The Secret of Work

“Whatever you do, concentrate your whole mind on that. This is the secret of work.” – Swami Vivekananda [1]

If we want to become wealthy, then we need to put all our efforts toward the amassing and control of money. If we want to become a tennis star, we need to study with professional teachers and practice for long hours every day over many years. If we want to become an accomplished musician, it will require long hours of practice and total immersion in the world of music. If we want to know God, we need to focus all of our heart and mind on the spiritual life and make God the centerpoint of our existence.


 “bechol darcheha daiyhu” “In all your ways acknowledge Him.” – Proverbs 3:6

The Hasidic Master, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, teaches that our task in life is to integrate the awareness of God into our every thought, speech and action. We do this by binding ourselves to the inner reality in each experience rather than to the outer circumstance. This act of “devekut”, binding to God, is the essence of the spiritual life. As the Midrash tells us, Adam Rishon (the first man) was given only one commandment, to bind himself to God.

The more that we train ourselves to link everything that we experience to God, Rebbe Menachem assures us, the more we will be bound to God at every moment. The more we are bound to God at every moment, the more the Divine emanation will flow into us and the more vibrant our inner life will become.

On the other hand, if we do not strive to link every experience to God, if we allow our mind to go in whichever direction it desires, then we will swiftly be drawn away from God and into the material consciousness of this physical world. Sri Ramakrishna used his visit to an underground fort in Calcutta in order to illustrate this truth to his devotees.

“Once I went to the fort in a carriage”, he told them, “feeling all the while that I was going along a level road. At last I found that I had gone four storeys down. It was a sloping road.” [1]

In a similar fashion, if we do not remain ever alert and mindful, then we will sink deep into the mire of worldliness without even realizing that it has occurred.

 

“The mind is like a bag of mustard seeds. Just as it is extremely difficult to gather the mustard seeds if they have been scattered on the floor, so once the mind has been scattered in worldly affairs…it is hard to collect it and fix it on God.” – Swami Brahmananda [2]

For most of us, it is hard to live up to the lofty ideal of constant God remembrance. Our lives do not permit us to give such total commitment to our inner work. Our minds are scattered across the worldly affairs of family, career and financial security. Even for those of us who try to make God the center of our life, there are many times when we lose our state of consciousness and are plunged into the mundane awareness of the lower self. If we cannot practice this path of the mind, what is the path for us to follow? How do we bind ourselves to God?

If we are unable to practice constant God remembrance, there are still several other methods by which we can bind ourselves to Him. The first method is through the path of love for God.

The Midrash tells us that the Patriarch Abraham lived by one mitzvah (commandment), the love of God, and through this mitzvah he fulfilled the whole of the Torah, even the most obscure commandments. We too, Rebbe Menachem declares, can follow the example of our father Abraham and bind ourselves to God through our love for Him. The key to this process, Rebbe Menachem concludes, is to awaken our love for God not only in moments of prayer and contemplation, but also during the everyday experiences of our lives. When we arise from sleep, let us turn in love to the Lord who has given us renewed life and consciousness. When we eat or drink, let us feel love and gratitude for the Maker of these foods. Whether we walk along the street or converse with our colleagues, let us hold on to our love for the One in whom we live, breathe and have our being.

It is not easy to hold onto to this state of consciousness. The many difficulties that we face in our lives quickly build up a barrier between God and us. When God seems far away, when we feel that He has turned His back on us, it is nearly impossible to arouse our love for Him. When we cannot follow the direct path of love for God, then there is another path that we can pursue, the path of loving others.

In the Torah (Leviticus 19: 18), God commands us, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The reason for this commandment, Rebbe Menachem explains, is because “ahava gorem ledevaykut”, “love creates binding.” When we love others it binds us to them. If we bind ourselves to those who have bound themselves to God, our shared bond will lift us up to the place in the supernal realm where they themselves are rooted.

The Ethics of the Fathers (4:2) states, “mitzvah gorerit mitzvah”, one sacred act leads to another sacred act. Rebbe Menachem believes that this saying does not refer to individual effort but to group work. The Hebrew word “mitzvah” comes from the root “tzavat”, to join. The effort of one person to join to God links with the efforts of another person to join to God, thereby multiplying their spiritual strength and power until all of them are able to bind with the Lord.

In this path, then, the way to succeed is to view the spiritual life as a group labor and not as an individual endeavor. We are all parts of one single “body” where each of us has our particular function. Though each of us may have our individual weaknesses and strengths, when we work together we create a spiritual whole that provides a complete vessel for God’s purpose. And the glue that binds us together is our love.

 

There is one other path by which we can bind ourselves to God that combines love for God with love for others. In this path, we join ourselves to God by serving humanity. We express our love for others through honoring the Divine that is in every human being. If this service is performed as an act of worship, then we will always be in the presence of God.

Swami Vivekananda beautifully articulates this ideal:

“After so much tapasya, austerity, I have known that the highest truth is this: He is present in all beings. These are all the manifested forms of Him. There is no other God to seek for! He alone is worshipping God, who serves all beings.“ [3]

Whether we strive as individuals, or work together as a group, or see the whole of humanity as our field of service, the critical factor is our state of consciousness. Whether we follow the path of the mind, the path of the heart, or the path of service, the crucial point is to put the whole of ourselves into the work. If we go toward God with all of our heart, soul and might, then God will surely reveal Him/Herself to us.

 

Copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. A Guide to spiritual life: Spiritual Teachings of Swami Brahmananda, translated by Swami Chetanananda
  2. ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated by Swami Nikhilananda
  3. A Guide to spiritual life: Spiritual Teachings of Swami Brahmananda, translated by Swami Chetanananda
  4. Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works