My mother has the habit of sending quotes along with her good morning messages on WhatsApp. One morning she sent this popular quote credited to Swami Vivekananda which says “Strength is life, weakness is death” I’ve heard this message umpteen number of times yet, for some reason this time it hit me hard. Thoughts started to wander about what is strength, how do we define it? What makes one strong and what makes one weak? Why is strength life and why is weakness death? What is life? What is death? Where does strength or weakness stem from? What can increase strength and reduce weakness?
It became rather confusing and difficult for me to comprehend the seemingly innocuous quote. I started asking around what the actual meaning of this quote was. Started searching on the internet. However, I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation. I decided to explore it myself.
There is physical strength and weakness and then there is psychological strength and weakness.
Physical strength is relatively easier to understand although it’s difficult to put a definite measure to it. I can see why strength is life in this case. If the physique is too weak, it becomes unsuitable to sustain regular activities that we associate with being alive. Hence strength is certainly life. Yet, time wears down the physical strength, weakens it and eventually death is inevitable! Physical strength we know, increases with repeated use of muscles, limbs against incremental pressure or load and with eating the right diet. Physical strength reduces with excessive rest, illness or improper diet.
Psychological strength on the other hand is not easier to comprehend and certainly not possible to measure. What does psychological strength mean? Does it mean the ability to be calm? Ability to maintain sanity despite vicissitudes of life? Not getting perturbed by setbacks in life? Being hopeful? Does it mean the ability to be resolute? Ability to overcome obvious/non-obvious physical weakness? Ability to accept and deal with whatever unexpected things life throws at us? Deal with shortcomings? Liberty? Having faith in one’s own abilities? I don’t know!
We could probably try to understand this from what is not and look at what is psychological weakness and how to reduce weakness which could possibly increase strength? What is psychological weakness? Being depressed? Being envious? Being greedy? Succumbing to Desires or Selfishness or Fear? Having Self-Doubt? Lust? Succumbing to shortcomings? Does that mean overcoming these factors would obviously lead to psychological strength?
Does that mean, being positive, being calm or selfless or being resolute, fearless, hopeful, accepting and unperturbed in the face of setbacks – Life?
Does that mean being envious, greedy, desirous, selfish, fearful and full of self-doubt is Death?
What is life? What is death?
Life happens by accident to all of us. It sticks on to us till Death. We could do something, or we could do nothing, yet life would continue to stick-on with its idiosyncrasies. Of course, one could end their life prematurely however that’s when one succumbs to their own psychological weaknesses. Thus, if life would anyway stick on to us till death we might as well live it and enjoy it. In fact, instead of entirely surrendering to life’s idiosyncrasies we might as well live it on purpose, live it at our own terms. Live exploring our talents, being hopeful and positive, struggling through troubled times, helping each other, socializing is life! Isn’t it? On the other hand, withdrawing into a cocoon, afraid of exploring our talents, depressed and negative, succumbing to troubled times, hating others, contracting ourselves to being self-oriented/obsessed can’t be called living, if we are not living we are only waiting for life to end on its own volition – i.e. death. Isn’t it?
When we are strong we do the right things, when we are weak we commit mistakes. It is weakness, says the Vedanta, which is the cause of all misery in this world. Weakness is the one cause of suffering. We become miserable because we are weak. We lie, steal, kill and commit other crimes, because we are weak. We die because we are weak. Where there is nothing to weaken us, there is no death nor sorrow. We are miserable through delusion. Give up the delusion and the whole thing vanishes. Similarly Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
Thus psychologically strength is indeed life and weakness is indeed death! Yet physical strength cannot be undermined as a weak and sick physique might prevent the psychological strength from manifesting. That’s why Swamiji says “How will you struggle with the mind unless the physique be strong?” Hence the need for cleanliness, exercise and proper diet to maintain a healthy physique. The physique probably then unlocks a path to peep into the mind.
Be healthy, be fit, meditate, be happy, be positive, explore talents, connect with people, help others, expand your social circle, recover fast from setbacks, work – that’s life