“The sufferings of humanity are due to forgetfulness of Krishna as the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor, and the supreme friend. Therefore, to act to revive this consciousness within the entire human society is the highest welfare work. One cannot be engaged in first-class welfare work without being liberated in the Supreme.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 5.25 Purport)
Friend1: Let me present a hypothetical situation for you.
Friend1: You have this person.
Friend2: Is it you?
Friend1: No, not me. Someone you respect.
Friend1: They go to the temple all the time. They visit a place where an archa-vigraha has been officially installed. They worship at regular intervals.
Friend2: Like daily?
Friend1: Okay, we’ll go with that. They go to the temple daily. They bring a flower and offer it before the deity. They believe in God a lot. They don’t even ask anything from Him. They are beyond the stage of belonging to the four categories of people who render devotional service to Shri Krishna.
Friend2: The distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute. [Bhagavad-gita, 7.16]
Friend1: Now let’s take another person. They don’t visit the temple.
Friend2: Are they atheist?
Friend1: For this discussion, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s say that they are not. They believe in God the person just as much.
Friend1: The thing is, they spend their time in philanthropy. They’ve opened so many hospitals.
Friend2: Oh, that’s nice.
Friend1: They are helping so many indigent people to get medical treatment. In many cases, without this treatment the people would die.
Friend2: Okay, I am picturing this.
Friend1: Now, I want to ask you, which person is superior?
Friend2: They are both spirit souls. They are equal in their constitutional makeup. They equally belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tied to Him eternally. Just as the soul continues to live on, beyond this body into the next birth, so the relationship to Krishna will remain.
Friend1: You know that’s not what I am asking. Which path is superior? Who is doing more good?
Friend2: Oh, I see. Well, basing this just on your description, without factoring in what is in the consciousness of each person – obviously the first person is doing more good, the one worshiping every day.
Friend1: I knew you would say that!
Friend2: Then why did you ask?
Friend1: Come on. As John McEnroe would say, “You cannot be serious.” How is anyone going to take you seriously if you make assessments like that?
Friend2: Excuse me? You think I am wrong? You think I am lying to you?
Friend1: Listen, I get it. To be conscious of God is the meaning to life. I understand that in other species the same is not possible. The human birth is auspicious for this very reason.
Friend2: There are up to 8,400,000 different species due to the many combinations and proportions the three modes of nature can be mixed up in. Consider how many species there are before assessing the value of the human birth.
Friend1: I understand, trust me. But how is the person going to the temple helping anyone else? The one opening the hospital can point to so many real life examples of how their work has been effective.
Friend2: Oh, I see what you’re saying. You want to know who is the better welfare worker.
Friend2: Again, my answer is the same. It’s not even difficult to understand.
Friend1: So you’re saying opening hospitals and feeding the poor is worthless? We should just let people go sick, starve, and die?
Friend2: Well, well, well. Aren’t you quick to employ the straw man fallacy? You know that’s not what I’m saying.
Friend2: Let me ask you this. If you come across a poor person who asks for money and you give it to them, is that always a good thing?
Friend1: Most people would think so. You need to eat to survive.
Friend2: But what is that person surviving for? What if by feeding them, you allow them to live another day to commit a horrible crime? What if by giving them money you are enabling their drug habit that is slowly killing them?
Friend1: That’s certainly a possibility.
Friend2: There is risk involved, you would have to admit. The same is true of any philanthropy. His Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura makes the comparison to feeding a snake. Out of your compassion, you see a snake starving. You give it milk and bananas. Thus revitalized the same snake comes back to bite you. Was your charity a noble deed, then?
Friend1: Obviously not.
Friend2: Moreover, philanthropy by itself does not cure the disease of materialism. If you make a person well and they go on to engage in chewing the chewed, as Prahlada Maharaja calls it, what have you really done for them? The wise person sees that both the rich person and the poor person are equally as miserable if they are devoid of God consciousness.
Friend1: What about the old proverb that an empty sack can’t stand up straight? What about what Krishna says regarding the unsuccessful yogi possibly ending up in a home with opulence in the next birth, shrimatam?
prāpya puṇya-kṛtāṁ lokān
uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
śucīnāṁ śrīmatāṁ gehe
“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.41)
Friend2: Those are good points. Now you’re presenting a real argument. One thing you’re missing is that the devotee of God is not miserly. It is not that they will refuse to help the poor. Rather, they will help in the best possible way. They first set the proper example by following devotion. Then they help others to follow it as well. Obviously, you can’t chant the holy names without being healthy. You can’t engage your thoughts, words and deeds in connecting with the Divine if you are constantly struggling. Nevertheless, even a sick person just ringing the bell of the temple of the Lord one time has made more advancement than any treatment of medicine could give them. There is real potency in the association of the Supreme Lord. He is the final arbiter of outcomes. A person should never forget this.
One person sick patients to heal,
Another towards deity to kneel.
Which doing welfare work more,
What benefit to others when God to adore?
Actually, possibility of feeding a snake,
Rejuvenated then havoc on others to make.
Source of all misery from God forgetting,
Path to bliss only from devotees getting.