“One who has actually realized that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is situated in everyone’s heart and that every living being is part of the Lord does not make any distinction between the brahmana and the shudra, the poor (daridra) and the rich (dhani). Such a person sees all living beings equally and treats them equally, without discrimination.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.21.7 Purport)
One of the more common complaints lodged by citizens towards their government relates to the delivery of benefits to specific groups rather than society at large. One politician is looking to help one group of voters, while another is looking to aid a completely different cross-section of people. After applying a little intelligence, the folly of this style of government is quickly revealed. Every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law. No one person should garner any favoritism over another, yet we see that just the opposite occurs. What can be done to rid the government of this practice? When will the day come when our leaders will stop hyphenating every one of us and start looking at everyone equally? While many solutions have been tried, only one works. This solution comes to us from the ancient seers of India; the great saints who spent much time pondering the truths of life, and who subsequently put such truths into written form.
To solve the issue relating to the hyphenation of citizens, we must first identify the root cause of such a mindset. Why would a politician choose to divide their citizens this way? The most obvious reason lies with vote-getting. In a democratic-style government, the leaders are elected through a popular vote. This means that winning and losing, who gets into power and who doesn’t, are determined by whoever can garner more votes. Depending on the scope of the election, the electorate can be small in size or it can be very large. Tackling a large problem directly can be a bit overwhelming at first, therefore the wise course of action is to divide the problem up into smaller portions. For example, when we are building a house, we don’t think of the finished product right away. Instead, we work on the foundation, laying the groundwork for the rest of the project. Then we handle the different components, like the columns, the electrical layout, and the divisions of the rooms. Similarly, when writing a large scale computer application, the project gets divided into different components. First the architecture is decided upon, then the different components are written. Even inside of each program, there are different modules, or units of code. You start out with something small and eventually work your way towards the finished product.
In the arena of politics, the formula for success is similar. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped that “all politics is local”. This means that since every issue boils down to local interests, the key to success is to find grassroots support amongst various groups who are enthused about voting. Extrapolating this out even further, success in politics relates to turnout, getting your base to come out in large numbers to vote. In order for this to occur, one must identify their base. The base consists of various special interest groups; bands of citizens who have formed together for a common cause. There are special interest groups concerned about taxes, gun rights, benefits for the poor, marriage rights, etc. The key to victory in an election is to first define which of these groups make up your base and then have as many members of this base come out and support you.
Winning the election is one thing, but governing is a different ballgame. After winning an election, all the people that turned out to vote for you must be rewarded. This is where all the special interest deals and earmarks come into play. Not only do the voting groups need to be rewarded for their efforts in previous elections, but they need to be kept satisfied in order to secure their vote in a future election. Politicians love to stay in office; as long as they are in a position of power, they garner great attention, wealth, and fame.
This special interest mentality is quite off-putting to the majority of the voting public. After all, isn’t the government supposed to administer the law fairly and equally? Taxes are collected from everyone, so shouldn’t the government exist to benefit every single citizen? Yet as much as people complain, the practice of divide-and-conquer continues. Politicians decide to help the African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Union-Americans, Christian-Americans, etc., instead of just helping all Americans, all the citizens of their country.
The source of the problem is vote-getting. Politicians want to win more than anything else, so they will do whatever it takes to achieve that end, even if it means favoring certain citizens over others. So how do we solve this problem? Do we change our way of government? That could certainly help, but such a change is not necessary. So far we have only discussed one side of the issue: the politician. There is also the other side: the voter. While the politician’s flawed viewpoint is due to his or her desire to gain office, such a mindset would never be adopted were it not effective. The divide-and-conquer technique is only effective if the voters buy into the promises made by the politicians. When politicians say they are for the “little guy”, the Hispanic, the Black, the foreclosure victim, the gun-owner, the businessman, they are hoping that citizens will identify themselves as belonging to one of these groups. Thus it is the mindset of the citizen that is the root cause of the hyphenated phenomenon.
Is this identification flawed? If I am a business owner and a politician says that he’ll help me out, should I not believe him? According to the ancient scriptures of India, this mindset is most certainly flawed. The identity of the individual comes from the soul. Let’s think of it in these terms: The practice of racism is widely shunned today because it is based on discrimination. One person is prejudging the qualities of another simply based on that person’s outward dress, their skin color. A white person is thinking a black person is inferior or defective in nature, and vice versa. It’s obvious to see why such a viewpoint is frowned upon, for a person’s character is determined by what’s inside the body. Just because a person’s skin color is a certain way doesn’t mean that they are defective, inferior, or superior.
Shunning racism is certainly a good start, but the concept needs to be applied on a larger scale. Taking birth in this temporary and miserable world, the living entity falsely identifies with their outward features. Not only do people discriminate based on race, but on ethnicity, nationality, income, and geographical location as well. If there are no differences between people of the various races, there certainly aren’t differences between nationalities and occupations. One person may be a carpenter, while another is a doctor, but are they not both human beings? Since the Vedas come from God, Lord Krishna to be exact, they relate concrete information pertaining to the differences and similarities between life forms and species. Each individual life form has a spirit soul residing within. It is the presence of the soul which gives something life. Once the soul exits, the life form is considered dead. Vedic information tells us that not only do all human beings have a soul inside of them, but so do all animals, plants, beasts, and aquatics. In this regard, every form of life is constitutionally equal and should be treated as such.
“‘Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the original Personality of Godhead, Govinda, who regulates the sufferings and enjoyments due to fruitive activity. He does this for everyone—from the heavenly King Indra down to the smallest insect [indra-gopa]. That very Personality of Godhead destroys the karmic reactions of one engaged in devotional service.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.54)
So does this mean that we should treat the ants in the same way that we treat our fellow man? The short answer is “yes”, but this mindset is not easily adopted. One must first know the constitutional position of the individual soul. Only then can a person truly realize that all forms of life have a soul in them. Vedic information stipulates that there is a God, and though He may have different names, the name that best describes His all-merciful, all-attractive nature is Krishna. Lord Krishna is the origin of all souls, the island from which all other souls sailed away from at some time unknown to them. Since the natural home for the soul is with God, it is the soul’s inherent duty to always serve the Supreme Lord in a loving attitude. The set of guidelines, regulations, and prescribed activities that enable one to always maintain this link is known as dharma. Mankind is meant to always stay on the path of dharma, and thus always remain connected with Krishna. When the individual soul always remains in the company of the Supreme Soul, knowledge about the equality of all living entities is easily acquired.
Just as we saw with the tasks of building houses and computer programs, the problem of the hyphenation of the electorate can only be solved by tackling smaller problems first. In this instance, the smaller problem, that of the material “skin disease”, is actually the root problem. We can’t expect our politicians to stop looking at citizens based on their bodily features until we shed this mindset ourselves. This purification of vision can only be achieved by adhering to dharma, and more specifically, bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is the set of law codes established by God, recommended activities aimed at keeping one on the virtuous path. In this sense, dharma can vary based on its intended object of connectivity. This speaks to God’s infinite nature. Some view God as being an all-inclusive energy, while others think of Him as a man in the sky who punishes those who forget Him. In this way, dharma can be directed at different features of the Lord. Bhagavata-dharma is more specific in that it aims to keep the living entity always connected with God in His feature of Bhagavan. Krishna is Bhagavan, the original form of Godhead which is all-blissful and the source of the greatest joy to the individual soul. While bhagavata-dharma can be quite complex, its quintessential act is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
Those who take up this chanting process are aiming to connect with Bhagavan. They immediately bypass Brahman and Paramatma realization. The mentally concocted objects of worship are also soon forgotten. Bhagavata-dharma is the highest dharma, the only one worth taking up. Through this process, one begins to see every person, every living entity, as being equal. Not only do the hyphens get removed from the various groups of countrymen, but all citizens of the world are seen as equal as well. When the majority of the electorate adopts this angle of vision, the divide-and-conquer method employed by the politicians will always fail. In this age of Kali, there is no way to rid mankind of the skin disease other than through this chanting process. Chant God’s names, stay connected with Bhagavan, and you will soon see that every person around you is a spirit soul who is meant to always be in the Lord’s association. This is the perfect vision.