Proper motivation—having the proper aim behind our ambitions—is very important. All our actions have a motive behind them, and that motive should be a selfless one. Without a motive, there is no action. When you want to do something, ask yourself why you want to do it—what is the motive? Well, I’m doing it for the sake of somebody; to bring good to somebody, to bring joy to somebody. Then ask yourself if you expect anything in return? No. I don’t want anything in return. If that is your honest feeling, then good; it is a good act. But if the answer is, Well, I hope they can appreciate me and say I did a wonderful thing, then your motive is a little dangerous.

Why? If by any chance, you are not appreciated, will you still be happy? Or will you think, Oh, how can they be like that; after taking all my service? They should have at least thanked me. Otherwise, I won’t even call them nice human beings! If your mind tells you that, then tell your mind: See, you were expecting the appreciation, and because you failed to get that, you criticized them. It is your expectation that created that criticism. One must be very careful about the motivation. It’s not what you do that is important, but why you do it. The motive must be pure. By expecting anything in return, there is always an opportunity, a chance, that you will lose your peace. By expecting something, you are making an appointment—to get some appreciation, to get the applause, to get a thanks. And if it doesn’t come to you, you get disappointed. If you don’t want to be disappointed, please for heaven sake, don’t make any appointments. Then, there will be no reason to blame others.

This might make many of us feel that we should not have any goal or vision in life. I’m not saying that. You can have goals, you can have ambitions but behind the ambition, behind your goal, there should be the element of selflessness. Suppose your ambition is to become a doctor; it’s a good ambition, fine. But why do you want to become a doctor? If it’s to earn plenty of money, have a nice home, a car, and this and that, then it is not a good ambition. You will have disappointments. Instead, if you are becoming a doctor so that you will learn a lot and  become capable of helping many people, that is a wonderful ambition. If you think, I will treat many poor people, free of cost, if possible. I’ll go out of the way to serve people. I won’t use my knowledge for money. I’m becoming a doctor to serve humanity, not to exploit them. Then, it’s a good ambition. Some ambition is necessary. We should not become ambitionless. But all of our ambitions must be for the good of humanity.

You can become a great professor, a lawyer. But if you become a lawyer, don’t become a liar! A lawyer’s job should be to uphold the law and protect the innocent; to punish the culprits and not to save them. True lawyers should see that any criminal are punished. They should not use the law to save criminals or to hide the truth. You can see a  good example in Mahatma Gandhi’s life. He was a great barrister. But, when somebody came to him, he would ask, “Tell me truly, did you do the crime or not? Tell me the honest truth.” If the person did the crime, Gandhiji will try to understand the reasons for this and show the criminal compassion. He will also explain that he will not be able to say that the person did not do that crime. Instead, during the court hearing, Gandhiji would say something like, “Your Honor, my client has admitted the crime. Under these circumstances, he lost his control and he did it. Under these circumstances, the law says he can be acquitted or can be given the lowest punishment. I would say that now he is repenting for it. Probably, if given a chance, he won’t repeat this again. I leave it to your mercy, your Excellency, your Honor.” That is how Gandhiji would plead the case. He would never create a false witness.

All the professions can be used for the sake of humanity. They’re all necessary. We should not pursue them just to make money. Then, ambitions are good and we can and should have them. But above all these ambitions, there is one highest—the topmost one—which when fulfilled, all other things come. Seek ye the kingdom of God first; all other things will be added unto to you. Have the highest ambition which is, Let me realize the truth. Let me dedicate myself completely for the sake of the entire humanity.

Then, you need not even go and learn anything; learning comes to you. I am positive about it. There is no need for you to learn anything; there’s no need for you to earn anything. No learning, no earning, because everything comes to you. We know this from the authority of the scriptures. They say that if a person is a true renunciate—a truly dedicated person—then the learning and earning comes to them. In the Hindu scriptures, it says that all learning comes from the Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of wisdom. All the money and prosperity comes from the Goddess Lakshmi. The scriptures say: “To a true renunciate, Goddesses  Saraswati and Lakshmi come to serve that person.” That person might not even have any education. The world has seen many saints like that. Not all the saints were learned, but wisdom comes if you are ready.

And, it also comes from the very nature. The other day I read from one of the Gospels about Jesus going out among some people who were sick or suffering. A blind person came to him and asked, “Please tell us why we are suffering. God is merciful, you say, but tell us why?” Then Jesus explained to them how they disobeyed the laws of God and nature. Then they asked, “When are we to learn the law? We read all scriptures and we try to follow that.” Then he said, “Those laws are not learned from books. Did Moses get the laws from books? Moses was given the Ten Commandments. Where he get them from? He got it from God, directly. He read it from the nature, from God’s creation.

A blade of grass can teach you the law. A tree can teach you the law, a fruit can teach you the law, the flower can teach you God’s law. We don’t want to take the time to learn from God’s creation, but we read from man’s creation—the book. I’m not using the exact words that I read from the Gospel, but this is the essence. If you have true renunciation, you can learn everything from the very nature. That is God’s book. The entire universe is an open book— the book of knowledge. When we have that ambition, to give ourselves to God and to Nature, or to humanity, we get everything. All ambitions will be fulfilled. Your very words will become soothing balm to ailing people. Your look is enough to heal them. So let that be our ambition. Let that be our highest goal. All the rest will follow.

Throughout the ages, all the sages and saints have said this. Just realize that your life must be a life of dedication. You can practice this in any way you want. But let this be the guiding factor in your life.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda