After California voters passed Proposition 13 and cut back state property taxes by seven billion dollars, the Los Angeles county government responded to the taxpayers' revolt by announcing plans to reduce spending on public services like libraries and schools. So when I went to the neighborhood branch library not long ago, I kept my ears open.
Usually, the librarians are a quiet crew. But today they were gathered in small groups and worrying quite audibly. The bespectacled older ladies in the circulation department, the high-school kids who shelve the books, and the intelligent-looking young professionals fresh out of library school all were talking about their uncertain futures, and some were even daring to voice nervous criticisms of the "higher-ups."
A young lady with shoulder-length dark brown hair was sitting at the reference desk. I needed a book that didn't seem to be on the shelves and asked her if she could get it from another branch.
"Well, I just don't know," she said apologetically. "I can't even get stamps to mail out requests. But I'll try on the phone if it's still connected."
"About how long will it take to get it if they have it there?" I asked.
"It's hard to say," she said as she dialed. "If they cut back on services, it might take forever. I don't even know if I'll be working here tomorrow. There might not even be a library." She was smiling wanly as she spoke, trying to carry on in the free-and-easy California way.
A short, balding man in his fifties was standing next to me, and he had something to add. "These politicians you know they're getting a million dollars a year to run their own staffs, and you can be sure they aren't cutting back on them,"
Myself, I couldn't help remembering an old Vedic prediction. Five thousand years ago the great sage Vyasa said our age would be cursed with unbearable taxation. And I remembered that several years before the Jarvis-Gann initiative made the ballot, my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada made a point: "Every year the government men are exacting heavy taxes, and whatever money they receive they divide among themselves, while the citizens' condition remains the same every government is doing that." And somehow, I couldn't really believe that Proposition 13 was going to change things very much.
"Well, I guess we're not indispensable," said a serious-looking reference librarian, about thirty or so, with a neatly-trimmed beard. Some of the patrons (who more than likely had voted "Yes on 13," as the bumper stickers had said) were standing around looking like they were having second thoughts. It seems no one likes to see someone else lose his job. You can never tell who'll be next.
I was feeling a little sympathetic toward the young library professionals. They were my own age, they probably came from the same middle-class background. All they wanted was a nice public service job, so that they could make a decent living, help people, and at the same time nurture their own intellectual and cultural interests.
I recalled that I had once worked as an assistant reference librarian in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a federally funded position, and since I was a veteran and had a few years of college, I got it. A nice job. I sat at a desk, and people would come up to me all day long with questions about anything from what was the address of their congressman to what were the latest do-it-yourself manuals on repairing motorcycle engines. It felt good knowing that I was helping them find the answers.
I imagined that my counseling, problem-solving role harked back a little to what the old-time brahmanas of India must have done. Of course, realbrahmanas would never have taken a paycheck. People naturally appreciated their teachings and looked after their needs. So they couldn't be hired and fired by politicians and businessmen. And they didn't smoke marijuana, play poker, eat steakburgers, or chase women, as I was doing.
In the old Krsna conscious culture, the brahmanas taught not only the usual arts and sciences but also the science of self-realization and realization of God. And they taught not only by what they said but also by what they did, they were gentle, truthful, forgiving, austere, kind, and pure. When I was working at the library I sensed I was deficient on all these counts, though nobody ever put it to me like that and I didn't really think much about it.
And unfortunately, nobody has ever put it like that to the perplexed young librarians with the Proposition 13 jitters. They do know a lot about the Dewey decimal system, and they do try 10 be kind and helpful. But no one has ever trained them to be self-reliant, full of transcendental knowledge, and perfect in character. If someone were to come up and ask them, "What books will tell me how to get free from old age, disease, death, and rebirth, and can you explain them to me?" they wouldn't know what to say. The books are the Vedic literatures, and the only people that can explain them are qualified brahmanas.
So although in one sense I sympathized with the straight-haired young lady and her bearded co-worker, in another sense I didn't. They don't really deserve a privileged position in society.
But they could. They could become real brahmanas lead pure lives, learn the science of self-realization, and help bring some sanity to this country and the world.
The social body is a lot like our own bodies. It needs legs (workingmen and craftsmen to provide essential services), a stomach (farmers and merchants to keep food and other necessities coming), arms (government and military men to organize and protect), and brains-brains, to guide and give direction. The social body needs brahmanas.
Happily, under the guidance of Srila Prabhupada and his disciples, now thousands are learning how to become brahmanas: they're studying how to solve life's real problems however you feel about Proposition 13, you're still going to gel old and diseased and die. And like the brahmanas of old, they aren't becoming the salaried employees of business or government. They aren't trotting from door to door with degrees and resumes between their teeth and tails wagging, like dogs in search of a master, Through books, lectures, and personal guidance, they're giving the science of self-realization to people all over the country and the world, and people are giving whatever they can to keep the work going.
So while Proposition 13 is giving nightmares to many paid public servants around the country, real brahmanas aren't worried at all. Abrahmana's service to mankind doesn't depend on a paycheck with cost-of-living increases. Instead, it's inspired by a sincere desire to help people become free from ignorance, free from death and rebirth. And if any out-of-work librarians, professors, social workers, or teachers want to find out how to become a brahmana, they can visit the Krsna center nearest them and ask about it it's a great career.