Employment In the Service of Krsna
When a philosophy works, its followers have work also.
by Drutakarma dasa
The ad in Miami-area newspapers promised eighteen construction jobs at a site in Coral Gables. Two hundred hopeful unemployed workers rushed that morning to the address, which turned out to be a vacant lot.
“It was a cruel hoax,” said Leo Harris, an out-of-work welder. “It was something I’ve never seen before—the despair in some people’s faces. They were so desperate they would have done almost anything to find work. . . . They were really disappointed. A few broke down and cried.”
The psychological effect of joblessness is devastating. Continental Airlines pilot Jim Hodgson, 33, says “All my life I wanted to be a fat, dumb, and happy pilot flying the friendly skies. Then one day in November 1980 they told me, ‘Give us your bags, give us your wings, give us your stuff. We’ll call you when we need you.’ I was stripped naked and thrown out into the world without a job. Telling people you’re unemployed is like telling them you’ve got leprosy.”
Connie Cerrito, laid off after working thrity-five years at a New York cosmetics factory, said, “My job was my whole life. That’s all I did. It’s unbearable now. I can’t go on like this.”
In this era of rising unemployment, it is common to see hundreds of people lining up at the doors of companies offering a few jobs—and those who don’t get those jobs often wind up at the doors of other institutions, namely our hospitals and prisons.
Sociologist M. Harvey Brenner of Johns Hopkins University studied the effects of unemployment and found that a 1% increase in the national jobless rate coincides with a 4.1% increase in suicides and a 3.4% increase in admissions to state mental hospitals. Prison populations also increase, rising 4%, and police records show a 5.7% increase in the homicide rate.
It is therefore urgent that society provide every able-bodied citizen an opportunity to work. Pope John Paul II, in his recent encyclical On Human Work, said that it is the duty of the state to act against unemployment, “which in all cases is an evil, and which, when it reaches a certain level, becomes a real social disaster.” Work, the Pope added, is “a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”
This same principle is expressed in the Bhagavad-gita, the book containing the essence of ancient India’s Vedic knowledge. There Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says, “No one can refrain from doing something, even for a moment. “It is the nature of the living being always to be active. Even during sleep, when the physical body is inactive, the mind remains actively working in dreams. Therefore Lord Krsna says, “Action is better than inaction.” Everyone must work. He further states, “A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.” Nor can one maintain the bodies of those who depend on him, his family members. So work is a social necessity as well as a fundamental activity of consciousness itself.
When Lord Krsna appeared on earth some fifty centuries ago. He showed by His own example the importance of work in human society. In the Bhagavad-gita (3.22-24), Krsna says, “No work is prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I the need to obtain anything—and yet I am engaged in work. For if I did not work, certainly all men would follow My path. If I should cease to work, all these worlds would be put to ruination.”
The meaning is clear: For society to prosper, everyone must be employed. “Rational planning and the proper organization of human labor,” the Pope said in his encyclical, should balance “the different kinds of employment: work on the land, in industry, in the various services, white-collar work, and scientific and artistic work.”
Krsna gives an outline of such rational social planning in the Bhagavad-gita, where He says, “The four divisions of human society were created by Me.” He describes the four social divisions as the intellectuals and priests (brahmanas), the administrators and military men (ksatriyas), the businessmen and farmers (vaisyas), and the laborers and artisans (sudras). No society on earth is without these four classes. They are not artificial castes but natural divisions growing out of people’s varied physical and mental characteristics. Even in communist countries, which strive for a classless society, intellectuals naturally rise to prominence, as do professional administrators and military men (the so-called New Class). Most communist countries have also had to make allowances for some private business and farming.
But who should organize society so that these four classes are fully and harmoniously employed? In the Vedic social system the task of properly organizing society fell squarely upon the shoulders of the administrative class, who were advised by the intellectuals and priests. The first duty of the chief executive was to see that every citizen was working according to his natural ability. If there was any unemployment whatsoever, everyone knew where to place the blame and where to turn for help. The government leaders took full responsibility.
The Vedic spiritual classic Srimad-Bhagavatam gives a historical account of King Prthu, who faced an even worse unemployment problem than modern leaders. At the time of his coronation, the citizens of the world were suffering from massive unemployment and poverty because of the previous king’s mismanagement. They appealed to their leader:
“Dear King Prthu, just as a tree with a fire in the hollow of its trunk gradually burns up, we are burning up because of the fire of hunger in our stomachs. You are the protector of surrendered souls, and you have been appointed to give employment to us. You can give us all kinds of occupational engagements, for you are the master of our livelihood.” In response to the pleas of his subjects. King Prthu took immediate action.
Here is part of the commentary on this section of the Bhagavatam by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: “It is the duty of the head of state to see that everyone in the social order—brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra—is fully employed. . . . It is here indicated that although the people were willing to perform their duties, they were still unemployed. . . . When the people are perplexed in this way, they should approach the head of the government, and the president or king should take immediate action to mitigate the distress of the people.”
So it seems there is some substance to the charge by liberals in the American government that President Reagan is cold and callous toward the millions of his unemployed countrymen.
But we must remind liberals and conservatives alike that jobs alone are not sufficient to insure a peaceful and harmonious society. Even in times of relatively full employment, there are plenty of economic problems and labor strife. And workers in all types of jobs, from the assembly line to the boardroom, are always disgruntled about the kind of work that economic necessity forces them to do.
What is the cause of these problems? The Vedas inform us that when the work we do violates the laws of God and nature, we will suffer some unpleasant reaction. Some conservative thinkers would agree with the Vedas on this point. Leading conservative commentator Russel Kirk states in the introduction to his latest book. The Portable Conservative Reader, “Conservatives generally believe that there exists a transcendental moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society. A Divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”
Of course, if the transcendental, divine order of things is only “dimly descried,” it can hardly serve as a basis for organizing society. In the Vedic system of government, that divine plan is brought into distinct focus and made central to the daily lives of all the citizens.
Work in a Vedic society is never performed simply as an act of economic necessity. It is instead seen as an expression of the soul’s intrinsic nature. This principle is vaguely recognized even by modern psychologists, such as Dr. James Siddal, who has been dealing with the problems of the unemployed in Ohio. He says, “Without the opportunity to feel pride, accomplishment, a kind of spiritual satisfaction through work, the important things to us are the material things work enables us to buy.” (Emphasis added.) Under these circumstances, any kind of work becomes merely a distasteful duty. Dr. Siddal says, “You can’t imagine the psychological devastation that comes from the corrosive effect of seeing work as drudgery.”
For one who is not aware of his deeper spiritual nature and who doesn’t know how to make his work an expression of that nature, work can’t be anything but drudgery, a means to satisfy his own desires or meet the demands placed upon him by family and society. Only a person who understands the true nature of the self can actually enjoy work.
What is the nature of the self? The Vedas explain that every living being is an eternal loving servant of the Supreme Lord, Krsna. When we learn how to work in that position, we become satisfied spiritually as well as materially. We experience our inherent qualities of eternality, full knowledge, and ever-increasing transcendental pleasure, a pleasure that makes the highest material pleasures seem insignificant.
How can we work in our spiritual position of service to God? Lord Krsna explains that we don’t have to undergo any wrenching disruption in our daily lives. He says in the Bhagavad-gita (18.45, 46), “By performing the work suitable to his own natural qualities, anyone can become perfect. Anyone can attain perfection by worshiping through his own work the all-pervading Lord, the source of all being.”
To learn how to worship the Supreme Lord by our work, we need the guidance of a bona fide Krsna conscious spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada once wrote, “A spiritual master, knowing the particular abilities of a particular man, trains him in such a way that by his tendency to act he becomes perfect. The Bhagavad-gita makes it clear that one can attain the highest perfection of spiritual life simply by offering Krsna service according to one’s ability, just as Arjuna served Krsna by his ability in the military art. Arjuna offered his service fully as a military man, and he became perfect. Similarly, an artist can attain perfection simply by performing artistic work under the direction of the spiritual master. If one is a literary man, he can write articles and poetry for the service of the Lord under the direction of the spiritual master. One has to receive the message of the spiritual master regarding how to act in one’s capacity, for the spiritual master is expert in giving such instructions.”
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been organized to give everyone the opportunity to learn the actual art of all work—devotional service to Lord Krsna. This is real employment, and this work has one great advantage over ordinary work: there’s always plenty to do for Krsna, both here and in the spiritual world—so you can forget about unemployment, eternally.