A Message to Businessmen: Don’t Forget Spiritual Culture


A lecture by
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Delivered in Calcutta on January 30, 1973, to the Bharata Chamber of Commerce.


Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for kindly inviting me I’ll serve you to the best of my ability.

Today’s subject is “Culture and Business.” We understand business to mean “occupational duty.” According to our Vedic culture, there are different types of business. As described in Bhagavad-gita [4.13], catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah,. The four divisions of the social system, based on people’s qualities and types of work, are the brahmanas [intellectuals and teachers], the ksatriyas [military men and state leaders], the vaisyas [farmers and merchants], and the sudras [laborers]. Before doing business, one must know what kinds of work there are and who can do what kind of work. People have different capabilities, and there are different types of work, but now we have created a society where everyone takes up everyone else’s business. That is not very scientific.

Society has natural cultural divisions, just as there are natural divisions in the human body. The whole body is one unit, but it has different departments, also—for example, the head department, the arm department, the belly department, and the leg department. This is scientific. So in society the head department is represented by the brahmana, the arm department by the ksatriya, the belly department by the vaisya, and the leg department by the sudra. Business should be divided scientifically in this way.

The head department is the most important department, because without the head the other departments—the arm, the belly, and the leg—cannot function. If the arm department is lacking, business can still go on. If the leg department is lacking, business can go on. But if the head department is not there—if your head is cut off from your body—then even though you have arms, legs, and a belly, they are all useless,

The head is meant for culture. Without culture, every type of business creates confusion and chaos. And that is what we have at the present moment, because of jumbling of different types of business. So there must be one section of people; the head department, who give advice to the other departments. These advisors are the intelligent and qualified brahmanas.

samo damas tapah saucam
ksantir arjavam eva ca
jnanam vijnanam astikyam
brahma-karma svabhava-jam

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness-these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” [Bhagavad-gita 18.42]

The brahmanas, the head of the social body, are meant to guide society in culture. Culture means knowing the aim of life. Without understanding the aim of life, a man is a ship without a rudder. But at the present moment we are missing the goal of life because there is no head department in society. The whole human society is now lacking real brahmanas to give advice to the other departments.

Arjuna is a good example of how a member of the ksatriya department should take advice. He was a military man; his business was to fight. In the Battle of Kuruksetra he engaged in his business, but at the same time he took the advice of the brahmanya-deva, Lord Krsna. As it is said,

namo brahmanya-devaya
go-brahmana-hitaya ca
jagad-dhitaya krsnaya
govindaya namo namah

“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krsna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who is always benefiting the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krsna and Govinda.” [Visnu Purana 1.19.65]

In this verse the first things taken into consideration are the cows and the brahmanas (go-brahmana). Why are they stressed? Because a society with no brahminical culture and no cow protection is not a human society but a chaotic, animalistic society. And any business you do in a chaotic condition will never be perfect. Business can be done nicely only in a society following a proper cultural system.

Instructions for a perfect cultural system are given in Srimad-Bhagavatam. At a meeting in the forest of Naimisaranya, where many learned scholars and brahmanas had assembled and Srila Suta Gosvami was giving instructions, he stressed the varnasrama social system (atah pumbhir dvija-srestha varnasrama-vibhagasah). The Vedic culture organizes society into four varnas [occupational divisions] and four asramas [spiritual stages of life]. As mentioned before, the varnas are the brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra. The asramas are the brahmacari-asrama [celibate student life], grhastha-asrama [family life], vanaprastha-asrama [retired life], and sannyasa-asrama [renounced life]. Unless we take to this institution of varnasrama-dharma, the whole society will be chaotic.

And the purpose of varnasrama-dharma is to satisfy the Supreme Lord. As stated in the Visnu Purana [3.8.9],

purusena parah puman
visnur aradhyate pantha
nanyat tat-tosa-karanam

According to this verse, one has to satisfy the Supreme Lord by properly performing one’s prescribed duties according to the system of varna and asrama. In a state, you have to satisfy your government. If you don’t, you are a bad citizen and cause chaos in society. Similarly, in the cosmic state—that is, in this material creation as a whole-if you do not satisfy the Supreme Lord, the proprietor of everything, then there will be a chaotic condition. Our Vedic culture teaches that whatever you do, you must satisfy the Supreme Lord. That is real culture.

Sva-karmana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah. You may do any business—the brahmana’s business, the ksatriya’s business, the vaisya’s business, or the sudra’s business—but by your business you should satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You may be a merchant, a professional man, a legal advisor, a medical man—it doesn’t matter. But if you want perfection in your business, then you must try to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Otherwise you are simply wasting your time.

In Bhagavad-gita [3.9], Lord Krsna says, yajnarthat karmanah,. The word yajna refers to Visnu, or Krsna, the Supreme Lord. You have to work for Him. Otherwise you become bound by the reactions of your activities (anyatra loko ‘yam karma-bandhanah). And as long as you are in the bondage of karma, you have to transmigrate from one body to another.

Unfortunately, at the present moment people do not know that there is a soul and that the soul transmigrates from one body to another. As stated in Bhagavad-gita [2.13], tatha dehantara-praptir: “When the body dies, the soul transmigrates to another body.” I’ve talked with big, big scientists and professors who do not know that there is life after death. They do not know. But according to our Vedic information, there is life after death. And we can experience transmigration of the soul in this present life. It is a very common thing: a baby soon gets the body of a boy, the boy then gets the body of a young man, and the young man gets the body of an old man. Similarly, the old man, after the annihilation of his body, will get another body. It is quite natural and logical.

Actually, we have two bodies, the gross body and the subtle body. The gross body is made up of our senses and the bodily elements like bones, blood, and so on. When we change our body at death, the present gross body is destroyed, but the subtle body, made of mind, intelligence, and ego, is not. The subtle body carries us to our next gross body.

It is just like what happens when we sleep. At night we forget about the gross body, and the subtle body alone works. As we dream we are taken away from our home, from our bed, to some other place, and we completely forget the gross body. When our sleep is over we forget about the dream and become attached again to the gross body. This is going on in our daily experience.

So we are the observer, sometimes of the gross body and sometimes of the subtle body. Both bodies are changing, but we are the unchanging observer, the soul within the bodies. Therefore, our inquiry should be, “What is my position? At night I forget my gross body, and during the daytime I forget my subtle body. Then what is my real body?” These are the questions we should ask.

So you may do your business, as Arjuna did his business. He was a fighter, a ksatriya, but he did not forget his culture, hearing Gita from the master. But if you simply do business and do not cultivate your spiritual life, then your business is a useless waste of time (srama eva hi kevalam).

Our Krsna consciousness movement is being spread so that you do not forget your cultural life. We do not say that you stop your business and become a sannyasi like me and give up everything. We do not say that. Nor did Krsna say that. Krsna never said, “Arjuna, give up your fighting business.” No, He said, “Arjuna, you are a ksatriya. You are declining to fight, saying, ‘Oh, it is very abominable.’ You should not say that. You must fight.” That was Krsna’s instruction.

Similarly, we Krsna conscious people are also advising everyone, “Don’t give up your business. Go on with your business, but simply hear about Krsna.” Caitanya Mahaprabhu also said this, quoting from Srimad-Bhagavatam: sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir. Caitanya Mahaprabhu never said, “Give up your position.” Giving up one’s position is not very difficult. But to cultivate spiritual knowledge while one stays in his position—that is required. Among the animals there is no cultivation of spiritual life. That is not possible; the animals cannot cultivate this knowledge. Therefore, if human beings do not cultivate spiritual knowledge, they’re exactly like animals (dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah,).

So we should be very conscious about our eternal existence. We, the spirit soul within the body, are eternal (na hanyate hanyamane sarire). We are not going to die after the annihilation of our body. This is the cultivation of knowledge, or brahma-jijnasa, which means inquiry about one’s self. Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s first disciple, Sanatana Gosvami, was formerly finance minister in the government of Nawab Hussein Shah. Then he retired and approached Caitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly said, “My dear Lord, people call me pandita.” (Because he was a brahmana by caste, naturally he was called pandita, meaning “a learned person.”) “But I am such a pandita,” he said, “that I do not even know who or what I am.”

This is the position of everyone. You may be a businessman, or you may be in another profession, but if you do not know what you are, wherefrom you have come, why you are under the tribulations of the laws of material nature, and where you are going in your next life—if you do not know these things, then whatever you are doing is useless. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.8],

dharmah svanusthitah pumsam
visvaksena-kathasu yah
notpadayed yadi ratim
srama eva hi kevalam

“The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” Therefore our request to everyone is that while you engage in your business, in whatever position Krsna has posted you, do your duty nicely, but do not forget to cultivate Krsna knowledge.

Krsna knowledge means God consciousness. We must know that we are part and parcel of God (mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah). We are eternally part and parcel of Krsna, or God, but we are now struggling with the mind and senses (manah-sasthanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati). Why this struggle for existence? We must inquire about our eternal life beyond this temporary life. Suppose in this temporary life I become a big businessman for, say, twenty years or fifty years or at the utmost one hundred years. There is no guarantee that in my next life I’m going to be a big businessman. No. There is no such guarantee. But this we do not care about. We are taking care of our present small span of life, but we are not taking care of our life eternal. That is our mistake.

In this life I may be a very great businessman, but in my next life, by my karma, I may become something else. There are 8,400,000 forms of life. jalaja nava-laksani sthavara laksa vimsati: There are 900,000 forms of life in the water, and two million forms of trees and other plants. Then krmayo rudra-sankhyayah paksinam dasa-laksanam: There are 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and one million species of birds. Finally, there are three million varieties of beasts and 400,000 human species. So we must pass through eight million different forms of life before we come to the human form of life.

Therefore Prahlada Maharaja says,

kaumara acaret prajno
dharman bhagavatan iha
durlabham manusam janma
tad apy adhruvam arthadam

“One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life-in other words, from the tender age of childhood-to practice the activities of devotional service. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.” [Bhag. 7.6.1] This human birth is very rare. We should not be satisfied simply with becoming a big businessman. We must know what our next life is, what we are going to be.

There are different kinds of men. Some are called karmis, some are called jnanis, some are called yogis, and some are called bhaktas. The karmis are after material happiness. They want the best material comforts in this life, and they want to be elevated to the heavenly planets after death. The jnanis also want happiness, but being fed up with the materialistic way of life, they want to merge into the existence of Brahman, the Absolute. The yogis want mystic power. And the bhaktas, the devotees, simply want the service of the Lord. But unless one understands who the Lord is, how can one render service to Him? So cultivating knowledge of God is the highest culture.

There are different kinds of culture: the culture of the karmis, the culture of the jnanis, the culture of the yogis, and the culture of the bhaktas. Actually, all of these people are called yogi’s if they are doing their duty sincerely. Then they are known as karma-yogis, jnana-yogis, dhyana-yogis, and bhakti-yogis. But in Bhagavad-gita [6.47] Krsna says,

yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah

Who is the first-class yogi? Krsna answers, “He who is always thinking of Me.” This means the Krsna conscious person is the best yogi. As already mentioned, there are different kinds of yogis (the karma-yogi, the jnana-yogi, the dhyana-yogi, and the bhakti-yogi), but the best yogi is he who always thinks of Krsna within himself with faith and love. One who is rendering service to the Lord-he is the first-class yogi.

So we request everyone to try to know what he is, what Krsna is, what his relationship with Krsna is, what his real life is, and what the goal of his life is. Unless we cultivate all this knowledge, we are simply wasting our time, wasting our valuable human form of life. Although everyone will die—that’s a fact—one who dies after knowing these things is benefited. His life is successful.

The cat will die, the dog will die—everyone will die. But one who dies knowing Krsna—oh, that is a successful death. As Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita [4.9],

janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna

“One who knows in truth the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”

So wherever we go all over the world, our only request is, “Please try to understand Krsna. Then your life is successful.” It doesn’t matter what your business is. You have to do something to live. Krsna says, sarira-yatrapi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmanah: if you stop working, your life will be hampered. One has to do something for his livelihood, but at the same time he has to cultivate knowledge for the perfection of his life. The perfection of life is simple: try to understand Krsna. This is what we are prescribing all over the world. It is not very difficult. If you read Bhagavad-gita As It Is, you will come to understand Krsna. Krsna explains everything.

For the neophytes, Krsna says, raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh. “My dear Kaunteya, I am the taste of water, and I am the light of the sun and the moon,” There is no need to say, “I cannot see God.” Here is God; the taste of water is God. Everyone drinks water, and when one tastes it he is perceiving God. Then why do you say, “I cannot see God”? Think as God directs, and then gradually you’ll see Him. Simply remember this one instruction from Bhagavad-gita—raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh: “I am the taste of water; I am the shining illumination of the sun and moon.” Who has not seen the sunlight? Who has not seen the moonlight? Who has not tasted water? Then why do you say, “I have not seen God”? If you simply practice this bhakti-yoga, as soon as you taste water and feel satisfied you will think, “Oh, here is Krsna.” Immediately you will remember Krsna. As soon as you see the sun shine, you will remember, “Oh, here is Krsna.” As soon as you see the moon shine, you will remember, “Oh, here is Krsna.” And sabdah khe: As soon as you hear some sound in the sky, you will re member, “Here is Krsna.”

In this way, you will remember Krsna a every step of your life. And if you re member Krsna at every step of life, you become the topmost yogi. And above all if you practice the chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, you will easily remember Krsna. There is no tax. There is no loss to your business. If you chant the Hare Krsna mantra, if you remember Krsna while drinking water, what is your loss Why don’t you try it? This is the real culture of knowledge. If you cultivate this knowledge and at the same time go or doing your business, your life will be successful. Thank you very much.

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