Friday, October 23, 2009

Religion and Politics

Radha Krishna “Communism is a movement of shudras, and capitalism is meant for vaishyas. In the fighting between these two factions, the shudras and vaishyas, gradually, due to the abominable condition of society, the communists will emerge triumphant, and as soon as this takes place, whatever is left of society will be ruined. The only possible remedy that can counteract the tendency toward communism is the Krishna consciousness movement, which can give even communists the real idea of communist society. According to the doctrine of communism, the state should be the proprietor of everything. But the Krishna consciousness movement, expanding this same idea, accepts God as the proprietor of everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.20 Purport)

Politics is a subject people try to stay away from discussing in public since arguments can very quickly ensue. Many people have very strongly held political beliefs and they are passionate about sharing those feelings, trying to persuade others to agree with them. In the modern day society where democracies are very common, there is always fighting between the various political factions. Republicans hate Democrats, Democrats despise Republicans, conservatives versus liberals, socialists versus libertarians, etc. Journalists and commentators wring their hands and complain how the dialogue has been sullied and that the level of vitriol has never been worse. In actuality, this fighting has been going on since the beginning of time. So which style of government is the correct one?

Krishna speaking to Arjuna According to the Vedas, the original scripture for mankind passed down by God Himself, society should be divided by people’s qualities and the work they perform, guna and karma.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

The second class person, the kshatriya, is to be in charge of government. This is because kshatriyas are brave and courageous by nature, thus they can provide protection to the rest of society. The purpose of government is to act as God’s representative in concert with His injunctions found in the Vedas. Since God is the ultimate protector, His protection on earth manifests itself in the form of the kshatriya. The style of government prescribed is a religious monarchy and this was the style in place for millions of years, from the beginning of creation up until around five thousand years ago. In one of His primary incarnations, God even took birth as a kshatriya, part of a line of great kings known as the Ikshvakus.

Lord Rama - God as a kshatriya The shudra is considered the fourth class person. The other two classes are the brahmanas (priestly class of men), and the vaishyas (merchants/businessmen). This system can be thought of symbolically in terms of the body. The brahmanas function as the brain, the kshatriyas as the arms, the vaishyas as the stomach, and the shudras as the feet. Each of these components is required in order for the body to function properly. The shudras are the laborer class; they are untrained in any Vedic discipline. Since they are unaware of any religious tenets, they are not fit to run the government.

In today’s age however, shudras occupy the top posts in most governments. Aside from lacking religious knowledge, the most noteworthy characteristic of a shudra is that they easily lament over things, especially death. The first Vedic instruction is that we are not our body, but rather we are spirit souls, aham brahmasmi. This was the first point stressed by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna was worried about having to kill fellow friends and family fighting for the opposing army. Lord Krishna chastised Arjuna’s behavior as not being worthy of a kshatriya. Only shudras lament for the gross material body, for even the kshatriyas know that the soul is eternal and that death represents merely a changing of bodies:

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones…It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body… For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Bg. 2.22, 2.25, 2.27)

Reincarnation Since shudras don’t know or don’t believe in the Vedic tenet of aham brahmasmi, when they are put in government leadership positions, they focus their policies on helping the gross material bodies of those they view as less fortunate. Their general thinking goes along these lines: “There is an uneven distribution of wealth. There are so many poor people out there suffering, while others are extremely wealthy. These rich people can surely afford to sacrifice some of their money to those who are less fortunate. We in government will make this happen by raising taxes. We must have a system where everyone is paying their fair share. This eliminate poverty, and thus everyone will be happy.”

This is the system of socialism/communism or collectivism, and it is widely practiced throughout the world. It has very noble intentions. There are many out there who are less fortunate, and they definitely need to be helped. But this prescribed system has major flaws. First off, it is not the duty of any politician to decide how much a person can afford. This represents a gross misunderstanding of how karma works. Everything is God’s property originally. Those people who earn money are actually accumulating the wealth that God initially created. Their allotment comes as a result of their karma. Governments don’t need to artificially impose a system of fairness, since karma takes care of all of that. Fruitive activity performed for a desired material result is the definition of karma. It is what makes the world go around. It is the driving force behind reincarnation.

Another flaw with the socialist system is that saving the gross material body of a person is a hopeless cause:

“No one knows where compassion should be applied. Compassion for the dress of a drowning man is senseless. A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress—the gross material body.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 2.1 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada The purpose of human life is not to live comfortably in a nice house with an abundance of food. Animals already enjoy such a lifestyle, and they have no need for any systems involving redistribution of wealth. The human form of life is meant for cultivating spiritual knowledge so that one can think of Krishna, or God, at the time of death.

“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Bg. 8.10)

As mentioned before, government exists to provide protection. The highest form of protection one human being can provide for another is to protect them from the repeated cycle of birth and death.

“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” (Rishabhadeva, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18)

Lord Krishna The collectivist system uses force and coercion to implement charity. While it may be noble to reach into one’s own pocket to give to another person, reaching into someone else’s pocket is defined as theft. Government is allowed to forcibly take money from citizens in the form of taxes, provided that it adequately gives protection from enemies. Taxes are not intended to be used as a fairness scheme. The Vedas are also quite clear on the issue of charity. Donations should only be made to brahmanas, those of the priestly class who voluntarily take up a life of poverty. The reasoning behind this is quite logical. If charity is given to someone who in turn uses that money for nefarious purposes, then both the donor and the receiver incur negative karma as a result. On a grander scale, if a government forcibly takes money from one citizen specially for the purpose of giving it another, and the recipients use that money to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or intoxicants, then the sin incurred by the government leaders is even greater. Charity should only be given to brahmanas because they will use it for the right purposes. Brahmanas are the brains of society, Krishna’s representatives in the form of gurus, or spiritual masters. They provide instruction to the rest of society. Great kshatriya kings of the past wouldn’t take any action without first consulting the brahmanas.

The question may be asked, “What about poor people then? Should we just let them suffer and starve to death?” This is where grihasthis come in to play. Along with the four divisions of society, the Vedas also prescribe one’s life to be divided into four stages known as ashramas. The second stage of life is the grihastha ashrama, where one lives with a spouse and children. The primary duties of a householder are to worship Krishna and to serve and host guests. Householders engage in fruitive activity, earning a living and maintaining a family. Since they are allowed to accumulate wealth, they are also required to give in charity. Householders feed God and guests. They should prepare food regularly to be offered to Lord’s deity, with the prasadam then being distributed to any hungry person on the street, then to any guests in the house. The householder can then eat whatever is left.  This way, all of society is benefitted since prasadam, the holiest of food, is distributed to one and all.

Guru giving instruction Capitalism is the system of the vaishyas, the mercantile class of men. Vaishyas are one step above shudras since they are given a spiritual education, but they still involve themselves in fruitive activity. Capitalism is a fancy name for a system which is simply a part of human nature. Any society will naturally have a group of people more prone to conducting business than others. Capitalism is the peaceable, voluntary exchange of goods and services with a respect for property rights and the rule of law. One person creates a good or service and then sells it on the open market to anyone who is interested. Some people will take interest, while others will not, thus the system is peaceable and voluntary. Government’s role is to ensure that the system lives by its rules. For example, people are not allowed to steal another’s property and then try to sell it. Contracts also should be enforced by the government. If a merchant takes money but never delivers a product, then the transaction is fraudulent and government intervention is required to remedy the situation.

So this system requires very little oversight. Judging by the results of its implementation, capitalism is undoubtedly the best system for producing material wealth. The United States, a country where capitalism is more or less in play, has the world’s largest gross domestic product. In fact, the largest collection of wealth in the world resides in the U.S. Treasury which currently has an annual budget of around three trillion dollars. This should make sense to us. If taxes are low and people are allowed to create wealth, there will naturally be more tax revenue taken in by the government. A worldwide recession has slowed things down a bit recently, but the standard of living in the U.S. is still quite astounding. Even the poor in America are very well off in comparison with the rest of the world:

“Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio…As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms.” (Rector, Understanding Poverty in America)

So it seems like capitalism is the way to go then? Not really. Vaishyas are certainly required, but they shouldn’t be running the government.  The modern day implementation of capitalism has two major flaws. The first problem is that those who are successful in the capitalist system, i.e. the capitalists, don’t necessarily believe in the system. Though they become wealthy through the system of voluntary exchange, these capitalists are the first ones to lobby government to enact laws that will favor their particular business. When these laws become enacted, the system starts to crumble. We see examples of this already in place. In the annual budget for the Federal government, there are thousands of subsidies and earmarks directed towards specific pet projects and favored industries. God views everyone equally, and so should the government. One group should never be favored over another. When capitalists get into government, this type of favoritism takes over and the system becomes contaminated.

The second flaw with capitalism is that it is purely in the mode of passion. The material world is governed by three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance.

“The material nature is working in three modes—goodness, passion, and ignorance. Ignorance is hopeless life. Passion is materialistic. One who is influenced by the modes of passion wants this false enjoyment of material existence. Because he does not know the truth, he wants to squeeze out the energy of the body just to enjoy this matter. That is called the mode of passion. As for those in the mode of ignorance, they have neither passion nor goodness. They are in the deepest darkness of life. Situated in the mode of goodness, we can understand, at least theoretically, what I am, what this world is, what God is, and what our interrelationship is. This is the mode of goodness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)

The government’s role is to gradually elevate people to the mode of goodness, so that they can hopefully reach the suddha-sattva platform, whereby they dovetail all their activities in Krishna’s service.

Govinda - protector of cows Capitalism is in the mode of passion, which is unending since the material senses can never be satisfied. We see evidence of this in the United States. For the last thirty years or so, there was a tremendous economic boom, with advancements in technology and medicine never seen before. Yet people are still unhappy. They are constantly worried about the latest crisis, be it health related or economic. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Not only are people unhappy, but they have taken to sinful life by opening slaughterhouses where millions of cows are sent each year. Aside from conducting business, the duty of a vaishya is to provide protection to the cows, go-raksha. In a strict sense, today’s capitalists cannot be considered vaishyas due to this omission.

The purpose of human life is to become God conscious. With this in mind, capitalism, socialism, or any other “ism” is destined to fail if service to God is not at its core. Whether we live in America, Europe, or a third world country, our business should be to chant the holy name of God: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and to teach others about Krishna.  Following this system, we can survive through any type of government.