Vanity thought #501. The necessity of being selfish

Today I heard one devotee say that, and it wasn’t off the cuff joke about ways of the world, he quite sincerely observed that unless you are a paramahamsa you must act selfishly simply to survive.

The implication was that it’s not a personal choice, everybody acts like that, it’s the society’s pull that one can’t resist if he to maintain his job and his family.

Someone proposed that while the society’s pressure is real, if we want to see change someone has to act first. Then someone else would follow and someone else would follow him and so on.

Regarding this second, snowball proposal, I have major reservations. In theory this is how it should work, true. We can start one or two exemplary communities to show that alternative ways of life and organizing society can work. Then this community could be duplicated elsewhere, then more more people would join in and pretty soon we’ll have a franchise on our hands.

Practically, however, situation is quite often very different. Quite often we have a struggle for limited resources, be it positions in the company, or a number of potential customers we must feed on with our competitors. It’s the market economy, previously known as the law of the jungle, or survival of the fittest. In situations like this there will always be winners and there will always be losers.

If someone simply gives up and folds it won’t start the snowball rolling, the winners will simply be relieved they get bigger share with less effort.

If there has got to be ten percent losers then there will be ten percent losers, no snowballs. Being unselfish in situations like this is like withdrawing from the auction to preserve funds and wait for the next opportunity because one day you will have to kill to eat, even if it’s killing carrots.

Unfortunately, this is how material world operates, there are no two ways about it – eat or be eaten.

What I think is wrong with this conclusion is that only paramahamsas can survive it. That’s not true. Being selfless doesn’t mean not fighting for your share, as Arjuna was instructed in Bhagavad Gita. Kshatriyas must fight, that’s their dharma, it’s not selfishness.

Actually, brahmanas are supposed to be selfless, too, but not necessarily paramahamsas. Living off voluntarily donations while providing essential service to the community doesn’t require one to be a paramahamsa, it used to be a normal way of life for brahmanas for millions and millions of years.

Even in Kali Yuga there is a great number of non-profit organizations that subsist entirely on left-overs from donations for the causes they champion. If they do their fund raising among affluent segment of society they can afford to maintain their staff and provide for their families quite nicely.

These are only half solutions, though, patch work to get us through this life. If we think we can find a way to live in this world and not succumb to selfishness we are mistaken. One must become paramahamsa, there’s no other way. Even if at the moment we are forced to act selfishly and follow society’s rules we must not lament it but rather patiently wait for the day we become paramahamsas and leave all these concerns behind.

We can’t maintain our attachments to our families and pleasures in life forever, sooner or later the material nature will drag us down and drown us the deep well of material existence. We should look beyond our everyday worries and interests.

Even when paramahamsas like Srila Prabhupada engage in the wheelings and dealings of this world they do so only for the sake of the preaching mission, not to make our lives here comfortable. A paramahamsa descends on the visibly material platform to make us into paramahamsas, too, not to put is into an illusion that life here can bring happiness.

So, the smart-ass comeback for that question should have been “So you should become paramahamsa. Seriously, nothing else would solve your problems, just chant and pray and in due course of time your worries and your mis-identifications will go away.” It’s too late for that, maybe next time if I have a chance I’ll bring this subject up with him again.

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