Home > Musings, Vivekananda and Vedanta > Watching out for the ego

Watching out for the ego

April 8, 2012

One of the great challenges for people engaged in social work is the slow and insidious growth of our own ego. Most of us start out with high ideals and with the intent of finding ourselves in the work that we undertake. Little do we realize that we can actually lose ourselves in this attempt. Vivekananda had thought this through and had a piece of advice for such people. He had remarked, “Do not stand on a pedestal and say, ‘here my poor man, take my 5 cents’. Feel privileged that the poor man is there to give you an opportunity to serve him.”

As our engagement with society and its acceptance of our work grows, our attention gradually shifts away from the ‘work that is getting done’ to ‘we doing the work’. There have been times when newspapers write about our work or awards and recognitions come our way, we actually begin to think that we must be doing a lot of constructive work. From personal experience, I know the ease with which one can forget the real reason for embarking on such activities. Founding the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement and undertaking the various service activities was the beginning of my own inner journey. For many years, I saw it as a platform for the outer expression of my own inner spiritual growth. As the activities grew, there was more visibility for the organization and those of us involved. Gradually, societal appreciation of the fact that there were hundreds of tribal and rural children studying in our schools and thousands of patients benefiting from our hospitals clouded this inner evolution. One started to believe the newspaper articles and television shows. To make matters worse, Veerappa Moily, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka wrote a book about a Jenukuruba boy and SVYM’s activities and made me the mentor of this central character. All this went into my head and I quietly forgot Vivekananda and his philosophy of detached and dispassionate service. It was then that another statement of Swamiji came to my mind. He says, “Remember the cow that gives birth to a calf also knows how to feed it. God knows how to take care of his creation. Feel not that you are responsible for all that is happening. On the other hand, feel happy that you are allowed to be his instrument.”

He continues, “All the hospitals you build, all the schools you construct can all get washed away in one flood or crumble to dust in one earthquake. So, do not think too much of yourself. What matters is not what you do, but how you do it. Service without motive is one of the highest forms of spiritual activity and always remember to work with the selflessness and dispassion that such a work demands.” To me, at a critical stage of my own growth, these statements seemed as though they were specifically written for me. These are indeed powerful messages for people in the social sector and we need to remember that our service will be enabling both for us and the people whom we work with, only when it is done in this spirit.

Kannada version in Prajavani (19-Apr-12)


  1. April 14, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Surely the ego makes us behave in ways which we don’t expect from ourselves. From time to time, when the picture gets some colors, one starts thinking that he is a great artist even though the work is nowhere near completion yet. Thus, instead of stopping and admiring the incomplete work, we need to pick up the brush again and keep working on this never ending canvas of life.

    Articles like these keep the spirit alive. Thanks for this wonderful writeup.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Really nice article it applies to people in all walks of life, it gives a sense of equilibrium neither to be egoistic nor to despair and keep doing what we know or what we are best at doing which will make a difference to others. Thank you sir for an eye opener.
    Dr Kumaraswamy

  3. chandra prakash
    April 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Dear Dr.RB

    If i congratulate you on this writing, it would not be appropriate since it would only touch upon the very thing you have written about viz.,your ego.

    I only hope that such an introspection and path correction would be a bench mark for others in the NGO service. And that it would enable your energy and commitment to trigger yet another stage in your life.

  4. Srinivasan Sekar
    April 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Very timely blog for me, Dr. Balu, when I am struggling in my own inner journey on how to apply my god-given skills for the benefit of those who need help. Your observation works both ways – when our efforts succeed as yours have, it is easy to lose sight and bask in the limelight, but when efforts don’t succeed, then despair creeps in and one is ready to give up and reduce own effort. I have not read Swami’s words as well as you have, but dispassionate service, I believe, is meant to address both situations – don’t bask in the victory when one’s effort succeeds, but likewise, do not despair when the efforts don’t seem to yield fruit as one’s duty is to do what one can, and not be swayed by success and failure. This is the essence of Gita, and thanks for reminding me through your article and boosting my energy.

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