By Mahatma Dasa
No place in the material world is ideal for remembering Krsna, but we can do things to improve our spiritual environment no matter where we are.
Recently, I was at a Krishna conscious program in Tennessee where a devotee said that environment is more powerful than willpower. He later told me that he felt the environment at his workplace was not conducive for being Krishna conscious. Krishna consciousness was a natural practice in his home, but not at work.
After speaking with him, I thought about his point further and considered it an important topic to address. In this article I’ll discuss environment versus willpower and how this relates to the workplace.
What’s the Ideal Environment?
Let’s start with the good news: We can be Krishna conscious anywhere.
Now here’s the bad news: There really isn’t an ideal environment for being Krishna conscious.
I hear you saying, “How can you say that? What about the temple? What about Vrindavan and Mayapur? What about a Rathayatra festival?”
Yes, those would seem to be ideal environments for developing Krishna consciousness. But let me ask you a question: Does everyone who goes to Vrindavan or a temple or a Rathayatra become Krishna conscious? Many people do, but one can fall into maya, illusion, even in the Lord’s personal presence.
The panacea of this age of darkness (Kali-yuga) is the maha-mantra. Chanting Hare Krishna is the yuga–dharma, the recommended religious practice for this age. The Vedas tell us that in this age, chanting the maha-mantra is the best way to be God conscious or Krishna conscious.
Does everyone who chants Hare Krishna become Krishna conscious? The impersonalists don’t. They chant to become one with Krishna. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many rounds on my beads I have chanted in my life and not even thought of Krishna, while His name was continuously coming from my lips
“Well,” you say, “at least you are chanting, and that will protect you from maya.” Krishna is there in His name, and yet my mind is off somewhere in maya land. Therefore, the reality is, I am not chanting attentively, nor am I thinking of Krishna.
And that’s not ideal.
Lord Chaitanya’s servant Kala Krishnadasa was lured away by gypsies while traveling with the Lord. If traveling with Lord Chaitanya isn’t an ideal environment, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t get much better than that. But even in that “ideal” environment, one can still choose to forget Krishna.
Environment Is Not Everything
Prahlada Maharaja was in the exact opposite situation. He was born into an environment far less conducive for Krishna consciousness than any place you or I will ever be in. Prahlada’s atheistic father sent Prahlada to an atheistic school with the intention of training him to be a first-class atheist. Yet Prahlada remained completely Krishna conscious.
Although environment does affect you, environment alone doesn’t determine how Krishna conscious you will or won’t be. What determines that?
Check Your Beliefs
Have you ever felt you can’t be Krishna conscious at work or in a particular situation?
If so, look to see if this idea is based on the belief that to be Krishna conscious, you need the “proper” or “ideal” environment. If this is your belief and work doesn’t fall into what you consider the proper environment, you will most likely resign yourself to the idea that your day at work is not going to be a Krishna conscious experience.
If this is how you feel, your beliefs need to change for you to be more Krishna conscious at work.
Let me ask you another question: If you think you can’t be Krishna conscious at work, what happens? I would assume you don’t really try to be Krishna conscious at work because, as you already know, you can’t. As soon as you say, “I can only be Krishna consciousness in a favorable environment,” you create a self-fulfilling prophecy and limit your ability to always think of Krishna.
Be open to the possibility that you can be more Krishna conscious than you might think while being in an environment that is not “ideal,” or possibly even “hostile.” In other words, you can be more Krishna conscious at work than you think.
After all, Krishna is only a thought away.
Do You See What I See?
When I used to distribute Prabhupada’s books, one meditation that inspired me most was to see everyone as devotees—devotees who had somehow forgotten they were devotees. I would see the little spark of a devotee in them, the spark that was buried under lifetimes of ignorance. As long as I saw that spark, I could relate to them in a much more Krishna conscious way than I normally would.
I’d like you to try this. Tomorrow, see everyone you come in contact with as a devotee who simply has forgotten that he or she is a devotee. If you do this, your whole day is going to be blissfully Krishna conscious.
When we change the way we look at people and things, the people and things we look at change.
A variation of this is to practice seeing everyone as a spiritual being, or to practice seeing Krishna in the heart of everyone. Don’t see man, woman, white, or black. If we remember to see everyone as a soul, and to see Krishna in everyone and in everything, we’ll be Krishna conscious at every moment.
Krishna is everywhere, even in the pages you are reading right now. Prabhupada says that when we see Krishna everywhere, we will be completely Krishna conscious, just by seeing.
You can also consider how the modes of nature are working. For example, when someone is angry, you can envision that person as a puppet being pulled by the mode of passion (described in Chapter Fourteen of the Bhagavad-gita).
When I was distributing Prabhupada’s books and someone became upset with me for offering him a book, Krishna often allowed me to see things exactly in this way. Consequently, I didn’t feel hurt or think that this soul is a bad person. I realized that the mode of ignorance is forcing this person to helplessly become angry. I also felt some compassion for him, thinking how miserable this person must be to become so easily upset.
Every day, you can make an effort to see the world from a Krishna conscious perspective, as in the examples mentioned above. Seeing through the eyes of the scriptures (sastra-caksuh) is recommended for seeing Krishna everywhere. If you practice seeing through the eyes of the scriptures, you’ll have a completely Krishna conscious day at work, or wherever you go.
Rise to the Challenge
The workplace can offer us the opportunity to practice qualities such as tolerance, discipline, forgiveness, kindness, and empathy. You can consider and reflect upon how an advanced devotee would behave if he or she were working at your job. How would a devotee you look up to react to the challenges, problems, anxieties, and stress you experience in the work environment?
What’s for Lunch?
What else could you do? You could distribute prasada. Bring a few extra things for your co-workers to eat at lunch, things you think theywould especially like. This will give you an opportunity to explain why you are a vegetarian and what prasada is. Prabhupada introduced prasada as the “secret weapon” for giving people Krishna. You could also bring flowers, garlands, or scents from your altar or the temple.
Give Krishna, Get Krishna
Srila Prabhupada says that one of the best ways to be Krishna consciousness is to give Krishna to others.
Prabhupada once wrote me that the more we give Krishna consciousness, the more we become Krishna conscious. Krishnadasa Kaviraja explains this idea in the Chaitanya-charitamrita. He writes that as the devotees distributed the fruits of Krishna consciousness, they tasted those fruits more and more.
When you give Krishna, you get Krishna.
In 1970, I was traveling and distributing Prabhupada’s books. This was the first time big books were ever distributed in large quantities in ISKCON. We wrote Srila Prabhupada with the news, and he replied, “This is the symptom of an advanced devotee; he takes every opportunity to spread Krishna consciousness.”
Prabhupada says that we should strain our brain to spread Krishna consciousness. Why not discover what opportunities exist at work to give people Krishna consciousness? Christians all over the world do this. Why shouldn’t we?
Some More Ideas
Here are a few more things you might want to try if you believe the atmosphere at work lends itself to these suggestions.
Every week you could print out a verse or a saying from our scriptures and put it somewhere on your desk that is visible to others (perhaps frame it as well). This might stir up some interest and cause people to ask you questions about your beliefs.
You can do the same thing with Krishna conscious desk calendars that have a different quotation for every day of the year. If dress code allows, you can do this with a Krishna conscious T-shirt. If you own your own business, you can have pictures of Krishna and Krishna conscious sayings on the wall.
Another thing that will help you be Krishna conscious at work is to pray to Krishna for the people at your workplace. For example, you can pray that they become open to Krishna consciousness. If you see that happening, you can take advantage of the opportunity to introduce spiritual topics and even invite them to participate in some Krishna conscious programs.
Ultimately the best way to help people become Krishna conscious is to be Krishna conscious yourself. People are usually more impressed by who you are and what you do than by what you say.
If people see something different or special about you, they are going to want to know your secret. When they find out, it might spark interest and faith in Krishna consciousness. Your behavior, qualities, and dealings with others are an essential aspect of your giving Krishna consciousness at work.
Obviously, there are many other ways to interest people in Krishna. I brought up the above examples just to get your juices flowing—to get you thinking about what you might be able to do in your workplace. There are many opportunities to be Krishna conscious at work.
You Don’t Win the Game on the Court
Ultimately, being Krishna conscious in the workplace depends a lot on what you do when you are not at work, just as the success of an athlete depends on his personal practice. The more Krishna conscious activities you do when you are not at work, the greater chance you have of being Krishna conscious at work.
The purpose of this article is not to discount the reality that many of us work in environments that can make it a challenge to be Krishna conscious. Ideally, it would be best to work in devotee-owned businesses and thus work in the association of other devotees. I always encourage devotees so inclined to develop businesses and companies that can employ other devotees.
I also encourage all devotees (especially those who have successful businesses or well-paying jobs) to direct money beyond their regular donations into projects they have a special connection with or attraction for, or even to develop their own projects for spreading Krishna consciousness.
When your work is directly connected to supporting something dear to your heart, it creates an inspiring connection between your work and your devotional service.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Heaven and hell are not only physical places, but states of consciousness. We have control over whether we work in hell or in heaven.