There is a story that when the British wanted the weavers of Bengal to produce more cloth, the first response of the weavers was to refuse. The British who had assumed that more money would be an incentive to produce more cloth were told by the weavers that they could work only a few hours on the loom because they had many samajik duties that took up the rest of their time. How the British brutally got around this cultural roadblock is a story that we will not get into here and is narrated in detail in ‘The White Sahibs In India’ that we have republished at SIDH (write to firstname.lastname@example.org for copies). The point I want to make is that there was a clear difference between ‘livelihood’ and ‘rest of life’ for our ancestors. How these have got mixed up today and the confusion that ensues is what I want to explore in this post.
Today, livelihood has taken centre-stage and it grabs all our attention. Our education system efficiently trains children to fit as a cog into some part of the modern world economy. We function as interchangeable parts of a large, complex, impersonal machine and this is harmful to our common human capacity for physical and mental well-being. The insensitivity we are forced to cultivate to survive in the system ends up making us lead an adharmic life and our growth towards wisdom and clarity is effectively short-circuited.
I was recently thinking about all this and the following insights came up:
– People who find their work intolerable and have the luxury of leaving it, think that the solution lies in finding work that they like to do. They end up even more stuck in the ‘livelihood’ paradigm and in the bargain become repetitive, boring people on a passionate, personal mission (I am like this :-)).
– This knee-jerk reaction to a perceived problem is also visible when successful people (people with lot of money in the bank) want to do social service of some kind or the other and be ‘useful’ to society.
– If our livelihood was approached as a yagna in our traditional samaaj, as Ravindra Sharmaji used to tell us, then our work was part of our practice towards moksha and was a natural part of our life.
– To joyfully engage in life and to grow in wisdom requires some relaxed time and energy, some fursat, that seems impossible to come by in the rush to do our ‘jobs’. Today, it is not unusual to find conventionally successful people who are near retirement age behaving like spoilt children.
– The samajik engagements, that were an important part of our ancestor’s lives, have almost disappeared in the modern shift towards individualism and there appears to be no alternative to spending all our time earning our livelihood.
– It seems that one non-reactionary way to look at ‘livelihood vs life’ is to minimise the time and importance we give to ‘livelihood’ and to engage more deeply with ‘rest of life’. ‘Rest of life’ meaning our relationship with ourselves, with others around us, with the culture of our land, our relationship with nature etc.
This is a very tentative post to share these insights. I would be interested in finding out what you think about all this.