Krsna encourages us to work for a living and,
at the same time, to work on solving life's real problems.
Once, in South India, a reporter asked Srila Prabhupada. "Sir, are you a monist or a dualist?" Sensing his pseudo intellectual tone. Srila Prabhupada responded quickly with reference to Bhagavad-gita. "What is the point of discussing such things? . . . Krsna says, annad bhavanti bhutani. Anna means 'grains.' The people have no grains. Grains are produced from the rains, and rains from sacrifice. So perform sacrifice." The point: Even while pursuing self-realization, we must solve our economic problems.
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna encourages Arjuna to fight as a ksatriya (soldier) as part of Lord Krsna's system of yajna, or sacrifice. Lord Krsna then describes sacrifice as anena prasavisyadhvam, "making one more and more prosperous." and esa vo' stv ista-kama-dhuk, "bestowing upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation."
Though dharma, one's occupation as prescribed in the Vedas, brings prosperity, without spiritual guidance we tend to see economic development alone as life's goal. As Jesus Christ warns. "What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world but loses his eternal soul?"
The limitations of the happiness we attain by economic, social, or political adjustment become even more clear when we understand the real problems of our life. For example, one Indian friend of mine became preoccupied with immigrating to America. Seeing his chances to be slim, he became distracted from his business. So I asked him to read the verse from Bhagavad-gita in which Lord Krsna says, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: "The man in knowledge sees that the real problems in life are birth, death, old age, and disease." I then asked him to think about these questions: Will living in America make you immune from heart disease and cancer? Don't Americans also grow old and die? Later in the week he confided to me how silly it was for him to have thought that a geographical adjustment could actually solve his realproblems.
But the solutions to those real problems are not so easily discerned. In Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna faces a great dilemma: if he fights to win the kingdom, he must vanquish those loved ones with whom he wishes to enjoy his royalty, but if he renounces the war, he not only forfeits his income but neglects his religious duty as a ksatriya. The depressing prospects give him an important realization: "I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to dispel it even if I win a prosperous, unrivaled kingdom on earth with sovereignty like the demigods in heaven." In response, Lord Krsna speaks Bhagavad-gita to show that the perplexities of life can be dispelled by transcendental knowledge.
Any one of us, like Arjuna, can be led from perplexity to enlightenment by the guidance of Bhagavad-gita, while those guided only by economic ambitions are led to illusion. The Vedic histories are full of examples of men living under such illusion, and modern life gives us more examples every day. My youth brings two instances to mind.
While visiting my family during my third year at the university. I heard a news report about the industrialist Howard Hughes. America's wealthiest man. He had mysteriously isolated himself from public view for more than ten years. Fearful of disease, he had confined himself to a small suite of sterile rooms in his mansion, touching the outside world only through his servant, who, dressed in white clothes and surgical gloves, brought Mr. Hughes his carefully cooked meals three times a day. But now Mr. Hughes had died of influenza. Somehow the wry comments of the newscaster revealed that he, too, realized how foolish were Mr. Hughes's efforts to conquer disease and thwart death.
The other incident took place while I was living at our Hare Krsna center in Dallas, Texas. One day I went with another devotee to the nearby estate of the oil baron H. L. Hunt to offer him our edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. But his security arrangements were elaborate, and although our intentions were good, his guards rebuffed us at the gate. Unfortunately, his security men could not rebuff death. He died unexpectedly one week later.
But riches aren't necessarily evil, for utility alone determines value. For example, a knife can be used as a deadly weapon or as a craftsman's tool. Similarly, our busy activities may now distract us from spirituality, butBhagavad-gita teaches us how to channel those same activities so that they help us solve the problems of life. Lord Krsna therefore instructs Arjuna, "Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away. and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kunti as an offering to Me. In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its auspicious and inauspicious results."
Here's how material resources can assist spiritual development: A blind man can't see. and a lame man can't walk. But the blind man can carry the lame man on his back, and together they can see and walk. Similarly, we can best solve the problems of life, both individual and collective, when our material assets are guided by spiritual eyes.
Srila Prabhupada described India as lame, for although she has great spiritual vision, she is economically weak. On the other hand, the more developed countries are blind because although wealthy, they lack guidance and vision. Srila Prabhupada preached, therefore, that the resources of the industrialized countries, used according to the spiritual insights of India, could solve the problems of the world.
He also put this principle into practice. With funds from his Western disciples, Srila Prabhupada organized the printing of more than 100 million copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in forty languages and arranged to distribute these books of wisdom all over the world.