By Dayananda das
“Bhagavad-gita As It Is,” chapter four, text seventeen: The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore, one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.
Commentary by Dayananda das
Prabhupada writes in his purport of this verse, “If one is serious about liberation from material bondage, one has to understand the distinctions between action, inaction and unauthorized actions (vikarma).” When one offers the fruits to Krishna, his or her work is not karma or vikarma. Unfortunately, some current members of ISKCON shun a normal occupation, because they believe it is karma or vikarma. In fact, akarma, or the work of a devotee, does not depend so much on the work itself, but on the results. To the extent that a devotee offers the fruits of work to Krishna, that work is akarma (work free from reaction). The idea that some types of work are karma and others are akarma has generally originated from poor training. The following is an example of one of the ways in which Srila Prabhupada personally trained his householders.
Prabhupada: Dayananda, you are here, and you can have more facilities. You family men, you require some money also. So your present situation is very nice? Dayananda: Yes. Prabhupada: What they are paying you? Dayananda: About one thousand dollars per month. Prabhupada: It is better than USA. You were getting six hundred there.
Prabhupada remembered this amount, because he knew that out of the six hundred, at least two hundred went to start the Los Angeles temple. He kept track of these amounts and was pleased with the sustained thirty to forty percent surrender.
Dayananda: Yes. Prabhupada: So you are getting more. Why Gargamuni advised you to give up? I chastised him, “Why you have given him such advice? He’s a grihastha, he must have some money. He has to take care of the children.” Anyway, you have got better job now and better service also. Krishna has rewarded you for your service. Stick to it. If you like to serve here, you can be permanently settled. Dayananda: Yes, they give visas very easily for working. Prabhupada: Oh? Especially to Americans? Dayananda: Yes. Prabhupada: That’s very good opportunity. Bring more Americans and start this movement nicely. Not necessarily that we have to establish a temple. We want to preach our philosophy. That is most important. Bhagavata-marga. There are two ways, bhagavata-marga and pancaratriki. The bhagavata-marga is more important than pancaratriki. Pancaratriki is Deity worship.”(1)
One year later, just one month before Srila Prabhupada departed this world he imparted this final householder instruction.
Prabhupada: You are working at computer? Dayananda: Yes, Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada: So, what salary do they give? Dayananda: A little over $1000 in a month, about $1200. Prabhupada: Hm. So how you are spending that money? Dayananda: Now I live in my own apartment, I’m giving fifty percent to the ISKCON projects, and fifty percent I keep for maintenance. Prabhupada: So there is no scarcity? Eh? Dayananda: No, there’s no scarcity, Srila Prabhupada.(2)
Prabhupada”s point about “no scarcity” is extremely important. He was interested to hear that although his disciple was giving fifty percent he had no scarcity of facilities to maintain his family. Although Prabhupada loved his disciple”s family, this question was not out of concern for the family. Krishna explains that through yajna the demigods send rains to nourish the earth and supply the material needs of humanity. In this context, Prabhupada was, in effect, saying, “You”ve reported that you are practicing karma-yoga, and giving half of your income for the sankirtana-yajna. Are the higher powers taking care of you and your family? Is there any scarcity–anything you or your family lacks?” Prabhupada had faith that his disciple”s engagement in karma-yoga and offerings in yajna would be fruitful, but he wanted to check to see whether his disciple had similar faith in this principle.
Umapati Swami tells another story that describes Prabhupada”s householder training. Umapati was one of the very first disciples initiated in 1966. He is a very intelligent and wonderful disciple of Srila Prabhupada, currently a guru in ISKCON. In San Francisco, in 1967 or 1968, Umapati dasa brahmacari had a low-paying job and try as he might, he could not manage to give fifty percent to the San Francisco temple. Nevertheless, he was giving regular amounts. When Prabhupada visited San Francisco, he asked Umapati whether he was giving fifty percent, since Prabhupada generally sought this information from the householder disciples whom he was directly training. Umapati replied that he was having difficulty giving so much”he was giving something, but no, he was not giving fifty percent. At that time, Prabhupada made no further comment. However, about a year later Umapati had come to Los Angeles and was seeking a job when Prabhupada arrived for a visit. Umapati, who had an affectionate relationship with Srila Prabhupada, went to see him. Naturally, Prabhupada asked about his welfare. Umapati explained that he was looking for a job, but having difficulty finding one. Whereupon Prabhupada immediately told Umapati that he was having difficulty finding a job because he had not given fifty percent in San Francisco.(3)
One should not misconstrue this example. Umapati Swami, undoubtedly a great soul, was and is an advanced disciple. Usually only advanced disciples of Prabhupada received chastisement, because he affectionately considered them worthy of strict instruction. Thus, one should not see an apparent fault in a great devotee like Umapati Swami as anything but a glorious spot on the moon of his devotion to Prabhupada.
(1) ACBS, “Room Conversation in Tehran,” Aug. 8, 1976 (Vedabase 760808r2.teh)
(2) ACBS, “Room conversation in Vrindavana,” Oct. 21, 1977 (Vedabase 771021r2.vrn)
(3) Umapati Swami told me this story in New York in 2004 while we were discussing the fifty percent principle and Prabhupada”s personal training of householders.