Ethical quandaries abound for those hardy souls who, shunning the sheltered existence of a remote hermitage, aspire to practice spiritual ideals in the chiaroscuro of everyday life. How does one make a living while surrounded by insecure people who are themselves struggling to secure their own financial and other physical comforts ? Whom to trust and how much truth to disclose ? When should one take a principled stand and when should one just let go? One can be forced into some pretty disappointing and unsavoury choices in this ambiguous battle of life. In this article, we read the advice given by Sri Aurobindo to a disciple who was dismayed by the corrosive effect the legal profession was having on his soul.
T. Kodandarama Rao was drawn to Sri Aurobindo after discovering in his college hostel a few copies of the Arya (1914-1921), a philosophical monthly journal written by Sri Aurobindo. He came to Pondicherry to meet Sri Aurobindo in 1920 and between 1921-1924 stayed there as a disciple. Much to his dismay, he had to leave Pondicherry because he ran out of money. Sri Aurobindo couldn’t help Kodandarama because he had no funds to maintain others. He never appealed to the public for funds at any time. If some devotee sent money, he would accept after considering the source.
Thrown back on the treacherous waters of life, Kodandarama now needed gainful employment. He reluctantly became a pleader after his father-in-law financed his tuition for law college. The rest of the story is best narrated in his words:
I joined the Bar in October 1925, and began to make headway slowly and steadily at the Bar. I did not and do not have attraction for the profession of law which I took up by force of circumstances. The ideals of the legal profession, like other professions, are very good and ennobling, but they are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Real “Karma Yoga” consists in upholding the ideals by sincerely following them in practice. Mahatma Gandhi (himself a lawyer) has evolved and advocated an ethical code for the legal profession and he has followed his code. According to him, a lawyer has to take up only true cases and abandon the briefs whenever he comes to know of the falsity of the cause. According to the opposite view enunciated by other eminent lawyers, it is not the function of the lawyer to adjudge a case entrusted to him for advocacy, but only espouse the cause of the client as per the instructions given to him to the best of his ability, without regard to the truth of the facts of the case entrusted to him.
Unable to reconcile these two views and tossed between the high ideals preached and the malpractices indulged in by the members of the profession, I could not compose myself and wrote to the Master to extricate me from the dilemma and enlighten me as to the correct course of action. The words of advice given to me regarding the legal profession and other matters relating to my sadhana are to be found in the following letters of Sri Aurobindo.
24th May, 1933
It is true the lawyer’s profession as practised by many in India is full of things which are not what they should be but it is not a necessary character of the legal profession. Even here many carry on the profession with a scrupulous honesty in all respects like Duraiswami (a prominent Madras lawyer) and succeed. A lawyer has to do his best for his client and make every point he legitimately can in his favour — to bring out the weak note of the case is the other party’s function, not his; but it is his best to which he is bound, he is not bound to do what the client demands as the best. It is a question of establishing an honourable but practical and commonsense standard for the profession
Unlike Dick the Butcher who utters the line “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Sri Aurobindo seems much more gracious towards the much-reviled legal profession. In another letter dated 20th May, 1938, Sri Aurobindo wrote:
There is no harm in taking interest in your work as a lawyer, without that there can be no success. But both the work and the success should be inwardly offered to the Master of all works; so long as it has to continue.
The general professional predicament
It is the rare fortunate soul who finds wholesome work that he or she enjoys. The rest have to labor grudgingly under constraints seemingly beyond their control. The oppressive burden of life weighs down upon us – family responsibilities, social anomie, incompetent politicians and a volatile world at large. But this is only an appearance. The reality is that we do have the power of rising above our circumstances if we want to. One has to work with equanimity and offer the fruits of the works to the Divine, as Sri Aurobindo indicates above. If the work is blatantly unethical, one may have no choice but to quit and find some other line of work. But when the work is demanding, one must not shirk but instead use it as an opportunity to conquer one’s psychological weaknesses.
The profession that we find ourselves in then becomes a field for resolving our internal psychological conflicts and manifesting our talents. As the Mother said, “External circumstances are merely the reflection of who we are“. If we gradually soften our responses to the cantankerous people around us, the internal conflicts also begin to evaporate, making our consciousness more serene. When our consciousness changes, our Karma also changes. Then we may miraculously find our destiny reshaping the world around us – either by making the people around us more congenial or by transporting us towards new people and new fields of experiential learning.
It is not easy to offer any specific guidelines for professional predicaments because they are essentially psychological problems, which are successfully solved only when the individual has a blazing soul-moment that resolves the conundrum. This topic was covered in detail in an earlier article : Aspects of Karma-Yoga
- T. Kodandarama Rao. At the Feet of the Master, Pondicherry: SABDA 2007, pp. 47-50.
- Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
- Why the future is veiled from us
- How to act in an unstable world
- Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga.
- The Aurobindonian model of Karma
- Why bad things happen to good people?
- How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
- Gita Chapter 18, Verse 60-61: The illusion of free-will
- How to know the Divine Will?
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Astrology
- How to rise above the ordinary life?