Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Melting Pot

Lord Krishna's activities “God has no name, but by His qualities we give Him names. If a man is very beautiful, we call him ‘beautiful.’ If a man is very intelligent, we call him ‘wise.' So the name is given according to the quality. Because God is all-attractive, the name Krishna can be applied only to Him. Krishna means ‘all-attractive.’ It includes everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers)

One of the appealing aspects of the United States is that its population consists of people from all different backgrounds. The land itself was mostly uninhabited until the last few hundred years. Though the American Indians already lived there, it wasn’t until the great Puritan Migration in 1630 that the land now known as America turned into what it is today. Since so many different ethnic groups reside in America, the country is often referred to as the great Melting Pot.

If we look around the world, we see that ethnic clashes are quite common. Fights break out due to differences in skin color, cultural backgrounds, and religion. Throughout the course of history, great leaders have proposed various solutions to prevent this fighting. One of the more commonly proposed solutions is the idea of partitioning. A plot of land is set aside for one group of people in the hopes that they will be happy living apart from their enemies. What results, however, is anything but harmony.

Middle East mapEvery U.S. President in recent times has had to deal with the Middle East crisis. This crisis is the result of an ongoing conflict between two groups of people over a small piece of land. The Palestinians claim the land belongs to them, while the Jews believe it to be rightfully theirs. Though the fighting has been going on for years, the violence really started when the United Nations decided to partition Palestine based on ethnicity after World War II. Whether or not this was justified is another story, but we do know what has resulted. The struggle for this small piece of land has led to great violence and bloodshed. Similar issues exist in other places around the world. In Iraq, various ethnic groups populate different sections of the country. Since the U.S. removed the existing Iraqi government back in 2003, there has been an ongoing struggle to see which ethnic group will rise up to run the country.

By contrast, in America these problems hardly exist. Blacks, whites, Asians, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews all live together without any problems for the most part. In many cases, they all reside within the same communities. There aren’t daily suicide bombings or calls for counties and states to be divided up amongst the various ethnic groups. The beauty of America is that any person from any ethnic background can come and live without a problem.

When the country was founded after the Revolutionary War, there was no intention to make America a diverse country. There is no mention of diversity or ethnicity in the founding documents of the country, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Rather, the country was formed on the basic principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The framers of the Constitution believed that each person had a right to be free and pursue their own hopes and dreams, provided that they did not trample on the rights of others.

The implementation of these ideas certainly wasn’t perfect. At the time of the founding, freedom did not apply to women or African American slaves. As the years went on, these issues were corrected. Simultaneously, people from all over the world started coming to America. It didn’t matter where they came from; they knew that they had a decent chance of making a life for themselves in America. There were so many success stories involving immigrants who went from rags to riches that a new term was born: The American Dream.

Lord Krishna America’s appeal was that it spoke to the natural yearning of the human spirit to be free. Though the framers certainly thought their ideas to be highly advanced and philosophical, this concept of freedom has existed since the beginning of time. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this yearning to be free is the central cause behind the creation of the world we live in.

“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

God is the creator of the universal cosmos. Even though we can’t see Him directly due to our conditioned state, He most certainly exists. Just as the spirit soul residing within the body is the cause of our growth, the great spirit soul, God, is the cause of the universal manifestation, or mahat-tattva. Though nature seems to be working on its own, it has a driver. God created nature and everything else, and without His intervention, nothing could happen. It is said that not even a blade of grass can move without God’s influence.

If God is the creator, one will naturally wonder why He would assume this role. What is the point to our existence? The Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the world, tell us that God created this material world to allow us to exercise our desire to be free. Of course this type of freedom is flawed because it is not associated with God’s service. Freedom also exists in the spiritual world, but the nature of that freedom is different.  In the spiritual world, our activities are devoted to pleasing the Supreme Lord. This world, which is composed of matter and created by God, allows us to exercise freedom in a different way. Here we get to pretend to be just like God. We can create, maintain, and destroy. We get to enjoy with others and even rise to elevated positions in society.

We see that the material conception of freedom is certainly great, for it leads to the Melting Pot phenomenon. World peace is one of the things most commonly wished for. Peace involves non-violence and mutual cooperation. Freedom is a universal language, thus it speaks to people around the world. This experiment known as America has resulted in a relatively peaceful condition. This is not surprising because the system of government seeks to fulfill the natural desire of all human beings to be free.

The Vedas tell us that matter is inferior to spirit. This means that the material conception of freedom has its limits, as evidence by today’s societal condition. Though people from all different backgrounds live together peacefully, it does not mean that there is no anxiety. People are still more or less living on the material platform where they judge others based on their bodily traits. “Such and such a person is black, white, Jew, etc.” We also tend to judge people based on how much matter they have accumulated, i.e. wealth, possessions, etc. “Oh such and such a person is too rich. They can afford to pay more in taxes so that others can be helped out. This is social justice.” This material vision has resulted in a situation where people bicker over issues relating to temporary things such as money, wealth, fame, etc.

Actually this fighting has been going on throughout the world since time immemorial, but it seems to be coming to a head in America today. Since spirit is superior to matter, if we work in such a way that we meet the demands of our spirit soul, we will all be happy. Just as the living entity has a natural desire to be free, the spirit soul has a natural desire to love God. When we hear people speak of God or religion, many of us get turned off. “Oh what do they know? Are they going to be preaching to me again about what I should and shouldn’t do? They’re just part of some sect; why should I listen to them?”

Many times, these are valid complaints. Religion is the system put in place by God to allow the soul to be happy. The Vedas give us the concept of dharma, which explains the relationship of the soul with God. Dharma is an occupational duty, thus it has a much stronger meaning than religion. Faith is something we choose to take up, something which can change at any time. Dharma is ever-existing; it has always been the constitutional position of the spirit soul to be a loving servant of God.

Though America is most certainly a Melting Pot of different cultures, we see that adherence to religion is lacking. Most people claim to belong to a certain faith, but there are hardly any faithful followers. This is because none of these religious systems speak to the notion about loving God. One leader will tell us to attend church once a week and to ask God to give us things. Another will tell us that God doesn’t exist and that we simply need to behave piously so that we can merge into a giant energy. There are even others who will tell us to never view God as having a form, for that is idolatry, which is strictly forbidden.

Radha Krishna Just as the concept of freedom attracted people from all over the world to come to America, the concept of freedom for the soul, i.e. loving God, will attract people from all different backgrounds. This is the magic of the system known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The Vedas give us various sub-religious systems, but the highest form of religion is that discipline which helps us achieve a pure love for God. Devotional service meets this condition because it causes us to be always engaged in thinking about, remembering, praying, and serving God. If connecting with God will make us happy, why wouldn’t we want to do it all the time?

The great saints tell us that the easiest way to love God is to regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. “God” is the term that is most commonly used for the Almighty. While this is a nice term, it fails to accurately describe the Lord’s glories. Therefore the Vedas give us thousands of names for God, each referencing a specific attribute or opulence of the Supreme Lord. Of all the names of God, “Krishna” is considered the best because it means all-attractive. Since the soul is meant to love God, it makes sense that the object of this love would be the most attractive person in the world.

Just as God has thousands of names, He also has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam. When we worship God in one of these forms, such as Lord Krishna or Lord Rama, we are not engaging in idol worship. Idolatry involves a desire to imitate, to model our actions after a specific person. Young children idolize great athletes, musicians, and movie stars because they hope to one day grow up to be just like them. Idolatry can also involve concocting some form of God based on the whims of the mind. The ever-existing forms of God delineated in the Vedas are thousands of times more beautiful than anything the mind could ever conjure up. Lord Krishna is an eternally existing person who resides in the spiritual world. His beauty, form, and activities are realities and not myths.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.32)

Lord Chaitanya spreading Krishna consciousness Devotional service appeals to everyone because it helps people reconnect with their long-lost friend. Loving God has nothing to do with a person’s skin-color, gender, or nationality. Though the degraded caste system of India is famous today, it doesn’t apply in the arena of love. Aside from connecting with God through chanting, devotional service also involves abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Again, none of these regulations are sectarian. Everyone has a penchant to perform these sinful activities. A little self-control and sacrifice go a long way in religious life.

It is one thing to say that devotional service applies to every single person, but it is another to actually prove it. Luckily for us, we have real-life examples of the universal appeal of devotional service. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, spread the universal message of love for God all across India some five hundred years ago. He induced everyone to chant, regardless of their background. Some of His closest associates weren’t considered bona fide brahmanas, or high class, by the strict followers of the Hindu faith. Nevertheless, Lord Chaitanya showed us that anyone can be a devotee of Krishna, or a Vaishnava, regardless of who their parents are.

More recently, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spread the universal message of Krishna-prema throughout the world. Though Shrila Prabhupada was born and raised in India, the majority of His disciples were not. Through his hard work and the efforts of his faithful disciples, Krishna consciousness was spread throughout the world. We see that today there are devotees of Krishna in almost every country. Many of these devotees don’t even speak English, yet we see that they have an intense love for God.

Lord Krishna activities With whatever problems we have, with whatever is getting us down, we can always look to God to save us. If we all take up this sublime mission of Lord Chaitanya, we will most certainly be benefitted. Not only will we develop a love for God, but others will join us as well. If we all engage in devotional service, we can turn the whole world into a giant melting pot of spiritual love.