The Vedic scriptures say we’re all in debt as soon as we’re born. We enter a world filled with things we can use, and we owe someone for them. From birth we’re indebted to, among others, sages, demigods, plants, animals, family members, and society in general.
The sages give us knowledge, most importantly spiritual guidance passed down through the centuries. They provide higher goals for humanity, delivered through scriptures just waiting for us to use as soon as we are able and willing.
The demigods are higher beings who control everything in the universe under Krishna’s supervision. We enjoy the benefits of the sun, moon, wind, and rain. The demigods supply all the products of nature, including our own bodies.
Animals like cows and goats give us nourishment in the form of milk and its numerous byproducts. People keep pets because they derive some benefit from them, and wild animals like birds create an enjoyable atmosphere to lift our spirits. Trees give us shade, shelter, beauty, and the oxygen we need to survive.
Our family members provide love, care, education, companionship, and financial assistance, sometimes accepting great sacrifice for our benefit. Reciprocation in the form of respect for parents has long been an essential part of any moral society.
Besides moral traditions, an organized society provides many benefits that are absent when anarchy prevails. We don’t need to create the social structure we’re born into. It’s there waiting for us, the result of the work of others, including our ancestors, to whom we’re also indebted for family traditions and other kinds of heritage.
A principle of Vedic culture is to acknowledge and reciprocate the contributions of others. People that is, conscious living beings in various forms fill and run the universe. From here on Earth and from out of the heavens, they provide everything we need to live in this world and pursue the ultimate purpose of our existence: loving union with Krishna.
How do we relieve the debts we owe to so many?
The Vedic scriptures tell us how to repay specific debts as well as how to get full debt relief. We can repay the demigods by performing sacrifices described in the scriptures, our ancestors by getting married and carrying on the family line, and the sages by taking advantage of their wisdom.
But there’s a simpler way to repay everyone and at the same time fulfill our purpose as human beings. We can consolidate our debts and liquidate them all by devotional service to Krishna, the supplier to all other suppliers. “One who has given up all material duties and has taken full shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda [Krishna], who offers shelter to all,” says the great sage Narada, “is not indebted to the demigods, great sages, ordinary living beings, relatives, friends, mankind, or even one’s forefathers who have passed away.”
Because all living beings are part of Krishna, pure devotional service to Him is the one payment that repays everyone else.