Work is not a hindrance to Meditation

(Excerpts from Talks with Ramana Maharshi)


D.: Is work an obstruction to Self-realisation?

M.: No. For a realised being the Self alone is the Reality, and actions are only phenomenal, not affecting the Self. Even when he acts he has no sense of being an agent. His actions are only involuntary and he remains a witness to them without any attachment.

There is no aim for this action. Even one who is still practising the path of Wisdom (jnana) can practise while engaged in work. It may be difficult in the earlier stages for a beginner, but after some practice it will soon be effective and the work will not be found a hindrance to meditation.

D.: What is the practice?

M.: Constant search for ‘I’, the source of the ego. Find out ‘Who am I?’ The pure ‘I’ is the reality, the Absolute Existence-Consciousness- Bliss. When That is forgotten, all miseries crop up; when that is held fast, the miseries do not affect the person.

24th January, 1935
Talk 17.


Mr. Greenlees: Bhagavan said yesterday that, while one is engaged in search for “God within”, outer work would go on automatically. In the life of Sri Chaitanya it is explained that while he sought Krishna (the Self) during his lectures to students, he forgot where his body was and went on talking of Krishna. This rouses doubt whether work can safely be left to itself. Should one keep part-attention on the physical work?

M.: The Self is all. Now I ask you: Are you apart from the Self? Can the work go on apart from the Self? Or is the body apart from the Self? None of them could be apart from the Self. The Self is universal. So all the actions will go on whether you engage in them voluntarily or not. The work will go on automatically. Attending to the Self includes attending to the work.

D.: The work may suffer if I do not attend to it.
M.: Because you identify yourself with the body, you consider that the work is done by you. But the body and its activities, including the work, are not apart from the Self.

What does it matter whether you attend to the work or not? Suppose you walk from one place to another place. You do not attend every single step that you take. After a time, however, you find yourself at your destination. You notice how the work, i.e., walking, goes on without your attention to it. Similarly it is with other kinds of work.

2nd January, 1937
Talk 313.


M.: Effort is necessary up to the state of realisation. Even then the Self should spontaneously become evident. Otherwise happiness will not be complete. Up to that state of spontaneity there must be effort in some form or another.

D.: Our work-a-day life is not compatible with such efforts.
M.: Why do you think that you are active? Take the gross example of your arrival here. You left home in a cart, took train, alighted at the Railway Station here, got into a cart there and found yourself in this Asramam. When asked, you say that you travelled here all the way from your town. Is it true? Is it not a fact that you remained as you were and there were movements of conveyances all along the way. Just as those movements are confounded with your own, so also the other activities. They are not your own. They are God’s activities.

29th September, 1935
Talk 78.


D.: My work demands the best part of my time and energy; often I am too tired to devote myself to Atma-chintana (Contemplation on the Self).
M.: The feeling “I work” is the hindrance. Enquire, “Who works?” Remember, “Who am I?” The work will not bind you. It will go on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce work. Your effort is the bondage. What is bound to happen will happen.
If you are destined to cease working, work cannot be had even if you hunt for it. If you are destined to work you cannot leave it; you will be forced to engage in it. So leave it to the Higher Power. You cannot renounce or hold as you choose.

23rd October, 1936
Talk 268.


As Bhagavan was descending the Hill, one of the workers, just outside the Asramam stopped work and was about to prostrate before the Master.
Then the Master said: “To engage in your duty is the true prostration.”
The Master’s attendant asked: “How?”
M.: To perform one’s duty carefully is the greatest service to God.
(Then, smiling, he entered the hall.)

4th July, 1936
Talk 227.

A lady devotee:
She: How to practice meditation?
M.: Keep off thoughts.

She: How to reconcile work with meditation?
M.: Who is the worker? Let him who works ask the question. You are always the Self. You are not the mind. It is the mind which raises these questions. Work proceeds, always in the presence of the Self only. Work is no hindrance to realisation. It is the mistaken identity of the worker that troubles one. Get rid of the false identity.

21st July, 1935
Talk 68.


Once ‘A’ asked: How can one be worshipful while engaged in daily work?
Sri Bhagavan did not reply. Ten minutes passed.

A few girls came for darsan of Sri Bhagavan. They began to sing and dance. Their song was to the effect: “We will churn the milk without losing thought of Krishna.”

Sri Bhagavan turned to the Swami and said that there was the reply to his question. This state is called Bhakti, Yoga and Karma.

15th October, 1938
Talk 535.


There are some buildings in the Asramam. They used to have some plan which somehow could not be followed in entirety. Therefore ‘A’ and the Sarvadhikari did not agree on many details and there used to be trouble between them. ‘A’ was once highly disgusted with the state of affairs. He asked Sri Bhagavan what could be done under the circumstances.
Sri Bhagavan said: “Which of the buildings was according to a plan made by these people here? God has His own plans and all these go on according to that. No one need worry as to what happens.”

15th October, 1938
Talk 552.


Mr. Ekanatha Rao: How can anyone reconcile such activity with the wage-earning which is a necessity for worldly people?
M.: Actions form no bondage. Bondage is only the false notion. “I am the doer.” Leave off such thoughts and let the body and senses play their role, unimpeded by your interference.

12th April, 1935
Talk 46.


A Telugu gentleman asked about Karma Yoga. Sri Bhagavan said that the man should act as an actor on the stage. In all actions there is the sat as the underlying principle. “Remember it and act.”

17th December, 1935
Talk 113.


D.: Should we do our duty or not?
M.: Yes – certainly. Even if you try not to do your duty you will be perforce obliged to do it. Let the body complete the task for which it came into being.
Sri Krishna also says in the Gita, whether Arjuna liked it or not he would be forced to fight. When there is work to be done by you, you cannot keep away; nor can you continue to do a thing when you are not required to do it, that is to say, when the work allotted to you has been done. In short, the work will go on and you must take your share in it – the share which is allotted to you.
D.: How is it to be done?
M.: Like an actor playing his part in a drama – free from love or hatred.

1st April, 1939
Talk 653.