On Benefiting Others
Q: I still don't understand why it's so wrong to benefit others.
A: Please understand the line from my poem in context. There is nothing wrong with benefiting others, as that is an important expression of spiritual advancement, but material benefits are limited. We have to go beyond material goodness without intent to serve God, as it obliges us to take another birth to reap the good karma. The real problem for every soul is being stuck in the material world of repeated birth and death, and being forced to accept conditions we—eternal free souls—don't like. Even if we have all material facilities, that doesn't guarantee happiness. This can be seen in the news from the recent tragedy of Amy Winehouse’s untimely death--and there have been so many very unhappy stars and entertainers in the past who died in similar unfortunate ways. Real happiness comes from the soul, not by adding things on to our life, or even having adequate material necessities. It is good to help people get their basic needs met, but that isn't enough to give them lasting happiness—they will still get diseased, become old, die, and take birth again. Many devotees before they came to Krishna, had all the material things and positions that are touted as giving happiness, but they still weren’t satisfied. Thus they and searched for meaning and fulfillment spiritually, and they found the one switch that illuminated their life and the world: Shri Krishna's devotional service.
Material goodness is meant to support spiritual goodness which is aimed at pleasing God, or Krishna. We should be "good", kind, compassionate people, but with a spiritual intention. Our compassion for the suffering of others should always be in the knowledge that the soul suffers due to their forgotten relationship to God, and identifying with a limited, perishable, and miserable physical body and mind. For all of us, material existence itself is the root cause of our suffering. To most people that sounds strange, since we are all trained to think that by material adjustment and accumulating possessions, we will find happiness and fulfillment. The soul and God seem abstract and intangible.
The stark, yet liberating truth is that our bodily dress that we think is our self, is bound to frustrate our desires for happiness. This is because our underlying, primeval desire, is for union in love with God, with the freedom the spiritual world affords centered on that love. Sensual desires are like a fire that if unchecked, can consume our life’s energy. We are instructed in the Bhagavad Gita that trying to find satisfaction through our sensual desires is like trying to put out a fire by pouring fuel on it! The soul can only find happiness spiritually in relationship to the Supreme Spirit, or Krishna. Admittedly, this is a matter of realization, yet the Vedas are trying to enlighten us as to our lasting joy. Those who think they are materially happy will not appreciate such a blunt assessment of the material world. On the other hand, devotees of Krishna have realized, at least to some extent, the futility of a purely material life without the spiritual dimension.
Having said this, we all still require some material support to keep our body and soul together, but whatever facilities we may have should be to foster spiritual growth. Although at present our spiritual practices seem like medicine, we want to make them our food, or true nourishment. Sensual enjoyment should be like salt in our life, rather than our full meal. Many people’s lives are strongly out of balance in terms of sensual overindulgence and over accumulations of things, and are completely distracted by material pursuits, idle distractions, and leisure activities. Therefore, our current one-sided civilization seems bent on creating unlimited distractions so no one will have time for the pursuit of spiritual knowledge or developing appreciation for God. If we had more satisfying work and the inner peace a spiritual focus fosters, we would have much less need to seek out so many diversions.
If our true identity is spiritual, and we are suffering due to forgetting this, don’t you think everyone should make spiritual cultivation a priority, and not one day affair? Imagine you had to care for a person with amnesia. You would certainly take care of their material necessities, but that person will be most satisfied when they remembered who they really were, and their true life. Having that knowledge missing, prevents them from being happy and enjoying life. We all have spiritual amnesia of our true home and family!
According to our nature and desires we can do many things that may seem worldly, but if we are actually understanding our (and everyone's) prime necessity of life, we will be working with a spiritual aim. Our spiritual attitude, devotion, and love for God transform our life and "work" into spiritual service. We are all servants of God, and that serving nature begins to manifest in the world by serving others. We only have to add Krishna to this equation, and then our service to others becomes part of our devotional service to Him. Balance and spiritual knowledge my friend! Take your desire to benefit others to the highest level: "Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings, and who are free from all sins achieve liberation in the Supreme." [Bg 5.25]
Help others, but save yourself too! Be absorbed in Krishna, but don’t be swayed by upheavals of the world. You can know what is going on in the world while keeping a spiritual perspective without becoming distracted. Pray to realize that the ultimate solution to worldly political problems is a spiritual one, which is the true platform of unity and brotherhood. In your personal life, find spiritual benefit to give, and when you help people in any way, remember Krishna. If possible, share the spiritual side of life. If you can't do that, you can still pray for others and be the best person you can. The more you are on the spiritual platform, the more you can help others—and yourself! Then you can be a vital person in the world, and yet walk the spiritual path. That is every devotee’s quest—living vibrantly and joyfully in the world, but for Krishna. We all want to serve others. The spiritually advanced feel for the suffering of others, but they don't lose themselves in the process, or become depressed. They keep their minds and hearts on Krishna, and are thus peaceful and happy. They demonstrate by their example how to live the spiritual life.