“We see materialistic persons busily engaged in economic development all day and all night, trying to increase their material opulence, but even if we suppose that they get some benefit from such endeavors, that does not solve the real problem of their lives. Nor do they know what the real problem of life is. This is due to a lack of spiritual education.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.6.4 Purport)
The Sanskrit word is artha. This means “profit” or “interest.” The idea is that someone works to fulfill a specific desire. They want the effort to be saphala, or with fruit. Why waste time? Why go to so much trouble only to see failure? It would be something like taking a shower in the morning and then putting on the dirty clothes that were worn yesterday immediately after.
Prahlada Maharaja says that artha in the sense of the material world is not a very good use of time. There is the illusion of progress, as there is no real benefit gained.
1. Becoming the greatest champion in a particular sport
These two players were the best for so long. They set the standard. They each had their preferred event, which they dominated year after year. The debate as to the greatest of all-time always involved only them. If one player won a major championship, they were deemed to be ahead in the race to the finish.
Then almost out of nowhere, this other player emerged. Not only did he start winning titles, but his head-to-head record turned in his favor against both of the main rivals. He looks to be on pace to surpass everyone.
In truth, one day he will be exceeded by someone else. That is nature’s way, after all. Today’s champion is tomorrow’s hard-luck loser. You may have dominated in a particular arena in the past, but today you struggled so much that even when the match looks to be in your favor, you find a way to squander the opportunity of assured victory.
2. Launching groundbreaking software
There is the original project plan that everyone now gets a chuckle out of reading. Nothing went according to schedule. Delays. Rewrites. Changes in personnel. A new management company. An ever-changing dynamic.
Yet the firm finally did it. They reached the finish line of a product release. And it made a significant impact. The company’s profits soared in the immediate aftermath. The CEO was handsomely rewarded with stock options and bonus pay.
While there was success, the comfort didn’t last very long. Competitors saw an opportunity to enter that particular market. Now your software has to keep up. It needs to be rewritten to match the growing demands of the consumer. The initial effort, which was exhaustive, yielded little long-term benefit.
3. Building that dream house
You found the right location. A good price. As it wasn’t built already, you had complete input into the design. You considered every need, both for the present and what might arrive in the future. An example of the foresight, you decided to install central air conditioning. A wise decision to be made at the beginning, for later on the process would be more difficult.
Despite this wonderful house to live in, the occupants are not happy. They generally do not get along with one another. They have plenty of room for themselves, but they would like more. They want a separate bathroom entirely reserved for them. They take up a large portion of the basement area for what they call their “studio.”
So much infighting that you wish to go back to the previous time. When there was a tiny apartment and no one had a sense of ownership, the various members of the family got along. As soon as this bigger place was built everyone seemed to mark their territory.
Rather than see the benefits of success erased quickly thereafter, the option advised by saints like Prahlada Maharaja is to choose Krishna consciousness. Take the same spirit of endeavor and turn it towards the Divine. Go in His direction and the progress will never be erased.
For instance, if I decide to make a routine of chanting the holy names, my consciousness will only continue to be purified: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It is not like an investment where one day the principal gets returned with some interest, with the investor left to search for their next venture.
I can continue to chant this sacred mantra for the rest of my life. I can engage in basic worship in the home. A humble process creates a large result that cannot be matched by any other area of life. Prahlada wanted his friends in school to have this great advantage. Despite being born as Daityas, who are prone towards atheism, they had the opportunity of the human birth for fulfilling life’s mission.
My room now too small,
Needing space wider and ceiling tall.
Last year the championship I won,
But now success difficult to come.
Hard-earned profits from software release,
But now competition only to increase.
Prahlada thus on bhakti course advising,
Real profit when atma-jnana realizing.