By Chandrashekhara Acharya Dasa
Why the secular state is missing the point.
In September 2005, the French diplomatic magazine Label France published an article entitled, “One Hundred Years of Secularism ‚A la Française.’” It describes the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the 1905 law that officially separated the Church from the State. The author of the article writes, “Secularism facilitates the peaceful co-existence of all spiritual convictions.” But then, ironically enough, he mentions the March 2004 law that states, “In schools, high-schools and colleges, the wearing of symbols or of clothes by which the students may express any religious belonging is strictly prohibited.”
In the wake of the riots that shook and embarrassed France in November of 2004, one must question the efficacy of secular education. Is not the most important duty of the government to uphold religious principles and lead its citizens towards self realization? Unless governments implement Krishna conscious education, society will never be peaceful.
As Gaudiya Vaishnavas, we acknowledge the ontological premise that we are not our bodies. We accept the idea that we are eternal spirit souls who have only one function, namely that of rendering eternal service to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. The goal of human life is to disentangle ourselves from illusion and re-awaken our original love for Krishna, so that we, as spirit souls, may return to His kingdom after death. This re-awakening of Krishna consciousness is a difficult task because we have been absorbed in deep ignorance life after life, since time immemorial.
It is hence understandable that we cannot become Krishna conscious on our own effort alone. Rather, we need pushing and guidance, both individually and collectively. It follows, then, that a government’s prime duty is to guide its dependents, the citizens, towards the awakening of their dormant love for Krishna. Otherwise, citizens will be misled into sensual gratification and will become increasingly entangled in the cycle of birth and death.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.14.18) it is stated:
yasya rashtre pure caiva
ijyate svena dharmena
“The king is supposed to be pious in whose state and cities the general populace strictly observes the system of eight social orders of varna and ashrama, and where all citizens engage in worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead by their particular occupations.”
In Mayapur in March 1976, the Back to Godhead staff asked Srila Prabhupada about the duty of the government.
“To understand what God wants,” he replied, “and to see that society works toward that aim. Then people will be happy.”
Throughout his teachings on this subject, Srila Prabhupada repeats this one point time and time again, namely that the sole duty of the government and of the educators is to teach and lead the citizens towards Krishna consciousness.
Krishna Conscious Kings of the Past
From the Vedic histories we learn of great Krishna conscious kingdoms, such as that of Parikshit Maharaja. Parikshit was such a Krishna conscious king that in his empire Kali (the personification of the evils of this age) could not find a single piece of land on which to exist. This is because in Parikshit’s kingdom there was absolutely no meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, or illicit sex. Parikshit Maharaja made sure that everyone, regardless of social status or level of spiritual advancement, was gradually directed towards self-realization. In contrast, today’s secular governments thrust their citizens towards the grossest type of sinful activity. Out of desperation, these misled citizens eventually protest and riot. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.2.8) compares modern government leaders to “avaricious and merciless rulers.” It predicts that as Kali-yuga, the current age, progresses, these government leaders will “plunder men’s wives and properties,” so much so that the citizens will “flee to the mountains and forests.”
Secularists may claim, “At least, the curriculum of secular education does not favor any one group; it is neutral.” Scrutiny reveals, however, that secular education indeed favors one particular group. It favors atheists. The unchallenged prejudice—which everyone takes for granted, and which lies at the foundation of secularism—is the conviction that atheism is knowledge and that theism is only subjective belief. Of course, it has recently become a fashion in secular institutions to teach courses such as “World Religions” and “The Religious Experience,” but these courses are taught from an atheistic reductionistic worldview. An overriding trend in modern academic institutions is to teach students that the Big Bang and Darwin’s theory of evolution are the only reality. Indeed, echoing the words of Srila Prabhupada, modern education has one agenda only, namely that of making the world godless.
Article 1 of the 1905 French law mentioned above declares, “The Republic assures freedom of thought. The Republic assures the unimpeded practice of all cults.” This sounds promising, but in practice we observe the exact opposite. What to speak of the “the unimpeded practice of all cults,” children in France cannot even go to school wearing a cross of Jesus, a star of David, a Sikh turban, Vaishnava tilaka, or any other religious insignia. Yet the secularists deceive the masses with chic and sophisticated philosophical pretenses, thus cheating them. Again, the Bhagavatam predicts that in Kali-yuga, hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue and anyone clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar. Thus the affirmation of the principle of the French Republic, which supposedly guarantees the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, is only a bluff.
The Eternal Religion
If government leaders throughout the world were to teach Krishna consciousness, guided by Srila Prabhupada’s books, theism would prevail. Even so, some Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and others might protest, feeling discriminated against because they may not fully subscribe to the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava theology. As devotees of Krishna, however, we are sure that Krishna consciousness is all-encompassing and all-inclusive; it does not discriminate against anyone. Indeed, Krishna consciousness goes beyond religious labels. It deals directly with all spirit souls, regardless of their external designation. Krishna consciousness is sanatana-dharma, the eternal religion of all living entities. Being a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Hindu is of no relevance when discussing sanatana-dharma. Sanatana-dharma applies to all living entities in all of existence.
For example, the following two verses are from the Bhagavad-gita, apparently a Hindu scripture. But if educators teach these verses to their students, where is the question of partiality towards one religion or another?
“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul. (2.17)
“One who sees the Supersoul accompanying the individual soul in all bodies, and who understands that neither the soul nor the Supersoul within the destructible body is ever destroyed, actually sees. (13.28)
According to these two famous verses, each of us, regardless of religious affiliation, is a spiritual being subordinate to God. Where, then, is the question of partiality? Nevertheless, there could still be some theists who, although accepting these verses, may not be ready to fully embrace the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava theology. Some people could still protest: “We don’t believe in reincarnation, we don’t accept that God is a person, and we certainly don’t think that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
In this case, Krishna conscious government leaders and educators should be tolerant and compassionate. For example, a Krishna conscious leader should encourage the Muslims to become better Muslims and the Christians to become better Christians, all the while understanding that different spirit souls influenced by various combinations of the modes of nature may need more time to come to the platform of pure devotional service, the true religion of the soul. As Srila Prabhupada explains, we should encourage everyone in their particular faith, making sure that they are at least following the tenets laid down by their particular prophets. This would undoubtedly lead to a peaceful situation in the world. On the other hand, we can clearly see that secular education leads only to frustration and suffering. The November 2004 riots in France are one among many testimonies of this fact, of which Srila Prabhupada was convinced: “Just like nowadays it has become—what is it called? Secular state. ‚Don’t talk of God.’ This is the present situation of the world. Atheist class. ‚Don’t talk of God.’ But they do not know that they have not much improved by ‚Don’t talk of God.’ The situation is becoming grimmer and grimmer. But they have no eyes to see. They have no eyes to see. This godless civilization will not make them happy. That’s a fact.” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.6.1, Hong Kong, April 18, 1972)