No place in the material world is ideal for rememebering Krsna, but we can do things to improve our spiritual environment anywhere
Recently I was at a program in Tennessee in which a devotee said that environment is more powerful than willpower. He later told me how he felt the environment at his workplace was not at all conducive for being Krsna conscious. He felt he could be Krsna conscious at home, but not at work.
After speaking with him, I thought about his point further and considered it to be an important topic to address. So in this article we’ll discuss environment versus willpower, and how this relates to the workplace.
WHAT’S THE IDEAL ENVIRONMENT?
Let’s start with the good news: We can be Krsna conscious anywhere.
And here’s the bad news: There really isn’t an ideal environment for being Krsna conscious.
I hear you saying, “How can you say that? What about the temple? What about Vrndavana and Mayapur? What about a Ratha-yatra festival?”
Yes, those would seem to be ideal environments for developing Krsna consciousness. But let me ask you a question: Does everyone who goes to Vrndavana, or a temple, or to a Ratha-yatra become Krsna conscious? Many people do, but one can fall into maya even in the Lord’s personal presence.
The panacea of the age is the maha-mantra. It is the yuga-dharma; it is the best way to be Krsna conscious. Does everyone who chants Hare Krsna become Krsna conscious? The impersonalists don’t. They chant to become one with Krsna. And I would be embarrassed to tell you how many rounds I have chanted in my life and not even thought of Krsna while His name was continually coming from my lips.
“Well,” you say, “at least you are chanting, and that will protect you from maya.” If Krsna is there in His name and my mind is off somewhere in maya land, the reality is that somehow or other I am not thinking of Krsna.
And that’s not ideal.
Lord Caitanya’s servant Kala Krsna Dasa was lured away by gypsies while traveling with the Lord. If traveling with Lord Caitanya isn’t an “ideal” environment, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t get much better than that. But even in that “ideal” environment we still have the choice to forget Krsna.
ENVIRONMENT IS NOT EVERYTHING
Prahlada Maharaja was in the exact opposite situation. He was born into an environment far less conducive for Krsna consciousness than any place you
or I will ever be in. Prahlada’s atheistic father sent Prahlada to an atheistic school with the intention of training him to be a first-class atheist. Yet Prahlada remained completely Krsna conscious. Although environment does affect you, environment alone doesn’t
determine how Krsna conscious you will or won’t be. What determines that?
CHECK YOUR BELIEFS
Have you ever felt that you can’t really be Krsna conscious at work or in a particular situation? If so, look to see if this idea is based on the belief that to be Krsna conscious you need the “proper” or “ideal” environment. If this is your belief and work doesn’t fall into what you consider the “proper” environment, you will likely be resigned to the fact that your day at work is not going to be a very Krsna conscious experience.
If this is how you feel, your beliefs need to change for you to be more Krsna conscious at work.
Let me ask you another question: If you think you can’t be Krsna conscious at work, what happens? I would assume you don’t really try to be Krsna conscious at work because, as you already know, you can’t. As soon as you say, “I can only be Krsna conscious in a favorable environment,” you create a self-fulfilling prophecy and limit your ability to always think of Krsna.
Be open to the possibility that you can be more Krsna conscious than you might think while being in an environment that is not “ideal,” or that is even “hostile.” In other words, you can be more Krsna conscious at work than you think. After all, Krsna is only one thought away from you.
DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?
When I used to distribute books, one of the things that inspired me most was to see everyone as devotees, devotees who had somehow forgotten they were devotees. I would see the little spark of a devotee in them, the spark that was buried under lifetimes of ignorance. As long as I saw that spark, I would relate to them in a much more Krsna conscious way than I normally would.
I’d like you to try this. Tomorrow when you go to work (if you don’t work you can do this when you go out), see everyone as a devotee, a devotee who simply has forgotten that he or she is a devotee. If you have this vision, it is going to change your whole day because when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
A variation of this is to practice seeing everyone as a spiritual being, or to practice seeing Krsna in the heart of everyone. Don’t see man, woman, white, or black. If you see everyone as a soul, if you see Krsna in everyone and in everything, you’ll be Krsna conscious at every moment. Krsna is everywhere, even in the page you are staring at right now. Prabhupada said that when you see Krsna everywhere, you will be completely Krsna conscious just by seeing.
You can also consider how the modes of nature are working. When someone is angry, for example, you can envision that person as a puppet being pulled by the mode of passion (described in Chapter Fourteen of the Bhagavad-gita). When I was distributing books and someone became upset with me for offering them a book, Krsna often allowed me to see things exactly this way. Consequently I didn’t feel hurt or think that this is a bad person; I just thought the mode of passion is forcing this person to helplessly become angry. I also felt some compassion for him thinking how miserable this person must be to become so easily upset.
Every day you can make an effort to see the world from a Krsna conscious perspective, as the examples mentioned above. Seeing through the eyes of the scriptures (sastra-caksuh) is recommended for seeing Krsna everywhere. If you practice seeing through the eyes of the scriptures, you will have a completely Krsna conscious day at work, or wherever you go.
RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
The workplace can offer us the opportunity to practice qualities such as tolerance, discipline, forgiveness, kindness, empathy, etc. You might want to consider how an advanced devotee would act if he or she were working at your job and was subjected to the problems and stresses that you go through.
What’s for Lunch?
What else could you do? You could distribute prasada. Bring a few extra things for your co-workers to eat at lunch, things you think they would especially like. This will give you an opportunity to explain why you are a vegetarian and what prasada is. Prabhupada introduced prasada as the “secret weapon” for giving people Krsna. You could also bring flowers, garlands, or scents from your home altar or the temple.
Give Krsna, Get Krsna
Srila Prabhupada said that one of the best ways to be Krsna consciousness is to give Krsna to others. He once wrote me that the more we give Krsna consciousness, the more we become Krsna conscious. This idea is explained in the Caitanya-caritamrta. There it is said that when you give Krsna, you get Krsna.
In 1970, I was traveling and distributing books, and this was the first time big books were ever distributed in large quantities in ISKCON. We wrote Srila Prabhupada with the news and he replied, “…this is the symptom of an advanced devotee; he takes every opportunity to spread Krsna consciousness.” Prabhupada also used to say that we should strain our brain to spread Krsna consciousness. Why not discover what opportunities exist at work to give people Krsna consciousness? Christians all over the world do this. Why shouldn’t we?
SOME MORE IDEAS
Here are a few more things you might want to try if you believe the atmosphere at work lends itself to these suggestions.
Every week you could print out a verse or a saying from sastra and put it somewhere on your desk, so it is visible to others (perhaps frame it as well). This might stir up some interest and cause people to ask you questions about your beliefs. You can do the same thing with Krsna conscious desk calendars that have a different quote for every day of the year. If dress code allows, you can do this with a Krsna conscious T-shirt. If you own your own business, you can have pictures of Krsna and Krsna conscious sayings on the walls.
Another thing that will help you be Krsna conscious at work is that you can pray to Krsna for the people at your workplace. For example, you can pray that they become open to Krsna consciousness. And if you see that happening, you can take advantage of the opportunity to introduce spiritual topics and even invite them to participate in some Krsna conscious programs.
Ultimately the best way to help people become Krsna conscious is to be Krsna conscious yourself. People are usually more impressed by who you are and what you do than what you say. If people see that there is something different or special about you, they are going to want to know your secret. When they find out, it might spark interest and faith in Krsna consciousness. So your behavior, qualities, and dealings with others, are an essential aspect of your “preaching” at work.
Obviously there are many other ways to interest people in Krsna, and it’s not the purpose of this chapter to come up with a long list. I brought up the above examples just to get your juices flowing—to get you thinking about what you might be able to do in your workplace and to realize there are more opportunities to be Krsna conscious at work than you might think.
YOU DON’T WIN THE GAME ON THE COURT
Ultimately, being Krsna conscious in the workplace depends a lot on what you do when you are not at work, just as the success of an athlete is dependent on practice. The more Krsna conscious activity you do when you are not at work, the greater the chance you have of being Krsna conscious at work.
The purpose of this article is not to discount the reality that many of us work in environments that can make it a challenge to be Krsna conscious. Ideally it would be best to work in devotee-owned businesses and thus work in the association of other devotees. I always encourage devotees so inclined to develop businesses and companies that can employ other devotees.
I also encourage all devotees (especially those who have successful businesses or well-paying jobs) to direct money beyond their regular donations into projects that they have a special connection with or attraction for, or even to develop their own preaching projects. When your work is directly connected to supporting something that is dear to your heart, it creates an inspiring connection between your work and your devotional service.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Heaven and hell are not only physical places, but states of consciousness. We have control over whether we work in hell or in heaven.
Mahatma Dasa was initiated in 1970 by Srila Prabhupada. He is co-director of Bhakti Life (www.bhaktilife.org), which offers workshops, retreats, and online courses. He lives in Alachua with wife, Jahnava Devi Dasi, and their daughter, Brajasundari. You can visit him at www.mahatmadas.com
This article was adapted from a chapter in the author's upcoming book, Living the Wisdom of Bhakti.