Why is it that we feel the need to have approval and be recognized, especially in our work?
It has to be remembered that the need to have approval and be recognized is everybody’s question. Our whole life’s structure is such that we are taught that unless there is a recognition we are nobody, we are worthless. The work is not important, but the recognition. And this is putting things upside down. The work should be important…a joy in itself. You should work, not to be recognized but because you enjoy being creative; you love the work for its own sake.
There have been very few people who have been able to escape from the trap the society puts you in, like Vincent Van Gogh.
He went on painting — hungry, without house, without clothes, without medicine, sick, but he went on painting. Not a single painting was being sold, there was no recognition from anywhere, but the strange thing was that in these conditions he was still happy…happy because what he wanted to paint he has been able to paint. Recognition or no recognition, his work is valuable intrinsically.
By the age of thirty-three he had committed suicide — not because of any misery, anguish, no, but simply because he had painted his last painting, on which he had been working for almost one year, a sunset. He tried dozens of times, but it was not up to his standard and he destroyed it. Finally he managed to paint the sunset the way he had longed to.
He committed suicide, writing a letter to his brother, “I am not committing suicide out of despair. I am committing suicide because now there is no point in living; my work is done. Moreover, it has been difficult to find ways of livelihood. But it was okay because I had some work to do, some potential in me needed to become actual. It has blossomed, so now it is pointless to live like a beggar.
“Up to now I had not even thought about it, I had not even looked at it. But now that is the only thing. I have blossomed to my utmost; I am fulfilled, and now to drag on, finding ways of livelihood, seems to be just stupid. For what? So it is not a suicide according to me, but just that I have come to a fulfillment, a full stop, and joyously I am leaving the world. Joyously I lived, joyously I am leaving the world.”
Now, almost a century afterwards, each of his paintings is worth millions of dollars. There are only two hundred paintings available. He must have painted thousands, but they have been destroyed; nobody took any note of them.
Now to have a Van Gogh painting means you have an aesthetic sense. His painting gives you a recognition. The world never gave any recognition to his work, but he never cared. And this should be the way to look at things.
Some of the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh
You work if you love it. Don’t ask for recognition. If it comes, take it easily; if it does not come, do not think about it. Your fulfillment should be in the work itself. And if everybody learns this simple art of loving his work, whatever it is, enjoying it without asking for any recognition, we would have a more beautiful and celebrating world. As it is, the world has trapped you in a miserable pattern: What you are doing is not good because you love it, because you do it perfectly, but because the world recognizes it, rewards it, gives you gold medals, Nobel prizes.
They have taken away the whole intrinsic value of creativity and destroyed millions of people — because you cannot give millions of people Nobel prizes. And you have created the desire for recognition in everybody, so nobody can work peacefully, silently, enjoying whatever he is doing. And life consists of small things. For those small things there are not rewards, not titles given by the governments, not honorary degrees given by the universities.
One of the great poets of this century, Rabindranath Tagore, lived in Bengal, India. He had published his poetry, his novels, in Bengali — but no recognition came to him. Then he translated a small book, Gitanjali, “Offering of Songs,” into English. And he was aware that the original has a beauty which the translation does not have and cannot have — because these two languages, Bengali and English, have different structures, different ways of expression.
Bengali is very sweet. Even if you fight, it seems you are engaged in a nice conversation. It is very musical; each word is musical. That quality is not in English, and cannot be brought to it; it has different qualities. But somehow he managed to translate it, and the translation — which is a poor thing compared to the original — received the Nobel prize. Then suddenly the whole of India became aware…. The book had been available in Bengali, in other Indian languages, for years and nobody had taken any note of it.
Every university wanted to give him a D.Litt. Calcutta, where he lived, was the first university, obviously, to offer him an honorary degree. He refused. He said, “You are not giving a degree to me; you are not giving a recognition to my work, you are giving recognition to the Nobel prize, because the book has been here in a far more beautiful way, and nobody has bothered even to write an appraisal.”
He refused to take any D.Litts. He said, “It is insulting to me.” Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the great novelists, and a man of tremendous insight into human psychology, refused the Nobel prize. He said, “I have received enough reward while I was creating my work. A Nobel prize cannot add anything to it; on the contrary, it pulls me down. It is good for amateurs who are in search of recognition; I am old enough, and I have enjoyed enough. I have loved whatever I have done. It was its own reward, and I don’t want any other reward, because nothing can be better than that which I have already received.” And he was right. But the right people are so few in the world, and the world is full of wrong people living in traps.
Why should you bother about recognition? Bothering about recognition has meaning only if you don’t love your work; then it is meaningful, then it seems to substitute. You hate the work, you don’t like it, but you are doing it because there will be recognition; you will be appreciated, accepted. Rather than thinking about recognition, reconsider your work. Do you love it?…then that is the end. If you do not love it, then change it!
The parents, the teachers are always reinforcing that you should be recognized, you should be accepted. This is a very cunning strategy to keep people under control.
I was told again and again in my university, “You should stop doing these things…you go on asking questions which you know perfectly well cannot be answered, and which put the professor in an embarrassing situation. You have to stop it; otherwise these people will take revenge. They have power; they can fail you.”
I said, “I don’t bother about it. I am enjoying right now asking questions and making them feel ignorant. They are not courageous enough simply to say, ‘I do not know.’ Then there would be no embarrassment. But they want to pretend that they know everything. I am enjoying it; my intelligence is being sharpened. Who cares about examinations? They can fail me only when I appear in the examinations — who is going to appear? If they have that idea that they can fail me, I will not enter the examinations, and I will remain in the same class. They will have to pass me just out of fear that again for one year they will have to face me!”
And they all passed me, and helped me to pass, because they wanted to get rid of me. In their eyes I was also destroying other students, because other students started questioning things which have been accepted for centuries without any question.
While I was teaching in the university, the same thing came about from a different angle. Now I was asking the students questions to bring to their attention that all the knowledge that they have gathered is borrowed, and they know nothing. I told them that I don’t care about their degrees, I care about their authentic experience — and they don’t have any. They are simply repeating books which are out of date; long ago they have been proved wrong. Now the authorities of the university were threatening me, “If you continue in this way, harassing students, you will be thrown out of the university.”
I said, “This is strange — I was a student and I could not ask questions to the professors; now I am a professor and I cannot ask questions to the students! So what function is this university fulfilling? It should be a place where questions are asked, quests begin. Answers have to be found not in the books but in life and in existence.”
I said, “You can throw me out of the university, but remember, these same students, because of whom you are throwing me out of the university, will burn down the whole university.” I told the vice-chancellor, “You should come and see my class.”
He could not believe it: in my class there were at least two hundred students…and there were no spaces, so they were sitting anywhere they could find — on the windows, on the floor. He said, “What is happening, because you have only ten students?”
I said, “These people come to listen. They dropped their classes; they love to be here. This class is a dialogue. I am not superior to them, and I cannot refuse anybody who comes to my class. Whether he is my student or not, it does not matter; if he comes to listen to me, he is my student. In fact you should allow me to have the auditorium. These classrooms are too small for me.”
He said, “Auditorium? You mean the whole university to gather in the auditorium? Then what will the other professors be doing?”
I said, “That is for them to think out. They can go and hang themselves! They should have done it long before. Seeing that their students are not going to listen to them was enough indication.”
The professors were angry, the authorities were angry. Finally they had to give me the auditorium…but very reluctantly, because the students were forcing them. But they said, “This is strange, students who have nothing to do with philosophy, religion or psychology, why should they go there?”
Many students told the vice-chancellor, “We love it. We never knew that philosophy, religion, psychology can be so interesting, so intriguing; otherwise we would have joined them. We thought that these are dry subjects; only very bookish kind of people join these subjects. We have never seen any juicy people joining the subjects. But this man has made the subjects so significant that it seems that even if we fail in our own subjects, it does not matter. What we are doing is so right in itself, and we are so clear about it, that there is no question of changing it.”
Against recognition, against acceptance, against degrees…but finally I had to leave the university, not because of their threats but because I recognized that if thousands of students can be helped by me, it is a wastage. I can help millions of people outside in the world. Why should I go on remaining attached to a small university? The whole world can be my university.
And you can see: I have been condemned.
That is the only recognition I have received.
I have been in every way misrepresented. Everything that can be said against a man has been said against me; everything that can be done against a man has been done against me. Do you think this is recognition? But I love my work. I love it so much that I don’t call it work even; I simply call it my joy.
And everybody who was in some way elder to me, well-recognized, has told me, “What you are doing is not going to give you any respectability in the world.”
But I said, “I have never asked for it, and I don’t see what I will do with respectability. I cannot eat it, I cannot drink it.”
Learn one basic thing: Do whatever you want to do, love to do, and never ask for recognition. That is begging. Why should one ask for recognition? Why should one hanker for acceptance?
Deep down in yourself, look. Perhaps you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps you are afraid that you are on the wrong track. Acceptance will help you feel that you are right. Recognition will make you feel that you are going towards the right goal.
The question is of your own inner feelings; it has nothing to do with the outside world. And why depend on others? All these things depend on others — you yourself are becoming dependent.
I will not accept any Nobel prize. All this condemnation from all the nations around the world, from all the religions, is more valuable to me. Accepting the Nobel prize means I am becoming dependent; now I will not be proud of myself but proud of the Nobel prize. Right now I can only be proud of myself; there is nothing else I can be proud of.
This way you become an individual. And to be an individual living in total freedom, on your own feet, drinking from your own sources, is what makes a man really centered, rooted. That is the beginning of his ultimate flowering.
These so-called recognized people, honored people, are full of rubbish and nothing else. But they are full of the rubbish which the society wants them to be filled with…and the society compensates them by giving them rewards.
Any man who has any sense of his own individuality lives by his own love, by his own work, without caring at all what others think of it. The more valuable your work is, the less is the possibility of getting any respectability for it. And if your work is the work of a genius then you are not going to see any respect in your life. You will be condemned in your life…then, after two or three centuries, statues of you will be made, your books will be respected — because it takes almost two or three centuries for humanity to pick up that much intelligence that a genius has today. The gap is vast.
Being respected by idiots you have to behave according to their manners, their expectations. To be respected by this sick humanity you have to be more sick than they are. Then they will respect you. But what will you gain? You will lose your soul and you will gain nothing.