We have to work, be active, otherwise we might as well be dead. When the house is burning, we cannot for the moment be concerned with fundamental issues.’
To the merely active, fundamentals are never the issue; they are only concerned with activity, which brings superficial benefits and deep harms. But if I may ask our friend: why is a certain kind of work so important to you? Why are you so attached to it?
‘Oh, I don’t know, but it gives me a great deal of happiness.’
So you are really not interested in the work itself, but in what you get out of it. You may not make money at it, but you derive happiness from it. As another gains power, position and prestige in saving his party or his country, so you gain pleasure from your work; as another finds great satisfaction, which he calls a blessing, in serving his saviour, his guru, his Master, so you are satisfied by what you call altruistic work. Actually it is not the country, the work, or the saviour that is important to you, but what you get out of it. Your own happiness is all-important, and your particular work gives you what you want. You are really not interested in the people you are supposed to be helping; they are only a means to your happiness. And obviously the inefficient, those who stand in your way, get hurt; for the work matters, the work being your happiness. This is the brutal fact, but we cunningly cover it with high-sounding words like service, country, peace, God and so on.
So, if one may point out, you really do not mind hurting people who hinder the efficiency of the work that gives you happiness. You find happiness in certain work, and that work, whatever it be, is you. You are interested in getting happiness, and the work offers you the means; therefore the work becomes very important, and then of course you are very efficient, ruthless, dominating for the sake of that which gives you happiness. So you do not mind hurting people, breeding enmity.
‘I have never seen it that way before, and it is perfectly true. But what am I to do about it?’
Is it not important to find out also why you have taken so many years to see a simple fact like this?
‘I suppose, as you say, I really didn’t care whether I hurt people or not so long as I got my way. I generally do get my way, because I have always been very efficient and direct -- which you would call ruthlessness, and you are perfectly right. But what am I to do now?’
You have taken all these years to see this simple fact because until now you have been unwilling to see it; for in seeing it you are attacking the very foundation of your being. You have sought happiness and found it, but it has always brought conflict and antagonism; and now, perhaps for the first time, you are facing facts about yourself. What are you going to do? Is there not a different approach to work? Is it not possible to be happy and work, rather than to seek happiness in work?
When we use work or people as a means to an end, then obviously we have no relationship, no communion either with the work or with people; and then we are incapable of love. Love is not a means to an end; it is its own eternity. When I use you and you use me, which is generally called relationship, we are important to each other only as a means to something else; so we are not important to each other at all. From this mutual usage, conflict and antagonism must inevitably arise. So what are you going to do? Let us both discover what to do rather than seek an answer from another. If you can search it out, your finding of it will be your experiencing of it; then it will be real and not just a confirmation or conclusion, a mere verbal answer
‘What, then, is my problem?
Can we not put it this way? Spontaneously, what is your first reaction to the question: Does the work come first? If it does not, then what does?
‘I am beginning to see what you are trying to get at. My first response is shock; I am really appalled to see what I have been doing in my work for so many years. This is the first time I have faced the fact of ‘what is’, as you call it, and I assure you it is not very pleasant. If I can go beyond it, perhaps I shall see what is important, and then the work will naturally follow. But whether the work or something else comes first is still not clear to me.’
Why is it not clear? Is clarity a matter of time, or of willingness to see? Will the desire not to see disappear by itself in the course of time? Is not your lack of clarity due to the simple fact that you don’t want to be clear because it would upset the whole pattern of your daily life? If you are aware that you are deliberately postponing, are you not immediately clear? It is this avoidance that brings confusion.
‘It is all becoming very clear to me now, and what I shall do is immaterial. Probably I shall do what I have been doing, but with quite a different spirit. We shall see.’
— Excerpt from Commentaries on Living I by Jiddu Krishnamurti