“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)
Friend1: You ever gotten into a debate with someone on the minimum wage?
Friend2: Oh here we go. You want to argue politics again? I think you’ve been following the latest election too closely.
Friend1: Guilty as charged on that count. But I’m getting to somewhere with this. You are aware of the typical arguments surrounding the minimum wage.
Friend2: Yes. One side says that it’s not fair for someone to earn so little. You can’t feed a family on x amount of dollars per hour. It should be raised to help them out. The other side says the minimum wage is a job killer. As soon as you raise it, companies have to fire people.
Friend1: Very good. I heard a really good argument against it. Want to play the game?
Friend1: Okay. You have to pretend to be in favor of it.
Friend2: Of the minimum wage in general or raising it to a certain amount?
Friend1: Either one.
Friend2: Okay. I think the minimum wage should be fifteen dollars an hour.
Friend1: Very good. So my counter argument says, “Why not twenty?”
Friend2: And I’m supposed to play again?
Friend1: Yes. Stop ruining the game!
Friend2: Okay. Twenty sounds good.
Friend1: What about thirty?
Friend2: Hmm, that might be too high.
Friend2: The companies won’t be able to afford it.
Friend1: Ah ha! You’ve been caught.
Friend2: How so?
Friend1: You’ve admitted that there is a point where the minimum wage has a deleterious effect. Therefore you are essentially agreeing with the principle of those who oppose it.
Friend2: Right, because the exact dollar amount is irrelevant. Any number can carry the same effect.
Friend1: Bingo. I was reading some works from the famous French economist Frederic Bastiat. The game we just played he categorizes as progression. He says that progression is the touchstone of principles.
Friend2: Care to elaborate further?
Friend1: Take a principle. Then go through the exercise of progression. Progression will tell you if the principle is valid. If at some point there is a break, it means that the principle itself is flawed. If it stands the test of progression, then you know it’s valid.
Friend1: I was wondering if progression could be applied to bhakti.
Friend2: You mean with the principle that bhakti-yoga, devotional service, is the dharma of the soul? Devotion to God is at our very core, something meant to be rekindled in the precious human life.
Friend1: Exactly. Can there be too much bhakti? If you apply progression, do you run into problems later on?
Friend2: Okay. I think I know what you are asking. There are different ways to answer. One is to say that the material world itself is limiting, so it’s not an accurate frame of reference for devotion.
Friend1: How so?
Friend2: There is no such thing as too much bhakti. It is unlimited joy and bliss. The object of service, Shri Krishna, is described to be nava-yauvanam. This means that He is ever fresh and new, like a person who has just entered the teenage years. Devotion to Him is the same way. It defies the laws of mathematics. It is ever expanding, and there is no such thing as a threshold or limitation.
Friend1: I see. What if everyone in society takes up bhakti, though? Doesn’t society suffer?
Friend2: Right, so that’s where the premise is flawed. You’re thinking of bhakti as only explicit practices in transcendentalism, such as chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: Worshiping the deity, associating with fellow devotees, cooking for Krishna, etc.
Friend2: So even if everyone in society did that there would be no problem. But you’re forgetting that the entire society can be Krishna conscious without anyone changing their occupation. Look at the situation in the kingdom of Shri Rama. They lived under the care of the Supreme Lord in His famous warrior incarnation. Everyone didn’t suddenly become equal with respect to income. There were even beggars in the kingdom, but they were happy. Every person was conscious of God.
Friend1: Getting back to the touchstone of principles, you would define progression then as more and more people conscious of God. They don’t necessarily have to look like they are engaged in bhakti-yoga practice.
Friend2: Consciousness is everything. Krishna discusses this in the Bhagavad-gita. He gives the sterling example of King Janaka. He was a transcendentalist at heart, yet he still ruled over the kingdom properly. He didn’t use bhakti-yoga as an excuse to give up prescribed duties. Arjuna was the same way. He remained a warrior. Hanuman and the Vanaras in Kishkindha continued in their bodies; they didn’t have to wait to get human bodies to serve. To answer your original question, yes, the touchstone of principles applies here. Progression does not change the validity of bhakti. Even a little devotion does so much for a person.
Touchstone of principles is progression,
How when applied in bhakti’s direction?
Any chance for too much to be,
Deleterious effects in society to see?
Premise flawed since unlimited is He,
Supreme Lord Krishna, of boundaries free.
With devotion to Him following the same,
For all in society, even king like Janaka the name.