You may have noticed two things in recent days. The election of Barack Obama, the first African-American to become the President of the United States, and nationwide protests to the passing of Proposition 8 in California of all places, which strictly defines marriage as being between a man and a women, leaving out people of same-sex relationships from this social status and benefit.
The people of America, our friends and family, find themselves once again staring into the face of the question of equality, as they attempt to define and re-define the seemingly essential part of the mission of this nation, which is to give equal rights and opportunities to every person, regardless of their race, sexual preference, or any other physical category.
Abraham Lincoln said to a group of Chicago abolitionists in 1858 that we should "Discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal."
Nelson Mandela wrote in his book Long Walk to Freedom that "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Only the hardest heart would disagree with the sentiments behind these statements, and behind the drive and urge to create and live by these ideals, but as devotees, we can understand that unless one adds the true platform of equality, the spirit soul, to the equation, then all efforts, however sincere, may end up being eternally frustrated.
In our college programs here at the University of Pittsburgh, we are surrounded by warm-hearted students who really want to make a difference, and what we try to share with them is that the real way to change, to hope, is to rise up...to the spiritual platform, opening one's eyes to the Absolute Truth.
We are doing this by revealing the timeless wisdom and lessons of Vedic culture passed down to us by the greatest acaryas. The ideal Vedic system, represented by daivi-varnasrama, brings to life a real system of equality for the ultimate benefit, which is the understanding and practical realization that we are the eternal, blissful servants of the Supreme Person, Krsna.
Vedic culture, properly applied, takes into account the inevitable differences in physical form and mental makeup and proplerly applies these differences in a way to put each and every individual living entity in the best position for the highest self-realization.
There were and are no such things as racism, sexism, and bigotry in properly applied Vedic cultural values. Everyone is seen as they are, as eternal spirit soul, and from their unique individual makeups are placed in the proper order and asrama that will give them the best chance to realize their true, eternal constitutional position.
In his purport to the 2nd verse of the Nectar of Instruction, Srila Prabhupada writes that the mahatma, or greatly realized spiritual personality "refers to those who are broadminded, not cripple-minded. Cripple-minded persons, always engaged in satisfying their senses, sometimes expand their activities in order to do good for others through some "ism" like nationalism, humanitarianism or altruism. They may reject personal sense gratification for the sense gratification of others, like the members of their family, community or society — either national or international. Actually all this is extended sense gratification, from personal to communal to social. This may all be very good from the material point of view, but such activities have no spiritual value. The basis of such activity is sense gratification, either personal or extended. Only when a person gratifies the senses of the Supreme Lord can he be called a mahātmā, or broadminded person."
Where our modern-day seekers of justice may be missing the point is in trying to force everyone onto artificial platforms of social and economic equality, which tries to vainly erase all differences, but diversity is essential to the human condition. Our differences cannot be erased, but only considered and applied in such a way that ignorant discrimination, based on the bodily platform, does not rear its ugly, ugly head.
It is our duty as devotees to make active these timeless principles of Vedic culture. We shouldn't go into fundamentalist mode and blindly condemn the efforts of progressive peoples worldwide to get their voice heard, and even to preserve their lives.
After all, we can admire the rare goodness in their hearts in this fragile, chaotic world. Let us unite with them in their efforts, in a respectful, active dialogue, and bring about real, spiritual equality in the here and now.