Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Rights of Man

Radha Krishna “Pure love for Krishna is eternally established in the hearts of living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, the living entity naturally awakens.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.107)

In America, there has been much talk recently about the rights of man. What exactly are human beings entitled to? What freedoms can we expect to have secured by the government and what things are required to be given to us? Mankind has struggled with these issues for centuries, but the Vedas tell us that more than just having rights, each living entity has an inherent duty they must perform.

The issue of health care and health insurance has been at the forefront in recent times. The issue itself stems from the rising cost of medical care. Unlike in times past, medicine today involves the use of high-tech machines, trained professionals who know how to use such machines, and an intricate payment system known as insurance. In the past, people would simply pay the doctor directly out of their own pocket, but today most payments are made through a third-party: either an insurance company or some government entity.

Stethoscope With this added complexity has come an added cost. Simply staying one night in a hospital can now cost over one thousand dollars. By comparison, a night in a hotel room can cost around one hundred dollars. So we see there is a vast difference in price between two similar services, i.e. a room for a night. What’s worse is that many people today cannot afford to keep a health insurance plan. This means that if they get sick, they will have trouble paying the enormous medical costs required for their treatment. This sad situation has led to a movement calling for universal healthcare coverage for all citizens, paid for by the government. This system already exists in countries like Great Britain and Canada, and is now slowly being introduced in the United States.

Supporters of a single-payer system believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege. This seems like a nice concept in theory, since taking care of our fellow man and doing whatever we can to maintain their health seem like the humane things to do. But if we break things down a little further, the justification for healthcare being a right seems to dwindle. At the core of any healthcare system is the relationship between a patient and a doctor. On one side we have a physician, or a practitioner of medicine. A doctor is essentially running a business, a sole-proprietorship where the service offered is medical treatment. The patient is essentially the customer. If the customer needs medical care, they go to see the doctor. After sufficient service is provided, the customer pays the doctor.

Now let’s examine a hypothetical situation. Suppose that a certain patient is sick but does not have the money to pay for a doctor or the care they provide. Does the patient, i.e. the customer, have a right to the services of the doctor without paying for it? To use another analogy, say that we are in a store and we see a product that we want to buy. We really want this particular product, but we don’t have the money to purchase it. Are we entitled to taking this product without paying for it? Obviously we are not, for that is stealing. The store owner has the rightful claim to his property, as does the doctor to the services he or she provides. A customer, in this case a patient, has no right to someone else’s services or products without paying for them. Say that instead of paying for the medical services themselves, the customer takes money from his or her neighbor against their will. Again, this action is akin to stealing because our neighbors have no say in the matter.

With these facts in mind, we see that healthcare, or health insurance, can never be a right, because the exercise of this right puts a burden on others. The rights to free speech, assembly, or religion pose such no obligations on others. For healthcare to be a right, an all-powerful entity must impose obligations on others in the form of increased taxes and other coercive action. No rational person would ever think that they have a right to another person’s property. Charity is certainly a different issue, for that is completely voluntary and doesn’t impose any restrictions on anyone.

Declaration of Independence True rights exist simultaneously among people. As mentioned before, the exercise of a right by one person does not diminish the exercise of the same right by another. In America, citizens are guaranteed the right to free speech, assembly, press, and religion. The framers of the Constitution believed that these rights exist naturally among all men and that they are given to us by God. The Declaration of Independence of the United States stipulates that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness being the foremost among those rights. These statements are certainly true because we all do have a right to protect our life, pursue our happiness, and defend our liberty.

The problem with the Declaration of Independence, however, is that it is a man-made document, meaning it is subject to defects. The rights declared in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are certainly valid, but we see that they are incomplete, or limited in scope. For example, the right to life in America is not granted to the animal community. Millions of innocent animals are sent to the slaughterhouses each year simply to satisfy the taste buds of the general population. Nowadays, unborn children are allowed to be killed in the womb through the abortion process. In addition, at the time of the country’s founding, none of the stipulated rights of man were extended to women or African-American slaves. For something to be a right, not only must there be no obligation imposed on others for the exercise of such rights, but it must also simultaneously exist among all living entities. This is where the Declaration of Independence and other famous historical documents fall short.

Lord Krishna Rights are certainly important, but they don’t really provide any guidance to the living entity. We may state that someone has a right to exercise various freedoms, but this doesn’t give the whole picture as it relates to the purpose of our life. To answer these questions, we must turn to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Rights are certainly given to us by God, but there is actually something more important than the protection of our freedoms. The Vedas tell us that we living entities have an occupational duty, a certain set of activities which we have proclivity for. This occupational duty is referred to as dharma.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word that usually translates to religion, virtue, righteousness, or duty. It is a difficult word to translate because it actually means the essence of something, that which is eternally existing with an object, or that which sustains something. Dharma can apply to anything: water, fire, wind, etc. For example, heat and light represent the dharma of fire, for without heat and light, fire would have no existence. What is the dharma for the living entity? What is it that sustains us? What is it that eternally exists with us? The Vedas tell us that it is the occupational duty of the spirit soul to serve God.

Dharma is all-encompassing, thus it naturally includes all the rights that many of us hold so dear. As stated before, having rights is one thing, but we must have direction as to how to exercise such rights. This is where dharma comes in. The best translation for dharma in this context is religion, or occupational duty. It is our inherent duty to be religious, to act towards pleasing the Supreme Lord. Dharma is a spiritual obligation, and not simply a blind faith that can change on a whim. Our religious affiliations may vary or our faith may change a few times over the course of our lifetime, but dharma never changes.

Is there a specific time that this occupational duty was created? Is there a time in the future where dharma will cease to be our guiding force? To provide clarification in this matter, the Vedas couple the word “sanatana” with dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, thus religion in the Vedic tradition is referred to as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupational duty of the spirit soul.

Hanuman practicing devotional serviceIt is our eternal duty to be servants of the Supreme Lord. Exercising our rights to free speech and so on can give us temporary feelings of happiness, but in the end, we are left hankering for something; that one thing which will provide eternal felicity. This eternal happiness can only be achieved through engagement in our eternal occupation, sanatana-dharma.

So how do we practice this occupational duty? The Vedas again help us out by giving us another term: bhagavata-dharma. We all know that God is great, but the Vedas try to give us a little insight into just how great He is. God is referred to as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences and all fortunes. Lord Krishna, or God, possesses the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, strength, wisdom, and renunciation simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Since He is the only person in the world who can lay claim to such attributes, He is known as Bhagavan. Bhagavata-dharma is the occupational duty which aims to satisfy Bhagavan.

So how do we go about serving Krishna? Bhagavata-dharma is also referred to as devotional service, a discipline comprised of nine processes. Hearing and chanting are the two foremost processes, both of which can be easily accomplished by reciting the following mantra out loud: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Devotional service is the only genuine dharma for the living entity. It is an inherent occupation, something which the soul is naturally disposed to. Since we are conditioned by nature, taking up devotional service is a little difficult in the beginning stages. If we stick to it though, we can start to see results very quickly.

“Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Radha Krishna Due to the distressed condition of our fellow man today, there is an added emphases placed on the concepts of rights. Government officials and citizens can argue as to the exact definition of those rights, but what we know for sure is that we all have a right to perform devotional service. More than just something we are allowed to perform, it is an engagement that we must take up, for it is the only pathway to true freedom; spiritual freedom. Adherence to bhagavata-dharma will solve all the problems of life. If we think of God at the time of death, we are guaranteed to return to our original home in the spiritual sky, where we get to spend eternity in loving association with our best friend, Lord Krishna.