Prabhupada’s Money Analogy and the Politics of Doing the Right Thing
- Satyaraja Dasa (Steven J. Rosen)
According to Srila Prabhupada, one can gauge a person’s spiritual status by how they react to finding money on the street: Do they keep it for themselves? Do they leave it lying there? Or do they look for the original owner? What would you do?
In Sanskrit, there are three terms that cover the gamut of possible reactions to finding money in the street: bhoga, (enjoyment); tyaga (renunciation); and seva (a service attitude). In Prabhupada’s “money analogy,” a bhogi is one who finds money in the street and uses it for his own purposes. This is the enjoying spirit to which most people are slaves. Their senses dictate what they do. The world is meant for their pleasure. If they find something that doesn’t belong to them, no matter, they will use it as they see fit.
A step beyond this is the tyagi. Here is someone who realizes the value of renunciation. Such a person has risen beyond the usual pleasures of the world and is now rejoicing in more subtle forms of material enjoyment. At best, they know that nothing in this world truly belongs to them, and they are thus willing to relinquish the enjoying spirit. In Prabhupada’s analogy, this person leaves the money in the street: “It’s not mine, and I have nothing to do with it.”
As laudable as this approach might at first seem, a superior mode of behavior quickly reveals itself to a thoughtful person. The money left in the street obviously belongs to someone. Why not pick it up and give it back to its original owner? If it is at all possible to discern who left the money there in the first place, wouldn’t the best course of action involve returning it to that person? This is called seva, or service.
But this is all to illustrate an analogy.
If we take the accouterments of this world and use it in God’s service — for it all obviously belongs to Him — we are then properly reacting to the phenomena we see around us. Otherwise, we are merely thieves.
Sometimes Prabhupada would use this same analogy to highlight three other Sanskrit words: karma, jnana, and bhakti, which are closely related to the other three words mentioned above. Prabhupada’s use of the analogy is always enlightening:
There is another example. Just like somebody drops his money bag, unconsciously drops. So somebody picks up and he thinks, “Oh, here is so much money. Put it in my pocket.” [laughter] He’s a thief. He’s a thief. That is karmi. Karmi is trying to simply take from God’s property and put it in his own pocket. That is karmi. “Bring me more. Bring me more. Bring me more.” And the jnani, he sees that one purse is there, somebody has left, so “Why shall I touch it? Let it remain there.” He doesn’t touch
anyone’s property. Jnani: “Why shall I be criminal? Let it remain.” He’s jnani. But a bhakta, he finds a purse, so what his duty? He does not put it into his back pocket; neither does he throw it away — “let it stay there.” He finds out, “Who is the proprietor? Who is the proprietor?” So he can ask somebody if anyone has lost anything. So somebody says, “Yes, yes. I have lost my purse.” So you can examine whether it belongs to him: “I will now examine it. Sir, here is the purse.” “Yes, it is mine.” So these three men, who is best? Hmm? The man who takes the purse and puts it in his pocket — is he the best? Or is it the man who neglects it? This second one says, brahma satyam jagan mithya, “Why shall I touch it? It is mithya. It is false.” Eh? He is good?Or the one who finds out and gives to the proprietor? Who is good?(Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.31 — Honolulu, May 30, 1976)
What would you do?
In life, we are often confronted with this choice, or choices that reflect similar truths. Let’s face it: the world is not ours for the taking. It belongs to God. We are simply here as visitors, and we’ll be leaving all-too-quickly. While here, we should use whatever is given to us in the service of the Lord. How can we pretend that anything really belongs to us? The natural elements come from God. Everything we see, taste, touch, smell or hold dear are His and only His. Are we not thieves — bhogis or karmis — if we just take it for our own enjoyment, without recognize to whom it really belongs? Are we not thieves, too — call it tyagis or jnanis — if we renounce the world, which was given us by our Maker? Are we not obviously put here for a reason — not to enjoy or renounce but to serve? Clearly, the virtuous person is the sevaite or the bhakta — the person who sees that nothing really belongs to him but that everything belongs to God. Such vision necessitates using all things of this world in God’s service. This is the realization that the Krsna Consciousness movement hopes to share with the world.