A Personal Reflection on Virtue and Values in the Krsna Consciousness Movement

Sesa Dasa

Sesa Dasa, a member of ISKCON’s Ministry for Educational Development, looks at the place of ‘virtue’ in the lives of devotees. He notes the changes that thirty years of devotional practice have made to his outlook on life and takes lessons from Mahabharata about the apparent conflict between material and spiritual duty.

Thirty years is time enough. Thirty years, out of a life of fifty-one, spent in the Hare Krsna movement, is certainly time enough. A thirty-year period provides enough life experience to enable one to reflect on what one has or hasn’t accomplished. It’s enough time for one to draw conclusions, while leaving enough time to make necessary changes based on those conclusions.

Yet, it is often the case that a single event does more to shape one’s conclusions about life than the passage of time alone. Our individual histories, as well as the histories of civilisations, often turn on a single, dramatic event. Looking back over the last thirty years, 9/11 clearly stands out as a turning point in my life as a Hare Krsna devotee.

The thirty-year period in which I have been a devotee can be neatly framed by dramatic world affairs. At one end is the Vietnam War, a transforming event especially meaningful to my generation. On the other end are the events of 11 September 2001.

From ‘Army Brat’ to Hare Krsna

I joined the Hare Krsna movement in the summer of 1973, during the Vietnam War, at the end of a two-year search for self-identity. I was raised as what is colloquially known as an ‘Army Brat’, the son of a United States Army Officer. Life as the son of an officer bred in me discipline and acceptance of an established order. The ‘brat’ part had to do with an arrogance grown out of our being different or special in relation to our contemporaries. A type of elitism borrowed from the strength of the army that could be summarised in the childish sayings: ‘My father (the army) can beat up your father (the civilian)’, ‘I (the United States) am right, you (the enemy) are wrong’. Fully embracing this culture and my role in it, I entered the United States Military Academy at West Point upon graduating from high school in 1969. During an interview that was part of the admission process I was asked whether I had any hesitation about the occupation of a professional soldier, whether I was worried about the dangers of war. In response I said, ‘No. There are hazards in all occupations. Whatever dangers may be there, I accept in the line of duty’. From the look on the interviewing officer’s face I knew I was in.

As strange as it may seem, two years later I found myself in the middle of an identity crisis. I had never really thought about the world independent of the context of my life in the army. Neither had I thought much about how my future profession might affect other peoples and their culture. However, college life, even within the tightly regimented confines of West Point, began to broaden my horizons. Disappointing my father and officers at West Point, I resigned from the academy in the summer of 1971 leaving behind an identity that had been my entire life.

My search for self-identity first led me to political movements. I recall hanging a poster in my room which depicted African, Asian, and Latino labourers standing defiantly with their tools under a banner which cried out, ‘Workers of the World Unite’.

After this brief pendulum swing from the conservative military establishment to the political far left, my search sprang off in another direction, this time to alternative spirituality. My mother’s response typified the bewildered responses to my actions at the time. She said: ‘We can understand you want to be religious, but why not just be a [Christian] minister; why something so foreign?’

In July 1973 I met the Hare Krsna devotees in a park in Albany, New York, and have been with the movement since that time. Looking back over the thirty years since I made the decision to become a Hare Krsna devotee I now see some surprising elements of that decision that were not recognisable to me at the time: becoming a devotee wasn’t as foreign as I thought.

Certainly my outer appearance had suddenly become foreign, and there is no doubt that at that time I thought, ‘the more radical, the better’. But I now realise that my ability to make and sustain such a radical change was based on underlying virtues with which I had already established a level of comfort.

The self-discipline, integrity, self-sacrifice, and loyalty which are enshrined in the West Point motto, ‘Duty, Honor, Country’, were the virtues that would sustain me as a Hare Krsna devotee. I felt comfortable as a Hare Krsna devotee because I could easily rewrite the West Point motto to read: ‘Loyalty and Service to Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON, and the Vaisnavas’.

These virtues also helped carry me through my Hare Krsna mid-life crisis. After graduating from law school in 1991 I was forty years old, no longer supported by the temple, married with one child, and had neither a job nor an employment history to call on. As I reflected on my life at that time, I again turned to the virtues that had previously sustained me in times of change. I recorded these virtues in a document I wrote at that time entitled ‘Our Family Goals’.

Our family goals

Our principle:

  • To serve Srila Prabhupada and the Vaisnavas: chadiya vaisnava-seva nistara payeche keba (without being a devotee of a devotee, one cannot be released from material entanglement, Narottama Dasa µhakura)

Our methods of service:

  • To serve the mission of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (ISKCON)
  • To share our good fortune with others
  • To set a good example as individuals and as a family
  • To extend ourselves to help others with whatever qualifications or facilities Lord Krsna has bestowed upon us

Our faith and motivation to act:

  • Understanding that by serving the Vaisnavas in these ways we will obtain all perfections spiritual and material

Reflecting on my life since writing these goals confirms to me that service, integrity, charity, and faith not only provided a basis for my spiritual well-being, but also for my material well-being.

A response to 9/11 — virtue

While the events of 11 September 2001 form an end frame of a thirty-year period as a Hare Krsna devotee, those events pose new challenges as I look forward, making plans for the future based on my past experiences.

Pat Buchanan, the conservative Christian politician who has run for President of the United States on numerous occasions, has issued his response to the events of 11 September. In his book, The Death of the West, Mr Buchanan laments over what he determines to be the decline of Western Civilisation. In a review of this book published by the American Immigration Law Foundation, the reviewer concludes, ‘Somewhere along the line, Buchanan came to embrace the notion that if a person is not white, not Christian, and not possessing a European or American heritage, then that person is automatically deeply hostile to the religions, traditions, and morality of the West’.

The United States Government has also issued their response. In a speech given to the National Newspaper Association on 21 March 2002, Marc Grossman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs stated:

Since the end of the Cold War, we have been searching for a way to understand the world in which we live. Think of the name we gave the period: ‘The Post Cold-War Era’. We described our environment not for what it was, but for what it wasn’t.

The attacks of September 11 may have marked the end of the ‘Post Cold-War Era.’ Last November, while I was at the UN General Assembly in New York, I went to Ground Zero. As I stared at the mass of twisted metal and rubble that entombed nearly three thousand people, I knew that the period of uncertainty had ended. We have our new Berlin Wall. We have a purpose. As President Bush said last week on the six-month anniversary of the attacks, ‘Every nation should know that, for America, the war on terror is not just a policy, it’s a pledge.’

Certainly Mr. Buchanan has the right to express his opinions. Certainly it is the duty of the US Government to create policies to protect its citizens, and all peoples, from the intentional harm others would perpetrate. One may agree or disagree with these sweeping social and political responses, but from my perspective both responses lacked something. They lacked what for me has become a defining element of life: the need to become a better person. Indeed, for me the combination of these two responses is an eerie throwback to the Army Brat tradition and culture of my upbringing. 9/11 demands more of me as a Hare Krsna devotee.

Based on the responses to 9/11 articulated by Mr Buchanan, the US Government, and others it is clear that the post 9/11 world will be a more guarded era, but also an era that at least recognises, if not accepts, cultural and religious differences. It will be an era where differences are questioned first, and accepted second. As Hare Krsna devotees we are different first. While in the first instance this may put a burden upon us to make ourselves recognisable to others, in the second instance it provides us with an opportunity to make an impact with our spiritual message.

I stated earlier that I experienced a certain level of comfort when I became a devotee. A comfort based on the similarity of the underlying virtues of my previous environment and the spiritual environment of the Hare Krsna movement. While those similarities certainly exist, I believe there is certainly more to be gained through the spiritual practices of the Hare Krsna movement, particularly by chanting Hare Krsna. As a result of these spiritual practices, I feel myself to be a better person than I was before I became a Hare Krsna devotee. I feel more capable of understanding the effect of my actions on different peoples and their cultures and I feel better able to respond to their material and spiritual needs.

I would propose that, as Hare Krsna devotees, we can meet the burden placed upon us by 9/11, and enhance the effectiveness of our spiritual message through the practice of virtue in our various services and walks of life.

In his book, Vaisnava Compassion, my friend Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami provides a personal story to illustrate how the simple practice of virtue will make us more recognisable to others:

To show how important kindness is when dealing with the public, I would like to tell a story of something that happened to me. One time, I was getting off a plane after a long flight. I was in the back, but I was walking fast, trying to get ahead or the people in front of us so I wouldn’t have to stand in a long line at customs. To get ahead of them, I had to push my way through the crowd and push myself forward at their expense. Then a woman turned to me and said, in a sarcastic tone, ‘Is it against your religion to be polite?’ I felt terrible when she said that, and I also became conscious that when we are dressed as devotees and behaving badly, people seem to link our behavior with our religion. As religionists, we should have seen that other people were also suffering from the long flight and the long disembarkation lines. St. Francis kissed lepers. We are asked only to be kind and considerate in our dealings.

Kindness is a virtue recognisable in all cultures of the world. Political stances, and even religious stances, no matter how carefully crafted, inevitably draw lines between people. Virtue has a unifying, sustaining effect. In most instances of dealing with the public, our practice of virtue is how the Hare Krsna devotees will be recognisable as better people.

Acting with virtue is very much the tradition of the Hare Krsna movement. The Sanskrit term dharma is one way in which virtue may be translated. In the context of our tradition, dharma can be understood to encompass the broad set of ethical, moral, and spiritual behaviours that formed the basis of Vedic culture. In the context of the Hare Krsna movement, dharma can be understood to provide a unifying, sustaining basis for our social interaction, within the society of devotees and society at large, in three important ways.

First, individually, when Western devotees come to the Hare Krsna movement seeking spiritual life, they often reject the culture they come from along with the ethical and moral values of that culture. The problem with this approach to Krsna consciousness is that, because these devotees have not yet fully understood and assimilated Vedic culture, many find themselves caught between two worlds. Having lost their cultural moorings, devotees sometimes find that what was once a simple decision, things like what is right or wrong, can now become quite complex. Such dilemmas often lead to acts or attitudes that the common man finds difficult to reconcile with religious or even good behaviour. Understanding and acting with Krsna conscious virtues will help resolve these dilemmas.

Second, organisationally, the Hare Krsna movement is a very diverse society. People from virtually every race, creed, nationality, and socio-economic background, have come together in one society with the purposes of becoming Krsna conscious and giving Krsna consciousness to others. We are aware of the emphasis Srila Prabhupada placed on cooperation and how difficult he knew that would be for us. Without a common set of ethical and moral values there are bound to be difficulties along the path to achieving the purposes and goals of the society.

Third, to advance in Krsna consciousness, consistency is absolutely necessary. By providing a consistent basis or platform for action, virtues can assist the aspiring devotee much as the regulative principles given by Srila Prabhupada provide guidance in our daily spiritual practices.

Let me give an example of how the problems we encounter in the Hare Krsna movement tend to spiral out of control when there is a lack of established ethical and moral values. It is an example of failure, but one of the most familiar virtuous maxims Srila Prabhupada gave us was ‘to make failure the pillar of success’.

Some time ago I was involved in implementing a management decision at an ISKCON temple. Virtually all the devotees in the temple agreed that some changes needed to be made, but naturally there were different opinions about exactly what should be done. Poor communication between the devotees, based on a lack of consideration for one another, led to the development of different factions. These factions, drawn along racial lines, used tactics such as behind doors political moves, threats to report foreigners to the government, and threats of physical violence, to apply pressure for a solution acceptable to their group.

The situation did eventually work out, but what we had to go through was certainly both undesirable and unnecessary. I am not suggesting that we should be overly idealistic, problems will always be there, but we are better people than we showed in this instance. Having an established set of shared ethical and moral values will prevent things from degenerating as they did in this situation and facilitate a change in our approach to problem solving.

The scriptures of the Hare Krsna movement emphasise virtue. Virtue is not a matter of speculation, emotion, or new age philosophy. Virtues are the practical application of knowledge. In Bhagavad-gita (13.8–12) Lord Krsna, describing a person in knowledge, presents what could be seen as a set of ethical and moral values:

Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realisation; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth — all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.

The twenty-six qualities of a devotee (below) are even more specific to the practice of virtue for Hare Krsna devotees. When Lord Caitanya was instructing Sanatana Goswami he said:

Devotees are always merciful, humble, truthful, equal to all, faultless, magnanimous, mild and clean. They are without material possessions, and they perform welfare work for everyone. They are peaceful, surrendered to Krsna and desireless. They are indifferent to material acquisitions and are fixed in devotional service. They completely control the six bad qualities — lust, anger, greed and so forth. They eat only as much as required, and they are not inebriated. They are respectful, grave, compassionate and without false prestige. They are friendly, poetic, expert and silent. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 22.78–80)

Two things are required for the practice of virtue, jnana and vijnana, knowledge and the practical application of that knowledge. These verses from Bhagavad-gita and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta provide the knowledge: it is up to us as individuals to apply the knowledge.

A lesson from Mahabharata

There is a very interesting story from Mahabharata that illustrates the practice of virtue. Although the story is set in ancient times, its lessons are adaptable to the modern world and our lives as Hare Krsna devotees. Applying the lessons learned here will, to a very large extent, determine how effectively our spiritual message is received in the modern world.

There was once a young brahmana named Kausika, who was the only son of his old parents. He had a strong desire to advance on the spiritual path by studying the Vedas, but he felt himself tied down by serving his old parents. One day he decided that he had had enough. He was going to the forest to devote himself to the study of the Vedas. His old parents tried to reason with him: they were dependent upon him, if he left who would look after their needs? They pleaded that he not forsake them. Nevertheless, Kausika left for the forest.

This is a story about duty and virtue. As long as we are living in the material world there will be a tension between spiritual duties and material duties. Kausika had material duties: his service to his father and mother. These duties could be described as expectations of behaviour that Kausika was obliged to follow. That was the tradition, the culture. Although exceptions always exist, one is generally expected to follow cultural norms, as such norms bring order to society. This is not only true for the Vedic culture of the past; we can see that modern culture also has its norms of behaviour.

Hare Krsna devotees are also faced with the tension between spiritual and material obligations. As this story develops we shall see the ‘how, when, and why’ associated with acting outside cultural norms, and how understanding our spiritual duty with respect to other members of our culture is essential for one on the path of transcendence.

In the forest, Kausika practiced austerities, did penance, and studied the Vedas. As the seasons came and went, he acquired great power. One day, as he was reciting the Vedas while seated beneath a tree, a female crane flew up, perched herself on a branch above Kausika, and passed stool on his head. At this, Kausika became very angry, and, with a desire to retaliate, he looked up at the crane with eyes that were red with rage. Immediately, the crane fell down dead. Seeing the result of his anger, Kausika became very sorry. With great remorse he lamented: ‘O how could I have allowed my anger to get the better of me?’

Patience: patience is the opposite of anger. In the verses from Bhagavad-gita quoted earlier we find the virtue of patience described as ‘even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events’. In his purport, Srila Prabhupada explains a very important point about genuine practice of spiritual life. He says: ‘Generally, when we get something desirable we are very happy, and when we get something undesirable we are distressed. But if we are actually in the spiritual position these things will not agitate us’. (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 13.8–12 purport) The nature of this world is that both good and bad things will happen to us. The proof of our spiritual advancement will not be that good and bad things don’t happen, but that we react to these events properly. Lord Krsna advises that we react with virtue.

Two things can be learned from Kausika’s reaction to the crane’s passing stool on him. First, perhaps he wasn’t as spiritually advanced as he thought. Genuine spiritual advancement will have an impact on how we either remain bound to or freed from material duties. So what do we do, how do we act while awaiting spiritual advancement? The varnasrama system (the system of stages of life and occupational duties) recommends virtuously performing our material duties. This is a form of patience in the practice of spiritual life.

Second, as Hare Krsna devotees we need to understand that our interaction with the material world is meant to provide us with needed instruction. In his essay, The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Ethics, and Theology (p. 21), Srila Bhaktivinoda µhakura explains that the phenomenal appearance of nature is meant to explain the spiritual nature. The experiences we gain, good or bad, in the ‘real world’, the world of material duties, are not idle doings. They are meant for our instruction.

Some time thereafter, Kausika went to a nearby village to beg for alms. While going door to door, he came to a certain house, and, as usual, he asked the housewife to give him something in charity. The lady of the house replied: ‘O brahmana, just wait a little’, and went back inside. As the woman was cleaning the bowl that was used for giving alms, her husband arrived, very tired and hungry. Because of this, she forgot the brahmana and quickly went to tend to her husband’s needs.

Prudence: prudence is cautious practical wisdom. Here the housewife is presented with conflicting duties. Who should she serve first, the brahmana or her husband? Prudence was her shelter for she had the practical wisdom to establish priorities in her behaviour.

Chastity: chastity is an example of prudence. Individuals are chaste to each other when they have decided to make a commitment to each other, a commitment that has priority over the pushing and pulling of the material nature.

Chastity in marriage is based on an exchange. This is the important thing about chastity, that there is an exchange of mutual respect. There may be cultural differences in how that relationship is expressed. It is not that Western devotees should be expected to indiscriminately adopt all aspects of the model of chastity found in cultures other than their own, and vice versa. Different cultures may place priority on different aspects of a relationship, but all cultures emphasise the exchange needed to make marriage a relationship.

It is no secret that Srila Prabhupada was disappointed with how his disciples practiced the grhastha asrama (household life). Nor is it a secret that women in ISKCON have not always been given the respect they deserve. As a result, today we find our families weak. As Hare Krsna devotees we sometimes like to think of ourselves as better than the non-devotees. Are we able to demonstrate this supposed superiority? I think it is fair to say that in relation to our family structure, inasmuch as family structure represents a practical example of virtuous life, we cannot demonstrate superiority.

Therefore, it would be prudent of us, the Hare Krsna devotees, to make resolving our family problems a priority. Putting some emphasis here may seem like surrender to material life, but such an emphasis is an opportunity to influence others by providing an example of how our spiritual teachings can be practically applied.

Then, the woman suddenly remembered that she had asked the brahmana, Kausika, to wait. Feeling ashamed of her negligence, she quickly took some alms and came before him. Kausika was very angry by this time. He fumed: ‘I am very surprised that you would dare to make me wait like this!’

The woman tried to pacify Kausika by explaining: ‘O brahmana, my husband is my lord, and therefore I always serve him first’.

Kausika challenged: ‘Foolish woman, do you really think that your husband is more worthy of respect than brahmanas, before whom even Indra bows down his head? Don’t you know that a brahmana’s wrath can destroy the entire Earth?’

At this the woman exclaimed: ‘O rsi, I am no she-crane. Therefore you had better give up your anger, for it will never be able to harm me. I know how you had killed a she-crane with your angry glance’.

Kausika was surprised to hear that she knew about the she-crane.

The woman continued: ‘You should know that one is really a brahmana when he has conquered his lust and anger, and is therefore forgiving. O holy one, you are learned, but you have not understood the truth about virtue. If you wish to be enlightened on the subject, you should look for Dharmavyadha, who resides in Mithila’.

After hearing the woman’s remarkable speech, the brahmana humbly said: ‘Your words of wisdom have given me great pleasure, and my anger has subsided. I honestly feel that your chastisement was meant for my benefit. I will go to Mithila, as you have suggested, so that I can learn the true meaning of virtue’.

Humility: humility is the first item of knowledge mentioned by Lord Krsna in the verse from Bhagavad-gita I quoted earlier. Kausika was both mystified and humbled by the fact that the woman knew of how he killed the she-crane. Although the woman’s strong words were humiliating, they opened the door to receiving the knowledge Kausika needed. Material duties often put us in Kausika’s position, humiliated, but how often do we stop to inquire into the purpose of, or the benefit to be gained by, such humiliation?

Forgiveness: In his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.6.48, Srila Prabhupada gives us another of the maxims of virtue he would often repeat. He writes: ‘It is said that the beauty of a tapasvi, or saintly person, is forgiveness’. A saintly person undergoes penance to free himself of lust and anger. Lust and anger are the result of self-absorption, whereas forgiveness is focused on turning to others. As we have been taught by Srila Prabhupada, the business of a saintly person is to benefit others.

Kausika had the jnana, knowledge, but he did not yet understand vijnana, the practical application of that knowledge, especially how his knowledge should benefit others. He could not easily forgive. Therefore, the woman sent him to Dharmavyadha to learn about virtue.

At this point in the story it is clear that Kausika is afflicted with a syndrome common to many Hare Krsna devotees today, premature transcendence. But the depth of Kausika’s misunderstanding of spiritual life will not be completely revealed until he meets Dharmavyadha.

As he travelled to Mithila, Kausika was thinking: ‘This Dharmavyadha must be a great ascetic’. When he arrived he immediately made inquiries from the local brahmanas as to the whereabouts of Dharmavyadha.

You will find him in that shop over there,’ he was told.

As he walked toward the shop Kausika pondered: ‘What would the ascetic be doing in a shop?’ Arriving at the shop Kausika was stunned, it was a butcher’s shop!

Because of the crowd, Kausika stood at some distance. However, understanding Kausika’s arrival, the butcher Dharmavyadha quickly got up from his seat and went to the secluded place where Kausika was standing.

Dharmavyadha said: ‘O brahmana, I know about how the chaste woman spoke to you, and why you have come here’.

Kausika was surprised, but gathered himself and said: ‘Such a sinful profession does not befit you. You must be ashamed of it’.

Integrity: integrity implies a condition of being whole or undivided; a completeness in steadfast adherence to a moral or ethical code. Kausika had misconceptions about what it means to lead a spiritual life, misconceptions that resulted in a divisive ‘us and them’ mentality.

Premature transcendence tends to make us look with disdain upon honest working people, assuming that they haven’t got the intelligence to figure out how they are being exploited by the bosses or their uncontrolled senses. Being ‘above’ such occupations, devotees think it is bad to work for non-devotees, and quote Srila Prabhupada to prove that brahmanas don’t serve others.

The problem with premature transcendence is that it lacks integrity. Although one doesn’t want to work within the world of material duties, neither is one actually prepared to live the life of a true ascetic. This often results in devotees’ work having more in common with outlaws (those who also seek to avoid material duties but without spirituality as their motivation) than honest working people.

In the verse I quoted from Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna uses the word arjavam, simplicity. In his purport Srila Prabhupada writes: ‘Simplicity means that without diplomacy one should be so straightforward that he can disclose the real truth even to an enemy.’ Later in Bhagavad-gita, (18.42) when describing the qualities by which a brahmana works, Lord Krsna uses the same word. There the word arjavam is translated as ‘honesty’.

Integrity implies a commitment of honesty to oneself, as a practitioner of spiritual duties, as well as to others who may still be engaged in material duties.

I am not ashamed,’ replied the butcher. ‘My dear brahmana, this has been my family occupation for many generations, and thus I am simply performing the duty that has been ordained for me by the Supreme Lord. Because this is my destiny, I know that there is nothing for me to lament about. In spite of my lowly profession, I always serve my superiors, I always speak the truth, I only eat what is left over after offering all my food to God, my dependents, and guests, and I am never envious of others. O brahmana, even if one is engaged in an abominable profession, he can still develop all good qualities. One whose heart is naturally inclined toward truthfulness, charity, and non-violence, is actually a virtuous person.

Every occupation involves some kind of violence and sinful activity. Would you not say that farming is an honourable profession? But doesn’t the farmer destroy numerous creatures living in the soil when he ploughs the field? It is a fact that one is forced to accept so many conditions as a result of his past karma. Thus, a person must learn to tolerate all these conditions while trying to lead a virtuous life.

The ultimate goal of virtue and study of the Vedas is to factually detach oneself from this materialistic life of personal and extended sense gratification. This is not only the goal of life for those who have been born in brahmana families. Even if one is born in a sudra (labourer) family, but somehow cultivates the mode of goodness, and thus develops virtuous qualities, he must be accepted as a genuine brahmana.’

Sacrifice: One may ask, ‘Of what concern are material duties to a Hare Krsna devotee?’ In his book, Vaisnava Compassion, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami offers this reply: ‘Prabhupada taught us that a devotee should set an example of “working in devotion” and offering the results to Krsna’.

Sacrifice is required to achieve anything in this material world. As Hare Krsna devotees we are often more aware of sacrifice as it relates to our spiritual duties, but even in the performance of material duties, sacrifice is essential.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami continues:

As Lord Krsna states in Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 3, Text 26, ‘So as not to disrupt the minds of ignorant men attached to the fruitive results of prescribed duties, a learned person should not induce them to stop work. Rather, by working in the spirit of devotion, he should engage them in all sorts of activities [for the gradual development of Krsna consciousness].’

In his purport, Srila Prabhupada states: ‘... a realised soul in Krsna consciousness should not disturb others in their activities or understanding, but he should act by showing how the results of all work can be dedicated to the service of Krsna. The learned Krsna conscious person may act in such a way that the ignorant persons working for sense gratification may learn how to act and how to behave.’

The sacrifice of Hare Krsna devotees is never meant to be selfish, nor is it meant for achieving material goals. This is clearly explained in the butcher’s philosophical discourse. Dharmavyadha advises us to carefully consider the fact that performance of our duties, even our material duties, is no bar to acting virtuously. And, that such duties are ultimately meant for a higher purpose. This is confirmed by the principals of daivi-varnasrama (divine varnasrama, as opposed to the materialistic system), which tell us that by acting virtuously within our material duties we can attain the goal of life.

The butcher then requested: ‘My dear brahmana, please enter my house now, so that you can see for yourself my sole claim to virtue — my old mother and father. I worship my mother and father just as one is supposed to worship the thirty-three principal demigods. My whole life is dedicated to their service, and I always do exactly that which is most agreeable to them, and I wash their feet with my own hands’.

Kausika was very astonished to see Dharmavyadha’s piety, and so he praised him highly as being the perfectly virtuous person.

Then Dharmavyadha said: ‘My dear brahmana, you have run away from your responsibilities and have wronged your mother and father by leaving home without their permission, for the purpose of studying the Vedas. Now they are very old and invalid and blind as well, and in your absence they have become very aggrieved. Therefore, you should return home and console them. Indeed, because of this single fault, all of your religious practices have been rendered useless’.

Kausika then circumambulated Dharmavyadha while praising him highly. Then, after receiving Dharmavyadha’s permission, Kausika returned to his aged parents, and as advised by Dharmavyadha, he became very attentive in the matter of serving them until the end of their days.

The butcher’s philosophical discourse was to convince Kausika with jnana. By showing how he practiced virtue in caring for his parents, the butcher was demonstrating vijnana, the practical application of his knowledge. Kausika had not previously understood the importance of vijnana, and thus thanked Dharmavyadha for enlightening him and returned home to resume his duties to his parents.

As we look forward and plan how to preach and live Krsna consciousness in the modern world, I would hope that these virtues — patience, prudence, chastity, forgiveness, humility, integrity, and sacrifice — will help forge a work ethic for Hare Krsna devotees: an ethic applicable to our material and spiritual duties.


A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983.

——Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1975.

——Srimad-Bhagavatam. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1988.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura. The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Ethics, and Theology. Kovvur, India: Sri Ramananda Gaudiya Math, 1998.

Buchanan, Patrick J. The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami. Vaisnava Compassion. La Crosse, Florida: GN Press, 2001.}