Someone mentioned on one of these forums, somewhere, sometime, the “problem” of wanting to be somebody, do something, achieve something, even though it may now be in the "spiritual realm." Well, I thought I’d enter my own two cents on that subject, since ambition has been a large part of our lives throughout our life, and we pretty well have a good handle on the pros and cons of that desire.
Ambition is useful if success in the world is what we want. And we will want success in the world so long as we consider ourselves to be separate, individual entities subject to all the vicissitudes and benefits of worldly life. Ambition is just another word for desire for happiness, presumably derived from power and control over our lives, and thus, we will inevitably suffer from that desire so long as we are unhappy, or don't feel we have power or control over our lives. And of course, in my own life, I have discovered that unhappiness occurs when I am unaware of who I am, truly, in the fullness of life, and thus, my seeking is an effort to discover the answer to that question, who am I? And in particular, ambition is an easy out from the occasional, if not constant, drudgery involved in discovering the answer to that question.
So, ambition can disguise itself in all sorts of clothing, and it frequently does not expose itself as pure, unalloyed ambition. In particular, in the spiritual search, it can disguise itself as apparently pure devotion to God. If the motive behind devotion to God is to achieve anything other than submission to God, then it is probably spiritual ambition, no different, no better, nor worse, than worldly ambition. On the other hand, spiritual ambition is the road to realization that spiritual ambition is nothing other than disguised ambition, so if we suffer from it, we need to walk through it and find its lack of rewards in order to recognize what it truly is!
Put another way: Ambition, after all is said and done, and if stripped of all its glamor, is purely self-aggrandizement. It is an effort to expend energies in order to accumulate something – be it fame, money, honor, power. If one’s desire (ambition) is to accumulate any of these things, then it comes from a sense of lack and worthlessness. And that sense of lack and worthlessness is only generated by a sense of separateness and therefore vulnerability which is engendered through culture and teaching that we are separate, individual, and therefore vulnerable. There is no getting around this, no matter how we may try to rationalize it.
As Ramana Maharshi once stated “Why should one’s efforts be attended by success? Success develops arrogance and one’s spiritual progress is thus arrested. Failure, on the other hand, is beneficial, inasmuch as it opens one’s eyes to one’s limitations and prepares one to surrender oneself. Self-surrender is synonymous with happiness.”
In other words, ambition of any kind interferes with self-surrender. And self-surrender is the road to happiness. As we all want happiness, then it seems to me that ambition is a distraction from that process of self-surrender, and therefore, one’s ultimate happiness.
This particular desire, therefore, is a razor’s edge, upon which we all must walk. The mere ambition, even if it is spiritual ambition, is the impetus that drives us to discover that ambition fulfills no desires, but the desire itself, and it does not bring happiness. So in its way, it is a useful desire. However, once one begins to see a glimmer of what one truly is, then to pursue ambition of any kind is to restrain oneself from the self-surrender that ensures happiness, but that requires self-surrender. So in walking that edge, it is important to stay on the edge, and not slip off. Too many spiritual pilgrims fall off that edge, and into the mire of bare spiritual materialism. It is easy to do, but fatal to ones progress.
Of course, at the end of this circuitous rationale, one comes to realize that there is no progress, and there is no goal, and there is nothing to be done to progress or reach a goal, because we are perfect just as we are, but only confused about just what we are. And yet, paradoxically, that progressive process strips us of our hubris and self-containment, whittles away at the will, which in turn, allows that realization to reveal itself. Or maybe a simpler way of stating this is: what is ambition if not the desire to achieve something. And what or who has that desire? Or, is God ambitious? Does God have a need to achieve anything, having achieved already everything? Indeed, IS everything. Then, who or what are we in relationship to God as everything? How we position ourselves within that picture determines how much ambition we have, or how little of it is necessary.