“You have promised to give Him three steps of land in charity, but when you give it He will occupy the three worlds. You are a rascal! You do not know what a great mistake you have made. After giving everything to Lord Vishnu, you will have no means of livelihood. How then shall you live?” (Shukracharya speaking to Bali Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 8.19.33)
त्रिभि: क्रमैरिमाल्लोकान्विश्वकाय: क्रमिष्यति ।
सर्वस्वं विष्णवे दत्त्वा मूढ वर्तिष्यसे कथम् ॥
tribhiḥ kramair imāl lokān
sarvasvaṁ viṣṇave dattvā
mūḍha vartiṣyase katham
“You often hear this lament as it relates to parents who are strict with their children. Sometimes it starts at the earliest stages. The parents force the child to sleep on time. They insist on proper behavior. There is little to no fun. Everything has to be learned, according to the standard expected in adulthood.
“Later on, an outside observer might lament the fact that the person’s childhood was stolen from them. They will never get those years back. They spent them in torture and misery instead of enjoyment and fun. Essentially, there was a great opportunity missed.
“If we study spiritual life at great depth, we see that sacrifice is at the foundation of the rules and regulations. Particularly with the Vaishnava tradition, there is strong emphasis on yajna. This literally refers to sacrifice, but also has the double-meaning of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“Will not a person lament the time lost through such sacrifice? They are giving away days, weeks, months and years. They might not even receive visual reciprocation. They have to accept everything on a hope and a prayer. What if the sacrifice ends up biting them in the end?”
The idea is that no person will ever become a loser by surrendering everything to God. This process is known as atma-nivedanam. Whatever I have, it belongs to God. I am nothing on my own. I am tossed around in this ocean of suffering. Birth after birth I try for transcendence, for a permanent stay in happiness, but I fail in every instance.
Therefore, why not abandon every other interest and focus solely on the Supreme Lord? Why not accept the path of Arjuna, as shown in Bhagavad-gita? Why not accept the recommendation of the acharyas, who have asceticism for their wealth?
From Vedic literature, we have the vivid example of Bali Maharaja. He literally lost everything through his sacrifice. There was Vishnu on the other side, in the dwarf avatara known as Vamana. Bali’s spiritual guide warned against giving in charity to the brahmana visitor. Bali was being misled, you see. He could not understand Vamanadeva’s purpose.
Bali Maharaja proceeded, nonetheless. He allowed Vishnu to earn the name Trivikrama through the charity accepted covering three paces. Bali Maharaja did lose everything. He had nothing left. The spiritual guide was correct. Vishnu was doing the work of the demigods.
But had Bali really lost anything? Was life much worse, as a result? Would it have been better to protect the temporary assets and deny the request of the origin of everything?
This was full surrender, and there was no regret on the other side. In spite of losing every temporary possession, Bali maintained his devotion. This is the greatest wealth a person can acquire, and it is secured directly by the oversight of the Supreme Lord.
क्षिप्रं भवति धर्मात्मा
न मे भक्तः प्रणश्यति
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā
na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
“He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.31)
This does not mean we must procure the entire universe as payment. Whatever we have, we can sacrifice. If it is a little time in chanting the holy names, that will do wonders: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
If it is visiting a house of worship on a periodic basis, offering assistance to the residents and the organizers of the various programs, that gesture carries up the chain of disciples, eventually reaching the Supreme Lord.
A single deed done in His favor stays in the memory forever. Vishnu is the most grateful. He is not a miser, and so a person should not be miserly in their dealings with Him. Bali showed his earned status as a devotee through his charity, and to this day he is glorified.
Not a miser is He,
Always to see.
That initial deed,
In sacrifice to proceed.
Towards transcendence led.
Lost but something greater instead.
Like when Bali giving away,
Now Vishnu with him to stay.