Questioner (Q): What does Khalil Gibran mean, when he says, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.”
Acharya Prashant (AP): What is work?
All work involves action.
As human beings, we are beings of action. We have limbs, senses, mind, all configured to act. So, action is inevitable. One cannot avoid action. So, workers we all are. There is nobody who does not work. The one who is professionally working somewhere, works. And so does the one, who is professionally unemployed. Both of us, both of them, are workers, irrespective of whether or not they are formally working somewhere.
To be alive is to be working.
We are working all the time, because ‘action’ is happening all the time.
Then the question is of the quality of work. How does one work? From where does the work arise? Khalil Gibran takes two images and contrasts them.
The first image is of the man who is working with material, but his work is essentially an expression of his being, his center, his Self. He might be working with marble, but actually, it is his soul taking shape as marble. Marble is now not only marble. Marble is now not only material. Marble is an expression of what he is. This is work of one kind.
And then he says, there is another one, who looks at soil, just as soil. For him, work is something outside of himself. "I go somewhere, and I work with material. I work with material, probably, so that I may get some returns, some reward." He is not directly and organically ‘connected’ to his work. His relationship with work is transactional. "I work, I put in some hours, and in return, I get paid." Are you getting it? So, there is you, there is work and then there is a business-like relationship between ‘you’ and ‘work.’ This is the second way of working.
The first way of working is, “Work is not outside of me; work is an expression of me.”
“Work is not outside of me; work is just an expression of who I am.”
It must be obvious, where Khalil Gibran is standing. It must be obvious, what kind of work he supports. And then, it should also be clear, that it doesn’t matter, where you work, how much you earn, to what field does your work belong; what matters is, whether or not the work is arising from the depth of your Heart.
Are you working because working is something you cannot avoid? Because working is like breathing for you? Or are you working, because work will provide you with something, outside the work? Because work will benefit you in a way, that meets your other needs!
If the first category is where you belong to, then work is sufficient. The return, the reward, is contained in the work.
If the second category is where you belong to, then work is not sufficient. Then work plus rewards is what you are looking for.
Then you are saying, "Work, and salary outside of work; these are the two things I am looking for." Work is just a gateway to get the second thing.
The salary is not contained in the work. The salary is an output of the work. This is the second way of living.
The reward is not in the work. The reward is outside of the work. You finish your work and then you get the reward. The work is not its own reward. That’s the second way of working.
This second way of working, work is torture. Because you are not working to work. You are working to get the reward.
Now, ‘work’ is an investment, and ‘reward’ is the output. Like any sane investor, you would like to minimize the investment and maximize the output. You would want to say, "Can I get the same salary by working lesser and fewer hours?" And if somebody says, “Yes, it is possible!” Then, you will opt for that. If you are being paid an amount for working twenty-five days a month and somebody pays you the same amount for working fifteen days a month, you would go for working fifteen days a month. Because it is not the twenty-five or fifteen days where your heart lies. Your heart lies in the output. Are you getting it?
Q: What does Khalil Gibran mean when he says, “Work is a curse and labour is a misfortune.”
AP: It means, that usually, it is this way, for most people. Do read it again.
Q: "Work is a curse and labour is a misfortune."
AP: "Work is a curse and labour is a misfortune." Because work is an investment to get some particular return. If the return is assured, won’t you want to minimize the investment? Obviously then, the investment appears like a curse! Investment appears like a loss! Investment appears like a burden. In order to get ‘x’ thousand rupees, I have to spend ‘y’ days working. Now, are these ‘y’ days, a curse or not? Could you get those ‘x’ thousand rupees without putting in these ‘y’ days, would you not easily take that option?
So, of course, then work and labour are curse and misfortune. They are being extracted by the other. The other is saying, "You want these returns? Such money? Then, give me my pound of flesh." Obviously, that appears like a misfortune.
Q: What does Khalil Gibran mean when he says, “But if you in your pain, call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.”
AP: Who is the one, who says, that life is an affliction? Affliction meaning, a disease. Who says, that birth and life are a disease? And, who says that support of the flesh is a curse? ‘Support of flesh’ meaning doing that which supports life. Who does that?
Nothing in existence finds supporting itself such a demanding burden. It’s only Man who finds it too much often to support himself. Why?
Because other beings, support only their biological organism.
Man is the only one, who has to support his ambitions as well. Man is the only one, who has to support his psychological self as well. Then obviously, supporting yourself becomes a burden.
Then obviously, just carrying on with life becomes a burden. Because life is demanding so much.
You are not just simply living. You are saying, “Just to live, I require these, these, and these amenities.” Now, living becomes an expensive affair, a demanding affair. It extracts so much from you.
Khalil Gibran is saying, work that appears like a load is certainly work that you have taken upon yourself just to boost your Ego. And here boosting your Ego does not only mean being ambitious. If you are picking up work because you are afraid, or because you are competitive, or because you are jealous or ambitious, still you are acting from the point of Ego.
And these are two things, which have to be parallelly understood. One, work cannot be avoided; work is always happening. So, one cannot escape away. One cannot say that "I want to retire from work." Even if you retire from work, you are working in some other way. And second, the other extreme is, when you put yourself so deeply into work, that it becomes obvious that so much work cannot be there just to live simply. If so much work is happening, something more than a simple life is at stake. It is your psychological grandeur, that is at stake. It is your mental image, that is at stake.
Neither live a life that shrinks away from work - we have said again and again, work is always happening, we are creatures and beings of action - So, do not live a life that tries to escape work, and also do not live a life that uses work as a medium for psychological aggrandization.
Work must always be there. And work must always be there as an expression of your Heart.
One extreme is, “I will not work at all, I am a rebel.”
That extreme is like that of Arjun on the battlefield refusing to fight. Krishna tells him, it is not possible for you to escape work now. Of course, he is on the battlefield; to fight is his work at that moment. Krishna tells him it is not possible. He very clearly says, that the three Gunas of Prakriti , run this Universe. And this Universe is always in motion.
Action is always happening. You cannot avoid action. Even avoiding action is just another action. So, action will happen.
First thing, don’t avoid it. And the second thing, remember that action must happen, only to the extent that it is pure, coming from the right centre. Neither must you say, that you will not fight, nor must you say that you are fighting for your own personal sake. "So, fight and devote the result of fighting to me, Arjun."
Krishna is precluding both the possibilities. He is saying, "It is not possible for you to not fight, not to work. Fight you would, fight you certainly must. That is one thing. And second thing is, if you think that victory in the war would belong to you, you are mistaken. If you think that you have a right over the fruit of your action, then you are again mistaken."
Fight hard and then let what is going to happen, happen. Do not worry about the result. Just say, that "I did what I had to, and I have now devoted the result to you (Krishna)."
We live in either of these extremes. You find people who are lazy, who run away from work; who shirk action. Don’t you find such people? And on the other extreme, you find people who are addicted to work, workaholics.
Khalil Gibran would have neither of them.