For right living, righteousness and character are essential. The Divine is the life-breath of human beings. The fulfillment of life rests on devoting one’s entire energies to these objectives. Humans, however, do not have such unstinted faith in the Divine. Whether one believes in God or not, one can see every moment the proof of the presence of Divinity wherever one turns. Without Divinity, humanness will not blossom. An individual’s life will shine amidst vast vicissitudes only when he/she displays qualities like equanimity and compassion. Because human beings veil their mind in a cloak of ignorance, blinker their eyes with egoism, and shut their heart with the doors of pride, they forget the Lord who creates, sustains and protects humankind.
Such a person is incapable of listening to any teaching. He/she worships at the shrine of the sense organs. As one’s desires go on increasing, one is unable to recognise what is good for him/her. He/she does not take pleasure in the company of the good; and has no understanding of the transience of life. One does not realise that one’s life and all that one enjoys may pass off in a moment. One does not recognise the transience of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, success and failure. Swayed by the acquisition of wealth and power, one does not realise the Divinity that is one’s fundamental nature. Immersed in ignorance, human beings waste their life in the pursuit of impermanent things.
Unappeasable Desire for Wealth
It is on the basis of this fact that Sri Adi Shankaracharya declared in a famous verse in the Bhaja Govindam, “O Man! Do not be proud of your wealth, progeny or youth. All these will be taken away by the passage of time in a split second. Destroy this world of illusions and enter the seat of the Eternal.” The Trishna (thirst) for wealth is folly! Trishna has two meanings – thirst and desire. It is natural for people to have desires and thirst. However, there is a difference between desire and thirst. It is natural for people not to be content with what they have, but to desire for more and more possessions and comforts is perilous. However, in seeking fulfillment of such desires, one should take care not to cause any harm or suffering to others. Trishna thus is different from desire, which has no limit and is unappeasable.
Eking out Livelihood by Ethical Means
Dharma (the code of righteousness) lays down for humans a regulatory path. Like the effulgence of the rays of the sun, Dharma illumines the paths that human beings should follow to safeguard the welfare and progress of society. Among the laws of Dharma, Nyaayam (justice) is most important.
Morality means that one should earn one’s living by just means and be an example to others by such living. Justice means perceiving no difference between oneself and others. Whatever may happen to oneself or one’s relations, whatever difficulties one may have to face, one should not swerve from the path of morality. Justice is like the mariner’s compass. In whichever direction it is placed, the needle will ever point only towards the North. Similarly, justice reveals the Divinity in humans and makes him/her enjoy the bliss of the Divine. Hence, the ideal human life should be such that morality forms the basis of every action.
Today, whatever prosperity one enjoys, whatever comforts one secures, all of them are derived from society. Some rules of Dharma have been laid down for ensuring that the wealth that is earned from the society is devoted to the benefit of the society. In the process of acquiring wealth, one may be guilty of some lapses. It is to recompense for such lapses that one must practice charity.
Life consists of a constant interchange of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, heat and cold. Happiness is an interval between two pains. The bitter skin that covers an orange protects the sweet juice inside. We must look upon pain, anxiety and sorrow as the protecting cover for the peace and bliss that is experienced later. It is a mistake to look for an unending series of pleasures and comforts in life. Real happiness cannot be found that way. Without experiencing difficulties and troubles, one cannot know the value of peace and pleasure.
Unlimited Desires: The Cause of Human Sufferings
People think that the more they have worldly possessions, the happier they would be. But, as desires multiply, disappointments and troubles also increase. There should be a limit to one’s desires, attachments and ambitions. The world is suffering from numerous troubles because people entertain endless desires. Nature has prescribed limits for everything – for the temperature of the body, the capability of the eye to bear brightness, or for the ear to bear the magnitude of sound. When these limits are crossed, harm is caused to the organs concerned.
Life itself is like a limited company. All actions in it should be governed by the limits applicable to each of them. When desires are controlled, genuine happiness is experienced. Even in practicing charity, limits should be observed. One’s offerings/charitable contributions should not exceed one’s financial capability. Nor should they be below one’s capability. In the former case, one will face financial troubles. In the latter, one will be withholding from those in need what is due to them. Charity is not limited to money alone. One must share one’s physical, mental and spiritual resources with those in need in the society. It is through such sharing and sacrifice that the awareness of the Spirit (Atma Jnana) is achieved. Charity should not be indiscriminate. Help should be rendered according to the needs of each case. The hungry must be fed, the unclothed must be clothed.
Although one may know how much good can be derived through Tyaga (sacrifice), one does not make any sacrifice. One may aspire for wealth, but one should only seek what one is entitled to or capable of earning through righteous means. A bank cashier handles large amounts of cash every day. But, one is entitled only to one’s salary. People should not desire for more money than what they can legitimately earn. Excessive wealth carries with it many dangers. Human values are forgotten by the affluent. As long as there is excess wealth, the gravity of harms resulting from it may not be realised. It is only when it is lost that one begins to realise one’s follies. It is better to be forewarned and as such learn to lead a righteous and honest life from the beginning. Wealth may come and go, but it is morality that one should cultivate in a steadfast manner. What is morality? It is right conduct in accordance with time and setting.
Continued in Part 2
Continued in Part 2
Source: Roles and Responsibilities of Business Executives in the Contemporary World, Divine Discourse to several thousand businessmen at a meeting organised by the Indian Merchants Chamber at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai on May 14, 1984