Toward Krishna Conscious Governance
By Indra Krishna Dasa
A clarion call for devotees and likeminded people to come together and, by Krishna conscious governance, save the world from its precarious condition – before it is too late.
Little Ahmed stretches his small hands to beg. By his side, his littler brother cries in pain and his mother hides her face in shame. Bombed out buildings give an eerie backdrop to what was previously a respectable locality. I turn the pages of the newspaper. On another page, a woman cries over the dead body of her husband.
The media is full of news of struggles, war, and bloodshed. In many Arab countries, governments and the rebels, most of them supported by foreign powers, are at war, and mass killings are common. The Arab Spring brought hopes of better governance. Many abusive rulers had to leave, and those who survived gave major concessions to their people. But the spring turned into an autumn of despair as conditions worsened, chaos prevailed (and still prevails), and millions turned into refugees overnight.
Now India, the last bastion of sanatana-dharma – the eternal religion of service to God – is nearing a history-defining election this year. The oldest civilization, which has an available history dating back millions of years and which nurtured the highest aspirations of humanity, is now a pale shadow of its former self. The land of fabulous riches, of glorious traditions, of social and religious tolerance, of rich cultural and spiritual heritage, is brought to its knees by corruption, malgovernance, and neglect. What one now sees is poverty, illiteracy, insecurity, crumbling infrastructure and governmental apathy. With the opposition strongly raising the issues of sushasana (good governance), svabhimana (self-respect) and vikasha (all-round sustainable development), all eyes are on this crucial election with a hope for better governance.
In Africa, thousands are killed regularly in feuds between warring warlords fighting like stray dogs over a piece of bone, the "flesh" having been taken by multinational companies supported by governments from the first world. The continent with the most natural resources has one of the world’s poorest, most uneducated, and most uncivilized people – people helplessly watching the so-called civilized world take away their resources in front of their eyes. Any dissent is ruthlessly dealt with; the life of an African is cheap.
The first world, beneficiary of the politics of exploitation, looks heavenlike in comparison. Yet governments that follow humane policies in their own countries unleash the most nefarious schemes, draconian laws, unscrupulous financial institutions, secret agencies, arms aid, and more, to loot and maim the third world. To hold on to their power, first-world rulers pamper their own population with promises of prosperity beyond the means of the country, thus making exploitation essential. To clear the conscience of the people, many political theorists like Machiavelli and Hobbs have provided the justification for nations to run amok. The country is powerful, and the people are powerful because they can satisfy their lust, greed, and can plunder at will; the laws of karma are either not known or considered not applicable and wished away.
Thus everywhere around the world corruption is rife, although it may take different forms and expressions. Governments have lost their moral authority to rule. With the rulers isolating themselves in a cocoon of comfort and luxury, the people are left to fend for themselves. To protect their power, rulers resort to the politics of oppression, subterfuge, and misinformation.
What Is the General Reaction?
People like us, who are not directly affected, have become insensitive to these issues, and dismiss corruption as routine. A handful of people are trying to help, but the task is too daunting. For most of us, these issues do not matter. We rationalize that everyone has to meet his destiny. Besides, these things are symptoms of Kali-yuga; we need not bother. Label everything as illusion and forget about it. Just carry on with our own life; we have enough problems of our own.
But sometimes I ask myself, Do we really not have any responsibility in the face of the present calamities in the world? For those who are suffering, isn’t our callousness extremely painful? Can we not do something?
How Did Srila Prabhupada and Other Acharyas React in Similar Situations?
Prabhupada wrote letters to Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Indira Gandhi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri (whom he also met) to convince them to establish a Krishna conscious society. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura invited the British governor of Bengal to Mayapur. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, while an officer in the British government during the nineteenth century, felt inspired to revive the Krishna consciousness movement of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Even Lord Krishna dealt with governance, and He tried to find a political solution to the conflict between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. He took part in the Kurukshetra war and spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, a kshatriya.
Quoting from Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada describes how society should be governed by the varnashrama system of four varnas (occupations) and four ashramas (spiritual orders). The four varnas are to be based not on birth, but on qualification and activities. Prabhupada said that a purpose of the Hare Krishna movement is to establish the varnashrama system to help the populace slowly develop in devotional service to God. He also encouraged some of his disciples to run for political office. A few did, but lost.
Not long after U.S. President George Bush, Sr., spoke about a new world order in September 1990, editor-in-chief Jayadvaita Swami wrote a Back to Godhead editorial titled “Toward an Enlightened New World Order” (BTG May/June 1991): "The best model for a new world order has already been given to us by Lord Krishna. We’d be inspired to see a real kshatriya – a stronger, gentler kshatriya – lead the world in putting that order into place."
Kshatriyas are not only heroic and tough; they’re also spiritually cultured and enlightened.
Earlier in the same editorial:
What survival ultimately calls for, the kshatriya knows, is not petroleum but food. And food for human beings comes most abundantly, by God’s mercy, from tilled land and the udder of the cow.
Mr. Bush has spoken of "a new world order," though he hasn't made clear what it might be. We suggest it should have these features:
1. It should draw its prosperity from cultivating the earth and protecting the cow and the bull, not from ravaging the earth’s resources and slaughtering its creatures.
2. Its presidents, prime ministers, and kings should be men trained and strong in spiritual understanding and culture.
3. The advisors those leaders rely on should be self-realized souls who see that a world in proper order is a world making progress back to Godhead – and who see how to help that progress come about.
The General Populace Is Misdirected
As the leaders of the world are busy filling their pockets, the general populace is mostly indifferent. The middle class, who now have more disposable incomes, are happy to buy better houses, cars, televisions, mobile phones, and other gadgets. Young men and women are happy working twelve to sixteen hours a day, gleefully tapping at their laptops and enjoying the newfound freedom from other commitments in their lives. With single-minded attention to money, they've give up higher values and morals for good.
What people don't understand is that no amount of material development can make the earth a better place for us to live. The wealth of one section of the people is possible only due to the poverty of another section. Today’s problems are not limited to one country; the effects are felt worldwide. While it may be very patriotic to cheer the development of one’s own country at the cost others, such patriotism is greatly damaging in the overall perspective, and in the long run it is going to hit us back. History shows that all the great civilizations that were based on the exploitation of the conquered fell by the wayside. The imperialist nations of Europe are now limited to their own borders. The present superpowers grapple with new emerging economies, trying desperately to hold on to their power.
Krishna Consciousness Is Not an Option, But a Necessity
The Krishna consciousness movement founded by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is now in its forty-eighth year. The Hare Krishna movement is now well established with hundreds of centers all over the world and wide acceptability and respectability as a genuine spiritual organization. The movement has a wide base of people from all walks of life.
Krishna consciousness can solve all the problems of this world, which is full of suffering. However, even though we have grown into a large spiritual organization, we still have not been able to change the life of people in general. Some people who have been exposed to our philosophy consider us good people, but too good to follow. We are considered an exclusive enclave, and most people look at us with amazement – and sometimes with amusement.
Our preaching has been successful amongst a large number of people, but we are still only a small fragment of the world population. Therefore we need to do more than just preach. We need to get into the government and stop this fast degeneration of society. Unless we act soon, it may be too late. With growing commercialization and the general populace shying away from God consciousness, the task is getting tougher day by day.
It may seem a preposterous idea, an impossible wish, or an unnecessary proposition, but it is at least worth a try. Without Krishna consciousness, this planet will in the very near future become an unlivable world. We need to go to the root of the problem. Governments have the power to go to the root of almost any problem to solve it. The political platform is also a great opportunity for preaching. The Roman Empire propagated Christianity; the power of armies established Islam; Emperor Ashok popularized Buddhism.
How Krishna Conscious Governance Can Change the Face of Earth
I propose that Krishna conscious governments take care of three basic issues:
1. Education: Education is the foundation of human society. Without spiritual and moral education, human beings behave like animals. Brahmanas with high morals and integrity should be in charge of education. People should know that our scriptures are the storehouse of knowledge – in science, medicine, astronomy, engineering, social sciences, everything.
Simple living and high thinking should be the guiding principles of life. Issues concerning sense control, abortion, karma, and reincarnation should be taught, producing sin-free people who act responsibly for their future lives, instead of self-serving people with a narrow vision.
Where modern education promotes indiscriminate competitiveness, spiritual education encourages cooperation. Human life is for athato brahma-jijnasa – for spiritual inquiry. It is a rare opportunity to go back home to Godhead and should not be frittered away by indulging simply in sense gratification, which is available even in lower forms of life. Instead of competing with others, each of us should try to conquer the real problems of life: birth, death, old age, and disease. Every living entity – not only the fittest — has the right to live. Everyone can live because Krishna provides for all.
2. Environment. Protection of the environment shall be a cornerstone of Krishna conscious governance. Our environment is the source of our wealth and therefore has to be handled carefully and responsibly. The urban/industrial lifestyle is largely responsible for the environmental crisis, which includes pollution not only of the air, water and land, but also of consciousness. We will not solve the world’s environmental problems until people reduce their desires for material consumption. This is possible only if people gain tangible experience of superior forms of happiness and satisfaction, which the Krishna consciousness movement offers through the practice of bhakti-yoga and especially through Hare Krishna mantra meditation.
Unless we protect the environment, soon there will not be enough water, and the air will be unfit to breathe. To bring about change will require a government that can explain to the people why they need radical change to protect the environment. What is the use of high-speed cars, jets, and computers if there is not enough water to drink or food to eat?
The degrading physical and mental health of our children is another issue that needs to be focused on. The rise of deadly diseases and the mounting cost of medical bills all reveal that we have neglected the environment to gratify our desire for unlimited sense gratification.
3. Ban on cow slaughter. Killing the cow makes the worst economic sense. The cow gives milk, the wonder food necessary to develop fine tissues in the brain. Various milk preparations can be used to feed the large population. The cow lives on grass and does not compete with the human beings for food. Cow dung is used to produce gobar gas. A gobar gas research station in Uttar Pradesh has shown that one cow gives enough cow dung in a year to produce methane gas equivalent to 225 liters of petrol. Cow dung is pure. Even an old cow unable to produce milk can pay for its subsistence by the cow dung it produces. According to our scriptures, people who feed on cow meat will be damned to the nether regions of hell for lifetimes equal to the number of hairs on the cow's body.
Being the supplier of milk, the cow is considered our mother. The imperialist British found that the strength of India in agriculture was based on the cow. Because cow products (including urine, a great disinfectant, and dung, the best manure) competed with their economic interests, the British decided to slaughter the cows. After India's independence, many leaders spoke out against cow slaughter, but very little has been done. On the contrary, slaughterhouses have increased, and cows are exported to face the butcher’s blade. No meaningful civilization can flourish when the mother is slaughtered to meet the demands of our tongue.
What Are Our Present Advantages and Disadvantages?
* We are largely a very disciplined group.
* We have a large network of devotees and volunteers spread over the whole of India and the world.
* Our philosophy and principles are easily workable and effective, as demonstrated by rulers of ancient India like Yudhishthira Maharaja, Parikshit Maharaja, and many others.
* We have the answers to the problems facing modern society.
* We have been able to penetrate the masses, and they contribute the major vote.
* Our philosophy is easily saleable to the youth, who can contribute to the work force.
* Power could corrupt the organization.
* Now we are relatively insulated from the world. Direct involvement may introduce negative influences from outside.
* ISKCON devotees could face harassment by vested interests.
What Can We Do?
The world needs impeccable leaders with vision, commitment, and integrity. And which organization in the world can provide such leaders? Most of our present political parties and institutions are incapable of providing such leadership. Devotees who are free from material allurements, who have transcended the desire for name, fame, and money, can fill the slot. We can make the difference.
The world has seen our beautiful temples, festivals, and programs. There are already quite a few initiatives by ISKCON devotees, such as rural communities, varnashrama communities, cow protection programs, Food for Life programs, spiritual education projects, and movements to protect rivers and the environment. For greater thrust, these initiatives and others require political support.
If you share my desire to see devotees more active in the political sphere, please contact me at the email address below so that we can begin discussing possibilities. A group of devotees will need to come together to form political parties in various countries or ally with parties that would support our policies, thus giving us a say in government. Success may not be immediate, but if we persevere, we can succeed. People are looking for a change, and we are that change.
We devotees would like to save the earth and its inhabitants. For those who would like to come together and work towards a common goal, this is an opportunity. We approach politics in a way that is compassionate, holistic, responsible, and more alive than the politics of divide and rule, the politics of misinformation, the politics of might is right. We approach politics on the basis of Krishna consciousness and relationships based on that consciousness – relationships between individuals, between people and the earth and all her inhabitants, and between people and God.