Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bitter Clingers

Lord Krishna “Generally, the wealth of misers never allows them any happiness. In this life it causes their self-torment, and when they die it sends them to hell.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.23.15)

Sometimes people mistakenly believe that religion is just for those who are poor, or for those who are distrusting of others. “These people are unsuccessful in life, so in order to feel better, they took to religious life.” Some famous politicians refer to these types of people as “bitter clingers” who hang on to their guns and God as a way of coping with life. In reality, religion is for everyone, including those who are well-off.

Money It is the consensus opinion that material life should be considered successful if one becomes financially well-off. The entire school system is geared towards achieving this end. “Go to school, get into a good college, land a high paying job, and sustain you and your family with a nice salary. This is the path to success and happiness.” The World War II generation suffered through great hardships during their lifetime, including two world wars and a great economic depression. Times were tough, and the good life was never taken for granted. Having any steady job was considered a great reward. For this reason, future generations have tried their best to avoid suffering financial hardships. Politicians and societal leaders try their best to help the “little guy”. Economic policies all revolve around increasing growth and employment and enabling people to get high paying jobs.

Strangely enough, many followers of religion have also adopted this mindset. Religious leaders around the world extol the virtues of prayer. “If you want something, pray for it sincerely and maybe you will get it. Attend church, behave virtuously, and God will reward you with material success.” God is viewed as an order supplier; a person who can heal us and deliver our necessities. Religion is seen as the path to good fortune.

The modern day situation has thrown a monkey wrench into this view of religion. Due to the influence of Kali Yuga, more and more people today have no interest in religion. Strangely enough, it appears that this tendency towards adharma has not resulted in any negative consequences. Though economic times have been tough recently, the standard of living in America is as high as it has ever been. Even the average poor person today owns a house, a car, a few television sets, and an iPod. There is such an abundance of food that the federal government subsidizes farmers and advises them to limit crop production as a way of stabilizing prices.

With the current situation as it is, many people are led to ask the question, “Why do I need religion? I have a nice house, a good paying job, and a happy family life. I have been able to achieve all this success without any need for religion. Therefore spiritual life must not be very important. It only gives poor people false hope.” In reality, this line of thinking is actually correct when it comes to how religion is portrayed today. If God is viewed as an order supplier, and at the same time others can procure wealth without praying to Him, what need is there to be religious?

Krishna Book The Vedas give us the answer to this. Emanating from India, the Vedas are the original religious doctrine for all of mankind. Since each person possesses different qualities and attributes, the Vedas have separate branches, or departments, tailored for specific groups of people. Most of us are karmis by default. Karma is fruitive work done under regulative principles. Whatever my occupational duties are, I perform them to the best of my ability, and then enjoy the results of such work. In a broader sense, karma can also refer to any type of activity or action taken which is either performed for a desired result, or which has material reactions associated with it. By rule, every action we perform on the material level means there is a commensurate reaction. Sometimes we’ll see that certain people are prone to stealing and to cheating others. The laws of karma dictate that these same people will be cheated and stolen from in the future. Their impious deeds have negative reactions.

On the flip side, pious deeds have positive reactions attached to them. Similar to how religious leaders today recommend the process of prayer, the Vedas advise those seeking the four rewards of life: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha, to take to the performance of yajna, or sacrifice. The Vedas tell us that there is only one God and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna then deputes elevated living entities known as demigods to manage the affairs of the material world. Through sacrifice, the demigods are propitiated. They then reward the performers of sacrifice with rain, which in turn is used for food production, which enables us to eat and maintain our lives.

“Endowed with such a faith, he seeks favors of a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.22)

Yajna for Lord SatyanarayanaOne may wonder how America can have such an abundant food supply when almost none of its citizens perform such sacrifices for the benefit of the demigods. The answer is that demigods certainly do provide us boons, but these rewards must be sanctioned by Krishna first. Moreover, all of our material fortunes and misfortunes are a result of our past karma and the karma of others. If we are well-off in this life, it must mean that we performed many great deeds in previous lives. Just as we make plans for the next day while falling asleep at night, every action we perform in our current life serves as preparation for our next life. Our desires at the time of death, along with the work we performed during our lifetime, determine what type of body we will receive in our next life. The Vedas tell us that our souls are eternal, but that our bodies are not. Death is actually just the changing of bodies, similar to how we change clothes after taking a shower.

Krishna and Balarama feeding a cowKrishna, or God, not only supplies food to us humans, but He also maintains all the animals and plants of the world. The animal kingdom certainly doesn’t perform any sacrifices. They have absolutely no idea who God is, for their brain powers are limited. We human beings, the more intelligent species, are so puffed up with pride that we have the nerve to think that we are responsible for our wealth and good fortune. In essence, we think that we are God, since we take ourselves to be creators, proprietors, and destroyers. The reality is that we will be forced to die some day. All these same materials, which make up our possessions, existed on this earth for billions and billions of years prior to our birth, and they will continue to exist long after we are gone. In the grand scheme of things, our time on earth is tiny compared to the age of the universe. Our insignificance cannot be understated. Yet knowing these facts, many of us still think that God is just for the poor or for people who are in need of help in a material sense.

Just because we are well-off financially doesn’t mean that all our problems are solved either. We see that the wealthy are some of the most miserable people. Lord Krishna personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago to kill the demon Kamsa and to enact wonderful pastimes in Vrindavana. Just prior to returning to the spiritual world, He gave a beautiful discourse on the meaning of life to His good friend Uddhava. Krishna explained that acquiring too much wealth can be very harmful to a person for two reasons. Firstly, the more wealth we acquire, the more we have to defend. A great example of this can be seen with cell phone technology. Competition between cell phone companies is fierce, so there are always new models of phones coming out, each having more and more features. Some of these phones are very nice and valuable, so the people who buy them want to do whatever they can to protect their precious toy. Buying a top of the line cell phone is not enough, for one must have a nice case for the phone that will give good protection. The same holds true with fancy sports cars. One must have a good insurance plan should anything happen to the car. The car also must be washed regularly and checked for nicks and scratches.

Lord Krishna speaking to Uddhava This attention to the mode of defense is not very good to us. Money is supposed to make us happy, but we see that the more possessions we acquire, the more miserly we become, as we are always on edge trying to make sure that we don’t lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. This mood of miserliness accounts for the second reason why too much wealth is bad for us. As stated before, every material action that we perform has a commensurate reaction that must bear fruit either in this life or in the afterlife. The Vedas tell us that being charitable is a great virtue. For every dollar we give in charity to a worthy recipient, we receive at least double that amount in a future life. In a similar manner, being miserly brings about negative karma. If we have loads and loads of money and simply hog it for ourselves, we will be forced to suffer in hell in the afterlife.

Thus we see that too much material success can lead to a hellish condition in both the current life and the afterlife. These facts alone should be enough to disprove the notion that religion is just for the poor. The question that may then be asked is, “If religion is not for procuring material benefits, what is it for?” This is the million dollar question. Actually, anyone who sincerely looks for an answer to this question will be guaranteed of success in spiritual life. The Vedas tell us that human life is not meant for driving a nice car, eating sumptuous food, or even enjoying unlimited sex life. Human beings are unique to all other species in that they have a high level of intelligence. This intelligence was given to us so that we could use it to know, understand, and love God.

Athato brahma-jijnasa, “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God.” Religion is for everyone. All of us should question what the meaning of life is. Material wealth comes and goes, as do our lives. There must be a higher purpose to our existence than the pursuit of mundane sense gratification, for even the animals get to enjoy that. The Vedas tell us that the eternal occupation of the soul is bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service to God. More than just a simple order supplier, God is our dearmost, ever well-wishing friend. He is the reservoir of all pleasure. This means that if we connect with Him, we will feel transcendental bliss. This is spiritual happiness and, unlike material sense gratification, it can last forever.

Radha and Krsihna So how do we achieve this happiness? This blissful feeling comes from Krishna-prema, or love for God. We already have this love in our heart, for we are all originally companions of Krishna in the spiritual world. In order to rekindle that relationship, we need to engage in the processes of devotional service, the simplest of which is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Even if we live the most comfortable life, we are destined to give up all our possessions and family relationships at the time of death. Krishna is our eternal friend, and sincere service to Him brings immediate results. Serving Krishna means happiness in this life and the next. The spiritual world is not a pipe dream or some mental concoction, but rather it is where we are meant to live.