Freedom of thought, of religion, of assembly; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of movement both within and outside one’s own country; freedom to take part in government: these are basic human rights that we Americans freely exercise and perhaps even take for granted. But oppressive governments throughout the world are presently denying their citizens even these basic human rights.
It is this grievance which has become the centerpiece in President Carter’s foreign policy. The Carter administration wants to dissuade the Communist states and the Latin American rightist regimes, among others, from all unwarranted denial of their people’s rights. In his March address before the United Nations, the President affirmed, “Because we are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom.”
Now, for America to fly the banner of “human rights for the world” presupposes that human rights flourish in our own land. True, we have a representative government and the Bill of Rights, and we enjoy many civil liberties not found in other countries. But if we could lift our sights for a moment beyond the Carter administration and beyond the Bill of Rights—to the ageless and unchanging standard of ancient India’s Vedic civilization—we would discover that we are still missing out on the most important human right of all. President Carter may plead for the rights of others, but the time-honored Vedic literatures say, “What are you doing about your human rights—your right to become self-realized and God-realized? You are still a prisoner. Wake up!” The Vedic literatures assert that the rights and freedoms that we Americans hold so dear today are actually not very important. The most important human right is the right to become self- and God-realized and thus gain freedom from all miseries.
Let’s look closely at this most important human right. According to the Vedic literatures, the eternal soul transmigrates through millions of lower species of life before he gets a human body. Of all the varieties of species, the human form of life is the most developed—because only the human being can inquire into his ultimate spiritual identity. Of course, in our human life we still engage in the animal functions of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending; but we have the added opportunity—the human right—to achieve perfection by becoming a self-realized soul. We can utilize the highly developed rational faculties of the human form of life to discover our eternal spiritual relationship with God. This is the ultimate human right, and with proper guidance we can easily take full advantage of it.
“I am not this body; I’m the soul within the body.” Once we understand this simple fact, we become self-realized—and free from the miseries of transmigrating to another body at death. On the other hand, if we do not achieve self-realization, we will be forced at the time of death to take another birth and to go on transmigrating from one species of life to another, birth after birth. After all, no nation is so strong and no citizen so free as to be able to overcome the laws of nature.
Like many statesmen before him, President Carter contends that America is a free nation, but the Vedic literatures answer “No”—no one is free until he becomes liberated from the cycle of repeated birth and death. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Bill of Rights nor our awesome national defense force can protect us from the miseries of birth, death, disease, and old age. Even we Americans have to die, and we may die at any moment. It may be our karma to die in an auto or plane accident with more pain than can be inflicted by any political dictator. Or our karma may be to die of cancer, to be murdered, or to be burned alive in the sanctity of our own home. Even John F. Kennedy, in the topmost position in America, was not free to prevent his death.
“That’s rather grim,” we may say. “Sure, life has its share of miseries, but the rights and freedoms we Americans enjoy are real and satisfying.”
Not really. If we think that way, we’re overlooking some basic facts of life. For example, how long can we remain in our materially superior position as Americans? And who among us can guarantee that after death his good fortune will continue and he’ll again be born as an American?
Here’s what happens when somebody gets too attached to the idea of being an American and fails to become self-realized. According to the laws of transmigration, in his next life such a person may again be awarded an American body, but perhaps not a human body. In his last life he didn’t use his advanced human intelligence to inquire into his true, spiritual nature; he didn’t take advantage of his most important human right. Instead of realizing that “I’m not this body—I’m a spirit soul, an eternal servant of God,” he’s figured that “I’m an American, and America is my beloved homeland.” As a result, he may be born as an American cow or pig and suffer in the stockyards until he is slaughtered.
In other words, right now it’s foolish for us to say, “Our national pride is that we exercise our human rights and we’re free.” After all, this world—with its stringent law of repeated birth and death—is a prison. So maybe we’re privileged prisoners, because we exercise certain relative rights (the right to vote as we please and to have a fair trial, for instance) that lots of other people don’t have. But we will not be really free until we exercise our fundamental human right to become Krishna-conscious—only then can we escape nature’s law of repeated birth and death.
Our position is exactly like that of a prisoner shackled in gold chains who looks at another prisoner’s iron chains and says, “You are imprisoned, and I am free.” Chains of gold are as binding as chains of iron. And since one who is bound cannot free anyone else, America’s current crusade for human rights has no meaning.
Again, we all should feel concerned about human rights, but the problem is that very few of us today know what our real human rights are. So the Krishna consciousness movement is urging that all people throughout the world exercise the priceless human right to become self-realized and free from all suffering—the right to revive our loving devotion to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To ignore this most important human right is the worst misuse of our human life.
As the Vedic literatures explain, human life is very precious and rare—because if we use it properly we can attain self- and God-realization, the perfection of our existence. The Krishna consciousness movement exists for the sole purpose of offering everyone nonsectarian, nonpolitical information about our most important human right.