Vanity thought #64. On democracy and governments.

How does democracy go with Krishna consciousness, with varnashrama dharma? I understand that the way the government is put in place doesn’t really matter, it matters what it does when in power.

The ruler is supposed to act like a ruler regardless of whether he got his position passed down from his father or whether he convinced an assembly of his peers of his superior qualifications or whether he convinced millions of ordinary citizens to snub noses of his peers. Whatever system a society chooses, the goal is to find a person with most suitable qualities.

In modern age it means going through “democratic” procedures like elections. Like it or not but I believe that if devotees sometimes get hung up on questions of science and proof of Moon landings, expecting democratic approach to everything is a far deeper entrenched assumption. Okay, we have the guru system but it governs only small part of our daily interactions. Almost everything in our society is decided by consensus, we have a committee, GBC, as the ultimate authority after all. We accept opinions of senior devotees but we also make sure the seniors listen to suggestions from below.

Guru, sadhu, shastra – in our daily interactions we have guru blessings on each and every attempt at service, with a little research we can find shastric support for almost each and every idea, too, so the real test is getting the approval of sadhus, and it’s here where our quest for democracy and responsibility and rights shows up in fullest.

There’s nothing unique in expecting superiors to provide best care for their subordinates but our expectations in this area have been taught in schools, we’re just happy that they don’t get tramped on pages of Srimad Bhagavatam. We’re just happy that vedic ruler is supposed to provide the same rights and care we expect from democratically elected governments.

We don’t think too much about what vedic rulers were allowed to do for themselves. Kshatriyas were allowed to hunt and eat meat and enjoy life and that is basically as far as we are prepared to contemplate on the subject.

So it’s with this background in mind that I find one particular passage from Krishna book taking an unexpected turn. It’s from the chapter on rainy season in Vrindavana where Srimad Bhagavatam and Srila Prabhupada give us lots and lots of examples, parallels and metaphors for nurturing effects of the rain, from clouds compared to material nature to glowworms of Kali overshadowing vedic wisdom and so on. When it comes to governing, Prabhupada compared rainy season with distribution of taxes, so far so good, then he also talks about unjust government being like a dry season when the country loses all its reserves and energies.

At this point he compares opposition parties and leaders to ascetics undergoing severe penances and the advent of the rainy season to….. wait for it…. new rulers stuffing themselves with all the money they can lay their hands on!

What surprised me here was that Prabhupada was not judgmental here at all. This is the kind of behavior he totally expected from the arrival of “righteous” leaders. He certainly mentioned that penances and austerities should be accepted for realizing the Supreme Lord but as far as the earthly rulers go – they are expected to flourish by rewarding themselves.

If someone advanced this kind of argument in defense of, say temple presidents, ISKCON would have a revolution on its hands. We, the people of the 21st century, cannot possibly agree that our rulers are free to please themselves in any way they want. In the UK they are very proud that they keep their Queen on a tight budget, always comparing her upkeep to returns from selling her image to tourists. Elsewhere the rulers get officially capped salaries and benefits and live under close scrutiny.

If a president or a prime minister gets himself a woman on the side it’s a national scandal of monumental proportions. We cannot tolerate our leaders enjoying any more than we do ourselves.

The root cause of it is plain old envy.

In a vedic tradition, it seems, one does not even think of counting someone else’s money. In modern age, we, the “democrats”, expect total accountability from our governments, we treat them as equal. In the vedic tradition no one cared what the rulers did in their palaces as long as people were well taken care of.

Of course the objection can be raised that if people knew what was available for dinner at the palace they wouldn’t have been satisfied with their own meals but the answer to it could be: “Well, yes, but if you are judging your satisfaction by what your neighbor has you will never be at peace.” If it’s not your stomach that tells you you are full but your eyes looking at your neighbor’s table – it’s not going to work.

Growing up in a “democratic” tradition we expect to be the judge and the jury for everything our rulers do. Forget the law of karma – WE are the law. Kings are answerable to US. We are not prepared to wait for Krishna to judge the “wrongdoers”, WE must step into the palaces ourselves and do the total audit of all expenses and WE shall decide on the appropriate punishment and/or allowances.

I don’t believe this is a healthy attitude at all. Most of the time we are even unaware of it, it’s been with us for so long it’s buried deep in our subconsciousness.

I’m not saying each and every one of us is guilty of having it in each situation but this is something we should be on lookout for in ourselves. Unless being instructed to do so we shouldn’t even think of judging other devotees, especially given positions higher than ours – that’s the quickest way to commit vaishnava aparadha and thus commit a spiritual suicide.

We are not controllers in this world, it’s an illusion to act or think like ones.

We might have grown up in societies where we had some human or civil “rights” that we can demand at any time – this is an illusion. We shouldn’t carry these bad habits into our society.

Krishna is not the best among equals, it’s not a position anyone can fill if he proves himself. That’s what they told us back in school, this is how we look at our authorities – we shouldn’t.

This is another reason why Prabhupada’s preaching in the West was actually against impersonalism, against the idea that anyone can be God, that anyone can vote and overrule God’s plans. Those people invented some nonsense like “peoples’ Princess”, next they’ll vote on what to call God Himself.

Delusional, simply delusional, and we should weed out traces of that delusion from ourselves. This is the aspect that makes democracy totally against our spiritual principles – it gives us rights we don’t, can’t and shouldn’t have.

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