“May that person that had approved the exile of the noble one (Rama) to the woods, reap the sin of his that having taken a sixth part of their incomes, does not protect his subjects!” (Bharata speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 75)
This statement is part of a conversation between Bharata and his step-mother Kausalya, over the banishment of Lord Rama, Kausalya’s son, from the kingdom. After being away on business, Bharata had just returned to the kingdom only to find that His father, King Dashratha, had died and that Rama had been banished to the forest for fourteen years.
Lord Rama was an incarnation of God who appeared many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, and Bharata was His younger half-brother. Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, had performed a great sacrifice in order to beget progeny, and he was subsequently rewarded with four beautiful sons. Rama was the eldest and his favorite. All the plans were in place for Rama to succeed Dashratha as king, but the plans changed at the last minute due to a request made by Kaikeyi, Dashratha’s youngest wife. She wanted her son, Bharata, to be installed as the new king. Dashratha had to agree to these requests since he had granted Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion. Fearing that Rama might try to take over the kingdom by force, Kaikeyi used her second boon to ask for Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years. After both requests were made, Kaikeyi anxiously awaited the arrival of Bharata so that she could reap the rewards of her handiwork.
Meanwhile, Rama left for the forest along with His younger brother Lakshmana and His wife Sita Devi. Dashratha couldn’t bear the separation pains, and he eventually quit his body. Bharata came home to find his father dead and his favorite brother banished from the kingdom. After being informed of all the prior events, Bharata stiffly rebuked his mother. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, not only came to earth in the form of Rama, but also in the form of His three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. All four brothers were expansions of God, with Rama being the primary incarnation. For this reason, all the brothers were close friends, and they were especially devoted to Rama. Bharata had no desire to the rule kingdom, especially if it meant going against the proper rules of conduct. The line of succession declared that Rama should be the next king. By having the kingdom bequeathed to him, Bharata felt extremely guilty. He never wanted to harm Rama in any way. After chastising Kaikeyi, Bharata went to talk to Rama’s mother, Queen Kausalya. She was initially very upset with Bharata, thinking that he might be happy with the current situation. She uttered some harsh words to him, and Bharata replied with a speech stating that he believed those who orchestrated the exile of Rama were all guilty of grievous sins. The above referenced statement was part of that speech.
According to Vedic information, the universe is constantly being created and destroyed. In each creation, there is a first man, and he is known by the name of Manu. From him come the Laws of Manu, which serve as the guidelines for all areas of life, including how governments should run. In the Vedic system, there are four castes, or varnas. The second class, the kshatriya, are required to provide protection to the rest of society. They are the warriors, similar to today’s military men and police. All governments of the past were monarchies, ruled by pious kshatriyas who governed at the advice and consent of learned brahmanas, the priestly class of men. Dashratha and all his sons belonged to the kshatriya race. The Laws of Manu give guidelines on every aspect of ruling a kingdom. One thing required by all governments is the collection of taxes. The third class men, the vaishyas, are involved in agriculture and trade. They can be equated with today’s capitalists. Only the vaishyas are allowed to seek after wealth and prosperity through trade and business. The kshatriyas are to spend all their time providing protection to the citizens, so they have no other way of raising money other than through the collection of taxes. The Vedas declare that a king, in normal circumstances, should never take more than one sixth of a citizen’s income. Taxes are required for the government to properly function, but that money is supposed to be used in the proper way. Government only exists to provide protection to society at large. Just as each one of us has a natural right to defend ourselves and our property, the government represents the collective right of self defense of a large group of people.
As declared by Bharata, a king who takes one sixth of a person’s income and still fails to provide sufficient protection, is guilty of committing sin. This is very easy to understand. If a king fails to provide protection, then what is the point of even collecting taxes? A person has a right to keep what they earn. If a government takes too much of a person’s earnings for no reason, they are actually committing theft. A quick study of today’s governments shows that almost half of people’s incomes are going to taxes. In America, the federal marginal income tax rates vary based on a person’s annual income. The highest tax rate is around 36%, while lower income earners don’t pay any federal income tax at all. Yet there are many other taxes that people pay. The payroll tax that funds Social Security takes 6.2% of one’s income, while the employer pays an additional 6.2%. While it may seem that the employer pays half the tax, the employee actually takes the entire hit since it costs the employer that much more just to keep that person employed. Then there are taxes for Medicare, state income, state sales, cell phone, property, car, etc. The list is quite comprehensive. Nevertheless, we will invariably see politicians on television crying about how people need to pay their “fair” share in taxes.
When the income tax was first introduced in the early 20th century, politicians told everyone not to worry since the tax would only affect the rich. Well it seems today that everyone must be rich since they are all paying income taxes. The truth of the matter is that politicians aren’t concerned with taxing a specific group of people. They will tax anybody they can get away with taxing. The rich are an easy target since politicians can play the class warfare game. Smokers are another favorite target of today’s politicians. Aside from the people that smoke, no one really likes cigarettes or cigarette smoke. Thus, the voters put up very little opposition to increases in tobacco taxes. Politicians are now looking for even more things to tax, such as energy consumption and health insurance plans.
All of these taxes would be justifiable if the governments of today were adequately protecting their citizens. The annual federal budget in the U.S. is mostly spent on entitlement programs, which are nothing more than the redistribution of wealth. Money is forcibly taken from one group of people for the express purpose of giving it to another. Even with such a massive federal budget, no one feels safe. Citizens are always worried about the nuclear threat posed by foreign enemies, and also the constant threat of terrorism.
Based on these facts and the statements made by Bharata, we can conclude that today’s leaders will all have to suffer greatly for their sin of unjustifiable taxation. Aside from providing protection, the primary duty of any leader is to deliver their dependents from the repeated cycle of birth and death. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. Through the laws of karma, the soul is constantly transmigrating from one body to another, caught in an endless cycle. However, if one becomes Krishna, or God, conscious in this lifetime, they become immune to the effects of karma, and thereby become eligible for return back home after this life, back to Godhead. Above all else, it is thus the duty of all government leaders to imbibe this Krishna consciousness in every citizen. A society actively engaged in devotional service, chanting the holy names of the Lord, regularly visiting His temples, and offering obeissances to the deity, will be happy one.