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The Firefighters Get Paid to Do Their Job
by Sundara nanda-gopala dasa

I understand there were some discrepancies with the perceived tone of Locanananda's article. I personally saw nothing insensitive in his rendition.

Others have asked, "Who would Locanananda call if his house or local temple were on fire?" The answer to the question is plainly obvious. He would call the fire department. He would call the fire department because that is who one calls when something is on fire that cannot be controlled by ordinary means.

The firemen then come and put out the fire because that is the job of a fireman. Firemen know what their job is— fighting fires— and they enter into that ocupation with full understanding of the risk involved— including the risk of death. They get paid to do this, and the majority of them carry full life insurance which metriculates to their chosen next of kin should they perish in the line of duty.

Asking, "Who would he call?" has nothing to do with the point of Locanananda's article. He would call the fire department and expect them to do their job and also expect to not have to offer them a 15 percent gratuity upon completion.

Of course, I am sure that he, or anyone else whose life has been saved by a firefighter, would feel an extreme amount of gratitude. But the question asked of him implies that there was, is, or would be a lack of gratitude on his part. It is hard to fathom how that conclusion was derived.

Locanananda's criticism is not of any of the firemen— it is of the proper use of charity by the followers of Lord Krsna, the idea which the initiator of the question admits to agreeing to. The two independent ideas have nothing to do with each other.

What follows is not directed towards any one person, but is simply a representation of devotional understanding— an understanding which I feel is necessary and has sprung from extended communications that I have had with persons who felt that Locanananda was somehow off base, philosophically or otherwise. It is not construed as a single-pointed defense of Locanananda, but simply a representation of factual, and practical, information. The above being said:

The people suffering the aftereffects of the terrorist tragedy are in a great deal of pain. As people, especially as spiritually inclined people, we should be sensitive to, even feel, their pain. We should want to help. We should exhibit compassion. The question is, as devotees, how is this properly done?

The lives of the friends and families of the victims have been turned upside down. That is an undisputable fact. But guess what? That is the undisputable fact of daily life in the material world.

Everyone is already suffering— just to different degrees. When the suffering becomes extremely pronounced, then, all of a sudden, the human populace perks up and starts to take notice.

A person in knowledge sees that this suffering exists every day. They know that this material world is a place of death. They know that this constant occurrence of death causes constant suffering. And they also know that the only cure for that constant material suffering is to become Krsna consciousness.

The method for doing this is to act in such a way that all of our activities cause spiritual advancement. This method is Krsna's. He explains this method of action in devotional service with crystal-like clarity in Bhagavad-gita.

There are proper methods of behavior for a devotee in the material world. Bhagavad-gita is a guidebook. It is, in Srila Prabhupada's words, "codes of conduct" and "a guide for the formation of character." Srila Prabhupada and Krsna explain in this "guide to human life" how a devotee in the material world should act. There are two types of activity one may perform, material or spiritual.

Material activity, activity which is not connected to Krsna, holds no significance for a devotee. Of particular non-significance to a devotee of the Lord is a charity which raises and uses money for the sole purpose of propogating or increasing people's material comforts.

The fact that such a charity exists is not overtly demonic. It is a pious endeavor by kindhearted people who don't know how else to respond to a drastic situation other than to give. Such generosity is laudable and should not be discouraged.

However, for a person who is endeavoring to function on a purely spiritual level, for one who desires to remain in line with Krsna's guidance, for that person, it is an improper use of money or opulence. (Ultimately, of course, it is an improper use of money or opulence for anyone, since everyone is a spirit soul. But not every person in the world is aware of that fact, so there are allowances for behaviour, all of which take place under the strict guidance of material nature.)

Money and opulence exist in the world. Therefore Krsna explains how a devotee should conduct himself or herself in relationship to them. Money should be used in His service and not to temporarily soothe a troubled material situation. Why? Because that activity, which is material, has long-term negative effects.

Soothing material suffering with material enjoyment is simply treating the symptoms and not the disease. The disease, the reason everyone is suffering in this world, is attachment to the objects of the senses and attachment to the material body. The consequent results of these material attachments are that one becomes wholly detached from Krsna. Krsna is the source of all happiness. Without being attached to Him, we have no hope for happiness of any kind. It is simply a scientific impossibility.

Knowing such, it is logical to conclude that the highest method of behavior, the highest activity, the key to effecting happiness in the hearts of all those personally touched by this tragedy, is to endeavor to help all suffering souls re-establish their eternal, forgotten relationship with Krsna. And in case we don't, or won't (as in "refuse to") logically conclude that fact, Krsna does it for us and tells us flat out— this is His desire. And a devotee aspires to make his or her desires one with the Lord's.

According to Krsna, according to Srila Prabhupada, who is Krsna's representative, the prescribed duty of a devotee is to take people back home, Back to Godhead. This endeavor to bring conditioned souls back to Krsna is seen and appreciated by Krsna, and He reciprocates by fully enabling that person’s spiritual advancement. In short, one will always benefit from performing one's prescribed duty.

Doctors have an obligation to their patients to practice safe and effective medicine, and to endeavor to the best of their ability to maintain that patient’s life and promote his general wellbeing. This is their prescribed duty. Lawyers have an obligation to their clients to adequately represent them and to provide accurate, knowledge-based guidance that is in their best interest. This is their prescribed duty. Mechanics have an obligation to repair a damaged vehicle, and/or to maintain the safety standards of a motor vehicle to the best of their ability. This is their prescribed duty.

The prescribed duty of a devotee is to give Krsna consciousness to others. It is, in the absolute sense, the sole duty of a devotee of the Lord. Anything else is simply serving in diminished capacity and will have no lasting benefit.

Some of us have other duties which preclude us from entering fully into this spirit. We have children, or jobs, or responsibilities that prevent us from engaging in "front-line preaching." That is understandable, but we should still do our best to do whatever we can, as devotees, to contribute to giving Krsna consciousness to others. That is the purpose, and the life, and the happiness, of the members of the Krsna consciousness movement, or even devotees of Krsna who are not members of the formalized Hare Krsna movement.

We should not refuse the opportunity for devotional service on the grounds that we have other responsibilities. Those responsibilities may prevent us from using all of our time in direct preaching, but they can never forbid, or exclude us, from all devotional service. Even if we feel it's nothing, we can, and should, do something Krsna conscious. No amount of devotional service, no matter how small, goes unnoticed by Krsna.

It does not matter if we think we are not qualified or spiritually advanced enough to do this. Our own materially tainted "opinions" of ourselves don't matter here. Lord Caitanya has accepted our disqualification as our qualification. We should follow His lead, not our own. God knows what is best for us, and others, better than we ever can.

Nor is there is any fear of preaching becoming an impersonal endeavor or representation. To be Krsna conscious is the Absolute fullest representation of personality. There is no better way of becoming Krsna conscious— no better way of actually becoming a real person who can truly give love to others— than to endeavor to spread Krsna consciousness, particularly the chanting of the Holy Name.

It's not that the devotees should think themselves better or elitist— we should think Krsna is better because He has the best idea. Krsna's idea is that we should, with a warm heart, with compassion, attention, concern, and love, endeavor to extricate ourselves, and others, from this material world. This is real charity.

A devotee's charity is harinama sankirtana, the distribution of prasadam, and the distribution of Vedic knowledge. To quote Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, there is nothing else in the fourteen worlds of any significance.

If this point is not understood, what to speak of practiced, then we haven't understood Bhagavad-gita, we haven't understood Srila Prabhupada, we haven't understood Krsna consciousness.

I hope this meets all in good health and enthusiastic Krsna consciousness.

Your servant,
Sundara nanda-gopala dasa

© CHAKRA 7 October 2001

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