Work We Must

(the Why, How, and What For)




n this world, everyone works—everyone  performs actions.  Society cannot function or exist without work.  Without the concerted, coordinated efforts of everyone there would be chaos. Civilization is a natural expression of the creative spirit—civilization, progress, the evolution of society is unavoidable.  We exist to explore, to learn and grow, to invent, to create, and to discover.  It is our nature, and we cannot but help to do these things.

Everyone has observed how ants work together, building their colony, protecting it, providing food, etc.  They go on doing what they do because that’s their nature to do so.  Like ants and other creatures that we observe, we human beings are also made to live and work—so live and work we must.

Unlike most creatures, we human beings are very inquisitive by nature: we ask questions, and we want answers to the questions we ask.   In order that our life and work should be meaningful and worthwhile, we need to know the answers to the following questions:

1.      Why (and how) should we work?

2.      What kind of work should we do?

3.      What should we do with the fruit of our labor?

4.      What is the ultimate goal or purpose of living (and working)?


To help find the answers to these questions, it will be useful to provide some background information:

In ancient times. . .  In the universal scheme of things, there exists four VARNAS, or categories of workers (performers of action):

1.      Brahmins—persons who have acquired knowledge and have become skillful in disseminating that knowledge. Persons skillful in acquiring and disseminating (through practice) the knowledge of medicine become doctors; those whose expertise is the science of the soul (and metaphysics) become spiritual guides (priests, pundits, gurus, acharyas, etc.). Those skillful in the study of phenomenon (various sciences such as astronomy, physics, geology, biology, etc.), and in the practical application of these sciences, become scientists and engineers; while those skillful in disseminating the knowledge of sciences (the study of phenomenon) become teachers, professors, and educators.

The ‘bent of mind’ of a Brahmin is that of a ‘seeker of knowledge.’  A Brahmin wants to find the answers to everything; he or she has an intense desire to learn and to share their knowledge freely, and ungrudgingly. The most prevalent mental attitude of a Brahmin is that of peacefulness.  A Brahmin is a giver of knowledge (which brings us peace).

2.      Kshatriyas—persons who have highly developed administrative and managerial skills. These persons include administrators and managers in the fields of law and politics.  Those who are skillful in the application of political science become government rulers (statesmen), others, familiar with the administration of law and order, become jurists, advocates, police commissioners, etc.  Those who are skillful in the application of military sciences become military leaders and soldiers. 

The ‘bent of mind’ of a Kshatriya is that of a protector.  The most prevalent mental attitude of a Kshatriya is that of courage and valor.  A Kshatriya is a keeper of peace.

3.      Vaishyas—persons who are clever [1] in the fields of industry, commerce, and agriculture.  These include industrialists, businessmen (and businesswomen), retailers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and exporters, and agriculturists involved in the production and distribution of foodstuffs and other commodities.

The ‘bent of mind’ of a Vaishya is that of a giver of charity (charitableness).  The most prevalent mental attitude of a Vaishya is that of ambitiousness.  A Vaishya is an accumulator and distributor of resources.

4.      Shudras—persons who lack the intellectual capacity of Brahmins, the mental prowess of  Kshatriyas, and the ambition of Vaishyas, but possess great energy and determination to work.  These persons are no less ‘important’ than the others, as they are actually the foundation of the other three. 

In the beginning, everyone starts out as a Shudra.  During our early growing years, as little children, few people possess much in the way of knowledge and skills, or even ambition (generally, as little children we just want to play). As we grow older and learn more and more, our innate qualities begin to show, and our inherent tendencies (from many, many lives past) begin to take hold of us. (Eventually, we pick up from where we left off in a previous life.) We go from playing, to learning, to working—but really these three are not water-tight compartments—we are learning when we are playing, and we are working when we are learning (and vice versa). 

Some persons grow up into young adults with no inclination to study very deeply, or with no ambition to become leaders or go into business on their own. It doesn’t mean that they are not growing and learning.  They are growing and learning at their own pace.   These persons are content to serve as office help, laborers, and skilled workers in various fields of occupation.

The ‘bent of mind’ of a Shudra is that of a follower and a servant. The most prevalent mental attitude of a Shudra is ‘service with a smile’.  A Shudra is a sincere worker, an indispensable employee upon whom the business (and indeed, the nation) depends. 

The qualities and good work habits of a Shudra—such as the ability to follow instructions, efficiency, dedication, honesty, and serving with a  ‘happy go lucky’ attitude (i.e., with contentment and simplicity, and without taking oneself, or even life, so seriously)—are the basis of all the other Varnas. Without a firm foundation in these qualities, none of the other Varnas [2] can exist—that is, no one can be a good businessman, good leader, teacher or healer without these qualities.

In the literature, these four Varnas are usually referred to as the four major castes or classes of Indian society.  This is a misnomer, as even the so-called caste system is a misnomer. The Varna system is not a system of classes but a natural division of labor based on aptitude and disposition, and is not applicable to just one country or people but applies to the whole world. [3]

 In ancient times. . .  In the universal scheme of things, the aim of human existence is said to be four-fold:

1.      Dharma – the learning about our real nature, the principles of consciousness, which includes an in depth understanding about matter and non-matter, the body and soul, phenomenon and noumenon

2.      Artha – the acquisition of material resources (by means of  Dharma) for the creative use of the individual and the society

3.      Kama – the satisfaction of worldly desires by means of the resources we have acquired

4.      Moksha – the realization of spiritual enlightenment and the fulfillment of the supreme desire of the soul, the inner self.

In ancient times. . .  In the universal scheme of things, there exists four divisions (or, more accurately, phases or aspects) of our life.  These four periods of life are referred to as the four Ashramas:

1.      Brahmacharya – this stage corresponds to the first 25 years of life, during which time we are to devote ourselves to the acquisition of knowledge, both spiritual and secular.

2.      Grihastha – this is the householder stage (roughly from 25-50 years old) during which time we pursue our career, get married, and raise a family.

3.      Vanprasth – next comes the stage of semi-retirement, from 50 to 75, during which time we begin to break away from worldly pursuits and devote more of our time serving the society by sharing our knowledge, skills, and resources. In this stage of life one resumes and intensifies one’s spiritual studies and spends more and more time in contemplation.

4.       Sanyasa – finally, comes the period of life (from 75-100) during which time we completely break away from all worldly ambitions and surrender ourselves—mind, body, and soul—to the goal of Moksha (total freedom from all ego-centered activities and tendencies).   

With this knowledge as a background (and foreground) we can answer the questions posed earlier:

Why and how should we work?  We should work together in a spirit of selflessness (egolessness), both for our own individual development and fulfillment, and for the advancement of the society (humanity). We should perform actions based on Dharma—which simply means we should act according to our true nature.  In order to act intelligently, we need to acquire a thorough knowledge about the nature of our essence, our inner self (our Higher Nature), the nature of the mind, the nature of the body, and the nature of the universe. Naturally, this learning process should never stop.  To develop good learning habits, it is essential that we have a firm foundation—and this foundation is established from birth to the age of 25.  During these early growing years, we need the guidance and loving care of experienced, mature adults [4] who help us to develop our innate qualities and potential.

What kind of work should we do? We should do whatever work we are inclined to do. We will know our inclinations, aptitude, and potentialities (both physical and intellectual) if we have a solid foundation in wisdom and common sense.  In other words, if we have been raised during the first part of our life without any images, without any preconceived notions about ‘what we are supposed to become’, we should not be confused about ‘what we are supposed to do.’

Children are natural learners—they want to learn, they love to learn—and if they are raised in a learning environment (as in a Gurukul [5] ) free from emotionally charged adults (who are stressed-out over their finances or anxious about their false feelings and failings), then those children will learn rapidly.  In other words, they will learn about themselves and the world around them and will be able to interact with others intelligently and thoughtfully.

Whatever work we do involves interaction—because everyone in this world is working, everyone is performing actions.  To sustain human life, actions must be performed; to sustain the family of mankind, everyone must work.  Ultimately, the type of work we do (the kind of employment we engage ourselves in) is not that significant —what is important is how well we do the job. In other words, some may become doctors, others merchants, while others become teachers, artists and artisans, soldiers, politicians, lawyers, mechanics, clerks, and laborers, and so on and so forth.  Basically, no particular profession is better than another, or more important or more essential than another—they all fit and work together like the different components of one machine.  

Initially, when one is first starting out in life (i.e., after completing one’s studies) one may jump from job to job, and finally settle on one vocation only after several years of experimentation and experience. It is not uncommon for persons to shift careers in the middle years or even the later years of their lives. From the point of view of one’s ‘usefulness’ to the society, all of this is irrelevant. A doctor is not a better person or even a better citizen than a common laborer just because he is a doctor.  The fact that someone is a ‘professional’ has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he is a good human being.  If the doctor is not at peace with himself, his troubles are going to multiply regardless what he may be doing to reduce the sufferings of others; and if a common laborer is honest and living within his means and has peace of mind, his life is going to be full, and he is going to be a blessing both to himself and those around him.

It is true that each of us possesses a certain aptitude for some forms of work, and naturally we would like to do that kind of work for which we are suited (physically, mentally, emotionally, and according to environmental circumstances). If we are discontented in what we are doing, then maybe we need to change our career.  But if we are malcontented, it can only be the result of our own malpractice (wrong practice)—and for that we need to change our attitude (and our practices).

When different seeds are planted in the ground, eventually they sprout and grow into various plants according to the types of seeds planted.  Likewise, people are planted in this world, and they grow into the various careers for which they are suited.  In general, people are not unhappy with the work they are doing—they are only unhappy with the conditions under which they are working (i.e., with the work environment).  This brings us back to the first question we raised about ‘how we should work.’  If we have forgotten our Dharma (our Real Nature), we are not going to be happy and we are not going to do others or ourselves any goodno matter how well we perform at the workplace.


What should we do with the fruit of our labor?   The real fruit of our labor is in the satisfaction that we have done a good job—and there is no question about what we should do with that—we should spread those happy vibrations around, that’s all.  The monetary gain is a secondary [6] (but essential) consequence, which is necessary for acquiring the necessities and nice-ities (amenities) of life. The satisfaction of a job well done, along with the acquirement of the means of satisfying our needs and legitimate [7] wants, makes us (relatively) happy and brings us peace of mind.  Again, the power of discernment necessary to know what do with our resources only comes when we have fulfilled the first requirement: knowing how to work (which means working from the point of view of our Real Nature).

What is the ultimate goal or purpose of our life? The ultimate goal of everything we do is to find happiness and fulfillment.  Whoever we are, whatever we are doing, all of us want to be happy and feel fulfilled—no one lives or works with the desire to be unhappy, miserable, insecure, and incomplete.  If anyone is asked the question, “Would you like to be happy for a little while (just a little bit happy), or would you like to be happy forever (immeasurably happy)?”, any sane person will certainly choose the latter and not the former. 

We would all like to find lasting happiness, and we will do whatever it takes to get it.  In fact, we work our whole life in search of that, but often we settle for far less, or we settle for what we think we can get. We are not willing to pay the higher price—because the price we must pay is to give up our own ego. Real Happiness is attained only when we become egoless. Freedom from selfish ego is happiness, because when we become selfless we experience the Absolute Fullness and that fullness makes us very, very happy (immeasurably happy).

Summary and Perspective

In the world today, the spirit of ego prevails and that’s why there is so much turmoil, frustration, and emotional upheaval.  Things are not right.  They are based on ego—‘me, my, mine.’  People lack a firm foundation in consciousness, in the awareness of their Real Nature, and instead they are entangled in materialism, they are rooted in gross matter—in the ‘looks’, the stuff, ‘nice things’, gross feelings and shallow personality. We are going against our Dharma, our true nature, and that’s why we feel cut-off, incomplete, deprived, and depraved.  In short, we do not know how to act, we do not know how to live.  It is sorry to say, but most families (and nations for that matter) are only raised for the slaughter (like cattle), because very few people have truly raised their consciousness. Raising our consciousness means rising above our moods, our false feelings, our selfish tendencies, our pettiness, greediness, and small-heartedness.  We need to learn how to raise our consciousness when we are still young.  We need to have good habits and tendencies ingrained in us during our growing years, from the very moment of conception. 

We cannot just throw a few seeds around and hope they will sprout, grow, and yield a good harvest.  It takes great painstaking care, nurturing, diligence, perseverance and commitment to raise a child—and  to raise one’s consciousness.  Above all, it takes wisdom. Wisdom is more than just knowing a few facts or possessing ‘information’.

When children are raised with wisdom they will be well informed of the pitfalls of this world of Samsara (the world of the selfish, the self-involved, and the pleasure-seekers). With wisdom (applied) they will be able to objectify their feelings and emotions and will become skillful in handling any situation that arises. 

Unfortunately, few children are raised with wisdom anywhere in the world today, because the world today is based primarily on the principles of ‘consumerism’ and not on the principles of consciousness.  We are all consumers, and we are all consumed by our own ignorance and greed.  Nowadays, there are no Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras—there are only salesmen—it is a world of buyers and sellers—everyone has something to sell and something they want to buy.  We are all merchants: whether doctor-merchants, teacher-merchants, priest-merchants, scientist-merchants, or whatever—everyone is motivated by the profit-motive [8] .

This is not how it was meant to be (‘according to the universal scheme of things’).  We were not meant to live like cats and dogs.  Life was not meant to be a ‘rat race’.    We were born to conquer our ego and realize our eternal nature—we were born to become immortal, not immoral.  If the focus of our life is not on liberating ourselves from gross unreality, then our life is out of focus and we are bound to be disappointed.

The economic system as it exists today is a mess.  It is a mess because it is not founded on Truth (Dharma), instead it is founded on greed. The economic system, political systems, religious and educational institutions, are all in shambles. [9]   Outwardly they may appear to be functional—but it is only a cover-up, a layer of make-up or outer appearance that gives the impression that everything is basically fine.  Things are not fine—things are gross and most people are basically dysfunctional [10]

We may know how to produce a lot in factories, invent new machines, and travel to other planets—but still we have no peace.  Unless we can go beyond our own ego, we haven’t gone anywhere. Unless we use our ingenuity and creativity to explore our own soul-potential, then we have not invented anything new—it is just a rehash of the same old boredom-excitement syndrome or restless-hyper syndrome. Unless we can produce vibrations of peace in our own mind, we have only cluttered our lives with more and more junk.

In the world today, ego rules.  Ego dictates and the mind follows. When we dignify our ego we have lost touch with reality, with our own true self. If a person does not respect himself or herself as a soul, that person really has no self-dignity.

Most of us were born into slavery, and slaves we remain—slaves to our own ego, slaves to our mind, its moods, its whims, and its desires. Basically, we are victims of ignorance—we have been ignoring the basics—we have never built a strong foundation in Consciousness.  We need to start now, from the ground up.  We need to lay a good foundation of understanding.  The first thing we need to understand is that we are souls—we are much, much more than bodies, minds, and egos.  We need to recognize our Real Self and stop giving credence to our false nature.  This recognition can only come when the mind is clear—so we need to clear out the mind. We have to stop listening to the propaganda of materialism—the false advertisement that our ego can make us happy.  We have to stop believing the misinformation that we see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, or taste or touch or smell—there is so much, much more to life than what we can know through our five senses and the mind (the sixth sense).  This three-dimensional world (which we call reality) is a very, very small place in space.

We should not become disheartened. [11] The world is not going to change overnight, and neither are we.  It is a process of evolution and growth. We need to see things as they are and deal with it.  Wishing things were different is a waste of time.  The only way to make a difference is to keep making an effort to improve ourselves from the inside out.  This is why wisdom is so essential.  If we really assimilate wisdom, it will give us the inspiration and energy to change.

We should always remember that the world is the way it is because people are the way they are.  We did not become the way we are by accident.  We became the way we are by virtue of our practices—our thoughts and actions—and that’s the only way we are going to change (by changing our practices).  If we are messed-up it is because our thoughts and actions are messed-up.  In other words, if our life is in disarray, and we are confused and unhappy, then we need to realize that our problems are rooted in our own thoughts and actions—and these are the first things we should examine (we shouldn’t blame our problems on people or things outside of ourselves). This does not mean that there are no problems in the world—of course, there are plenty of problems, because there are plenty of people making problems. But if we have made peace with ourselves, we will be able to deal with others without getting emotionally involved with them.

Interaction with others is necessary and unavoidable. But emotional attachment to others is both unnecessary and avoidable.  The only way to avoid emotional attachment is to avoid emotional involvement (and vice versa). The only way to avoid emotional involvement is to involve ourselves on a level above emotions—that level is the level of pure consciousness. To stay tuned to that higher frequency we have to keep our mind clean—we cannot let it become polluted.  In fact, we have to make our mind impervious to wrong thoughts—and that requires lots and lots of practice. 

We cannot always change a situation, but we can always change ourselves. It is a matter of practice. Intellectual exercises are of little use. Real life situations (such as the family environment and work environment) will give us plenty of opportunities to practice.

Practicing does not mean tormenting ourselves—in fact, if we are tormenting ourselves we are not practicing.  If we are frustrated and annoyed then something is out of focus, and that something is ourselves. 

Work is the answer.  Work we must.  But remember: the most important work that we do is the work that we do on ourselves.  Unless we work on ourselves, then all the other work we do is of no avail. Our life is made up of our actions and thoughts. When we act thoughtfully, at all times, and in all places, then we are living a full life. 

In conclusion, I am reminded of the words of Dr. T.R. Khanna: “It takes a whole life to make a life.”  So, with this in mind, let us keep working (doing good actions) our entire life, and then our life will become full—we will realize the meaning and purpose of our existence.


[1] Clever as in having ‘ingenuity’, and not as in being deceptive or tricky.

[2] In this discussion of the four Varnas we have not attempted to exhaustively categorize all the various professions that exist in the world today, as the four Varnas are not the main topic of this article. However, for the interest of our readers, we can add the following:  Artists, sculptors, musicians, writers, poets, novelists, and actors are all Brahmins, because, like other Brahmins,  their primary aim or focus is the expression of ideas (without the thought of monetary gain—ideally, that is). Tradesman (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.) generally fall into the category of Shudras (and Vaishyas, in the case of the self-employed and small business owners).  It is important to point out here that this discussion of categorizing various professions into the different Varnas is purely academic—in the ‘real world’, i.e., in practice, few persons employed in a particular profession may actually belong to the respective Varna as there has been an admixture of the Varnas due to the deterioration of Vedic civilization.

[3] Other than these four Varnas there also exist other categories of workers (performers of action): Dasyus—these are wicked people in the form of ‘white-collar’ criminals, i.e., bribers, con-artists, cheaters, and other persons of deliberately deceptive nature; and Malechhas—persons of cruel and barbaric nature, such as murderers, drug-pushers, molesters, and other such persons of extremely low nature.

[4] Such as Vanprasthis (for example, our grandparents and other wise elders) and Sanyasis (persons who have renounced all worldly pursuits and are completely free of self-centered motives).

[5] In a Vedic civilization (i.e., in a civilization based on universal wisdom), children were sent (at about 8 years old) to live in the home of a wise teacher, away from the hustle and bustle of society.  During these Brahmacharya years, they studied and learned under the guidance of wise elders (Vanprasthis and Sanyasis) devoted to the unbiased dissemination of knowledge. 

[6] Unfortunately, under the current economic system, the monetary gain is often the primary concern.  This emphasis on ‘making money’ causes a lot of unnecessary stress.  We are so concerned about ‘making a living’ that we forget to just live.  ‘Living our life’ means to tap our inner potential to be happy within and to express that happiness outside (through our interactions with the world around us).  If our focus is on ‘making a living’ it usually means we are trying to find happiness outside of ourselves (and this is always the result of being out of touch with our inner self).

[7] Legitimate wants = desires that do not involve violence to oneself or others

[8] It is not really fair to pick on merchants (and salesmen)—because being a merchant is a noble profession.  It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘hooker’ or prostitute (thus: doctor-hookers, teacher-hookers, priest-hookers, scientist-hookers, etc.).

[9] From the samsaric (materialistic) outlook things may seem to be normal and in good working order.  We are advancing in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture, technology, etc.  Even in the political spectrum things are improving with advancements in ‘human rights’.  These things can not be denied. But what we are talking about here is something deeper than all this.  There is something missing from the picture, something that holds everything together; and without which everything falls apart.  That something is the essence, it is Consciousness itself.  Unless we are fully conscious, we are apt to make mistakes that can even cost us our life.  Unless our consciousness is full (unless we live in Supreme Consciousness) we are going to waste our life trying to fill the void, the emptiness, with gross matter, gross attachments, and gross accomplishments. We may devise more and more sophisticated methods of making ourselves happy, secure, and satisfied, but we may still ‘miss the mark’—we may never realize the real purpose of our life.  We might be more sophisticated than our forefathers, but are we really any better (or even better off)?

[10] When we are engrossed in the gross we feel ‘grossed out’.

[11] This discussion should not be viewed negatively.  It is not a ‘put down’ but a ‘lift up.’  It is a clarion call to awaken from our deep slumber of complacency and procrastination—the twin sisters of ignorance.  We should have no relationship with them.  Indeed, they have no relationship with our real nature.  It is only when asleep in the world of matter that we fall prey to self-delusion.  It is time to WAKE UP.   

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