Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting Along

Lord Krishna with cows “One who sees the Supersoul in every living being and equal everywhere does not degrade himself by his mind. Thus he approaches the transcendental destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.29)

Regardless of the specific period of time, squabbles over government and its lack of efficiency will always be present. No matter who is in power or who has just won a big election, the age old questions are sure to arise. “When will the bickering stop? When will the people in government get along and do some good for the people?” The problems, however, stem from government outlays, their intended beneficiaries and the victims who fund such benevolence. Since the modern day democratic style of government involves popular elections, every issue eventually comes down to a popularity contest, wherein one group vies with another for government funds. Since a government is meant to serve an entire class of people, they must view everyone equally. As soon as the impartial viewpoint breaks down, the system starts to crumble, and you are left with agony, angst, disappointment and resentment.

Lord Krishna At the lowest level, a government is simply in charge of a certain section of land inhabited by a group of citizens. To understand the need and purpose of a higher governing authority, we can study the workings of government on a smaller scale than that of a large nation, or even expand the scope out to the largest scale possible. The entire creation, which is the most abstract concept understood by the individual, is managed by a superintendent deity. In the Vedic tradition, the chief is addressed as Krishna, who is the original, all-attractive form of the Lord. In other theistic traditions, the Supreme Being is known as God, but the name is not that important for the purposes of this discussion. Regardless of the name for the original Divine Being, His functions are still the same. He creates everything in this world, including the trees, plants, mountains, oceans, and more importantly, all the people who live here. Therefore He automatically becomes the original father, a person that everyone has a natural connection with at the time of birth.

A good father is one who treats all his sons and daughters equally. This isn’t to say that he behaves in the exact same way with each child, but rather the ultimate aim of the interactions is the same. Let’s think of it this way: Say that we have multiple brothers and sisters. We may be closer with some, while we have enmity with others. But does this mean that we love any one of our brothers or sisters more than the others? For most people, this is not the case, as the love is shown equally to everyone. The same principle applies with our parents. Can we really say that we love our mother more than our father, or vice versa? The answer is usually ‘no’.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)

Lord Krishna With Krishna, an equal amount of love is shown to everyone. There can be no other way for the Lord to act, for as the creator, everyone is tied to Him. It is similar to how the sun shines equally everywhere, without any partiality, yet due to the workings of man and his specific needs, he may or may not utilize the sunrays for his benefit. The question may arise as to why, with Krishna being equal to everyone, some people are born into favorable circumstances, while others are not. Some people live an easy life, while others are constantly struggling. Krishna’s equality manifests in the conditions of the playing field and the rules governing the actions undertaken on it. According to Vedic information, the field of activity known as the material world exists for as long as there is a desire to imitate the father on the part of the limitless children. The Supreme Lord certainly shows an equal amount of affection to everyone, but there is no favoritism shown in the execution of the flawed desire to imitate.

The minute by minute happenings of the material world are governed by elevated personalities known as devas, or demigods. These exalted beings function in a manner similar to those of government ministers, i.e. they act at the pleasure of the supreme commander. When the living entities, the children of God, take to playing on the field, the results of their actions are distributed by the demigods, who work under the system of karma. In English, karma is translated to mean “fruitive activity”. The act of planting a crop, tending to it and ultimately enjoying the resulting fruit is the best way to describe the activities of the living entities. The results of karma are even referred to as phala, which means fruits.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.27)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna Fruitive activity has no direct relation to Krishna. Just as the farmer thinks he is responsible for the bountiful harvest seen at the end of the season, the living entities who have become averse to divine service believe they are responsible for the fruits of their actions, the results to their karmic activity. The individuals are spirit at their core, so they have tremendous leeway in the areas of freedom and free-will, but visible results can never be traced back to the actions of any conditioned living entity. For example, we may work hard at planting seeds on fertile soil and then watch them grow, but such growth could never occur were it not for the material elements of earth, water and sunlight. Nature’s elements were never created by the living entity, nor can they be controlled by him.

The impartial behavior of God towards His children illustrates the ideal practices of good government on the largest scale. On the smallest scale, we can study a typical family, which is headed by the mother and father. Parents love their children so much that there is the urge to spoil them in their youth. Yet good parents will avoid the urge to spoil and instead make their children persevere through some trials and tribulations in the form of austerities. When the child is taken to the supermarket and sees various toys on the shelves, a parent will not buy whatever toy the child asks for. Otherwise the child would become spoiled and not learn the value of money when they get older.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama Taking into account the maturation of the child is the key aspect to good parenting. Since the parents are older than the child, they know they likely won’t be around long after the child turns into an adult. As such, eventually the child will have to go from being a dependent to a provider. The aim of the parent is to try to raise the child to become self-sufficient in their adulthood. To this end, the child must be educated and taught the value of hard work and money. In addition, they must understand what it takes to raise their own children. More than anything else, the child must know the true mission in life, that of shedding the desire to imitate God. Since the aversion to devotional service to the Lord has gradually increased since the beginning of time, it is very difficult for the living entity to shed the “I am God” mindset. Some religious leaders even fall victim to this ridiculous line of thinking by openly preaching to others that they are God.

Steady, effective and peaceful spiritual enlightenment can best be accomplished within the bounds of family life, especially early on in life. If a householder regularly practices worship of the Supreme Lord by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the cloud of nescience that envelops the pure soul will gradually part. The principles of self-sufficiency and education can be taught side-by-side with adherence to religious life, for there is no reason to give up maintenance of the body. When the parents create a spiritual environment in the home, the tradition of devotional life will continue in the family for generations upon generations. Goswami Tulsidas, the great Vaishnava saint and devotee of Lord Rama, wrote beautiful poetry and composed wonderful songs in praise of the Lord. Though his writings are popular with religious scholars and devotees worldwide, he made his most lasting impression with housewives. For centuries, women of the Vedic tradition have chanted the Lord’s holy names found in Tulsidas’ songs while performing their household duties and tending to the children. Just a simple act like singing can do wonders towards raising children properly.

Sita Devi with Lava and Kusha So why do we have constant squabbles in government today? Why are citizens perpetually unhappy with the behavior of their elected representatives? The short answer is that there is a forgetfulness of the ultimate purpose in life. Lest anyone brush aside this reasoning as being too simplistic, we can study the outward symptoms exhibited by government leaders and their voters to give evidence of this fact. Democracy is the popular style of government today because it is deemed the most fair, a system which insulates a populace from the dictates of one bad apple, one leader who has gone astray. While the likelihood of dictatorial rule is certainly decreased, there are some major flaws with democracy, with the most obvious one being that of relative morality. In a democracy, there is no such thing as an absolute truth. In reality, there is only one Absolute Truth, God, but when it comes to government, there must be a foundation of principles upon which the actions of its representatives are based.

In a democracy, these principles can change at a whim. For example, the laws of nature say that if you kill another entity, you will yourself be killed in the future. Therefore in any civilized society, the killing of the innocent is strictly prohibited. “Thou shall not kill” is known as a commandment of the Bible, but this principle is also viewed as a basic standard of decency in any civilized society. But in a democracy, any truth or natural law can be negated by a simple vote. If the majority of the population decides that it is okay to kill an innocent cow or an unborn child in the womb, the practice will be allowed. The proponent of democracy will say, “Well, that is the fairest way. They put the issue up to a vote, and it has now been decided by the people. Would you have it any other way?” Anyone with a modicum of common sense would choose to live in a society where the innocent are protected at all times, irrespective of how the decision to protect was arrived at. After all, if the government, the only entity allowed to use force to impose the laws of the state, is unwilling to protect innocent life, who will?

Ironically enough, the primary source of angst amongst the populace doesn’t pertain to the issues of violence towards animals or fetuses. Theft is another act deemed unlawful in any civilized society. Though God is the original owner of everything due to His being the creator, the conditioned entities residing in the material world are loaned various material elements to aid them in their rekindling of Krishna consciousness. The ultimate objective in life, whether one is aware of it or not, is to become completely God conscious by the time of death. We have a choice as to how we use the material elements that we are loaned from God. We can either use them to further our nescience by taking exclusively to fruitive activity aimed at sense gratification, or we can use the elements to maintain a simple lifestyle that leaves more time for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

Regardless of the choice we make, the concepts of ownership and private property are well-known to all. If a person were to go up to another person and ask for their money, the other person may or may not part with it. If the person doing the asking were to then demand the money through the threat of lethal force, the other person would likely then part with it. Such an act would be deemed as theft, for there was coercion and the threat of violence involved. What the thief subsequently does with the money is not important, for the property did not belong to them in the first place. In a democracy, however, the same practice, through a majority vote in Congress or Parliament, can become the law of the land. The government is the one entity that is legally allowed to use force to perform its business. The threat of punishment by incarceration or force is what gives government its strength. In the absence of this awesome power, the government dictates would never be followed.

“When the king protects the citizens from the disturbances of mischievous ministers as well as from thieves and rogues, he can, by virtue of such pious activities, accept taxes given by his subjects. Thus a pious king can certainly enjoy himself in this world as well as in the life after death.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.14.17)

Through a simple majority vote in a government chamber, the practice of forcibly taking property from one group of individuals for the express purpose of giving it to another becomes legal. Government is surely allowed to tax its citizens, but the money must be used to fulfill the purposes of the government, that of protecting property and innocent life. Personal favoritism is not one of these purposes, nor has it ever been. The result of such a practice is constant angst and quarrel between those whose money is being taken and those who are the recipients of the perceived benevolence. Every election now boils down to a debate over who is more worthy of government funds. The treasury is seen as a giant pot that various special interest groups can dip their hands into. During a particular party’s reign, one group gets a larger portion of the pie, while in another leader’s term, another group gets their chance to enjoy the bountiful harvest that arrives during the tax season. Thus there is a constant teetering of the seesaw, or a tug-of-war, between the various voting blocks.

So what can be done to alleviate the situation? There is no one leader who can solve the problem, for another effect of democracy is that individual government officials are quite powerless on their own. Even in America, where the words and actions of the President are followed closely, the executive has very little power to do anything on his own. At most he can sign executive orders and send the military into battle. Legislation, the place wherefrom the giving and taking of tax dollars starts, is crafted by the Congress. The President can sign or veto the legislation produced, but he has very little power to determine the actual language inside.

Shrimad BhagavatamIn a democracy, the leader’s true power rests in his ability to speak to the population at large. The President is deemed to have the bully pulpit, which means that he has the opportunity to get his message across to more people than any other politician can. Due to its tremendous power and outreach capability, the bully pulpit can actually be used to secure the ultimate success in life for a large group of citizens. Just as God views all of His children equally, the exalted sage, the purified Vaishnava, views every living entity as a candidate for returning to the spiritual realm. Therefore the best way to cure angst amongst members of society is to spread the message of Divine Love espoused in the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana and other notable texts. Tackling issue after issue can only alleviate the concerns of certain groups of people, but when everyone is taught about the true mission in life, that of returning back to the spiritual realm where there is no squabble over private property or the protection of life, the chances of achieving peace and harmony greatly increase.

Just as no one person is worthy of government funds over another, no one person is more worthy of going back to Godhead than anyone else. Every life form is a spirit soul at the core, so even though some may be further grounded to the fatalistic viewpoint that seeks temporary sense gratification at all cost, there is still an opportunity for rescue from the ocean of nescience. The transcendental sound vibration of the holy name, which encompasses all knowledge and goodwill, is the only means of salvation in the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Even if we don’t have the bully pulpit of the presidency, we can still teach others simply by the example we set. By regularly chanting the Lord’s names and refraining from the most egregious of sinful acts, a high standard of behavior can be set for our dependents and those we associate with to follow. Through bhakti, everyone can become a spiritual leader; a kind, compassionate and well-wishing friend who can bring about real change.