“We are all trying to achieve peace and freedom from these miseries, at least unconsciously, and in the higher intellectual circles there are attempts to get rid of these miseries by ingenious plans and designs. But the power that baffles all the plans and designs of even the most intelligent person is the power of Maya devi, or the illusory energy. The law of karma, or the result of all actions and reactions in the material world, is controlled by this all-powerful illusory energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 2)
When the adult reaches a mature stage in life, when life’s necessities are accounted for and there is a seemingly secure existence, the point of focus often turns towards redressing social ills, the miseries and pains endured by others. Indeed, it is seen that during times of economic downturn polling firms who ask citizens what they think of the economy get answers like, “I’m doing fine, but I’m really worried about my neighbor. I’m managing okay, but I know there are so many people suffering out there.” The compassion resting within the heart can be so strong that groups and commissions are formed to try to solve problems causing distress in local society and around the world. Yet, since no planning commission takes into account the all-powerful energy governing this world, who behaves without bias and prejudice, every remedy put forth will fail. On the other hand, for one who directly approaches the controller of the all-pervasive energy, the one person to whom material and spiritual distinctions don’t exist, all of life’s remedies can be quickly found, dissolving every type of misfortune, personal struggle, and unwarranted pity.
“End poverty now; save the poor; help the downtrodden”. These are the rallying cries for the popular activist groups. These movements are rooted in genuine compassion and heartfelt emotions, but we know that good intentions are not enough to earn success. Young children hope for success and happy things to come in the future, but if not for the actions of grownups, nothing would ever manifest. In a similar manner, simply wishing that everyone lived happily and in a peaceful condition cannot make the utopian view a reality.
Let’s look at a simple example to see where the planning commissions go wrong. As poverty is the primary focus of attention in the largest number of activist groups, let’s review some of the more common solutions applied towards ending it. Poverty is defined as a condition where opulences are lacking. Either income is very low, or material possessions are in short supply. Since there is little to no money, the person in poverty lives in essential squalor, conditions that the person on the planning commission couldn’t ever imagine enduring. The poverty stricken man must eat meats of poor quality, shop in stores that the plan maker wouldn’t be caught dead in, and live in a house located in a poor neighborhood.
Since poverty is a condition where essential items are missing, the most obvious solution is to distribute money. Transfer wealth from those who have too much to those who don’t have any. Seems like a logical enough solution, no? There are some members of society flying around in corporate jets and sailing on their many yachts over the weekend. Surely if they just gave a little bit more of their money to the right people, the entire world could be fed and poverty could be eliminated for good.
Continuing with the example, let’s say that we have five millionaires step up to the plate. We’ll use small denominations of money just because they are easier to work with, but the principles will carry over even to the largest scale. Each of these millionaires has generously agreed to donate one million dollars to help a single person victimized by poverty. Thus we have five million dollars we are giving out to five different people. The expected result is that every one of the aided will have all of their problems solved. They will no longer be in poverty, and they will have no reason to feel bad about themselves. No more worrying over how to put food on the table and whether or not they will have a place to live.
The keen observer, however, will accurately predict that in the majority of circumstances the five million dollars will do absolutely nothing to solve any problem. Just because we give someone money doesn’t mean that they will know what to do with it. This is in fact a common issue encountered by lottery winners, who are so known for wasting away their money very quickly that think tanks like the Sudden Money Institute had to be created to help people cope with coming into large sums of money. Think of the irony in that. Coming into a large sum of money is supposed to be a boon, the receiving of grand opulence, but there is nevertheless a support group established to help such people. Just as there are groups to help drug addicts, habitual gamblers, and those with anger problems, there are organizations to help those who get too much money too fast.
Of the five newly crowned millionaires, one may blow all of their money on cars and houses, another may waste it away on drugs, another on gambling at the racetrack, and another on opening a business that eventually folds. Even if one person actually uses the money to ensure that they never have to work again, there is still the issue of activity. If we place someone into a room and tell them they have nothing to worry about all day, that their food and drink will be provided for them, would they be happy? Actually, this is how prisoners are treated, and we know that the prison house is meant to be a punishment, a sort of rehabilitation center. Similarly, just having enough food to eat and a roof over the head is not enough to provide any sort of lasting satisfaction. If it were, the people running the planning commissions and activist groups would have been satisfied with their own material success.
Those on a higher level of thinking understand that every one of us starts off with everything. As God is the creator of this land, He is the original proprietor. Just because someone finds a piece of land and plants their flag on it doesn’t mean that they own anything. This earth and its bountiful fruits belong to every single person to utilize in their progressive march towards a purified consciousness. The planning commissions and the bleeding hearts concerned over poverty and social ills fail to realize the influence of maya, which governs the laws of karma. With every action, there is a reaction. This is quite easy to understand. If there is drug dependence and alcoholism, there will be negative consequences. The homeless often suffer from these problems. Just imagine, someone can become so fallen that they live on the streets, even when there is a significant portion of the world willing to help them. This shows that there are other factors involved in poverty that go unnoticed.
Studies in America have shown that if one graduates high school, waits until they get married to have children, and at least tries to find a job, they will have virtually no chance of finding poverty. These conclusions are not presented from the moral perspective either; they are just common sense. If you have children out of wedlock, you have to spend your time supporting them. If you haven’t graduated high school, you shut yourself out from the majority of high paying jobs. Similarly, if you have children to take care of by yourself, there is no time to invest in advancing your career, such as through going to college or attending specialized training schools.
Simply giving money to someone will not solve their problems, as there is no control over what they do with the money. This concept also applies to peace, as just asking that war be stopped will not make it so. One side may agree to stop their violence for a while, but if their desires are not altered for the better, they will inevitably stir up hostilities again. These factors are lost on the planning commissions because there is no concern given to maya, who manages karma.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, contain complete information, all the knowledge one could ever need. Every condition, favorable and unfavorable, is due to karma, or past deeds. Deeds are driven by desire, so as long as desire is not pointed in the proper direction, the dualities of poverty and wealth, distress and happiness, and cold and heat will continue. What’s more is that no one person or collection of individuals can control how karma works. Parents have firsthand experience of this on a smaller scale. A parent may try their best to get their child to grow up to be successful in life, to be a good person who is inclined to follow a certain direction, but since the child has their own nature and desires, there is no control over the outcome. Sometimes the children just don’t end up growing up to be like what you wanted them to be.
How do the Vedas tackle the problem of poverty? How do the Vedas deal with war? If we know the nature of the playing field we are dealing with, it becomes much easier to find the answers to life’s common problems. As karma is driven by desire, once desire is shifted in the proper direction, the resultant actions become purified. With pure activity come pure results. Human life is meant for awakening God consciousness and nothing else. Poverty and wealth are two extremes that are actually not different in the grand scheme. One person may sleep on the bare ground while another has a plush mattress, but the activity of sleeping is the same. One person may go through life worrying about money while another has too much money to know what to do with, but inevitable death will arrive all the same.
The real problem facing the human being is figuring out how to stop birth, old age, disease and death. None of these events are welcome, but they take place regardless. Maya, the governing agent of the material world, works under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Maya manages karma, which ensures that results are distributed fairly and at just the appropriate times. As long as one operates under maya, they will be forced to live by karma’s rules. Shri Krishna, on the other hand, is above maya. One who takes directly to His service by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, gradually purifies their behavior.
What is the difference between activity in karma and activity in Krishna consciousness? On the surface they appear to be the same, but the initial desire is what is different. When given a million dollars, the person operating under karma will think about their own enjoyment or the pleasure of some other entity that is not God. The person operating under Krishna’s direction will use whatever fortune they acquire for the Lord’s satisfaction. Krishna is described as atmarama, which means “self-satisfied”. Therefore He doesn’t need money or donations from His countless expansions residing in the innumerable universes. Yet, since the constitutional position of the living entity is that of servant of God, the sacrifices made for Krishna’s satisfaction actually provide pleasure to the performer first. Even chanting is a sacrifice, as it takes time to sit down, concentrate on the Lord’s beautiful form, and recite His name repeatedly each day. But this investment is the most worthwhile, as it brings the greatest benefits. Investments in ending poverty, stopping war, curing diseases and the like don’t carry much of a return. Without God consciousness, the aided living entities will remain fully under the grip of maya, thereby never finding a permanent peaceful condition.
The little faith invested in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can ensure that the devoted person purifies their thoughts and activities. In addition, whoever they come into contact with and explain Krishna to will also be benefitted immensely. There is no shortage of wealth in this world, for the animals are supplied their necessities by nature, which also operates under maya. With the animals, however, there is no such thing as sin, as they do not know any better. The human beings have the added bonus of being able to make incredibly poor decisions and suffer the negative consequences for them. Therefore all of life’s ills that we see in front of us are attributed directly to negative karma.
As the only way to redress the karma issue is to bypass its leader maya, the only remedy worth adopting is Krishna consciousness, which can be fostered by any person at any stage of life. Maya baffles every single plan made by the material enjoyer, but Krishna Himself can directly command maya to do whatever He wants. For the sincere bhakta, He transforms the material energy from an illusory one into a purely spiritual force that blows a fierce wind that elevates the spiritually conscious person back to the eternal land after death. One who reaches that majestic realm inhabited by Krishna and His nitya-siddhas will never have to take birth again, thus ensuring that karma will no longer leave them bewildered.