“Politics will not be able to do even one part of a crore parts, in thousands of eras, of the benefit that the Vaishnavas have done to the world. We are not advising others to be such narrow sectarians as the politicians are.” (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Shrimad Bhagavatam and the Vaishnava Cult)
In today’s world, if you want to get anything of significance done, if you want to really make a difference, you need to get into government. With democracy being the popular style of government these days, issues are won and lost at the ballot box. Those who can take over the reins of government can bend and shape the laws in their favor. It is for this express purpose that so many lobbying groups exist in America and around the world. These groups consist of average, ordinary citizens who have joined forces for a common purpose. In order to get into government and stay there, one must belong to an even larger group of individuals known as a political party. Identification with a particular party allows others to get a handle on a person’s viewpoints and their understanding of government. Members of political parties often vote the same way on issues, thus making it easier to pass legislation. But how much do these parties really help the common man? By definition, being partisan means favoring one group over another, so how can this benefit all of the people? The Vaishnavas, on the other hand, favor everyone. The teachings of the devotees of Lord Vishnu are meant to advance the plight of every living entity in this world, regardless of cast, color, creed, or nationality. In this regard, we see that the Vaishnavas are the best partisans, for they favor knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil.
We often hear news commentators bemoan the practice of partisanship. “There is too much bickering going on, nothing is getting done. This can’t be good for the country.” Partisanship means performing activities for the benefit of a specific political party or cause. This actually isn’t so bad on the surface. After all, we all have causes that we believe in, so there is nothing wrong with fighting for these issues. If we take a stand on an issue, there are bound to be others who disagree with us. It is only natural for us to then defend our viewpoints against opposing elements. Partisanship in the political arena takes on a slightly different shape however. Since the parliamentary system of government requires majority votes for legislation to pass, the party system has become very important. People with similar viewpoints align themselves together into voting blocks.
Grouping people with similar beliefs into political parties certainly makes it easier to pass legislation, but there are drawbacks. Once an elected official is put into a position of power, they will likely do whatever they can to remain there. This means that they will take any defensive measures they feel are necessary, such as playing politics or maneuvering votes in such a way so as to remain popular with the electorate. Sometimes the mood of the constituents will go against the established principles of a specific party. In these situations, government officials will vote against their beliefs just so they can remain in power. This happens quite often in the United States. When the Congress and White House are run by the same political party, it stands to reason that legislation will get passed quite easily. Yet as a strategic ploy, the President will often decide to pick off issues of their opposing party. They’ll bring up bills that go against the party principles. Members of Congress who belong to the same party as the President won’t want to vote for these bills because they don’t believe in the merits. In these instances, Presidents will begin a massive lobbying campaign with Congress. Presidential aides will approach other members of their own party and say things like, “Come on so and so, the President really wants this. He needs this vote to keep his poll numbers up and win reelection. Don’t you want to help the party? Why would you vote against this bill then?” This sort of thing happens all the time. More often than not, the President will win the battle. Thus the same people who lauded the party system and openly declared their loyalty to a specific set of core values end up turning their back on their beliefs.
When politics is played in this partisan manner, there are certainly winners and losers in the political sense. We see that the news media often cover the happenings of government as a sort of horse race. When a major piece of legislation passes, they’ll have round-table discussions about who the winners and losers are. “What does this bill mean for so and so’s chances of winning reelection? What does this mean for the losing party? It is a major defeat for them; will they be able to recover?”
Lost in all of this is what the actual effect will be on the citizens of the country. After all, most people are not overtly partisan. They are happy living their lives and providing for their families. They expect government to protect them from thieves, cheaters, and general bad guys. They could care less about what effect legislation will have on a particular party or political figure. In this way, we see that partisanship has its limits. It may lead to heralded pieces of legislation, but these bills always favor one group over another. This goes against the very nature of good government, for every single person has an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A good government is one that provides equal protection to every person.
Partisanship doesn’t exist just in government. We see that people band together based on race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality. People living in America worry about what happens to Americans, people living in India worry about Indians, and so on. One may not immediately see the flaw in this practice. After all, shouldn’t we care about our fellow citizen? This is certainly a valid point, but at the same time, aren’t we all the same? Is there any difference between the constitutional makeup of a person living in India and a person living in America? Is there any difference between a person who has dark skin and a person who has light skin?
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
The Vedas tell us that we are all equal on the inside; our identities come from the atma, or soul, residing within us. We certainly do assume different material qualities at the time of birth, and therefore we see varieties in species, gender, ethnicity, etc., but at the core we are all the same. Keeping these facts in mind, wouldn’t it be better to belong to a party or group that aims to help every single living entity? If on the one side we have a party that wants to help all of its countrymen and on another side we have a group that wants to help every single person in the world, wouldn’t it be wiser to associate with the latter group?
The Vaishnavas, or devotees of Lord Vishnu, are partisan towards God; hence they are in favor of every single living entity. In the simplest definition, Vishnu is God. There is only one God for every living entity, irrespective of a person’s religious beliefs. There cannot be one God for one group of people and another God for others. For God to be God, He must be Absolute. Something can only be Absolute if it applies to all areas of life. God is one, but He gets tagged with different names based on His limitless activities, transcendental qualities, and forms. The Vedas tell us that the original name for God is Krishna. Lord Krishna’s immediate expansion is that of Lord Vishnu, so essentially there is no difference between the two.
Since Vaishnavas are devotees of Vishnu, they dedicate their lives to serving the Supreme Lord, from whom everything in this world emanates. Therefore, we can naturally conclude that through this service everything else relating to God will also be served. This represents the true potency of the Supreme Lord. We may help members of our city, state, or country, but it doesn’t mean that foreigners will be helped. God is so wonderful that simply by offering Him a little sincere service the entire world becomes satisfied and happy.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.8)
What is the nature of this service? Well, let us see how we currently offer service. When we dedicate ourselves to a particular political party, we may send them money, attend their meetings, and talk about their beliefs. When we serve our family members, we offer them protection, food, and time. When we offer service to our employer, we dedicate ourselves to working hard. When we offer service to our senses, we go to great lengths to seek the pleasures of eating, sleeping, and mating. We’ll go to fancy restaurants, cinema halls, or sporting events simply to gratify our senses.
In all these activities we see that there is association and connection. Service means to be always connected with the object we are serving. In the same regard, service to God simply requires us to always be connected with Him. Therefore, we can chant, hear, remember, offer prayers, cook food, etc., all for the satisfaction of Vishnu. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. God is absolute, so simply by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can be in direct contact with Him. Similarly, just by looking at His picture or eating the remnants of food offered to Him [prasadam], we remain in the company of our best friend.
Now that we know the nature of the activities performed by the Vaishnavas, how does this service help others? How can chanting Hare Krishna help people around the world? The answer is that bhakti-yoga is the natural disposition of every living entity. Soul represents spirit, which is always superior to matter. The soul represents our true identity, but through association with matter we have forgotten our original nature. The soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world where God resides. God is also spirit, but of a different variety. He is superior to us; it is our nature to be His servant. True eternal bliss can only be found through spiritual activities, i.e. connecting with God. Therefore, Vaishnavas are so kind and benevolent that they not only take to devotional service themselves, but they try to induce as many other people as possible to take up the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga.
“The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.6)
What is the result of performing bhakti-yoga? Lord Krishna tells us that if we think of Him at the time of death, we immediately return to His spiritual realm, where we assume a spiritual body which is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. And why wouldn’t our spiritual body be blissful? Anyone who lives with Krishna can never be miserable. They can never suffer from poverty, famine, heartache, etc.
So we see that devotional service gives us bliss in the afterlife, but how does this solve the problems of today? How can Vaishnavas solve the age-old problems of poverty and war? To answer this question, one must know the root cause of these problems. The Vedas tell us that since matter is inferior to spirit, anyone who becomes a servant of matter will always be miserable. Matter is considered inferior because it is an expansion of God’s external energy. We spirit souls are part of God’s internal energy, therefore we are superior to matter. Spirit can only be happy when associating with spirit. If we make the aim of our life the acquisition of material wealth, fame, beauty, etc., of course we will end up miserable. It is this flawed pursuit which leads to all of the problems of the world.
Let us give a more concrete example of how devotional service solves things like poverty and war. Poverty is a material designation used to describe the condition of a person who has trouble meeting the basic demands of the body. We see that the animal community doesn’t have this problem. Fish, lions, tigers, etc. aren’t managed by a Federal Reserve Bank, a Treasury Secretary, or an IRS, yet they do just fine when it comes to eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. We human beings are much smarter than these animals, so how can we have any problems in these areas? By taking up devotional service, one aims to please God, who is the supplier of all our food. Anyone who becomes a sincere devotee will never have to worry about dying of hunger or any other basic necessity. Vaishnavas believe in simple living and high thinking. Earn an honest living and acquire the bare minimum number of possessions required to maintain one’s life.
War is a result of material designations and nothing else. One group thinks they are superior and that they have claim to a certain piece of land. The opposing side believes that the land belongs to them. Arguments ensue and war breaks out. Only through realizing that we are all spirit souls, aham brahmasmi, can we even start to think about stopping war. War can never be completely eradicated, for every person has different material qualities. Not everyone will take to spiritual life, but regardless, war can be greatly reduced through spreading the glories of Krishna to others.
Since devotional service means connecting with God, devotees quickly acquire all the necessary knowledge to manage material affairs. This doesn’t happen through magic either. If someone knows God, they view everything in terms of its relation to the Lord. A person who always keeps Krishna’s interests in mind will know how to do everything the right way, including how to run a government, manage a family, and even care for the poor.
Being a Republican or Democrat means being a loyal member of the caucus and following the party lead. Vaishnavas are the best Republicans and Democrats because they are loyal to every single person in the world. They have everyone’s best interests at heart. The Vaishnavas simply ask everyone to take up devotional service and become relieved of the suffering that results from repeated births and deaths. Vaishnavas believe that every person is endowed with the right to pursue the highest type of happiness, that of going back home, back to Godhead. In this regard, the Vaishnavas are the greatest welfare workers the world has ever seen.