“…a man’s pure consciousness is covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.39)
It’s sad to say, but no amount of distribution of material benedictions will satisfy the soul craving a permanent activity that is coupled with a worthy beneficiary of service, one who can extract the full potential for love found within the heart. The tendency for the giving individual is to provide basic comforts to those who are distressed, but this does nothing to solve the real problem of life, that of the repetition of birth and death. More than just stopping reincarnation, if a distressed person wandering aimlessly for permanent happiness can be given tools and a never-ending project to work on, they can be handed the keys to the mint that houses imperishable transcendental delights.
Why is birth and death important to stop? How do we even know that these occur in cycles? The Bhagavad-gita says so, and since it is the most authorized Vedic text, the information found within can be accepted as fact, especially when received from someone who faithfully follows its teachings. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the orator of the Gita, and His song is one that has been sung many times over the past five thousand years. Even if we are hesitant to accept the Gita’s statements on reincarnation because of prejudices or boundaries erected through ignorance, we can still take away other precious gems presented by Krishna.
“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17)
In one section the Lord tells Arjuna, the direct recipient of the Gita’s teachings, that the senses are very difficult to control, especially since the mind will wander from one place to another. When the spirit soul is placed in an area designated for material activity, the behavior followed can fall into one of three modes: goodness, passion or ignorance. The mode of passion is the one accepted by default by the human being, and it also corresponds directly with the concept of working for fruits and enjoying them. Lord Krishna says that the mode of passion eventually leads to misery, as more and more gains only keep the senses attached to objects that are temporary in both their manifestation and the enjoyment they provide.
What does this mean exactly? An example which nicely illustrates this concept is gambling. The gambler may stop at the card table to only play a few hands, but if he starts winning, he can get hooked to the game. The objective of each game is to win, which is signaled by a payout of some kind. Yet if this payout were the panacea of happiness it was thought to be, what need would there be for further play? As another example, a rich business mogul who makes billions of dollars would seemingly want to rest on his laurels and just enjoy his accomplishments, no? Yet we see that once billions are earned, an even stronger push is made towards increasing that wealth, parlaying your earnings into hundreds of billions.
What drives this chase? Why not just enjoy what you win? The senses are conditioned in such a way that they cannot be satisfied even through constant feeding. Strong desire for the satisfaction of the senses is known as lust, and it is an all-devouring enemy. This point is made by Krishna in the Gita, and it is continually validated in the visible behavior around us. Even though we can see the effects of lust for ourselves without ever having to open a single page of a religious book, the tendency for helping the distressed still follows an erroneous pattern. You see someone down on their luck, in trouble, and you give them some money or some other gift that has an identified monetary value. The idea is that if the sufferer enjoys the gift, their pain will go away.
But let’s think about it rationally. If even the gambler and the business mogul aren’t satisfied by heaps of rewards that are earned through personal effort, why would someone be satisfied with something just given to them? More specifically, if we work hard for something, the resulting fruits will be all the more appreciated. The child has no concept of what money is really worth until they actually start working in adulthood. Yet, if even the people who work really hard to acquire their gains remain unsatisfied, how are those who don’t work hard for their rewards expected to appreciate the gifts given to them?
In the childhood years, presents on one’s birthday are sought after and then later remembered. Even Christmas gifts are anticipated and appreciated because the child doesn’t have the money to go out and buy whatever it wants. Moreover, the child tends to have a stronger desire for gifts than the adults do. As the years go by, however, more and more gifts start to pile up from the many birthdays and Christmas holidays. Among the people storing so many presents, how many of them can actually remember who gave them which gift? The gift could even be something that is used all the time, something that is cherished and brings tremendous enjoyment. Despite the gift’s use, who actually donated it and when remain forgotten.
This is a reminder that the senses are like a machine that just gobbles up whatever is thrown its way. And with each new item consumed, the attachment for such objects increases and the level of satisfaction decreases. A person training to run a marathon eventually learns to run a few miles without a problem, even though in the beginning such short distances caused tremendous strain on the body. With sense gratification fueled by constant attention and gift-receiving, the effect is similar, but the consequences are negative instead of positive. In the past we may have lived without so many things and been able to keep the mind satisfied with very little, but with each new gift comes a new attachment, with the requirements for finding a minimum level of satisfaction increasing just a bit more.
What can be done to solve the problem? Renunciation is a good step, as it helps to prevent becoming spoiled. Good parents are keenly aware of the need for not spoiling their children, as they won’t buy gifts for their kids every time they ask for them. But more than just limiting intake of ice cream and videogame playing, the parents make sure that their children have active engagements. This is much more important than simple renunciation or even the giving of gifts. A fulltime occupation that yields the most mature fruits down the road is the greatest gift anyone can give to another person. In this sense we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the parents who keep their children on the straightened path of education, piety and self-control.
To benefit society at large the benevolent Vaishnava preacher, he who dedicates their life to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is kind enough to spray the seeds of devotion all across the land, to every single person willing to accept them. The seed of devotional service can be cultivated within the heart by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the activities most harmful on consciousness: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This basic formula is only the beginning, with brighter fortunes on the horizon. Through chanting and adherence to the principles of devotional service, the engagement that directly corresponds to the soul’s properties is found.
Is there anything wrong with offering other types of aid? Should we not care for the homeless or feed the hungry? Certainly there is much to be said about helping the downtrodden with material gifts, but as mentioned before, no amount of material gift-giving is ever going to provide any lasting satisfaction. The problems of birth and death are still there even for the wealthiest person. Everything had to be acquired in life after taking birth, so why would anyone want a repeat of that struggle? Even for those born into wealthy families, the struggles of the mind and its influence on activity are present.
Beyond birth and death is the transcendental realm, a place where not a second is wasted in laziness, despair, chaos, tumult, or bad times. The transcendental realm is the home of the Personality of Godhead, the person we are all inclined to worship. Even the atheist has a penchant for worshiping God, but due to his clouded vision he can only see the Lord as material nature, whose most potent force is death. The mental speculator can at best understand God as being an all-pervasive spiritual energy responsible for the motions of all autonomous beings. The yogi can see God in His form as the Supersoul residing within the heart.
Only the Vaishnava, or he who worships the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, understands God’s presence found both within and without. This means that the Lord can be worshiped at any time and at any place. Though Krishna is in need of nothing, since He is so attractive, one who has made up their mind to serve Him never runs out of avenues for service. You can chant, dance, sing, read, write, or simply hear about Krishna and you will feel tremendous satisfaction.
“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.68)
Those who are given the seed of devotional service that has the potential to blossom into a full blown tree receive the greatest gift in life. This also means that those who have carefully sown the seed of devotion within their heart can do the greatest good for their fellow man by distributing the same seeds in the form of the wealth of information found in the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and other sacred texts to as many people as possible. Such preachers are forever dear to Krishna, who appreciates any attempt made to give the individual souls an eternal engagement, a discipline so sublime that its most insignificant fruits are the material amenities previously hankered after.
Just imagine unearthing the largest gold mine in the world and distributing its contents to as many people as possible. This should make everyone happy, no? There are two problems. One is that eventually the gold will run out. The other is that no amount of gold will make a person happy. The same concept holds true with money. If you give everyone a million dollars, it doesn’t mean that their problems will suddenly vanish. For starters, if everyone had a million dollars, inflation would naturally kick in, and ordinary commodities would skyrocket in price. But even if we somehow didn’t have inflation, people will react differently with their money. Some will place it in the bank and draw steady interest, while others will start business ventures aimed at increasing the amount of money they have. And there are others who will squander the money away on enjoyment.
Whatever route is chosen, the satisfaction of the mind will still not be there, as the attachment to sense objects will only increase. With distribution of bhakti, however, the mind becomes fully satisfied. Everyone gets the real gold they are due, which they can then make the best use of. And unlike the goldmine, the reservoir of devotional love can never empty. There is no such thing as running out when it comes to distributing the nectar that is the holy name of the Lord. Even if one is not inclined to chant Krishna and Rama, they can recite whatever authorized name they have for God, for the point is to become immersed in an eternal engagement, one that continues well beyond the current lifetime. While no amount of material gift-giving can make others happy, no amount of engagement in bhakti can ever stop the pure devotee from serving their beloved Krishna.
Find a huge pile of gold to distribute,
To all charity you can contribute.
But this will not make anyone satisfied,
Miseries will only be multiplied.
Some squander their money on enjoyment,
Others parlay it to become affluent.
Regardless, attachment to the senses will be there,
Temporary gains and losses, life will seem unfair.
Instead distribute goldmine of bhakti,
Devotion to God, engagement that sets soul free.
Fame and glories of God never do run dry,
On His qualities for pleasure do you rely.
Soul that finds devotion has always to do something,
Glorify Krishna, stories of His pastimes worth telling.
Of conditioned being greatest enemy is lust,
Can be beaten when in Krishna’s name you trust.