Overcoming the temptations of greed may be painful,
but the rewards are more than we can fancy.
“I . . . I want my stipend from July to December,” I said to the clerk showing him my identity card.
He raised his head, “Why didn’t you collect it earlier? It’s January now.”
“Amm . . . Just like that.”
He stared at me. I turned my gaze away watching over my shoulder to see if any of my classmates were around. Thankfully, no one was there. Five minutes later the clerk handed me ten thousand rupees.
“Whew!” I whistled and left.
It was January of 2001 in Mumbai. I was nearing the end of my medical internship and had now come to the college office to collect my stipend. But there was a catch. For past six months I had been working in a different hospital in my home state Punjab, and so I was not entitled to the stipend in my parent institute. Two days back, however, some of my classmates, who like me had migrated to a different college, discovered that their name was still in the pay roll. One by one they claimed their stipend, later coaxing me to do the same. I was nervous. But it was easy, as I now discovered.
Back in the hostel, I met my colleague Dr. Arup, who had been gently guiding me into Krishna consciousness for past few months. He too had done internship in a different hospital.
“Hi, Arup,” I said, “Know what? You can collect your internship stipend from the office. See I got ten thousand bucks.” I waved the bundle before him.
“But you did not work here,” he frowned.
I explained the entire operation to him. “Make hay when the sun shines, dear,” I advised. He just smiled.
“Smart guy,” I thought, hoping he too would show me his money soon.
A week later, I got a call from the office. A new clerk politely told me that I was not entitled to the stipend. “I am sorry ma’am,” I immediately confessed and returned the money in half an hour. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, “The matter is closed,”
“Thank God!” I heaved a sigh of relief and left the counter. On the way out I met Arup. “Hey,” I whispered, “did you collect your stipend?”
He gazed into my eyes and shook his head, “No.”
“Well, good for you,” I forced a smile and patted him. “See ya later.”
I walked into the bright sun. A thought flashed, “Did I need that money?” “Hmm . . . well, no.” My parents were established doctors with a flourishing practice, and I was never short of money, nor did I have extravagant habits. Yet I cheated. On the other hand, my friend Arup, who came from a much humbler background, did not deviate.
Elements of Corruption
Over the years I learnt many lessons from this incident. It had all the elements that form the edifice of corruption: temptation of easy money, lackadaisical laws, and impure character. The interaction of these three elements decides the final outcome in all cases of cheating, big or small. Temptation lures us to cheat, loose laws make it easy to escape, and a weak character is unable to stand up to the force of temptation.
Fed up by the rampant corruption in all fields, the civil society in India is increasingly protesting against corrupt practices. While it’s easy to point fingers at others and to press a few keys to register our support on Facebook for “A Corruption Free India”, I request BTG readers to do a little more. Please spend some time understanding these three elements as this will not only help us to face external and internal challenges, but also give us a direction to focus on in the long run.
1. Temptations: Temptations are abound and always find a way to appear at the most unexpected time, especially when we are vulnerable. Often it’s our colleagues who bring them to our notice. Or sometimes it’s our mind or intelligence which can detect them. The solution is to avoid company of the corrupt. By associating with materialistic people we learn to value money and position as the greatest wealth; corruption appears a norm rather than an exception, an acceptable practice rather than an abhorrent one.
2. Laws: Stronger laws are a good deterrent. In ancient India the punishment for theft was cutting off the hands of the criminals. A modern person may find this gruesome, but this made sure that crime rate was under control. Currently in India, corrupt persons can safely assume that they will never be caught. Even if they are caught, they can easily delay justice for years due to long court proceedings. And even if they are found guilty, the punishment is minimal. The returns are much more.
3. Impure Character: While we may push for stronger laws and monitoring and I agree that we need them it’s the third factor, character, that is the most important influence on corruption. Nothing can stop persons with impure character to cheat. Even the tiniest of temptations can lure them, and the strongest of laws can fail to curb their soaring greed. Therefore, the need is to invest in creating a good character amongst the people. It is the strongest weapon in the fight against corruption.
Creating a Good Character
Recognizing the need for creating a good character, many state Governments have introduced value education in academic curriculum. While it’s one thing to teach moral ethical principles, it’s another to live by them. Integrity means just that to live by these high values in good times or bad times, in joy or in pain. Real integrity only develops when morality is combined with a spirit of devotion to God and His will. Only when we are aware of an omnipresent God watching all our actions, will we know that we can cheat the world but not God. The knowledge of good and bad karma coming back to us will prevent us from indulging in selfish gratification.We will be satisfied with our own share and not hanker for more, knowing that it’s meant for our brothers and sisters the children of our loving father, Krishna. We will be satisfied with simple living, knowing that our pure and honest hearts are the best offering that pleases Lord Krishna the most. A spiritual foundation will help us face the numerous hurricanes and tempests of life and remain truthful. As the famous Indian writer Chetan Bhagat said, “The political and economic corruption that India today faces is in fact a crisis of values. We need to understand virtues like justice, truthfulness, and charity. These values were available to us, but now we have forgotten them. For this reason alone, there is a place for God in society.”
Living in a Dirty World
While most readers will agree with the above principles, they will find this world too murky to practice them. A completely pure and honest lifestyle may seem impractical. They may ask, “Is there an allowance for compromise?”
Srila Prabhupada, a successful businessman during his householder life, was well-aware of the possible role of corruption in business life. He writes in the purport of Bhagavad-gita (18.48): “In conditioned life, all work is contaminated by the material modes of nature. Similarly, a merchant, however pious he may be, must sometimes hide his profit to stay in business, or he may sometimes have to do business on the black market. These things are necessary; one cannot avoid them.” He further says, “In the business field also, sometimes a merchant has to tell so many lies to make a profit. If he does not do so, there can be no profit. Sometimes a merchant says, “Oh, my dear customer, for you I am making no profit,” but one should know that without profit the merchant cannot exist. Therefore it should be taken as a simple lie if a merchant says that he is not making a profit.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.47, purport)
Although here we find some concession for cheating for our survival, we should also know where to draw a line. We should check our hearts to see if our practice is driven by absolute necessity or sheer greed. Corruption should be like salt in our food; too much, and it will mar our offering to Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada clarifies the dealings of an honest merchant: “. . . So they will never be dishonest. In India still there are merchants, they would not take profit more than twenty-five percent, highest. There is no question of black market. Now, I purchased this for one dollar. Oh, I am getting demand. I must charge five hundred times.” No. That is irreligious.” (Lecture Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.6, London, 27 August 1971)
Earning for Lord Krishna
Someone may justify using corrupt practices to earn more money saying that the money is used in Lord’s service. I agree that there is a historical precedence to this practice. One of the great spiritual teachers in the Sri Vaishnava tradition, Sri Thirumangai Alwar, utilized services of robbers to loot money from the rich to build the walls of Sri Ranganath Temple.
But we must also know that he himself led a very frugal life, not utilizing a single penny of the stolen money for his own maintenance. Can we be sure that we will remain untouched by the lure of money? We may feel that we can, but it’s a dangerous gamble that can ruin us both materially and spiritually.
A beautiful instance describes the attitude of Vaishnava acaryas for money attained by corrupt means. A prominent sannyasi disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura once went to the local income tax officer requesting the officer to accompany him to the local market. The idea was that when the rich merchants would see the officer with the sannyasi, they would readily give huge donations. The officer refused to accompany the sannyasi, but agreed to let the sannyasi use his official vehicle. The sannyasi arrived in the market in the officer’s car, and all the merchants being impressed gave big donations.
What was the response of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura? He was so disgusted with the dubious means that he fasted for a day!
Corruption a Case Study
During the times of Lord Caitanya, one of His followers, Gopinatha Pattanayaka, was arrested by the king on charges of misappropriating some funds from the treasury. Because of a personal grudge, the eldest son of the King decided to punish Gopinatha Pattanayaka by death. On hearing this, the devotees approached Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu requesting Him to use His influence on the king to save Gopinatha Pattanayaka, who incidentally, belonged to a family of devotees who were very intimate associates of Lord Caitanya. Yet the Lord declined to intervene.
He said with affectionate anger. “Gopinatha Pattanayaka is in charge of collecting money on behalf of the government, but he misappropriates it. Not fearing the King, he squanders it to see dancing girls. Now he does not want to pay the King the money that is due, how then is the King at fault in punishing him? If one is intelligent, let him perform service to the government, and after paying the government, he can spend whatever money is left.” (Cc. Antya 9.32-34)
The Lord did not approve of Gopinatha Pattanayaka’s cheating practice. This should be an important lesson for us.
Purfying Our Hearts
The root of all corruption is greed. Greed prevails within all of us. Some people, like my dear friend Dr. Arup, control it, while in others, like me, greed overcomes the control. Greed is never satisfied. The more you yield to its demands, the more it aggravates. Like a raging fire it consumes all offerings only to erupt in a more virulent form.
The only way we can control greed is by purifying our hearts. Anyone who follows any true religion with real sincerity and deep faith and dedication to God develops purity of heart. In the Vaishnava path Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu described chanting of the holy names of the Lord as a perfect method for internal purification. When we properly chant the holy names of the Lord we have less greed, less anger, less pride, and lust. We become content. We find satisfaction in our hearts. Then there is no drive to cheat. We are satisfied in simple living and high thinking. We can purify our greed. Instead of serving our selfish interest we can use it to serve others, to please Krishna, to surrender more to Krishna, to offer more to Krishna. When Krishna sees how we are fighting against temptations, when He sees our selfish greed transforming into greed of giving, He is pleased. And then He fills our hearts with the supreme gift love of God. In this spirit of love by living a simple life and utilizing our excess wealth for upliftment and service of humanity, even while living in the filthy waters of this material society we can remain untouched and uncontaminated like a lotus flower.
“If we want to drive out corruption from the state, we must first of all organize society to accept the principles of religion, namely austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness, and to make the condition favorable we must close all places of gambling, drinking, prostitution and falsity.”
(Srila Prabhupada in Srimad Bhagvatam 1.17.43-44, purport.)
Murari Gupta Dasa is a member of the BTG India editorial team.