Ephemeral success comes easily and rapidly in the world, whereas the lasting things require an actively intense attitude of our minds, and have to force themselves upon our attention. Who shall say how many great thoughts never reached our minds, what delightful sounds never made themselves heard; how many masterpieces were stillborn because their creators were drowned by the noise of mediocrity?
However, history proves that those who during their life did not find recognition and were not understood, swallowed their disappointment, but did not cease their efforts — finding their reward in the work itself. For indispensable as the contact between the artist and the public might be, this longing for success could never alone be the urge behind creative work. If it were, the product of the artist would unmistakably show the traces of it, for the desire for success stands between the artist and his work, disturbing the concentration in the idea.
It is the Idea that predominates. It is the must which some artists have spoken of that prompts them to unbelievable zeal, neither applause nor lack of appreciation making any difference. Simple objects in a picture or the themes of a piece of music are lifted above the commonplace. The artist looks upon them in a new light and presents them not as a slavish copy of prosaic reality, but as surrounded by the atmosphere of an immortal inner essence. He thereby detaches himself from the domain of his merely human thoughts and emotions.
This spiritual attitude, for such it is more or less, is not the privilege of the artist only. It is simply that in him it has found a more definite manifestation, through his ability of self-expression. Yet these abilities inhere in all of us, awaiting only our awareness and desire to develop them.
Perhaps here we get an indication as to how we should do our task in our time and place: That is, doing it, like the artist, to the best of our ability without a thought of what credit we will gain by it, finding our satisfaction in the right performance of duty.
If we would try seriously to make this the guiding thought in our daily life, numberless conflicts in human relations would disappear. We are links in the chain of humanity, and there are many imperfections which stick to us. These little defects are like sand between the wheels, and cause the social machine to go with difficulty.
Usually we consider these defects as unavoidable shortcomings of human nature, and their correction, as outlined, naive and impractical. Immediately the question will be asked, "Where will the incentive to hard work be found if not in the profits of personal gains and position?" And we cannot help but recognize that in society today these things are generally the real drive behind each undertaking.
However, some other questions could be asked and they are these: Are we so very pleased with this society of ours? Have these profits yielded the happiness which we are all seeking? How seldom do we find the man or woman — whatever the social position — who really has discovered what his heart longed for.
Happiness is not to be found by getting the highest price for the smallest amount of work, but in our efforts to reach perfection in each field of our activities. Be it in our daily work, in our family life or in the stillness of our own inner thoughts, we must try to perform rightly. Then the results will take care of themselves. And when they have come about, we may no longer be interested in them, for like the creative artist we have already fixed our eyes on new and greater objectives.
In this way all our actions take on a new significance. They are stripped of the personal elements, for we reach thereby a level where neither social acclaim nor disapproval affects us. There is instead a peace which is not a result of outer factors, but of an inner equanimity which cannot be shaken by the vicissitudes of life.
Beauty and strength lie in these words from the past:
Let, then, the motive for action be in the action itself, and not in the event. Do not be incited to actions by the hope of their reward . . . perform thy duty . . . and laying aside all desire for any benefit to thyself from action, — make the event equal to thee, whether it be success or failure. — The Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 2
This surely is another attitude of life than we are used to in our time which worships success. However, if we should decide to follow it, there would come real social progress, which is bound to follow such ennoblement of human character. Then we no longer will be engaged in results, but shall have tackled causes. He who dares to face himself, examining his inner state of affairs honestly, has already made a beginning. If he would try to live according to this rule of conduct from the Gita he would know that his goal was, like the artist's, to work a thing toward perfection. Absorbed, perhaps unnoticed, his life safely in his own hands, he would be cultivating the real art of living.
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