By Swami Karunananda

Did you ever try to do nothing? I have, and it’s harder than you might think. Just try this experiment. Say to yourself, “I am not going to do anything,” and see how long that lasts. Within seconds, you will probably find yourself pursuing a line of thought or moving about. Within minutes, you may have forgotten the exercise altogether, as the exigencies of bodily functions or life’s obligations have hijacked your attention.

We are made to act. The forces of nature—sattwa, rajas and tamas—are always in flux. Our bodies and minds, as part of nature, are subject to these changes. We are continually interacting with our environment—breathing, eating, speaking, earning/spending, buying/selling and engaging in the myriad activities of life. The Bhagavad Gita proclaims, “Perfection in action is Yoga.” Skillful action can pave the way for both worldly success and spiritual attainment. Great thinkers and spiritual luminaries throughout the ages have provided insightful keys toward this end.

Einstein was guided by “Three Rules of Work”: 1) Out of clutter, find simplicity; 2) From discord, find harmony and 3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Rule #1 would be no less helpful to someone organizing his or her desk or prioritizing one’s schedule as it would be to the brilliant scientist who intuited the grand laws at the foundation of the universe. Rule #2 could be well applied in our homes, in the workplace, among followers of different faiths and between nations. Rule #3 would be good advice for anyone facing the challenges that life presents. We can see this principle exemplified by another great thinker when faced with a crisis in his life.

In 1914, when Thomas Edison was 67 years old, his laboratory was practically destroyed by fire. While the damage exceeded $2 million dollars, the buildings were insured for only one tenth that amount. The next day, gazing at the ruins, Edison calmly stated, “There is a great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks later he was able to deliver his first phonograph, which he considered his favorite invention. Edison listed three great essentials for achieving anything worthwhile: 1) Hard work, 2) Stick-to-itiveness and 3) Common sense. Commenting on his discovery of the light bulb, he observed, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I successfully eliminated 10,000 times materials and combinations that wouldn’t work.” He is credited with stating, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

This same undaunted spirit is reflected in the wisdom of the Tirukkural, the preeminent scripture of South India:

“One should not get disheartened thinking that a job is difficult of execution; perseverance will give one the capacity to do it.”

“There is nothing so impossible that it cannot be achieved if it is thought out and executed by a vigilant mind.”

“Most people give up on the verge of success.”

And it appears in the Taoist scripture, the Tao Te Ching as well:

“People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning; then there will be no failure.”

In olden times, there lived a king of Scotland named Robert Bruce. According to legend, he was defeated in battle seven times. Having lost everything, he ran away and hid himself in a cave. He had abandoned all hope when he noticed a spider trying to spin a web….

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.