Yesterday I talked about Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations (link). It’s a bit murky there even in their own framework because they try to reconcile natural, inalienable rights with legal rights granted by the states, which implies that governments and people are supernatural entities. From our perspective both natural and legal rights are granted by the Lord who is in control both of material nature and people acting within it. Let’s look at this issue from the point of view of dharma, point of view of obligations.
The need for obligations to meet rights is acknowledged in the Declaration but due to the artificial difference between people and nature it lacks consistence and it doesn’t form the central point, which it should be.
Take the inalienable rights, for example, take Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” A fetus within mother’s womb does not have the liberty to move around, a new born baby does not have this liberty either, only in a few months can the newly born person start exercising this right and the obligation to provide it falls on the parents. Does it mean the nature fails in providing for this right until the baby is ready to exercise it? What about sick people confined to their beds, what about people paralyzed in accidents?
The nature does not care about its obligations under this “universal declaration”. It’s probably why some argue that these rights can be provided only by God. If He doesn’t sanction it they stop being “inalienable”. And what about trees? They do not have liberty nor security and cannot defend themselves. Of course we are talking about declaration of human rights so trees are not covered but for Kṛṣṇa there’s no principal difference because He is the father of all living beings, not just people.
When we talk about our rights and Kṛṣṇa we should understand that we don’t have any but Kṛṣṇa mercifully agrees to accept some obligations. He starts the universe going and that’s about it. The rest is imagined by ourselves – the rights, justice, struggle for freedom etc. The universe develops according to His plan and it doesn’t deviate. We, on the other hand, always want to make improvements. Kṛṣṇa is not obliged to follow even His own plans but normally He sees that the universe does its thing without fail. When we ask for changes here and there it’s our problem and Kṛṣṇa is not obliged to satisfy our demands.
The Lord doesn’t care for what we want, His friendly advice is to accept things the way He planned them and follow His orders, that’s all. The wants and desires forced on us by the material energy are under complete control of karma and if we make fuss about it He gives us lessons from Bhagavad Gītā – happiness and distress are like seasons, just be patient and they’ll go away.
We can also say that He meets His obligations via karma – whatever we deserve we invariably get. Whether we consider it a fulfilled right or a suffering it’s not His concern.
We can also look at the universe as a gift to living entities who finally get bodies to identify with, like trying on dresses. Is it an obligation on His part? Not really. He only guarantees that a new body will be given but He doesn’t make any promises as to what kind and where. Not His concern, even though He always accompanies each and every living entity through each and every body, never leaving our side. In this sense we can take His presence as the Supersoul as His universal obligation and we can say we have the right of His council. In that the Lord will never fail.
See how our rights here are always result of Kṛṣṇa taking some obligations first? Does it extend to devotional service, too? Unfortunately not. By our constitutional position we are His eternal servants and in that we have the right to service but whether He accepts it or not and whether He engages us or not is not guaranteed. We don’t have the right to pure devotion right here right now. Maybe this should be a discussion for another day.
Back to “universal rights” – natural rights do not exist beyond our karma and there’s nothing we can do about it but when it comes to governments then even in Vedic system there’s a sense of obligation by the King to provide all the inalienable rights and more. Vedic idea is that the righteous king is a representative of God and if he does his job right his subjects will get only good karma and nothing bad will happen to them.
This is an interesting twist because in Kali yuga it doesn’t work, we have to deal with bad karma all the time and we never blame our governments but only ourselves. In Vedic times, however, peace and prosperity WERE natural as if it was an extension of Vaikuṇṭha. People had high expectations and, if their kings were really representatives of God, the obligation of God to reward His faithful servants was always fulfilled.
Modern governments are incapable of this, of course, but they do understand that it’s their duty to arrange nature in such a way that their citizens are happy in every respect. They might not believe in God but they do have the idea that they have to do their jobs right, ie follow dharma, and this should bring results. God or not but they have elevated management and politics into science – they know that there are laws governing success and so they try very hard to figure what their correct dharma is.
The UN declaration in this sense is not descriptive but prescriptive. They do not really mean that these rights are universal but they demand governments to accept these obligations. They say that it’s governments’ obligations that are universal and every state must accept them, and from that the rights will follow. The language of the declaration is not for the people to enjoy but for governments to implement. If they don’t implement them then these “universal” rights will cease to exist.
At the end of the day everything comes from following dharma – karma, rewards, and human rights, too. Or we could say that what they call “human rights” falls under artha and kāma, which follows dharma – obligations.