When you leave for work, don't leave without your Krsna Consciousness.
EIGHT YEARS AGO I ventured from the protective environment of a life guided by full-time devotional service in ISKCON temples to the American work force. I did so with some trepidation. I had seen many devotees take jobs outside the Hare Krsna movement and then set aside, temporarily or long term, their Krsna conscious goals and practices. I knew of few devotees who had been able to keep their Krsna consciousness while working outside.
I wondered, Is it possible to stay untouched by the power of the material energy while exposing yourself to it so openly?
We see that devotees who regularly go out dressed in conventional Western attire to spread Krsna consciousness mix with the material energy but stay aloof by staying fixed on Krsna's mission. But what about those of us whose jobs take us into the mainstream work force without a single external sign of spiritual life? We leave behind devotional dress, devotional food, devotional sounds, and devotional association to be surrounded by mundane talk and enticements to sex. Our mixing with the material energy is certainly different from that of a preacher or a devotee in the temple.
I work as a print broker, linking publishers with printers around the world. After working full time in the mainstream and having a fair amount of success, I'm able to answer my initial question with an unequivocal yes. We can maintain our Krsna consciousness while working in the material world as long as we keep Krsna consciousness the priority in our life.
In fact I'm convinced that whatever success I've had in business is due to my staying focused on my Krsna conscious goals. To work in the world without getting entangled, the foundation of success is to purify our life by chanting Hare Krsna and giving up gambling, intoxicants, meat-eating, and illicit sex. In other words, to succeed in working outside the temple, we have to apply the same formula Prabhupada gave for spiritual lifein the temple.
So my guiding motto has been: My business can't be "business as usual."
"Business as usual" means degradation to lower births, because people usually conduct business only to make money. The desire for money can turn into a fever, making us forget life's real purpose, especially when we get a little success. When have our endeavors become delirious? As soon as our family and business become more important than our spiritual practices. If we're losing enthusiasm for our spiritual commitments, we're too absorbed in material affairs.
Avoiding The Money Trap
The desire for money is one of the illusory energy's best traps. The Vedic scriptures caution us that money and sex are the two greatest pitfalls in life. Material opulence can make us proud. After all, money can buy respect, status, sex enjoyment, and a full range of material comforts and gadgets. The sad fallacy is to think that financial security is real security. It isn't. So we don't need to prostitute our lives to meet the needs of our family. We can become satisfied with whatever Krsna gives us. He generally gives plenty, and we'll appreciate that if we stay simple and humble.
So how to protect ourselves from becoming like so many thousands absorbed in hard work for flickering rewards? The only guarantee that our life in the work force won't ever be-come business as usual is a steady, daily spiritual health regime.
Just as for physical fitness one might jog, visit a health club, or take vitamins every day, a devotee knows that to stay spiritually fit one must chant a quota of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra daily, worship the Deity in the home or the temple daily, and daily read Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
I'm able to spend four to five hours a day on my spiritual program and still put in a fifty-plus-hour workweek, cook my family's meals, and perform other household duties. I don't have any toddlers running around, so that helps. But whether or not you have that much time to devote to spiritual practices, the secret is to set aside a specific amount of time for them each day (don't skimp). Try to choose the best time of the day, and follow your program without fail. For me, that's the only way to ensure I can remember Krsna throughout the day, or at least have Him periodically enter my thoughts. The Narada-bhakti-sutra (37) tells us, "One achieves bhakti by hearing and chanting about the Supreme Lord's special qualities, even while engaged in the ordinary activities of this world."
Our good habits will keep us fixed in Krsna consciousness even when we're faced with material allurements and we will be faced with them.
Purity On The Job
Perhaps the first thing to examine is the line of work you're in. Is it opposed to Krsna consciousness? Obviously, a devotee wouldn't want to become a butcher, a bartender, or a prostitute, but many other professions may implicate us in impure activities. We should examine what we're doing and decide whether we need to make changes.
Most jobs today have us working with the opposite sex in a social environment that promotes promiscuity. But we don't have to promote it in our own consciousness. We can protect ourselves by, for one thing, dressing conservatively. Pay attention to this seemingly insignificant detail. It can make a big difference in the way you think of yourself and the way others see you. Conservative dressing can help keep interactions sober and to the point.
We must check the mood of enjoyment when dealing with the opposite sex. You don't have to be mean, but there's no need to be frivolous either. Be careful how you deal with flirtatious comments or gestures. Always make it clear that you are not, and never will be, attracted by that sort of behavior.
Another way for maya to catch you is through the mundane media. TV, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers these can sap your spiritual vitality. Watching TV or reading newspapers and magazines is habit-forming, and to break free isn't always easy. If we're caught up, we may not even notice just how polluting those things are. But try giving up all media for a month or two and see how your mind becomes clearer to think of Krsna.
We may need to check in on the news now and then or read trade magazines for business. But we should be honest and give up everything we don't need. We can seek entertainment in simpler, purer acts like a walk in nature or a family picnic, and we must give our-selves time to read Srimad-Bhagavatam instead of mundane news.
Another point: Eating only food offered to Krsna is very important for keeping our consciousness clear and pure. Without mental cleanliness there's no question of remembering Krsna or gaining practical realization of spiritual truths.
We may like to eat out, it may be the easiest thing to do, or our work may force us to do it. Whatever the case, we shouldn't foolishly underestimate the effects of eating food prepared by those without devotion to God, what to speak of eating food even "vegetarian" food made in kitchens filled with dead animals.
In Bhagavad-gita Krsna describes eating unoffered food as tantamount to eating mouthfuls of sin. And in Caitanya-caritamrta Srila Prabhupada explains that especially contaminating to the consciousness are grains cooked by nondevotees. In fact, he says, you take on the sinful karma of the person who cooked the food. That's an extra burden we'd do well to avoid.
By all means, if our work doesn't force us to eat out, we shouldn't. There are lots of healthful, delicious options for packed lunches. (Those interested can inquire, and I'll share some ideas or you can try getting a job next to a Govinda's restaurant. …)
On occasion I have to entertain clients, and my travels sometimes make it impossible to cook or be near ISKCON restaurants or temples. So then I try to stick to fruits, nuts, cheeses, and occasionally potato chips, or I carry travel prasadam like samosas, chidwa, granola, or date-nut breads. When I have to take a client out, I order a salad, but I avoid the dressings they all have garlic and onions in them, and sometimes eggs. So I just ask for olive oil and lemon juice on the side. When I've simply had to have more than a salad, I've stretched things and gone for a baked potato. But I've always been able to get away with a silent prayer to offer my food, even at the most important formal gatherings.
When making large business deals, we don't have to eat full dinners, drink wine, or compromise in other ways to successfully "wine and dine" our clients. My nonconformity has never lost me a contract. In fact, I've found that my clients respect me more for being a strict vegetarian and not smoking or drinking alcohol, or even coffee or tea. It's a bit harder to explain why I don't eat onions, garlic, or mushrooms, so I just skip the topic. When people see you're a principled person, conversations can sometimes go a little deeper, into philosophy. If you're lucky, you'll be able to share some Krsna consciousness but not if you're in any way hypocritical.
Spreading Krsna's Mercy Around
When you're excited about Krsna consciousness you'll want to share it with others. But though my employees have always known I'm a devotee of Krsna, I've never been able to share this fact with a client. So I take great satisfaction in seeing to it that my clients receive prasadam. Prasadam is a wonderful way to share Krsna. Don't overlook your chances. Every time I visit a client I take some prasadam along, and every year I send prasadam packages during the holiday season. People love prasadam. Although prasadam does not necessarily get business for me, it helps make my relationships with clients more personal, and it makes me feel I'm fulfilling, at least to some degree, my obligation to spiritually help the people I meet.
And since you have to spend many hours a day with your co-workers, think about how you can inject Krsna consciousness into your workplace. Many sincere souls are just waiting to hear about Krsna, and you have knowledge other people don't. So at least with your co-workers, don't be shy. If someone asks what you're reading or chanting or doing with your life, tell them. You can be proud and confident, because you have something of true, lasting value to offer them.
Give Some Of Those Fruits
Switching from full-time service at the temple to working a job was hard for me. I'd become accustomed to offering for Krsna's pleasure everything I did. It made me feel free from the bondage of actions and reactions. I thought that working to pay rent was going to generate karma for me. Though I took consolation in remembering that I was working to support a family of devotees, was trying to be a devotee myself, and was still doing some service for the temple, somehow I wasn't fully satisfied with that. I felt uneasy about spending so many hours of my life in work not directly related to Krsna.
Now I've become more settled about the loss of so many hours, because I regularly give Krsna some of the fruits of my labor money. That offering makes my ordinary work devotional service. If possible, we should give some time to help spread Krsna consciousness there's always plenty to do. But if we have no time, we should at least spare some of that precious commodity we earn and engage it directly for Krsna. We don't have to look far to find wonderful projects to support, with project directors we can trust to spend the money properly and do valuable service.
I make monthly contributions to three ISKCON projects and yearly contributions to another four or five. And there are dozens more. Choose a project that inspires you, decide on a monthly amount you can give, even if it's only a little, and pay it every month with the rest of your bills. By serving Krsna in this way, you and your family will derive great satisfaction and spiritual benefit. Helping those directly engaged in spreading Krsna consciousness will make you dear to Krsna's devotees and dear to Krsna.
Keep Krsna In The Center
If you live anywhere near a temple, visit often, daily if possible. Ask what you can do to help. Association with like-minded devotees will help you advance in Krsna consciousness. In fact, you may find, as I have, that the only way to stay firm in your vows is to associate with devotees who share your convictions.
When you're with devotees, stick to talking about Krsna. They're the only ones you can talk with confidentially, so don't get sidetracked into mundane talk. By Krsna's grace I live only a few miles from a temple, so I go every day. And I have the special benefit of being married to a serious devotee. Seek association wherever you can find it, even if only through the mail or by reading Srila Prabhupada's books.
The stricter we are in the matters I've mentioned, the more we'll be protected from material influences. Even the slightest inattention can create havoc and spiritually set us back. Some-times we may not even notice for years that we've strayed. We can't afford to take that kind of risk. No amount of material pleasure or financial security can match the pleasure of reconnecting with Krsna. So seek that relationship with Krsna by being pure in your activities, if necessary by recommitting yourself to a stricter devotional life. Don't get diverted to pursuing pleasure and security, only to find out later that even if you achieve them your happiness isn't there. You may lose your chance to fully develop, in this lifetime, your relationship with Krsna. As Prabhupada has said, spiritual life is like a razor's edge a little carelessness can mean bloodshed.
Making the commitment to a pure life may not be easy. It requires focus, determination, and clarity about your goals. But making that commitment is possible and desirable. So do whatever is needed make whatever sacrifice or change, however big to ensure that you keep Krsna in the center of your life. The results will be glorious and fulfilling.
The choice is yours. Will it be business as usual for who knows how many births? Or will you cut the tie with the material energy even while working within it? Make a stand: "It's not business as usual" at least it doesn't have to be.
Pranada Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1976. She lives in Alachua, Florida, with her teenage son, Patita Pavana, and her husband, Nagaraja Dasa, Back to Godhead's managing editor. Apart from her outside career, she serves Back to Godhead as a proofreader and as a business and printing consultant. She is also a trustee for ISKCON Foundation and the president of Krishna Community Fund, a non-profit corporation formed to raise money to build a temple in Alachua (construction is underway).