“Impossible is a word found in the dictionary of fools,” declared the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. While most popular lifestyle leaders encourage their followers to believe in this maxim, albeit to achieve a purely materialistic pursuit, a spiritual leader has a different approach to life: “Achieving the possible, and accepting the impossible.” Let’s explore this principle deeply.
Immature leadership makes false claims and offers empty gung-ho approaches to making things possible. For example one may endeavour to achieve things that defy material laws. If we desire to conquer death, can we do so? MIT Professor, Gerald Sussman believes so. The noted engineer was caught in a classic moment of ignorance when he declared that science has advanced so much that “we are the last generation to die.” His five decades of research on artificial intelligence has deprived him of common sense—he’s trying to make the impossible possible.
A spiritual leader, on the other hand, is realistic in life and focuses on the things that can be worked upon, or what Steven Covey refers to as the factors within the ‘circle of influence’. Working diligently on things within our reach empowers us to reach a higher level that we would have earlier considered impossible. For example let’s say you want to shed off twenty kilograms of excess fat in your overweight body. One approach is to dream big and desire to achieve this within a fortnight. You could psyche yourself up with an aggressive program designed to achieve this end; with sheer grit you may pull through. Accolades galore fall upon you for your extraordinary effort and stupendous achievement. Friends may appreciate you for your sensational accomplishment. However the challenge is to now maintain this new program. Without deep internal drive, soon you could rebound with equal ferocity to your old ways and quickly gain the lost weight.
The other approach is to understand the significance of losing the excess weight, and follow a realistic regimen in a disciplined and regulated manner. The steadfastness and diligence in following this programme may delay the results as compared to the earlier approach, but the results now are far more lasting. Slow and steady wins the race. A spiritual leader’s internal absorption on divine principles helps in attracting higher sacred powers; hence such a leader’s slogan is, “slow and steady attracts the grace.” This approach not only helps us achieve many desirable results but also ensures a serene acceptance of things that are unachievable. The spiritual connection to God and enshrined principles gives internal fortitude and happiness; a spiritual leader attempts to go beyond the mere material successes of this world.
Let’s consider two contrasting cases. Two little boys are encouraged by their respective parents to achieve academic success. While one of them receives a pep talk from his parents on how he can indeed do it and be a real hero (he’s after all the maker of his own destiny), the other child is encouraged to work hard and simultaneously depend on higher powers and pray to God for spiritual strength and success. Both may achieve top results in their academics. However the first child’s belief in himself becomes stronger and leads to a conviction that he’s indeed great and special. Later, God forbid, if he were to fail due to the bizarre vicissitudes of life, he’ll be shattered because he’s believed all his life that he can get what he wants. Now due to a massive false ego and pride that has been the foundation of his character, he’s unable to reconcile to the failures. On the other hand, the second child is grateful during success because he’s been trained to believe that although one has to work hard for success, there are many other factors beyond our control, and their conformity to help achieve the success is beyond us individually. The examiner has to be in a good mood while correcting the papers, and the marks need to be entered correctly on the computer. The child is grateful to God for adjusting all other factors which are out of his control to get him good results. He is also humble because the culture of prayers has helped him recognize higher powers. If he were to fail, the culture of spiritual training helps him be detached. He’s already internally connected to God and knows there are more things to life than one failure in an exam.
My friend, a topper since childhood, secured an admission in the premier management institute of India. However for the first time in his life, he faced toppers from all different fields gathered together in his class. The competition was intense, and even though my friend got a good job in a multi- national company, he was devastated because he didn’t get the best. What do you expect when all ‘best’ come together? Someone has to get second. He needed counselling to get over the pain.
This incident reveals the importance of sacred principles enshrined in the Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic scriptures, of endeavouring hard but being detached from the results. For example, what are the two extremes one could drift to while trying to achieve good agricultural crops? One is to be convinced that if I till the land and work hard, I will get a great produce. But if it doesn’t rain, your efforts not only go waste, but leave you depressed. On the other extreme, one may resign to the fact that rains are the main factor and since they aren’t in my control I leave everything to God for the results. Even this fetches no crop. The ideal approach is to work hard, (‘in the circle of influence’) and cultivate spiritual principles, while leaving the nature to do what she will do anyway. Then when you get a good crop, you are humble and grateful for you have consciously cultivated spiritual principles and made your foundations strong. On the other hand, if the produce is bad due to poor rains, you are already internally connected to principles beyond this transitory material world. That keeps you sober and peaceful despite reversals on a personal front.
A leader who focuses only on the external growth remains internally miserable; that person can’t cope with failures nor can he or she accept success maturely. On the other hand a leader who works on internal development leaves a mark on the external world. Even if the world doesn’t recognize, that person is contended to be connected to God. Radhanath Swami candidly offers a realization on this, “I have come to realize that only if we cling to our sacred ideals, not being diverted by either successes or failures, we may find that amazing powers, beyond our own, are there to test us, protect us, and empower us.”