"First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
— Epictetus

I conduct transformative communication and self-empowerment seminars. These seminars provide an environment for spiritually based personal development. During one part of the training we ask participants what are some tangible, material things for which people strive. Typically the resulting list looks something like this: cars, computers, a big house, an attractive spouse, children, job, jewelry, insurance and vacation time. Then we ask why people strive for such things. This second list commonly includes experiences such as happiness, security, power, intimacy, fulfillment, balance, love, vitality, freedom, strength, courage, joy and affection.

Next, by observing the two lists we consider whether there are persons who possess a large house, a big car and a prestigious job, but who do not experience much joy, power or fulfillment in their lives. Certainly there are. Then we consider whether there are persons who experience an abundance of happiness, intimacy and vitality in their lives, although they don’t have the items on the other list. Clearly such persons exist. The conclusion is that there is no intrinsic connection between the two lists. Although they sometimes overlap, there is no inherent causal link.

Three Modes of Nature
According to the Vedas—the spiritual literature of ancient India—three gunas, or modes of material nature, permeate all facets of existence, from psychology to diet, from work to recreation. With reference to the three gunas, let’s explore the lack of innate correlation between the things list and the experience list.

Tamas is the mode of inertia, where our consciousness clings to a worldview that could be called Have-Do-Be. In this worldview we think, “If I could just have $100,000 in the bank, a nicer car, a job with paid vacation…then I could do what I want to do, and then I will be happy, satisfied, appreciated, vibrant.” Or, “If I had a nicer boss, then I would be content and peaceful.” In this mindset our experience is dependent on having. The adage “What profits a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul?”10 indicates the difficulties this attitude may bring.

Rajas is the mode of activity where we adhere to the framework of Do-Have-Be. In this way of thinking I consider that if I could just do what I want to do, then I will have what I want, and then I will be free, strong, giving and vital. In this scenario our consciousness starts from the point of activity, and experience is contingent upon that. With reference to this paradigm, Bhaktivedanta Swami writes: “Out of ignorance only, less intelligent persons try to adjust to the situation by fruitive activities, thinking that resultant actions will make them happy.”11 This is the To Do list model of existence. “If I could just complete my To Do list, I would be peaceful, content and satisfied.” In reality, it rarely works out that way. We are not human doings. We are human beings.

Sattva guna corresponds with enlightenment. Sattvic consciousness is the natural state of the authentic self. Steady in sattva, we live in the worldview of Be-Do-Have. Fixed in this way of being, experiencing strength, beauty, balance, security, intimacy, warmth and freedom is not dependent on doing or having. I don’t need to do or have anything to experience satisfaction, aliveness, courage and clarity—because these qualities are who I am. They are my essential nature. It is important to note that the Be-Do-Have worldview does not lack doing and having. In fact, our doing and having assume full potency, contrasted with tamasic or rajasic perspectives, because what we do and have flow naturally from our being. They are not separate endeavors. To experience joy, closeness, radiance and all other qualities of our self is not dependent on what we do or have.

In Be-Do-Have, we naturally do things that bold, enlivened, successful people do, because our nature is bold, enlivened and successful. And of course we will have things that powerful, confident and trusting people have—such as abundance, rewarding activity and fulfilling relationships.

The well-known sacred text Bhagavad Gita, presenting the essence of Vedic teachings, delineates a Be-Do-Have approach to life. In this book Lord Krishna encourages his friend Arjuna to “Be transcendental… be free from dualities, be without anxiety, and be established in the self.”12 For many years I had been intrigued by the philosophical and psychological model described in the Gita. During my doctoral program I researched its systematic explanation of the gunas as a paradigm for understanding the incredible diversity we find in people and the world. This investigation resulted in the development of the Vedic Personality Inventory (VPI), a statistically validated personality assessment based on the paradigm of the three gunas. This research confirms the Vedic assertion that sattvic practices and attitudes correlate with greater fulfillment, balance and life satisfaction.

Be-Do-Have Applied
One of my coaching clients and I once focused specifically on him being patient and peaceful—qualities that were missing in his life, and which he wanted to cultivate. With earnest effort he connected with the patience and calm inherent to his being. During our following coaching session, he described with surprise that his supervisor had asked him to accept a position with increased responsibility, involving training others. The supervisor particularly mentioned that she offered the promotion because of his patience, and his ability to remain calm in stressful situations. Being patient and peaceful naturally resulted in acting in ways that patient and peaceful act (in this instance a more rewarding career activity), and having things that patient and peaceful people have (in this example an increased income). That’s Be-Do-Have.

In the above example we refer to “qualities that were missing.” Actually patience and peacefulness were never missing. They were covered. A diamond is always brilliant, radiant and strong, though it can be covered by dust or mud. Similarly, we never lose our qualities, though we might allow them to be covered by the modes of rajas and tamas. Spiritual development is a process of uncovering our qualities and fully manifesting them in our lives.

Certainly a fulfilled life includes having comforts and enjoyable things, and doing things that give us pleasure. Yet without being rooted in a life of meaning founded in and emanating from our spiritual being, possessions and activity are hollow, devoid of significance, like a string of zeros. Living from the inside outwards, from our spiritual core, is the “1” that gives value to the line of zeros.

Exercise: Identify 3 qualities that are intrinsic to you essential being, and that have not been fully alive in your life. For the next two weeks select one of these qualities each day, on a rotating basis, and specifically manifest it in at least three specific ways. Note your experience doing this.

For example, if the three qualities I identify are assertiveness, joy and warmth, then on the first day I would express assertiveness in at least three concrete ways. I might, for instance, speak my views at a meeting in a situation where usually I would keep silent, or maintain eye contact with a person by whom I am usually intimidated. The next day I would do the same with joy, and the next day with warmth.

Author's Bio: 

David Wolf has been teaching compassionate communication and principles of spiritually-based personal growth for more than 25 years, in over a dozen countries, including India, Israel, New Zealand, France and Germany. He has founded the Satvatove Institute, and developed the unique Satvatove Seminars and coaching programs, integrating powerful transformational methods with breakthrough relationship strategies. He has created the Vedic Personality Inventory, a personality assessment tool based on the ancient Vedic wisdom, and is a leading scholar and researcher in the area of the effects of meditation techniques on mental health. In 1998 he started the Association for the Protection of Children, an international child protection organization, and has extensive experience in a variety of social and mental health service fields, including counselor training, medical social work and children and family counseling. Recently he has authored a book, Relationships That Work: The Power of Conscious Living, which is published by Mandala Press and available at Amazon.com and Satvatove.com.