Why Bhakti-yoga is all about giving
How could I explain to someone in a moment about my path of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness? Sometimes people casually ask what I believe in, looking for a nutshell understanding, perhaps so they will know how to categorize me. I wish people would understand that there is only one divine system in the universe, known by innumerable names and represented by many religions. Still I try my best to look for ways to share the similarities while celebrating the differences. Besides all its more esoteric ideas and philosophy, the path I follow, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or bhakti-yoga, embodies universal truths that most religious and spiritual people accept. For instance, the idea that we are better situated when giving or in the consciousness of giving than when “on the take” is a universal truth people of all religions understand. Additionally, people understand that giving is getting, or that giving nourishes and benefits the giver. When we give, our soul expands or wakes up, but when we take selfishly, our soul contracts or becomes more covered.
In a broad sense Krishna consciousness is all about learning how to give, rather than just take. So people should be encouraged to begin the process of giving-somewhere, somehow. Giving to God and saintly persons is the highest giving, because then we receive the true benefit of giving, yet everyone should be encouraged to give according to their realization.
The material world is the plane of exploitation, while the spiritual world is the land of total giving in the fullness of spiritual love. In the highest love of spiritual giving, there is no material calculation, only the complete expression of one's natural propensity to express love by giving one's total being. The goal of bhakti is to revive this spiritually innate love for Krishna and for everything in relationship to Him.
The Gita recommends different levels of giving according to one's consciousness. But everyone should understand the ultimate purpose of giving: to please God, or Krishna, and realize our eternal nature as a servant who cooperates with Him, our source, and gives to Him.
The results of our giving vary according to where and to whom our motivation inspires us to give. Yet regardless of our understanding, we should learn to give as a way of life. One size doesn't fit all. But the principle of giving does. For example, everyone can give something to benefit humanity, living beings in general, the environment, and so on. Giving or sacrificing our wealth for a good cause is beneficial and purifying. In the fourth chapter of the Gita (4.31), after describing many types of sacrifice, Krishna says, "Without sacrifice [giving] one can never live happily on this planet or in this life: what then of the next?"
Krishna says in the tenth chapter (10.25) that of the many kinds of recommended sacrifices or types of giving, He is the chanting of japa, or the soft chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra on beads. In addition to japa, Lord Caitanya came to bring us the holy name in group chanting, or sankirtana. Thus any way we chant the holy name is a supreme form of giving, benefiting us and anyone who hears the holy name. This is the power of the name of God. Krishna is mercifully present in His holy name, and anyone who hears it is supremely benefited. Understanding this will come with experience and education. It requires some adjustments in our conceptions and thinking.
The Most Worthy Recipient of Giving
When we understand our true nature as givers, we should look for a recipient to whom we can give unlimitedly. Only God can accept unlimitedly and reward us in a way that fully satisfies us. The ultimate giving is to give our soul to Krishna in love. We are already His, but in material consciousness we are serving, or giving to, the body, mind, and senses. This selfish giving entangles us. When we begin giving back to Krishna, we begin to understand our nature as souls and our real self-interest as serving Him.
What kind of giving, or service to Krishna, does He most glorify in the Bhagavad-gita? Toward the end of the book Krishna says that anyone who explains the most confidential secret of Krishna consciousness will obtain pure devotional service and return to Him. Furthermore, Krishna proclaims, "There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear." (Bhagavad-gita 18.69) These words should inspire us to fully embrace the idea that to give is to live.
The Role of Intention
We should think deeply about how giving is the basis of life and will determine our future in this life and the next. If we withhold our giving from where it should be given, then we are giving to our illusion, laziness, negative judgment, or selfishness. Giving involves the use of our body, but it also includes our emotions-love, hate, envy, anger, compassion, and so on. The results we obtain in giving are determined by our intention, as well as the three modes of material nature, as explained in the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita.
Our intention in giving as devotees of Krishna should be to best benefit everyone. We can analyze our intentions when giving to Krishna and ask ourselves how much are we giving and withholding. We can apply this consideration to our sacrifice of chanting the holy name: Am I giving my attention to Krishna's name, or to my attachments or thoughts about the day?
As souls, our nature is to give to Krishna, just as a part of the body serves the whole body. When we give to Krishna and love Him, we benefit all souls, who are part of Him. And when we give to other souls and love them, we see this exchange in relationship to Krishna, who is within them. Everyone gives something, sometimes, but as aspiring devotees we have to become conscious givers.
Meditation on Giving
I have found that to think of giving as the nature of the soul is a powerful meditation: "I am a giver. My life is a treasure. I use my wealth to give. Each day provides an opportunity to share what I have been given. Moment by moment let me ask myself: 'What am I giving? Where am I giving? To whom am I giving? What is my motive in giving?'"
An example of this meditation for chanting might be the following:
"I am chanting my daily japa of the Hare Krishna mantra. What am I giving? I am giving my time, attention, and prayers for perfection and love. I am giving my attempt to love.
"When am I giving? I am giving at each moment of the present.
"Where am I giving? I am giving in my mind, in my heart, and in this room through my voice.
"To whom am I giving? I am giving to Radha and Krishna through Their holy names, to the Supersoul in my body and within all things, and to my personal deities.
"Why am I giving? I am giving to please Radha and Krishna, to become purified of my material consciousness, to revive my eternal nature as a loving servant of Krishna. I am giv-ing out of duty to serve my guru, Lord Caitanya, and all the devotees. I am giving as worship and as a prayer for perfection."
Karnamrta Dasa, initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1970, has trained in many energy-healing methods. He often works with his wife, Arcana Siddhi Devi Dasi, in putting on workshops for personal and spiritual growth. They live in the devotee community of Prabhupada Village in rural North Carolina, USA. His book Give to Live, from which this article was adapted, came from some of his blogs on Krishna. com (http.//www.krishna.com/blogs/ karnamritadas ).