If I am not for myself…


If I am not for myself…who will be?

If I am for myself alone…who am I?

If not now…when?

And if not you…who?

Four phrases that shook me when I heard them.

Hillel the Elder was a Jewish philosopher who lived over 2000 years ago. While I have not read his teachings extensively, I am given to understand that these four phrases formed the essence of what he wanted to say.

If I am not for myself…who will be?

Belief in oneself can take the form of confidence (recognition of one’s own abilities), over-confidence (over-estimation of one’s abilities) and under-confidence (under-estimation of one’s own abilities). Regardless of the level of confidence, the first step that we need to take, and maintain, is to stand up for our own self – to take care of our well-being. This is not about being selfish – it is about self-preservation.

As we go about our daily lives, we place a greater emphasis on ‘preserving for the future‘, and work hard on the premise that we are making our tomorrow ideal and comfortable. And so we push ourselves harder, neglect our health, take on unnecessary stress, and in a way create situations where our well-being is constantly challenged. Some of of address it partially by trying to diet, exercise and meditate – but that is like taking one step forward and three steps back, since we go back to our stressful normality soon after.

Being there for yourself is the first duty there is. Mentally, physically, and emotionally…standing up for what you believe in…refusing to allow others to run all over you…YOU are your own best friend.

If I am for myself alone…who am I?

Standing up for yourself, when the situation demands, is essential. Standing up ONLY for yourself all the time is selfishness.

Our lives are intertwined with others – family, friends, acquaintances…even with people who we disagree with, Seeing life as a bubble in which you alone matter – does not make anyone happy, ironically – not even you. A philosopher once said that we are like the drops of water of an ocean – take a few drops out and they are droplets of water, put them back in and they are an indivisible part of the mighty ocean – a collective consciousness.

अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि – Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman – say the Upanishads. I am an indivisible part of the collective – being there only for myself, at the cost of someone else, is also harming a part of you.

If not now…when?

I want to change. I want to make a difference. I want to start the sādhanā. I want to be a better person…from tomorrow.

That tomorrow usually never comes.

If you want to change, to make a difference, to be a better person – the time is NOW. The ‘now’, when the thought came to you first. Elaborate planning on how to make a drastic change in your life never works – it didn’t work for that diet you decided to embark on, nor on that exercise routine you joined the gym for. You want to start exercising? Drop down to the floor, and do your first pushup. That’s a start. And then build on it. If not now…when?

And if not you…who?

How many times have we had an opportunity to do something for somebody…and missed the chance?

‘Someone else will do it’ – a phrase that we have oten repeated in our heads, when coming across a situation at work, at home, or in general, someplace or situation that presents us a choice to act. In most cases, it is voluntary – you do not have to do it, but would be nice if you did.

I have encountered many of these situations. Someone may have asked for help, and I may have passed on it, thinking that he may have approached many others, so ‘someone else will do it’. Walked by a fallen signpost, because ‘someone else would pick it up’. Why, even at home, when I saw a few dishes in the sink, and turned a blind eye, because ‘someone else will wash it.’

If not you…who?

Let’s think about it:)