By Hari Sauri Dasa
Despite the best intentions, attempts at equality in this world inevitably fail.
Adapted from a paper delivered at a seminar on “Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Universal Brotherhood,” hosted by the Gaudiya Mission and held on February 20–21, 2012, in Kolkata, India.
The post-industrial world is international and multi-cultural. Thoughts can be shared at the speed of light, communication between individuals or groups anywhere on the surface of the globe happens instantaneously, and technology transcends what were once insurmountable barriers.
In the last century, colonialism has been shunned, the exertion of racial superiority has been made illegal in most civilized countries, and the concept of one gender as superior to the other has been overturned. Nations now share their trading and wealth and participate in multinational endeavors across the globe as well as in space. Political differences are being reduced, and the vision of a world of nations united is anticipated.
Here in India the differences of caste are being abolished, at least legally, communalism is condemned, and the democratic rights of every sector of society are being exerted.
Discrimination has become an ugly word, and great effort is being made through legislation to remove it. The call of the day is for unity and equality. There is a great desire to eliminate the differences that divide us, with the hope that we can realize a oneness of human existence where peace and satisfaction abound in a global community of mutual respect.
Yet despite our best intentions, the power of legislation, economic forums, and social engineering, disparity and dissonance abound. The platform of real equality and true respect remains elusive and distant, and the disadvantaged far outnumber the privileged and prosperous few. Differences remain, and the sense of superiority of one over the other continues to cause conflict. In our attempts to be politically correct, we have created the phenomenon of reverse discrimination.
Failed Attempts at Equality
Artificial attempts to establish equality have in their own turn created further conflict and subjugation and finally proved to be futile failures. In the great global communist uprisings of the last century, feudal hierarchy and capitalist exploitation were overturned and replaced by idealistic proletariats, only to see new ruling classes established that were as brutal and suppressive as the ones they replaced. The attempts to eliminate the financial sectors and replace them with communal systems of enterprise led to the bloody destruction of tens of millions of the very people they were meant to represent, and all to no avail. The entrepreneurial spirit could not be suppressed, and within a few short decades exerted itself once again. Nowadays so-called communist countries have become world financial powerhouses. Here in Bengal we were recently entertained with a pre-election declaration by the leader of the communist party that he is now “a capitalist communist.”
And what of the pursuit of gender equality and women’s rights? If in the name of women’s liberation we allow the rampant killing of children by abortion, how is that equal? Try telling the yearly cull of approximately forty-two million fetuses that their sacrifice is making the world a better place.
While we pass legislation to make all citizens equal, we ignore the plight of our less-than-human fellow living beings. Indeed, the advocates of equality are happy to gorge themselves upon the estimated forty-eight billion land animals slaughtered annually to satiate their tongues.
The truth is that nature is diverse and irrepressible. While the goal of equal rights is laudable, the attempt to establish it cannot succeed at the expense of reality. Artificial and forcible measures, well intentioned as they may be, result in the burden of disadvantage being shifted to other sectors of society, rather than eliminated.
True Unity in Diversity
In this short paper we shall suggest a worldview that encompasses all living beings and creates a platform of true unity in diversity. This can be achieved through the philosophy and example of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the great emissary of divine love and equal opportunity. Lord Gauranga’s message of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, or inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference, offers to all living beings an equal opportunity to attain the perfection of happiness while remaining individual and unique.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advised us:
tara’ ei desha
“One should simply instruct everyone he meets regarding the principles of krishna-katha [topics of Krishna], as expressed in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 7.128) Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that human society has four natural divisions, or varnas: intellectuals, administrators, merchants, and workers. The propensities of the members of these divisions always exist. Legislation and socio-political manipulation cannot eliminate nature’s varieties. If it were true that everyone is equal, then why do Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, IIT, and every other educational institution hold entrance exams? Why do they not simply offer a place to anyone who walks through the door?
Everyone is not created equal. What then of our attempts to find a platform of mutual respect and harmony? Where does the commonality of living beings lie?
The answer is given by Lord Krishna. He describes two natures at work in this phenomenal world. One is temporary and subject to constant flux and change:
bhinna prakritir ashtadha
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.” (Bhagavad-gita 7.4) And the other is permanent and changeless:
yayedam dharyate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.” (Bhagavad-gita 7.5)
We living beings are not temporary manifestations of chance combinations of matter. Consciousness is the cause of the material phenomena, not its effect. Consciousness is eternal and original and exists even when the material realm is wound up.
As eternal living beings we are embedded within material nature and are struggling within its midst. We acquire a variety of material bodies in a never-ending cycle of repeated birth and death, entering into and then exiting one cadaver after another.
The Vedas say that there are 8,400,000 varieties of life, ranging through aquatic life, plants, insects, birds, animals, human beings, and above. The embodied atma, or soul, superficially acquires a certain nature according to the body he currently occupies. Further, even within the same species, every soul is individual and unique. Thus none can be said to be equal in every respect, and the pursuit of equality therefore is seemingly futile.
As Lord Krishna says,
nigrahah kim karishyati
“Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?” (Bhagavad-gita 3.33) Yet, after describing these different natures, Lord Krishna also states:
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Bhagavad-gita 5.18)
On what basis then is this equal vision established? How is an elephant equal to a dog, or a learned man equal to a cow? Shall we all sit down with the animals to eat and share our beds? An elephant cannot sit down to recite the Vedas, nor can a man eat a hundred pounds of hay a day. A women can never be identical to a man, an intellectual cannot be forced into manual labor—equality cannot be achieved on the external level. Everyone must act according to his or her acquired nature.
The Solution in a Higher Understanding
The solution to this dilemma lies in understanding the higher nature of the living beings. A true sage sees equally because he looks beyond the body. The first step is knowing that the living being is not the body but the eternal soul within it. The current body of a living being is not his true nature. In a short spell of time it will be abandoned and changed. But the soul himself does not change:
na hanyate hanyamane sharire
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.20)
The vision of the sage is spiritual. He sees the oneness of all living beings in their common eternal spiritual nature while simultaneously recognizing their varied temporally acquired natures.
All souls are eternally parts of the Supreme Soul, Lord Krishna, who claims all living beings to be His offspring:
aham bija-pradah pita
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Bhagavad-gita 14.4)
The frustrations of life are experienced due to forgetfulness of our common eternal connection with the Supreme Person, Sri Krishna. When the parts of the tree—the leaves and branches—become separated from the root, they dry up. Similarly when the soul forgets his eternal relationship with the Supreme, he comes to this world of matter and tries to be happy separately from his source. His search for happiness results in a great struggle for existence, each soul trying to lord over the others in a futile bid to be controllers and enjoyers:
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Bhagavad-gita 15.7)
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught that each soul is meant for service to the Supreme and that the true identity of each individual is as an eternal servant of God:
“The living entity is an eternal servant of Krishna, the Supreme God.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 20.108)
True happiness must be eternal. It is found in harmonious coexistence in common service to the Supreme Lord. Krishna accepts the service of every one of us, regardless of our different natures. He looks only to see the bhakti, or love with which we serve Him, regardless of whether we are man or woman, rich or poor, clever or simple, merchant or intellectual, black or white, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian, Indian, American, British, adult or child. Anyone can take part in the sublime process of bhakti-yoga—linking with the Lord through loving devotion.
Therefore Lord Chaitanya, who is understood to be the same Supreme Lord Krishna come again as His own devotee, established His sublime doctrine of achintya bheda– and abheda-tattva—simultaneous oneness and difference. Anyone, from whatever diverse material situation one has acquired, can approach the Lord with love and affection and be accepted by Him into His eternal lila of prema, His pastimes of pure love.
A Common Father
The Lord promulgated an easy and effective method for achieving this. Simply by the process of glorifying the Supreme by chanting His holy names—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, or any bona fide name of God—anyone can attain the highest state of ecstatic love and live in harmony with all living beings, seeing them as brothers and sisters under our common father, Lord Sri Krishna.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” is a famous saying. In the modern age my Guru Maharaja, His Divine Grace Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, as the humble servant of the great acharya Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja Prabhupada, has carried this universal doctrine to every corner of the globe, transcending all barriers of race, caste, creed, and social diversity to create an international movement of universal love and peace. Because of his ability to see every living being spiritually, he knew the true potential of millions of bewildered souls. He has demonstrated the power of the true sage and has enjoined all of us to share that vision and thus make our lives perfect.
If the present leaders of society want true equality and its consequent product of common happiness and respect among all living beings, they can do no better than to seek the advice of the true sages whose equal vision can factually unite all living beings in common purpose.
We are very glad to have the opportunity to share our thoughts and realizations with our brothers and sisters from the Gaudiya Mission, and we look forward to a future of cooperation and mutual endeavor for the glory of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga and the benefit of the world.