Work is essential for survival, as the Bhagavad-gita (03.08) acknowledges. Yet the same work that is vital can become vitality-sapping if done excessively. When work becomes the sole definer of our self-identity and self-worth, it degenerates to an indulgence, even an addictive indulgence.
Just as alcohol can become an obsession that devours everything else in an alcoholic’s life, so too can work become an obsession that devours everything else in a workaholic’s life. Whereas alcoholism’s harms – physical deterioration, financial drain and behavioral lapses – are usually hard to hide, workaholism’s harms are often hard to notice. It inebriates us with a heady sense of success while silently sidelining things that make life worth living.
Work driven by illusory conceptions is work in the mode of ignorance (18.25). Discerning workaholism is difficult also because our profession may sometimes genuinely demand long work-hours. But such occupational necessity can become a self-created mania, wherein we work driven by an illusory, uni-dimensional definition of success: “I am my work; the more I work, the bigger I become.” Sadly, many “big” people end up with battered bodies, muddled minds, fragmented families and starved spirits – workaholism has eaten them alive. Gita wisdom explains that we are at our core spiritual beings, parts of God, Krishna. And we need spiritual fulfillment, which becomes accessible when we connect ourselves devotionally with him through yogic practices such as meditation and scriptural study.
Bhakti spirituality is inclusive – it can infuse a mood of devotion into all aspects of our life, including our work (18.46). When we cultivate devotion through regular spiritual practices, we become purified and gain holistic vision. Thus, we can discern and choose work to live – not just live in this mortal world, but also live devotionally with the Lord of our heart in both the here and the hereafter.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies