Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #21 – Poverty, Protest, and the Vedic Way: Part 2

May 24th, 2021

Last week, I discussed the problem of poverty and the consequent protests in Colombia. I ended the post by proposing the necessity of adding a spiritual element to any solution. I think it is important to elaborate on this principle.


The first thing to understand is that for the common person to pursue spiritual life they require some degree of social, physical, and mental peace. There is thus not an absolute dichotomy between material and spiritual life. Organizing our material life properly according to the instructions of the śāstra and to help others in need through charity are both part of skilled living (dharma)[1], which helps keep us from being mired in selfishness.


On the path of bhakti, while acknowledging the necessity to both take care of ourselves and compassionately help others, there is also a higher dimension in dealing with social problems. It is certainly true that everyone has a need to enjoy the senses to some degree, and, in fact, without it, the body dies. We are instructed, however, that although there is a necessity for some level of enjoyment, one should never do it just for that purpose, but rather to keep one physically and mentally fit for the higher purpose of self-realization. If one doesn’t consciously make that higher connection in one’s duties, then one’s activities have limited value. Jesus Christ put it best: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul.” (Mark 8:36-38, KJV)


On the Vedic path, one is also taught that although one can’t neglect the suffering of others, one should never lose sight that ultimately suffering is a reaction to previous actions based on ignorance. Thus, while it is necessary to ensure that others have the basics they need to live, the higher level of charity is to purify people’s hearts by educating them in spiritual knowledge.


My initial article was about offering a solution to the frustration in society due to poverty. From the spiritual perspective, I should add that there will never be social peace in the world regardless of societal re-organization, without some system to elevate the consciousness of the populace, for if there is not some effort in society to temper greed and envy by spiritual teachings, a new leadership that arises will also exploit those below them out of greed, and even if the needs of the poor are met, people in general will still be envious of those who have more than them. Class disparity and struggle will continue.


In summary, welfare has many levels. On the base level, people’s basic needs must be met. To offer charity is thus part of one’s moral obligation. Higher than that is to help others cure the root of karmic suffering and avoid future distress by teaching them skilled living (dharma). The highest welfare, however, is to help people make a permanent solution to suffering by promoting self-realization. We’ll end with a metaphor that Śrīla Prabhupāda uses that aptly highlights the conclusion of this discussion, the necessity to help those suffering not only by providing their basic needs, but also by helping them come to a spiritual platform.


“There are so many welfare activities in the human society. People open hospitals, schools, colleges, charitable institution. They are nice. But the best contribution to the human society is to revive his lost relationship with God. Just like a rich man’s son. Some way or other he has left his father’s home and he’s loitering here and there. Somebody finds him: ‘Oh, you are Mr. Such-and-such. You are the son of such-and-such gentleman. He’s very rich man. Why you are suffering? Come, come with me. I shall take to your father.’ So this is one kind of welfare activity.

And another welfare activity, the same person who is loitering in the street, somebody says, ‘Oh, you are hungry. All right, come on. I shall give you some bread.’ That is also welfare activity. But this welfare activity, to get the lost son to his father, rich father, not ordinary father, that is the best service. “(Lecture Bhag. 2.2.5 Dec 2, 1968 LA)




[1] I heard a class by Jaya Jagannath Das where he described dharma as “skilled living”. I like the phrase and want to credit its source.


Comments are closed.