The Choice of Yeats and the Choice of Krishna

The Choice
W.B. Yeats 

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.

According to W.B. Yeats, we are forced to choose between two: accepting life as it is, and assuming it is beautiful and perfect, like heaven; or working vigorously, raging in the dark and striving. He correctly concludes that if we forgo the heavenly mansion and toil our best, the mark of our toil might still be an empty purse. The end of life is not changed by whatever we do. In the end, we still want to be proud of what we did in the day, but in the night we know that another day has passed, and heaven has not been reached.

I would say we do not have to choose. We can accept everything and also do our best to change things. The way that we can do both is illustrated in the karmic philosophy taught by Krishna to Arjun in the Bhagwad Gita: Do your work, and don't worry about the fruit (Chapter 2, Bhagwad Gita). So in this philosophy, the primary concern for us is working -- we have to do what is right. At the same time, we make sure that we do not expect perfection and heaven as the fruit of what we have done. We should accept whatever comes as we do not have control over it.

This poem also reminds me of Guru Nanak's first pauri of Japji Sahib. Guru Nanak professes that its not by various religious actions that one comes to peace; peace is attained by acceptance: Hukam Rajai Chalna.

What I often said in my talks is that if you are not singing at work, you have to work on your singing.