Giving Everything we have to Whatever We Do
[originally published on July 7th, 2010]
This topic came to me when I was on hold on the phone. Dealing with customer service representatives or those who deal with people on behalf of companies can be very instructive. It is a testimony about how challenging it can be to deal with the stress of working with the public, or doing a difficult job. Although some manage to be reasonably kind, considerate and thoughtful, many seem like they don’t really care about you or their work.
There is some amazing statistic that 70 % of people don’t like their job. Some even resent having to do it and only do the minimum required—only feigning a service attitude. They are merely trading hours for dollars/pounds/rupees/yen or whatever the local currency. Feeling entitled to a pay check is a huge malaise of the work place.
In any field or aspect of life—including spiritual practice—service is the key to success. Whatever we do we should do to the best of our ability. The old adage applies, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Often in the modern world this saying doesn’t seem to be in many people’s vocabulary. People focus more on what they want then what they are willing to give in exchange for what they want.
Behind the desire for money, things, name, fame, family or relationships is the desire to be happy. And being happy isn’t a destination, but the journey of serving others. We have to find a type of work that we like doing, and put our heart into it. Anyone can do this, but for a devotee of Krishna, this is a natural extension of his or her bhakti or service to Krishna.
It isn’t as the old Indian saying tells us [manava-seva is madhava-seva] that just by serving man we serve God. Many religious people have their own version of this statement. Of course it is good to help others, and we should. However, that is only part of the equation. The Gita teaches us that whatever we do, eat, say, sacrifice and so on should be done as an offering to Krishna.
So if we are going to be a humanitarian we need to do so as an offering to Krishna—and we need to remember Krishna while we are doing it. Then it is perfect—otherwise it remains only good karma, and good or bad karma both oblige one to take another physical birth. And the highest service to others is to awaken their dormant spiritual consciousness. Just saving the shirt and coat of a drowning man won’t really save him—we must get him out of the water. Therefore, although taking care of the body and mind by a healthy diet, exercise and dealing with life issues, are essential, our ultimate problem in life is that we have a material body subject to rebirth, disease, old age and death, and that we have forgotten God. All problems come from this!
As a side note, this fact can sometimes be used as a justification for neglect of our body, denying our personal problems, or unkindness to others in the name of spiritual progress. This often comes from immaturity or fanaticism. In general, it's an unfortunate consequence of not having a holistic approach in our spiritual life that should include bodily, psychological, and spiritual health.
We are our attachments, desires and faith. According to the Gita’s 8th chapter, our material consciousness is composed of these things and will carry us to our next life. Why? Because what we are most attached to and have faith in we will tend to think of at death. Here is the secret of reincarnation. Our next body is our creation through our actions and our material consciousness based on selfish desires and bodily attachments. Or by our attachment to, and faith and love for Krishna saturating everything we do, we will return to him. This is the true meaning of the old saying that we are the architect of our own fortune or misfortune.
Whether going to the store or post office, getting the oil changed, weeding or composting, being on hold, or dealing with a rude customer, whatever we do in the course of our life is important and has consequences. Every moment adds up to create our future both in this life and beyond. From the Vedic scriptures we can gain a higher, spiritual view which puts our life into a spiritual perspective. If we remember Krishna in devotion and put him in the center of all our actions and dealings our life will be blessed, and we will make progress toward the supreme perfection of returning to God, or Krishna.
It is true that even if we have found our ideal work, we may still have to do something we may not have an affinity for. (In the beginning of the Gita, Arjuna didn’t want to fight fearing the evil consequences.) However, an activity we don’t like doesn’t have to be a wasted endeavor if we work for Krishna, and offer kindness to others. After all, everyone is a part of Him, and thus spiritually related to us.
We have to continually hear the ideal, and though we fall short, endeavor to improve. I am repeatedly speaking of the basics, yet beyond just a theory, we have to internalize it and act upon it by realization. If we are praying to be Godly, our real job—beyond the externals—is to offer the work to Krishna. Ultimately, devotees want to offer their whole heart and soul, and this begins gradually, as we endeavor to remember and serve Krishna, moment by moment, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. From this perspective, nothing is unimportant or inconsequential—only if we label it as such. Every second is an opportunity to be Krishna conscious. So when you are on hold, chant Hare Krishna and pray for the person on the other end of the line.