Duty, Yes! But, Which Duty?

duty

Duty, Yes! But, Which Duty?

The principal message of the Gita is not how a duty should be performed, but which duty should be performed in case of conflicting duties. The duty it tells us to select is the divine duty.

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No such general thing as duty exists; we have only duties, often in conflict with each other, and these are determined by our environment, our social relations, our external status in life.

SRI AUROBINDO (The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 260)

Duty is work that we are supposed to do. The connotation of duty in English is a little different from that of the corresponding words kartavya (Sanskrit, Hindi) and farz (Urdu). In the Indian languages, the words corresponding to duty have a sacred connotation, and therefore it is implied that one is happy to do his duty. That is why, when somebody thanks us for something we have done, it is polite to respond by saying, “Yeh to mera farz hai” (It is my duty). In contrast, in English, ‘duty’ has the connotation of compulsion. Duty is something we do, not necessarily because we enjoy doing it, but because we are supposed to do it irrespective of how we feel about it. That is why, in English it is impolite to say “It is my duty”, because it may convey to the other person that I did it because I had no choice. Therefore, in English, the feeling with which we did the duty has to be further qualified by saying, “I was pleased/happy/delighted to do it”. However, irrespective of the language and culture, it is universally agreed that duty should be done without consideration of personal gain or loss. This is what we call disinterested (nishkaam) performance of duty. Disinterested performance of duty has often been considered to be the principal message of the Gita. The corresponding verse occurs in the second chapter of the Gita (2:47). If that is all what the Gita had to say, the remaining sixteen chapters were not necessary. Having said how a duty should be performed, the Gita goes on to tell us which duty should be performed in case of conflicting duties. For example, if a working woman’s child is sick, looking after the child is a duty, and going for work is also a duty. It is impossible for her to do both the duties. In such cases, the Gita provides guidance on which duty should be done. Among all the duties such as official duty, social duty, family duty, legal duty, patriotic duty, moral duty, there is one which is the divine duty. According to the Gita, it is the duty that is the divine duty that should be selected. How do we know, which of our conflicting duties is the divine duty? On the basis of the Gita, Sri Aurobindo has resolved this dilemma into a series of questions which must be answered honestly to get the answer. Which is the duty that is based on egoistic considerations? Which is the duty that will affect us in terms of worldly gain or loss? Which is the duty that expresses our divine love? Which is the duty that will leave us in lasting mental peace? The duty for which the answer to the first two questions is “no” and to the last two questions “yes” is the divine duty. In other words, the divine duty is one which is performed irrespective of egoistic considerations and considerations of worldly gain or loss; one which expresses universal and unconditional love without expecting anything in return; and the performance of which will leave us in lasting mental peace. The crucial question is the last one, because the human mind is so versatile that we may be able to convince ourselves that the duty chosen is irrespective of our ego, we are not bothered about gain or loss, and that the duty expresses our love. But we may still know somewhere deep within that if we attend to the duty that we have chosen, we will feel uneasy within; if not now, later; may be on our death bed, if not earlier. If the chosen duty will haunt us, sooner or later, it is not the divine duty. Performance of the divine duty leaves us in lasting mental peace, and somewhere deep within, we know it. An example here may help. During the Second World War, there was in Lithuania a Japanese diplomat, Sugihara. One morning he found thousands of Jews outside the embassy. On making enquiries, he discovered that they all wanted visas for Japan. If they did not get visas, they might all die at the hands of Hitler. Sugihara sent a message to his country asking for permission to issue the visas; the reply was “no”. He sent the same message repeatedly, and every time the reply was “no”. As a government servant, his duty was to follow the instructions of his government. But somewhere deep within he knew that if he did not give the visas, he will not be at peace. He decided to issue the visas, and by doing so, saved the lives of thousands of Jews. He faced the music that followed, and he lost his job. He knew the risk that he was taking, but to him lasting inner peace was more important than worldly loss or gain. He selected the duty which expressed his love for the human beings, who happened to be Jews. In short, he did his divine duty. Performance of divine duty raises our level of consciousness, which is the purpose of human existence.

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With Love from God

Grace may redeem great sinners, or may be showered on the righteous to cure them of self-righteousness.

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You may not be able to feel the Grace, but It will always be there, even with the worst of sinners, even with the worst of criminals, to help him to change, to be cured of his crime and sin if he wants to.

THE MOTHER

Students are familiar with the concept of grace marks. These are the marks which a student does not deserve, but are given to make him pass an exam. Grace marks are given when a student cannot pass entirely through his own efforts.  Grace is thus a gift, not a prize. A prize not only needs effort, but is also strictly related to the effort. Grace also needs effort. The student has to put in some effort, at least the effort of taking the exam! But grace is disproportionate to the effort. Most students pass exams without needing grace marks, and are proud of it. But there is one exam, the exam of life, in which we all need the grace of God to pass. Divine grace is showered on us because God loves all of us.

‘God helps those who help themselves’ is an expression which suggests the need for personal effort to earn divine grace. However, this is a superficial interpretation. The ability, circumstances and willingness required for personal effort is also an expression of divine grace. The thought that moves a person towards effort is put into the person’s mind by the Divine, and is also, therefore, an expression of divine grace. That perhaps explains how some people reach sacred places after travelling across the seas, while others do not visit those places even while living next door for years. Thus, life is permeated by divine grace. It is through God’s grace that we are able to put in effort; it is through effort that we are able to earn still more divine grace. 

The concept of grace has probably been emphasized the most in Christianity: the word ‘grace’ occurs more than 160 times in the holy Bible. The spiritual philosophy underlying Christianity considers man to be basically a sinner, and therefore divine grace is essential to save him. The atonement of the sins of humanity by Jesus Christ carrying the cross was an expression of divine grace. Although Vedanta, the spiritual philosophy underlying Hinduism, considers man to be basically divine, it concedes that in practice man acts evil because his inherent divinity is veiled by ignorance. To tear the veil asunder, and to manifest the divinity within, personal effort is not enough. Hence the Hindus need divine grace just as much as Christians! Buddhism, which considers Buddha to be the supreme guide rather than a saviour, still has some elements which may be considered very similar to grace. For example, the fruits of a good deed are considered to be related to the field of the good deed. A good deed done to a monk, for example, brings greater rewards than a similar deed done to an ordinary person. Any possibility of rewards becoming disproportionate to the effort is a type of grace. Secondly, freewill, which according to Buddhism, may be used to improve one’s karma, is also a type of grace, because it introduces an element of flexibility in the karmic law. As Winston King has said, karma is a grace-perforated structure. Finally, for Buddha to be born in a human form, and his choice not to enter Nirvana after enlightenment, but instead to re-enter the world to proclaim the truth, was in itself an act of supreme grace.

Since God’s grace is an expression of divine love, and divine love is universal and unconditional, divine grace is showered on all – even on those who do not believe in God. If one who seeks self-perfection has a strong aspiration, and puts in sincere ‘personal effort’ to realize the aspiration, divine grace intervenes even if the seeker does not believe in it. Concentrated, steady and calm effort prepares the seeker for full manifestation of the divine grace. Grace is an expression of love, and therefore, like love, it baffles rational human thought. Grace may redeem great sinners, or may be showered on the righteous to cure them of self-righteousness. Grace may manifest itself in our getting what we want, or in not getting what we want. Some of our desires not getting fulfilled may prepare us for a higher, better and more meaningful life.

Progress and success are always the result of a combination of personal effort and grace. I once saw this profound but simple truth written on the backside of a truck on a Delhi road in four simple words: mehnat meri, rahmat teri (My hard work, and Your Grace). The relative importance of effort and grace is brought out by a story. Once a person dreamt that he had been swallowed up by a demon, and found himself in the demon’s stomach. In his dream, he started climbing up the demon’s food pipe, hoping that he will be able to escape when he reaches the demon’s mouth. But after a few steps along the slippery food pipe, he fell back in the stomach. He kept trying again and again throughout the night, but each time he fell back in the stomach. When the dream was over, and he woke up, he suddenly found himself free. His struggle throughout the night was his personal effort; his release in the morning was grace. Although his personal effort gave him some satisfaction, the dramatic release was way beyond even his own expectations. Grace is so much in evidence, in ordinary life, and in spiritual seeking. As Sri Aurobindo has said, “Grace is not an invention, it is a fact of spiritual experience.” He considers three powers to be indispensable for spiritual realization. In ascending order of their importance, they are strength, sincerity and Divine Grace. 

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Author: Ramesh

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