Perspectives on Ritual

What an appropriate set of words Vraja Vihari Dasa has used for his article about ritual in the March/April issue of Back to Godhead. How true it is that for many people, ritual would pave the path for spiritual enlightenment, and the author’s writing on the subject spells that out well.

Like the young man described in the article, I have always had doubts about the value of extended ritual practices to reach God, and I still do. I would never feel disdain for those who practice ritual sincerely and derive joy from it. What I feel sometimes is that, at least for some of us, participation during prolonged rituals detracts from thoughts about God and the teachings of Sri Krishna and their great importance in one’s life. I have often observed some attendees at services chatting with each other, walking away, or disengaging in other ways.

Perhaps, as the great acharyas have said, in today’s Kali-yuga, when there is the simple way to attain spirituality by chanting and following the four-way path of avoiding meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling, ritual can be kept up periodically purely for association among devotees and renewal of one’s spiritual practices.
Byravan Viswanathan.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Spiritual Challenges in the Workplace

The article “Transform Your Workplace into the Spiritual World”, by Mahatma Dasa (March/April), was very inspiring. I will definitely try to implement the points in my life.

However, there are few problems (listed below) which I find difficult to handle.

• I work in an IT industry where almost 50% of the workers are females. Since in the corporate world emphasis is given on developing friendly relationships, what is the best way I can handle this situation?

• There are team meetings, project parties, project picnics, client visits, etc. In such programs mundane topics are discussed, movie songs are played, and the entire atmosphere is full of passion and ignorance. They want me to be part of such events and say that they can arrange food for me without onions and garlic. Saying no to them every time hurt their egos, and they think me unsocial.

• Sometimes I have to work till late at night, and getting up early in the morning to chant sixteen rounds becomes very difficult. How can I handle this situation?

• Also, if it becomes difficult to complete sixteen rounds in the morning, then I try to complete them while commuting to the office. Is it correct to complete the prescribed number of rounds while traveling, or should it be completed at one fixed place, either in home or in temple?
Purushottam Kumar
Kolkata, India

Mahatma Dasa replies: Mixing of the sexes in the workplace certainly can cause problems. You have to create a balance between being friendly and warm and, at the same time, retaining a sobriety about yourself. If you consistently maintain standards in your dealings with women, they’ll respect those limits. If you are overly friendly, then that can be seen as an invitation for more and closer contact.

I teach a seminar on sexual purity, and the topic of female association in the workplace comes up often. One participant in the seminar suggested that if you are married, talk a lot about your wife, and if you are engaged, talk a lot about your fiancée.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura defines “association” as an exchange of love. He describes association in the workplace as association in the line of duty. In other words, if there is no intimacy or exchange of loving dealings, then you are not considered to be associating with another person.

I don’t say this to minimize your concern about engaging in mundane activities and conversations with co-workers. If you can’t get out of going to occasional company social events, then you have to accept them as austerities to be tolerated as part of your work. If you were a brahmachari or sannyasi, then you would have a different set of austerities to tolerate. If you were a billionaire, then you would have to tolerate the austerities of having a lot of false friends, experiencing constant requests for donations, and fearing that your child would be kidnapped. Life is austere, whoever you are and whatever you do. If there is anyone at these social events who is interested in spiritual life, then spend time with that person. You might have a chance to talk about Krishna, and that would be enlivening.

I understand that in the IT industry, employees sometimes have to work late. If this doesn’t happen too often, again, you’ll just have to tolerate the late nights and deal with them as best you can. If this is something that goes on regularly, this can be a problem for your spiritual life. In that case, it would be best to find employment in a company with work hours more conducive to your sadhana.

Regarding japa, it’s better to chant in one place, ideally a place where you can fully concentrate on your japa. If you must chant elsewhere, it’s best to find a place where, as far as possible, you won’t be distracted. Chanting and driving are not recommended because it’s difficult to concentrate on japa while driving. However, if that’s the only way you can finish your rounds, it’s better to chant and drive than not to finish your rounds.

Mixing Prasadam

Is it an offense to mix prasadam with unoffered food and eat it? Also, if I offer a small amount of food for prasadam, would I mix that offered food into the pot of the normal food to make it all prasadam?
Via the Internet

Our reply: When we prepare a pot of something to offer to Krishna, we take a small amount of that and then offer it with the intention that we are offering the entire pot full of food to Him. The small amount in His bowl is called maha-prasadam, and the rest is prasadam.

We should not add anything to prasadam except other prasadam. Better to offer each item in a meal on a plate for Krishna and not eat anything that can’t be offered.