“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)
“Kids, if you only take away one lesson from my life, make it this: Try your hardest. Any successful person will tell you that perseverance is key. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The difference between the successful and the unsuccessful is work. Push yourself to the limit if you have to; it’s worth it. Why live a life of regret later on? Go for it now. Commit yourself to the goal and then work towards achieving it. Don’t give up.”
This sagacious advice is commonly offered from those who are successful in their field. They are merely passing on the wisdom they gained through their own experiences. They tried both routes in life. When they didn’t work hard, they didn’t succeed. When they did put in the effort required, they reached their goals. Interestingly enough, the “work hard to achieve your goal” motto is not found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Indeed, it is not found in any book of higher knowledge. There is a reason for this.
The short of it is that you won’t always get what you want. Think of the people who are stricken by cancer. To the survivor we offer high praise. We refer to them as a “fighter.” They fended off the disease. They could have given up, but they didn’t. Then to the person who doesn’t make it, we say that they succumbed to the disease. But does it mean that they didn’t fight? What does it actually mean to fight off a disease that can kill you from the inside over the course of many years? Can you fight off a cold? Can you fight off a broken leg? Can you battle against a fever and win?
Actually, all you can really do is get treatment and hope for the best. Thus the “fighting” aspect doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. In the Vedas, it is said that contact with the material nature brings four miserable aspects. The misery starts at birth. If you hear that your wife is pregnant, you will likely start preparing for the arrival of the new member of the family. You will prepare a separate room for them to stay in, and you might even buy clothes and toys. Yet in Vedic culture such preparations are not made. The time immediately following birth is considered impure.
Why is that?
Birth indicates a failure from the past life. If a new child is born, it means that in their last life they didn’t achieve the pinnacle of consciousness, wherein one thinks of God all the time. On that elevated mental platform, the spirit soul, the essence of identity, doesn’t have to take birth again. Thus the time of birth, being very traumatic for the child, is not considered auspicious. Birth is the beginning of so many new miseries.
The three other miserable aspects are old age, disease and death. Nothing can be done to stop these for one who has taken birth. Whether you work hard or not, you will grow old. Even if you eat carrots every day, exercise three times a week, and avoid fatty foods your whole life, you will still get a disease. And no matter what, every person will die. Such sobering facts shed a different light on the “striving to achieve your goals” advice.
So what does this mean, we should all sit on our butts and do nothing? We should resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to die and thus be miserable all the time?
Though Vedic literature doesn’t mention working hard to achieve temporary goals, discussion is still there, and it touches on many positive aspects as well. Birth, old age, disease and death are miserable, but there is a way to stop them. That is the boon of the human birth. If you’re going to work hard for anything, make it that: the end of birth and death. In fact, there is no other goal worth achieving. All others are prone to defects. A star player spends upwards of twenty years in the National Hockey League and never wins a championship, while another player who isn’t very good lifts the Stanley Cup in their first season. One person does everything right their whole life and they only find misery all the time, while someone else who is sinful seems to find good fortune. Material conditions are such that what is up to me is down to you, and vice versa. Nothing is permanent and nothing is universally beneficial.
The divine realm is the exception. In one sense it isn’t an exception since it doesn’t belong to the material world. While in the material land, however, one can create their destiny in the spiritual land. Thus there is proper work to be done with due diligence. And this work isn’t rooted in blind faith, where we are compelled to surrender to a spiritual personality out of fear of eternal damnation. The work is done with knowledge, which is acquired through consulting Vedic texts themselves.
Anything which expounds on Vedic teachings can be considered an extension of the Vedas. Just by telling someone that they are not their body and that life in the material world has four primary defects, the speaker is presenting information that is Vedic literature. The source is the original scriptural tradition of the world, and since the message presented is identical to the source, it is divine.
The true meaning to Vedic teachings is revealed by the spiritual master, who follows the Vedic teachings as a way of life. He is already on the path towards the divine realm, but due to his kindness he hangs around in the material world to bring as many souls back with him as possible. Even if he reforms so many people, he is still eager to rescue more.
Each spirit soul is full of potential for reaching the ultimate end. The same drive to work hard for a temporary goal can be shifted towards the goal of achieving salvation, which is the end of the cycle of birth and death. In this age especially, the time and attention of the conditioned living entities are short. Therefore there is a streamlined process for paving the way to the divine realm. It is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This opens the door to so many other blissful activities. They are divine in nature, so they continue into the afterlife. They are done whether one has a manifested form here on the earthly plane or an unmanifested form in the spiritual land, where the Supreme Lord and His eternal associates reside.
If you work hard for a material goal, you are not guaranteed of success. Think about it. If you’re not guaranteed to live a certain amount of time, how can you be guaranteed of success? You could just as well pass from this world before reaching your desired goal. Because of such a defect, the Vedas don’t recommend working hard for a temporary goal. You won’t find such recommendations, but what you will find is a strong urging to come to the spiritual way of life, where one always thinks of God. Through knowing Him one understands their own identity as spirit. As Shri Krishna promises in the Bhagavad-gita, there is no loss in following this path. Through a little sincerity, one makes so much progress that can’t be erased.
On body and mind disregard the toll,
Work hard in order to achieve your goal.
Why in regret later on time to waste,
When the sweetness of victory now can taste?
Such advice in the Vedas not to be found,
Ignoring imminence of death, not of logic sound.
Work on making spiritual destiny instead,
Avoid birth so that never again to be dead.