Can a devotee of the Lord aspire to be rich and prosperous? Is it wrong to have a desire to have a fat bank balance?

In our last issue we had discussed the glories of Lord Shiva. Generally, Lord Shiva is considered as ‘Bholenatha’ the innocent one. He is also known as ‘Ashutosha’ one who is quickly pleased with your devotional offerings. And as he is the husband of the goddess Durgadevi, who owns this material world people come to him asking for material benedictions.

This prompted Maharaja Parikshit to ask Srila Sukadeva Goswami a very important question, “Lord Shiva lives underneath a tree or in the snow of the Himalayan Mountains. He does not even construct a house for himself, but still the worshipers of Lord Shiva are very rich. Krishna, or Lord Vishnu, however, lives very opulently, whether in Vaikuntha or in the material world, but His devotees appear poverty-stricken. Why is this so?”

Before we see Sukadeva Goswami’s answer I would like to share two personal anecdotes. I requested a gentleman to kindly visit our temple for the Sunday Festival. He told me that he was a regular visitor to the nearby Babulnatha Temple (a very popular Shiva temple). He looked reverently at the direction of Babulnatha temple and said in Hindi, “Jo bole woh kama karta hai.” (He does whatever you ask him to do.) On another occasion, in Kolkata a rickshaw-puller asked me about my devotional practices. Upon informing him that I am trying to be a devotee of Lord Krishna he smilingly pointed to a framed picture of Lord Shiva retorting, “Sabse Bada.” (The greatest among the gods.)

It is this perception of Lord Shiva and other exalted personalities that is being answered in the pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srila Sukadeva Goswami appreciated this intelligent enquiry from his exalted disciple and replied that this material energy is manifested in three qualities, namely goodness, passion, and ignorance. As Shiva is the husband of Durgadevi (who controls these modes) he is understood to be the master of this material energy. Although he is in association with these qualities for the benefit of the conditioned soul, Lord Shiva is their director and is not affected. In other words, although the conditioned soul is affected by the three qualities, Lord Shiva, being their master, is not.

From the statements of Sukadeva Goswami we can understand that the effects of worshiping different demigods are not, as some less intelligent persons suppose, the same as the effects of worshiping Lord Vishnu.

Since this material world is a product of the three qualities of material nature, all varieties of manifestations come from those three qualities. With the aid of materialistic science, modern civilization has created many machines and comforts, yet they are only varieties of the interactions of the three material qualities. Although the devotees of Lord Shiva are able to obtain many material acquisitions, we should know that such devotees are simply collecting products manufactured by the three qualities.  Material happiness or opulence means gratification of the senses, especially the genitals, the tongue, and the mind. By exercising our minds we create many pleasurable things just for enjoyment by the genitals and the tongue. The opulence of a person within this material world is estimated in terms of how well he is able to utilize his sexual capacities and how well he is able to satisfy his fastidious taste by eating palatable dishes.  

Herein lies the answer to King Pariksit question to Sukadeva Goswami as to why the worshipers of Lord Shiva are so opulent. The devotees of Lord Shiva are opulent only in terms of the material qualities. Factually, such so-called advancement of civilization is the cause of entanglement in material existence. It is actually not advancement but degradation.

The conclusion is that because Lord Shiva is the master of the three qualities, his devotees are given things manufactured by the interactions of these qualities for the satisfaction of the senses. In the Bhagavad-gita, however, we get instruction from Lord Krishna that one has to transcend this qualitative existence. Nistrai-gunyo bhavarjuna: the mission of human life is to become transcendental to the three qualities(Bg. 2.45). Unless one is nistrai-gunyo, he cannot get free from material entanglement.

In other words, favors received from Lord Shiva are not actually beneficial to the conditioned souls, although materially such facilities seem opulent.

The Puranas relate the story of Lord Shiva’s marriage with Parvati. As is the custom the bride and the groom are given lavish gifts on the occasion of their wedding and they to offer gifts back to their guests. One such gift was a huge palatial mansion. At the end of the ceremony Shiva had practically offered back all the gifts that he had received with the exception of this mansion and when one poor brahmana arrived very late and there was nothing left to offer him, Shiva gave him that mansion and thus was again residing under a tree. This is Lord Shiva’s disdain for material possessions!

(Syamananda Dasa)