“The path of religion is actually meant for self-realization, and economic development is required just to maintain the body in a sound, healthy condition. A man should lead a healthy life with a sound mind just to realize vidya, true knowledge, which is the aim of human life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 11 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Benjamin was waiting anxiously inside at the front door. Then he started pacing around, back and forth. “She always does this!” he murmured to himself. Walking around here and there, he finally let out a loud sigh. “Honey, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” asked his wife from upstairs. “Oh, I’m fine. Do you know how much longer you’re going to take? I think we’re going to be late,” he said. “Don’t rush me,” she replied.
This wasn’t out of the ordinary. Benjamin seemed to always be waiting for his wife when they were set to spend a night out. Tonight they were headed to a party at a family member’s home. While his wife was carefree and didn’t worry much, Benjamin was just the opposite. He would rather arrive early to an event than late. He didn’t like the pressure.
“This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to watch television,” said Benjamin to himself as he headed to the other room. A few minutes later he heard his wife yelling from the front door. “What are you doing? Let’s go already. How can you be watching TV when we’re supposed to be leaving? Come on.”
With the two of them finally in the car, they headed for the party. Along the way, Benjamin shared some of his concerns to his wife:
“You know, I really don’t like going to these things.”
“Yes, I’m well aware, but you need to get over it. It doesn’t look good when you sit there and sulk in the corner. You should be more social.”
“Well, that’s easy for you to say. You go into the room with all the other women and pretend to be friends with each other. I’m left stuck in a room with the guys who think they know it all. They will fight about anything. There’s always some debate going on, and each guy tries to top the other in stupidity. It’s no picnic for me to sit there and hear all that nonsense.”
When they arrived at the party, as per usual Benjamin’s wife adjourned to the room with all the ladies. He then took his seat in the room with the men, who were already deep into a debate over politics and economics. There were two in particular, Benjamin’s cousins, who were arguing vehemently.
“The rich should be taxed to the hilt. They make too much, as it is. They should sacrifice more for the common good,” said Benjamin’s cousin Dan. “You sound like a communist, you know that? Who are you to tell someone else how much money they should earn and what they should spend their money on?” retorted Benjamin’s other cousin John. Dan then kept the debate going:
“You don’t need to resort to insults. You know that the government needs money. Are you in favor of no government at all? Do you want to shut down the government permanently?”
“No, now you’re the one distorting things. I never said that. I believe in the peaceable and voluntary exchange of goods and services. People should be free to buy and sell whatever they want, provided they respect property rights and follow the rule of law.”
“What does that mean? What does that have to do with the rich?” asked Dan
“Let’s say you go to the store and you pick out something you want. The government should have very limited say in that situation. They shouldn’t manage the price, provided that you weren’t forced into buying that item. They should make sure that the seller is honest; that what they claim is genuine actually is. The government should also make sure that the buyer is honest; that the money they use is not counterfeit and that they pay back any credit they take from the seller.”
“But that does nothing to protect worker’s rights. The consumers will get shafted on price, and they’re left with no other choice. Your policy is very conservative, and we see exactly what the conservatives have done to the country lately,” accused Dan.
John was not about to back down. “Actually, this philosophy is known as classic liberalism; it’s not conservative. It can be traced back as far as the French philosophers known as the Physiocrats, who were prominent just prior to the Industrial Revolution. It was further developed with the famous Adam Smith, and through the years it’s been championed by economists like Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman. This has nothing to do with liberal and conservative or favoring business and the like. It’s based on fairness and what’s just.”
Benjamin, who had been sitting there trying not to listen was then asked his opinion by Dan. “Hey Ben, what’s your take on all this? I know you’re into that Krishna stuff, but what about these kinds of things? Is there a spiritual point of view on economics or do you just shun it altogether?”
“I really don’t want to get involved in this,” Benjamin replied. “Can we just talk about something else?” “No, I’m interested to know too,” interjected John. “Which viewpoint do you support?” Benjamin then decided to weigh in, though he had no desire to further the debate.
“Well, for starters, what you’re discussing is economics; how to produce food, clothing, shelter and the like. In the grand scheme, such topics are reserved for third class men. Not that it’s unnecessary, but economics isn’t given much weight in the philosophy that focuses on realizing the self. This is because in the worst case, you could just go up to a tree and take its fruits for your food. You could live in a cave, wear torn rags for clothes, and bathe in rivers. So what need is there for economic schemes, taxes and the like?”
“So you don’t have an opinion on this at all?” asked Dan, who seemed to completely ignore Benjamin’s words. “You’re not going to say which one of us is right?” prodded John.
Benjamin further elaborated: “Well, both of you are kind of right. The consumer shouldn’t be exploited. And exploitation is the natural tendency when in the material consciousness. ‘I want to succeed’ means I want to beat others. The businessman doesn’t tell the consumer what the profit margin is on a sale. So this is a kind of cheating, a form of dishonesty. The consumer also doesn’t say how much they’re willing to pay for something. They will try their best to get something for free; so they are also dishonest to some extent. With respect to taxes, those should always be low. Taxes are only high when government is not functioning properly. It is said that in the present age of Kali, taxes will be very high because the governments will be run by people who are unfit.”
“See, I told you I was right! “ said John triumphantly. “Our swami buddy here confirms it.”
“But John, you should know that taxes aren’t everything, “ continued Benjamin. “If you have low taxes and allow business to conduct commerce, you will surely get a large output of goods and services. There is no denying that. But that doesn’t solve much really. If anything, the resultant situation fosters envy, which leads to dishonesty. We have the highest standard of living in the history of mankind supposedly, and is everyone happy? Does every person who has a job feel satisfied? Actually, everyone is angry all the time. Everyone is also arguing about everything, which is another symptom of Kali Yuga. People even argue at parties and get their reluctant cousins to join in, ruining their fun.” Benjamin winked as he said this.
He continued, “The real aim of life is to become God conscious, which is a much more difficult task than lowering the unemployment rate or earning a lot of money. That’s the real thing to focus on, and so when one is God conscious they naturally figure out how to solve the economic problem. It’s not that hard, really, just some attention to Krishna through chanting His names.”
Benjamin continued on for a little longer until it was time to eat. He wasn’t sure if he got through to his cousins, but his philosophical discourse was deep enough to have gotten them to stop arguing. Later on in the night, he again waited for his wife. Benjamin was ready to go home, but he stood waiting by the front door for quite a while. “My wife likes to go on a tour of goodbyes. She visits everyone, tells them how much she loved seeing them, and then invites them to our home for dinner,” he said to a fellow partygoer, who was also waiting to leave.
On the car ride home, Benjamin’s wife asked him how the night was for him.
“It wasn’t so bad, dear,” Benjamin replied.
“See, I told you. Were you nice? Were you friendly?”
“Well, yeah, and I got sucked into a debate too. But I took the opportunity to talk about bhakti-yoga, Krishna consciousness, and the science of self-realization.”
“How did that go over?”
“At the very least, it made me happy. Not sure how they took it. It did stop them from arguing and boring the heck out of me, though. So I guess I won.”
“That’s great,” she said. “Krishna always wins.”
“He sure does. That’s why He’s known as Ajita. This might be my new strategy.”
“That’s not a bad idea. You can try it out again tomorrow night. I invited the Ashbys over for dinner.”
“You did what? You know I can’t stand them. Sweetheart, you’re killing me, you know that?”
With a cute smile on her face, his wife responded, “Hare Krishna.”
How proper government should act?
High or low taxes to exact?
On this to debate til face to turn red,
Wise focus on the soul instead.
To animal is provided every need,
Not reliant on scheme for stomach to feed.
So in this human birth opportunity take,
To learn of God and best fortune make.