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How Individual And Social Welfare Can Go Side By Side?

Modern man’s selfish pursuit of money, power and pleasure is leading to wide spread erosion of values with a consequent increase in violence and conflict. It is all a result of a lack of awareness and proper application of the ideas of engagement in right action, and restraint of one’s selfish tendencies, for the welfare of society.

Ordinarily speaking, the goals of human life are dharma, artha and kama. But as pointed out earlier, the latter two have to be achieved within the limits set by the former. For any society to remain firmly oriented to lofty values, the people comprising it need to adopt a sattvic way of life. It is here that society realizes the importance of the presence of spiritual people in it and the significance of their teachings and guidance.

If the above conditions are fulfilled, it is only a matter of time before society begins to appreciate the ideal of moksha. It is only when more and more people try to become spiritual that individual and collective harmony is achieved and it is only of such a society that Abraham Lincoln’s famous words ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all’ hold true.

The Ramakrishna Mission, with its motto ‘Atmano mokshartham jagaddhitaya ca; For one’s own liberation and for the welfare of the world’, is a bright example of how individual and social welfare can go side by side.

The third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita contains this advice – ‘Even with a view to guiding people, you should perform action.’ So it is work for the good of others and for the welfare and stability of society that is emphasized here. Even the Gita idea of ‘cherishing one another you shall gain the highest good (3.11)’ may not be out of place here, if we take society as the ‘other.’ Because a person gets whatever he needs for growth and sustenance from the surrounding society, it is his duty to do what he can to promote its welfare and progress. And this he can do effectively if he renounces his ego, sacrifices self-interest, cultivates humility and love, and serves in a detached manner. In other words, only a person who has realized inner harmony can work for outer harmony successfully. Furthermore, the Gita says, Just as the unenlightened act, attached to work, even so should the enlightened act, but without attachment and desirous of the well-being of the world. (3.25).

Commenting on these verses of Bhagavad Gita, Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission says: These verses contain a profound message to all of us. If I am un-enlightened, how do I perform work? I work hard, but only to fatten myself. I don’t care for others at all. That is called the un-en lightened type. The other is the enlightened type. Work hard for the good of all, to develop the nation, to develop the whole world. Work hard with that attitude. That attitude is expressed in one profound word in this verse: loka sangraham, the welfare of the whole world. I must serve the people; I must help them to achieve fulfillment along with my own personal fulfillment.

One is reminded of Sri Ramakrishna’ s teaching of ‘shiva jnane jiva seva’ (serving living beings as manifestations of God). To quote Swami Vivekananda:

What is the good of that spiritual practice or realisation which does not benefit others, does not conduce to the well-being of people sunk in ignorance and delusion, does not help in rescuing them from the clutches of lust and wealth? Do you think, so long as one Jiva endures in bondage, you will have any liberation? So long as he is not liberated – it may take several lifetimes – you will have to be born to help him, to make him realise Brahman. Every Jiva is part of yourself – which is the rationale of all work for others.