Do we ever pray to the Lord for material benefits?
One subscriber of ours sent us a question: “I know generally we don’t pray for material benefits but in Srimad Bhagavatam we find prayers such as the Narayana kavacha and Gajendra prayers. Can one read these prayers during times of distress and does one factually get the benefit of these prayers by simply reading them as stated and can these benefits be gained if simply read in English?”
First of all, Srimad Bhagavatam is Amala Purana and one of our most important core literatures of all time, and you should not have any second thoughts or doubts about reading or reciting any prayers from it.
What if some of the prayers address material things? Do we pray for material stuff? And if we do, then what happens? Are we not supposed to “generally” do that or there is no point because it won’t work? Is it shameful or forbidden to pray for material things or is it that things may get even worse if we do pray? Cause I’ve heard even that one before!
I’ve seen devotees being afraid to pray to Nrisimhadeva for their dangerously ill friend because they are afraid. Afraid of whom? Nrisimhadeva? Yes, because “if I pray He may take my friend away”. And if you don’t, then she will definitely recover? Who is the Ultimate Protector anyway? Contrary to that, I know devotees who went through very difficult and distressful times which allowed them to pray and meditate on the Lord day and night with such great intensity and feeling, that it became a foundation for their diamond-like staunch faith. And surely there are hundreds of present day and age stories of how Nrisimhadeva protected those who took His shelter.
I’ve seen devotees so desperately desirous of getting married but considering it wrong to pray for a good marriage, because they “only pray to become a good devotee”. But in their spare time all they could talk about was their frustration in finding a wife. Contrary to that, I know a devotee who was fully engaged in service and preaching and then suddenly got married to this amazing devotee girl. Now they are a team of preachers that are wonderfully engaged in service, raising a cute daughter. And later on that Prabhu would attribute his good fortune to the fact that he was reciting prayers of Kardama Muni from Srimad Bhagavatam, praying to the Lord to arrange him a spouse with like-minded disposition. So which approach is better?
I’ve seen devotees who kept some feng-shui frogs with the coins in their mouths to bring in some money into life, because, you know, we all have financial needs and it’s wrong to rely upon Krishna for money. These devotees lived in the same area where a made-up joke roamed around about how Krishna allegedly complained to Rukmini that devotees keep asking Him for money. She asks, “Then what happens when they get money?” And Krishna supposedly replies, “I don’t know, I never gave them.” Contrary to that, Srila Prabhupada would encourage devotees, saying that Sri Krishna is Madhava, the husband of the goddess of fortune, if we serve Him then Laxmidevi Herself will supply everything we may require.
Srimad Bhagavatam states that whether materially or spiritually, approaching the Supreme Lord is always the most intelligent thing to do:
akāmaḥ sarva-kāmo vā
yajeta puruṣaṁ param
“A person who has broader intelligence, whether he be full of all material desire, without any material desire, or desiring liberation, must by all means worship the supreme whole, the Personality of Godhead.” (SB 2.3.10)
But I’ve never come across a statement in Srila Prabhupada’s books where it said we should be scared to ask the Lord for material benefits, or that it’s wrong or forbidden. It’s actually the other way around, Bhagavad Gita warns us about suppressing our material aspirations and turning into pretenders by jumping to the level we have not yet reached.
It’s a perverted, tamasic idea to consider that to become devotees we must be materially unhappy, unfulfilled, poor and miserable. Srila Prabhupada never said or wrote such a thing. And I’ve seen people who leave Krishna consciousness to become “happy” in this material world and address their material needs, even though the path of bhakti could perfectly accommodate and engage their material nature. Sinful desires – no. Material nature – no problem. So why do we hesitate?
lābho jīveta yāvatā
nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ
Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works. (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.10)
Many times what devotees consider desires for “material benefits” are not really desires to “dedicate your life for sense gratification”. But most of the time you can see that they are practical material needs for their bodily or mental health (and we all have our own different requirements in those areas). And if we think that by “sacrificing” then we shall make spiritual progress – this contradicts the instructions of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Hence Srila Prabhupada never demonized or dismissed material needs or requirements. Many times Srila Prabhupada would say that by being Krishna conscious we can be happy in this life and in the next, that the society will be peaceful and prosperous, that simply by chanting Hare Krishna guarantees no one will go hungry and there will be an ample supply of rain.
In the Bhagavad Gita the four types of pious people are mentioned as the distressed, the one in need of money, the inquisitive and one who searches for knowledge. So if you approach the Lord for material purposes you are considered pious! It is considered intelligent and fortunate to approach the Lord! The only problem is that sometimes people stop right there. That’s where the problem is.
Meaning, if you’re no longer distressed or in need of money you may not see the need of approaching the Lord anymore. But our goal is that we would be constantly thinking of the Lord 24/7 and our relationship won’t just happen at the time we are in need, our relationship would always be there because we are in love!
Therefore the entire Srimad Bhagavatam expands on this point in many numerous examples when devotees approached the Lord for a material purpose, but then gradually became purified and engaged in His pure devotional service.
It’s not considered best to pray to the Lord for exclusively material things just because when you can receive precious jewels it’s not wise to only pray to Krishna for the pieces of broken glass. Srila Prabhupada illustrates this point perfectly in the story of the lady whose heavy load of wood fell off her head and she cried and prayed to Krishna. He came ready to give her anything she wants and she is like:
“Great, put the heavy load back on my head again, thank You, You’re so sweet!”
That’s why we don’t have a chapter in Srimad Bhagavatam where the village lady is praying to the Lord to put the heavy load back on her head. Hence, we don’t recite her prayers.
Now coming back to Srimad Bhagavatam. Each character of Srimad Bhagavatam is a glorious example meant to teach us about perfection in life. And it’s absolutely appropriate and beneficial to chant Narayana Kavacha for protection or to chant Gajendra prayers for relief from distress. Or to chant prayers of Kardama Muni if one is desirous of a wife. Or to chant prayers of the Gopis if one wants to protect their children. Indeed, I’ve seen examples of how devotees beautifully take advantage of all these prayers and how the Lord reciprocates with them. Nectar of Devotion advises to recite the prayers of great devotees.
Indeed, in the purport to the prayers of the gopis for baby Krishna’s protection in Srimad Bhagavatam (10.6.22-29) Srila Prabhupada writes about how all of us should depend on Krishna for protection of our children and ourselves: “This was a simple and practical way to give the greatest protection from the greatest dangers. People should know how to do this, for this is a part of Vedic civilization. If one remembers Viṣṇu always, even though one is disturbed by many bad elements, one can be protected without a doubt. The Āyurveda-śāstra recommends, auṣadhi cintayet viṣṇum: even while taking medicine, one should remember Viṣṇu, because the medicine is not all and all and Lord Viṣṇu is the real protector. The material world is full of danger (padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadām). Therefore one must become a Vaiṣṇava and think of Viṣṇu constantly.”
In conclusion I must say that nobody is suggesting you to focus exclusively on solving the five dollar problems of this material life. We understand that it’s not worth it, because by having pure devotional service you can have a hundred dollars and solve all problems at once.
But just like a hungry man knows his stomach is empty, a devotee knows if he has reached pure prema-bhakti yet or not. And if we are not there yet, then to get there we have to acknowledge where we stand, our present position, and advance further accordingly.
This requires us to follow the due process, to be open and honest about our material desires and problems in front of the Lord. We don’t hide, neglect or pretend our problems and needs don’t exist, but we are aware, conscious, honest and sincere with the Lord about what we see in our hearts.
There are so many more examples in the stories and purports of Bhagavatam we can find of how allegedly “material” things are always taken care of by the Lord.
“Being satisfied with the florist, Lord Kṛṣṇa not only gave him whatever benedictions he wanted, but over and above that He offered him all material opulences, family prosperity, a long duration of life and whatever else his heart desired within the material world.” Krishna Book, Chapter 41
By reciting all these different prayers from Srimad Bhagavatam we can learn how to approach the Lord by following in the footsteps of His great devotees. And Krishna will surely take care of us in the best way. He is perfectly capable of solving all our problems, both material and spiritual. And there’s no need and no point to look for shelter anywhere else, because He is very merciful, and if we seek His shelter we shall receive His mercy.
Therefore these wonderful Bhagavatam examples and prayers are supposed to give us staunch faith, belief and complete confidence in the fact that we can always rely on the Supreme Lord in any situation. And ultimately they will bring us closer and closer to the eternal shelter of His Lotus Feet.
P.S. As for the last part of the question: some devotees recite prayers in Sanskrit only, some in English only, some do both Sanskrit and English. I personally love how Bhagavatam verses sound, so I would encourage to do both, Sanskrit as the original language and English for our own understanding and consciousness. However, even if you just read English, I’m sure Krishna will know where it’s from and shower His blessings.