“I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (legendary American Basketball player)
The countless books and gurus on leadership spur us on, “dare to dream big”, “discover the leader within you”, “you are born to be a leader”… Is leadership simply about dreaming big or is there more to it than what meets the eye? Are leaders born to be glamorous or do they fight a battle within?
One of the numerous challenges that any leader has to inevitably confront is the willingness to let go something dear to his/her heart for a nobler and worthy cause. For every great deed, you have to pay a price. As the saying goes, “there are no free lunches in this world”.
If you want peace in society you may have to forsake your own peace and sacrifice your time. If you want lots of money you may have to pay the price of an unstable relationship. If you dream to be a great sportsman, you may forsake some other pleasures to discipline yourself for achieving the goal. Every successful athlete, national leader, or business magnate will assure you that he sheds gallons of sweat to reach his goal. But the bigger sacrifice is the letting go of something he hitherto held dear in his heart. And a time comes when your loyalties are tested; your coveted goal and mission is held up against your attachments. The test is to take the leap of faith and live for your cause. As Radhanath Swami often says“If a person has no cause to die for he has nothing worthy to live for”
The price of spiritual leadership
A spiritual leader struggles to live by sacred universal principles even as the world around him blatantly violates them. It isn’t easy to be honest and truthful when your colleagues inoffice cheat to push their way up. It is painful when you stick to honest means and discover your co-workers circumvent correct practices to get the bucks and position cheaply. A spiritualist has a cause and reporting to do on a universal scale; he is accountable to his own conscience and the voice of God within.
And what’s the final result? While a spiritual leader lives a life of integrity, his self-worth is high; his peace and contentment is for real. He isn’t threatened by the swinging markets, or raids by government officials. He isn’t stressed by corrupt and uncouth men who rush up the corporate ladder of success. His success is experienced by his deep inner happiness derived by working and living to please the Lord of his heart. However, he does have to pay a price; a firm ‘no’ to the temptations and obstacles presented by the material world. His determination to say ‘no’ to the fundamentally erroneous practices is driven by the strong ‘yes’ to adhere to spiritual principles. But nevertheless he does pay the price; his friends may reject him, his family or closed ones may ridicule him. That’s when the leap of faith takes. “Will I live by this in the face of so much opposition?” This is the real struggle of a spiritual leader, but the benefits are worth paying the price.
The cost of material success
On the other hand those who seem to break cardinal principles of honesty, integrity and truthfulness for short term riches or position eventually pay a much bigger price. Peace and happiness is lost for good despite the overabundance of pleasures at their doorstep. Besides the legal complications that may eventually arise, they never really make it ‘big’. Breaking natural laws for achieving success is like spoiling the whole year and cramming at the last minute for the exams. You may pass the exam but you never learn the subject. Similarly you may get money by circumventing natural laws, but you never learn the lessons of life; you never grow and evolve in your relationship with the supreme. Your life is throttled by the petty pleasures and pains of this world. You thus deprive yourself of the unending spiritual bliss that could be gained by living a life centred on God and godly principles.
A life based on corporal goals is like wasting the land whole year and just at the last month of the year you plant a seed and attempt to harvest and expect a bountiful crop overnight. If you defy natural laws you will never get the crop. Similarly if you break the natural laws of universal existence; of living in harmony with the cosmos, you have to pay the price. You never make it big; you are no success although the crown of leadership sits on your head. The crowning glory of this world only drags you down faster to the material abyss.
Is spirituality utopian or for real?
A close friend of mine Ananda vrindavan dasa works in the stock market. When he decided to live by spiritual principles, his close friends ridiculed him. Even his father was unhappy at his saying ‘no’ to the promises of this world; he could earn billions if only he was prudent, even if it meant a little cheating. After all who doesn’t cheat?
Some years ago Ananda’s former business partner and friend proposed a scheme that would make them millionaires overnight. However the offer had legal discrepancies and could lead to complications later. The friend dismissed his apprehension and assured him of a fool-proof plan. With their combined financial know-how they could take this enterprise to new heights. The temptation was difficult to resist; Ananda could now prove that he could be wealthier than many of his friends. He approached Radhanath Swami’s student Devamrita Dasa who patiently heard his story but didn’t share his enthusiasm. He said, “God will provide whatever you need. You don’t need illegal money because that won’t be pleasing to Him.”
Ananda’s struggle was for real; he was caught in the sea of confusion. On one hand, the wave of his partner’s attractive offer pulled him. On the other hand a sincere spiritual leader was appealing him to refrain. After weeks of being tossed by conflicting thoughts and feelings, Ananda finally made the painful decision; he withdrew from the plan as his partner expressed shock at his ‘foolishness’. Ananda was now firm on choosing to live by the wisdom of spiritual leadership.
A year later Ananda’s erstwhile partner invited him to a business conference in a leading five-star hotel. By now he was a multi-millionaire and a business star, adored by the media. As cameras flashed and the reporters interviewed him, Ananda stood in a corner and watched his friend’s quick ascension to the hall of fame and success. At the end of the conference he called Ananda over and rebuked, “You fool; you could have had this success. It’s still not too late. My invitation is on. Trust me, I am your friend. With your intelligence, you can be twice as wealthy as me.” Ananda heard him patiently but wasn’t tempted; he was now deeply attached to a spiritual lifestyle. His earnings were sufficient to keep their family contended. His wife and son also supported his spiritual values and practices; they also abhorred the greed-impelled pursuit of wealth. He left the meeting unruffled, yet disappointed at his inability to convince his friend to abandon his dangerous ways.
A few days later, yet another reality hit Ananda.
The headlines of all National newspapers and television channels carried the story of one of the three biggest financial scams India had ever witnessed. His former friend was now exposed in Rs 50 billion fraud, and his photograph flashed all over. He was now in jail, condemned by the media, government and police. He was charged with over a hundred serious financial crimes. As Ananda followed the news carefully, he realized how spiritual principles had saved him.
Bhagavad Gita assures the nature of happiness experienced when unhealthy passions motivate us to work. “Activities performed out of pride and impelled by greed and for the sake of gaining respect, honor and worship is said to be in the mode of passion. It is neither stable nor permanent and brings no lasting happiness” (Bhagavad Gita, 17th chapter).
Strength to resist temptations
Ananda Vrindavan’s spiritual practices have given him the strength from within to resist temptations and take the right decisions. Besides, he learnt a valuable lesson by seeing monks at Radhanath Swami’s Mumbai ashram. “I have observed that monks in the renounced order are blissful even without having money” says Ananda Vrindavan. “In stark contrast I saw people in the stock market earning up to two hundred thousand rupees daily, yet they were miserable and needed to take sleeping pills. This convinced me that money is not the source of happiness. This realization also helped me say ‘no’ to the tempting offers of some business entrepreneurs who wanted to share fifty per cent of their profits with me if only I joined hands with their malpractices.”
Today Ananda Vrindavan is a beacon light for thousands of householders as well as monks in Mumbai. He is a living example of how by committing to live by spiritual principles, we are never the losers. He has also taught that a spiritual leader too faces tests and challenges. But the rewards are immensely benefiting; not just to the self but to the society at large. We add substance and meaning to the lives of thousands others by individually agreeing to live by spiritual principles.