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Just a Material Trapping?
By Bhakta Keith
Dear CHAKRA and friends,
All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Please accept my humble obeisances, and forgive my offenses.
I couldn't agree more with Mother Subhadra-mayi...she is absolutely correct. I beg all of the devotees to please take this advice from someone who waited until age 31 to start college. I am a senior, and with my responsibilities of job, wife, child, household, aging mother, etc., I am having a very difficult time continuing in school. All my classmates are in their early twenties, none have jobs, they all have so much time to study, relax, enjoy, etc. (I could use this time for spiritual advancement.)
I really don't even have enough time to maintain a Bhakti Yoga club on campus, but constantly see the Christians and Muslims with their booths and proselytizers.
My spiritual life is definitely suffering as well. It is very hard to complete chanting rounds with such a schedule. If only I didn't have so many hands on my time. This is why it is best to attend school before making a family, starting full-time employment, etc.
I know that several devotees have written decrying an education as a waste of time, futile exercise, and material entanglement. But the facts are that most of us will have to keep a job to maintain our bodies, at least until age 65 or so. Some of you have not had the pleasure of working for a miserly karmi in a dead-end, no-benefits job. There is no health insurance; no paid sick days; little, if any, vacation; few, if any, paid holidays. It is a hellish condition that Bhaktivinoda Thakura says is a life not even befitting a jackass.
At least with a (the right kind of) college education, one may get a decent job that doesn't require working like a slave for the entire life or being treated like a pack animal. At least one may get a job with benefits like health insurance, vacation pay, paid holidays, sick days, etc. Or save enough for early retirement.
Some of you may not be aware of this, but jobs like these are in short supply, and most of them require a piece of paper from a university. It breaks my heart to read the bitter complaints about attending college, as if it were something shameful. Please do it when you are young, and encourage your children to do the same.
It is better to go to college immediately upon finishing high school. After college, if people are so inclined, they may devote all of their efforts to spiritual advancement, but later if they take on family responsibilities, at least they can fall back on their degree and carve out a livable life for themselves.
Failure to plan in this way represents an extreme lapse in good judgment, and I heartily encourage all of you to consider what I have told you. College can be a great time of spiritual advancement, if one is so inclined, especially for those inclined to preach. I think that college should be especially easy for devotees, as they will not waste time hunting for sex pleasure, taking drugs, attending parties, etc., etc.
Some women especially may think, "Oh, I will just marry a Vaishnava, and he will take care of all of the family finances." But what if you beget two or three children and then he falls down? disappears? leaves his body? Then how do you feed your body and those of your children? Don't think that this cannot happen. This is Kali-yuga, and everything you can imagine happens.
Ladies and gentlemen, the kind of blue-collar job that pays a living wage is usually far too hard to keep until retirement age. And the blue-collar jobs that are not physically demanding simply do not pay enough to raise even a small family (No, not even with plain living and high thinking). Of course many of you may remember growing up in a family where that wasn't the case: Dear old Dad did make enough money to let Momma stay home, pay for both cars, the house, and everything else. But those days are gone now. Wages have not risen at the same rate as inflation.
That is why my parents, who no doubt loved me very much, never brought up the possibility of my attending college. With his common, blue-collar job, my father made plenty of money, and we never suffered for lack of anything. When he left his body, my father left my mother enough life insurance and few enough bills that she was able to sustain herself on it with no financial hardship. But that was long ago.
I left high school and joined the Marines. I left the Marines and became a construction worker. After ten years at a dead-end job, I realized that I could not maintain the hard work for the rest of my life and started attending night school. It is very hard to do this while working and taking care of a family, working, maintaining a somewhat-spiritual life, etc. For example, a large community of devotees is only a two-hour drive from my house, but I find myself able to visit only once or twice a year. Why? Because I always have to study.
If nothing else, just consider that with a good-paying job, you can give so much money for Lord Chaitanya's movement and Srila Prabhupada's mission.
With the degree in hand, one can always opt out and choose to lead a life with any level of renunciation, but without the degree, one will never get a choice as to whether one will earn an adequate wage. Just remember how some early householders helped Srila Prabhupada so much. The "plain living, high thinking" lifestyle allowed them to have an appreciable amount of money left over for a higher purpose.
This isn't India (I am writing you from Florida, USA). We cannot depend on charitable donations to even supply bhoga or the rest of life's necessities, what to speak of building temples, buying farms, sheltering cows, etc..
Upon leaving grade school, one should be sufficiently disciplined to easily complete a degree in the minimum required time, especially if one remains at home and under the care of parents. So please go to college as soon as you are able. It is much cheaper than you may think, as well. I got all of my tuition from the first two years back as a tax break. There are also dozens of grants, scholarships, and loan programs available.
I humbly beg all of you to please remember these considerations when weighing the possibility of higher education.
[See "Get a Degree and Serve Krsna" Chakra 5 November 2002]
© CHAKRA 13 November 2002
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