Saturday, June 5, 2010

Liberty and Tyranny

Mother Yashoda with Krishna “The actual translation of the word yoga is ‘plus.’ At the present moment we are minus God, or minus the Supreme. But when we make ourselves plus—connected—then our human form of life is perfect.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Easy Journey to Other Planets, Ch 2)

Social commentators and philosophers often seek to establish the moral superiority of liberty over tyranny. This may seem like a strange issue to take up because who would actually believe that tyranny is a good thing? Yet from studying human history over the past five thousand years, we see that mankind has mostly lived under tyranny. Some of these regimes were worse than others, but man was more or less held under the tight control of government. They were told where to live, where to work, and who to worship. It is for this reason that people fight very hard for liberty, and once it is achieved, they work even harder to keep it. Yet if liberty is enjoyed by so many people, how do we ever end up with tyranny?

Hanuman showing Sita and Rama in his heart It is the natural yearning of the spirit soul to be free and unfettered. No one likes being told what to do. Starting from the time of our birth, we love to run around and play and not live by any rules. It takes great cajoling from our parents to get us to eat the right kinds of food, to sleep on time, and to attend school. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this desire to be free is actually a result of natural qualities possessed by the spirit soul. Though we have a tendency to identify with our bodily features, such as our skin color, gender, and birth country, our actual identity comes from the spirit soul residing within. This soul is ever-existing, imperishable, and full of bliss. It makes logical sense to take our identity from the soul, for our body is ever-changing. Though we look different and have more intelligence as adults, there is still no difference between the identity we have as an adult versus the identity we had as a child. The only things that change are our bodily features. Therefore a sober person will realize that one’s true identity comes from the soul.

“According to the Vedic version, the Supreme Lord manifests and expands Himself in innumerable expansions, of which the primary expansions are called Vishnu-tattva, and the secondary expansions are called the living entities. In other words, the Vishnu-tattva is the personal expansion, and the living entities are separated expansions. By His personal expansion, He is manifested in various forms like Lord Rama, Narasimhadeva, Vishnumurti and all the predominating Deities in the Vaikuntha planets. The separated expansions, the living entities, are eternally servitors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7 Purport)

God and His incarnations The Vedas tell us that the soul is part of the marginal energy of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is the same person that most of the world refers to as God. Though different faiths may have different names for the Supreme Lord, there can only be one God. That is the very definition of all-powerful. God is for every single person, regardless of a person’s belief system. As expansions of God, we inherit His qualities of eternal bliss and knowledge. Though we are expansions of God, we are at the same time different from Him. As God has an internal energy represented by spirit, He also has an external energy represented by matter. We living entities are subordinate to God in that we sometimes have a desire to associate with matter. God, on the other hand, can never directly associate with His external energy. Matter exists solely for the wayward spirit souls to play with in their pursuit to imitate God.

Wanting to be just like the Supreme Lord, imitating His abilities to create, maintain, and destroy, we spirit souls were cast into this ocean of nescience known as the material world. Our desire for liberty came with us, however, and that is why we enjoy freedom so much. It is hard to argue against the moral superiority of freedom. After all, who likes being told what to do? Yet we see that in even the most free of countries like the United States, liberty is slowly eroding. People are more afraid than ever today that the American dream is slipping away.

The United States of America was founded on the principle that every person is endowed by God with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping these principles in mind, the Constitution was crafted and agreed upon. Serving as the governing document of the country, the Constitution’s main business was to defend the rights of man from an oppressive government. Though its implementation was certainly flawed in the early years, this new style of government quickly made America stand out in the world. Former President Ronald Reagan referred to the country as a shining city on a hill, a beacon of light. People from all over the world would flock to America to live the American dream. Not only was there economic freedom in America, but religious freedom as well. In the 1600s, long before the founding of the country, the Pilgrims came to the land for the express purpose of religious freedom.

Statue of Liberty Since liberty and religious freedom have universal appeal, America soon became a diverse country. People of all races, ethnicities, and cultures came to America to begin a new life. The United States soon became a melting pot of cultures. Though there is much focus given to the concept of diversity today, we see that diversity occurs on its own, provided that the governing principles of a country apply to every single person. The diversity that resulted in America occurred on its own, without any planning commissions or government programs.

If the liberty enjoyed by the people of America was so great, why didn’t other countries adopt a similar style of government? Moreover, how did we end up with today’s situation where more and more people are worried about an oppressive government taking over private industry? The answer is that if people don’t know what to do with their liberty, tyranny will surely result. One need only look to several examples in recent history for evidence of this. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of powerful dictatorships in Europe. Hitler and Mussolini were two of the more notorious brutal dictators of their time. Yet how did Hitler and Mussolini come into power? Did Hitler openly tell everyone that he was going to try to wipe out an entire race of people, namely the Jews? Obviously he didn’t. Instead, he capitalized on the freedom and liberty that existed inside of Germany to rise to power. He took a step-by-step approach to eliminating freedoms by appealing to people’s emotions rather than their intellect. He was able to hoodwink enough of the population that pretty soon people were being killed by the government simply because of their religious beliefs.

Similar situations can be found today in African countries. Anyone who watches American television surely has seen advertisements for charity groups which help poor children in Africa. The scenes in these commercials are quite depressing. Hoards of emaciated young children standing in a field, waiting for food and water. Billions of dollars of foreign aid has been poured into these African countries yet the condition remains the same. If we stop and think for a second, we will see that there is no reason for anyone to be poor in any country, especially on the continent of Africa. The birds, beasts, and aquatics have no problems of starvation, for God supplies them food. We human beings are much smarter than the animal species, so should any of us starve? Moreover, Africa has much more land to work with than America, yet America’s food production is so great that it can feed the entire world.

African continent Africa’s poverty can be traced to the rise of tyrannical governments. People were free at one time, yet dictators rose to power and slowly confiscated all the land. They were able to get away with this because they told the middle class and the poor that they were only taking the land of the rich. With the loss of private property, people had no incentive to produce, and thus a food shortage resulted. Poverty came shortly after that, and people were left to beg from foreigners for food. With such a huge land mass, Africa can produce more than enough food for itself, provided that individuals are allowed to own property and keep whatever they earn through trade and production.

Liberty is certainly a good thing, but if we don’t know what to do with our freedom, we will most certainly be susceptible to giving it away. In America, it is common for people to complain about government regulations and red tape. Yet at the same time, these government officials are incapable of doing anything without being elected by the people. In essence, it is the people themselves who are voting for tyranny.

So if liberty leads to tyranny, and tyranny is bad, what should we do? As with every other problem in the world, we simply need to look to Krishna. The Vedas actually never deal with the issue of liberty. This is because even the freest of people can still be slaves to their senses. Real freedom can only be of the spiritual variety. Simply having the ability to do whatever we want is not enough to achieve perfection in life. We need to have a set of guidelines, a goal that we can work towards.

“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Lord Krishna Freedom should be used to serve God in a loving way. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga means linking the soul with God, or in more simple terms, it just means plus, or addition. Bhakti means love or devotion, so bhakti-yoga means devotion plus God. Currently we living entities are just one term in the equation. If we remain by ourselves, we are powerless. We must add God to our lives in order to have any real potency. There are different ways to add God to our lives, but the best way is through loving devotion. This is the natural tendency of the spirit soul, i.e. to love God.

The lesson here is that the perfection of liberty can only be seen in the spiritual world. Part of God’s internal energy, the spiritual realm allows for unfettered access to the Supreme Lord in His original form. The spirit souls associate with God in different transcendental humors depending on their preference. Some act as God’s friend, some as His lover, and others as His faithful servants. Pure liberty means being free from the effects of the senses and the influence of the material world.

By practicing devotional service, we become free of all anxieties. We no longer have to worry about birth and death. We don’t have to worry about our way of life, or whether or not our country will survive. Our real home is in the spiritual world, which is always full of life and vigor, where there is no concept of scarcity. So let us all use our liberty to serve the giver of freedom, God. By regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can begin the pursuit of the highest form of happiness, Krishna-prema.