Spiritual Advice to Businessmen

On January 30, 1973, in Calcutta, Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks to the Bharata Chamber of Commerce, a group of the region’s leading businessmen. “We should not be satisfied with becoming a big businessman. We must know what our next life is…. If you cultivate this knowledge and at the same time go on doing your business, your life will be successful.”

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for kindly inviting me. I’ll serve you to the best of my ability.


The four divisions of the social system

Today’s subject is “Culture and Business.” We understand business to mean “occupational duty.” According to our Vedic culture, there are different types of business. As described in Bhagavad-gītā [4.13], cāturvarṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ. The four divisions of the social system, based on people’s qualities and types of work, are the brāhmaṇas [intellectuals and teachers], the kṣatriyas [military men and state leaders], the vaiśyas [farmers and merchants], and the śūdras [laborers]. Before doing business, one must know what kinds of work there are and who can do what kind of work. People have different capabilities, and there are different types of work, but now we have created a society where everyone takes up everyone else’s business. That is not very scientific.

Society has natural cultural divisions, just as there are natural divisions in the human body. The whole body is one unit, but it has different departments, also—for example, the head department, the arm department, the belly department, and the leg department. This is scientific. So in society the head department is represented by the brāhmaṇa, the arm department by the kṣatriya, the belly department by the vaiśya, and the leg department by the śūdra. Business should be divided scientifically in this way.

The head department is the most important department, because without the head the other departments—the arm, the belly, and the leg—cannot function. If the arm department is lacking, business can still go on. If the leg department is lacking, business can go on. But if the head department is not there—if your head is cut off from your body—then even though you have arms, legs, and a belly, they are all useless.

The head is meant for culture. Without culture, every type of business creates confusion and chaos. And that is what we have at the present moment, because of jumbling of different types of business. So there must be one section of people, the head department, who give advice to the other departments. These advisors are the intelligent and qualified brāhmaṇas.


“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.” [Bhagavad-gītā 18.42]

The brāhmaṇas, the head of the social body, are meant to guide society in culture. Culture means knowing the aim of life. Without understanding the aim of life, a man is a ship without a rudder. But at the present moment we are missing the goal of life because there is no head department in society. The whole human society is now lacking real brāhmaṇas to give advice to the other departments.

Arjuna is a good example of how a member of the kṣatriya department should take advice. He was a military man; his business was to fight. In the Battle of Kurukṣetra he engaged in his business, but at the same time he took the advice of the brahmaṇyadeva, Lord Kṛṣṇa. As it is said,


“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brāhmaṇas, and who is always benefiting the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Kṛṣṇa and Govinda.” [Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.19.65]

In this verse the first things taken into consideration are the cows and the brāhmaṇas (go-brāhmaṇa). Why are they stressed? Because a society with no brahminical culture and no cow protection is not a human society but a chaotic, animalistic society. And any business you do in a chaotic condition will never be perfect. business can be done nicely only in a society following a proper cultural system.

Instructions for a perfect cultural system are given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. At a meeting in the forest of Naimiṣāraṇya, where many learned scholars and brāhmaṇas had assembled and Śrīla Sūta Gosvāmī was giving instructions, he stressed the varṇāśrama social system (ataḥ pumbhir dvijaśreṣṭhā varṇāśramavibhāgaśaḥ). The Vedic culture organizes society into four varṇas [occupational divisions] and four āśramas [spiritual stages of life]. As mentioned before, the varṇas are the brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, and śūdra. The āśramas are the brahmacārīāśrama [celibate student life], gṛhasthaāśrama [family life], vānaprastha-āśrama [retired life], and sannyāsaāśrama [renounced life]. Unless we take to this institution of varṇāśramadharma, the whole society will be chaotic.

And the purpose of varṇāśramadharma is to satisfy the Supreme Lord. As stated in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa [3.8.9],

puruṣeṇa paraḥ pumān
viṣṇur ārādhyate panthā
nānyat tattoṣakāraṇam

According to this verse, one has to satisfy the Supreme Lord by properly performing one’s prescribed duties according to the system of varṇa and āśrama. In a state, you have to satisfy your government. If you don’t, you are a bad citizen and cause chaos in society. Similarly, in the cosmic state—that is, in this material creation as a whole—if you do not satisfy the Supreme Lord, the proprietor of everything, then there will be a chaotic condition. Our Vedic culture teaches that whatever you do, you must satisfy the Supreme Lord. That is real culture.

Svakarmaṇā tam abhyarcya siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ. You may do any business—the brāhmaṇa’s business, the kṣatriya’s business, the vaiśya’s business, or the śūdra’s business—but by your business you should satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You may be a merchant, a professional man, a legal advisor, a medical man—it doesn’t matter. But if you want perfection in your business, then you must try to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Otherwise you are simply wasting your time.

In Bhagavad-gītā [3.9], Lord Kṛṣṇa says, yajñārthāt karmaṇaḥ. The word yajña refers to Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord. You have to work for Him. Otherwise you become bound by the reactions of your activities (anyatra loko ’yaṁ karmabandhanaḥ [Bg. 3.9])). And as long as you are in the bondage of karma, you have to transmigrate from one body to another.


We are not the body but we are the Soul and we are changing the bodies

Unfortunately, at the present moment people do not know that there is a soul and that the soul transmigrates from one body to another. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā [2.13], tathā dehāntaraprāptiḥ: “When the body dies, the soul transmigrates to another body.” I’ve talked with big, big scientists and professors who do not know that there is life after death. They do not know. But according to our Vedic information, there is life after death. And we can experience transmigration of the soul in this present life. It is a very common thing: A baby soon gets the body of a boy, the boy then gets the body of a young man, and the young man gets the body of an old man. Similarly, the old man, after the annihilation of his body, will get another body. It is quite natural and logical.

Actually, we have two bodies, the gross body and the subtle body. The gross body is made up of our senses and the bodily elements—bones, blood, and so on. When we change our body at death, the present gross body is destroyed, but the subtle body, made of mind, intelligence, and ego, is not. The subtle body carries us to our next gross body.

It is just like what happens when we sleep. At night we forget about the gross body, and the subtle body alone works. As we dream we are taken away from our home, from our bed, to some other place, and we completely forget the gross body. When our sleep is over we forget about the dream and become attached again to the gross body. This is going on in our daily experience.

So we are the observer, sometimes of the gross body and sometimes of the subtle body. Both bodies are changing, but we are the unchanging observer, the soul within the bodies. Therefore, our inquiry should be, “What is my position? At night I forget my gross body, and during the daytime I forget my subtle body. Then what is my real body?” These are the questions we should ask.

So you may do your business, as Arjuna did his business. He was a fighter, a kṣatriya, but he did not forget his culture, hearing Gītā from the master. But if you simply do business and do not cultivate your spiritual life, then your business is a useless waste of time (śrama eva hi kevalam).

Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is being spread so that you do not forget your cultural life. We do not say that you stop your business and become a sannyāsī like me and give up everything. We do not say that. Nor did Kṛṣṇa say that. Kṛṣṇa never said, “Arjuna, give up your fighting business.” No, He said, “Arjuna, you are a kṣatriya. You are declining to fight, saying, ‘Oh, it is very abominable.’ You should not say that. You must fight.” That was Kṛṣṇa’s instruction.

Similarly, we Kṛṣṇa conscious people are also advising everyone, “Don’t give up your business. Go on with your business, but simply hear about Kṛṣṇa.” Caitanya Mahāprabhu also said this, quoting from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: sthāne sthitāḥ śrutigatāṁ tanuvāṅmanobhiḥ. Caitanya Mahāprabhu never said, “Give up your position.” Giving up one’s position is not very difficult. But to cultivate spiritual knowledge while one stays in his position—that is required. Among the animals there is no cultivation of spiritual life. That is not possible; the animals cannot cultivate this knowledge. Therefore, if human beings do not cultivate spiritual knowledge, they’re exactly like animals (dharmeṇa hīnāḥ paśubhiḥ samānāḥ).

So we should be very conscious about our eternal existence. We, the spirit soul within the body, are eternal (na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre [Bg. 2.20]). We are not going to die after the annihilation of our body. This is the cultivation of knowledge, or brahmajijñāsā, which means inquiry about one’s self. Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s first disciple, Sanātana Gosvāmī, was formerly finance minister in the government of Nawab Hussein Shah. Then he retired and approached Caitanya Mahāprabhu and humbly said, “My dear Lord, people call me paṇḍita.” (Because he was a brāhmaṇa by caste, naturally he was called paṇḍita, meaning “a learned person.”) “But I am such a paṇḍita,” he said, “that I do not even know who or what I am.”

This is the position of everyone. You may be a businessman or you may be in another profession, but if you do not know what you are, wherefrom you have come, why you are under the tribulations of the laws of material nature, and where you are going in your next life—if you do not know these things, then whatever you are doing is useless. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [1.2.8],


“The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” Therefore our request to everyone is that while you engage in your business, in whatever position Kṛṣṇa has posted you, do your duty nicely, but do not forget to cultivate Kṛṣṇa knowledge.

Kṛṣṇa knowledge means God consciousness. We must know that we are part and parcel of God (mamaivāṁśo jīvaloke jīvabhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ [Bg. 15.7]). We are eternally part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, or God, but we are now struggling with the mind and senses (manaḥ ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi prakṛtisthāni karṣati [Bg. 15.7]). Why this struggle for existence? We must inquire about our eternal life beyond this temporary life. Suppose in this temporary life I become a big businessman for, say, twenty years or fifty years or at the utmost one hundred years. There is no guarantee that in my next life I’m going to be a big businessman. No. There is no such guarantee. But this we do not care about. We are taking care of our present small span of life, but we are not taking care of our eternal life. That is our mistake.

In this life I may be a very great businessman, but in my next life, by my karma, I may become something else. There are 8,400,000 forms of life. Jalajā navalakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣaviṁśatiḥ: There are 900,000 forms of life in the water, and 2,000,000 forms of trees and other plants. Then, kṛmayo rudra-saṅkhyakāḥ pakṣināṁ daśalakṣaṇam: There are 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and 1,000,000 species of birds. Finally, triṁsāl-lakṣāni paśavaḥ caturlakṣāni mānuṣaḥ: There are 3,000,000 varieties of beasts and 400,000 human species. So we must pass through 8,000,000 different forms of life before we come to the human form of life.

Therefore Prahlāda Mahārāja says,


“One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life—in other words, from the tender age of childhood—to practice the activities of devotional service. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.” [Bhāg. 7.6.1] This human birth is very rare. We should not be satisfied simply with becoming a big businessman. We must know what our next life is, what we are going to be.

There are different kinds of men. Some are called karmīs, some are called jñānīs, some are called yogīs, and some are called bhaktas. The karmīs are after material happiness. They want the best material comforts in this life, and they want to be elevated to the heavenly planets after death. The jñānīs also want happiness, but being fed up with the materialistic way of life, they want to merge into the existence of Brahman, the Absolute. The yogīs want mystic power. And the bhaktas, the devotees, simply want the service of the Lord. But unless one understands who the Lord is, how can one render service to Him? So cultivating knowledge of God is the highest culture.

There are different kinds of culture: the culture of the karmīs, the culture of the jñānīs, the culture of the yogīs, and the culture of the bhaktas. Actually, all of these people are called yogīs if they are doing their duty sincerely. Then they are known as karma-yogīs, jñāna-yogīs, dhyāna-yogīs, and bhakti-yogīs. But in Bhagavad-gītā [6.47] Kṛṣṇa says,

yoginām api sarveṣāṁ
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ
sa me yuktatamo mataḥ

Who is the first-class yogī? Kṛṣṇa answers, “He who is always thinking of Me.” This means the Kṛṣṇa conscious person is the best yogī. As already mentioned, there are different kinds of yogīs (the karmayogī, the jñānayogī, the dhyānayogī, and the bhaktiyogī), but the best yogī is he who always thinks of Kṛṣṇa within himself with faith and love. One who is rendering service to the Lord—he is the first-class yogī.

So we request everyone to try to know what he is, what Kṛṣṇa is, what his relationship with Kṛṣṇa is, what his real life is, and what the goal of his life is. Unless we cultivate all this knowledge, we are simply wasting our time, wasting our valuable human form of life. Although everyone will die—that’s a fact—one who dies after knowing these things is benefited. His life is successful.

The cat will die, the dog will die—everyone will die. But one who dies knowing Kṛṣṇa—oh, that is a successful death. As Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā [4.9],


“One who knows in truth the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”

So wherever we go all over the world, our only request is, “Please try to understand Kṛṣṇa. Then your life is successful.” It doesn’t matter what your business is. You have to do something to live. Kṛṣṇa says, śarīra-yātrāpi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ: If you stop working, your life will be hampered. One has to do something for his livelihood, but at the same time he has to cultivate knowledge for the perfection of his life. The perfection of life is simple: try to understand Kṛṣṇa. This is what we are pre-scribing all over the world. It is not very difficult. If you read Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, you will come to understand Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa explains everything.

For the neophytes, Kṛṣṇa says, raso ’ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śaśisūryayoḥ: “My dear Kaunteya, I am the taste of water, and I am the light of the sun and the moon.” There is no need to say, “I cannot see God.” Here is God: the taste of water is God. Everyone drinks water, and when one tastes it he is perceiving God. Then why do you say, “I cannot see God”? Think as God directs, and then gradually you’ll see Him. Simply remember this one instruction from Bhagavad-gītāraso ’ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śaśisūryayoḥ: “I am the taste of water; I am the shining illumination of the sun and moon.” Who has not seen the sunlight? Who has not seen the moonlight? Who has not tasted water? Then why do you say, “I have not seen God”? If you simply practice this bhaktiyoga, as soon as you taste water and feel satisfied you will think, “Oh, here is Kṛṣṇa.” Immediately you will remember Kṛṣṇa. As soon as you see the sunshine, you will remember, “Oh, here is Kṛṣṇa.” As soon as you see the moonshine, you will remember, “Oh, here is Kṛṣṇa.” And śabdaḥ khe: As soon as you hear some sound in the sky, you will remember, “Here is Kṛṣṇa.”


Ramesh Lal, a businessman who practises chanting of Hare Krishna maha mantra

In this way, you will remember Kṛṣṇa at every step of your life. And if you remember Kṛṣṇa at every step of life, you become the topmost yogī. And above all, if you practice the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, you will easily remember Kṛṣṇa. There is no tax. There is no loss to your business. If you chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, if you remember Kṛṣṇa while drinking water, what is your loss? Why don’t you try it? This is the real culture of knowledge. If you cultivate this knowledge and at the same time go on doing your business, your life will be successful. Thank you very much.

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