“The real independence of a living entity, who is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is to remain always dependent on the Supreme Lord, just like a child who plays in complete independence, guided by his parents, who watch over him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.35 Purport)
The “oppressed”, whose cause is often championed by activists, are those deemed to be less fortunate and exploited by those in power. Based on the current makeup of society, women, minorities, and the poor are usually what constitute victims of oppression. While it is undoubtedly true that the natural yearning for freedom gets hindered by other entities, according to the Vedic angle of vision, there is not a single person who is independent. When the pure spirit soul is placed in the temporary and miserable world, it is given a suitable body. One who is embodied is referred to as dehinam in Sanskrit, which means “one who has accepted a material body and thus been put under the forces of nature”. For one who is embodied, the aim of life is to break free of the bondage imposed by the material body. This release can be granted only through adherence to dharma, or the laws of God as passed down through the Vedic system.
“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)
How is every person embodied? We can think of it in terms of being trapped in a specific set of clothes. The outer garments worn by the individual soul go through gradual changes, sometimes increasing in power, while at other times decreasing. The changes are guaranteed, and the person wearing the clothes has no say as to when and how the changes manifest. For the pure spirit soul, the individual spiritual spark residing within the body, there is no control over the workings of nature. Surely there is a minute amount of independence in how the soul interacts with its surroundings, but the results of such action are delivered by divine forces, those put into place by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, and His deputies known as the demigods. Therefore anyone who possesses a temporary material body must be considered dependent on nature. No one is independent.
For the individual spirit soul, this realization is very difficult to come by. In the animal species, understanding these higher concepts is impossible. The animals live completely in ignorance, so they are incapable of sin or piety. Moreover, they engage strictly in the activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings often look at other animals and marvel at their lack of intelligence. After all, a dog is willing to eat its own vomit. A pig will roll around in its own stool. For the human being, these are considered vile activities, but for the animal, there is no concept of good and bad. An animal simply acts off its instincts. It will eat whenever it wants to, and it will have sex with whichever animal is available.
The benefit of human life lies in the area of intelligence. The human being is capable of understanding piety and sin, right and wrong, and the temporary nature of life. Since a human being is wise enough to understand that it is mortal, it is also capable of inquiring about the Absolute Truth, that Divine Entity which never takes birth or dies. If the human being does not make this inquiry, then they are essentially no different than the animals. Therefore human life really begins with religion, or spirituality.
“Indeed, human life begins when religion begins. Eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating are the four principles of animal life. These are common both to animals and to human beings. But religion is the extra function of the human being. Without religion, human life is no better than animal life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.2 Purport)
Oppression, racism, bigotry, and sexism are merely products of the animalistic way of life. A person who is not God conscious, one who is unaware that the Supreme Lord’s intervention is responsible for the workings of nature, will be a miser and want to hoard material possessions for themselves. This stingy mentality then leads to greed, an emotion which is kept ablaze through fierce competition. In this way, the natural penchant for cheating takes hold of the ignorant living entity. Oppression is simply a way for the strong to limit the influence of the weak. The actual parties involved can vary based on time and circumstance. In one era, one particular religious group can be the oppressors while the other group remains oppressed. In another era or geographic location, the roles can reverse.
Since women are generally weaker in terms of physical ability, they are prime candidates for subjugation and oppression. Again, this is simply the result of the animalistic mentality, a mindset which completely ignores spirituality. Sometimes, however, those who are unfamiliar with Vedic traditions and the purposes behind them will mistakenly believe that the Vedas call for the subjugation of women. After all, the Vedic tenets are that women should serve and honor their husbands and that they should not remain independent at any time. In actuality, these stipulations represent true benevolence and kindness. Moreover, they are completely in line with dharma and thus don’t need to be apologized for.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)
As mentioned before, the true benefit of human life lies in the area of intelligence. The most difficult concept for the individual to realize is that they are not their body and that they are spirit soul. After realizing these truths of life, the intelligent soul then takes to devotional service, their natural engagement. The soul is meant to be a servant of God, a pure lover of the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Lord Krishna, or God, is meant to be loved. When the lover and the beloved are together, there is perfect peace and harmony. In fact, the definition of God includes the energy expansions who always serve Him. When the soul becomes liberated through constant loving association with Krishna, there is oneness.
The resulting oneness can be thought of in these terms: If we go to a rock concert, the band and the audience essentially become one when the band is playing music. The audience’s role is to make noise and sing along to the songs, and the role of the band is to supply the music. If either entity is missing, there cannot be a complete concert. Similar examples are seen in other areas of life such as with teachers and their students, and kings and their subjects. In the same way, the complete definition of God involves His loving servants. It is not that the servants assume the same role as the Lord, but rather through their service, there is a singularity in terms of the resulting condition. Therefore the Supreme Lord is always worshiped alongside His pleasure potencies: Sita and Rama, Radha and Krishna, and Lakshmi and Narayana. The Supreme Lord is the energetic and the pleasure potency expansions are His energy.
When the husband is devoted to Krishna and the wife devoted to the husband, there is a oneness in the marriage. This system is completely natural and not concocted by any philosopher, spiritual leader, or lawmaker. When both parties in the marriage abide by their duties, there is an ideal marriage, a singular entity that exudes perfect energy. The family is the backbone of society, the basic functional unit of a community, city, state, and country. The Vedic system is geared towards enabling every conditioned soul to achieve liberation by the end of their lifetime. Since every person is born with different qualities due to their past karma, not everyone can take to the same activities. The idea is that whatever qualities one does possess should be utilized for the pleasure of the Lord. The husband is deemed as the deva, or god, of the household. Yet this doesn’t mean that the husband is independent or free from nature’s subjugation. Rather, even the husband is required to take to kind and humble service to the Lord. No one in society is independent; everyone is a dependent of someone, with the topmost person, the leader of men, ideally being a servant of the Supreme Lord.
Under the current circumstances, the common practice is for women and men to be independent in their conjugal relations and their seeking of life partners. While this system may seem practical, it leads to many problems. For starters, there is little to no adherence to dharma while one is in a marriage. Since the bond of matrimony is held together by sense gratification, once the pleasure derived from the spouse’s company wears off, the relationship can dissolve. A marriage is not meant to be ended, for it is a life partnership that enables both parties to steadily increase their God consciousness. When there is a complete perceived independence exhibited by both parties, constant struggle results. Women are left to be exploited by men looking for simple sex life, and men are left to beg for measly sex life which is already available to the animals. For spiritual enlightenment, sex life should be strictly regulated. This is not simply to punish individuals, but rather to enable them to focus on the intelligence acquiring aspect of life.
Upon hearing for the first time of how the Vedic marriage system is arranged, a misconception may arise as to the role played by the husband. One may think, “Oh that is certainly nice for the man. He simply is given a wife who will serve him no matter what. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the guy.” What’s ironic is that there is no independence for the man in this system either. For example, one of Lord Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations, Lord Rama, even had to ask His father before getting permission to marry Sita Devi, the exalted princess of Videha. Lord Rama obviously didn’t need to ask anyone for anything, but since He was committed to dharma and setting a good example, after breaking the famous bow of Lord Shiva’s and winning the hand of Sita in marriage, the Lord made sure to get His father’s permission prior to agreeing to the marriage.
“Though being offered to Rama, I was not accepted by Him at the time, for He did not know the opinion of His father Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.51)
Sita’s father, King Janaka, was so thrilled to get Rama as a son-in-law that he also gave away other princesses in his family to be married to Rama’s three younger brothers. Rama’s brother Lakshmana received Sita’s sister Urmila as a wife. Lakshmana and Rama were not looking for wives, nor were they in need of them. Yet through the Vedic system, which calls for adherence to dharma and dependence on religious principles at all times, marriage plays an integral role.
True independence only comes from dependence on the Supreme Lord. Women of the Vedic tradition exude the greatest qualities and the highest level of intelligence. They are by no means weak, nor are they subjugated. Though they are devoted to their husbands, they are completely comfortable in their relationships, knowing full well the laws of dharma and the supremacy of devotional service. Goddess Durga, who controls the material energy, is often worshiped and looked to as a role model for independent women. Yet Mother Durga is independent and powerful due to her dependence and devotion to her husband and to Krishna. Parvatiji is the most chaste and devoted wife, for she performed severe austerities to get Lord Shiva as a husband. Those who are enamored by the material energy are advised to worship her to make progress in spiritual life. Yet she would never agree to the idea of independence for men and women in their personal dealings or the idea of taking to material sense gratification as a way of life. She is the epitome of dharma and virtue.
“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
As long as there is a material world, there will be oppression. One group may rise to power at a certain time, while at another time they will be oppressed. Peace and harmony in society can only be achieved through service to the Supreme Master, the all-independent and powerful Supreme Lord. Our activities should be geared towards achieving Krishna consciousness at the time of death. This will guarantee a return trip to the spiritual world in the afterlife. As long as one remains in the animalistic mode of life, there will always be cheating, greed, oppression, and subjugation. Through following the Vedic system of dharma, which calls for a strong family life secured through adherence to prescribed duties by both the husband and the wife, we can take great strides towards removing our ignorance. Regardless of our position, whether we are married, single, or in a relationship, the quintessential act of dharma for the people of this age is the chanting of the names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We should take up whatever activities will help us perform devotional service and avoid those which hamper our devotional efforts. The Vedic system of marriage is intended to allow both parties to perform devotional service without impediment. If this condition can be sufficiently met, then the duties of marriage certainly should be adhered to.