We seek objects to make a successful living but foolishly let life slip away
Recently I met some old friends I grew up with. As we reminisced our childhood, the incorrigible Ms Hulyalkar became the centre of our discussion. Her imposing, loud -mouthed presence in the neighbourhood made her the brunt of our teenage jokes. She was also renowned for her untiring bargaining skills. Her penchant to haggle with the vegetable vendors, daily quibbling at the local store to save a few rupees, was well known. Any discount scheme in Mumbai, and she would be there to squeeze out the best from such offers. But as luck would have it, she lost lakhs in the stock market. Lacking business acumen, she invested poorly and her brokers also betrayed her. As Asit, Naresh, and Siddharth laughed at the 'Penny wise, Pound foolish' lady, I couldn't help wondering if her example had parallels in our lives.
Asit's forex dealing skills have got him a stint with one of the world's leading firms. Heavily pumped with caffeine, the 38 year-old trades around 17 to 20 hours a day, with his weekends resigned to developing newer skills. Munching junk food while travelling to work and gulping down barrels of coffee for over two decades now has weakened him physically. Already balding, he looks thirty years older than his age. Notwithstanding his recent, scary medical reports, he optimistically declares, "It's worth it. After all I take home a cool six million bucks per annum". But is it really worth it? He ignored his health to get more wealth, but now he is well on his way to shelling out a huge amount to recover his lost health. 'Penny wise, Pound foolish', I might dare say.
Naresh is less fascinated by fast bucks but the desire to climb the corporate ladder drives him on. He has designed a meticulous seven-year plan to be the CEO of his company. But as he stands on the threshold of translating his life long dream into a reality, he is also meeting lawyers, to complete his divorce proceedings. A broken home is the price Naresh is paying to see his ambition fulfilled.
Siddharth has no ambitions to rise high . He's more than content with his government job. His biggest challenge, however, is to dump off the files and rush home to catch up on the daily soaps . He slips through the open doors of adjacent trains, just about to leave the platform. This saves him five minutes walking over the foot-over bridge. If this isn't risky enough, he fearlessly crosses railway tracks, even as the 6.32 pm Virar fast train races across. Undoubtedly he's a typical Mumbaite, a local-train freak. He's proud of his record of having never worked late. Six hours of television and he's exhausted and ready to sleep. The next morning he's up with the TV still on, and rushes to another file dumping day at the office. Well, he's saving on minutes but is he utilizing his rare and precious human life?
A NEED FOR A BETTER LIFE
The Vedic scriptures repeatedly assert that human life is meant for self-realization, and is not to be wasted rushing at breakneck speed to earn more money or seek advanced bodily and mental pleasures. As compared to us humans, animals are more adept at gratifying their senses. Srila Prabhupada cites a striking example, "Why is a man given a better chance to live than a swine or other animals? Why is a highly posted government officer given better facilities for a comfortable life than an ordinary clerk? The answer is very simple: the important officer has to discharge duties of a more responsible nature than those of an ordinary clerk. Similarly, the human being has to discharge higher duties than the animals, who are always busy with filling their hungry stomachs. But by the laws of nature, the modern animalistic standard of civilization has only increased the problems of filling the stomach .. … "
The irony of modern times is that we are working harder, and hoping to lead a relaxed life in the distant future. Not only is this desired 'peaceful' life elusive, we are also in constant anxiety in our work. An alternative offer of spiritual life disturbs a hard-working materialist. Hastily denouncing a spiritual need, he pushes himself through a gruelling schedule to simply maintain the meagre needs of the body. The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the tragedy of a modern ambitious seeker,
nidraya hriyate naktam
vyavayena co va vayah
diva carthehaya rajan
"The lifetime of such an envious householder is passed at night either in sleeping or in sex indulgence, and in the daytime either in making money or maintaining family members". (SB 2.1.3)
The Vedas do not exhort humans to abandon all work and go to a forest instead. On the contrary, an individual is implored to do the needful to maintain his bodily needs while working hard to realize his eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Lord. This can be done by dovetailing our propensities and career preferences in service to God.
What is the Vedic rationale for suggesting a spiritual alternative as our life's driving force? This world is characterized by the cruel interplay of negative factors such as disease, accidents, and other innumerable miseries. These are compounded by the lurking fear created by time. Time causes all things material to deteriorate. The body which we always seek to gratify also succumbs to old age, physical and emotional maladies, and eventually death. Absorbing ourselves in money and career-making, oblivious to the advancing strides of time, adds to our passionate desires. The crumbling body then makes it increasingly difficult, well neigh impossible for us to fulfill all our desires. However the mind which has been fed for years to enjoy more, now at an old age feels let-down, and frustration, stress, and worry overwhelm us. Little do we realize that we are fighting a losing battle as we attempt 'permanent' happiness in a fleeting body. An intelligent person thus seeks a level of happiness that increases with the passing of time, even as the body collapses.
A SPIRITUAL ALTERNATIVE MAKES SENSE
Lord Krsna reveals in the Bhagavad Gita that a spiritual path, characterized by service and chanting of God's names, promises much desired returns, uninfluenced by any of the wreckages caused by the time factor. Krsna assures happiness not just in the life, but also in this world, as we 'struggle' to practice a God-centered life. Even if we fail to attain perfection in our spiritual endeavours, namely attaining love of God, there is no loss or diminution. We'll get another chance, a human life in favourable circumstances. If the unsuccessful are offered such facilities, the successful can be assured of a greater fortune of eternal residence in the Kingdom of God. This destination is free from all material inebriety, and guarantees relief from this world of suffering and repeated birth and death. We only need to practise this simple process of Krsna consciousness with steadfast determination, in the association of sincere devotees.
As we pity Mrs Hulyalkar, the grim reality stares right in our face … are we also guilty of being penny wise and pound foolish? Well it's still not too late, a Krsna conscious alternative, promising gains all the way, is right here. Take it or leave it!
Vraja Bihari Dasa, MBA, serves full-time at ISKCON Mumbai, and teaches Krsna consciousness to students in various colleges.