Prosperity was the norm during the reigns of God-conscious Vedic kings.
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Lecture given in Los Angeles on May 16, 1973.
The Vedic scriptures tell of horses adorned with gold and of sacrifices performed with tons of grains and ghee.
“At that time all his brothers followed him on beautiful chariots drawn by first-class horses decorated with gold ornaments. With them were Vyasa and rishis like Dhaumya [the learned priest of the Pandavas] and others.” – Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.2
One very important phrase is here: sadashvaih svarna-bhushitaih (“drawn by first-class horses decorated with gold”). Formerly horses were used in the military division. Horses, chariots, elephants, and infantry. Not one or two horses, but one division of military phalanx, or akshauhini, required sixty thousand horses. A certain number of horses, a certain number of elephants, of chariots, and of infantry soldiers composed one division. All the horses, when they were required for a procession or for going to the fight, were well decorated with golden ornaments, svarna-bhushitaih. So just imagine, if all the saddles of the horses are gold-ornamented, how many ounces will you require to decorate each horse. And what is the price of gold now?
Disciple: One hundred and twenty-eight dollars an ounce.
Prabhupada: Just see. At least fifty ounces will be required to decorate one horse. And one ounce is $120. So what is the price for sixty-thousand horses? Where is that gold today?
People today are very proud of the advancement of material civilization, but instead of gold we find plastic. And still they are very proud of their wealth. Just see. The men cannot even decorate their wives. Women require ornaments. It is their psychology. In the Manu-samhita it has been recommended, “If you want to keep your wife satisfied, then you must give her good food, good saris, and good ornaments.” This is the system.
Therefore during the marriage time, according to his means the father gives the girl many beautiful, costly saris and, as much as possible, golden ornaments. And still in India those who are very rich give jewelry – diamonds, pearls, sapphires – according to their means. Those who are of the richer class don’t touch gold. They must give jewelry. This is the system.
This is opulence. So much gold. When the Kurukshetra battle was finished, the treasury of the Pandavas was also finished, because war means expenditure. Many hundreds of thousands of pounds and dollars were required daily to finance the running of the war. Yudhishthira Maharaja wanted to perform a sacrifice after the war. So he required money, much grain, many ornaments, much gold and ghee. All these things were required. To perform a sacrifice is not an ordinary thing. Millions and millions of dollars are required. In the Kali-yuga, people cannot collect such costly things. Tons of ghee were being offered to the fire. Where are those tons of ghee? Not available. All the utensils were made of gold. The altar was made of gold. Where is that gold? So Yudhishthira Maharaja asked his brother Dhananjaya, Arjuna, “Bring some money from somewhere. Otherwise how we can perform the sacrifices? We have finished all our treasury.”
Arjuna was a little perplexed. The elder brother was king, and the younger brothers were commanders. Krishna saw that His friend was a little perturbed. So He immediately gave him information. This is God, sarva-jna – He knows everything. He knows where to find money. Krishna gave Arjuna the information that formerly one king, by the grace of Lord Shiva, got information of a big gold mine, or a gold-mine mountain. That king used to manufacture so many things out of gold. During sacrifices especially, he used to give many dishes made of gold to the brahmanas.
At that time the brahmanas were not very greedy. So the king, during the sacrifice, gave them an unlimited number of dishes made of gold. They accepted them, but when they came out of the sacrificial arena, they thought, “Who is going to carry so much of a load? Throw it away.” Just see. This is opulence.
Formerly people used to eat on golden plates, at least the royal families, and after eating they used to throw them away. They were not intended for a second use. In India still, it is observed, people use earthen plates. As here in your country people use paper plates, in India they use earthen plates. And once used, the plates are thrown away. They cannot be used a second time. Therefore in rigid Hindu families they don’t use these china clay plates, because they are made of earth. When it is an earthen pot, as soon as you eat, it becomes contaminated. It must be thrown away. You cannot use it for a second time. That is the system.
This system was followed formerly even for golden plates. Once used, then they could not be used a second time. They were thrown away. And “thrown away” means that some poor man would collect them. So there was no question of poverty. The rich men would eat from the golden plate once and throw it away. And their servants or other poor persons would collect them.
The brahmanas threw away all the golden plates given by the king during the sacrifices. The brahmanas did not require golden plates, but they were given in charity: “Brahmanas, you take.” They accepted, but they thought, “It is a load. Why should I carry it? Throw it away.”
So there were heaps of golden plates lying near the Himalayan mountain. And Krishna gave Arjuna the information. “Go there and collect those golden plates. Then your purpose will be served.” Arjuna went there and collected them and brought them to his brother, Maharaja Yudhishthira, for converting them into money for spending in the sacrifice. So this was the system. Therefore one of Arjuna’s names is Dhananjaya, “one who can conquer over riches.” His brother was in need of money, and he brought money.
Real Human Opulence
Actually, human opulence does not mean these tin cars. Once a car is dashed with another car, it is finished, no value. Human opulence means the society must have enough gold, enough jewelry, enough silk, enough grains, enough milk, enough vegetables, like that. That is opulence. Formerly a person was considered rich by two things, dhanyena dhanavan – first, by how much grain stock he has got at his home. A big, big barn filled with grains. Still in India, if I am going to give my daughter to some family, to see the family’s opulence I go to see the house, and if I see there are many, many barns stocked with grains and many cows, then it is very good. It is opulent. Dhanyena dhanavan gavaya dhanavan. Second, a man is considered rich when he has got a large enough number of cows.
Nanda Maharaja, the foster father of Krishna, was keeping 900,000 cows. He was a rich man. He was the maharaja, the king. But see his behavior. He entrusted his beloved sons, Krishna and Balarama, to take care of the calves or cows: “Go into the forest.” They are well dressed with ornaments and nice dress. All the cowherd boys are very rich. They have got enough grains and enough milk. Naturally they will be rich. But not that the cows and the calves will be taken care of by some hired servant. No. They themselves would take care of the cows and calves.
That was the children’s sport – to go to the forest and take the calves and cows and carry some tiffin, some lunch, eat there, dance there, play there, and come home in the evening. Then they would bathe and change their dress and take their meals and immediately go to sleep. This was the boys’ engagement. They would grow healthy because they would go outside and play and work and very happily enjoy the company of their friends. There was no question of becoming contaminated. Just as we go to the seaside, the beach, similarly the boys would go to the Yamuna River, a very nice river. And there were trees. So these boys, Krishna and His friends, with their cows would go and loiter on the bank of the Yamuna and sport and enjoy frivolities so nicely.
There was no question of education at that time. After the child is grown up, healthy, then he goes to school. Otherwise, first of all eat sumptuously milk, butter, and yogurt, and play sufficiently in the open air with friends and take care of the cows. This is labor, but it is sporting. Very nice.
These things were taught by Krishna Himself, although He was the son of a king. Then when He was grown up, His real father, Vasudeva, took charge of Him. Then He was a kshatriya. He belonged to a kshatriya family. All other education was given: how to fight, how to rule, everything.
Maharaja Yudhishthira and his brothers were also kshatriyas. So when they were going to see Bhishmadeva, they were going there in royal style, with chariots and with horses decorated with golden ornaments. And they were accompanied by brahmanas, including Vyasadeva and others. All the kshatriyas, the kings, would always be accompanied by hordes of brahmanas. As soon as they required any instruction, immediately they would consult the brahmanas. And the brahmanas gave good advice: “Do like this.” This is the business of the brahmana. The kings would not do anything without consulting them. Don’t think that because there was monarchy they were all autocrats. No. If the brahmanas would not agree to something, then the kings would not do it. The brahmana community was all saintly persons and learned scholars. There was a committee of brahmanas, and the king would take their advice on how to manipulate the political affairs or administration, and the brahmanas would consult standard books.
Nowadays, every day the rascals are changing some law. Somebody told me that in Africa, every week there is a change of the cabinet. Every week. That means the place is full of rascals. One rascal will fight with another rascal. So there is no stability of government. All these rascals, politicians, are trying to occupy the post: “I shall become president. I shall become secretary. And then I shall exploit the state like anything.” This is the motive. “I am going to give you heaven. If you select me as president, then I shall give you heaven within three minutes.”
They simply promise. Actually there is nothing. But formerly the king was very responsible, as we are discussing. Maharaja Yudhishthira was thinking of the women: “Now their husbands and their sons or their fathers – so many have died. How to take care of them?” He was perplexed. He was so responsible. He was concerned for the children, for the brahmanas, for those who are helpless. Women, children, brahmanas, old men, and cows must be taken care of first. That was the king’s duty. Now who is taking care of the children? Who is taking care of the women? And who is taking care of the brahmanas? There are no real brahmanas. Even if there are some brahmanas – we are creating them now – who is taking care of us?
It is the duty of the government to see to this Krishna consciousness movement, “Oh, such an important movement is going on? Our first attention should be how this movement can go on.” Such nice character, such nice behavior, such nice knowledge, such nice consciousness of God, so pure – and the government has no attention. They are thinking it is something sentimental. And all the politicians, going to the brothel and drinking and dancing naked, are “first-class men.” This is the position of the society. No care for the living entities who are very important. In this verse the word is vipra, which means brahmanas. Maharaja Yudhishthira was always accompanied by brahmanas. Without brahminical culture, what is the value of the society? There is no value. It is animal society.
Natural Divisions of Society
Therefore Bhagavad-gita (4.13) recommends, chatur-varnyam maya srishtam guna-karma-vibhagashah: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me.” You cannot find all one class of men. That is not possible. There are those rascals who are trying to have a classless society. No class, all one. That is rascaldom. That is not possible. There must be classes. That is scientific. Why? Because this material nature is being conducted under three modes: first class, second class, third class. Goodness, passion, and ignorance. So how can you make a classless society? There must be divisions. There must be classes.
It has to be scientifically arranged. All classes can cooperate for one purpose and develop very nicely in Krishna consciousness. Therefore Krishna says, chatur-varnyam maya srishtam. Maya srishtam means “created by Me.” Anything created by God, you cannot nullify it; you cannot reject it. That is not possible. You have to accept it and possibly utilize it. Therefore devotees, even in a distressed condition of life, take it for granted that “It is created by God. I am now in distress. It is the creation of God. So why shall I hate it? Let me tolerate. Let me undergo this distressed condition of life.”
Suppose you are suffering from a cough. Now, there has been some hygienic law disregarded, so I have caught a cold and have a cough. So why shall I deride it? It must be created either by bodily nature or by God. As long as it is there, let me suffer patiently. It has come; it will go.
That is the instruction in the Bhagavad-gita (2.14): agamapayino ’nityas tams titikshasva, “Whether in a distressed condition or in happiness, just tolerate.” Actually, here there is no happiness; everything is a distressed condition. But we are such fools that we consider a distressed condition to be happiness. This is called maya, illusion.
For example, suppose you have to go to see a friend. And nowadays, to see a friend or anything, you have to go not less than ten miles. You have to go ten miles, and then see your friend, and then do your work. So I am taking the trouble of going ten miles to see a friend or thirty miles to see a medical practitioner, but I am very proud of my car, proud that I have a car. I don’t consider that although I have a car, still I have to waste so much time; I have to take so much trouble. And there is every possibility of accidents. So many calamities are awaiting me. But we think, “Now we have discovered this horseless carriage; we are advanced.”
Material Nature Means Discomforts
Similarly, if you study every item, you will find that although you have created by the modern scientific advancement a little comfort of life, side by side you have created many discomforts.
That is the way of this material nature. The way of material nature is that you cannot remain in comfort. That is not possible, by the laws of nature. The three kinds of miseries – adhyatmika, adhibhautika, and adhidaivika – must be there always. For example, I am your spiritual master. You have kept me very nicely, to your best capacity, but I am coughing. So even if you are situated in one kind of comfortable position, a discomfort will come and attack you. Or there is no cough, no trouble, but you receive a very unsatisfactory letter from a friend, and you become very sorry. This is called adhyatmika, pertaining to the mind or the body. Adhibhautika: troubles offered by other living entities. And adhidaivika: troubles offered by the higher authorities, like excessive heat or excessive cold.
In this material world we have to work very hard under these three kinds of miserable conditions of life, and we are actually doing that. Still we are thinking that we are happy. And after all, after doing this, we have to change this body. That means death. We cannot avoid it. But still we are thinking that we are happy, and we have no sense to try to understand actually what is the standard of happiness, where that happiness can be had, if it is possible.
These things are understood and answered by this Krishna consciousness movement. That is the importance of the Krishna consciousness movement. All-round. It is not one-sided that we are thinking of Krishna. Thinking of Krishna means thinking of everything, because Krishna is everything. Without Krishna there is no other thing. Aham kritsnasya jagatah prabhavah pralayas tatha (Gita 7.6). In this world there two things: prabhava and pralaya. Prabhava means generation, and pralaya means annihilation. Two things. Everything, whatever you take, is generated at a certain point, and it will end at a certain point. So Krishna says,
“All created beings have their source in these two natures. Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both the origin and the dissolution.” We don’t consider only generation. Generation, maintenance, and annihilation – three things.
This body is born at a certain date, it remains for a certain period, and then it is annihilated. Everything material has a beginning – it is born or it is manufactured at a certain point – it keeps for some time, and then it will be destroyed. Therefore the Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: “The Absolute Truth is He from whom everything comes.” Janmadi means “generation and so on,” or janma-sthiti-pralaya: generation, maintenance, and destruction.
To understand Krishna means to understand everything: how everything is generated, how it is maintained, and how it is annihilated. That is full Krishna consciousness.
Thank you very much.