The zamindar of Harishpur had a revenue collector named Kama Das. A friend once asked Kama Das, “O Kama Das, why does your master love you?”
Kama Das replied, “O brother, would he love me for no reason? I have a trick to secure his love. But don’t you see how much he loves me? Look at me! I am wearing a fine dhoti, fancy slippers, and an embroidered punjabi. I eat in the master’s home, and the master sends a car for me whenever he needs me. Even after seeing all this you are asking me how does the master love me? I am surprised!”
The friend said, “Okay brother, I can see how much the zamindar loves you. But why does he treat you so well? Why haven’t any of his other revenue collectors also achieved such favour from him?”
Kama Das said, “Brother, I mentioned already I have a trick to winning his love. I do not call the master anything other than ‘Royal Sire’ (Raja Sahib), and I act with him as though I think he is the sole proprietor of the earth. I look at him just like he is God. Because of this, I have become his most beloved revenue collector and people call me “the master’s favourite” (Prabhu-preṣṭha). Can everybody be like that? Well brother, the answer is no. Not everyone knows or can so well execute my trick.”
At this time, another of the zamindar’s revenue collectors by the name of Mukti Charan was passing by at such a fast gate that it was as though the zamindar had ordered him to set all the dust on the road into flight. Kama Das called out to him, “O Brother Mukti, what’s the news? Seeing your stress, I am saddened. It seems that you do not even wish to be happy and at ease in the master’s service, and instead you are always thinking about how to get out of it. But you see how well off and happy I am all the time, so why don’t you try to find happiness in the master’s service too?”
Mukti Charan, sighing, said, “Brother, I cannot consider your happiness to be actual happiness. Today you are flattering the master in various ways, but if you misbehave even slightly tomorrow, the master will get angry and who knows what he will do then. Where will your happiness remain if he rejects you? Happiness that ends in sorrow is just another form of sorrow, is it not? As long as I myself cannot become a master, I will never find any peace. When I sit in the seat of the master, then I will be satisfied, and not beforehand. I do not wish to forget this by becoming immersed in the gaudiness of good-for-nothing happiness like you. As much as I become intoxicated by such happiness, so much so it becomes an obstacle to me becoming a master! Therefore, brother, I do not care for your ‘happiness’ at all.”
A person named Haridas overheard this conversation as he walked along the road and said to his travelling companion, “Ah! How terrible! To external vision this person has given up all interest in selfish happiness, but their interior is full of poison: although they are a servant, they want only to become a master! It’s just like those who wish to become Krishna themselves. We are meant to serve Krishna. This is our spiritual nature. Understanding that and feeling the wholesomeness of this, we engage in service to Krishna. We do not serve Krishna for any other reason! Trying to flatter Krishna to obtain worldly pleasures and prosperity is never actual devotion to Krishna. The attempt, however, to give up worldly pursuits and become Krishna ourselves—this is even more terrible!
“Brother, I do not desire to try to become Krishna just to free myself from the dualities of pleasure and pain in the material world. I am an eternal servant of Krishna; this is my identity. Therefore, let me love simply to serve Krishna and His devotees and let me not desire anything in exchange for that. Krishna and His eternal loving servants are so gracious and magnanimous. If they mercifully accept even some small albeit flawed service from this lowly and poor soul and never deprive me of their service, then I will be fulfilled—my life will be successful!
“Both Kama Das and Mukti Charan desire happiness, but they neither have nor will attain pure happiness—love for Krishna—until they give up the idea that they have to ‘peel everything with their own teeth’ (amara dade chhola).”
As Haridas said this and remembered both the Lord’s magnanimity and his own humble position, a tear fell down onto his soft chest and poured over his beating heart.
Kama Das represents those who make a show of faith, service, and adoration of Krishna but do so only to attain worldly ends for themselves. Whatever they do, they want something in exchange for it. They seek the fruits of their actions for themselves, and in reality neither render genuine service to Krishna nor bring about any actual benefit for the world. Observing that they are often seriously engaged in honourable activities or offerings of service to Krishna, people may also consider them virtuous and devoted persons but they follow ultimately the policy of “throw down the money and smear the oil (phela kadi, makha tela)”, that is, they approach their relationship with Krishna as though it is a business transaction.
Mukti Charan represents those who do not have any selfish aims in the world and live austere lives but seek ultimately to merge into Brahman. This is the height of ingratitude and treachery. This mentality is compared to poison for the spiritual seeker; it destroys their good sense and leads them on the path of self-sought self-annihilation. Philosophically, it is known as māyāvād (the theory that everything is an illusion, including the self, Krishna, and devotion) or nirviśeṣavād (the theory that ultimately everything material and spiritual merges into a nondifferentiated static oneness). Followers of these theories often start their practice by making a show of devotion to personal forms of the Divine but in an ‘advanced’ stage dismiss this and seek to dissolve themselves into their imagined notion of an ultimate static substance underlying the perceivable material world (nirvisesa Brahman).
Distinct from both the worldly enjoyers represented by Kama Das and the impersonal renouncers represented by Mukti Charan are the humble loving servants of Lord Krishna represented by Haridas. These followers of the devotional path see that an eternal, conscious, personal, dynamic, and ecstatic reality is the origin of the world and everything within it. This absolute reality is the animation manifest by Sri Krishna, the all-attractive and all-loving origin personal Divinity whose eternal play of love in the spiritual world is the origin of the nondifferentiated Brahman sought by the Mukti Charans of the world just as the sun is the origin of all sunrays.
Those who have realised that love and devotion to the Supreme is the essence of wisdom and joy, like Haridas, surrender at the lotus feet of their eternal worshippable Lord and float in a constant stream of happiness and fulfilment. They find no dearth of satisfaction and rather experience satisfaction of greater quantity and quality than the Kama Dasas of the world. Moreover, their happiness, is pure and wholesome because it is produced by selfless spiritual service: their happiness is the Lord’s happiness; they feel happiness because the Lord is pleased to accept their service. Within such divine service, there is no selfishness, suffering, scarcity, or exploitation as in found in service rendered for material objectives. Thus, Haridas compassionately laments when he overhears the conversation of Kama Das and Mukti Charan. Let us realise our prospect in the divine service of Lord Sri Krishna and proceed accordingly on this path to our highest fortune.