Two taste-destroyers: too much salt in a food preparation, and too much attachment to material things.
By Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
Devotees gratefully accept what Krishna provides and strive to use everything in His service.
The aroma of a freshly prepared breakfast fills the air. To quell their morning hunger, friendly devotees gather to honor food prepared for and offered to Lord Krishna. The kicchari – spicy rice, mung dal, and fresh vegetables – appears wholesome and savory. Spoon in hand, devotees raise the trusted preparation to their ready mouths. Then something unexpected occurs. When placed on the tongue, the kicchari creates a bracing chemical reaction.
“Can we eat this?”
Murmurs sober the jovial atmosphere in the room.
“What a pity! Too much salt!”
So it may happen. Sometimes a preparation is incorrectly salted and cannot be eaten lest we are sickened. On the other hand, with no salt the flavor of many foods is inhibited. Fittingly, Srila Prabhupada compared the collection and use of resources and wealth to the use of salt. If we take too much, we spoil our life, and if we use too little, life is tasteless.
Once when a disciple accidently added too much salt to an item she had prepared for Srila Prabhupada’s lunch, he didn’t mention it. But the next day during a discourse on Srimad-Bhagavatam, he likened over-salting to extreme endeavor. He explained that engaging in action that requires too much effort can distract us from the purpose of our devotional practice, as much as too much salt can ruin otherwise tasty food.
Atyahara and prayasa are twin words that appear in the second verse of The Nectar of Instruction, by Srila Rupa Goswami. Atyahara and prayasa translate as “intense endeavor” and “over-collection.” Just as too much salt spoils the broth, ambitious hard work for more than we require in our lives destroys self-realization. Why is that? Our constitutional nature is pure spirit, so to meditate on material things and strive hard for them contradicts the heart of our being. Not surprisingly, sincere devotees of Krishna often report feeling bored or burned out by extending themselves for various complicated business negotiations and other efforts for material acquirements.
When the parents of a disciple of Srila Prabhupada mentioned to him that his students were not very ambitious, Prabhupada replied, “Yes, that is so.”
They thought he must have misunderstood their comment. Their intention was to inform him that his disciples did not work hard, such as in a nine-to-five job.
When they repeated their comment, he answered, “Yes, they have no ambition.”
The couple was taken aback. From their point of view, to work very hard was laudable. But Srila Prabhupada preferred not to cultivate material ambition among his disciples, and he was satisfied to hear they had none. As a matter of fact, he considered it an obstacle to the future of genuine human prosperity.
How is human prosperity endangered by materialistic hard work? To understand this, we may consider Prabhupada’s example of a circle drawn by a compass. Each circle you draw around the center point will be either larger or smaller than the others, but they will not intersect one another. Similarly, when people put Krishna in the center, their lives don’t clash with one another.
Hard work for general human prosperity isn’t effective because when Krishna is not in the center, interests clash. Furthermore, the money earned through hard work generally leads to negative results. Prabhupada explains:
That is the illusion of material nature. As a result of the impulse for sense gratification, money is earned by spoiled energy, and it is then spent for the destruction of the human race. The energy of the human race is thus spoiled by the law of nature, and the money itself will become the cause of destruction instead of becoming the cause of peace and prosperity. (“The Formula for Peace,” Back to Godhead, 1956)
Srila Prabhupada’s words in this decades-old article ring clear and true to this day. In the early twenty-first century, the destruction of the bounty of earth’s natural resources is fully imminent. A tense human society totters on the edge of the loss of the God-given opulence that has been at our fingertips and all around us for eons. Our industrial achievements have been supersized, our moral and spiritual condition downsized.
Perfect Wealth Is the Gift of Krishna
The poverty or wealth of devotees who are attached to Krishna’s service is not at all like that of those who disregard Him. In this sense we can say their lives are perfectly and transcendentally salted. The life of the devotee Sudama Brahmana is a powerful example of this. Sudama was a very poor brahmana by choice. In one way his life was extremely under-salted. Yet his perfection was assured because his heart was filled with love for Krishna.
Sudama was a strict brahmana who didn’t want anything for himself. As a youth he had been Krishna’s classmate when they attended the school of their spiritual master. Throughout the rest of Sudama’s life in separation from the Lord, he considered Krishna his beloved friend and worshipable Lord.
One day, Sudama’s devoted wife requested Him to pay Krishna a visit. She had become thin and ill due to sharing Sudama’s life of poverty. She wanted him to ask Krishna for a benediction that would surely lessen their suffering. Sudama agreed to go; he wanted to see Krishna again after so many years.
Just entering the precincts of Dwarka caused Sudama to forget everything because he was filled with spiritual bliss. He stood for a moment in silence at the door of Queen Rukmini’s palace. Krishna happened to be there, and the humble Sudama was greeted and worshiped by the divine couple. Rukmini fanned the poor brahmana, clothed in stained, torn cloth, his veins visible all over his body. Lord Krishna bathed his feet and offered worship to him. Krishna and Sudama later took each other’s hands and talked sweetly about how they had lived together in the school of their guru.
Then Krishna inquired about any food Sudama might have brought from home as an offering to Him. Sudama hung his head in shame. He had indeed brought something, but it was only poor-man’s food, which he considered unfit for Lord Krishna.
According to Bhagavatam commentator Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, Sudama thought, “Even if You request it from me, Krishna, I will not give it to You,” while Krishna thought, “The intention you had fixed in your mind in coming here must not be frustrated, for you are My beloved devotee.”
Then Krishna snatched the little bag of dry rice from Sudama and said, “This gives Me extreme pleasure!” He ate a handful of it. “Not only does this satisfy Me, but it will satisfy the entire universe.” Afterwards Sudama was led to his own room, where he was fed sumptuously by Krishna’s many servants and induced to rest comfortably.
Though on the urging of his wife Sudama had come to Dwarka to gain something, the next day he departed from the palace empty-handed. In the ecstasy of pure love, his only thoughts were meditation on the glories of Krishna. He thought, for example, “Devotional service to His lotus feet is the root cause of all the perfections a person can find in heaven, in liberation, in the subterranean regions and on earth.” (Bhagavatam 10.81.19)
Sudama never once thought himself a candidate for owning wealth; he thought it would somehow distract him from his worship. For that reason he was inimical to all kinds of sense gratification. But Krishna had another plan. When Sudama arrived at his old residence, he was amazed by what he saw. It was now a palace filled with opulence that could rival that of the king of heaven. His wife, along with her newly acquired servants, was dressed so gorgeously that Sudama could not even recognize her. At that moment his bodily appearance also transformed.
For Lord Krishna there is no deity higher than His pure devotees. He accepts them as His masters. In Dwarka He daily performed sacrificial ceremonies to worship thousands of brahmanas. He was therefore obliged and greatly pleased to bestow great wealth on one humble Sudama Brahmana, who prayed only that he would not use that wealth for his own sense gratification.
As in the case of Sudama Brahmana, ambition to love and serve Krishna is a purely spiritual affair, and the Lord supplies facility to those devotees who can use it to help them in their service. The paraphernalia of sacrifice to Krishna is absolutely Krishna; the opulence of pure devotees is as perfect as God Himself.
Like Sudama, Srila Prabhupada is an example of the utterly amazing facility the Lord will bestow upon a devotee who is surrendered to purely serving Him. Prabhupada arrived in America with what he called “a few hours’ spending in New York,” yet due to his earnest pure mood of service to his spiritual master, within ten years his assets totaled many millions of dollars. All of it was one hundred percent for the service of his mission to propagate Krishna consciousness.
The Cure for Our Salty Ambition
Srila Prabhupada is a practical example of how someone can use absolutely everything in Krishna’s mission. He knew the formula for peace. Though decades old, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions carry greater weight now than ever. The article “The Formula for Peace,” which contains his profound lesson regarding salt in the broth, was published in his Back to Godhead magazine in 1956, the year of my birth. Just as he warned, the demand for economic development and sense gratification has become more and more harmful. People are increasingly manipulated by it. The practices of austerity, truthfulness, cleanliness, and mercy fade. The soul of mankind grows deaf to rational spiritual advice.
From “The Formula for Peace”:
By the arrangement of the Supreme Lord, there is an ocean of salt, because salt is necessary for the living being. In the same manner God has arranged for sufficient air and light, which are also essential for the living being. One can collect any amount of salt from the storehouse, but one cannot take more salt than he needs. If he takes more salt he spoils the broth, and if he takes less salt his eatables become tasteless. On the other hand, if he takes only what he absolutely requires, the food is tasty and he is healthy. So ambition for more wealth than we need is harmful, just as eating more salt than we absolutely need is harmful. That is the law of nature.
The more the increase of troublesome industry, the more the dissatisfaction of the people in general, though a select few may live lavishly, up to their necks in the brine. Gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a civilization that does not know that Sri, the goddess of fortune, is always guarded by the four arms of Sri Niketana, a name for Krishna or Narayana that means that He is Sri’s own abode, her resting place, her protector, her keeper. Sri is also known as Lakshmi, a name often used as a synonym for money or wealth. The misuse of Krishna’s Lakshmi violates the primordial laws of the universe.
Just as Sri is eternally associated with Narayana, the soul is naturally and eternally sheltered in a relationship with Krishna. We living entities are not meant to be poverty stricken. Just as a son naturally enjoys the property of his father due to his relationship with him, every living being has the right to enjoy God’s property. Because Sri rests on the chest of Narayana, she naturally sees all living beings who approach to serve Him, and she bestows favors upon them. Devotees thus receive great facility and are able to accomplish the amazing.
A devotee who wishes to open a krishna-prasadam restaurant requires a suitably constructed building. Another devotee may become expert in a profitable business to finance a bhakti center on the request of his spiritual master. Still another may wear a valuable gold wedding band as a symbol of his vow of service to family members in assisting them in the progress of their Krishna consciousness. Devotees may receive opulence for Krishna conscious service but not regard it as their own achievement, as in the case of the pure devotee Sudama Brahmana.
Regardless of our wealth or lack of it, Krishna assures us in Bhagavad-gita that as soon as we surrender unto Him, He squares our karmic account. He can at once lift our burden of karma, provided we are sincerely trying to return to His shelter. One may begin a new life by accepting initiation from a bona fide spiritual master, in which personal vows of austerity are taken. By accepting such regulation, even if the over-salted condition recurs in our lives, it is by far easier to detect and self-monitor, due to a more balanced life and a purified consciousness. Observing spiritual vows softens the heart so that we may see the gifts of Sri in their true perspective, as privileges from a loving father. The devotee’s ambition is solely for a life of hard work in loving devotional service, tastefully seasoned to perfection.