Watt's So Funny

Secretary of the Interior James Watt was forced to resign because of some unfortunate remarks he made about his appointees to a national coal commission. His panel had, he said, "every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews, and a cripple."

The almost universal outrage at this statement suggests that people expect the nation's leaders to display a vision of equality that goes beyond the obvious disparities of physical form and appearance. So there arises a nagging question what kind of equality are we then talking about? After all, the woman on the panel isn't a man, the black person isn't white, the Jews aren't Moslems, and the physically disabled person is, in fact, in some way crippled. If there is equality, we have to look further. It's doubtful that many of the people who got upset at Mr. Watt's remarks have analyzed this very deeply. But their response does point to an instinctive awareness that the equality of human beings transcends material conceptions, that it is ultimately a spiritual equality.

In other words, we expect our kings to be philosophers. In ancient India's civilization this ideal was actually attained, and a ruler would be known as a rajarsi (saintly king). The rajarsis received a kind of training for political leadership that has not been talked about very much in the West since the days of Plato, who wanted philosopher-kings to rule his republic.

In the Bhagavad-gita it is said, panditah sama-darsinah: a wise man sees all living beings with equal vision. But this outlook was not meant just for solitary mystics. The Gita's knowledge was specifically intended for those who governed society.

According to the Vedas, the equality of all living beings lies in their common origin in the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states that all living beings are equally His spiritual parts. As the authors of the Declaration of Independence correctly stated five thousand years later, "All men are created equal." Properly understood, this statement refers to the soul, not the body.

Without the presence of the soul, the body is simply a lifeless combination of material elements. The Bhagavad-gita compares the soul to the driver of a machine. So we may see that one man is riding a bicycle and another is driving a car. The first may be going twenty miles per hour and the other, ninety miles per hour. Still another man may be flying a jet airplane. Essentially the drivers are equal, but because of their vehicles they manifest different powers and abilities. Similarly, the soul may be present in a body that is male or female, black or white, Christian or Jewish, crippled or uncrippled. But although the bodies may be different, the souls within are the same.

A government administrator must understand this and help others to understand this, because only this knowledge will free people from suffering. Every material body must grow old, get sick, and die. And then, according to the law of karma, the soul must enter another material body and repeat the process. Understanding this, a leader will be able to act for the citizens' real welfare. Ultimately, this means educating the people in the techniques of self-realization, so that they can be freed from the cycle of birth and death.

A leader lacking this higher knowledge will be unable to see with equal vision. He will make all kinds of distinctions based upon the physical body. And rather than helping the citizens, he will tend to misuse his powerful position to exploit them. Ultimately, the reason so many people were upset about Watt's remarks, was that they revealed, however indirectly, his potential to act in a way injurious to those under his care. And that's not a laughing matter, as Mr. Watt himself found out; it's a disqualification for holding public office. But the big question is, How many more of our public officials have attitudes and perceptions similar to Watt but are more expert in concealing them?