Tattvavit Dasa

Tattvavit Dasa

THE COVER STORY, "India Turning Fifty," in National Geographic (May 1997) quoted Nehru, India's first prime minister, as having said that, after independence from Britain, India would rediscover herself. To Nehru, this rediscovery meant that India needed to manage virtually without industry in 1947 a poor, growing population living in the grip of a caste system. Now, the article showed, middle managers of industries in Bangalore live in new classy housing developments while a homeless woman in Calcutta cooks on a sidewalk, cows are still "revered enough by Hindus to roam the streets," and Indians still perform rituals in the holy Ganges. Naturally, to some observers, India's problems and divisions seem to leave her devotions unfulfilled. Thus people doubt that India's spiritual heritage as old as time can cure human woes.

Yet a week after I saw the article last spring, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's prime minister, commended ISKCON for globalizing the appeal of Bhagavad-gita. ISKCON's message, he said, is founded on the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita, which "answers all the moral concerns and needs of the world." How could he make that claim for the Gita? To find out, let's relate the teachings of Bhagavad-gitato some of the moral issues raised in the National Geographic article.

National Geographic reported, "An ancient Hindu verse says that one who kills, eats, or permits the slaughter of a cow will 'rot in hell for as many years as there are hairs on the body of the cow so slain.'" Although not specifically from the Gita, this is a Vedic answer to one moral concern: the treatment of animals. People can eat lower animals or cows that die naturally. People should never kill cows, which are revered as the mothers of humanity because they supply milk. Cows and bulls are the most useful animals, and the Bhagavad-gita says that farmers should fully protect them.

Horribly, people twist the idea of protecting animals. Recently, when an investigator claimed that unlawful, inhumane practices are routine in the six thousand slaughterhouses in America, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute responded, "Animals are our raw materials. We have no incentive to hurt them."

From the state of Punjab, National Geographic reported that "the Golden Temple in Amritsar serves as the spiritual center for the world's twenty million Sikhs. 'From Hindus and Muslims have I broken free,' said Arjan Deva Ji, the fifth Sikh guru, in the 1590s. The faith holds all people equal in the eyes of God."

Bhagavad-gita teaches that designations like Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, Indian or American, and even human being are false, or temporary, like the bodies they designate. You are not your body but a spirit soul, Bhagavad-gita says; so forget designations and purify your consciousness by using your senses and mind in the service of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. ISKCON devotees are Hindus, Christians, Americans, Indians everything but they give up the bodily conception. Srila Prabhupada mentioned about his first followers, "If they had thought, 'I am an American,' then why would they have sought out me, a poor Indian man?"

Indians are known outside India as poor, and it's a fact, Srila Prabhupada said in 1977. National Geographic put today's poverty rate in India at thirty-six percent. Poverty is another moral concern addressed in Bhagavad-gita: The Supreme Being lines up your suffering and enjoyment according to karma, the reactions to what you did in a past life. Srila Prabhupada, therefore, uplifted the poor to Krsna consciousness by giving them the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra and Krsna-prasadam, food that relieves karmic reactions.

In 1977, however, Srila Prabhupada told the editor of a Bombay newspaper that Indians are actually not poor: "If we cultivate our own standard of knowledge, Bhagavad-gita, then we are the richest, and we can give the whole world the gift. That is India's prerogative. The whole world is in the darkness of ignorance, so India was expected after independence to give the real knowledge. Instead, she became victimized by the glimmer of material civilization. So I wanted that such a magnificent gift from the side of India be contributed to the world."

It's five decades after independence, but as Srila Prabhupada had wished, India may still give the world real knowledge. After lauding Prabhupada's contribution of globalizing Bhagavad-gita'smessage, the prime minister advocated applying on a national scale the ethic of the Gita (2.50), yogah karmasu kausalam: yoga is the art of all work. "This will create a new work culture," Mr. Vajpayee said, "and a new work culture will create a new India."

Tattvavit Dasa recently edited "Surrender Unto Me" An Overview of the Bhagavad-gita, by Bhurijana Dasa.