God, Karma, and the World
Do you remember 1968—when churches offered “sanctuary” to draft resisters? I was in Boston at that time, and there it was big news for a while, part of the protest against the Vietnam War. Every few days you’d see in the headlines that yet another young man was telling the government “I won’t go!” by going into a church. The church officials would refuse to allow federal authorities to enter and arrest him, and for a few days the tension would mount. People would throng to the church to hold mass meetings and voice their Christian antiwar sentiments, and at last federal police would move in and, after a scuffle, take the man away.
As a member of the Boston center of the Hare Krsna movement, I attended one such meeting at Boston University’s campus chapel. Despite government threats, the protesters were sheltering a draft resister and holding a twenty-four-hour public prayer meeting. The church was crowded and noisy. Several people in the audience carried large signs with political slogans or verses from the Bible. I had hoped to speak about Krsna consciousness, but I couldn’t break through the crowd of politicians, ministers, and monitors surrounding the pulpit. Speaker after speaker denounced the imminent invasion of the church by federal agents. A minister quoted verses and explained Christian duty. A little bewildered by the intense mixture of political rhetoric and Biblical quotes, and unsure what was the proper course of action for me, I returned to our center and wrote a query to our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. His reply (dated October 9, 1968) arrived a few days later. I have always considered Srila Prabhupada’s analysis of the “sanctuary” situation a perfect response by a fully God conscious person. It showed me how to react not just to that political struggle but to the many others since then.
“Please accept my blessings. I have received your letter about the situation in Boston. From the statements in your letter, I can understand that it is a political situation. This political struggle is the reaction of karma. Both the opposing parties—namely the students who have taken shelter in the churches and the government force which is coming to arrest them—both of them are in the same category, because if it were a question of meat-eating or supporting the slaughterhouse, both of them would agree. So the present situation is a reaction to man’s sinful activities. We especially recommend that people restrain themselves from four kinds of primary sinful activities—namely illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. But all these fighting people are cent per cent addicted to all these habits. So if they are serious about mitigating the unpalatable situation of society, they must agree to accept Krsna consciousness. Otherwise, there is no possibility of peace in the world.
“It is useless for students to pray twenty-four hours a day, listen to political talks, and desire that the war should stop. God cannot be their order supplier. First of all they act sinfully, and when there are reactions in the form of war, pestilence, famine, and so many other natural disturbances, they pray to God to stop them. This is not possible. They are just like criminals: first of all a criminal commits theft, burglary, and debauchery, and when he is captured by the police force, he prays to the government to stop his punishment. That is not possible. So, people are engaged in many sinful activities, and by nature’s law there must be a reaction. Suppose I am encouraging cow killing, or animal killing of any sort. When by nature’s law my turn comes to be killed, if I pray to God to stop it, how can it be stopped? Therefore, the protesters’ process is not very genuine. They want to make God their order supplier. God is not an order supplier. He is an order giver. He orders everyone to surrender unto Him, and the fools and rascals who do not surrender unto Him want to order God through so-called prayer—that He should ask material nature to stop her legal activities of punishment. That is not possible. So the situation is not very favorable, but if someone agrees to hear Bhagavad-gita and Teachings of Lord Caitanya continually for some time, I am prepared to go and lecture.”
Your ever well-wisher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami”
Now, ten years later, the “sanctuary” protest is all but forgotten. There are new political struggles, new allies and enemies. But I think Srila Prabhupada’s analysis is still the devastating truth. Unfortunately, the world’s leaders are not listening to his advice. Most political and military leaders are completely unaware of the laws of karma—action-and-reaction—that Srila Prabhupada and the Vedic literatures describe. But they should know that such laws actually exist—as surely as they know of nature’s other unbreakable laws.
Karma is a strict, intricate mechanism, a natural phenomenon by which every human action brings about a fitting reaction. This “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” law is as much a part of the universal design as the law of gravity—”What goes up must come down.” Individually, one’s previous karma (pious or impious actions) determines one’s present physical and mental condition, and at the time of death the accumulated karma of one’s present lifetime will determine the condition of one’s next lifetime. Karma is also working collectively: young men are going to die for their country because of sinful acts performed by themselves and their countrymen. Each and every person is thus affected by the complex interaction of karma.
When millions of cows or millions of human embryos are slaughtered, the killers and their accomplices have to bear the karmic reaction. All the world’s major religions consider not only killing but also intoxication and sex outside marriage to be immoral. This is the code of the Supreme, and disobedience to this code must have its effects. An ordinary man may not know how or when he will suffer the karmic reaction, but that has no bearing on the fact that he will. Why should we think that overwhelmingly powerful material nature will not act on us, when we experience that breaking even the state laws brings us a bad reaction? Although in the present age we’re extremely enamored of scientific explanations, even the most educated men have scarcely looked into this science of action and reaction. Individually and collectively, we go on committing the same crimes millions of times. The karmic toll mounts, and we pay it—through natural disaster, war, and death.
Why don’t the leaders take the Vedic literature’s good advice and learn how they and the rest of us can live our lives free from karma? Despite our adroit international diplomacy, the world’s nuclear stockpiles grow larger and more deadly. We’re told the superpowers will never use their nuclear weapons, but by the inevitable law of karma we know they must be used. Yet just as karma and suffering are always at hand, so also the solution is always at hand. Now we are condemned for our acts against the codes of the Supreme. But we can change our actions and thus avoid the reactions.
As Srila Prabhupada pointed out in his letter, today’s critical situation is not the fault of one sectarian party or another. All are at fault—capitalists, communists, “the establishment,” “the people”—whoever breaks the law of God. Everyone is committing sinful acts. Even the sectarian religionists commit them. So the world needs truly saintly leadership—leaders who have genuine knowledge of God’s law of karma and can show the rest of us how to perform naiskarma (actions that don’t bring about material reactions).
There is no point in wishfully talking of peace and morality until one first agrees to hear the whole course of education. First, we have to learn that the material world is working under the direction of the Supreme Spirit and that disregarding His codes always leads to disaster. All these things come to light in the Bhagavad-gita, the original treatise on God, karma, and the world. As the Gita points out, adherence to morality cannot be attained just by mundane impetus. Morality and peace will come naturally to us only when we become Krsna conscious and awaken to the higher taste of spiritual pleasure.—SDG