Our books provide many descriptions of Kali Yuga and some are more memorable that others. I can’t shake off the “news” that in Kali Yuga people will be passing stool in the water, for example. In the context of Vedic life water is practically sacred and so this habit sounds really odd and damning but in the context of modern life we don’t even think about it anymore.
Usually we assume that degradation in this age means destruction of religious principles that are symbolized by our four regs and because if we do not engage in that kind of stuff we remain largely immune. We also chant Hare Krishna, listen to Bhagavatam classes and support our preaching mission to the best of our abilities. That should keep Kali at bay, right?
Well, there’s one verse in the Twelfth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, actually just one line, that we accept as self-evident truth as if we were good disciples of Kali (SB 12.2.4):
avṛttyā nyāya-daurbalyaḿ – A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living.
It’s a non-issue for temple devotees but everywhere outside the pressure is inescapable, even in our congregation where to be a good standing member you must show some level of prosperity. By engaging in pious economical activity with the blessings of guru and Krishna you are supposed to maintain not only your family but also the temple itself, especially preaching programs.
If you don’t earn a good living it means there’s something seriously wrong with your devotion, that you lack responsibility and dedication and do not take your occupational and family duties seriously. It means your devotion is just for show, it doesn’t please neither Krishna nor guru and your prayers do not reach them because you only think about yourself.
A real devotee, on the other hand, should achieve success, and that is measured by the amount of power, influence, and money you can generate. Even our Bhagavatam is a book about kings, not about some nobodies who never amounted to anything.
In ISKCON hierarchy ability to raise funds and followers also often matters more than anything else, and I don’t think it should be any other way – because we are a preaching movement and people will always need strong leaders to follow, so we must speak their language, language of money and power, but it still means that unless you earn a good living you are useless.
Then, of course, there’s the society around us where money determines everything, that doesn’t help either, especially if you work outside. “If you speak for Krishna, you should show that your god can take care of his own first”, they think of us. And we largely agree.
To be poor and unsuccessful is improper. Today there’s a job ad in our local newspaper that shows a bunch of smug young people raising their thumbs – “We choose success!” If you have nothing to be smug about then you obviously made a wrong choice in your life.
I don’t know what I would personally do if I was suddenly out there looking for a job. I don’t project all those CV suitable qualities anymore and I’m not sure I want to project them.
On the other hand, if it’s what I have to do then, according to Bhagavad Gita, I should fire up my printer and get typing wonderful stories about me and where I want to be in five years. If I don’t do that it would be my failure in executing orders of guru and Krishna.
Hmm, I’m glad I don’t have to wear those shoes…
Thankfully, there’s always Srimad Bhagavatam where pursuit of spirituality and simple living is a treasure in itself and where it’s considered more valuable than accumulating wealth and power.
Under the pressure of modern life we tend to forget that these qualities are as precious as ability to earn a good living, actually even more precious. People around us don’t value them at all but we should not let ourselves be influenced by their mentality and their value system. No meat eating, no drinking and no sex is great, we are quite successful in insulating ourselves in those areas but we should also protect ourselves from accepting their definition of success itself.
Money and power are not nearly as valuable as simple life and pursuit of spiritual progress, we should not compromise our values and our practices to look good in their eyes. That would be seeking our personal emotional comfort, not service to the Lord, and it would corrupt not only our value system but our progress itself, leaving us firing on all cylinders yet not moving a single step forward for years.
This desire to look good and proper is such a waste of time and it cheapens our most valuable assets as aspiring devotees.
It still leaves unanswered the paradox of “Your Krishna is so cheap His devotees can’t even afford a new car/phone/shoes.” I don’t know how to deal with that, maybe leave this problem for Krishna Himself, it’s between Him and His critics, after all. He is in their hearts and He directs their perceptions and their reactions, maybe we should mind our own business here.