Devotion and Work-Life Balance

My last post led to an interesting discussion with a friend on how does one stay on the spiritual path and yet perform worldly duties. As we start to lose the sense of our identities and merge with the all encompassing oneness, is it really possible to continue to have interest in day to day life? My spiritual tradition strongly advocates the life of the householder, at the same time pursuing the path of devotion to the Tenth Gate. But I understand that it is easier said than done.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old I learnt a parable from Hindu Mythology (as a poem in Hindi) that formed a deep impression –

Once upon a time Narad Muni who always greets people by saying “Narayan, Narayan” visited the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu and asked him who he thought his greatest devotee was?
Lord Vishnu pondered for a while and then told Narad Muni that his greatest devotee was a poor farmer who lived in a small village of India.

Narad Muni was surprised and he reasoned with the Lord that no other chanted the lord’s name more than he did. The Lord smiled and told Narad Muni that this might take a while but before that he had an errand for him. Narad Muni agreed to run lord’s errand half heartedly.

Lord Vishnu handed Narad Muni a bowl full of oil which was filled up to the brim. He asked him to take the bowl around the whole world making sure that while he did so not a single drop dripped out of the bowl. Narad Muni carefully took the bowl and left for his journey around the world.

Narad Muni returned with the bowl after having taken it around the world as the Lord had directed, proud of his accomplishment of not having spilled a single drop. As he handed lord Vishnu the bowl the Lord questioned him, ”Narada, thank you for running this errand for me. Tell me, how many times did you chant my name as you went around the world with this bowl?”

Narad Muni was left speechless, he had been so engrossed in making sure that not a drop of oil spilled out of the bowl that he had completely forgotten to chant/remember god’s name in any way. The Lord then explains, “Narada, that farmer is also doing the work I have picked for him and he is living the life I gave him, which dealing with all the circumstances that I give. Despite of all this, he takes time out of his busy routine to remember me and that is what makes him my greatest devotee!”

Source (with some minor language edits by me)

My learning from this parable is that all work given by The Guru is the same and none is high or low, all is to be performed with devotion and honesty. At the same time, if we have the fortune to be blessed with a comfortable life with time and energy to pursue the path of devotion, one must not get caught up in Spiritual Vanity. It is imperative that we try to understand the purpose of our lives in relation to this vast Universal Energy Flow that is all encompassing. It keeps this game going, perhaps for its own purpose that is beyond comprehension of us players. But this much understanding has the the Guru blessed me, if and when the Haume, the Ego-Mind comes in either ones Work or ones Devotion which leads to a blockage in the Energy Flow, it will figure out means to demolish them through any means it deems fit.


So how can one continue on the path and maintain this balance? Perhaps, by following the Antar Guru, the Inner Intuition, and not getting either too detached or too dogmatic. I believe devotion is based on ones circumstances and abilities, maybe a few moments of deep meditation may be higher than heartless chanting of scriptures. And if one has been blessed with experiencing the subtler states, perhaps its ones duty to care for those who are doing their best according to their own destiny. A Farmer growing paddy to feed people and a Programmer writing code to connect humanity are in no way higher or lower to the Doctor or the Yogi who is healing the body or a soul – they are all using the same Energy to let it Flow in through itself, endlessly and timelessly.

Oothath, baitath, sovath, jagath, aiman tujhe chitare
Standing up, sitting down, sleeping and waking, this mind remembers you

Page 820, Sri Guru Granth Sahib (The Sikh Holy Book), Guru Arjan Dev

I resonated with the verse above and try to bring my breath to focus on the Antar Guru through jap, as and when the awareness comes. The path of the householder with its myriad obligations of family, society and work, actually provides opportunities to pay ones karmic debts faster if there is awareness towards the lessons being presented by The Guru.


The other day my Mom told me about an incident that happened just before the passing of my maternal Grandfather. A devout man, who earned his daily bread honestly and served his family, friends, strangers and tribe with love, was asked by his sister, “Now you must be happy that you are about merge with you Maker”. He pondered over it and replied, “That may be sister, but perhaps I will ask him to send me back again as there is still a lot of work to be done!”

His name was Gurbachan Singh “Mastana” (The One who is happy in his own Bliss)

His life was like the Big Banyan Tree which spreads its branches far and wide, that themselves are becoming trees, where children play and swing, couples lie under the shade and yogis meditate at the trunks.

I hope to live up to the same ideals –

All is One, and I live to serve the Oneness in All


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