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Service and the Art of Giving

Bhagavad-bhakti is attained by visrambha-guru-seva (intimate service) to the lotus feet of Sri Guru (from the sixteen essential teachings ‘Upadesavali’ of Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja).  We have heard many times that Guru-nistha is the backbone of bhakti.  It is the first limb (anga) of bhakti, among the 64 limbs given by Srila Rupa Goswami in the Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu). But how do we practically serve Sri Guru?[/dcs_p]

Brahmacaris and sannyasis are fortunate to have a simple path clearly defined for them. For the most part, their life is dedicated to living and serving in the temple (math) or traveling and preaching.

For householders their path is different in that they mostly perform their spiritual practices at home. Householders live separate and sometimes far away from a temple or other devotees. Daily they are busily engaged in earning money to support their family, and may have little time for service besides a routine of spiritual practices at home.  Thus, householders and their families wait for special occasions like Vraja Mandala and Navadvipa dhama parikramas and other festivals or visits from travelling preachers to get the opportunity for sadhu-sanga and more service.

The process of bhakti is so sublime.  It allows everyone in any condition of life to make advancement towards the ultimate goal of life, Krsna-Prema. All we need is to be under the guidance of a pure devotee and render service to Krsna and Vaisnavas.  The following practice of ‘tithing’ is a practical suggestion for householder devotees to engage in a type of devotional service from wherever they are, every day.


Tithing is an ancient spiritual practice propounded by many religions and spiritualists. It holds the secret of success to both material and spiritual life. There are numerous books written on the subject. Some persons are attracted to tithing for increasing their material prosperity, while others practice it to receive purely spiritual benefit or a combination of both.

What is tithing? It is based on the principal of giving a portion of time, energy and money to the source of one’s spiritual inspiration. ‘Tithe’ means ‘1/10th’, so the amount is 10%. If one can afford to give more than this, good, but 10% is the recommended amount because it does not cause any hardship for the giver. Tithing is not just about giving money, but also time and energy as well. For example, in a given day, one will set aside 10% of ones time for spiritual activities.  Out of 24 hours, that equates to approximately 2.5 hours to be spent on spiritual practices or helping others.

Srila Prabhupada asked his householder disciples living in ISKCON to give 50% of their income to the temple, but practically very few could follow this. Giving 10% is much easier as you hardly notice any change in your daily routine or material obligations. In fact, whatever sacrifice is made turns into a spiritual boon and creates more prosperity in life.

Prosperity means more than money. It also is the abundance of precious time, energy, inspiration, good health and well-being.  Those who practice tithing, find that the fortune that comes into their lives many times exceeds what they give.

A miserly person who is only concerned about their own maintenance and well-being, never thinking about others, finds themselves always lacking and in want. This is the paradox of living in an interactive world. In giving one finds happiness and pleasure, and in helping others one’s own needs are met.

Regularity is essential in tithing. Whatever time, energy or money is given should be done on a regular basis every day, every week, every month and every year without fail, regardless of the problems or pressing needs that arise in life.  Maya, the illusory energy, will present obstacles and encourage you to procrastinate and wait until your obligations are met first before giving to others.

To ‘Pay God first’ is the principal.  All living beings are maintained by the merciful Supreme Lord. We should therefore be grateful to Him and reciprocate by offering a portion of our income and lives in His service. If anyone follows this principal earnestly, they will realize enormous benefit in all aspects of their life.

If we regularly contribute a portion of our income for the service of Hari, Guru and Vaisnavas, our daily work becomes more than just maintaining ourselves.  It becomes yoga, or the process of linking with the Supreme. We will be conscious of devotion in our daily work. Because we are working for Krsna, it helps us to remember Him throughout the day. Gradually such work leads to full absorption in Krsna Consciousness, always remembering Krsna in love.

“But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Partha—for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.”

Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.”

“My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga (vaidhi-bhakti). In this way develop a desire to attain Me.”

“If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.”

From these words of Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad Gita 12.7-10 we can understand that through the process of working for Krsna one gradually purifies ones existence of all material desires, including the desire for accumulating wealth.  Thus one gradually comes to the stage of pure bhakti.

Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada states in his purport to this verse,

“One should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krsna consciousness. There are many devotees who are engaged in the propagation of Krsna consciousness, and they require help. So, even if one cannot directly practice the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga, he can try to help such work. Every endeavor requires land, capital, organization and labor. Just as in business one requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor and some organization to expand, so the same is required in the service of Krsna. The only difference is that in materialism one works for sense gratification. The same work, however, can be performed for the satisfaction of Krsna, and that is spiritual activity. If one has sufficient money, he can help in building an office or temple for propagating Krsna consciousness. Or he can help with publications. There are various fields of activity, and one should be interested in such activities. If one cannot sacrifice the results of his activities, the same person can still sacrifice some percentage to propagate Krsna consciousness. This voluntary service to the cause of Krsna consciousness will help one to rise to a higher state of love for God, whereupon one becomes perfect.”