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How to Uplift the Unfortunate

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Wherever you go—India, America, and points between—you find certain people who seem to be getting less of life’s pleasures and more of its pains. What’s the solution? Increase public aid? Provide better job opportunities? Demand equal rights? After reading an article on the plight of India’s “untouchables” (Harijans), Tamal Krishna Gosvami wrote to the author about the real solution. It’s education—but not just any education …

ISKCON Devotees feeding hungry people at Mayapur, West Bengal, 1977.

14 April 1977

Dear Professor Parmar,

I read with keen interest your article “100 Million Harijans * (India’s “untouchables”: the poorest, least educated members of society.) Seek A New Messiah” in the Bombay Sunday Standard, April 10, 1977. I can certainly appreciate your compassion for the suffering of so many unfortunate people. In view of the new government’s interest in taking knowledge from the Vedas to help find solutions to the many problems India faces, I thought you might find the following illuminating as well as helpful.

The Harijan movement was started by Mohandas Gandhi. Seeing the suffering of millions of “untouchables,” Gandhi thought to elevate them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others by designating them “Harijans.” The actual definition of Harijan is “a person (jana) who has been elevated to the position of associating with the Supreme (Hari).” An actual Harijan, therefore, is a saint, a great personality. But since Gandhi has popularized the term to indicate the “untouchable” class, and since you have used it in the same sense, I will also use it in that way.

Unfortunately, Gandhi’s rubberstamping has not actually improved the Harijans’ condition, as you have so thoroughly pointed out in your article: “The Indian government has launched numerous projects and schemes, allocating more than Rs. 3,200 crores [about $3.5 billion] in Five-year Plans, for the welfare and amelioration of Harijans. However, all efforts to raise their status and improve their living conditions by granting special rights—social, economic, political—have not made any significant impact on their condition of life.”

Thus neither Gandhiji, Dr. Ambedkar, nor any other leader has succeeded in uplifting the Harijans: Why? Because they have not properly understood the real cause for man’s suffering. On this point we can get insight from the Bhagavad-gita, where Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna, “While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead… As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.11, 13).

We have to understand that the self is not the outer body but the soul within and that at death the self transmigrates to another body, according to the way he has lived his life. This understanding is the beginning of the solution to India’s Harijan problem. The government leaders and all their planning commissions have applied themselves only to the outward body, not to the soul within the body. Therefore, measures meant for the upliftment of the Harijans have fallen short of the mark; they have aimed at adjusting some physical or mental situation, but they have ignored the needs of the self. All the land grants, work plans, and defense forces (as well as the other economic, social, and political arrangements that you have suggested) will be of no use until India’s leaders concern themselves with not only the body but also the soul within the body.

In your article you have asked, “Who are these Harijans? What is their origin? What sins did they commit so that they should be permanently ‘persecuted? There are no authentic answers to these basic questions.” If you don’t know the answers to these questions about the Harijans, then how can you expect the solutions which you have suggested to work?

Actually, there are authentic answers to these questions, and they have been known to authorities like Svayambhuva Manu, Narada Muni, Lord Siva, the Kumaras, Sri Kapiladeva, Prahlada, and so many others. All of these great personalities have themselves taken instruction from Lord Krishna (Hari), and therefore they are the real Harijans. This instruction is still available in the Bhagavad-gita, and if you take it exactly as Lord Krishna spoke it, then you too can become a genuine Harijan and help to elevate the one hundred million so-called Harijans.

You have asked about the origin of these “untouchable” Harijans. For the answer we need merely turn to the Bhagavad-gita: “The living entity in material nature follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species” (Bg. 13.22). This verse describes how one is forced by the laws of nature to take birth in a particular species of life. One’s birth is not a matter of chance. As Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (2.22), the soul changes bodies just as a man changes his dress, and this change is due to one’s attachment to a particular mode of material nature. As long as one is captivated by the allurements of material nature, he has to change bodies. And at the time of death, the extent of his desire to lord it over matter determines what kind of body he will have in his next life, and how much he will suffer or enjoy. This is nature’s law. Whether we believe in it or not, we still are controlled by it. We also may not believe in the laws of the government, but if we violate them we have to suffer. How much more stringent, then, are the laws of God.

If India’s government leaders are ignorant of God’s laws, how can they uplift the citizens? A government may be powerful, but it is not so powerful that it can protect its citizens from the results of sinful activities performed in previous lives. Though you may award all kinds of privileges to the Harijans in an effort to counteract their sufferings, those benefits will be of little avail. Lord Krishna says, “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is very difficult to overcome” (Bg. 7.14). This verse explains why the position of the Harijan community as a whole has not significantly changed. Who is checking them from improving? Neither the government, nor social pressures, nor economic impediments. (No one prevented Dr. Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram from rising to leadership.) No. The checking is from within, and from the modes of material nature. This is explained in the Bhagavad-gita, in a verse I have already quoted: “The living entity in material nature follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of material nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species” (Bg. 13.22). In the fourteenth chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna further explains: “Material nature consists of the three modes—goodness, passion, and ignorance. When the living entity comes into contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” Association is very strong. It is just like an infection: when you contact germs, you must suffer disease. Similarly, if you associate with the lower qualities of material nature (passion and ignorance), then you must suffer accordingly.

To the civil libertarian all this may seem very unjust—that one man is condemned to sweep the latrines, while another sits comfortably in his white-collar job, working in the government offices. And out of sentiment, suppose you enact some legislation to adjust this imbalance. By your legislation you may arbitrarily elevate ten percent of all the sweepers to jobs in the government offices, but the result will be chaos. A dog may be placed on the king’s throne, but toss him an old shoe and he’ll jump down to chew it. Similarly, by legislation you may appoint anyone to a high position, but if he is not qualified, his nature will betray him and he will do only nonsense. The current world political scene sufficiently demonstrates this.

Actually, the kind of work a person does is directly related to the modes of nature affecting him. As Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, “According to the modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me” (Bg. 4.13). And in the eighteenth chapter: “Brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras (intellectuals, administrators, merchants or agriculturalists, and laborers) are distinguished by their qualities of work, O chastiser of the enemy, in accordance with the modes of nature” (Bg. 18.41).

Thus the tendency of a particular man towards a particular type of work is determined solely by the modes of material nature which he has acquired—not by political, social, or economic pressures. This statement by Lord Krishna may bring rancor to the hearts of the modern-day libertarians, who are demanding equality for all. But we must discern whether everyone actually deserves equality. No one can be more fair than Krishna: He is equally disposed to all creatures (Bg. 9.24) and He claims all living entities as His children (Bg. 14.4). So when Krishna designates one person as an intellectual (brahmana) and another as a laborer (sudra), He is not doing so out of prejudice; He is simply describing their karma and guna—their work and the particular modes of nature that affect them. Krishna never mentions birth as a consideration, though some selfishly motivated individuals have used this argument of birth to justify their falsely elevated position above those of supposedly lower birth. Undeniably, this misconception has caused hatred for the caste system, or varnasrama system, and cries for abolishment are now being heard from all sides. But if the eyes are diseased, they should be cured, not plucked out. Similarly, the caste system should be properly established on the basis of the Bhagavad-gita’s teachings; it should not be abolished.

Actually, in this age everyone is born a sudra (kalau sudra sambhavah). It is only by proper education that someone may rise to the position of a brahmana. For as we have already seen, a brahmana is known by his qualification, not by his birth. (My father may be a high-court judge, but that does not qualify me to be a high-court judge.) Though everyone is born a sudra in this age, everyone is also free to cultivate the qualities of a brahmana. These qualities are listed in the Bhagavad-gita as peacefulness, self control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness. But to call someone who has not developed these qualities a brahmana or a Harijan is simply rubberstamping.

Krishna, the original Messiah of all Harijans, openly invites everyone: “O son of Prtha, those who take shelter of Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas (merchants), as well as sudras (workers)—can approach the supreme destination” (Bg. 9.32). By proper education and association, anyone—no matter how degraded his birth—can attain to the highest position. Krishna also says,

brahma-bhutah prasannatma
na socati na kanksati
samah sarvesu bhutesu
mad-bhaktim labhate param

“One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments, nor does he desire to have anything. He is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me” (Bg. 18.54). Since God is full, a living entity engaged in God’s service (in Krishna consciousness) also becomes fully satisfied by self-realization.

There is no doubt that the one hundred million Harijans deserve to become happy. They are feeling frustration because they lack a qualified leader. We of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a society dedicated to living by the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita) are prepared to take responsibility for all one hundred million Harijans and guide them to the highest perfection of life. The founder and acarya of our movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has in the last eleven years successfully uplifted hundreds of thousands of unfortunate souls worldwide to the platform of Krishna consciousness. By Krishna’s grace, I happen to be Srila Prabhupada’s personal secretary, and it is by his direction that I write this letter. He read your article, and feeling great concern for the welfare of the Harijan community, he requested me to write to you and invite you to meet with us at our headquarters at Juhu, Bombay, for practical discussions. If you are actually sincere in your desire to uplift the Harijans, please do not miss this opportunity.

Yours faithfully,
Tamal Krishna Gosvami
(Personal Secretary to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)

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