This quotation from the German poet and philosopher Goethe carries a valuable idea. Life is not just a reverie, a dream. It is much more than that; it is action, endeavour, great and heroic deeds. Without energetic action, life would stagnate. Without great deeds, life would become static and would lose much of its charm. A life of thought and reflection would be quite futile if thought is never transformed into practical action.
It is not that contemplation has no place in life. Contemplation induces peace of mind, tranquility and contentment. Great ideals are usually a product of contemplation; practically all the germinal ideas of the world have come from thinkers and philosophers with whom contemplation was a habit.
Without mature reflection and cool deliberation nothing should be done. Meditation and silent prayer are purifying agents for the soul and a sedative for the nerves. But contemplation should never be regarded as the aim of human life. Great idea had not been translated into action by practical men. If the teachings of thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire had not been given a concrete shape, there would have been no revolution in France.
The march of civilization has largely depended upon men of action, men for whom adventure was the breath of life, men in whom the desire to do brave deeds was supreme. How much does the world owe to its great explorers, navigators and mountain- climbers who faced the wrath of nature and fury of the elements in order to satisfy their inner urge for action?
There are large numbers of men who have in one way or other contributed to the progress and prosperity of mankind or who have been responsible for the realizatiqn of the great ideals of the world. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other great men were persons whose capacity for action was exceptional.
It is, indeed, interesting to imagine what would have happened if all these and similar men and women of action had passed their lives in contemplation. Would not human life have still been primitive? The attitude of mind expressed by Tennyson is certainly not to be envied or encouraged. Life would come to a standstill if we were all to spend our existence in dreamful ease. We should therefore say with Ulysses that “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” is the sum of life.
We ought not’ ‘to pause, to make an end to rust unfurnished.” As Carlyle says, “Work while it is called today for the night cometh wherein no man can work.” Merely to brood and muse over life would be a poor way of spending time. If we were all to act upon Stevenson’s advice and turn idlers (even in his sense of the world), life would become exceedingly dull. There is a keen pleasure in achievement and a great joy in creation compared with which the satisfaction born of mere contemplation is nothing.
Besides, the desire for action is something irrepressible except in morbid, lazy people. Nature has endowed us with inexhaustible reserves of energy and we must utilize them in action. War itself, which is so destructive, may be looked upon as a necessity since it serves as an outlet for super abundant energy that accumulates in human beings. In short, it is not desirable to retire into jungles, like Indian saints or go to monasteries like medieval Christian monks. The teachings of Lord Krishna show that action is the essence of life. These prophets moved about among men and made energetic efforts to teach mankind the ideal way of life.