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The “Fifty Percent” Puzzle

While reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, I’ve often puzzled over passages like this: “Charity is meant for the householders. The householders should earn a livelihood by an honorable means and spend fifty percent of their income to propagate Krishna consciousness all over the world” (Bhagavad-gita 16.3).

When I lived in the temple, I would repeat the phrase “fifty percent of your earnings” rather thoughtlessly. Now that I live outside and have in some ways come out of my ivory tower, I’m a bit more thoughful.

For most people giving fifty percent of their grossincome seems too difficult. So I’ve been trying to understand what “fifty percent of one’s income” actually means.

Let’s look at a modest British income of $20,000. After taxes you’re left with $16,200. Then comes the mortgage or rent, and you’re down to $9,000. Fifty percent is already gone. Chalk off another $700 for travel and $1200 for telephone, electricity, and other services. Then maybe $5,000 for food, clothes, repairs and renewals, family recreation, and other expenses. You’ve only got $2,100 left

In speaking about “fifty percent,” Srila Prabhupada cites the example set by Srila Rupa Gosvami when he retired from household life. Srila Rupa Gosvami allocated half of his accumulated funds for Lord Krishna’s direct service, a quarter for his family members, and the rest for personal expenses and emergencies. Note that these were accumulated funds

In commenting on the Gita (9.27),Srila Prabhupada mentions “surplus money accumulated.” And in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.17.42) he further explains, “One’s accumulated wealth may be divided into three parts for distribution, namely fifty percent for the service of the Lord, twenty-five percent for the family members, and twenty-five percent for personal necessities. Spending fifty percent for the service of the Lord or for propagation of spiritual knowledge in society by way of the sankirtana-yajna is the maximum display of human mercy. … When everyone is taught to sacrifice fifty percent of his accumulated gold for the Lord’s service, certainly austerity, cleanliness, and mercy automatically ensue.”

It’s pretty clear, then, that “fifty percent of one’s accumulated wealth” refers to one’s wealth after essentialexpenses. When Rupa Gosvami made his contributions, he didn’t include the expenses he had before he took sannyasa.

When a devotee I know heard this explanation, he suddenly felt that a cloud of confusion, guilt, and apprehension had been lifted. He now felt that it was possible to dedicate fifty percent of his income for Lord Krishna’s direct service. Instead of feeling bad about himself and struggling with thoughts like, “If I can’t possibly come up to the mark, why bother at all?” he felt encouraged. In fact, he began to look for ways to cut his expenses to have more for Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada didn’t pressure people into giving their hard-earned money. By his pure teaching, people understood what is what and naturally surrendered not only their money but their lives as well.

If anyone has further thoughts on this matter, I’d like to hear them. Please write to me c/o BTG in San Diego.

The Camel and the Thorns

“No creature smarts so little as a fool.”—Alexander Pope
Dumb. That’s the only word for the camel, who often feasts on thorny bushes, mangles his mouth-and enjoys the taste of his own fresh blood. Never mind the pain and self- mutilation: it’s the taste that counts.

Sure our camel is dumb—but not much dumber than humans who act much the same way. Take the two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, for example. He’s got a hacking cough, his doctor’s told him he has to stop, even the very pack of cigarettes he’s holding in his hand warns him that cigarette smoking is dangerous to his health. In short, he’s killing himself, and he knows it. But light up he does—smoke after smoke, pack after pack.

Or take your all-American swinging bachelor, enjoying as much sex as he can get. It probably never occurs to him that with each sexual encounter he’s sapping his vital energy. (In India, yogis have known for millenniums that sexual restraint increases mental powers and resistance to disease.) Then again, it’s hard to believe our jolly philanderer hasn’t felt at least a twinge of anxiety about contracting herpes, the epidemic and incurable venereal disease, or felt the pain of loneliness that comes from having sex with everyone but loving no one. Still, he can’t stop hurting himself in the name of pleasure.

Then we have the compulsive gambler. Nothing matters to him but being “in the action.” He’ll take out a second mortgage on his house or go into debt to loan sharks just to get money to gamble. He may lose his job or destroy his family—but he must gamble.

Finally, there’s your everyday enjoyer of hamburgers, medium-rare steaks, spaghetti and meatballs, bacon and eggs, pancakes with sausages, tender lamb chops, and so on. Eating meat at every meal is not only a pleasure for him but a measure of his success. But then come those unsettling reports from the National Academy of Sciences that there’s definitely a connection between meat-eating and cancer. And if our meat-lover is a little sensitive, it might occur to him that when he could live perfectly well, and much healthier, on milk products, grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and so on, there’s something wrong with a way of eating that contributes to the torture and slaughter of billions of animals every year. Maybe there is something like a karmic reaction that he’ll have to suffer for eating all that meat. But forget the dangers, forget the karma—thatBig Mac sure looks good!

Intoxication, sexual looseness, gambling, meat-eating. The philosophy of Krishna consciousness enjoins its followers to give up these self-destructive activities as soon as possible. Not only do they corrupt the body and mind, bringing suffering now and later on in life, but they also block spiritual development, bringing lifetimes of suffering in the cycle of repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. As the Srimad- Bhagavatam, a devotional classic, explains, “Everyone will be attracted to hear Lord Krishna’s teachings and His glorious pastimes—except those who are killing themselves through sinful activity.”

The problem, of course, is that even if we understand the need to give up smoking, eating meat, and so on, we can’t. We’re too addicted -physically, psychologically, culturally—to make such a radical change in the way we live. Of course many people do give up one or two of these things when they realize how harmful they are, but hardly anyone gives them all up, and all four of them are extremely detrimental to body, mind, and spirit.

But for those of us who really want to cure all our material addictions—for good—Krishna consciousness can tell us how. In the Bhagavad-gita (2.59) Lord Krishna gives the solution in a nutshell: “Although the embodied living being [that’s us] may restrain himself from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” Trying to give up powerful addictions by will power alone is almost always futile. But if we can get a “higher taste,” it becomes easy. We get that higher taste when we come in touch with Krishna. In other words, the transcendental pleasure of Krishna consciousness cures our addiction to lower pleasures.

Out of His mercy, Krishna makes Himself available to us in many ways so that we can get in touch with Him. The first and foremost is through His holy names. When we chant the holy names of God, as in the Hare Krishna mantra—HareKrishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—we come directly in contact with Krishna through transcendental sound. Krishna’s name is nondifferent from Krishna Himself, and since Krishna is all-attractive, He draws our mind and heart to Him when we chant His names sincerely. Many a Hare Krishna devotee can tell you how he tried to give up drugs, say, before becoming a devotee, but only after starting to chant Hare Krishna and serve the Lord was he able to do it—effortlessly.

Another way Krishna makes Himself available to us is through prasadam, vegetarian food cooked for and offered to Krishna with devotion. The endless variety of delicious preparations we can cook for Krishna make giving up meat a snap.

And gambling and free sex also fall by the wayside when we take up Krishna consciousness. It becomes obvious that there’s just no percentage in them.

So the choice is ours: Either we can continue living like the camel, whipping our senses with sinful activities and trying to enjoy the taste of our own blood, or we can give up our addiction to lower pleasures by getting the higher taste of Krishna consciousness, which continues eternally. I think we’d all agree that chewing on thorns may be okay for the camel—after all, he’s just a dumb animal—but it’s not where a man belongs.

The Jewel of Humility

A crystal-clear look at one of the priceless ornaments of the transcendentalist.
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord humbly, thinking oneself lower than a piece of straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of false prestige, and always respectful to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”

—Sikshashtaka, Verse 3

This recommendation was made by the Supreme Lord Himself, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who here prescribes the ideal condition for chanting His holy name. Note that He does not mention any particular qualification in terms of birthright, intellect, or social position; rather He describes an exceedingly humble frame of mind as the perfect basis for glorifying the Lord.

It sounds simple enough. After all, don’t all religious scriptures advocate this sublime quality of humility? Our conception of saintliness is infused with the image of a meek and humble servant, head bent forward submissively, eyes gazing compassionately upon all fallen souls. Think of the great martyrs, humbly proclaiming their faithfulness to God as the crowd hurls stones. So humble they were that they would meet their own death without protest.

Yet how unappealing it is to consider placing ourselves in such a lowly position. Lower than a piece of straw in the street, to be trampled by everyone? More tolerant than a tree,which submits to the blazing heat of summer and the icy winds of winter without protest? What does this mean for me practically? Should I live naked on a sidewalk somewhere, enduring physical torture and social ostracism? Will this be pleasing to God? Do I have to give up all my worldly goods and beg from others? Should I humbly allow others to take full advantage of me? If someone wants my car, should I give it? If someone wants my wife, should I give her? If someone wants my allegiance, should I follow him? Does humility mean “nothing for me”?

Actually, humility means “everything for the pleasure of God.” What do we have that is truly ours, anyway? We inhabit this body for some years and enjoy whatever opulence may come with it, be it talent or riches or fame. But ultimately these are all gifts from the Supreme Lord, and He can bestow or restrict them at His will. We should know that all of our wonderful qualities are but tiny borrowed plumes from God’s magnificence.

Humility, as described by Lord Caitanya, is far more than an external presentation of meekness or an indiscriminate giving of one’s possessions or loyalty. True humility accrues naturally to one who understands his real spiritual position. A humble devotee knows well that he is but a small spiritual spark emanating from the original, supreme being. We are forever linked to that Supreme Lord in a relationship of loving servitude. This link is never severed, although when a living entity rejects his position of servant, he falls to the material world. Under the spell of the Lord’s illusory energy, the fallen spirit soul identifies with his physical body and material circumstances, forgetting his link with the Supreme Lord. Because Lord Krishna is our true source of love and happiness, we suffer greatly in this state of forgetfulness.

Humility begins when we recognize that we have become so bewildered by our infatuation with matter that we no longer realize who we are. More than a passive reaction to personal injustice, humility is a dynamic principle of exclusive devotion to the Supreme Lord and His cause. Thus a devotee is well within the bounds of humility to protect “his” body and possessions, since all is being dedicated to the service of the Lord. Not that a humble devotee must meekly hand over his money to a thief. A humble devotee knows that everything in this world is rightfully owned by God and is intended for His service and His glory. A devotee may sometimes even fight, as did Arjuna on the battlefield, yet still remain humbly serving the Lord. On the other hand, a show of humility toward others but without reference to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is not humility at all: it is arrogance.

A humble air might soothe ruffled nerves or win someone’s favor, but such a superficial display has little connection with spiritual realization. I might be humble before my boss, or my landlady, or the cop leaning on my car door, but my motivation is clearly selfish. Humility is not like a fresh coat of paint covering our internal calculations for personal gain. How is it possible for even the humblest-sounding words, uttered under these circumstances, to be pleasing to God?

Nor should we use humility to seek favors from the Lord, as a kind of long-term investment—give a little tolerance now and enjoy the reward in heaven. “Yea, all of you be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble,” writes St. Peter. “Humble yourself before the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt you in time” (I Peter 5:5). But saintly qualities like humility shouldn’t be adopted as a means to future glory. If we strive to become humble to get something we want, then we are missing the profound meaning of this rare quality.

The underlying basis for humility must be knowledge of our humble position in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. When we perceive how insignificant we truly are, and when we understand how we have foolishly identified with our temporal bodies and minds, then we can humbly conclude that we are indeed fallen. We need guidance to understand ourselves as spiritual and to learn to position ourselves in a devotional exchange with God. Such stirrings, or realizations, constitute the beginnings of the wonderful humility described by Lord Caitanya.

Every day we are humiliated here in the material world. Just to be here is embarrassing. For the pure soul to fall into this state is shameful. What are these bodies we hold so dear, anyway? A thin sheath of skin encasing an assortment of foul-smelling ingredients, a breeding ground for disease, and an open invitation to pain, senility, and death. Yet the bewildered spirit soul is content to build a complex identity on this arrangement of flesh and bone, thinking, “I am a white Anglo-Saxon American male,” or whatever. We spend an entire lifetime serving these bodies with constant feeding, grooming, and rest, and in the end they simply become shriveled and useless.

Eventually this body will die, as all bodies do in the course of time. Then another is adopted, and another after that. Each of us has been through untold changes of body, taking birth in every species imaginable. Yet in each life we completely identify with the present material situation. Thus we are fooled again. And again.

Isn’t that humbling?

In addition we are continually humiliated by the world around us. We are betrayed by faithless spouses, hurt by ungrateful children, neglected by a bureaucratic government, and so on. We are threatened by nuclear weapons in the hands of enemies we’ve never laid eyes on. We’re forced to live in fear lest our fragile situation be overturned. One powerful wind could level our beautiful home, one slanderous remark could destroy our spotless reputation. We’re driven by psychological needs to bring home a cocker spaniel for companionship or to seek a prostitute for romance or to pay strangers to listen to our troubles. How we are humbled! As we fight to preserve what little we have, time plunders. How can we be proud when our predicament is so pathetic?

When finally one has exhausted all possibilities for lasting pleasure in this world, he approaches true humility. Tolerating the blows of life as the tree tolerates heat and cold is easy when you understand that this world is not, thank God, your home. Then you can focus your desires on the spiritual world with determination and detachment.

The great Vaishnava preacher Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura composed a collection of songs that perfectly express these sincere feelings of humility and regret and the growing awakening of sublime devotion to God.

Hear, O Lord, my story of sadness. I drank the deadly poison of worldliness, pretending it was nectar.
And now the sun is setting on the horizon of my life.
I spent my childhood in play, my youth in academic pursuits,
And in me there arose no sense of right or wrong… .
Devoid of even a particle of devotion, lacking any enlightenment,
What help is there for me now?
Only You, O Lord, friend of the fallen, the lowest of men.
Please, therefore, lift me to Your lotus feet… .

Srila Bhaktivinoda is instructing us that although a contrite soul is remorseful for past sins, he is also full of hope. Whatever shameful activities smolder in our past may serve to remind us of our foolishness and to underscore our great fortune in being lifted from illusion. We may appreciate that without the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna we are nothing. But this is not depression or a low self-esteem, because a humble devotee sees his real worth as a spiritual person, a servant of God.

The jewel of humility is an emblem of sincere surrender to a loving and merciful God. It is not a self-imposed torture. The deeper the spirit of humility, the deeper the feelings of love and happiness in the heart.

The Sense of Kindness

The Vedic king Rantideva showed what realization is required for true compassion.
What would modern-day social services make of a man who gives away the food meant for his own children to satisfy the hunger of strangers? How would they judge this man, whose family “shivered for want of food,” while he persisted in his unusual dedication to charitable impulses?

The story of this man, King Rantideva, who lived thousands of years ago, is told in the Ninth Canto of the Srimad- Bhagavatam.

King Rantideva would not endeavor for anything. He simply took whatever came to him through the guiding hand of providence. Sound like a handy excuse to avoid gainful employment?

In fact, Rantideva’s apparent irresponsibility did not stem from a lack of concern for his family’s welfare. He himself had no material needs, owing to a firm understanding that all things come by the inscrutable mercy of the Lord. If the Lord wanted to maintain him, then so be it. If not, then the king would accept whatever fate might come.

King Rantideva also understood that because the Supreme Lord is present in the heart of every living entity, all beings deserved the king’s respect and compassion. So when he saw someone in need, he felt no regrets about giving away the food from his own family’s table.

Honorable Guests

One time, Rantideva was ready to eat after having fasted for forty-eight days. Just as he and his family sat down for an opulent meal, a brahmana arrived. Rantideva was honored to receive the exalted guest and gave the brahmana some of his meal. The brahmana ate the food and left.

Rantideva divided among his family what was left and again prepared to eat. But just as he was to begin, a shudra (laborer) visitor arrived. Now, one might expect that in Vedic society a brahmana would be honored with a meal but a shudra would receive little prestige. But Rantideva did not see the shudra as lesser simply because of the shudra’s social position. Rantideva gave the visitor a share of his food.

After the shudra had left, yet another guest arrived—a man surrounded by dogs.

The man called out, “O king, I and my company of dogs are very hungry. Please give us something to eat.”

King Rantideva did indeed give them something to eat—all that was left of his meal. He then offered his obeisances to the man and his animals.

By now, all that was left for Rantideva was the drinking water. Just as he moved to drink, a candala (outcaste) appeared, tired and thirsty, and begged the king for some water.

The king did not hesitate. He not only gave the water but said, “I do not pray to the Supreme Personality of Godhead for the eight perfections of mystic yoga, nor for salvation from repeated birth and death. I want only to stay among all the living entities and suffer all distresses on their behalf, so that they may be free from suffering.”

Rare Compassion

Picturing King Rantideva transplanted in modern society, we can imagine that his family would surely be labeled “dysfunctional,” and that the king himself would be seen as seriously co-dependent. What sort of pleasure can one derive from suffering on behalf of others? After all, Rantideva didn’t create the suffering in their lives. And he was a king—why not enjoy the opulence of that position? Obviously, the man lacked a sense of personal boundaries.

The activities of King Rantideva are especially perplexing because in this age to hear such genuine declarations of compassion is rare. We are accustomed to politicians who wrap themselves in compassionate statements until re-elected. We are suspicious of charitable organizations, since so many have been found corrupt. To be as selfless as King Rantideva means to set yourself up as bait for conartists and thieves. Charity is one thing, but if you don’t look out for number one, who’s going to do it for you?

Rantideva knew, however, that the Supreme Lord would look after him. “By offering my water to maintain the life of this poor candala, who is struggling to live, I have been freed from all hunger, thirst, fatigue, trembling of the body, moroseness, distress, lamentation, and illusion.”

King Rantideva, as it turns out, was being tested by demigods like Lord Brahma and Lord Siva, who had come disguised as guests to interrupt the king’s meal. But even when this was revealed to Rantideva, he did not take advantage of the situation by requesting boons from these exalted demigods. He didn’t really care for anything they could offer. Srimad-Bhagavatam goes on to explain that everyone who followed the principles of King Rantideva became a pure devotee of the Lord, equally freed from the effects of material suffering.

Just as a runner trains for a marathon, we can train ourselves toward this enormous generosity of spirit by practicing compassion in our daily lives. True compassion comes by understanding the intimate spiritual connection all living beings share with the Supreme Lord. No one, no matter how fallen he or she might appear externally, is without such a relationship. When one performs kindness with this understanding, the act becomes more than pious duty—it becomes a source of the deepest pleasure.

The Senses: Gratification or Purification?

This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in April 1975 during an early-morning walk in Mayapur, India.

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes people argue that if there is no God, it doesn’t matter what I do, and if there is a God, then He is controlling everything and it still doesn’t matter what I do, because everything is predetermined anyway. In either case, I am free to do anything I like.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but why do you suffer?

Devotee: Well, it’s all God’s plan. I suffer according to God’s plan.

Srila Prabhupada: No. It is not God’s plan that you suffer; you suffer because you violate God’s laws. He is controlling everything, but He has given you minute independence: you can either follow His laws or violate them. But you are so foolish that you do not understand you are suffering. Your position is like that of the cats and dogs, who also cannot understand that they are suffering.

Our point is that you are suffering because you have violated God’s laws, and if you become obedient to God you will not suffer. But you are such a fool, such a rascal, that you do not even know that you are suffering.

Devotee: But the devotees also seem to be suffering.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but they are not suffering like the nondevotees. Material life, which is the cause of suffering, is like a disease, and devotees are giving up this diseased condition of life for Krishna consciousness. If you are suffering from some disease, you cannot expect to be cured immediately. But one who is taking the medicine is very intelligent. His sufferings will soon be gone. But these nondevotee rascals will not even take the medicine—Krishna consciousness—so they will continue to suffer.

And for the most part, devotees enjoy. Why are you always chanting Hare Krishna and dancing unless you are enjoying?

Devotee: Sometimes I get a sick stomach, too.

Srila Prabhupada: That’s because you have a material body. But your suffering is just like the movement of a fan that has been switched off. The fan is still moving, but the switch is off; so it will soon stop. Similarly, your suffering will soon stop, because you are acting on the spiritual platform. And after giving up this body, you will have a completely blissful life. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita [4.9], tyaktva deham punar janma naiti:

“After giving up the body, a devotee doesn’t take birth again in the material world.” You are not going to get another material body, full of suffering. That is your advantage.

But these nondevotee rascals are going to continue getting body after body, all full of suffering. They will have to accept one body and suffer, and then again they’ll have to give up that body and take another body and suffer. As long as one accepts a material body he will have to suffer, because having a material body means suffering. So those who are not Krishna conscious will change bodies one after another and continue to suffer the threefold miseries [those caused by the body and mind, those caused by other living beings, and those caused by natural calamities].

But devotees, even if they appear to be undergoing some suffering, will eventually give up the material body and remain in their spiritual body, free from all suffering.

Devotee: [taking the position of a materialist] That is simply your faith.

Srila Prabhupada: And it is your faith that you do not believe it. We are accepting the words of the Bhagavad-gita on faith, so we have a chance of getting promoted to the spiritual world. But you have no faith, so you are sure to continue suffering in the material world. We are at least willing to take the chance, but you are so foolish that you are not willing to take the chance. So your suffering is sure to continue.

Devotee: Indians often say, “Well, I will take the chance when Krishna wishes. His will is supreme, so whenever He wishes He will make me Krishna conscious.”

Srila Prabhupada: In the Bhagavad- gita [18.66], Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Give up all your nonsense and surrender unto Me. Become Krishna conscious.” So, Krishna wishes that you surrender to Him. Why don’t you obey His wish?

Devotee: Why does Krishna arrange for the pleasures of sense gratification if they only bring us suffering?

Srila Prabhupada: Again, the same answer: Krishna has given us minute independence—we can use our senses for either sense gratification or for serving Him, which is the real pleasure of the senses. The senses are meant for enjoyment, but if you try to enjoy your senses in a diseased way—by gratifying them—that is your misfortune, and you will have to suffer. You have to cure your disease by becoming Krishna conscious. Then you will enjoy unlimitedly.

We are not like the Mayavadis [impersonalists], who want to destroy the senses and become senseless. That is not our program. We want to purify the senses (sarvopadhi- vinirmuktam tat-paratvena nirmalam). Suppose a man cannot see because he has glaucoma. The mayavada program is that if your eye is giving you trouble and you cannot see, pluck it out. That is not our program. We want to cure the disease so you can see very nicely. So, our senses should be cured of the material disease by our practicing Krishna consciousness. Then we will be able to enjoy real sense pleasure by using our senses in the service of Hrishikesha [Krishna], the master of the senses.

Touch It to Your Head

In Vedic culture, one shows respect to an object by touching it to one’s head. When Srila Prabhupada was a child, his mother taught him to pick up and touch to his head any grains of rice that might have fallen from his plate. I teach this same practice to my children. The lesson I’m trying to teach them goes deeper than the concept of “waste not, want not” my own father taught me. And it goes deeper than the idea of saving the earth’s resources. I’m teaching my children that the grain of rice should be respected because it was given by God. In fact, it is a part of God.

The grain of rice is, of course, produced from the earth. In Sanskrit, the earth is known as Bhumi, derived from bhu, which means “becoming,” “being,” “existing,” or “produced.” Bhumi is therefore known as Mother Earth because she enables us to exist materially by providing our bodies and the food that nourishes them.

Our father is Lord Krishna—spiritually because our existence as spiritual beings depends upon Him, and materially because He injects us as seeds into the womb of Mother Earth, who produces the life forms we souls inhabit. A grain of rice, the product of one life form (the rice plant), is a result of the energies of Father Krishna and Mother Earth and so represents them.

The Vedanta-sutra states, shakti shaktimatayor abhedah: “The energy and the energetic are nondifferent.” In other words, the cause of a thing is present in that thing. So a rice grain is nondifferent from Krishna because it is one of His energies.

How special one grain of rice is! By touching it to our heads in the right consciousness, we’re touching Krishna.

We can honor Krishna through His energy in many ways. For example, we can respect Krishna by turning off an electrical appliance as we leave a room. We can resolve, “Krishna has kindly provided so much. Let me accept my quota only—what I need to live—and let me not misuse one particle of His energy.”

Srila Prabhupada taught by example how to conserve Krishna’s energy. On a morning walk, he once went into a neighbor’s garden to turn off a dripping tap. Another time, although ill he got up from his bed to turn off a fan running unnecessarily in an adjoining room.

Srila Prabhupada criticized the wastefulness of his Western disciples.

“This is your custom,” he once said. “Simply wasting. If you have some extra cloth, you cannot fold it. You cut it off and throw it away. Whatever goes wrong, you solve it with money, and it appears good. You make some accident, and you cover it quickly with money. It is not that you are very capable, but with money you cover your deficiencies.”

While cautiously using Krishna’s energy in His service, we must especially be concerned with our use of the energy of time. Krishna says, “Time I am.” The greatest deficiency is to waste time. Once a moment has passed, all the money in the world cannot buy it back. When we try to dedicate every moment to Krisna’s service, we’ll get a sense of the eternal world, where time is never wasted.

As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna consciousness, or yoga, is “the art of living” (yoga karmasu kaushalam). By remembering Krishna when we turn off a light or a tap, when we recycle paper or glass or reuse an envelope, or when we work to reduce our necessities, we’ll not only act more harmoniously with the earth, but we’ll also make spiritual advancement and prepare ourselves to go back home, back to Godhead.

Training for Transcendence

Srila Prabhupada: If you scrutinizingly examine all these various godly qualities that constitute advancement of life, modern man has no idea. That is being explained in the Sixteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita. There is no such education in godly qualities, nor are people interested. Now higher art classes in the colleges, universities—no students will join. They are simply learning technological processes.

[To disciple:} Go on reading.

Disciple: ‘Those who are situatedin the transcendental nature make progress on the path of liberation. For those who are acting in the modes of passion and ignorance on the other hand, there is no possibility of liberation.”

Srila Prabhupada: People say, “What do we care about liberation? It is all troublesome. You have to sacrifice so many things. We don’t want liberation. It is nonsensical. You keep your liberation. We don’t want it.”

This is the problem. As you said earlier, to these people “liberation” means “Whatever I like I will do.” But actually, one cannot do that. Still,one is thinking that he’s liberated:

“Can you do that—whatever you like?”

“No, not actually.”

But still he’s thinking he’s liberated. Therefore—rascal. Dog’s life.

The dog is jumping, barking that “I’m free now.” But he forgets that soon the master will call and chain him. The master will do it. But still the dog is thinking that “I’m liberated.”

This is the problem. What is modern man’s “liberation”? He does not know what liberation is.

Disciple [continuing the reading of the Bhagavad-gita]: “Either they will have to remain in this material world as human beings, or they will descend among the species of the animals or even lower life forms.”

Srila Prabhupada: “Ah,” people will say, “—all bogus. This life is all. After this life, everything is finished. I am free.” This is the problem. This is their position.

Disciple: When we speak at schools and colleges, Srila Prabhupada, we find that people cannot defeat what you are saying, They have to admit, “Yes, our society does have many shortcomings. We don’t seem to know how to organize things properly, so that all our citizens can become happy.”

And people also have to admit, “Yes there probably is life after death, and transmigration of the soul. And our society has this great shortcoming—that it teaches us nothing spiritual, nothing about preparing for the life after death.”

Even when they reach the college level, people have quite a bit of difficulty really understanding the basic idea that “I am not this material body—I’m a spiritual being.”

Srila Prabhupada: They’ll understand. I’m just pointing out the difficulties of your preaching. You’ll have to face all these difficulties. In the materialistic society, people have become like cats and dogs. Therefore, the business of preaching is somewhat a hard job. You have to deal with cats and dogs. But still there is hope, because they have got this human form of life.

There is hope. It is not hopeless. Don’t be discouraged. But this is the job. You have to meet with cats and dogs. That is my point. When you go to preach, you must know that “I’ve come to preach among the cats and dogs, and I have to deal with them carefully. Otherwise, they will bark.”

That was why, upon arriving in your country, I wrote a poem with an apparent air of disappointment. The idea was, “What will these people be able to understand about this sublime spiritual philosophy?”

Hm. [To disciple:} Go on reading.

Disciple: “In this Sixteenth Chapter the Lord explains both the transcendental nature and its attendant qualities and the demoniac nature and its qualities. He also explains the advantages and disadvantages of these qualities.

“The word abhijatasya in reference to one born of transcendental qualities or godly tendencies is very significant. To beget a child in a godly atmosphere is known in the Vedic scriptures as Garbhadhana-samskara. If the parents want a child in the godly qualities, they should follow the ten principles recommended for the social life of the human being. In Bhagavad-gita we have studied also before that sex life for begetting a good child is Krishna Himself. Sex life is not condemned, provided the process is used in Krishna consciousness. Those who are in Krishna consciousness at least should not beget children like cats and dogs but should beget them so that they may become Krishna conscious after birth. That should be the advantage of children born of a father and mother absorbed in Krishna consciousness.

“The social institution known as varnashrama- dharma—the institution dividing society into four divisions of social life and four occupational divisions or castes—is not meant to divide society according to birth. Such divisions are in terms of educational qualifications. They are to keep the society in a state of peace and prosperity. The qualities mentioned herein are explained as transcendental qualities meant for making a person progress in spiritual understanding so that he can get liberated from the material world.”

Srila Prabhupada: So where is that institution for training people to acquire these transcendental qualities? There is no such institution. We are attempting to train people in transcendental qualities. This is the only institution. Other than our International Society, where is the institution for training people in transcendental qualities? I don’t think throughout the whole world there is any institution for training the students in transcendental qualities. Who cares about transcendental qualities?

(To be continued.)

Training for Transcendence Part II

Disciple [reading Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 16.4]: “Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance—these qualities belong to those of demoniac nature, O son of Pritha.”

Purport, by Srila Prabhupada: “In this verse, the royal road to hell is described. The demoniac want to make a show of religion and advancement in spiritual science, although they do not follow the principles. They are always arrogant or proud in possessing some type of education or so much wealth. They desire to be worshiped by others and demand respectability, although they do not command respect. Over trifles they become very angry and speak harshly, not gently. They do not know what should be done and what should not be done. They do everything whimsically, according to their own desire, and they do not recognize any authority. These demoniac qualities are taken on by them from the beginning of their bodies in the wombs of their mothers, and as they grow they manifest all these inauspicious qualities.”

Srila Prabhupada: So here is your answer as to how modern civilization is defective. Everyone thinks “liberation” means he can do whatever he likes. And that is the definition of a demoniac person. Now you can discuss this point.

Disciple: We can see that this modern civilization has turned everything upside-down. What Krishna describes as exalted qualities they think of as degraded. What Krishna describes as degraded, demoniac qualities they think of as exalted.

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore preaching is required.

Disciple: Many people feel godly qualities are a sign of weakness. The demoniac qualities are a sign of strength.

Srila Prabhupada: “Heroism.” The demoniac qualities constitute “heroism.”

Disciple: Yes. “heroism.” In this purport, Srila Prabhupada, you perfectly describe our student life. As students, we were doing everything whimsically. Or we simply accepted bad things.

Srila Prabhupada: For that reason Prahlada Maharaja recommends, kaumara acaret prajno dharman bhagavatan iha: students should be trained up in Krishna consciousness. That is what Prahlada Maharaja recommends. Currently, from the very beginning of student life, one is trained up as a demon. So many things have to be reformed by pushing on Krishna consciousness. So we have to do all this.

[To disciple:] Go on reading.

Disciple [reading from Bhagavad-gita. 16.5]: ‘The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demoniac qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.”

Purport, by Srila Prabhupada: “Lord Krishna encouraged Arjuna by telling him that he was not born with demoniac qualities. His involvement in the fight was not demoniac, because he was considering the pros and cons. He was considering whether respectable persons such as Bhishma and Drona should be killed or not, so he was not acting under the influence of anger, false prestige, or harshness. Therefore he was not of the quality of the demons. For a kshatriya. a military man, shooting arrows at the enemy is considered transcendental, and refraining from such a duty is demoniac. Therefore there was no cause for Arjuna to lament. Anyone who performs the regulative principles of the different orders of life is transcendentally situated.”

Srila Prabhupada: Discuss this point.

Disciple: People say that “Your understanding is arbitrary. You allow the possibility of a ‘godly war’ and say that for a bona fide military man, fighting and killing are exalted, but we think war is degraded. We think everyone should be peaceful. That’s our idea of a good man.”

Srila Prabhupada: Our understandingof the divine qualities and the demoniac qualities is not arbitrary. It is given by Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So it is not arbitrary. This knowledge is given by the Supreme’s order. How can people say it is arbitrary? Then what is the use of referring to Bhagavad-gita? Yes, things must not be arbitrary or whimsical. Therefore we make reference to Bhagavad-gita—the lawbook. When a judge gives his verdict he does not give it arbitrarily. There are lawbooks. So there is no question of “arbitrary.” The reference is there. How can you say it is arbitrary? But if you don’t care about the scriptural verdict then you’ll never be successful. In this same chapter you’ll find the verse beginning yah shastra-vidhim utshrjya.

Disciple: Yah shastra-vidhim utshrjya vartate kama-karatah/ na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim: “But he who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.”

Srila Prabhupada: So we are not giving anything arbitrary.

Disciple: That’s quite easy to see, Srila Prabhupada. By following the authority of Lord Krishna, people really do become happy. And by merely following their whims, people really do become miserable.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. So the result is there—even in this life we can see it. And what to speak of beyond this life.

Disciple: But people may counter that even in a godly war, it’s hard to feel happy.

Srila Prabhupada: In a godly war, such as the Battle of Kurukshetra, bona fide military men feel happy. Take Arjuna, Drona, Bhishma—they felt happy. Otherwise, they could not have fought. They were not like these modern soldiers, who, when they are attacked, go away. Real kshatriyas, godly military men, are not like that. They are determined that “I’ll either lay down my life or gain victory.” That is their attitude. Do you think they are afraid of fighting? They are not afraid of fighting. Yuddhe capy apalayanam—“not fleeing in battle.” That is a real kshatriya, a real military man. That is real training.

(To be continued.)

Why Do We Criticize Others?

A look at the causes and cures for faultfinding, a major obstacle to spiritual progress.
Conducting a summer therapy group with middle-school boys is always a challenge. Donte calls Michael a retard, and Michael calls Donte’s mother a crackhead. I intervene, sitting the boys down to cool off. This age group (11-14) is notorious for saying and doing things to hurt each other. I reflect on my own years in junior high school and recall some painful interactions with peers. While most of us mature and become more sophisticated in our social interactions, our critical nature generally doesn’t disappear unless we make spiritual progress toward our original identity.

Our original nature, the pure self uncontaminated by material energy, is free from the propensity to criticize or find fault with others. In fact, the pure soul sees all others as superior to himself. The further we fall from our original pure consciousness and depart from the mode of goodness toward ignorance, the more our tendency to criticize others will show itself.

A story in the Mahabharata illustrates the difference in mentality between a pure soul and a person hostile to God and thereby covered by the mode of darkness. Krishna, the Supreme Lord, met with both Maharaja Yudhishthira, a pure devotee of the Lord, and Duryodhana, an extremely envious king who had acquired his position through cheating and deceit. Krishna asked Maharaja Yudhishthira to go out into the kingdom and return after finding someone less qualified than himself. And He asked Duryodhana to search the kingdom for someone better than himself.

When wicked Duryodhana returned, he told Lord Krishna that he couldn’t find anyone better than himself. Most of us would describe a person like Duryodhana as narcissistic, bombastic, conceited, and egoistic. Many of today’s leaders would t that portrayal.

The saintly Yudhishthira, on the other hand, returned unable to find anyone inferior to himself. Such humility is practically gone among today’s leaders.

From this exchange, Lord Krishna is teaching us something about human psychology. The closer one comes to his original pure identity, the more he shows humility and freedom from seeing the faults in others. And the further one falls from his pure identity, the more he feels superior to others, seeing faults in them and not in himself.

The Root Of Separation

The mentality that originally separates us from God is our desire to take His position. We can’t do that, of course. But He’s so kind that He lets us try, so we have to think we’re great and powerful. Many of us have been criticized at one time or another for trying to “lord it over” others. But that’s what we’ve all come to the material world to do. We think we’re the center of the universe, that everything revolves around us. This delusion sets the stage for our competitive drive to remove any opponent for the coveted position of Lord.

If this portrayal of our mindset sounds exaggerated, consider this: Since God is the creator, everything here is His property, and in our quest to acquire it for our enjoyment, we are indeed playing God. Unlike God, though, we have to compete for that position.

While faultfinding may be an outcome of several mental states, it is often the mind’s attempt to gain a superior position over others. Duyodhana was expert at finding faults in others regardless of their purity, and he had a knack for disregarding his own shortcomings. Lacking empathy for the suffering of others, he would use any means to achieve his goals. This is a common personality profile of demonic persons. And the root of their problem is their lack of proclivity for developing their relationship with the Supreme Lord.

Our Mixed Natures

Most of us traversing the spiritual path fall somewhere between the pure soul (Yudhishthira) and the envious demon (Duryodhana). We recognize that we still tend to criticize others, but we want to become free of such behavior. Often devotees ask, “How can I stop finding fault with other devotees?” But as with any unwanted behavior, it is important to understand what we get out of doing it—the payoff. If we fail to address this step, our mind will undoubtedly sabotage out efforts to give up criticism. Often the secondary gain will be easy to see. Some common motivations for criticism are (1) gaining a sense of superiority, (2) getting back at someone who has hurt us, (3) asserting our position or belief as the best or only way, and (4) avoiding scrutiny of our own shortcomings. Identifying our motives takes honesty and courage. We need to have a strong desire to change. But sometimes, despite our good intentions, the reason we do something may not be so evident. I remember working with a devotee in therapy who was addressing her critical nature. She recognized how destructive it was to her spiritual progress, and she wanted to stop but felt impelled to do it. She finally came to understand that she found fault with others so she wouldn’t have to get close to them. Once she realized the secondary gain she derived from criticizing others, she could address her fear of intimacy. Dismantling her underlying reason for faultfinding allowed her to give it up. Another devotee was finding fault with her friend. As she got more in touch with the reasons for her feelings, she discovered she was feeling guilty that she hadn’t supported her friend during a crisis. Finding fault with her friend was her way to justify her lack of involvement in her friend’s life. It also protected her self-image and her belief that she is caring and helpful. In this case the devotee was able to forgive herself for not being sympathetic and apologized to her friend.

Spiritual Cure

Not everyone who has problems with faultfinding needs to go into therapy. Prayer and strong spiritual practices are our methods for overcoming impurities. When I was a new devotee, I had a very critical nature. I was proud of my education, and thought I was more competent and advanced than the other devotees. After chanting for a short while, I became aware that my mentality was hindering my spiritual advancement. I prayed every day to become free of my critical nature. Krishna kindly answered my prayers in a way I didn’t expect: He took away my ability to do most things. For about two months I felt I was in a fog. I couldn’t remember things. I had trouble articulating my thoughts. I wasn’t able to complete even simple tasks. The only service I could render was cleaning, and that would take an inordinate amount of time. Although I struggled through that period, I was grateful for the lesson. In the Caitanya-caritamrita, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami tells us that by the mercy of the Lord a lame man can climb mountains, a blind man can see the stars, and a dumb man can recite beautiful poetry. So in the same way, the Lord can take away any ability that might make us proud and prone to criticizing devotees. Also in the Caitanya-caritamrita is a story about a man named Gopala Cakravarti that illustrates this point. Learned and handsome, he came from a prestigious family and was proud of his scholarship and position. One day while taking part in a discussion about the glories of the Lord’s holy names, the exalted devotee Haridasa Thakura expressed his deep realization about the potency of the holy name. Gopala Cakravarti challenged Haridasa’s statements. He cursed Haridasa, saying that Haridasa’s nose should fall off if one didn’t reap the benefit from chanting that Haridasa professed. Gopala’s denigrating challenge came from his envious heart, and his motive was to discredit both Haridasa and the holy name. Gopala suffered an instant reaction for his insults and envy of Haridasa. His beautiful body became disfigured from leprosy, which ate away his nose. Agonized, Gopala begged Lord Caitanya for redemption. At first Lord Caitanya was unmoved by Gopala’s pitiable plight. But finally, when Lord Caitanya recognized that Gopala had undergone a sincere change of heart, He released Gopala from his suffering. Gopala then took shelter of the Lord and His devotees. The devotee is blessed when the Lord rectifies his mentality with seeming reverses. In another narration from the Caitanya-caritamrita, Amogha, the son-in-law of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, spied on Lord Caitanya while He ate at Sarvabhauma’s house. Aware that Amogha was critical of the Lord’s pure behavior, Sarvabhauma chased him away and cursed him for his envious mentality. The following day Amogha was afflicted by cholera and was dying. Lord Caitanya went to see Amogha and placing his hand on his heart. “Why have you allowed jealousy to sit here?” the Lord asked. “Because of this, you have become like a candala, the lowest of men, and you have also contaminated a most purified place—your heart.” The Lord then told Amogha to chant Hare Krishna. Amogha jumped up and chanted and danced, his heart purified by the touch of the Lord’s lotus hand. Both Gopala Cakravarti and Amogha were greatly fortunate. Their faultfinding, critical natures were purified, and they received the greatest goal of life, pure devotion to the Lord. We may not be so lucky, and may instead find ourselves cut off from the Lord’s service for many lives.

An Unreformed Faultfinder

I have seen devotees who follow the rules strictly and chant their prescribed rounds on their beads every day but have little joy in their spiritual lives. For many, criticism and faultfinding block their spiritual progress. This problem was exemplified by another person described in the Caitanya- caritamrita, Ramacandra Puri. He criticized his own spiritual master, and from then on he delighted in finding faults in saintly persons. If he couldn’t find a fault in a devotee, he would induce the devotee to overeat so he could criticize him. Despite Lord Caitanya’s spotless character, Ramacandra Puri invented a fault in Him. When he saw ants where Lord Caitanya was living, he criticized Him for eating sweets—a sign to Ramacandra Puri that the Lord was not acting as a proper renunciant.

Because Ramacandra Puri was the Godbrother of Lord Caitanya’s spiritual master, the Lord respectfully abstained from responding to his offense. This was unfortunate for Ramacandra Puri, because he continued to offend Vaishnavas wherever he went. Unlike Gopala Cakravarti and Amogha, he didn’t suffer some extreme material condition. But also unlike them, he didn’t have a change of heart or receive love of God.

Diligent Work

Suffering is not the only way to change our attitudes and behaviors. Ideally, we will gain insight into the problem and then work diligently to correct it. Recognizing and accepting our difficulty is half the battle. Finding a trusted devotee to confide in and seek guidance from is helpful. Attentive, focused, and prayerful chanting will help us see things differently and inspire to change behaviors contrary to devotional life. Incorporating daily Prabhupada’s powerful teachings and instructions from his books, tapes, and videos will help us remember what things are favorable and unfavorable to our spiritual lives.

As we become happier and more spiritually fulfilled, our desire to find fault in others will proportionately diminish. And as we practice seeing the good in others and serving them, the Lord will reciprocate with our efforts and we’ll make steady spiritual progress.

The next time we feel the urge to say something negative about someone, we should stop and ask ourselves, “What is my motive for saying this? What will Prabhupada think when he hears me say this? Will this help me develop my loving sentiments and make spiritual progress?”

Often our answers to these questions will convince us to be silent. If we commit ourselves to practicing abstinence from faultfinding, we’ll reap the abundance of spiritual rewards that will follow.

You Bet Your Life

For anyone interested in spiritual progress, gambling is more than just a harmless amusement.
High’s convenience store is bustling with last-minute shoppers picking up odds and ends for a holiday dinner. Having run out of milk, I find myself in the crowded store, standing in a line that wraps around the food aisle. I resign myself to the waiting, and chant the Hare Krishna mantra softly to myself.

An elderly shabbily dressed woman at the counter draws my attention. She’s frantically scratching away at a lottery card—Instant Win Bingo. She crumples the card and stuffs it into her coat pocket, then pulls a five dollar bill from her other pocket, demanding another card. Again she feverishly scratches the card with her cracked thumbnail. Sighing in disappointment, she produces another five dollars. She keeps buying cards until she’s out of money, and dejectedly shuffles out of the store.

I imagine that the woman has just spent her Social Security check, hoping for a large return. Yet now she may be left with nothing. Would she have food for the month? Would her rent be paid? I feel sympathy for this small gray-haired woman who has disappeared out into the dreary fog.

By the time I decided to become a devotee of Krishna and aspire for spiritual initiation, I’d already learned from devotees that I’d have to give up certain activities that impede spiritual growth. Those activities, considered the pillars of sinful life, include intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sexual activity, and gambling. Each pollutes our consciousness and is addictive.

Watching the frenzied woman in the convenience store today sparks my desire to understand more about gambling, so I turn to Srila Prabhupada’s books.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells of a bull, representing religion, and the bull’s four legs, representing mercy, truthfulness, cleanliness, and austerity. The Bhagavatam says that meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling erode the integrity of the legs of religion. Meat-eating covers our feelings of mercy. Illicit sexual connections consume our quality of cleanliness. Intoxication impedes our ability to perform austerities and forgo immediate gratification to obtain long-term goals. Gambling destroys truthfulness.

In the current age, Kali-yuga, the bull of religion is wobbling on one leg—truthfulness—the other three having practically been destroyed. Truthfulness is suffering, too, and even the president of the United States gets caught lying under oath.

Gambling with the Truth

How does gambling erode truthfulness? I think back to one of my first psychotherapy clients. Joe, in his late thirties, had recently married for the first time and desperately wanted the marriage to work. But every time he got his paycheck, he’d secretly go to the Atlantic City casinos. Using an elaborate web of lies, he’d explain his absence to his wife. If he lost all his money, often the case, he’d have to lie about the money as well. He’d make up stories: Aunt Berla is dying and needs the money for a respirator; Uncle Martin borrowed the money for his rent. On and on it would go, until his wife no longer could or would believe him and was ready to leave the marriage.

Finally, Joe confessed to the blatant truth: He was a compulsive gambler, an addict swallowed up by an insatiable desire to turn his quarters into dollars with a flick of his wrist. His eyes filled with desperate tears. He begged his wife to stay and promised to get help for his addiction.

An Old Vice

Gambling addictions are much more common than most people think. With gambling legal and easy to find, every day more and more people fall prey to its devastation, their lives becoming ruined.

The gambling vice is nothing new. We can find accounts of it five thousand years ago with the advent of Kali-yuga. From historical Vedic books such as Srimad-Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, we can read stories of how gambling consumes truthfulness. In one narrative, Lord Balarama is playing chess with Krishna’s brother-in-law, Prince Rukmi. Being from the royal order, Rukmi was expected to exemplify all good qualities, including truthfulness.

Rukmi and Balarama were playing for larger and larger wagers of gold coins. At first Balarama was losing, but at the end he won a large wager, making up for his losses. Unable to bear the defeat, Rukmi lied, saying that he had actually won. Even when a voice from the heavens declared Balarama the winner, Rukmi refused to yield. Although gambling was sanctioned for warriors and the ruling class, the insidious affects of gambling infiltrated Rukmi’s consciousness. Rukmi abandoned truthfulness, a quality coveted by his contemporaries, out of his greed for gold.

In another historical event extensively narrated in Mahabharata, a great gambling match was arranged between the pious, exemplary king Yudhishthira and the wicked Sakuni. Being a king, Yudhishthira Maharaja was obliged to accept any challenge from another person of the royal order. The match was masterminded by his envious cousin King Duryodhana. Through deception and lies, Yudhishthira Maharaja temporarily lost his kingdom. The gambling match was a catalyst for the great Kurukshetra war, wherein millions of warriors died.

These events involving gambling ushered in Kali-yuga, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Over the past few decades, the proliferation of gambling has continued to destroy truthfulness throughout the world. People no longer trust their leaders. Friends lie to each other, as do husbands and wives, students and teachers. The sanctity of truthfulness is wearing thin in all relationships.

Subtle Gambling

Like any vice, gambling has gross and subtle aspects. Betting in a casino and playing the lottery are gross displays of gambling. One subtle form of gambling is mental speculation, the attempt to understand the Absolute Truth through our own experience—in other words, by guessing. Before becoming a devotee, I had tried to understand the Absolute Truth through this faulty process. I had surmised that I wasn’t the body and that the soul was waiting to be liberated from my body. While this was an accurate assessment, I concluded that suicide would free the soul from the encasement of the body. Had I acted on my speculation, I would have committed a grave error that would have cost me my opportunity to advance in Krishna consciousness in this human form of life.

Srila Prabhupada also mentions speculative business ventures as gambling. Many devotees have grappled with understanding this point. Some years ago, a friend tried to persuade my husband and me to “invest” $12,000 in a money pyramid. As more and more people put money into the scheme, we would be pushed to the top of the pyramid and make $60,000. The tempting offer was very risky. It was clearly a form of gambling, and we didn’t take part.

All business involves some risk. A majority of new businesses fail after the first two years. Yet Srila Prabhupada encouraged devotees to start businesses to support temples, and he himself had a business to support his family. After consulting senior devotees, I’ve concluded that by speculative business ventures Prabhupada meant high-risk investments where one hopes to reap a big return for a relatively small investment.

Finally, in his definition of gambling Prabhupada sometimes includes cinemas, mundane novels, frivolous sports—anything that wastes time. How is wasting time gambling? Gambling means to risk something, and wasting time means risking time—the most valuable commodity. We can’t buy back a single moment of time, even for millions of dollars. Our time on earth is limited and precious. We invest our time in an activity with the hope of some return. By nature we seek pleasure. But material adjustments don’t produce lasting solutions. Spiritual activity is the investment that brings permanent results.

Bad Investment

Srimad-Bhagavatam givesthe historical account of Hiranyakashipu, a powerful king inimical to spiritual culture. Hiranyakashipu used his time to perform great austerities. For one hundred years he stood on one leg. In return he hoped to receive immortality. He received great opulence that made him think he was immortal, but in the end he was killed by the Lord. Hiranyakashipu took the gamble that his investment of a hundred years of austerities would bring him immortality. But he lost his wager to the Lord, who appeared in His half-man, half-lion incarnation to take Hiranyakashipu’s life.

On the other hand, Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada invested his time in glorifying the Lord. He taught his friends about the valuable nature of time and encouraged them to give up frivolous activities and join him in chanting the Lord’s holy names. Prahlada wasn’t looking for anything in return. He was completely happy to act for the Lord’s pleasure. Prahlada’s investment of time brought him eternal happiness in pure love of God.

In our early stages of devotional life, to come to Prahlada’s high level of consciousness and never engage in frivolous activities or waste our time may seem impossible. But these are benchmarks of our advancement. As we advance, we will value our time and use it carefully to progress in spiritual life.

Advancement occurs naturally as we engage in devotional practices, but as with anything, the more conscientious our practices, the quicker we will realize our goals. The more we apply the simple formula of accepting things favorable for our spiritual life and rejecting things unfavorable, the faster we will become free of unwanted desires and activities.

While I have no desire to play the slot machines or bet at the races, I’m easily pulled into gossip and allured by images on supermarket tabloids. But I’ve come a long way in Krishna consciousness over the past twenty-four years, and I know if I continue to follow the process, in another twenty- four years I may be free of the more subtle aspects of gambling.

Srila Prabhupada gave us the highest, most sublime goals, and sometimes those can intimidate beginners. Our position may be like that of someone learning to play the piano and feeling discouraged watching the nimble fingers of an advanced student. But with practice, the beginner will see progress. What seems impossible in the beginning will appear more and more attainable.

I won’t become discouraged, therefore, that I haven’t completely conquered the propensity to gamble. Rather, I can be thankful for all the progress I have made, and I can pray that the gray-haired woman in the convenience store can become free of her gambling addiction and find the real source of her happiness and fulfillment: devotional service to the Lord. And although Srila Prabhupada instructs us not to gamble, by his inspiration I’ll continue to bet my life on chanting Hare Krishna, hoping the result will one day be love of God.