How are communism, socialism, altruism, humanitarianism and nationalism misdirections of the loving propensity?
From Karuna Sindhu P
Transcription by: Shalini Mataji
Edited by : Rhythm Saidha
Question from Karuna Sindhu Prabhu: Srila Prabhupada explains in the Krsna book that the various isms like communism, socialism, altruism, humanitarianism and nationalism, they are misdirections of the loving propensity and that’s why they cannot satisfy the heart. Only when we learn to love Krishna can we become fully satisfied. So can you explain how these five isms are misdirections of the loving propensity?
Answer: Most importantly, the difference between Krishna and Krishnetara (Krishnetara means anything other than Krishna) is that love for Krishna is universal, whereas love for anything else is sectarian. Why? Because some people may say love for Krishna is also sectarian. Krishna-ites are one sect. However, that’s only a superficial cultural understanding. The correct philosophical understanding is that Krishna is the source of all living beings, he is the source of all of existence. And therefore when we love Krishna, through that love for Krishna, because Krishna is related to all living beings, we develop love for all of them. So that’s how we see that Srila Prabhupada, he went to America risking his life to share the message of Krishna with people who he had not seen, with people with whom he had nothing in common. It was not same caste, not same nationality, not same age group, not same financial bracket, nothing in common. What was common was he saw all them as connected with him, through their connection with Krishna. So love for Krishna is universal and actually by loving Krishna we learn to love everyone and love everyone in the best possible way. Whereas when we love anyone else or any other concept or form which love takes, that is limited. So that limitation pits a person in favour of one group and against another group and that’s how that love becomes limited.
Now socialism and communism are in one sense close cousins. In “Das Capital” of Karl Marx he considered that if a country or a state government is to transfer from capitalism to communism, communism is the perfection, and he says a transitional system could be socialism. So in socialism and communism the idea is that basically everything is controlled by the state. Everything is controlled and owned by the state and all people, whatever be their efforts, they get equal returns. So everybody has same kind of houses, same kind of vehicles, same kind of salaries, so that was the idea by which equality could be brought about. Now in socialism this is a little bit toned down where some amount of freedom is there for market forces also, whereas in communism, the free market is not given any leeway at all. But in principle both of them have the common point that the state is the owner of everything. So now in this case, people are expected to offer their devotion to the state.
Just like the devotee may say, “Krishna, whatever I have belongs to you”, it is expected that the citizens will say “Whatever I have belongs to the state”. Now the problem with this attitude is that the state is actually just a concept which is governed by individuals and those individuals are imperfect. Because those individuals are imperfect they also have their selfish interests. That’s why you know a British social commentator, he said that, in communism all people are equal but some people are more equal than others. There is always a class of ruled and rulers and the rulers always take more privileges than the ruled. So basically the idea was, when the system was conceived, in the idealistic conception the idea is that actually we can have equality for everyone and that would be a way of expressing love for everyone. Yes, we love everyone, all our citizens are equal. But this denies the fact, even from the conceptual point of view, that different people are irreducibly different. Different people have different levels of talent, different levels of intellects and different levels of drives to achieve. And this denying the undeniable human differences between people, creates a utopia. It creates an artificial attempt which can never work out. And in reality what is created is not a utopia but a dystopia. Utopia is something which is a very good state, dystopia is something which is very bad state. So although the state was expected to be offered the devotion of all the citizens but the end result of that was that actually in the two communist countries – USSR and China – the violence by the state against its own citizens was unparalleled.
In fact, the number of people who were killed by state-sponsored actions in these two countries, are more than the casualties of World War I and World War II combined together. So the end result was that loving propensity is misdirected. You can say all people are equal but the fact is they are not equal. People get exploited anyway and people were not happy and that’s how the communist system also fell away eventually with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Now altruism and humanitarianism are similar but the subtle difference is that altruism is the general spirit of benevolence towards others and humanitarianism is focussed more on human beings. So if somebody sees a pet animal suffering on the road – giving food to that, or giving some medical care to that, taking it to a vet, that could be called altruism. And humanitarianism would be more focussed on human beings. But either way the idea is of doing good to others and that definitely is a good intention. At the same time, Srila Prabhupada would often point out, that good intentions alone are not good enough unless we know how to do good to others. So he gave the example of how once when he was in Kolkatta and he heard in his neighbour a mother severely chastising her daughter and he went and enquired and he found that they had a younger son, the daughter’s younger brother, who had been quite sick with typhoid, and the doctor had told that he should not be given any fried food. The mother had gone out to the “sabji” market and the brother had been begging to the sister to give him some “pakoras”. And the sister had gone to some shop and got a lot of “pakoras” and given him and his condition had become worse, almost to the point of death. The mother was chastising her. So one may want to do good but how does one do good? The sister wanted to do good to the brother but she ended up doing bad.
We see that in the humanitarian and altruistic there can be two extremes. One is those who are aggressively anti-theistic. There are some social welfare missions they have a slogan – “God sends calamities, we send relief.” This is a demoniac idea. God is not sending calamities, it is our own karma which is bringing about our calamities as a reaction. So these people they may offer some good at the material level but their vision of the person is not complete.
Secondly, their idea is “Oh, somebody is starving, that’s very bad”, somebody is not having medicines that’s very bad, somebody is not having clothing that’s very bad.” Yes that’s definitely bad but then we can look at the converse. Are all the people who have food, clothing, shelter, happy? No. They have a different set of problems. They have food, clothing, shelter, yet they want better food, clothing, shelter. They want more gadgets, more facilities. So if a particular problem is the root problem then solving it should lead to happiness, should lead to peace, should lead to fulfilment. That doesn’t happen. So in altruism and humanitarianism, the problem that comes up is that people don’t know how to do good.
They don’t know how to do good because most of it focuses only on the material platform. And even if someone doesn’t believe in spirituality, in God or soul, still one can observe that material well-being doesn’t lead to material well-being. What that means is that we see there are some countries in the world like say in America & European Union, where people are relatively financially much better off than the rest of the world. Even these parts of the world are plagued by severe mental health problems. Now even if somebody doesn’t believe in spirituality one cannot deny the state of the mind. The state of the mind causes those people to go into addiction, depression, neurosis and even suicides. These are in alarmingly high proportion.
So even if somebody wants to do good to others how can one do good, that’s the question. And just doing good at the material level doesn’t lead to satisfaction. So Krishna consciousness tells us how we can do good to others.The ultimate good we can do to others is by connecting people with the all-good Lord and He takes care of them. Prabhupada would give the example of a prince who has been estranged from his royal father, the king. And then a friend can offer the prince some food, some clothing, some shelter. But if he takes the prince back to the father the problem is solved permanently. So altruism and humanitarianism are not necessarily bad but they attain their completion when they include the God-centred understanding.
And Prabhupada talks about this in the Ishopanishad in mantra 2 purport. He says that, “Kurvannayveh karmaani jijivishechatam samah” . There he says that all these various isms are attractive forms of bondage. Why attractive forms of bondage? Because these sort of isms especially altruism, humanitarianism, they seem to be noble and they seem to be better than the way normal people are living, who are mostly living for their own interests. They are better but still because they are not centred on God they don’t do lasting good, they don’t free people from bondage. That’s why they are attractive forms of bondage; there is a little more of “satva guna” in them as compared to gross, selfish existence and people may be attracted to them but it doesn’t lead them to freedom from bondage.
The same applies to nationalism also. Now nationalism is also an expansion of the loving propensity, where one is not just loving oneself; narcissism would be when one is obsessed with oneself only – everything is for me. So when this conception expands then it becomes nationalism where one cares for one’s whole country. But then this pits one country against other countries. If there are fanatical nationalists of two countries then they just have perennial fights. So the loving propensity doesn’t become complete. And Srila Prabhupada gave the example of a famous Indian nationalist leader who sacrificed everything for the sake of his country. But eventually he was assassinated by another countryman. And Prabhupada used this example to illustrate that when we love anyone other than Krishna, neither that person is satisfied nor are we satisfied. In fact this political leader, it was said he was a very dejected man in his final days. And eventually he was shot. So the point of course here is, we’re not going to go into the thoughts of that particular political leader, but Prabhupada gave the general example that when we love anything other than Krishna our love is limited and because of that neither do we get satisfaction nor are we able to do any lasting good to others. And eventually there is dissatisfaction for the served as well as for the servant.
But when the loving propensity is directed towards Krishna, that is completely inclusive because Krishna is connected with all living beings. In the Bhagavad Gita it is said, Krishna is ‘suhridam sarvabhutaanaam’ in 5.29 and when we love Krishna then the devotee becomes non envious and is a kind friend to all living entities in 12.13 – “adveṣṭā sarva–bhūtānāḿ, maitraḥ karuṇa eva ca”. The devotee who becomes devoted to Krishna also becomes like Krishna and in this way the loving propensity attains its complete fulfilment in loving Krishna and it is missed when any other form of ism is put on the pedestal instead of Krsna bhakti.