N. Sri Ram - The Way of Wisdom, p. 63-67 (comments on Light on the Path)

Kill out Ambition

More N. Sri RamN. Sri Ram

'Kill out ambition' (I.1). Ambition is a primary evil, but it is usually considered a very good quality by the world. The ambitious man is envied by others, and even his superiors think well of him because he puts forth the necessary effort in order to gain the promotion he covets. But from the occult point of view, ambition is destructive and must be rooted out. It makes a person insensitive to the feelings, the needs, and the welfare of others. His whole attention is fixed upon the object which he wants to reach, and that very concentration excludes everything else from his attention, even the suffering caused to others in the furtherance of his ambition.
Although we realize the nature of this evil when we see it in an exaggerated form, we fail to recognize it in ourselves. But it is true that the faults we notice in others are likely to be present, at least in germ, in ourselves. We are not concerned with the destruction of popular idols - the different things that people worship - but with our own private idols that we worship secretly within our hearts.
 Light on the Path speaks of ambition as 'the first curse', and warns that it assumes subtle forms on the occult path. We may think that we have destroyed ambition in ourselves but it can reappear with a changed aspect. For we may be ambitious for various things on the Path itself. We may not care for the praise of the 'common herd' dismissing it as not worth having. But it is quite possible to be conceited in a subtle way; although we may seem not to be concerned with the appreciation of others we can still be rooted in self-love and vanity, very much aware of our own supposed abilities and worth on the spiritual path.
Or we may want to be ahead of others who are devoted to the same Master, to feel that in some way we have taken an occult step which they have not taken. Even if others do not know that we have taken it, the fact that we think we have is sufficient; we feel superior and self-satisfied. This can be so subtle that unless we pay close attention to our thoughts, feelings and motives, it is impossible to avoid it. We can go on meditating on the virtue of humility that we think we want to possess, and at the same time be full of this egoism which is so deeply rooted in all of us.
The comment on ambition says:

Its results turn to dust and ashes in the mouth; like death and estrangement it shows the man al last that to work for self is to work for disappointment.

No ambitious person is ever really happy because what he wants is in the future and so there is always a sense of something lacking in the present. And, when at last he arrives at his goal, it does not satisfy, and he is disappointed and frustrated. 'Distance lends enchantment to the view' and when we actually arrive on the scene we find that the grass is not so green as we thought it would be. Satisfaction ceases and then we want something else. Finally all our ambitions turn sour, for 'to work for self is to work for disappointment'. It is very important that we should realize this, for in so many things we do there is the self seeking for adulation, praise and advancement.
Thus the comment says: 'But though this first rule seems so simple and easy, do not quickly pass it by.' We may think that we are free from ambition but it is very difficult to be so. This working for self is really a product of our attachments, and these attachments can be to things at different levels - physical, astral, mental. We can thus be attached to a person, to our possessions, or to our ideas. Whatever the nature of the attachment, its centre is the self, and to work for the self is to be discontented because its very nature is to seek for more.
A pure artist who loves his work just likes doing it, and does it. But very rarely do we come across such a one. Many artists are highly self-involved, intolerant and jealous of others who are of the same eminence. Of course, there are artists who paint or compose disinterestedly and not to the glory of the self and its components. But we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are doing everything to the glory of God with the implication that whatever we do has his approval; or we might think that we do it in the name of the Master, thus rubber-stamping our actions with his name. The mind can deceive itself to an extraordinary extent. We must be aware of all these subtleties, of the various processes of self-deception, before we can say that we are truthful in every way.