SOMETIMES THOSE unfamiliar with the Hare Krsna movement think that to attain Krsna consciousness one needs to quit one's job, break off from one's family, give up everything, and just chant Hare Krsna. If the world and what's in it are material, the thinking goes, to be spiritual one must give everything up.
One person who thought this way was a fellow named Kurma, who lived in the fifteenth century in south India. Born in a family of brahmanas, the highest caste, he seems to have been a prosperous man, and he was a follower of the Vedic way of life. Materially speaking, he and his family were well set up.
At this time, Lord Krsna had appeared in India as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to spread Krsna consciousness through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. For this role the Lord had taken the vow of sannyasa, in which one renounces forever the comforts of family and home, and now He was touring south India.
He would go from village to village in the ecstasy of pure devotion, teaching people to chant Hare Krsna. The people He would teach would then teach others, and in this way Krsna consciousness was spreading.
In the course of this tour, Lord Caitanya came to Kurma's village. Taking advantage of this opportunity, with great respect and devotion Kurma invited Lord Caitanya to his home. There Kurma washed the Lord's feet, and he and his family drank the water with which he had done so. Next Kurma fed the Lord, and he and his family shared the remnants of the Lord's meal. These are all ways of honoring an exalted person according to the Vedic culture.
Kurma now approached Lord Caitanya and said, "Even Lord Brahma, the demigod in charge of creation, meditates upon Your lotus feet, and today those lotus feet have come into my home. The limits of my good fortune cannot be described. Today my birth, my family, and my wealth have all become glorious."
Then Kurma expressed his desire: "My Lord, be merciful and let me go with You. I can no longer stand the waves of misery from materialistic life."
Inevitably, a householder's life is troublesome, full of problems, worries, and entanglements. Even its pleasures are a problem, because in family happiness one can easily lose one's spiritual balance. When home and family take over, spirituality can drop into the background like faded wallpaper. So it seems that although Kurma was materially happy, he wanted to leave his home.
Lord Caitanya, however, replied from a different point of view. "Don't speak like that again," He said. "Better to stay at home and always chant the holy name of Krsna."
Krsna consciousness is practical. In the mature stage one may leave behind one's family and home to live exclusively for Krsna. But until then one should stay on in one's home, keep up with one's work, and rise above illusions by following the standard regulative principles and chanting Hare Krsna. The basic regulations are four: no gambling, no meat-eating, no intoxicants, and no illicit sex. By following these four rules and chanting Hare Krsna, one will stay free from illusions and make steady progress in spiritual life.
Lord Caitanya further said to Kurma, "Whomever you meet, tell them the message of Krsna. In this way, by My order, become a spiritual master and liberate this land." Following the teachings of Lord Caitanya, under the guidance of one's own spiritual master, one can teach Krsna consciousness to others. In this way one makes one's own life perfect and helps others perfect their lives also.
Lord Caitanya concluded, "If you follow this instruction, the waves of materialistic life won't block your spiritual advancement. Follow these regulative principles and we shall meet here again or, rather, you will never lose My company."
One need not "give everything up." One need only take up the instructions of Lord Caitanya.
Jayadvaita Swami is the Editor of Back to Godhead.