In the aftermath of last month’s riots opinions were divided as to their cause. “Existing criminals on the rampage,” pronounced Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, while, in a display of party disunity, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith declared the problem to be “selfish bankers and MP’s ignoring the plight of the poor.”
Whatever the cause, the riots certainly made for some shocking footage with the police apparently losing control of our streets. Fires blazed everywhere, shop fronts were kicked in and cars turned over as marauding gangs realised that no one was going to stop them. Personal violence was also meted out with a number of brutal incidents being reported.
I felt a deep sense of sadness at seeing all this, but I was not particularly surprised. Vedic knowledge points out that a man lacking spiritual practice will eventually tend toward brutish behavior and the number of non-practitioners in society is certainly considerable. If it’s anything to go by, less than 5% of the UK now attends church, for example.
The Vedas define the distinction between man and animal as the former’s quest for religious meaning and truth. Sensual gratification is common to all species but only humans can practice religion. Such genuine practice, according to the Srimad Bhagavatam, will ultimately imbue a person with “all the qualities of the gods,” while its absence results in one losing all gentility and becoming a danger to everyone including himself. Given the right set of circumstances, such as we saw recently, this tendency rapidly rises to the surface.
Animals take whatever they want as and when they can, restricted only by their power, and a person without spiritual guidelines will likely act similarly. The only restriction will be one’s personal capabilities and opportunities, or the constraints of law, which as we have just seen do not always work.
Iain Duncan-Smith’s suggestion that selfishness lay at the root of the riots was right. It was the ugly face of selfishness run amok as people grabbed whatever they could while the going was good. Obviously it was also rampant criminality, as Mr Clarke pointed out, but in the Vedic analysis anyone not God conscious is a criminal to a greater or lesser degree, stealing the Lord’s property.
Naked came we to the world and naked we shall depart. Whatever we think we own was here before us and will remain after we are gone. We falsely claim ownership for a brief period before everything is snatched away by death. Really it belongs to its creator and maintainer, and that is Krishna or God. Spiritual practise aims to awaken this perception and its consequent gentle behaviour of using all property in divine service while taking for ourselves only what we need, that which is ordained for us by God.
Ever increasing consumerism and the all out pursuit of wealth stand in stark opposition to this godly paradigm, but does our present society direct people toward anything else? Who are our heroes and role models, for example? Film stars, musicians and football players, for the most part, all of them flaunting obscene quantities of disposable income and quite often a converse degree of morality. Saints and sages hardly get a look in, with religion generally making the media only when it is time to decry the fanatics.
And what do schools offer in the way of spirituality? You’re lucky if you get an act of collective worship these days, while RI lessons merely examine religion from the viewpoint of objective academic interest. God is a dirty word in science lessons, and let’s face it scientists are the new priests of our modern age.
Hardly surprising then that we should see godless behaviour breaking out all over. Especially when we add to the mix the fact that society is producing an underclass of people for whom hope and opportunity simply do not exist. Two and a half million are now unemployed; nearly half of them young people, many coming from families where no one has a job or any realistic hope of getting one. But like everyone else they have been programmed with consumer society’s ideal of having it all now, and are continually tantalized by an all powerful marketing machine driven by insatiable corporate greed.
Without spiritual practice we are all victims of the same desires; all of us becoming thieves of God’s property to feed a lust that knows no satisfaction. Fair enough, most of us have enough control to not rush out and seize everything in sight when the opportunity presents itself, but as long as we remain fixated on material enjoyment who knows what we might be capable of doing if the going gets tough enough? Even those at the top of the heap have shown themselves to be quite capable of profligate seizure, as the recent banker’s bonuses and MP’s expenses debacles demonstrated.
Unless we find some way of increasing genuine spiritual consciousness in our society soon we can surely expect the madness to continue, from top to bottom.
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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