Spending Capital

Lord Rama “O best of the Ikshvakus, considering Your powerful divine and human capabilities, please strive for the destruction of Your enemies.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.20)

The possession and spending of political capital are pretty important concepts in the area of public policy. Capital usually relates to assets or something which has money-earning potential. In the business world, money earned hopefully equates to profit, so if a person possesses capital it means they have something in their possession which can be used to further their interest, i.e. profit. It is very important to not let this capital go to waste, for if we have a chance to go after what we want, we should take full advantage; “opportunity knocks” as the famous saying goes. While this principle holds true in our business and public policy ventures, it takes on an even greater importance in the area of spirituality and the dissemination of spiritual information.

Congress The importance of having capital and spending it can be easily illustrated in the political realm. Let us examine what occurs when a new President takes office in America. Generally, there is a “honeymoon period” where Congress lets its guard down in relation to fighting with the new President. In today’s day and age, every issue is fought vigorously at the political level. This is because not only are the leaders elected through a democratic process, but so is legislation. Aside from the elections of the many members of Congress, there are many votes that take place in specific committees, on the floor of the House and Senate, and then in conference committee. With so many votes taking place, there is a constant struggle for power. Just changing the minds of a few members of Congress can turn a failing bill into a passing one.

When a new President takes office, they usually inherit some political capital. This means that the country at large is optimistic and is willing to give the “new guy” the benefit of the doubt. So if a new President wants to pass a certain piece of legislation, it is best to try to push it forward during this period. The general theory is that if a politician has political capital, he or she should spend it; otherwise it goes to waste. How does this happen? The news cycle changes every minute of every day. The news media acts like drive-by shooters in a way, jumping into a story, firing a few bullets, causing random chaos, and then jumping on to a new story. This may seem like a harsh analogy, but it is undoubtedly true. News organizations have deadlines to meet and cover stories to write, so they aren’t overly concerned with the fallout to their news coverage. It is more important to have a story and release it than it is to worry about what happens after the story is printed.

newspaper This situation leads to a constantly changing political climate. One minute a President could have very high approval ratings, and the next minute not. Thus one never knows how long their political capital will last. It is best to push forward your agenda when you are popular and things are in your favor than when they are not. The President is deemed to have the bully pulpit, a term which references the fact that people listen when the President speaks. White house press conferences and speeches are covered by media outlets around the world. Even if the President sneezes or accidentally falls down, word about the incident spreads across the world. So if a President does have political capital to spend, he should not hesitate to go forward with his agenda. A high ranking administration official in America recently made the statement that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, referring to how citizens are more apt to accept drastic legislation in the aftermath of a national disaster, natural or economic.

Capital boils down to capability. If one is capable of performing some type of activity, especially pertaining to one’s occupational duties, and fails to act, then it is quite a shame. The concept of nonviolence has gained in popularity over the past hundred years or so. It seems very nice on the surface. “Don’t inflict harm to anyone else.” This is a good principle to live by because we wouldn’t want anyone to hurt us unnecessarily. But what about dealings with aggressors? What if someone attacks us or one of our family members? What if someone breaks into our house and tries to steal our possessions? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that it is our duty to protect ourselves and our dependents. If we have the ability to thwart such attacks, we are required to do so. If we fail to act in these situations, we are liable in the eyes of nature.

Arjuna - a great warrior This should make sense to us. For instance, the primary role of government is to provide protection. Since life is generally peaceful in the Western countries, people often overlook this inherent duty of government. Rather, many people believe that the government’s job is to take care of the “little guy”, to level the playing field, or to go after the wealthy. While these may or may not be noble activities, government only exists to provide protection to society at large. Each one of us has a natural right to protect ourselves and our property, and thus government is an outgrowth of that right. If the government should fail to protect us from the bad guys, we would be left with anarchy and chaos. Government officials, especially those in the police force and military, have an obligation to protect the innocent civilians.

The Vedas tell us that each of us is born with certain qualities. We are all equal in a spiritual sense; i.e. we’re all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. But to live in this world, we assume different forms that possess different characteristics. Thus there can never be an equality of outcomes, as is so longed for by many. Since each of us possess different qualities, we naturally will have different desires and thus perform different work. In any society, there will be a group of people who are braver than the rest. This group will be chivalrous, strong, and prone to fighting under ethical guidelines. Since not every person will possess these qualities, it is incumbent upon those who do to take up the responsibility of protecting others. Should these people fail to abide by their duties, their skills and attributes essentially go to waste. If a person belongs to the warrior class of men, but takes up the occupational duties of a different class, who will be left to provide protection?

This concept holds true for each person in relation to their occupational duties and their qualities. Not only should the defenders defend, but the intelligent should teach. This was the example set by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. God is our supreme object of pleasure, and due to His causeless mercy, He kindly appears on earth from time to time to let us bask in that pleasure. Not only does the Lord descend to earth for the pleasure of the devotees, but He also comes to deal with the miscreants.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

Lord Krishna Aren’t all of us sinners? Shouldn’t God be here all the time to deal with all of us? We are all most certainly sinners to some degree or another, so the Lord doesn’t use that as justification for His appearances. In general, the Lord is neutral towards everyone since all of us are involved in some type of karmic activity. Karma refers to actions performed for the advancement of our bodily condition. In this respect, there is really no “good” or “bad” bodily condition as it relates to spiritual life. So when and why does God appear? He comes to give protection to His devotees. A person who loves God and spends all their time serving Him has no association with karma. The Lord certainly appreciates such service and He never wants to see it interrupted. Devotional service is executed perfectly when it is unmotivated and uninterrupted.

Where does the interruption come from? As we all know, not everyone is keen on spirituality. On the extreme end, there are many who are openly against spirituality and will do whatever they can to thwart the religious activities of others. When the strength of such demons becomes too great, the Lord personally descends to earth and deals with the situation. This was the case with Lord Rama, who appeared in Ayodhya many thousands of years ago. When the Lord comes to earth, His form is referred to as an avatara, which means one who descends. Where is He coming from? The spiritual world, Vaikuntha, a place free of anxieties, is the eternal home of the Lord and His non-different expansions. Though there are many religious systems, there is only one God, and He is for everyone. The Vedas tell us that God has many names in accordance with His infinite qualities and spiritual activities. His original name and form is Krishna, who then kindly expands Himself into other forms which also reside in the spiritual world. When the avatara appears on earth, it is usually one of Krishna’s expansions who makes the descent.

Lord Rama Appearing in the guise of a kshatriya, or warrior, Rama’s duty was to provide protection to the innocent. In those days, the Treta Yuga, governments were run by the warrior class. We shouldn’t think of it as the military men riding around with tanks and machine guns imposing marshal law on everyone. On the contrary, the kings were quite chivalrous during those times, and they didn’t perform any activity without first consulting the priestly class of men, the brahmanas. Lord Rama, being God Himself, obviously didn’t require any counsel from anyone, for He was the Brahman that the brahmanas were well aware of.

Not only was Rama extremely intelligent, but so was His younger brother Lakshmana. On one occasion, the two brothers were in the forest along with Rama’s wife, Sita, when she was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This infamous deed went down while Rama and Lakshmana were not by Sita’s side to protect her. Upon returning to their cottage, Rama saw that Sita was missing, so He immediately felt tremendous grief. He started asking the flowers and trees if they had seen her. Then He took to anger and was ready to destroy the whole world as revenge for His wife being taken away from Him.

Lakshmana At this time, Lakshmana kindly stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. The above referenced statement was part of his concluding remarks. We see that Lakshmana wholly recognized Rama’s divinity and fighting ability. He essentially told Rama, “You are more than capable of defeating anyone in this world. Therefore it is Your duty to get up and try to find Sita. If someone has taken her or hurt her, then it is Your duty to kill them, something which You can easily do.” This one statement by Lakshmana is important for two reasons. If a person is capable of defeating enemies, it is their duty to take the necessary actions to do so. If the heroic lie down and give way to lamentation, what hope is there for anyone else? People will have no one to look to for help, and they will feel as if they are not protected. This predicament is part of the storyline of your average Hollywood action movie. The hero goes through some troubling circumstance and seriously contemplates giving up. The people then are left to cower in fear of the enemy.

Lord Rama obviously didn’t need this advice, but He certainly appreciated it. The Lord would heed Lakshmana’s words and resume His search for Sita, eventually finding her and killing Ravana in the process. The second lesson we can take away from Lakshmana’s statement is that if we have knowledge on spiritual matters, we should take every opportunity we can to disseminate that information to others. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother, and thus a subordinate. Moreover, Lakshmana looked at Rama as his father, an object of worship. In this troubling situation, seeing his elder brother’s intelligence taken away by grief, it would have been understandable if Lakshmana just sat silently and said nothing. But Lakshmana was an intelligent devotee, having been taught about dharma and spirituality many times previously by Lord Rama Himself. Thus Lakshmana didn’t hesitate to correct his brother, in the end reminding Rama that he was just reiterating the same teachings the Lord had imparted on him on previous occasions.

“The human life is especially meant for self-realization. That is to say, man should come to know what he is, what the world is, and what the supreme truth is. Human life is a means by which the living entity can end all the miseries of the hard struggle for life in material existence and by which he can return to Godhead, his eternal home.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaSo how do Lakshmana’s teachings relate to us? First off, we are all blessed with the human form of life; a form which, in the opinion of the Vedas, is considered most auspicious. Why is this so? It is only in the human form of life that we can understand who we are, what our relationship to God is, and how we can break out of the repeated cycle of birth and death. So immediately upon taking birth, we human beings possess capital in the sense that we can work towards acquiring spiritual profit. If we don’t spend this capital, if we don’t take the necessary steps to understand God, we are no more advanced than the animals.

“Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Shri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.128)

Lord Chaitanya and associates Then there are those who have been fortunate enough to learn about Krishna by reading the Bhagavad-gita or by hearing from other devotees. For such fortunate souls, it is their duty to try their best to spread this same information to as many people as possible. It doesn’t mean that we all have to take up the renounced order of life and open up hundreds of temples around the world. This certainly would be nice, but it’s not required. The simplest way to teach others about Krishna is to always speak about Him and to always chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting is one way to teach others, but we can also talk about Krishna’s pastimes, explain why the soul is more important than the body, etc. There are so many little things that we can do that will go a long way towards spreading God consciousness around the world. We should have no fear in this respect, for we all have some capability in this area. There is nothing lost in the process, while there is everything to be gained. Spiritual knowledge is a terrible thing to waste, so we should make the most of the opportunities we have. This was the path taken by Lakshmana, and we are forever grateful to him for the example he set.

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