is the highest, next to it comes intellectual help, and after that physical help.
The miseries of the world cannot be cured by physical help only. Until man’s nature changes, these physical needs will always arise, and miseries will always be felt, and no amount of physical help will cure them completely. The only solution of this problem is to make mankind pure. Ignorance is the mother of all the evil and all the misery we see. Let men have light, let them be pure and spiritually strong and educated, then alone will misery cease in the world, not before. We may convert every house in the country into a charity asylum, we may fill the land with hospitals, but the misery of man will still continue to exist until man’s character changes.
We read in the Bhagavad-Gita again and again that we must all work incessantly. All work is by nature composed of good and evil. We cannot do any work which will not do some good somewhere; there cannot be any work which will not cause some harm somewhere. Every work must necessarily be a mixture of good and evil; yet we are commanded to work incessantly. Good and evil will both have their results, will produce their Karma. Good action will entail upon us good effect; bad action, bad. But good and bad are both bondages of the soul. The solution reached in the Gita in regard to this bondage-producing nature of work is that, if we do not attach ourselves to the work we do, it will not have any binding effect on our soul. We shall try to understand what is meant by this “non-attachment to” to work.
This is the one central idea in the Gita: work incessantly, but be not attached to it. Samskâra can be translated very nearly by “inherent tendency”. Using the simile of a lake for the mind, every ripple, every wave that rises in the mind, when it subsides, does not die out entirely, but leaves a mark and a future possibility of that wave coming out again. This mark, with the possibility of the wave reappearing, is what is called Samskâra. Every work that we do, every movement of the body, every thought that we think, leaves such an impression on the mind-stuff, and even when such impressions are not obvious on the surface, they are sufficiently strong to work beneath the surface, subconsciously. What we are every moment is determined by the sum total of these impressions on the mind. What I am just at this moment is the effect of the sum total of all the impressions of my past life. This is really what is meant by character; each man’s character is determined by the sum total of these impressions. If good impressions prevail, the character becomes good; if bad, it becomes bad. If a man continuously hears bad words, thinks bad thoughts, does bad actions, his mind will be full of bad impressions; and they will influence his thought and work without his being conscious of the fact. In fact, these bad impressions are always working, and their resultant must be evil, and that man will be a bad man; he cannot help it. The sum total of these impressions in him will create the strong motive power for doing bad actions. He will be like a machine in the hands of his impressions, and they will force him to do evil. Similarly, if a man thinks good thoughts and does good works, the sum total of these impressions will be good; and they, in a similar manner, will force him to do good even in spite of himself. When a man has done so much good work and thought so many good thoughts that there is an irresistible tendency in him to do good in spite of himself and even if he wishes to do evil, his mind, as the sum total of his tendencies, will not allow him to do so; the tendencies will turn him back; he is completely under the influence of the good tendencies. When such is the case, a man’s good character is said to be established.
As the tortoise tucks its feet and head inside the shell, and you may kill it and break it in pieces, and yet it will not come out, even so the character of that man who has control over his motives and organs is unchangeably established. He controls his own inner forces, and nothing can draw them out against his will. By this continuous reflex of good thoughts, good impressions moving over the surface of the mind, the tendency for doing good becomes strong, and as the result we feel able to control the Indriyas (the sense-organs, the nerve-centres). Thus alone will character be established, then alone a man gets to truth. Such a man is safe for ever; he cannot do any evil. You may place him in any company, there will be no danger for him. There is a still higher state than having this good tendency, and that is the desire for liberation. You must remember that freedom of the soul is the goal of all Yogas, and each one equally leads to the same result. By work alone men may get to where Buddha got largely by meditation or Christ by prayer. Buddha was a working Jnâni, Christ was a Bhakta, but the same goal was reached by both of them. The difficulty is here. Liberation means entire freedom — freedom from the bondage of good, as well as from the bondage of evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one. There is a thorn in my finger, and I use another to take the first one out; and when I have taken it out, I throw both of them aside; I have no necessity for keeping the second thorn, because both are thorns after all. So the bad tendencies are to be counteracted by the good ones, and the bad impressions on the mind should be removed by the fresh waves of good ones, until all that is evil almost disappears, or is subdued and held in control in a corner of the mind; but after that, the good tendencies have also to be conquered. Thus the “attached” becomes the “unattached”. Work, but let not the action or the thought produce a deep impression on the mind. Let the ripples come and go, let huge actions proceed from the muscles and the brain, but let them not make any deep impression on the soul.
How can this be done? We see that the impression of any action, to which we attach ourselves, remains. I may meet hundreds of persons during the day, and among them meet also one whom I love; and when I retire at night, I may try to think of all the faces I saw, but only that face comes before the mind — the face which I met perhaps only for one minute, and which I loved; all the others have vanished. My attachment to this particular person caused a deeper impression on my mind than all the other faces. Physiologically the impressions have all been the same; every one of the faces that I saw pictured itself on the retina, and the brain took the pictures in, and yet there was no similarity of effect upon the mind. Most of the faces, perhaps, were entirely new faces, about which I had never thought before, but that one face of which I got only a glimpse found associations inside. Perhaps I had pictured him in my mind for years, knew hundreds of things about him, and this one new vision of him awakened hundreds of sleeping memories in my mind; and this one impression having been repeated perhaps a hundred times more than those of the different faces together, will produce a great effect on the mind.
Therefore, be “unattached”; let things work; let brain centres work; work incessantly, but let not a ripple conquer the mind. Work as if you were a stranger in this land, a sojourner; work incessantly, but do not bind yourselves; bondage is terrible. This world is not our habitation, it is only one of the many stages through which we are passing. Remember that great saying of the Sânkhya, “The whole of nature is for the soul, not the soul for nature.” The very reason of nature’s existence is for the education of the soul; it has no other meaning; it is there because the soul must have knowledge, and through knowledge free itself. If we remember this always, we shall never be attached to nature; we shall know that nature is a book in which we are to read, and that when we have gained the required knowledge, the book is of no more value to us. Instead of that, however, we are identifying ourselves with nature; we are thinking that the soul is for nature, that the spirit is for the flesh, and, as the common saying has it, we think that man “lives to eat” and not “eats to live”. We are continually making this mistake; we are regarding nature as ourselves and are becoming attached to it; and as soon as this attachment comes, there is the deep impression on the soul, which binds us down and makes us work not from freedom but like slaves.
The whole gist of this teaching is that you should work like a master and not as a slave; work incessantly, but do not do slave’s work. Do you not see how everybody works? Nobody can be altogether at rest; ninety-nine per cent of mankind work like slaves, and the result is misery; it is all selfish work. Work through freedom! Work through love! The word “love” is very difficult to understand; love never comes until there is freedom. There is no true love possible in the slave. If you buy a slave and tie him down in chains and make him work for you, he will work like a drudge, but there will be no love in him. So when we ourselves work for the things of the world as slaves, there can be no love in us, and our work is not true work. This is true of work done for relatives and friends, and is true of work done for our own selves. Selfish work is slave’s work; and here is a test. Every act of love brings happiness; there is no act of love which does not bring peace and blessedness as its reaction. Real existence, real knowledge, and real love are eternally connected with one another, the three in one: where one of them is, the others also must be; they are the three aspects of the One without a second — the Existence – Knowledge – Bliss. When that existence becomes relative, we see it as the world; that knowledge becomes in its turn modified into the knowledge of the things of the world; and that bliss forms the foundation of all true love known to the heart of man. Therefore true love can never react so as to cause pain either to the lover or to the beloved. Suppose a man loves a woman; he wishes to have her all to himself and feels extremely jealous about her every movement; he wants her to sit near him, to stand near him, and to eat and move at his bidding. He is a slave to her and wishes to have her as his slave. That is not love; it is a kind of morbid affection of the slave, insinuating itself as love. It cannot be love, because it is painful; if she does not do what he wants, it brings him pain. With love there is no painful reaction; love only brings a reaction of bliss; if it does not, it is not love; it is mistaking something else for love. When you have succeeded in loving your husband, your wife, your children, the whole world, the universe, in such a manner that there is no reaction of pain or jealousy, no selfish feeling, then you are in a fit state to be unattached.
Krishna says, “Look at Me, Arjuna! If I stop from work for one moment, the whole universe will die. I have nothing to gain from work; I am the one Lord, but why do I work? Because I love the world.” God is unattached because He loves; that real love makes us unattached. Wherever there is attachment, the clinging to the things of the world, you must know that it is all physical attraction between sets of particles of matter — something that attracts two bodies nearer and nearer all the time and, if they cannot get near enough, produces pain; but where there is real love, it does not rest on physical attachment at all. Such lovers may be a thousand miles away from one another, but their love will be all the same; it does not die, and will never produce any painful reaction.
To attain this unattachment is almost a life-work, but as soon as we have reached this point, we have attained the goal of love and become free; the bondage of nature falls from us, and we see nature as she is; she forges no more chains for us; we stand entirely free and take not the results of work into consideration; who then cares for what the results may be?
Do you ask anything from your children in return for what you have given them? It is your duty to work for them, and there the matter ends. In whatever you do for a particular person, a city, or a state, assume the same attitude towards it as you have towards your children — expect nothing in return. If you can invariably take the position of a giver, in which everything given by you is a free offering to the world, without any thought of return, then will your work bring you no attachment. Attachment comes only where we expect a return.
If working like slaves results in selfishness and attachment, working as master of our own mind gives rise to the bliss of non-attachment. We often talk of right and justice, but we find that in the world right and justice are mere baby’s talk. There are two things which guide the conduct of men: might and mercy. The exercise of might is invariably the exercise of selfishness. All men and women try to make the most of whatever power or advantage they have. Mercy is heaven itself; to be good, we have all to be merciful. Even justice and right should stand on mercy. All thought of obtaining return for the work we do hinders our spiritual progress; nay, in the end it brings misery. There is another way in which this idea of mercy and selfless charity can be put into practice; that is, by looking upon work as “worship” in case we believe in a Personal God. Here we give up all the fruits our work unto the Lord, and worshipping Him thus, we have no right to expect anything from mankind for the work we do. The Lord Himself works incessantly and is ever without attachment. Just as water cannot wet the lotus leaf, so work cannot bind the unselfish man by giving rise to attachment to results. The selfless and unattached man may live in the very heart of a crowded and sinful city; he will not be touched by sin.
This idea of complete self-sacrifice is illustrated in the following story: After the battle of Kurukshetra the five Pândava brothers performed a great sacrifice and made very large gifts to the poor. All people expressed amazement at the greatness and richness of the sacrifice, and said that such a sacrifice the world had never seen before. But, after the ceremony, there came a little mongoose, half of whose body was golden, and the other half brown; and he began to roll on the floor of the sacrificial hall. He said to those around, “You are all liars; this is no sacrifice.” “What!” they exclaimed, “you say this is no sacrifice; do you not know how money and jewels were poured out to the poor and every one became rich and happy? This was the most wonderful sacrifice any man ever performed.” But the mongoose said, “There was once a little village, and in it there dwelt a poor Brahman with his wife, his son, and his son’s wife. They were very poor and lived on small gifts made to them for preaching and teaching. There came in that land a three years’ famine, and the poor Brahman suffered more than ever. At last when the family had starved for days, the father brought home one morning a little barley flour, which he had been fortunate enough to obtain, and he divided it into four parts, one for each member of the family. They prepared it for their meal, and just as they were about to eat, there was a knock at the door. The father opened it, and there stood a guest. Now in India a guest is a sacred person; he is as a god for the time being, and must be treated as such. So the poor Brahman said, ‘Come in, sir; you are welcome,’ He set before the guest his own portion of the food, which the guest quickly ate and said, ‘Oh, sir, you have killed me; I have been starving for ten days, and this little bit has but increased my hunger.’ Then the wife said to her husband, ‘Give him my share,’ but the husband said, ‘Not so.’ The wife however insisted, saying, ‘Here is a poor man, and it is our duty as householders to see that he is fed, and it is my duty as a wife to give him my portion, seeing that you have no more to offer him.’ Then she gave her share to the guest, which he ate, and said he was still burning with hunger. So the son said, ‘Take my portion also; it is the duty of a son to help his father to fulfil his obligations.’ The guest ate that, but remained still unsatisfied; so the son’s wife gave him her portion also. That was sufficient, and the guest departed, blessing them. That night those four people died of starvation. A few granules of that flour had fallen on the floor; and when I rolled my body on them, half of it became golden, as you see. Since then I have been travelling all over the world, hoping to find another sacrifice like that, but nowhere have I found one; nowhere else has the other half of my body been turned into gold. That is why I say this is no sacrifice.”
This idea of charity is going out of India; great men are becoming fewer and fewer. When I was first learning English, I read an English story book in which there was a story about a dutiful boy who had gone out to work and had given some of his money to his old mother, and this was praised in three or four pages. What was that? No Hindu boy can ever understand the moral of that story. Now I understand it when I hear the Western idea — every man for himself. And some men take everything for themselves, and fathers and mothers and wives and children go to the wall. That should never and nowhere be the ideal of the householder.
Now you see what Karma-Yoga means; even at the point of death to help any one, without asking questions. Be cheated millions of times and never ask a question, and never think of what you are doing. Never vaunt of your gifts to the poor or expect their gratitude, but rather be grateful to them for giving you the occasion of practising charity to them. Thus it is plain that to be an ideal householder is a much more difficult task than to be an ideal Sannyasi; the true life of work is indeed as hard as, if not harder than, the equally true life of renunciation.