By His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami
When the young prince Siddhartha, who was later to become Gautama Buddha, first ventured out of the palace, having been overly sheltered in his tender years of childhood and adolescence, he experienced for the first time the shocking truth about life, namely the cruel sufferings related to disease, old age and death. So disturbed was he when confronted with such harsh realities of life that he then and there resolved to find a solution to humanityâs suffering. After undergoing severe penances and entering into deep meditation, he emerged to uncover the teachings of ahimsa (non-violence) and nirvana (the cessation of all material desires) that, according to him, automatically brings an end to all suffering. The ahimsa philosophy of Lord Buddha is based on the Four Noble Truths meant to mitigate suffering and the Eightfold Path of proper views, speech, action, livelihood, effort, resolve, mindfulness and concentration.
Although himself a ksatriya (warrior) prince aware of the tenets of sanatana dharma (the eternal religious principles taught in the Vedas), Gautama Buddha could not tolerate the abuses from the local brahmanas (priests) who engaged in the unrestricted killing of innocent animals, all in the name of authorized sacrifices found in the Vedic writings. He therefore rejected the entire Vedic teachings and established his own philosophy of sunyavad (voidism). By rejecting sanatana dharma, he also rejected the principles of varnasrama dharma that were being misused at that time.
However, if we closely analyze the teachings of Gautama Buddha, we will find that these are all to be found in the original teachings of the Vedas. Although Gautama Buddha rejected the exploitive varnasrama system current in those days, he nevertheless very cleverly re-introduced the same basic Vedic concepts. The fundamental principle of Buddhism is very much connected with the peace formula of simple living and high thinking. Such simple living and high thinking can best be realized through the scientific system of varnasrama dharma, when properly understood and correctly applied.
Transcending Suffering through Plain Living and High Thinking
Dharma refers to eternal principles that cannot be changed. Varnasrama dharma teaches one to minimize and simplify material activities which are considered the root cause of all attachment and hence suffering in the material world. Most people cannot immediately sever all material desires and therefore are taught to regulate such desires. Living within society and adopting various rules and regulations as recommended within the sacred teachings of sanatana dharma, and in particular varnasrama dharma, will help one gradually control the mind and senses. By following such a process, one will come to the stage of transcendence and beyond. When the aim of life remains that of material exploitation, oneâs suffering simply increases, as in our present day misdirected society. Srila Prabhupada, the modern ambassador of the ancient Vedic teachings, explains as follows:
âThe sufferings of human society are due to a polluted aim of life, namely lording it over the material resources. The more human society engages in the exploitation of undeveloped material resources for sense gratification, the more it will be entrapped by the illusory material energy of the Lord, and thus the distress of the world will be intensified instead of diminished.â [SB 2.2.37]
This is very much in keeping with the teachings of âproper actionâ and âproper livelihoodâ as outlined in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Srila Prabhupada gives further clarity as to how one should meet oneâs basic necessities of life:
âThe human necessities of life are fully supplied by the Lord in the shape of food grains, milk, fruit, wool, stones, sugar, silk, jewels, cotton, salt, water, vegetables, etc., in sufficient quantity to feed and care for the human race of the world as well as the living beings on earth and every planet within the universe. The supply source is complete, and only a little energy by the human beings is required to get his necessities in the proper channel. There is no need of machines and tools or huge steel plants for artificially creating comforts of life. Life is never made comfortable by artificial needs, but by plain living and high thinking.â [SB 2.2.37]
Sinful Activities Increase Our Suffering
When we deviate from proper livelihood, we more easily engage in sinful activities, as in present day society, and thus we simply increase our suffering:
âUnfortunately in modern civilization, men are busy killing the cows that are the source of yogurt, milk and ghee. They are cutting all the trees that supply honey, and they are opening factories to manufacture nuts and bolts, automobiles and wine instead of engaging in agriculture. How can the people be happy? They must suffer from all the misery of materialism.â [SB 5.16.25]
One of the most serious deviations from dharma is the killing of innocent cows. This further echoes the ahimsa philosophy of Buddhismâ
âThe killing of cows by the human society is one of the grossest suicidal policies, and those who are anxious to cultivate the human spirit must turn their attention first toward the question of cow protection.â [Light of the Bhaghavat 27]
Due to being highly intoxicated with excessive and destructive material pursuits modern man is not only committing go-hana (killing of cow) but also atma-hana (killing of the soul):
âHuman society needs only sufficient grains and sufficient cows to resolve its economic problems. All other things but these are artificial necessities created by man to kill his valuable life at the human level and waste his time in things which are not needed.â [SB 3.2.29]
Uprooting Suffering through Daiva Varnasrama
Although suffering can be mitigated by following some of the methods prescribed in the Buddhist philosophy or by following the principles of varnasrama dharma, the elimination of suffering only occurs when one learns the science of uprooting the suffering altogether. The accumulation of karmic reaction, both pious and impious, forces the living entity to again and again take birth in the material world. Suffering will only be stopped when we learn the art and science of ending the cycle of repeated birth and death through daiva varnasrama dharma.
Daiva varnasrama is that art and science which teaches the living entity to dovetail all his activities, words, mind and intelligence in the divine service of Lord Krishna. It is not sufficient to neutralize humanityâs suffering. One must learn to eliminate it completely be adopting devotional practices which will enable one to no longer incur sinful reactions. Daiva (divine) activities or devotional activities to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Krishna are the only means to end our suffering. In our present age of Kali Yuga this begins with the chanting of the Holy Names of God, as taught by the Yuga Avatara, Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
This proper understanding and application of the dual nature of dharma (material and spiritual) makes all things balanced and helps meet all necessities of life. This was and is meant to be the daily meditation of thoughtful men:
Dharma mulam hi Bhagavan sarva veda mayo harih
Smrtam ca tad vidam rajan yena catma prasidati
âThe Supreme Being, the Personality of Godhead, is the essence of all Vedic knowledge, the root of all religious principles, and the memory of great authorities. O King Yudhisthira, this principle of religion is to be understood as evidence. On the basis of this religious principle, everything is satisfied, including oneâs mind, soul and even oneâs body.â [SB 7.11.7]
Evidence of our understanding the principles of dharma will come when we introduce the lifestyle advocated within the system of daiva varnasrama dharma. This application of daiva varnasrama dharma will automatically and immediately help relieve and transcend humanityâs suffering and bring one beyond by uprooting the cause of our suffering, namely forgetfulness of our eternal loving relationship with Lord Krishna.
[The article originally appeared in the e-newsletter, The Eight Petals. For free subscription and further details one can contact: email@example.com]