In Text 2 of Nectar of Instruction (Upadeshamrita), Srila Rupa Goswami writes that prayāsaḥ (over-endeavoring ) spoils bhakti i.e. devotion to Krishna. Srila Prabhupada translates prayāsaḥ as “over-endeavoring for mundane things that are very difficult to obtain.”
Srila Prabhupada further writes in the purport of the verse, “The first step in human civilization consists of occupational engagements performed according to the scriptural injunctions.” And scriptures teach us not to get greedy for material gain but asks us to always work with proper consciousness.
How present-day society spoils our bhakti?
But sadly, present-day society teaches us to only focus on material achievement.
Since childhood we are taught to work extremely hard only for worldly success. “If you have a big bungalow, big car, big bank balance then you will enjoy unlimited happiness in this world.” Our mind is impregnated with this philosophy.
As soon as we see people who are rich or powerful or popular, we get attracted to them. Society calls them celebrities. They are called “celebrity” because everyone thinks that they are the ones who are celebrating their lives.
Since we too want to celebrate our lives, so we want to be like them. They become our role models. We think, “If we get name, fame, power, prestige, wealth like them we too can enjoy our lives.”
So, we spend all our time and energy in acquiring mundane things which spoils our bhakti. We become desperate for material success. We start putting our best efforts for it. But it is not guaranteed that our efforts will bring desired results. Because working hard is in our hands but whether we will get success is not in our hands.
Just like a farmer can plough his fields to the best of his ability but whether it will rain or not is not in his hands.
There are higher authorities in this material creation who oversee what we should get and what we should not get. Our result is not based on the actions we perform in this life, but it is also based on our past life’s actions as well.
Can we fulfill all our dreams in this world?
And suppose that even if we get the expected result then that success will not remain with us forever. There will be someone who will outdo us one day. And most importantly death will take away everything from us. Whatever we accumulate will remain here only. We do not carry it to our next life.
In fact, it is not even guaranteed that in next life we will get a human body. If entire life is spent in gratifying animalistic pleasure of eating, sleeping, mating and defending then in next life we will get an animal body. It will be so unfortunate.
We live for 70 -80 years in this world. And because of ignorance we only focus on this life. We put all our time, energy and efforts to make this life better. There is nothing wrong in that. But should we also not think what will happen to us when we leave this body? What is going to be our future destination? The undeniable reality is that each and every one of us has to leave this world one day. A child may work hard to build a castle of sand near a seashore, but one whiff of wind will destroy all his endeavor. Similarly, we try to actualize all our dreams in this world, but the ruthless time can knock at our door anytime and force us to leave this world. It is almost impossible to fulfill all our dreams in this world.
Have you thought about your future destination?
In this life too whatever little success we get, we need proper planning for that. If we fail to plan, we will have bleak future. Similarly, if we have not planned for our next life then our next destination could be too bad. The animals, the trees, the insects, the worms, the fish and other non-human species which we see in this world also once had human body but because of bad karma they are now having non-human bodies.
I do not think you will want to become an insect or worm or cockroach or crow or lizard or a hog or anything like that in next life. Neither will I want. Animal life means unlimited suffering.
In fact, all the efforts we do in this world is to ensure we lead a happy life. But if the actions which we are performing in this life is creating a bad destination in next life then we should be alarmed.
An intelligent person will not focus on things which are temporary and definitely not on activities which are sinful.
A wise man will focus on things which are permanent, and which will ensure better present and better future. Srila Prabhupada writes “Human life is meant for God realization, and the human being is given higher intelligence for this purpose.” Nectar of Instruction Text 2 Purport.
And what is that highest purpose. It is to free ourselves from material bondage and attain complete liberation. Complete liberation is only possible when we return back to the kingdom of God.
So the devotees of the lord do not waste their time in working hard for material things which are temporary and very difficult to obtain. But he works intelligently so that he has a better future destination.
Do devotees of Krishna do not work hard?
Does it mean that devotees do not work hard in this world? Definitely not. Once someone complained to Prabhupada that devotees of the Lord are lazy. Prabhupada immediately said that devotees are hard working. He said that two most famous war in the entire human civilization, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were fought by devotees. But they fought not for themselves but for the pleasure of the Lord.
The monkey warriors worked extremely hard for the pleasure of Lord Rama. They did not have any personal motive. Hanuman put his life on stake and went all alone to the enemy kingdom. He did it for Lord Rama. All the monkeys came together and worked extremely hard to build a bridge to Lanka. And without caring for themselves fought on behalf of Lord Rama.
Similarly, the Pandavas led by Arjuna fought for Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna wanted to establish dharma and Pandavas assisted Krishna in his mission. Pandavas as per the desire of Lord Krishna converted a barren land Khandavaprastha to Indraprastha which looked as beautiful as a paradise. Over endeavor to fulfill mission of the Lord brings glory and joy. But prayāsaḥ (over-endeavor) for material profit spoils bhakti i.e. devotion to Krishna.
How Srila Prabhupada was an ideal grihasta, householder?
If we study the lives of great devotees, we will find that they work harder than the materialistic people. Srila Prabhupada used to get up in the middle of the night and write books. Then in the morning he used to get into preaching activity. He hardly had time to sleep and he never cared for his own comfort. He was instructed by his spiritual master to spread the teachings of Lord Chaitanya all over the world. And he dedicated his entire life in fulfilling the instruction of his spiritual master.
Before taking sannyasa Srila Prabhupada was a householder, a grihasta. And as a grihasta, he did his work responsibly and intelligently. He owned a chemical factory. In today’s language we can say that he was an entrepreneur. He was quite well to do financially. He even owned a car. In pre-independence India to have a car is like having a helicopter today. But Srila Prabhupada worked in such a way that he had ample amount of time to practice devotional life. During his grihasta life also he used to regularly associate with the devotees. Whenever he got an opportunity he went and met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, his spiritual master. And financially also he helped the devotees to establish temples and in other preaching activities.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura – a judge, a writer, a preacher, a loving father, an ideal husband
Similarly, there is the example of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He was judge by profession. And a great Vedic scholar. He used to do his duty efficiently. He used to go for his work on time and while in office he used to be completely focused on his work.
In the book “The Seventh Goswami” which is the biography of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, it is mentioned that his other colleagues took hours to decide a case in the court, but he used to do it in matter of minutes. So, the other judges of the court may be working for more number of hours but their output was less than that of Bhaktivinod Thakura. His judgement was always perfect. Everyone would be satisfied. He did justice to his profession. His superior authorities were extremely happy with his work.
When he was posted in Jagannath Puri as magistrate he made sure that service to Lord Jagannath happens properly. There were complaints that proper bhoga (food) is not being offered to the Lord at right time. Bhaktivinod Thakura with the help of the temple priests set everything right as per the guidelines of the scriptures.
He handled sensitive cases intelligently. There were communal riots between Hindus and Muslims and the cases would come to him. He expertly handled such matters and tried his best to bring peace and communal harmony in the society.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura had ten children and a virtuous wife. He took care of his household responsibilities and made sure that at his home there is spiritual culture and everyone serves Krishna and worships Krishna with love. He made his home a temple of Lord Krishna.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura is the architect of present-day Krishna Consciousness movement
While taking care of his occupational duty and family responsibilities he made sure that he had sufficient time to practice devotion to Krishna. He wrote several spiritual literatures which were appreciated by many scholars. After the disappearance of great Vaisnava acharyas like Narottama Das Thakura, Shyamananda Pandit and Srinivas acharya there was no one to lead the Krishna Consciousness movement.
People had almost forgotten the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Some unscrupulous people had misinterpreted the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and were misguiding people for their ulterior motives. Bhaktivinoda Thakura worked tirelessly to revive the original Krishna Consciousness movement started by Lord Chaitanya. He would actively and vigorously preach the teachings of Lord Chaitanya. In fact, he is the architect of the present-day Krishna Consciousness movement which has spread all over the world.
Devotees work hard without giving up spiritual duties
So, we see that devotees work extremely hard. But they never give up their spiritual duties. They never compromise with their spiritual life. There work is not for material positions and possessions and not for name, fame and money. They work as per the scriptural injunctions and most importantly for the pleasure of the Lord.
Our work should bring us closer to Krishna. But if we over endeavour (prayāsa) for mundane things we will always be miserable because material things are difficult to get. And even if we get after hard labour it won’t satisfy our hearts. It will also take away all our time and energy and we will hardly have time to practice spirituality.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.9) Srila Suta Gosvami says that our occupational engagement should free us from material bondage. We should not work hard for sense gratification because it will entangle us in this world.
dharmasya hy āpavargyasya
kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ
“All occupational engagements [dharma] are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service [dharma] should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.”
Devotees endeavor (prayāsa) is not for material gain but for spiritual gain
We should do our worldly duties to the best of our capability and with sincerity. And we should also do our work smartly, and in a responsible way. But we should not compromise with our spiritual life. If we study the lives of Srila Bhaktivinod Thakura and Srila Prabhupada then we will get to know how to work in this world efficiently and not get entangled.
Prayāsaḥ for material things spoils bhakti i.e. devotion to Krishna. Srila Prabhupada cautions us, “If our endeavor (prayāsa) is not to inquire about the Absolute Truth, we will simply increase our endeavor to satisfy our artificial needs. A spiritual aspirant should avoid mundane endeavor.” Nectar of Instruction Text 2 Purport.
So as devotees our endeavor (prayāsa) should not be for material gain which is temporary but for spiritual gain which is everlasting.