Recently I was at a program in Tennessee in which a devotee said that environment is more powerful than willpower. He later told me how he felt his environment at work was not at all conducive for being Krsna conscious. He felt he could be Krsna conscious at home, but not at work.
After speaking with him I thought about his point further and considered it to be an important topic to address. So we’ll talk about environment versus willpower, and how this relates to the workplace.
May you always think of Krsna,
Transforming Your Workplace into the Spiritual World – Illuminations Newsletter 16
What’s the Ideal Environment?
Let’s start with the good news: we can be Krsna conscious anywhere.
And here’s the bad news: there really isn’t an ideal environment for being Krsna consciousness.
I hear you saying, “How can you say that?” What about the temple, what about Vrndavana and Mayapura, what about a Rathayatra Festival?”
Yes, those would seem to be ideal environments for developing Krsna consciousness. But let me ask you a question: Does everyone who goes to Vrndavana, or a temple, or to a Rathayatra become Krsna conscious? Most people do, but one can even fall into maya in the Lord’s personal presence.
The panacea of the age is the maha-mantra. It is the yuga dharma, it is the best way to be Krsna conscious. Does everyone who chants Hare Krsna become Krsna conscious? The impersonalists don’t. They chant to become one with Krsna. And I would be embarrassed to tell you how many rounds I have chanted in my life and not even thought of Krsna while His name was continually coming from my lips.
“Well,” you say, “at least you are chanting and that will protect you from maya.” If Krsna is there in His name and my mind is off somewhere in maya land, the reality is that somehow or other I am not thinking of Krsna.
And that’s not ideal.
Lord Caitanya had a servant named Kala Krsnadas, who while traveling with the Lord was lured away by gypsies. If traveling with Lord Caitanya isn’t an “ideal” environment, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t get much better than that. But even in that “ideal” environment we still have the choice to forget Krsna.
Environment is Not Everything
We have the exact opposite situation with Prahlada Maharaja. He was born into an environment that was probably way less conducive to being Krsna conscious than you or I will ever be in. He had an atheist father who had him trained to be an atheist by teachers who were atheists in schools run by atheists (I guess it must have been called Asurakula). Yet he remained completely Krsna conscious. So although environment has an effect on you and me, environment alone doesn’t determine how Krsna conscious we will or won’t be.
So what determines that?
Check Your Beliefs
Have you ever felt that you can’t really be Krsna conscious at work or in a particular situation? If so, look to see if this idea is based on the belief that to be Krsna conscious I need the “proper” or “ideal” environment. If this is your belief and work doesn’t fall into what you consider the “proper” environment, you are likely resigned to the fact that your day at work is not going to be a very Krsna conscious experience.
If this is how you feel, your beliefs need to change in order that your day at work can be more Krsna conscious.
Let me ask you another question: If you think you can’t be Krsna conscious at work, what do you think the chances of you being Krsna at work are? Pretty easy to answer, right? When you say “I can’t,” you pretty much limit the possibility of anything else happening.
If you think that way, I would assume you don’t really try to be Krsna conscious at work because, as you already know, you can’t. As soon as you say, “I can only be Krsna consciousness in a particular environment, a favorable environment, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy and limit your ability to always think of Krsna.
Be open to the possibility that you can be more Krsna consciousness than you might think while being in an environment that is not “ideal,” or in an environment that is even “hostile.” In other words, you can be more Krsna conscious at work than you think.
Do You See What I See?
When I used to distribute books, one of the things that inspired me most was to see everyone as devotees, devotees who had somehow forgotten they were devotees. I would see the little spark of a devotee in them, the spark that was buried under lifetimes of ignorance. As long as I saw that spark, I would relate to them in a much more Krsna conscious way than I normally would.
I’d like you to try this. Tomorrow when you go to work (if you don’t work you can do this when you go out) see everyone as a devotee, a devotee who simply has forgotten that they are a devotee. If you have this vision it is going to change your whole day because when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
A variation of this is to practice seeing everyone as a spiritual being, or to practice seeing Krsna in the heart of everyone at work. Don’t see man, woman, white or black. If you see everyone as a soul, if you see Krsna in everyone and in everything, you’ll be Krsna conscious at every moment. Krsna is everywhere, even in the screen you are staring at right now. Prabhupada said that when you see Krsna everywhere, you will be completely Krsna conscious just by seeing.
Another day you could make an effort to observe how the modes of nature are working. When someone is angry, for example, you can envision that person as a puppet being pulled by the mode of passion (read Bhagavad-gita Chapter Fourteen). When I distributed books and someone became upset with me for offering them a book, Krsna often allowed me to see things exactly this way. I never felt hurt or thought that this is a bad person; I just thought the mode of passion is helplessly forcing this person to become angry. I also felt sorry for them thinking how miserable this person must be to become so easily upset.
Everyday you could take some aspect of Krsna consciousness, like the examples mentioned above, and try to see the world from that perspective. If you can see like that, seeing through eyes of sastra, you can have a completely Krsna conscious day at work.
Rise to the Challenge
The workplace can offer us the opportunity to practice qualities such as tolerance, discipline, forgiveness, kindness, empathy, etc. You might want to consider how an advanced devotee would act if he or she were working at your job and was subjected to the problems and stresses that you go through.
What’s For Lunch?
What else could you do? You could distribute prasadam. Bring a few extra things for your co-workers to eat at lunch, something that you think they would especially like. This will give you an opportunity to explain why you are vegetarian and what prasadam is (and get them addicted to prasadam). You could also bring flowers, garlands, or scents from your altar or the temple.
Give Krsna, Get Krsna
Prabhupada said that one of the best ways to be Krsna consciousness is to give Krsna to others. He once wrote me and said that the more we give Krsna consciousness, the more we become Krsna conscious. This idea is explained in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, ‘when you give Krsna, you get Krsna’.
In 1970, I was traveling and distributing books and this was the first time big books were ever distributed in large quantities in ISKCON. We wrote Srila Prabhupada with the news and he replied, “….. this is the symptom of an advanced devotee; he takes every opportunity to spread Krsna consciousness.” Prabhupada also used to say that you should strain your brain to spread Krsna consciousness. Why not discover what opportunities exist at work to give people Krsna consciousness? Christians all over the world do this. Why shouldn’t we?
Some More Ideas
Here are a few more things you might want to try if you believe the atmosphere at work lends itself to these suggestions.
Every week you could print out a verse or a saying from sastra and put it somewhere on your desk that is visible to others (perhaps frame it too). This might stir up some interest and cause people to ask you questions about your beliefs. You can do the same thing with Krsna conscious desk calendars that have a different quote for every day of the year. If dress code allows, you can do this with a Krsna conscious t-shirt. If you own your own business, you can have pictures of Krsna and Krsna conscious sayings on the wall.
Another thing that will help you be Krsna conscious at work is that you can pray to Krsna for the people at your work place. For example, you can pray that they become open to Krsna consciousness. And if you see that happening, you can take advantage of the opportunity to introduce spiritual topics and even invite them to participate in some Krsna conscious programs.
Ultimately the best way to help people become Krsna conscious is to be Krsna conscious yourself. People are usually more impressed by who you are and what you do than what you say. If people see that there is something different or special about you, they are going to want to know your secret. When they find out your secret, it might spark interest and faith in Krsna consciousness. So your behavior, your qualities, your dealing with others, is an essential aspect of your “preaching” at work.
Obviously there are many other ways to interest people in Krsna and it’s not the purpose of this newsletter to come up with a long list. I brought up the above examples just to get your juices flowing – to get you thinking about what you might be able to do in your workplace, and to realize there are more opportunities to be Krsna conscious at work than you might think.
You Don’t Win the Game on the Court
Ultimately, being Krsna consciousness in the workplace is highly dependent on what you do when you are not a work, just as the success of an athlete is dependent on their practice before the competition. The more Krsna conscious activity you do when you are not at work, the greater the chance you have of being Krsna conscious at work.
Heaven or hell is a state of consciousness. You have control over whether you work in heaven or you work in hell.
Devotee Owned Businesses
The purpose of this article is not to discount the reality that many of us work in environments that can make it a challenge to be Krsna conscious. Ideally it would be best to work in devotee owned businesses and thus work in the association of other devotees. I always encourage devotees inclined to develop businesses and companies that can employ other devotees.
I also encourage all devotees (especially those who have successful businesses or well paying jobs) to direct money beyond their regular donations into projects that they have a special connection with or attraction for; or even to develop their own preaching projects. When your work is directly connected to supporting something that is dear to your heart, it creates an inspiring connection between your work and devotional service.