“Unless situated by the side of the Supreme One, zero is always zero; one may add one hundred zeros, but the value will still remain zero. Unless one’s material assets are used in Krishna consciousness, they may play havoc and degrade the possessor.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.3.17 Purport)
Imagine this situation. You wake up in the morning on time, ready to go to work. You stick to everything in your daily routine, but there is one problem. When you go outside towards the car in the driveway, you notice that one of the tires is flat. Usually this wouldn’t be that big of an issue, since there is the spare tire in the trunk that you can easily use as a substitute. The spare is gone, however, since one of your friends borrowed it a few weeks ago.
Though you will be a little late, you’re not panicking. You know that others can help you out. You call your friends and family who live nearby. One after another, they each are eager to help you. The problem is, they keep offering items that are not relevant to the situation. One person says they have an extra snowbrush they can lend to you. Another one says that they have excess wiper fluid that they’ve been looking to get rid of. You are offered the aid of so many items, from spark plugs to headlight bulbs. The one thing you need to get the car going again, however, is absent.
This is analogous to the situation of the human being who has so many material assets, but lacks one very important thing. Material assets are part of the external energy of the Supreme Lord. We can also think of it like having a giant room full of toys. To the child this is heaven, but the adult wants more. Maturity in intelligence means they have moved on to different activities. They thirst for something higher, something to match their intellect.
The comparison often made in Vedic literature is to the numbers one and zero. Material assets are like a bunch of zeros. By themselves they are worthless. You can have the biggest house in the world and a fleet of the rarest and most expensive cars, but if you don’t know how to drive and don’t have anything to do in the house, what is the opulence worth to you?
By applying a little intelligence, one sees that the experience in the human species is really no different than what the animals go through. The wealthy person sleeps on a mattress that has firmness settings that can be changed with the press of a button. The dog sleeps on the floor. There seems to be a difference in experience, but the taste of sleeping is really the same. In the exchange between the senses and the objects of the senses, the experience is practically the same for all living beings, regardless of the level of intelligence.
The human being has the unique opportunity to add the Divine into their life. His presence is equated with a one or any other non-zero numeral. If you put a single one digit in front of a zero, you get a number of value. The zero turns into something meaningful. All it takes is a single one. Then you add many zeros and increase the value even more.
“Shri Rama’s holy name is like a numeral, and all religious practices are like zero. When the numeral is not there, zero means nothing. But when it is present, the resultant value increases tenfold.” (Dohavali, 10)
The one is the key factor, but before that arrives is it better to have many zeros or just a few? In the general case, the more zeros there are, the less likelihood there will be of finding the one and holding on to it. We can go back to the playroom example. If the child had something more important to do, like go to sleep on time or finish homework for school, an increase in the number of toys in the room increases the chances of being distracted. If they had nothing in the room, they are more likely to do the responsible thing, provided someone is there to show them. This only makes sense, as one of the primary methods of punishment meted out by the parents is removing toys for a period of time.
In the same way, if a person is not overwhelmed materially, they are more likely to look for answers in life. More material assets means an increased chance of being distracted in search for the meaning to life. There is more to go through, more objects to taste and then reject. Prahlada Maharaja describes it as chewing the chewed, repeating the same experience but thinking that a different outcome will result.
matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)
Regardless of how one gets there, the acquisition of the valuable one digit changes everything. The Divine is a person originally, an all-attractive one. Since He has something that appeals to every single person, He is known as Krishna. Since He holds full transcendental pleasure, He is known as Rama. Since He is the all-pervading maintainer of all species, He is known as Vishnu. His energy who serves Him without fail, who helps those struggling with so many zeros to get out of the haze and confusion and find the transcendental light, is known as Hare. The easiest way in the modern day to get the association of the one Krishna and the energy Hare is to chant their names as often as possible: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Then the material assets, whether large or small in number, can be put to the best use, assuming a real value.
No matter how many zeros there,
That no value to them aware.
As long as one there is not,
Nothing tangible you’ve got.
The zeros to material world compare,
And the one to Divine presence there.
Krishna in your life today take,
And real value to possessions make.