Livelihood Vs Life

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 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.

3 replies on “Livelihood Vs Life”

Thanks, Mukesh!

There was a further discussion on the ‘SIDH Discussion Forum’ that anyone can join by following the link below:

The discussion included:
“I took these lines from one of Puri Shankaracharya’s books/talks
‘जीविका’ जीवनके लिए है; किन्तु ‘जीवन’ जीविका के लिए नहीं है। जीवन है, जीवनधन जगदीश्वरकी अभिव्यक्तिके लिए। भौतिकवादियोंके यहाँ जीविका होती है जीवनके लिए और जीवन होता है जीविकाके लिए।”
– Halley Kalyan

“इसी को गुरुजी रवीन्द्र शर्मा जी अपने शब्दों में कुछ इस प्रकार व्यक्त करते हैं — भगवान ने हमको 24 घण्टे दिए हैं। इसमें 8 घण्टे तो सोओ और दैनिक कर्म करो, 8 घण्टे जीवकोपार्जन में लगाओ और बाकी के 8 घण्टे अध्यात्मिक और सामाजिक कार्यों में लगाओ…”
– Ashish Gupta

“गीता में कर्मयोग के प्रकरण में एक श्लोक आता है –
जिसका भावार्थ सुना है -जो संगरहित, मुक्त होने के उद्देश्य से ज्ञान अर्थात विवेक में स्थित होकर यज्ञ का आचरण करता है उसके सारे कर्म विलीन हो जाते है,
यज्ञायाचरत: कर्म समग्रम् प्रविलीयते||
सामन्यत: केवल अग्नि में देव उपासना को यज्ञ कहा जाता है, लेकिन वहाँ चौदह प्रकार के यज्ञ का उल्लेख है- दान पुण्य आदि जितने भी कर्म पढ़ार्थो से सिद्ध होते है उन्हें द्रव्ययज्ञ कहा गया है, जिसमें इन्द्रियों,मन,शरीर का संयम किया जाये उस तपस्या को भी यज्ञ कहा गया है | यम, नियम, आसन प्राणायाम (बहिरंग साधनों ) धारणा, ध्यान, समाधि (अतरंग साधन) इन्हे योग यज्ञ कहते है, वेदों, स्मृति पाठ व उनके मनन को स्वाध्याययज्ञ नाम दिया गया है, तथा इनके द्वारा उत्पन्न हुई समझ को, इतना ही नहीं, किसी भी बात को गहराई से समझने को ज्ञानयज्ञ कहा गया है, उपसंहार में कहते है, और भी बहुत प्रकार के यज्ञ विद्वानों के मुख से सुने गए है, और बाद में कहते है,
यज्ञाशिष्टामृतभुजो यान्ति ब्रह्म सनातनम्,
माने जो यज्ञ से बचे हुए अमृत अर्थात चिर शांति का पान करता है वह सनातन ब्रह्म को प्राप्त हो जाता है,
सभी को बताना ही पड़ता है, विश्वास दृढ़ कराना पड़ता है, की बुद्धि, इन्द्रियों से परे कोई सनातन ब्रह्म है,फिर विश्वास करके कोई कोई वहाँ चलता है एक धार्मिक व्यवस्था वाले समाज में भी, जहाँ गुरूजी कहते है आहार व सम्मान सुरक्षित है, सभी के पास कला, साहित्य, त्यौहार, अध्यात्मिक, मनन, चिंतन अर्थात ज्ञानयज्ञ के लिए पर्याप्त समय है, आजकल तो अपनी जीविका, पढ़ाई जो जिसका मुख्य काम ही ऐसे विश्वास को काटकर दूसरी दिशा में लगाना है, उससे समय निकालना अपने आप में यज्ञ है |”

“The point I wanted to make was also that when we react against what we perceive to be wrong, we end up doing some other wrong. Like leaving our job to start an alternative school and then find that managing this takes up all our energy and we have no time for anything else. But we justify this by thinking that we are now doing something we like.”
– Me

“So true! Ever since, I have engaged myself with ‘Jeevika Ashram’, I have also been facing this situation. Leave aside ‘Samajik’ and ‘Adhyatmik’ kaam, sometimes one finds it difficult to give sufficient time to your family even. That too under the notion that you are doing some great work or that you are doing things that you like…”
– Ashish Gupta

“In the SIDH samvaad on ‘Original Mind’, I heard Rinpocheji say that recognising/ understanding what we are caught in is a first step towards breaking free from the ‘ordinary rational mind’ that we are all schooled into. So, there must be ways to stay inside the system, whether mainstream or alternative, and not be caught up in it. Finding this out at our individual levels may be the most important task we have to do.”
– Me

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