Critical Commentary: What Hinduism Says About Success

Posted on September 20, 2013 by


Those who are traditional followers of Hinduism are typically very set in the type of societal role they are expected to fill and what qualities a successful life must possess. Ramnath Subramanian explores this idea in his article, “What Hinduism Says About Success.” Subramanian recalls growing up as part of an orthodox Hindu family who pushed him into obtaining a prestigious education and a prominent job title. From as early as third grade, his mother steered him towards the Indian Institute of Technology, a highly selective school comparable to M.I.T in America. He succeeded in being accepted to the school, but noticed when he finally achieved this goal that he felt extremely dissatisfied and unfulfilled. He compares his achievement at school to attempting to fill up a bottomless bag; any satisfaction he received was very short-lived, a pursuit without an end. He decided to turn to Hindu scriptures and their teachings about the meaning and goals of life. In concordance with what he had been told by his family, the scriptures did stress the importance of success, calling it “artha”—that which is meaningful or of use. Subramanian also notes, however, how Hinduism classifies success into stages of life: the first half and the second half.

Success in the first half of life is defined as the traditional idea of success: obtaining education, wealth, and family, pursued in a way that is in accordance with one’s dharma or religious duty in accordance with one’s social position and stage of life. He goes on to say that this type of success provides stability and sureness to create what he calls a “sound ego structure.” This structure becomes necessary for the success of the second half of life, which begins with a sort of mid-life crisis. In the second half of life, crises such as these keep reappearing. As a result of this, success in the second half of life is defined by exploring one’s identity and the relation of the self to the greater population and the world, by questioning what one’s soul is calling to achieve. True success is achieved by living within this second half of success.

Subramanian’s analysis of success and its meaning coincides with the Hindu concept of dharma, the duties of a person to themself and others. The challenge he faced at the point of life described in the article was between this idea of duty and success and the idea of success enforced upon him by his family and society. The solution that he eventually finds within the Vedanta Sutra is one that is not exclusive to Hinduism. The idea of reflecting on the meaning of life and one’s purpose as being a part of it is a common thing to contemplate across many religions, though it is not a question exclusive to those holding religious belief. Subramanian mentions both the exploration of one’s own identity and the relationship of a single person to others and the world as important. This idea that we as people are both individuals and interdependent is an important consideration when contemplating our duty and meaning in life. Is our primary duty to ourselves or to others? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? These are the questions that must be considered in evaluation the meaning of life. Meaning in life can be a very personal thing. Relating this meaning in life to one’s dharma in the context of Hinduism outlines a balance between personal fulfillment and religious duty. Success, therefore, can be defined as the ultimate unraveling of one’s identity from within the framework of our relationship with the world and others.

Ramnath Subramanian, “What Hinduism Says About Success,” The Huffington Post, 9/09/13

Ramnath Subramanian is the CEO and President of The Bhakti Center, a nonprofit cultural arts center in New York.

Posted in: Hinduism