“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)Download this episode (right click and save)
You just came back from an overseas trip. You like to pack light, but your wife is a different story. Her parents loaded up the suitcases. They packed so many gifts for you to take home that some of your own belongings were left behind. No need to stress out. Otherwise life would be miserable. Try to get through it.
One of the items left behind is shoes. They happened to be your favorite shoes, but again, what is getting angry going to do? The shoes won’t magically appear as a result. You decide to go to the store to buy new ones. As it has been a while since you bought shoes, you go to a new store. You pick out the ones you want and go to the counter.
During the checkout, the nice counter lady asks if you are a member of their rewards program. You tell her that you’re not. She asks if you’d like to join. Immediately you think of how cluttered your wallet already is. “The last thing I want is another card in there that I will never use.” Before you can respond, she says, “You’ll immediately get ten percent off your order today. Going forward you’ll earn points for every dollar spent. More points equals more discounts.” Forgetting your previous opposition, you agree. Happily so.
This is known as a loyalty program. It is a way to reward the customer for repeat business. Such enticement shouldn’t be needed, but in the retail world there is stiff competition. The store would rather you come back than go somewhere else. Moreover, if there is an incentive to accumulate points, perhaps you’ll end up buying stuff you don’t need. If you have a discount at a place, you’ll be more inclined to use it.
In general, the experience through the material world carries more of a loyalty punishment, if anything. Consider the relationship with friends. I have a friend who always asks me for things. It’s like they are shameless. They are anything but helpless. They are quite capable, in fact, and sharp in intellect. Their problem is irresponsibility, and they expect others to bail them out of mistakes that should never have been made.
This is my friend, after all. So when they ask me for favors, I typically come through. Sometimes I am unable. Either I have something else going on or I feel as if I’m being taken advantage of. For this one request, I say “no.” Next thing I know, I don’t hear from this friend again. They are obviously upset that I didn’t help them. This is an example of the loyalty punishment. Everything I did in the past is immediately forgotten. The saying, “What have you done for me lately,” illustrates the same concept.
Unfortunately, the loyalty punishment can be found in spiritual life as well. There are so many varieties of religion due to the different desires that spring up. These religions are known as dharmas in Sanskrit. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna advises Arjuna to cast aside interest in the many dharmas and simply surrender unto Him.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
One famous example from history perfectly illustrates why. It involves Krishna. In the rural community of Vrindavana a long time ago, the people were accustomed to worshiping Indra-deva. He is the king of the gods in heaven. These are devas, so they are elevated human beings. They live for a very long time, and they can grant boons to their worshipers. They are still conditioned souls, however, which means that they can fall prey to the common defects in man, such as jealousy, anger, rage and loss of intelligence.
The people of the community worshiped Indra annually. In terms of the retail example, the people would have racked up a lot of points on their loyalty card. One year Shri Krishna was in Vrindavana, appearing in His original, spiritual form. Using His all-attractiveness to persuade the father Nanda in another direction, the people decided to worship Govardhana Hill instead.
There was no ill-will intended. The people were not upset at Indra. Rather, they loved Krishna so much that they followed whatever He advised. The people were living examples of the instruction later given to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Indra was so enraged that he retaliated with a devastating rainstorm. He didn’t care if all the people died as a result. He couldn’t stand to be insulted in that way. This was the loyalty punishment in its fiercest form.
The people had no one to save them except Krishna. He immediately lifted the just worshiped Govardhana Hill and held it aloft for seven days. It acted as the world’s largest umbrella, saving the citizens from the wrath of Indra.
With Krishna just a little devotional service pays. He remembers every sincere gesture made in His honor. Even if there is trouble later on in life, He allows the aspiring yogi to continue in the next life. He does not erase progress in devotional service. He does not get insulted that people turn away from Him, for every person in the material world has done so at some point. For these reasons and more the path of bhakti is superior.
Wanting business, treatment like royalty,
Giving discounts to reward your loyalty.
Repeat shopper, happy to have you back,
Demigod worship not following same track.
Like with Indra having anger extreme,
When one year puja for him not seen.
Devastating rain to Vrindavana sent,
But safe when under bhakti’s umbrella went.