19 March, 2009

Krishna, the first Communist

Above: Karl Marx

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Long before Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao, a historical figure in India fought against oppression, championed the cause of the poor, denounced religious dogma and empty ritualism, and sought to inspire a righteous and selfless attitude in society.

The basic tenets of communism say that all are equal, and exploiters and oppressors should be severely punished. It rebels against societal dogmas and advocates caring and sharing. The goal is to create a society free from selfishness, autocracy, aristocracy and oppression of people of any sort. The life and message of Krishna reveals that he imbibed, taught and fought for these principles 5230 years ago. In fact, an objective analysis of the Bhagvad Gita too would reveal that Krishna was a better communist than Karl Marx. One could go so far as to describe him as the real founder of communism!

Krishna grew up among cowherds - whom today could be referred to as OBCs. A cowherd himself, he worked for the empowerment of his people.

Later he killed his own uncle, Kamsa, a king who was an oppressor, thereby liberating the entire society of Mathura and Brindavan from his tyranny. Throughout his life, Krishna cared for the poor and the weak. In the Mahabharata war, he could have sided with the powerful Kauravas but he took the side of the Pandavas, who had nothing on their side except goodwill and pure hearts. He worked for them and went as an ambassador for peace for them. So definitely his mission was with the poor and the oppressed, the victims of royal aristocrat families and therefore he is called Deenabandhu, Deenavatsala (friend of the poor).

The story of Sudama, the poor Brahmin, is a well-known episode from Krishna’s life. Often people think brahmins were oppressors, when in fact brahmins have always been very poor. One never hears instances or stories of rich Brahmins in history or in the puranas. But Krishna’s love and compassion was such that he honoured him, cutting across the class barriers.

Krishna also rebelled against dogmatic religious practices of those days. Even today it is well known that the entire society stopped the sacrificial puja they were doing to Indra, shifting over, on Krishna’s advice, to caring for the cows (Govardhan Pooja) and honoring the knowledge of the self. (Govardhan also means honoring knowledge.) He also promoted Annakoot, where there is food for everybody.

Krishna rebels against the people who are always arguing in the name of the Vedas.
“Yamimam pushpitam vacham… Veda vada ratah Partha…” (Gita, Ch 2)

Krishna has said that people who are driven by little desires, who are propitiating this deity or that, caught up in small rituals and greed, are fools (moodha).

He also says, “Those who worship many devas and perform many rituals are of lesser intelligence.”

Finally, after a detailed exposition of all aspects of life, knowledge and duty, he says, “Sarva dharman parityajya mamekam sharanam vraja.”

Drop all the dharma and take refuge in me, i.e. in the higher self. This is really a revolutionary thing. Karl Marx also has said drop the religion, “Religion is the opium of the masses.”

But beyond religion is the quest for truth. Where does a man go further? There Krishna leads Arjuna, leads the people into that spiritual realm of experience, which is seriously lacking in communism today. To transcend religion, one needs to understand religion. By just hating religion, you are not going to become irreligious; rather, you’ll be stuck with it in some other manner and this is what is happening in the world today. Karl Marx was not aware of Indian spirituality. All that he saw was the blind faith and the authoritarian rule of the religious institutions that existed at that time in Russia, whereas Krishna takes us beyond religion. He also says drop religion, but it brings you to a place of spiritual awakening, of knowledge, of truth, of beauty. The confidence that builds up in a person who knows the depth and the secrets of creation is something amazing, so beautiful - without which life is dry. So make the transition from religion to spirituality. It is what was missing in the Karl Marx principle and which Krishna has very clearly demonstrated and given to the world in the form of Gita.

Communism cannot reject Krishna at any cost because he stands for all its principles in a much more meaningful manner. If we don’t see the reality, the truth with an open mind then we have merely replaced an old religion with a new religion called communism. So we have to be aware and wake up to adapt to changing times.

I wonder why the communists have not yet owned Krishna. Many times in the Gita, Krishna says, “Yo mam pasyati sarvatra ,“

One who sees me in everybody, one who sees oneself in everybody, is the one who sees the truth. This is the basic principle of communism - See everyone as yourself.

He says the banana peel has a meaning as long as there is a banana inside. But when you eat the banana, then the peel has no value. Similarly religion can’t take people to the final truth, final goal - it can only go that far. But it is the spirit of self-enquiry, the scientific temper in a person, that takes one deeper. Religion stays behind and one moves into a realm of pure humanism or pure divinity - this is the hallmark of Krishna’s teaching.

Unlike in the west, where scientists were tortured and questioning of the religious scriptures was prohibited, India has always encouraged questioning and contemplation. In fact, most of the scriptures in India are in the format of questions and answers. After putting forth his opinion, Krishna tells Arjuna to independently think and question, and tells him that he has the freedom to accept or reject his opinion. He never imposes his idea. Though communism advocates rational thinking, we hear many communists do not give the freedom to people to express a different ideology.

At the same time, Krishna also inspired Arjuna to fight and not accept oppression, which again is what communists say. He advises Arjuna to fight not with anger or hatred, but with intelligence, with equanimity, with wisdom.

Another principle of communism is sharing. As a small child, Krishna would share the butter with all the boys, all the youngsters. Later he shared wealth. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, it said that in his last days Krishna used to go and give gifts to people every morning.

A salient feature of communism is work for the community and it comes down strongly on consumerism or greed. This is explained by Krishna in the Karma Yoga.
“Karmanye vadhikaraste ……”

Krishna goes on to say that one who is really wise regards all men as equal, and does not discriminate between a brahmin and an untouchable, or a learned one and someone who is not so learned. “Vidyavinaya sampanna.…”

Communists often object to the caste system, but whether you like it or not, this system has been in practice all over the world, in the form of professional clubs which exist even today. You can’t get into an army club if you are not an army person, or into the Indian Medical Association if you are not a doctor!

The caste system, which was in existence much before Krishna, was more or less like professional clubs, and was never by birth.

Basically, it was on one’s nature and work.
“Guna karma svabhaavaja…”

There are ample examples of people born in one caste, but belonging to another caste by virtue of their profession. For instance, Veda Vyasa, himself born to a fisherwoman, was considered the authority on Vedas. The most astonishing fact is that among a thousand rishis, only a handful were born in the so-called upper caste.

One objection to the statement that “the Shudra is the feet of the Purusha,” is that it is derogatory. It should be noted that all the honours and worship are done only to the feet (Pada puja, pada namaskara.)

If the purpose is not to find harmony but to spread hatred and anger, you could find something objectionable in anything and anyone!

Many people talk about communism but they lead a capitalistic life. However Krishna never did that. He never became a king though he is called Dwarkadheesh. He remained a servant of Dwarka, of the king of Dwarka. He was an uncrowned king. He stood for the cause of the poor. He saw that oneness in everybody and so he was remembered for centuries. But nowadays it is suddenly fashionable to regard even the Ramayana and Mahabharata as epics and not as something that really happened. This is ridiculous, because just a legend cannot have such an impact over the whole continent, and even beyond. The Ramayana and Mahabharata have made such an impact on civilization without any modern technology or modes of communication. The Sanskrit word itihasa means - “it happened like that/ it happened thus.”

To see everyone as equal is a matter of the heart, and the heart can be made to blossom only through spirituality. Or anything that makes your heart blossom, I would call as spirituality. It is not just an intellectual concept that leads to action. It is an emotion which propels us towards action and emotion is the very nature of our spirit. And uplifting spirit is what is spirituality. So you cannot be a true communist if you don’t have that spark of love and compassion in your heart. And spirituality is what brings that fountain, that flood of love. Spirituality is that which brings that tidal wave of love in your life. And that’s what Krishna’s whole life is about - the bhakti yoga, the love and devotion that makes you see everyone as part of you, equal to you. It’s only that divine love that can make you see everyone as part of yourself, sincerely and honestly.
Modern communism negates religion but leaves you in a vacuum.

Devoid of spirituality, frustration overtakes life, leading one to violence and aggression or depression and suicidal tendencies.

You cannot serve someone if you don’t see them as yourself or part of yourself. Only spirituality can bring authenticity to caring and sharing, and that is communism. What was missing in communism is the very soul, that is spirituality, of which Krishna is an expert teacher.

Now communists in Kerala need not feel guilty in going to Guruvayoor and those in Bengal can openly participate in Durga Pooja!


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