Krishna’s Economics: 1 – 1 = 1

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Taking shelter of Krishna is the key to peace and prosperity.

Last year, eight Academy Awards went to a low-budget movie filmed in India, Slumdog Millionaire. Moviegoers reported feeling uplifted by the story. The idea that a beggar from the slums of India could win a million dollars on a game show filled them with hope. Although the story wasn't true, it presented a popular theme found throughout the ages: from pauper to prince.

In the current receding economic tide, the opposite scenario is much more realistic and prevalent: from riches to rags or prince to pauper. So it isn’t hard to understand how Slumdog Millionaire could provide millions of viewers some hope that things in their life can turn around for the better.

Throughout history the economy has gone through cycles. Generally economic downturns result from excessive greed and exploitation. So should anyone be surprised about the current state of affairs? If we are immersed in the mentality of enjoying separately from the Lord on this material plane of existence, then we are subjected to the laws that govern this world.

We know from the Bhagavad-gita that this realm is one of duality—happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat. And everything is temporary. This is a recipe for anxiety, which is always heightened during difficult times. But those who have taken to the path of devotion to God, Krishna, are under a different set of rules. We might call these rules Krishna’s economics, where 1 – 1 = 1. For pure devotees, who live fully in the spiritual reality, nothing is ever diminished; resources are never lost or depleted. And even for those not yet perfect, Krishna's economics apply according to the devotee's level of progress.

Srila Prabhupada tells a story to exemplify the principles of this economics. Once there was a young boy in India who came from a very poor family. He was a student in the gurukula, and his teacher was hosting a big festival for the community. He asked all his students to bring some food for the event. When the boy went home and asked his mother what he could bring, she told him they were too poor and couldn’t contribute anything. The little boy began to sob. Seeing her son in distress, she advised him to go to forest and find Dina Bandhu (a name for Krishna meaning "the friend of the poor").

Feeling some hope, the little boy went to the forest calling out loudly, “Dina Bandhu, please come. Dina Bandhu, please come.”

After some time, Krishna appeared. Hearing of the boy's plight, He told him to tell his teacher that he would bring yogurt for the festival. The Lord instructed him to return to the forest on the day of the event and He would give him the yogurt.

The teacher was pleased to hear that the child would supply the yogurt for the festival, and on the morning of that special day, the little boy went to the forest, again calling for his Lord to come. Krishna appeared with a pot of yogurt, and the boy happily went to school with his treasure.

But when the teacher saw that the boy had brought only a small pot of yogurt, he was angry .

“What! You have brought only this much yogurt? Hundreds of people will be attending our festival.”

In his anger the teacher knocked the pot from the boy's grip, and the yogurt spilled out onto the floor. When the teacher picked up the pot, he was amazed to see that it was still full of yogurt. He again spilled the yogurt, and to his astonishment it remained full.

This story shows, among other things, why there can never be a recession in the spiritual world. If we take shelter of the Lord, He will protect us from any lack or limitation. Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita (9.22) that He will preserve what a fully surrendered devotee has and provide what he lacks. Krishna will take care of our needs to the degree that we are dedicating our life to Him.

Examples from Early ISKCON

Devotees over the years have had many experiences to verify Krishna’s promise to provide and take care of His devotees. In the very early days of Prabhupada’s mission, some devotees living together in San Francisco didn’t have money to pay the rent for their apartment. The morning of their impending eviction, they were leaving their apartment to go down the street for the morning service at the temple. As they came outside, hundred dollar bills floated down from an undetectable source. They gathered up the money and were able to pay their rent and give a sizable donation to Srila Prabhupada.

When devotees in Philadelphia faced a similar situation, they decided to continue their regular spiritual service of public chanting and depend on Krishna’s mercy. The day the rent was due, a man they had never seen before and never saw again came up to their chanting party and handed them an envelope marked “For Krishna.” It contained the exact amount of the rent.

In both these examples, Krishna placed devotees in a situation where their only recourse was to depend on Him. He sometimes places devotees in a difficult situation just to prove that He is the source of their supply. In this way the devotees' faith becomes stronger, and they become free from anxiety in future distressful situations, knowing that Krishna will provide for all their needs.

Using Resources in Krishna's Service

Another principle in Krishna’s economics is that the more devotees are able to use their resources in the Lord’s service, the more they will be given. Srila Prabhupada exemplified this principle in his outreach efforts after coming to the United States in 1965. In just a few short years, his mission had over a hundred temples throughout the world, with many resources to spread Lord Chaitanya’s teachings.

If we misuse resources meant for the Lord’s service, then He may restrict our assets or take them away. If wealth causes someone to forget about his or her service to the Lord, then out of love for that person, the Lord may confiscate the wealth. Krishna protects His fledgling devotees from becoming enamored by too many material possessions or becoming proud of them.

Another important tenet of Krishna’s economics is that when we give, we get. Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that as we surrender to Him, He reciprocates accordingly. Money, time, our labor, our material attachments—we can give all these to the Lord, and He will reciprocate beyond our greatest expectations.

The Fortunate Fruit Vendor

The scriptures contain many stories to support this principle. The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells the story of Krishna, as a toddler, going out to barter with a fruit vendor. He held some grains in His small hands. But by the time He reached the vendor, most of the grains had slipped through His little fingers, and He had almost nothing left to give her. Seeing the Lord’s enchanting, effulgent face, the fruit vendor felt love in her heart for the child. She piled His arms full of fruits. In exchange the Lord filled her basket with valuable jewels.

Examples of Krishna's generosity shouldn’t inspire us to enter a mercantile relationship with Him. We shouldn't think, "I'll give so much to the Lord, and I'll get back so much." While it is true that Krishna may fulfill such desires, we will be missing out on the real reward, love for Him. We should give to Him in a mood of service and beg to be able to take part in His eternal service. In the eternal reality, everything is perpetually provided, and there is no anxiety over how to maintain oneself.

We can take inspiration from pure devotees, who have no desire for anything beyond life's bare necessities. Their consciousness is merged in the transcendent reality, the world where wealth is unlimited and trees fulfill any desire (although the residents desire only things to serve Radha and Krishna). They eat sumptuous, rich food, not for sense gratification, but because it makes Krishna happy. They wear beautiful clothing and ornaments only to make Krishna happy, and their wealth is a pure, ever-increasing emotion of love for their Lord.

If we apply these principles in our lives, we too will enter a consciousness where Krishna’s economics prevail. Even while living in this world, we can become free of our material conditioning. Krishna’s stimulus package for the present times is to chant His holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. These names will purify our heart of desires for things that separate us from loving Krishna. This formula of chanting has the potency to bring peace and prosperity to the whole world.

About the Author: 

Archana Siddhi Devi Dasi

Archana Siddhi Devi Dasi is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. She has a B.S. in psychology and a master's in clinical social work. She joined the Hare Krishna movement in 1976 while in graduate school. She lived and served at the Potomac, Maryland, temple for twelve years. Her main service was book distribution.