“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”– Milton Friedman (title of a 1975 book)
Spiritual life too has a price tag. The rewards of practicing spirituality in general and Bhakti Yoga in particular are uninterrupted happiness that can be shared with the whole world, and a deeper level of contentment that sustains major upheavals; a steady sense of peace, balance and control over the inner world. Sounds attractive? But it costs something.
The Bhakti scriptures explain ‘greed’ as the price to pay. In other words one displays enthusiasm while chanting, hearing, worshiping the deity or offering prayers. If one lacks enthusiasm he is advised to look for places and people where this fervor prevails and then take up to that association with the gusto of a starved man when he’s offered a feast.
Now the challenge is I may find the principle of spiritual happiness attractive, but the enthusiasm calls for investing time, energy and faith in its practices. And that means giving up some other things in the present. Hmm… that willingness to abandon certain activities isn’t forthcoming. Then what?
Friedman (quoted above), considered as one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century popularized the phrase ‘there are no free lunches in this world’ to explain the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ which means “To get one thing we like we have to give up another thing that we like. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another” This principle works in spiritual circles as well. Often to come closer to God, we have to give up some other attractive pleasurable object that we believe would give us pleasure.
This calls for a major leap of faith. Those shying to invest their energy and time to experience spiritual pleasure often wonder how some others seem to be so naturally situated and happy in their spiritual practices. Why we struggle when for others spiritual happiness is flowing abundantly and apparently freely? This again is an illusion. Whoever is blissful in his or her spiritual practices is surely investing time and energy. Or he’s surely reaping the benefits for his past practices. And his days are numbered if he isn’t sustaining them. Noted computer scientist Fred Brooks put it brilliantly, “You can only get something for nothing if you have previously gotten nothing for something”
Let’s say you decide to pay the price. What does that mean? It means a committed practice of chanting and hearing. A daily practice of chanting of God’s Holy Names and association of like-minded practitioners is the price. And if we are careful and attentive in our practices, surely we’d feel the process working for us. Otherwise it could remain a mere theoretical concept without any tangible experience; it’s like licking the bottle of honey from outside. The investment of time and our attention is the opening of this bottle; the succulent honey of Krishna consciousness is waiting to flow, and intoxicate us with a rich and lasting experience of union with God.
And then you realize it’s not really so expensive. The product is worth much more than the price you are paying for it!!