Misusing religion in Kali yuga
Srimad Bhagavatam – 1.17.13
akhyahi vrsa bhadram vah
atma vairupya kartaram
parthanam kirti dusanam
O bull, you are offenseless and thoroughly honest; therefore I wish all good to you. Please tell me of the perpetrator of these mutilations, which blackmail the reputation of the sons of Partha.
The reputation of the reign of Maharaja Ramachandra and that of the kings who followed in the footsteps of Maharaja Ramachandra, like the Pandavas and their descendants, are never to be forgotten because in their kingdom offenseless and honest living beings were never in trouble. The bull and the cow are the symbols of the most offenseless living beings because even the stool and urine of these animals are utilized to benefit human society. The descendants of the sons of Partha, like Maharaja Parikshit, were afraid of losing their reputations, but in the modern days the leaders are not even afraid of killing such offenseless animals. Herein lies the difference between the reign of those pious kings and the modern states ruled by irresponsible executive heads without knowledge of the codes of God.
These are words spoken by Bhumi the cow addressing Dharma, the bull. atma vairupya kartaram – the bull is being harmed by a strange man who is actually the kali purusha and so the cow is saying, please tell me who is causing this to you? You are sadhunam and akrtagasam and yet somebody is harming you. So these two words are used to describe dharma, the bull – one is sadhunam and the other is akrtagasam. Prabhupada has translated sadhunam as – thoroughly honest and akrtagasam – offenceless. So the bull obviously here is symbolizing dharma and it is said that Dharma, the bull is thoroughly honest and offenceless. Prabhupada has explained nicely in the purport, the cow and the bull are so offenceless, they always want to benefit the human society, so much so that their stool and urine is also benefitting the human society and still this person, kali purusha was harming the bull.
Sometime back, when I was travelling there was an elderly American man who sat next to me and he looked at me and asked, you are a monk? And I said yes, I am a Hindu monk from India. And then he said, I am an atheist. So then I didn’t say much and he continued. “I was in the US Army and we read a lot of history and most of the wars were fought because of religion, and so I became an atheist.” And historically also people have used the name of religion to inspire fighting and wars. In the World Wars, the Nazi Germany soldiers had their belt with the etching - God with us. So the soldiers were taught to think that God is with us, so you must go and fight. During the World War, the common phrase in America was, Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. So as a result people have become very disappointed and unhappy about religion.
I heard about another international institution which promotes speaking skills and they as a policy don’t talk about three things – one, religion, two, politics, three, sex. Just see how people want to keep away from religion. But what does the Bhagavatam say? The Bhagavatam is saying, the bull is representing dharma - thoroughly honest and completely offenceless. This is what religion is meant to be, but what it has come to mean and what is the common people’s understanding today about religion? The whole concept of religion has been misunderstood.
There is a very beautiful letter that Srila Prabhupada wrote to an enquirer. Somebody wrote to him in 1970 asking about religion and some such things. In that letter Prabhupada explains what religion is. The process of elevating oneself through various platforms of understanding to reach the highest understanding of God, to reach the highest status of human life, not even God. Prabhupada does not even bring God into this definition. To reach the highest status of human life is called religion.
There are many platforms of understanding life. The very basic platform is what Prabhupada called the bodily concept of life and people want to elevate oneself in that by having better and more material acquisitions and they consider that as elevating oneself. No doubt it is also one kind of elevation, but there is a certain place for that. Then there is another platform of understanding about life - the sensual, bodily platform. The platform of understanding my identity is not just the body. I have a thinking mind and I must elevate myself through education - that is elevating oneself. So people pursue education, art, literature, music to elevate oneself. Even higher than that is the understanding of our identity – is it the body, is it the mind and the intelligence or is there something higher than that, the understanding of the soul?
So the process of elevating oneself through these platforms of understanding and coming to a higher status of human life is called religion. So then when one becomes more and more enlightened and educated, then concepts of gratitude, equity, all of these things come into picture. Why there is the concept of gratitude? Because you take benefit from someone and then when you understand you are taking so much from God, then naturally you should develop gratitude towards God who is providing all these things to us.
So this is how the understanding of God comes in and then Srila Prabhupada explains in the same letter; now in the human form of life there are certain prescribed duties. According to our Vedic culture, religion is not a kind of faith. Religion is a process for elevating human life through various platforms of understanding and bringing one to the highest status of human life.
Then Prabhupada explains, Vedic culture defines certain duties for human beings.
When human beings perform those duties and abstain from certain activities they become more and more eligible to understand God. Regulation of senses is essential to elevate one’s consciousness and that is very nicely described in Vedic culture in the form of the three modes of nature which are constantly influencing the consciousness of a human being - the person’s thinking, aspirations, activities. All of them being influenced by material nature – sattva guna, rajo guna and tamo guna.
When those duties are performed, they gradually get elevated to higher states of consciousness by elevating from the lower modes to the higher modes, the sattva guna. Prabhupada explains, the highest religion is that which brings one to the point of developing love of God. There is understanding of God, there is fear of God, there is obedience to God. Something that is higher than all this – love of God. This love of God is not sentimental, it is based on understanding. That is why Bhagavatam says - bhaktya sruta grhitaya that bhakti or love of God should be – sruta grhitaya – should be on the foundation of understanding. Because the moment we say, love of God, people will rush to think, I know you are talking about some very sentimental stuff, people praying and all those kind of things; which sometimes conveys the idea that it is lacking understanding. That is why Krishna says, budha bhava samanvitah,
aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava samanvitah
It is a very beautiful verse in the Bhagavad gita, which actually encapsulates the Vedanta philosophy, which is all about understanding the source of everything and Krishna is saying - aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate – everything is coming from Me and from Me everything has emanated. iti matva – those who know this bhajante mam – they worship Me or render service unto Me, bhajante mam and budha – they are very wise, matva means knowing. Such people render service to Him with full of bhava, devotion.
So this verse explains that how bhava or devotion is there but it is with understanding, not some sentimentalism. And then Prabhupada is concluding that letter, he says the highest form of religion is that which brings one to the platform of developing love of God. So we can see how religion has to be properly understood. But unfortunately, in Kali yuga, in the last one thousand years or so, religion has been misused, misunderstood and politicians have used religion to inspire fighting just to promote their struggle for power or for commerce. So today educated people want to keep away from religion. Those who are transmitting the knowledge of religion have a great responsibility because you may talk great things in the name of religion but if it does not translate into character in the human society, nobody is going to buy your idea.
That is why Prabhupada writes in another letter in 1974 – we have to keep ourselves ideal in our character and only then we will be able to influence the society. Brahmanas were known to be ideal in their character so that they could teach religion to the rest of the society. Religion is not meant to offend people, but it is meant to benefit people, by elevating them gradually and bringing them to the highest level of human development in the form of becoming a lover of God, conscious of God. As Krishna says in the Gita – the kings were trained in this knowledge so that they would rule the kingdom on the basis of these principles which facilitate and enable elevation of all human society.
It is a fact that we cannot deny, all of us have desires, material desires, and we cannot easily erase them all of a sudden. So Vedic culture addresses all these things and says that you have a certain nature, you divide the society according to these different natures, engaged in certain duties and when they do those duties under the direction of the Vedic literatures and the brahmanas, and then all of them will get an opportunity to elevate their consciousness. It is meant for promoting people from one level of understanding to another level of understanding. It is about understanding of life and parallelly being conscious of the bodily demands and different people have different urges and we have to deal with it in a natural way. But at the same time one should try to elevate one’s consciousness. Keeping all of these things in mind the varnashrama system was designed in Vedic culture. When one is elevated spiritually in his consciousness, then the bodily demands will diminish. And that is not possible for everyone, but everyone should get an opportunity for elevating from whichever level they are in. That varnashrama system has been misunderstood, religion and dharma has been misunderstood from the original concept of the religion.
And then it is said here – the kings were conscious of this, they were educated in this knowledge and they would rule the society, they had power. When somebody has power or wealth it can corrupt the human mind. So the king who was powerful, the vaishyas, the producers who were also wealthy, the two of these sections of the society were under the direction of the brahmanas. The brahmanas because of their superior knowledge and realization, they practiced renunciation – they were elevated in their spiritual understanding, they commanded respect from the powerful and the wealthy people in the society and they could direct them. The brahmanas would always maintain their independence, they would not take a job from the king or vaishyas.
A famous example that Srila Prabhupada gives – Chanakya Pandit would go to the king’s palace as a prime minister and he would give advice to the king and would return to his hut, he would not accept remuneration, because brahmana does not require any of these things. He remains simple.
So brahmanas kept themselves very simple because they were so much consumed by the bliss of spiritual realization. The material benefits, happiness would not distract them - that happens when there is genuine spiritual elevation. So the kings were educated in these ideas and they protected dharma and that is why here it is said - parthanam kirti dusanam – dharma is being harmed and the great kings, the descendants of Pandavas will not tolerate this and if they tolerate this, they will lose their reputation that they were protecting dharma. So it cannot happen, who is causing this to you? Bhumi is asking this and you will see very soon dharma speaking, the personification of all that goodness that dharma is supposed to bring, and just hearing those words, Parikshit Maharaj understands who this bull is and who the cow is.
Srila Prabhupada presents in his books the pure concepts of dharma, of religion. Unfortunately even modern scholars and leaders do not have proper understanding. There is a whole lot of misunderstanding about varnashrama, about dharma and as a result the educated people want to keep away from anything that has to do with God. That is why it is said manda bhagya – people in Kali yuga are very unfortunate as there are many people who misguide them from the true path of religion.