Can “Ordinary” Daily Activities be “Spiritual”?

Praying poseI thought of this topic while doing yard work yesterday. I have written a poem on another blog, “Is Yard Work Devotional Service?”, [] which speaks of this topic, though now I am looking at it differently. In a number of places Prabhupada speaks of persons doing the same work with different results due to their intention and consciousness. As aspiring devotees of Krishna, we want to live our life in relationship to Krishna, offering him any activity as we do it and the results of such work.

Praying poseI thought of this topic while doing yard work yesterday. I have written a poem on another blog, “Is Yard Work Devotional Service?”, [] which speaks of this topic, though now I am looking at it differently. In a number of places Prabhupada speaks of persons doing the same work with different results due to their intention and consciousness. As aspiring devotees of Krishna, we want to live our life in relationship to Krishna, offering him any activity as we do it and the results of such work.

“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform — do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.” Bg 9.27

If we are married we have to take some of the fruits of our occupation in the form of money to pay our bills and necessities. However, if our lives our centered around service to Krishna and his devotees, then our home, spouse, family, conveyances, possessions, etc., are seen–or we endeavor to see them–as belonging to Krishna. We can practice the habit upon arising to offer our day to Krishna, and also before any activity we can pray that Krishna help us to see it as service to him. To begin with here are two verses and purports from Prabhupada’s Gita As It Is 18th chapter:

O Arjuna, when one performs his prescribed duty only because it ought to be done, and renounces all material association and all attachment to the fruit, his renunciation is said to be in the mode of goodness.
Prescribed duties must be performed with this mentality. One should act without attachment for the result; he should be disassociated from the modes of work. A man working in Krsna consciousness in a factory does not associate himself with the work of the factory, nor with the workers of the factory. He simply works for Krsna. And when he gives up the result for Krsna, he is acting transcendentally. Bg 18.9

It is indeed impossible for an embodied being to give up all activities. But he who renounces the fruits of action is called one who has truly renounced.
It is said in Bhagavad-gita that one can never give up work at any time. Therefore he who works for Krishna and does not enjoy the fruitive results, who offers everything to Krishna, is actually a renouncer. There are many members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness who work very hard in their office or in the factory or some other place, and whatever they earn they give to the Society. Such highly elevated souls are actually sannyasis and are situated in the renounced order of life. It is clearly outlined here how to renounce the fruits of work and for what purpose fruits should be renounced. Bg 18.11

I will give my own life and family as an example, since it is my life that I am most familiar with–and I think it is natural for readers to want to know about whom they read. Every person and devotee has a particular perspective, bias, and emphasis in their life. You will do well in my estimation to try to remember this, and understand about the life of a certain speaker or writer. This will help you understand how there can be different opinions or recommendations of various devotees.

This weekend my son came for a visit. He lives about an hour and 1/2 away. As are many of the devotee children he is multi-talented, and very artist and musically inclined. In addition he is a very creative and skilled builder. Around the house he has built an attic room about his bedroom, a fence around the AC, a wood shed and gazebo. He loves to do this kind of work, and of course we love to engage him.

We were thinking of putting up chair molding in the dinning room because after 6 years of living here, it is showing signs of wear. Telling him that, he researched possibilities, and came up with many ideas, centered around painting a darker color below and lighter above. I thought of staining the chair molding the same color as the other stained trim. We agreed on the colors and in about a day and a half it was finished.

He was raised as a Krishna devotee attending mainly devotionally based school till the first year of high school. Then he explored different options and has chosen on his own to be a devotee. By nature he has a great service attitude and loves kirtana.

So I can pose the question, “Was the work he did for us devotional service?”

To answer this, one would have to have more information. We can’t tell just from the external activity. True, he was doing it as a favor for his parents who are also devotees, and he didn’t ask any money for the work, as he loves to do it. Never-the-less, we always pay him something reasonable for his help as he needs the money. He is a good person and a devotee, though I can’t say he was offering the endeavor to Krishna as service to him. So per say it is not what we would consider pure devotional service, or work done only for the satisfaction of Krishna–though it is in relationship to Krishna and his devotees. It is important to know that a devotee’s activity–even what is externally service at a Temple–isn’t automatically pure devotional service–it may be service, but it could be service in the mode or quality of ignorance, passion, goodness or pure spiritual goodness, or a mixture. Everything depends on our motivation and intent. [see Shrimad Bhagavatam 3.39.7-12]

To the degree that any of us are in the consciousness of offering our work to Krishna, thinking of ourself as his servant and trying to remember Krishna, to that degree it is devotional service. Now if he takes some of the money we gave him and gives a donation for Krishna’s service–say to a guru or at a Krishna Temple, that would help purify him, awakening his devotional consciousness.

Charity is especially meant for the householders, since it purifies the accumulation of wealth. He is an example of the importance of finding ones proper calling or occupation. Krishna says in the Gita’s 18th chapter, verse 46 that everyone can perfect their lives through their natural work if they worship the Lord by that work. Here is what Prabhupada says in that purport:

“One should therefore know that as part and parcel of the Supreme Lord one has his duty to render service unto the Supreme. Everyone should be engaged in devotional service to the Lord in full Krishna consciousness. That is recommended in this verse.

“Everyone should think that he is engaged in a particular type of occupation by Hrsikesa, the master of the senses. And by the result of the work in which one is engaged, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, should be worshiped. If one thinks always in this way, in full Krishna consciousness, then, by the grace of the Lord, he becomes fully aware of everything. That is the perfection of life. The Lord says in Bhagavad-gita (12.7), tesam aham samuddharta. The Supreme Lord Himself takes charge of delivering such a devotee. That is the highest perfection of life. In whatever occupation one may be engaged, if he serves the Supreme Lord he will achieve the highest perfection.”

Materially we are our faith and attachments. So if we give our hard earned money, we in effect, “go there”. We want to have full faith in the power of the holy name and service to Krishna, and to see ourself not as the supreme enjoyer, but as a servant. Beyond just giving our time and money, the ultimate objective of Bhakti is to give our whole self to Krishna. We are his in fact, but we are acting otherwise. So we want to realize our true position. Then we will no longer live for our material sense of self, but we will live and love for Krishna, our guru, and the Vaishnava devotees of Krishna.

Most of us are mixed devotees–that means we are not purely motivated by service to Krishna out of love–we have material desires, and some selfishness. We must begin somewhere, so wherever we are is a good place to begin. Thus we should be encouraged to live our life in relationship to Krishna, even though we may feel far from the goal. Even a little service helps us progress, saving us from future suffering in ignorance. We need to know that Krishna is there for us and will help us take shelter of him. Endeavoring for spiritual perfection is rare, and it is even rarer to know about Krishna and want to serve him and love him–thus it is said that for our one step toward Krishna, he takes 100 steps toward us. Please remember, that a person doesn’t enter a shower already clean, but they become clean by washing with soap and water.

So we are in the “shower” of purification through chanting and hearing the holy name and scriptures, serving the Deities in the Temple or at our home, serving advanced devotees, and trying our best to center our home and work life around Krishna. It is a gradual process–so be patient yet confident of success. Krishna consciousness is a cultivation, and we progress to the extent of our necessity for Krishna and our desire to be Krishna conscious. We need to be able to assess where we are on the material and spiritual map in order to make progress from that level. If we are unable to really evaluate this, then we are recommended to have advanced devotee friends who have our interest at heart who can help us.

So whether our ordinary household activities are devotional service depends on our service attitude and our consciousness of Krishna. Why are we doing what we do? Do we see ourself as a servant of Krishna or of our senses, family, nation etc? Do we see ourself as the cause of the results of our activities or do we see Krishna as the ultimate cause? Of course service to our body, family, nation etc., can be done in relationship to Krishna–which is the whole point of this discussion.

Prabhupada sometime refers to Krishna consciousness as the great art of doing work. We have to work to maintain the body, but through the knowledge of KC we are learning that if just live and work for ourself or our extended self in the shape of family and/or nation, that is karmic activity–either good or bad karma are both binding.

We have to embark on the path of living for Krishna. That will be the success of our life–serving and loving Krishna and those that are dear to him–his pure devotees. And that is a matter of our consciousness and intent. It is our nature as souls and can be awakened through the purification of Bhakti.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed; otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.” Bg 3.9

“One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God….In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me…Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” Bg 18.55, 57, 65

Krishna instructs Arjuna