Passing On a Legacy of Debt

By Ram Vilas Dasa for ISKCON News on 3 Jun 2010
While in America, people purchase homes with many bedrooms — one for the husband and wife, one for each child, and one for guests — these are often not used. People keep room for their children, but the children prefer to stay away from the parents. People have a guest room, but hardly any guests visit their home. Why?

Krishnas & DebtIs there a better way?
A verse from the ethics of the famous Indian political scholar Chanakya Pandita mentions four kinds of enemies:
runa karta pita shatru  (a father who passes on debt to his children)
 mata cha vyabhicharini (a mother who is not faithful to her husband)
bharya rupavati shatru (a wife who is very beautiful) 
putra shatrur apanditah (a son who is not well-versed in Vedic knowledge)
The first item refers to a father who incurs debt that he then passes on to his descendants, instead of repaying it himself. The understanding is not that if a father has taken some debt during some phase in his life, he is automatically an enemy. The father might take such a loan for some emergency reasons, but it is expected that he settle it himself. If he does not, leaving his family in a precarious position after his death, he has worked against their best interest, and has thus become an enemy of sorts.
Everyone should take heed of this warning to make sure that they do not depend on others for their livelihood and do not burden their near and dear ones. The material energy is acting upon each and every living entity and we are all suffering in the waves and whirlpools of the material modes of nature every moment. With such a miserable state of affairs, why add more suffering to beloved ones by making them take responsibility for our unnecessary expenditures?
Vedic civilization was arranged in such a way that everyone remained alert towards the ultimate goal of life. To attain this goal, it is imperative to keep our consciousness pure and clear. Thus, Vedic society accepted everything which uplifted the consciousness and rejected things which degraded the consciousness.
Sannyasis (renunciants) and brahmanas (priests and teachers) were supposed to be fully engaged in distributing spiritual knowledge to others; they had no time for economic development, so they were allowed to beg for maintenance. In general, begging for any assistance was considered the worst thing because it diminished one’s honor, but it was acceptable for such individuals.
Other that them, however, debts were discouraged. In Vedic civilization, people preferred physical stress to mental stress. They would live according to the facilities provided by the Supreme Lord, even if meager. If one takes a loan, one can not avoid anxiety, and this was seen as worse than a simple lifestyle.
In addition, often a loan is taken to show off opulence to the world or to enjoy the facilities beyond our current means. This leads to untruthful behavior, and can implicate us in all manner of unsavory activities.
Home loans
What of the biggest loan most people have, the mortgage on their home? In olden times, people would stay in their ancestral house. Nowadays most people stay away from their parents thus they either have to rent or buy a house. To avoid the disadvantages of renting and to have the comfort of their own home, people take advantage of bank loans.
Empowered by these additional funds, the tendency is to purchase a larger home than required. Although such large homes can be considered an asset, they come with a heavy price: financial burden, over-endeavor to accumulate money, little time for relationships, little time for spiritual practices, and costs of house maintenance.
Instead, it might be wiser to save up money and purchase a more humble dwelling. Socrates would go to the market and ask one question before buying anything: Can I not survive without this item? We may not be able to live like he did, but we can try to minimize our needs.
While in America, people purchase homes with many bedrooms — one for the husband and wife, one for each child, and one for guests — these are often not used. People keep room for their children, but the children prefer to stay away from the parents. People have a guest room, but hardly any guests visit their home. Why? Although there is space in the house, there is no space in the heart. When we keep our life simple, we get time to nurture our heart and soul thus one becomes magnanimous. One’s magnanimous heart can accommodate everyone irrespective of the space available in the house; thus even one bedroom can accommodate husband-wife, parents, children, and guests. This is not an exaggeration; it can be observed in many Indian homes even today.
Speculation in the modern economy
Another source of much debt is speculation. The modern economic scenario involves lots of speculation. In the stock market, shares are traded at values much higher than their face values. In real estate, apartments are sold at much higher rates than the actual cost (cost of land and construction). Even the land prices are based on speculation.
Ultimately, everybody is interested in making money at the cost of others. A basic principle of finance is to buy a commodity when the price is low. Financial institutions (banks, fund houses, insurance companies, etc) thus often present data in such a way that general public gets confused. During an economic downturn, financial institutions increase the interest on fixed deposits. People lose faith in the market and invest in these fixed deposits. Financial institutions thus get large amounts of public money, which they invest and thereby reap huge profits.
The Lord will provide
If we simplify our lives and trust in the Lord to take care of us, we will be surprised at how we are maintained. As Srila Prabhupada mentions in one of his purports, the mother does not have milk, but the moment the child is born the milk comes. In a similar way, we can often find a way to meet our needs through what God provides, without overextending ourselves through unnecessary borrowing. Krishna is the supplier of everything, and we need only do our duty in his service.
In this connection, Maha Vishnu Swami used to quote a scriptural verse regarding what a devotee should ask for from the Lord whenever he prays to Him:
anaayaasena maranam / vinaa dainyena jivanam
dehi me krpayaa Krishna / tvayi me bhaktim acancalaam
”Please give me a sudden death without any prolonged illness (this he asks mainly because he does not want to put others into inconvenience), please keep me from depend upon another for my life’s needs, and as long as my soul is in this body, please engage me in steady unflinching devotional service unto You.”

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Posted in Editorials.