“If the common people are not receptive, it is very difficult to impress upon them the necessity of spiritual enlightenment. Austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness, the basic principles of religion, prepare the ground for the reception of advancement in spiritual knowledge, and Maharaja Parikshit made this favorable condition possible.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.17.45 Purport)
No matter how hard you try, how persuasive you may be, sometimes if the recipient is not receptive, they will not follow through on the instructions you give to them in the utmost kindness. Imagine telling a child who is completely immersed in a video game to go clean their room or do their homework. Their mind is elsewhere at the moment, so they likely aren’t even hearing what you are saying. But if the game should be shut off, the same words, echoed from the same distance away, will resonate and be acted upon. For the benefit of society at large, laying the proper groundwork through the efforts of the higher authorities proves to be beneficial in enabling as many as possible to march towards the destination of spiritual emancipation, where the inhibiting forces of material nature no longer pose a threat.
Spiritual freedom is more important than any concocted system of liberty in a place marked by birth and death. Liberty is itself a vague concept; hence we see documents and movements that restrict the actions of government. The despised tyranny of the governments leads to a charter of negative liberties, which leaves man to his own devices, to figure out for himself what he should do and what he shouldn’t. In this arena, piety becomes a relative concept, wherein one person’s definition of sin differs from another’s.
If there is no guiding principle for action, the natural course of following the dictates of the senses is allowed to take hold. With the satisfaction of the senses, one person’s pursuit is as justifiable as another’s. If one person chooses to earn their living honestly, following kindness and respect for others, are they any better than the person who begs, borrows and steals to get ahead? You can’t look to the government to arbitrate because they are hamstrung by restrictions imposed in the founding document. Therefore they alone cannot make any moral judgments; they must base their actions off the will of the majority of the people.
If both the impious and the pious can get wealthy, what is the point to codes of conduct? Personal liberty is therefore the ultimate determining factor, and whichever way that liberty can be maintained becomes the pious route for the individual. Thus the rules of propriety will differ from person to person and what you’re left with is constant strife and turmoil. One person is stealing from someone else, so others can take that as a license for theft. “Get yours before others take it.”
This predicament makes it difficult to teach the real principles of religion, as they are laid out in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. In those sacred texts there is no mention of liberty or government tyranny. Rather, there is dharma, or occupational duty. Every living being has the same original dharma, or defining characteristic, and since it never changes, it is known as sanatana, or without beginning and without end.
The intelligentsia and the administrators are to teach about and institute principles conducive to the practice of dharma in society at large. It is not expected that everyone will be receptive to religious principles right away, for willful forgetfulness of the nature of spirit is the cause for the initial descent into the material world. By constitution the spirit soul is knowledgeable, blissful and eternal. In that wonderful ideal state there is a corresponding entity of interaction. He is most often referred to as God, but since He has countless glorious features and attributes, in the Vedas He is addressed by many names. Krishna speaks to His all-attractiveness and Bhagavan references His possession of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree.
When there is forgetfulness of the constitutional position or a desire to imitate Krishna’s superiority, there is a fall to a temporary world, sort of like sending children into a playroom to host tea parties and mock adult functions. The problem is that the playroom isn’t real; it is only temporarily manifest. In addition, there can be clashes, as sometimes a new person wants to run things or the other people in the room may not like the outcomes to action. There is every chance of constant strife and turmoil, all rooted in forgetfulness of the fact that the adults are superior.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
When real knowledge of God is distributed to the citizens, the foundation is laid for the path back home, back to Godhead. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said by Lord Krishna that one who knows the nature of His appearances and disappearances doesn’t have to return to the cycle of birth and death. That is they don’t have to remain in a lower realm where ignorance pervades. Knowing Krishna’s nature is to know that He never accepts a material body. He never takes birth nor dies and He does everything at His own sweet will, as He is the Supreme Controller.
One who knows these facts will follow dedicated service. That service will ideally please Krishna, and to make sure there are no doubts on the matter the service takes place under the guidance of a spiritual master, a teacher who follows in a chain of disciplic succession that originates with Krishna. The primary recommendation for the wayward soul is to regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, follow regulative principles, and in this way always stay connected in consciousness with the Supreme Lord.
But what if people aren’t receptive to hearing these truths? Certainly the statements of the Bhagavad-gita are profound and can change someone’s life in an instant, but if there are mental distractions borne of habits formed through the many days spent in the material land, how will anyone properly receive the message of divine love so nicely given by Shri Krishna and His devotees?
There are always higher authorities in life, people who wield control over large groups of people. In times past they were kings, and in modern times they are local administrators who are typically elected to their posts. By instilling four principles within society, an atmosphere can be created which is conducive to the reception of the real principle of religion, namely devotion to God. Austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness are not sectarian principles, so they can be taught to any person, even if they are not religiously inclined.
Austerity is already important in so many areas of life. The person trying to lose weight will automatically impose austerity, limiting their daily caloric intake. This is an austerity measure because the previous inclination was to eat more, to consume more calories. The student refrains from behavior that will damage their chances to do well in school, and the worker makes sure not to do anything that will hinder their performance at work.
Cleanliness is equally as important, as without a clean body we will not be presentable to others. In addition, if the mind is polluted with dirty thoughts, behavior towards others will be negatively impacted. An impure consciousness is at the root of all strife and anger in society. Conflicts occur when the otherwise sober man is taken over by lust, anger and greed.
Mercy shows that you have compassion. When you are compassionate towards others, they will be more apt to be kind to you. On the other hand, if we think we can just kill other creatures when no one is looking and get away with it, eventually that same violence will be inflicted upon us. The laws of nature are quite fair in this regard, so by showing mercy, it is easier to realize that every other living entity is in the same boat that we are. They are also struggling with the material nature to find happiness.
Truthfulness helps to advance along the proper path. If you are not honest in your dealings, you will hurt others. Imagine if we get on an airplane slated for a particular destination and the pilot suddenly changes course for no reason. What if we give money to a cashier and they don’t give us our item in return? Thus truthfulness is a bedrock of voluntary transactions and the interaction with our fellow man. When there is rampant dishonesty, there is no chance for anyone to live peacefully.
Famous kings of the past like Maharaja Parikshit imbibed these four principles into society by the actions of government. Austerity measures are easy to implement; simply refrain from harmful foods and fast on certain days for religious observance. Cleanliness is taken care of by limiting intake of alcohol; thereby avoiding intoxication. Regular bathing and other practices pertaining to hygiene also help. Mercy is fostered by giving protection to the innocent animals. The human being is the elder brother of the other species, so when the brother protects the younger siblings, there is automatic compassion created. Truthfulness is increased by limiting gambling. If there is rampant gambling, cheating will be the way to go, as the competitive fire causes one to lose sight of the larger picture.
These four principles are followed to some degree or another already. They prove to be beneficial every time they are implemented, so if they are expanded to a larger scale, then the society will be more receptive to the message of divine love, which is the elixir for the ears. Shri Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, and so even the four regulative principles emanate from Him. He allows for any person, from any stage of life, to make progress along the proper path, so that one day they can find the happiness that they have long searched for.
Peaceful society built on foundation of trust,
So telling the truth in dealings is a must.
Austerity measures in the beginning do sting,
But to proper destination they eventually bring.
When you’re out in public by others to be seen,
Important to be presentable, for body to be clean.
Mercy, compassion for all creatures important too,
Be nice to others if you want kindness for you.
These principles to divine love are conducive,
Makes ears for Krishna’s message more receptive.