I am writing this while I wait for water to heat up on the stove. This morning I need to tackle days worth of dishes that have filled my counters, sinks, and dishwasher. We are going into our 5th day with no hot water. While my typical modus operandi is to completely panic and stress when things are difficult, going to be a financial burden, and generally just not going “right,” I am finding gratitude for this little bit of austerity. For one, it is summertime and cold showers are not that bad. But mainly I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my easily stressed out nature and finding it to be an unbecoming and embarrassing quality for an aspiring saranagata bhakta.
The recession and the economic disaster of this country are words on everybody’s tongues these days. I have mostly spent my time oblivious to the country’s distress, caught up in my own daily struggle of existence, riding the ups and downs of having money and not having money. Yesterday, though, I was startled to the predicament of many when I heard that a friend was being laid off after working many years at the same school where I work. While going grocery shopping, this news prominent on my mind, I began thinking again about the path I try to daily tread toward my goal of becoming a saranagata devotee, one who understands their dependence on God for all in life. As a working person, as opposed to someone dedicating one’s life to asrama life, I find that I can get consumed in the dance of power that earning money can create. Though I am driven by my karma to act, the results of my working are very much out of my control.
Let me explain.
Have you ever been in the situation of having some “extra” money when at that exact time your car breaks down, your child gets ill, or like me, your water heater breaks? This has happened to me countless times, and what it shows me is that I have a certain standard of living that is allotted to me, and going much higher or below that standard is not really in my control. The very first verse of the ancient text Isopanisad points towards creating this attitude of accepting what one deserves and understanding that everything is controlled and owned by God.
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
Thinking about this verse, I realize that I have always been given just what is my quota. I have always been taken care of, and have never been in destitute poverty, yet I have always had just what is my quota. But this awareness and acceptance is just one step in my progress.
The Bhagavad-gita points me further towards how I should act while being a woman of the world, enjoying and suffering the fruits of my labor. In Chapter 3, “The Yoga of Action,” Krishna clearly speaks to people like me who are bound to work. He actually encourages me by reassuring me that everyone has their own prescribed duties, and it is not by renunciation alone that one can attain perfection. Though the life of a monk can seem so much closer to achieving self-knowledge, it is not the only path offered in bhakti-yoga, and is actually discouraged if it is done artificially.
We are all forced to act and the task at hand is purifying our hearts while performing our daily activities. Krishna tells Arjuna in verse 9 of this chapter that while all action in this world is binding, by offering those acts as sacrifice to God, without being attached to enjoying the results, will we start to become free from their binding nature. Krishna then gives practical advice for cultivating sacrifice by highlighting the most basic activity that we do everyday: eating. Offering food to Krishna first before accepting it back as remnants is a simple act of acknowledging, on a daily basis, that I am dependent for my sustenance; dependent on him, dependent on the gods of the rain and sun, dependent on the earth, and so on. This feeling of dependence is purifying and humbling and is the foundation for treading the path of saranagati.
With these words of wisdom in my mind, I begin to think how I can practically offer my acts as sacrifice and perform my work without being attached to the results. Money defines us; defines our station in society as well as our wants and likes. It is also the cause of all the commercialism and greed that drives the world. But, when offered it can be a means of spiritual progress and lasting joy.
My guru always stresses the importance of giving, guaranteeing the magic of giving to fill the hole in my soul that no material acquisitions are able to. This act of giving money, especially to a spiritual cause, gives my work and the money that I make meaning. It is also humbling, for when I turn my mindset into a giver rather than a taker, I see that what I can give is so minute and the need for giving is so great. It also forces me to continue the giving line of thinking: when I feel that the money I can contribute is so puny, I begin to think of what else I can offer. Ultimately what Krishna wants from me is complete giving—offering my very soul to him. He ends the Bhagavad-gita such, with imploring us to surrender our very selves to him, with no fear holding us back.
And what is the need for such fear? Has Krishna not shown me time and time again, through every story in our scriptures, through the songs of so many acaryas, through my own life, and through countless others, that more than anything else he treasures his devotees and takes care of them especially when they are fully dependent on him, seeing no other as their shelter? Everyday I sing a song by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in which he writes, “Surrendering my soul unto you, oh Krishna, has lifted from me the burden of false pride. No longer will I try to provide for my own well-being and safety.”
I pray to imbibe this mood daily, to give up the false pride of feeling that I am maintaining myself and that the money I make is mine. When I pray with the Thakura’s poignant words in my heart, knowing that Krishna is taking care of me like one of his treasured calves, I find immense peace. What do you do on a daily practical level to encourage your feeling of dependence on the Lord? Though the philosophy of bhakti-yoga takes much intelligence and use of one’s head, the process itself is a very user-friendly method and an affair of the heart. What user-friendly applications do you apply to your life? Association of like-minded Vaishnavas is a necessity while treading this path, and hearing your thoughts would be most beneficial for this struggling devotee, who’s only hope is to attach myself to those saranagata Vaishanavas who are my life and soul.