The real business of a chief executive is to see to the happiness of the mass of people by training them in Krsna consciousness in different divisions of life. Catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah (Bg. 4.13). A leader should train the people as brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras and engage them in various occupational duties, thus helping them progress toward Krsna consciousness. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.1.17, purport)
In my last column we saw how the government spends billions of dollars in a "crusade against crime" that creates lots of fanfare but doesn't protect citizens. Part of the latest move in the U.S. is a call from citizens for increased use of the death penalty.
The Vedic scriptures do, in fact, recommend the death penalty for murder and other severe crimes. According to the laws of karma, a criminal who undergoes the death penalty has his sufferings in the next life reduced. And in a well-trained society, a death penalty can deter crime.
But in an untrained society, simply imposing a death penalty loses much of its effectiveness for protecting society. That's understandable. If a trained dog begins to attack someone and the master swats the dog and tells him to stop, the dog will fall back. If an untrained dog starts to attack, hitting him can just make him crazier and more vicious.
Srila Prabhupada explains that the basis of real protection for citizens is training according to varnasrama, the system of social divisions Srila Prabhupada mentions above. The government should ensure that all citizens are trained in work that suits their nature and engaged in appropriate occupations. Once properly placed in that way, the citizens can make spiritual advancement.
It is very difficult to rule citizens in a kingdom without organizing varnasrama-dharma. To rule the mass of citizens in a state and keep them in a complete progressive order is not possible simply by passing laws every year in a legislative assembly. Varnasrama-dharma is essential in a good government.
One class of men (the brahmanas) must be intelligent and brahminically qualified, another class (the ksatriyas) must be trained in administrative work, another (the vaisyas) in mercantile business, and another (the sudras) simply in labor. These four classes of men are already there according to nature, but it is the government's duty to see that all four of these classes follow the principles of their varnas[occupational categories] methodically. This is called abhiraksana, or protection. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.29.81, purport)
Wherever there are untrained, unemployed people, the government has failed in its first duty for protecting its citizens.
In Krsna consciousness we're concerned that the government do much more than protect the citizens from bodily harm. The ideal government also ensures the spiritual protection of its citizens. The government's duty is not simply to train its citizens and keep them employed but to train and employ them in occupations that have spiritual as well as material benefits.
Naturally, most citizens tend to be suited for work as vaisyas (farmers, merchants) and sudras (laborers). If they are trained and employed by a government informed by spiritual values, their work will be quite different from that of people guided by materialists.
As Srila Prabhupada mentions, the four classes of citizens already naturally exist, but the work of the citizens will be of little or no spiritual value unless the citizens are trained to follow the principles of their varna. Let's look at what following those principles would mean for vaisyas.
In crude terms, a grain farmer, a beef rancher, a drug dealer, a tobacco farmer, a cosmetics salesperson, and a vegetable vendor could all be said to be acting according to the vaisya nature. Yet some of their activities are decidedly detrimental to spiritual advancement. Why? Because the workers are not acting according to the principles of the vaisya varna. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.44) Lord Krsna outlines the principles for those who earn their livelihood by vaisya work:
"Farming, cow protection, and business are the natural work for the vaisyas." Srila Prabhupada elaborates:
The mercantile class is meant for producing food grains and distributing them to the complete human society so that the whole population is given a chance to live comfortably and discharge the duties of human life. The mercantile class is also required to give protection to the cows in order to get sufficient milk and milk products, which alone can give the proper health and intelligence to maintain a civilization perfectly meant for knowledge of the ultimate truth. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.5.37, purport)
Obviously, the beef rancher is not carrying out his vaisya duties of cow protection. Neither the tobacco farmer nor the drug dealer can hope to make spiritual progress by producing and selling intoxicants. And though the cosmetics seller may fill some useful role, if all vaisyas made their living selling skin cream the basic vaisya work of growing food and protecting cows would fall by the wayside. Someone needs to oversee the balance of workers in society so that the essential jobs get done. Even though not all the vaisyas I've mentioned work in trades that go with spiritual advancement, anyone with vaisya tendencies can be properly trained in the vaisya varna and make spiritual progress engaged in vaisyas work.
In conclusion, laws and punishments can be of only secondary importance in protecting the citizens. The first principle of protection is to give people a chance to earn their livelihood in occupations pleasing to the Lord. As Srila Prabhupada explains, "Discharging one's occupational duty as a means of rendering devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate goal of life." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.20.9, purport)
Next time we'll find out how a society's relationship with cows can influence human social relations.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.
Creating Lawful Citizens
SIMPLY ENFORCING laws and ordinances cannot make the citizens obedient and lawful. That is impossible. Throughout the entire world there are so many states, legislative assemblies, and parliaments, but still the citizens are rogues and thieves. Good citizenship, therefore, cannot be enforced; the citizens must be trained. As there are schools and colleges to train students to become chemical engineers, lawyers, or specialists in many other departments of knowledge, there must be schools and colleges to train students to become brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, sudras, brahmacaris, grhasthas, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis. This will provide the preliminary condition for good citizenship (varnasrama-gunan-vitah). (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.10.50, purport)