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poverty and spiritual progress...

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Thank you for your illuminating response to my question 'why people try to make more money than they actually need?'. But I am still left with a question. Can a poor man on the street talk of Vedanta or Upanishads or even the Gita? Will the Lord ensure that the poor man also gets his daily meals? How can it be possible for us to take to spiritual teachings while still faced with poverty?



Hare Krishna! Thank you for your reply. It is true that it is difficult to contemplate Vedantic teachings while being subjected to actual poverty. This is why it is important for all of us to help others in what ever way we can. Of course in our own personal cases we cannot use this as an excuse to avoid spiritual practice, as none of us using the internet are poor in the true sense of the word.


An important teaching of the Gita is that it is possible to remove poverty, but it is almost impossible to remove desire. If we wait until our desires are fulfilled before taking to spiritual life, that time will never come. Spiritual life is the only thing that will help us become free from material desires.


As far as financial problems go, again this is mostly a mental conception we create ourselves. There is certainly a quantity of resources we need to exist, and once one has attained that, any "financial problem" one experiences is self-made. For example, someone may need to eat a certain amount of food, etc., to exist. Being able to maintain oneself in that situation can be called a natural "financial problem", as without solving it, one will not be able to continue one's existence.


The complication in society comes after we come to the point of solving that natural financial problem, and then we create a new artificial financial problem based on greater expectations and desires. Our problem is no longer based on our actual needs of existence, but instead is based on some type of greed or envy. We see others living a particular lifestyle and want to copy it, or we think we will be able to increase our happiness by some artificial acquisition.


When we are walking barefoot, we strive to get a pair of chappals. After solving that problem, we then decide we need a pair of shoes as well. This is a very crude example, but it illustrates man-made financial problems. Already the natural problem is solved, but we continue our endeavour to solve the same problem by creating a larger extension of the problem.


First we try to fulfill our actual needs, then once they are solved we create a new need. Now we need a house. After a house we need a car. After a car we need a TV. After that we need a satellite dish antenna. There is no end to kama (desire). The Gita describes this as being like pouring fuel on a fire. You will not extinguish a fire by pouring fuel on it, and in the same way we cannot become free from desires by satisfying them. They will only increase.


God is ultimately maintaining everyone in the cosmic manifestation. Generally because we work and earn we think God has no role in our maintenance. But from where do the essential ingredients come from? Who created the air, the earth and the water we all need to subsist?


We see in nature the animals do not harvest the land, yet they still eat. Some believe man must work like a slave in order to maintain himself, but it is not true. The nature can maintain us, but we are not willing to take shelter of the nature. We don't want to leave the comfort of the cities with their roads, and cars, and other such things. Everyone turns to the cities for shelter, and as a result there is over-population, despite 95% of the worlds land being un-occupied. This is a man-made phenomena, and the result is artificial poverty.


It is impossible to make the population leave the cities and return to a simple and natural way of life. The only solution is to create spiritual awareness within their hearts so that they may understand the importance of helping those who are less fortunate them themselves. As long as we fail to see the qualitative oneness of all living entities we will not feel a need to help them. The Gita teaches us to develop this equal vision, and thus by spreading its message of love, the removal of poverty will be an automatic side effect. Once poverty is removed, then there is the chance for those who were poor to take to spiritual understanding - that is if they are not caught by desire. No amount of wealth will remove their desire.


The Lord does not ensure that the poor man gets his meals any more than He ensures that the rich men get theirs. We have all created our own situations through our previous activities, and God does not take an active role in interfering with our desires. How can someone choose to be poor? The moment someone with money deprives someone else of what they need, at that time they are making the choice to be poor. It is just like a criminal choosing to go to jail by committing a crime.


My suffering, your suffering and everyone's suffering is brought on us by our own past choices. We cannot blame anyone else for it. But this should not make us hard-hearted towards other's suffering. We must have compassion for all. They may be suffering the results of their karma, but through compassion and devotion we can change the lines of destiny. Fate can only be conquered by free will.


Fate is like the rope that binds a cow. The cow has the free will to move how it likes within the limit of its rope. But if it misuses its freewill by encircling the tree to which it is tied, the freedom of movement becomes less and less. The Vedanta teaches us how to cut the rope and actually become free. The dharma shastras teach us how to comfortably move within the limits of the rope.


According to our level of consciousness we will receive suitable spiritual guidance for our own situation. Some will be told how to cut the rope and attain complete freedom; others will be told how to unwind the rope from around the tree. Lord Krishna's ultimate instruction to all of us is to not be satisfied with the limitations of the untangled rope. Rather we should search for true and complete freedom, which is attainable only through self-surrender at the feet of the Lord.


Yours in service,


Jahnava Nitai Das,

Bhaktivedanta Ashram &

Bhaktivedanta International Charities




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