“In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that even the lowest, who are called chandalas (dog-eaters), can be elevated by association with a pure devotee. Therefore devotional service and guidance of a pure devotee are so strong that there is no discrimination between the lower and higher classes of men; anyone can take to it.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Social status has been of issue since time immemorial. The typical situation is that one side considers it to be of great importance and the other derides its inherent discriminatory nature. Indeed, many of the great conflicts of the past few centuries have been over the issue of inheritance versus merit when determining who should have access to the different enjoyments in life. With the Supreme Personality of Godhead the issue has long since been settled. Whether you are a pauper, a prince, a street sweeper or the greatest orator known to the land, you always have the opportunity to meet with the king of kings. The lone eligibility requirement is the right consciousness.
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)
Consider the following scenarios:
1. A woman takes her seat on a bus. Ready to be driven to her next destination, she gets startled when someone objects to her action. “Ma’am, could you please move to the back of the bus? This section is for people of a certain race. Your skin color, being darker, requires that you sit towards the rear. Thank you for your compliance.”
2. A famed foreign diplomat meets with the king in his palace to negotiate a treaty of alliance and friendship between the two nations. In the after-dinner entertainment, the queen retires to a side room to play various games. She is joined for a brief moment by this diplomat. She thinks to herself, “I’ve heard that this man was a printer in his nation. That is a very lowly profession indeed. Certainly he could have only risen the ranks in his nation. In our great country, the person the likes of him would have stayed at the bottom of the social strata. He certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to meet my husband.”
3. A sincere spiritual seeker visits a place of pilgrimage in a famed part of the world. In that area is a shrine established to worship the Almighty in one of His many forms. The pilgrim waits on line with the others to enter and pay his respects. When it comes time to walk in, the guard stops him. “I’m sorry sir, but you are not allowed in. Only members of a certain caste can enter the temple and worship the deity. You will have to wait outside.”
In these instances there is discrimination based on factors that hardly anyone can control. We inherit our skin color from our parents. The only difference it makes to us is in how quickly the rays of the sun will burn us if we are exposed to the sunlight for too long. Other than that, we are the same as everyone else. We feel, will, and do. We think, we eat, and we feel happiness and sadness. Why should our skin color matter? The same goes for our caste, which is nothing more than a hierarchy established by birthright. Our occupation, too, doesn’t necessarily determine our character. One person answers the phones in a company and another negotiates multi-million dollar deals, but then who cares? How are they any different as people? Why should one be allowed to meet an exalted ruler and another not? Are not both persons offered protection by that ruler?
Of the above mentioned scenarios, the denied entry into the temple is likely the most egregious offense. Surely the author of everything in this world would not make distinctions between His many children? The proprietor of the temple may argue that distinctions are needed so that those envious of God will not take the wrong impression from the deity.
“If you don’t know who God is, you will think that the worshiped figure is a plain statue. You will consider the practice to be idol worship and then give a bad name to something so fundamental to the changing of consciousness for the better.”
These may be valid concerns, but how does one determine worthiness simply off appearance? Just by skin color alone can one decipher the level of culture in a person?
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that with respect to achieving success in devotion to Him it does not matter what one’s gender or occupation is. The four basic occupations integral to a well-functioning society are priest, administrator, businessman and laborer. The level of difficulty decreases with each; hence there are many more laborers than there are priests, sort of like how there are many more students studying biology than there are biologists. Because of the level of difficulty attached to the occupation of priest, those in that occupation are generally afforded a higher status in society. People go up to them and seek their blessings. In certain portions of the world, the honor is passed on to future generations, though in fact honor actually ascends instead of descends. If it were to descend, then it would have to divide as well, which means that the honor originally passed on would eventually dwindle to the point of being barely discernible.
For the truth of equal eligibility, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, provides the philosophical basis in the Bhagavad-gita. He also gives practical evidence with His personal pastimes. During His advent on this earth, some five thousand years ago, many people stood before Him. A poor and lowly brahmana named Sudama once visited Him while He was ruling over the kingdom of Dvaraka. Warriors, businessmen, and even ordinary laborers had the honor of seeing Him and getting His favor.
In Krishna’s previous appearance on earth, as Lord Ramachandra, even monkeys were able to approach the Lord. The most famous devotee of Lord Rama is Shri Hanuman, who visibly manifests in the body of a monkey. Hanuman’s bodily constitution does not matter. That he lives in the forest with his fellow monkey friends also isn’t important to Rama. The Lord looks for the love in the heart; nothing matters beyond that.
In this sense we can safely say that no one is more liberal than God. He gives the original definition of “liberalism” and also “upward mobility.” Whether one comes from a lot or very little, whether they are a man or a woman, a Rhodes Scholar or a high school dropout, if they have love for God, as it is reawakened through bhakti-yoga, they are eligible for elevation to the topmost planet, where Krishna consciousness is the only consciousness.
Whether you have got a lot,
Or very intelligent you’re not.
Whether having a high birth,
Or living in poverty of dirt.
Supreme destination you can reach,
For eligible is living entity each.
Devotional consciousness all that is needed,
Like in Hanuman, who in pleasing Rama succeeded.