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.
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Many purposes are served
our life events instruct
karma plays out
yet Krishna teaches us;
life, the master teacher
learn to read the signs
attitude determines labels
good, bad, or sublime--
any lessons learned today?
here are some of mine:
The ground browns, cracks
leaves turn yellow, fall
summer heat bakes
sweltering, withering ‘shine
The idea of demigods or devas is one of the many subjects in the Gita that people find confusing, especially those brought up in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). If understood incorrectly, it may seem primitive, or be thought of as the worship of many gods. As a result, the average person’s understand of Hinduism is quite skewed, biased, and one-dimensional. Since the worship of the demigods is a traditional and visible part of Vedic culture, and at least provisionally recommended in the Gita, it is important to clearly understand who these beings are. Are they real or mythical—and if they are real, what significance do that have for us? How do demigods relate to the one Supreme Power, or the Lord of the Universe? Though we Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship Krishna as the supreme name of God, He has many names (in the West, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, or just God, or in India, Vishnu), as well as different features and aspects.
Although in principle every soul is meant to understand and apply the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, certain qualifications for understanding it are required. Actually, to understand any book (especially books of wisdom), it is important to understand the author’s intention for writing it, as well as his or her intended audience. We find that in the world of books, there are many genres, which attract certain people who can appreciate the themes and style of the author. For example, there are books with themes of mystery, adventure, sci-fi or thriller, romance, or many kinds of non-fiction, which include personal growth, spiritual subjects, political exposé, or biographies, etc., and many subdivisions. Each genre requires a certain kind of sensitivity to enter into the proper mood, and receive the most benefit from the book.
As a youth and even as a young devotee
I never really thought about my death
as strange as it may seem
I was insulated living in a college town
no relationship with anyone who died
while living with, and noticing only the young—
I didn’t practically realize that every day's a gift
when I spoke it to others, it was only theory.
We learn that hearing from scripture
is the best evidence of material life’s shortcomings,
yet most need experience which gets our attention
A Christian asked me, incredulously, “Why would anyone take to Krishna consciousness? He was satisfied with his religion and felt that not only could it— and should it—meet anyone’s needs, but if it failed to do so and one took up another religion, then that was the fast track to hell. Of course, it is not only Christians who curiously ask this question, but people trying to make sense of a path which seems foreign to them as Westerners. Strange clothes, practices, worship, language, scriptures, and with a transcendent goal they can’t relate to: “The spiritual world of Radha and Krishna, which is named after cows (Goloka)—come on now!” Although they may still not like or understand this path, they may be more understanding of devotees of Krishna who are born in India, where bhakti and Hinduism are the norm.
One psychic told me, “If I was supposed to be a Hindu, I would have been born in India.” Although Krishna may appear Indian since knowledge of him comes from scriptures which appeared there, the spiritual quest is for every soul. Those who have embarked on a spiritual search—either from the West or East—and found that the practice of bhakti spoke deeply to them, weren’t looking for a Hindu God or process, but for answers to their deepest questions and dilemmas. They see Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic literature as universal—the culture of the soul, not any particular land. Krishna claims to be the father of all living beings, which excludes neither country, nor species.
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People we meet or know who impress us the most are those that extend us kindness and heartfelt interest. We may appreciate a person’s beauty, strength, wealth, knowledge, fame, or renunciation (qualities Krishna has in full), but if a person is not kind it stands out like a huge blemish. A lessor person who is kind and friendly appears more valuable, and greater. Of the twenty-six qualities of a devotee given in the great Gaudiya Vaishnava scripture, Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita, we find that kindness to others is the very first quality. Therefore, being a being an advanced devotee of Krishna means to be kind by nature. The six Goswamis disciples of Lord Chaitanya were “popular both to the gentle and with the ruffians”. Everyone appreciated them because of their equanimity and kindness.
I used to hear some married devotees assert how they didn’t want to be mediocre in their life and service. At the time (about twenty-two years ago) I couldn’t relate, and wondered what they were talking about. However, at present, I know exactly what they meant—well, perhaps not exactly, since I didn’t discuss it with them—but I can say that I relate to that statement very much at this time of my life. Why is this? Looking at definitions of mediocre in the dictionary should make this more clear: “of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance: ordinary, so-so; neither good nor bad; barely adequate; rather poor or inferior.” Add these ideas to the word devotee, husband/father, wife/mother, provider, professional—pick any word from your life pursuits—and it is easy to not want to be mediocre. You might want to think about this concept in your life. This point is brought out in the Christian Bible in a helpful way, as readers are told that one should be either hot or cold, but not lukewarm!
Combined small efforts are what great achievements are made of. Everyone likes the results of hard labor, but many are hesitant to put in the necessary, often tedious, strenuous work. We want a lot of money, to be president, to win first place in something, to write a bestselling book, or to be a spiritual person, but find it difficult to imagine how we could get there from where we are now. Many of us have heard the famous Chinese proverb, “To begin the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Simple idea, isn’t it? Yet this simple advice is often missed, turning out to be rather profound. Taking the first step provides a key to achieving any success—we must begin, and remain fixed on the goal till victory is obtained. Remaining on the fence of indecision takes us nowhere. If we want something strongly enough we will find a way to accomplish it, though initially our steps will look insignificant. In addition to determination, we require Krishna’s blessings in order to accomplish anything worthwhile.
I find it useful to think of labels as soft or hard, liquid or frozen, flexible or ridged—and some categories as in-betweens as well. So I am labeling labels (!), yet this is a helpful process, so we don’t become used, or limited by them. This is a means of stepping back from life to evaluate the position we take on things, or types and groups of people. Being on autopilot may be easier, but can also be dangerous. Devotees of Krishna are meant to be thoughtful, not reactive persons, who endeavor to see with a spiritual eye gained from the scriptures, association of advanced, broadminded sages, and their own inner experience.