“People in general always require a leader who can teach the public by practical behavior. A leader cannot teach the public to stop smoking if he himself smokes. Lord Chaitanya said that a teacher should behave properly even before he begins teaching. One who teaches in that way is called acharya, or the ideal teacher. Therefore, a teacher must follow the principles of shashtra (scripture) to reach the common man.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita 3.21 Purport)
U.S. President Barrack Obama recently signed legislation aimed at curbing the consumption of cigarettes. By allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have enhanced power in regulating tobacco companies, and the products they produce and sell, proponents of the legislation hope that less people will take to smoking as a result. Though he has been a smoker all his adult life, who may or may not have quit recently, President Obama said the new legislation was necessary due to his belief that tobacco companies were actively recruiting young adults to take up smoking:
“Kids today don't just start smoking for no reason. They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting.”
Anyone who has been around smokers for any length of time, knows that smoking is a very nasty habit. Second-hand smoke and the smell that cigarettes leave aren’t very pleasing to smokers and to those around them. Aside from having many health risks associated with it, the act of smoking is a form of intoxication which is one of the four pillars of sinful life (intoxication, gambling, illicit sex life, and meat eating).
Intoxication is considered sinful not only for the negative karma associated with it, but also because it causes one to become bound up in material life. If one is attached to material pleasures, then God kindly facilitates by allowing that person to repeatedly take birth in the material world, whereby they are given ample opportunity for sense gratification. Thus the cycle of karma perpetually repeats, since one’s senses can never become completely satisfied. It is not until after having lived many lives that one becomes aware of this situation.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 7.19)
For the past twenty years or so, there has been concerted attack mounted against the tobacco industry. Not wanting to take responsibility for their actions, disgruntled smokers have banded together with lawyers to blame tobacco companies for the harmful side effects of smoking. After winning billions of dollars in lawsuits and levying excessive taxes on tobacco, anti-smoking leaders have failed to get people to quit smoking. In the state of New York, a single pack of cigarettes can cost upwards of $9, yet people still are willing to buy them. The addiction to nicotine is so strong, that the President himself may still smoke, though he has tried to quit many times.
Any attempt made to limit the practice of intoxication is surely a noble one, but such attempts will never be successful unless the leaders themselves adhere to the same restrictions. According to Vedic principles, a leader should lead not only lead by word, but by example as well. Kings of the past would always take counsel from brahmanas, the priests of society. Even if they themselves weren’t well versed in the proper code of conduct, they would unhesitatingly abide by the counsel of the brahmanas. In modern society, such a system doesn’t exist. The shudras, those unfamiliar with any religious tenets, serve as leaders, while true brahmanas are almost impossible to find. A leader must be very pious, for the other citizens will naturally follow his lead. A president is on television all the time, with the press corps following and recording his every move. Whether they like it or not, the president and other world leaders serve as role models for the rest of society since they are constantly in the public eye.
Not just President Obama, but most leaders in society suffer from the same defects. This is the sign of Kali Yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy where dharma exists at only one fourth its original strength. Leaders preach one thing to their subjects, while they act in totally the opposite way. Government leaders are constantly telling people that they need to sacrifice for the common good and that it’s only fair that they, the citizens, give upwards of fifty percent of their income to the government. In the meantime, Senators and other politicians in high offices are some of the wealthiest people in the country, not sacrificing anything for anyone. People are very in tune with this reality. Knowing that their leaders aren’t very pious, they feel free to act sinfully themselves.
It is most important to have leaders who adhere strictly to the laws of dharma as enjoined in the shashtras, or authoritative scriptures. Lord Rama was one such leader. An incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama served as the king of Ayodhya, one in a long line of highly respected kings known collectively as the Ikshvaku Dynasty. Lord Rama was completely dedicated to dharma, and was the ultimate renunciate. He never asked His citizens to do something that He Himself wasn’t willing to do. He spent fourteen years as an exile in the forest, surviving on fruits and roots, simply to maintain the good name of His father. Towards the end of His life, He renounced His wife Sita, the purest and kindest woman who ever lived, simply to show favor to a citizen who had complained about the Lord’s behavior. The citizens were well aware of the Lord’s dedication to them and for this reason Lord Rama enjoyed universal love and adoration. The ideal society that existed during His reign was known as Rama Rajya, and many today hearken for a return to it.
In the Vedic system, the government is to be run by the warrior class of men, known as kshatriyas. The government’s job is to protect its citizens and administer justice fairly and equally, so brave and pious warriors are required. In today’s society, the system is quite different, where leaders are elected directly by the people. Since elections are essentially popularity contests, leaders are elected based on their speaking and arguing abilities verses their capacity to provide protection to their citizens. As a result, today’s governments consist mostly of lawyers instead of military men. All hope is not lost however. Instead of dharma trickling down from the top, it can be introduced at the grassroots level first. If enough of the voting population becomes Krishna, or God conscious, then inevitably some of them will run for political office and hopefully win. In this way, with pure devotees serving in government, we can hopefully return to the days of Rama Rajya. In such a situation, everyone will easily be able to break all their bad habits, including smoking.