Work, Freedom, and Love

Be “unattached.” Let things work; let brain centers 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 Sankhya: ‘The world 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, 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 works 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: 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 this 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 the beloved. . . . 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. . . .

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?

  Swami Vivekananda, Karma Yoga