Unless we recognize God as the ultimate owner of everything, all that we claim to be ours is stolen property.
By Vishakha Devi Dasi
Krishna created everything and owns it all, but we have the right to something more valuable than the things of this world.

The first mantra of the ancient text Sri Ishopanishad instructs us in what we’re entitled to in this world: “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.”

Although this succinct directive regarding what we actually have a right to may appear clear at first glance, when we pause to think it over, questions arise. For example, regarding accepting things that are necessary: My actual bodily necessities are minimal – shelter, food, clothing. Is that all that I’m entitled to? And am I entitled to those? After all, millions of people in the world lack those basics. Also, regarding necessities being set aside as my quota, who decides what my quota is?

Srila Prabhupada once explained that when his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, was a child, he was rebuked for eating a mango that hadn’t been offered to Krishna. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was so chastened by this rebuke that for the rest of his life he never again ate a mango. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati felt he was not entitled to enjoy a mango, and whenever he was offered this delectable fruit he would say he could not accept it, for he was an offender.

But what is each one of us entitled to? Prasada? We find Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers delighting in opulence feasts, as Srila Prabhupada and his followers did – and as his followers do to this day. But even there, we’re not entitled to overeat, for if we do we suffer indigestion and other difficulties. And we’re not entitled to waste prasada; Srila Prabhupada repeatedly cautioned his followers not to waste prasada or anything else.

At the same time, we also know of devotees of Krishna, like Sudama Brahmana and his wife, who didn’t have enough prasada – who were often hungry. How to understand this?

In his purport to Sri Ishopanishad, Mantra 1, Srila Prabhupada writes,

Except for the Lord no one is a proprietor of anything. One should accept only those things that are set aside by the Lord as his quota. The cow, for instance, gives milk, but she does not drink that milk: she eats grass and straw, and her milk is designated as food for human beings. Such is the arrangement of the Lord. Thus we should be satisfied with those things He has kindly set aside for us, and we should always consider to whom those things we possess actually belong.

Our quota is determined by the Lord and is part of a natural arrangement. We’re asked to accept that arrangement happily, remembering the kindness of the supreme arranger.

Srila Prabhupada continues,

Take, for example, our dwelling, which is made of earth, wood, stone, iron, cement and so many other material things. If we think in terms of Sri Ishopanishad, we must know that we cannot produce any of these building materials ourselves. We can simply bring them together and transform them into different shapes by our labor. A laborer cannot claim to be a proprietor of a thing just because he has worked hard to manufacture it.

If we don’t recognize God as the ultimate proprietor of everything, all the property we claim to be ours is stolen property – we have no right to it. As a result of this theft, we’re liable to be punished by the laws of nature, which are ultimately God’s laws. We’re expected to recognize God’s authority and become His devotee. We offer everything for His service and partake only of food offered to Him. The root of our individual and collective troubles in this world is our deliberate disobedience of the laws of nature – God’s laws. Disobeying these bring us ruin. Conversely, one who’s thoughtful, who knows and obeys the laws of nature, and who is not influenced by greed or lust is sure to be recognized by God and become eligible to go back to Godhead, back to our eternal home.

There’s no indication that Sudama Brahmana ever thought, “I’m a brahmana and a personal childhood friend of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. My wife and I are entitled to have enough to eat and a proper place to live.”

Rather, Sudama Brahmana so fully accepted his situation that he was reluctant to ask Krishna to change it. And indeed, he didn’t ask Krishna to change his lot. Without being asked, Krishna gave Sudama vast opulence.

Srila Prabhupada’s consciousness was similar to Sudama Brahmana’s. He once said,

We have eaten today. We do not know whether we shall have any eatable next day. This is our position. If it is available, we shall eat; otherwise we shall starve. This is our position. Still, I don’t seek any employment. “Give us some service to maintain our . . .” No, we don’t do that. We never do that. When I was alone, I was not doing that. I was living alone. I had no income, no friend, no shelter. Since I left my home, since 1954, I never cared for anyone maintaining me. And there was no resource, fixed income, nothing of the sort. I depended on Krishna . . . . If He wants, He will give us food; if He wants, we shall starve. (Conversation, May 20, 1975)

This mood of complete faith in Krishna and dependence on Him is what Srila Prabhupada wanted to instill in his followers. He said,

He’s [Krishna is] feeding millions and millions of living entities, and He’ll keep me starving? Is it possible? [If someone thinks that way] that means he does not know what is Krishna. He’s thinking Krishna is a fictitious thing. That is his position. He does not know what is Krishna. . . . Then they would have been confident – “Yes, Krishna is feeding everyone. Why not me? What have I done? Because I am engaged in His service, therefore I shall starve?” And the devotee has no such question also, whether he’ll starve or eat. It doesn’t matter if he starves. It doesn’t matter. He thinks, “Oh, Krishna has put me in this position, to starve.” (Conversation, Sept. 18, 1973)

This surrendered consciousness is not intended simply for renunciants. After all, Sudama Brahmana was a householder. And our great predecessor acharya Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who was also a householder, sang, manasa, deho, geho, jo kichu mor arpilun tuwa pade nanda-kishor: “My mind, my body, my family, whatever I am thinking is mine, whatever I have got in my possession, now I am surrendering unto You. Now, whatever You like, You do.” Srila Prabhupada comments, “That is a very nice song. So we have to do that. Then Krishna will take care. That’s all. The same example: you simply have to capture the rope. Then you’ll be lifted immediately.”

All this is not to say that devotees of Krishna are lazy folks who expect free handouts from God. On the contrary, devotees often work harder than nondevotees; the difference is their intention – they want to please guru and God – and their expectations – they pray guru and God will be pleased by their efforts. In Krishna’s words, “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Gita 2.47) In other words, devotees do their duty without attachment to the result, for they know the result is in Krishna’s hands.

What we’re entitled to, what we have the right to, is to serve Krishna and His devotees. And that service can be as simple as remembering Him with gratitude. With this in mind, we can attentively avoid acquiring an inappropriate sense of entitlement.

Unhealthy Entitlement

If I believe that I’m inherently deserving of privileges and special treatment – that I’m entitled to these – that mood is not in accord with the example and teachings of Sri Krishna and our great spiritual preceptors and so has negative implications and ramifications.

The mood of entitlement is narcissistic; it means I consider myself superior to others. We must never confuse, on the one hand, the fact that we’re entitled to render service to Krishna with, on the other hand, the concept that we deserve honor, prestige, and privileges for doing so.

Krishna can fulfill all our wishes without difficulty because He is almighty and full of all opulence. If we want material happiness from Krishna, it is certainly not difficult for Him to grant it. But there are two problems with this line of action: one is that whatever material happiness we achieve is temporary; sooner or later it will end. The other is that when we acquire opulence, we tend to become proud. In fact, it’s the business of Krishna’s illusory energy to try to build us up, to make us proud and contaminated by a sense of entitlement.

Of all of the many teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers, one of the foremost is this one from Lord Chaitanya’s Sikshashtaka (Verse 3):

trinad api sunichena
taror api sahishnuna
amanina mana-dena
kirtaniyah sada harih

“One should chant the holy names in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others, expecting none for oneself. In such a state of mind, one can chant the holy names of the Lord constantly.”

Srila Prabhupada received respect, reverence, and service from his followers and others, yet never felt entitled to these or demanded them. Rather, Srila Prabhupada felt himself an insignificant servant of his spiritual master and Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.

Sri Krishna says, “Penance performed out of pride and for the sake of gaining respect, honor and worship is said to be in the mode of passion. It is neither stable nor permanent.” (Gita 17.18) Srila Prabhupada comments, “Sometimes penance and austerity are executed to attract people and receive honor, respect and worship from others. Persons in the mode of passion arrange to be worshiped by subordinates and let them wash their feet and offer riches. Such arrangements artificially made by the performance of penances are considered to be in the mode of passion. The results are temporary; they can be continued for some time, but they are not permanent.”

Centering Our Thoughts on Krishna

How to avoid the dangerous allure of the mood of entitlement, which will ensnare us? One way is by remembering how tiny we are, how we’re dwarfed by Krishna and His creation. When we gaze at the ocean, contemplate the star-studded night sky, get jostled by the multitudes on a busy urban sidewalk, we can realize we’re part of something much grander and more important than we are. Being awed by vastness evokes our sense of smallness and amazement at the all-pervasive Supreme Person who’s behind such magnificence. When His presence becomes more real to us, we’ll naturally find ourselves more generous, more willing to help others, and less self-centered, demanding, and intolerant. We move from the central focus of our psychological world with its self-focused mindset, to centering our thoughts on Krishna and the magnitude of His extraordinary creation. We gradually realize that our position in His creation is puny. And in some inexplicable way, when we understand and accept our insignificance, we’re filled with joy.

This consciousness may be more difficult to achieve if one is wealthy, born in a highly placed family, has some position and power, or is notably intelligent, beautiful, or skilled. Modernity trains us to desire such assets, but for spiritual progress, these can be deficits.

We counter these deficits by awakening to Krishna’s unfathomable boundlessness and kindness. As we realize that all our assets are actually gifted to us by Him, our sense of entitlement deflates along with our narcissistic tendencies, and our connection with Him, His devotees, and His creation strengthens. We feel our quota is gloriously fulfilled simply by the privilege of engaging in Krishna’s devotional service, no matter what that service is.

Vishakha Devi Dasi has been writing for BTG since 1973. The author of six books, she is the temple president at Bhaktivedanta Manor in the UK. She and her husband, Yadubara Dasa, produce and direct films, most recently the biopic on the life of Srila Prabhupada Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami Who Started It All. Visit her website at OurSpiritualJourney.com.