Can devotion and ambition go together?

Some people feel, “Devotion involves pursuing God beyond this world, whereas ambition involves pursuing worldly gain. The two are therefore incompatible.” 

Not necessarily. 

It’s true that the ambition for fame, position, prestige or sensual pleasure can consume our mind so much as to not leave any place for devotion, as the Bhagavad-gita (02.44) cautions. 

Still, all ambition needn’t be incompatible with devotion. We can have ambitions not so much for collecting, but for contributing. We can see our abilities as God’s gifts, aspire to do justice to those abilities and to thus make worthwhile contributions. If we seek to do our best in a mood of service to Krishna,  such a pursuit of excellence can enhance our devotion. For example, Arjuna had the ambition to be the world’s best archer. That ambition required immense dedication — he would practice archery tirelessly late into the night till, even earning the sobriquet “Gudakesha” (one who has conquered sleep). Yet that ambition didn’t distract him from his devotion. Instead, it enabled him to become a better instrument in Krishna’s hands for establishing dharma in the world. 

The Vedic traditions talk about four worthwhile purposes of life: dharma (virtue or duty), artha (resources or prosperity), kama (desire or ambition) and moksha (liberation or relief). Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (07.11) states that kama not contrary to dharma can be a manifestation of Krishna. How? In pursuing our ambition within a devotionally-directed life, we can become a channel for Krisna to manifest through us, thereby helping us experience him in a profound and intimate way. The Bhagavad-gita (07.08) states that Krishna is the ability in people. By understanding that it is Krishna manifesting through us when we pursue our ambitions in a devotional mood, then both devotion and ambition can mutually reinforce each other.

One-sentence summary:

Ambition doesn’t always have a place for devotion, but devotion can always have a place for ambition.

Think it over:

  • How is devotion itself an ambition?
  • How can devotion and ambition be incompatible?
  • How can devotion and ambition reinforce each other? 


07.11: I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O lord of the Bharatas [Arjuna].


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