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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami


The Official Source For Srila Prabhupada's Original Books

Karma of the Nation

STEPHEN KNAPP – In studying the science of karma, we must remember that it is actually a basic law of physics, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the universal scale it is also a natural law, only it is called the law of karma. Individuals acquire karma as a result of their good or bad activities. Pious actions will result in positive or uplifting reactions in the future. Impious or nefarious actions will bring about negative, unwanted or troublesome reactions to endure in the future. This is to provide the necessary lessons to learn what we should or should not do, which can then balance our karma and our consciousness. However, not only do individuals have or acquire specific karma, but also a collective karma can be acquired by whole societies, or nations, depending on the overall activities of the citizens.


In understanding national karma, we can consider how the Manu-samhita (8.304-309) describes how a king or ruler of a country receives one sixth of the total karma of the subjects he rules. This, of course, depends on the general activities of the citizens. If the majority of people are pious and spiritually oriented, and the ruler protects those citizens to maintain a peaceful society in which such people can flourish, then the king will also share in the good activities and good karma of the citizens. Otherwise, if the ruler does not properly protect and maintain the citizens but allows criminals to run loose and create havoc, while still collecting taxes from the people, the overall karma will be extremely dark. Such a ruler will take upon himself the foulness of his countrymen and sink into hell.

From this description, we can see that if the ruler is so much affected by the total karma of the citizens of the country, then the nation itself fosters its future according to the good or bad activities of the citizens. So whatever reactions this country will endure in its future, whether it be harvests of plenty, good economy, or starvation from famine and drought, or victory over our enemies or destruction from war, depends on the way we live today.

History has noted many countries and civilizations in the past who, although seeming to be so powerful while living a frivolous, decadent, and spoiled lifestyle, finally met their doom. Such a downfall was usually quite unexpected at the time. However, by understanding the law of karma, such a collapse can be fairly predictable. We can see this in the analysis of the Roman Empire.

The last great civilization in the West was the Roman Empire, of which historians have noted five characteristics that helped cause that great society to fall apart. First, there was a love of show and luxury. Everyone was eager to acquire material things as a sign of affluence. This also helped cause the second factor, which was a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.

The third factor was a complete obsession with sex. In the latter days of the Roman Empire, sex became the sole interest, whether in ordinary conversations, or in art, culture–everything. Pompeii was a big resort for this kind of licentious living and sex. (And we all know of the earthquake in A.D. 69 that damaged Pompeii, and then the volcanic eruption in A.D. 79 that finally buried it.)

A fourth factor in the downfall of the Roman Empire was a freakishness and abandonment in the arts which masqueraded and pretended to be originality. This can easily be found now in this country in modern art, music, sculpture, etc.

The fifth factor was the creation of the welfare state and the increasing desire amongst the people to live off the government. Even today, there are places where anyone can get welfare and not have to work. Plus, with more sex, the more children that are born, which entitles the welfare recipient to more money.

We should carefully regard these points and take note of where our modern American Empire stands because history repeats itself. We presently find an increase in these same things here in the United States. For example, almost all advertising nowadays evolves around the idea of having or getting sex appeal, no matter whether it is in buying a car, or buying anything that people are told they need, or attaining a successful career. And it does not take much to figure out why everyone wants sex appeal. So the present times merely reflect attitudes and changes that have taken place before, as in the Roman Empire.

For example, modern philosophy, whether in sociology, psychology, art, politics, the sciences, etc., usually presents the idea that there is no absolute law or standard. In other words, whatever turns you on, do it; whatever you believe in, it’s O.K. There is no absolute, and anyone who thinks there is becomes regarded as a fanatic. Similarly, in the Roman Empire, there was no emphasis on God or faith in moral standards. There were many denominations, but the attitude was anyone could believe anything he wanted. But those who were serious about their religion were severely persecuted.

In the case of the Christians, they were thrown to the lions in the amphitheaters as a spectator sport. The people would watch in the stands and applaud the utter brutality of it all. One reason for this was that the Christians refused to accept the Roman gods. They believed in only one God as a pure, infinite being who set down the law, which if not followed would cause one to go to hell. Romans accepted gods who drank wine, ate meat, had sex, and so on. Therefore, Romans looked on Christians as if they were fanatics. This is the same way modern philosophers, politicians, and liberals today look at people who seem to be overly dedicated to a law of God, such as the law of karma. Rather than understanding the law of karma, such people would rather criticize it and simply carry on with their frivolous and whimsical habits, while remaining ignorant of the consequences.

We should point out, however, that karma is not a belief system but is a science. One may believe that he can do whatever he wants and that there is no jail house, but if he acts like a criminal and gets caught and thrown into confinement, then he will be forced to adjust his thinking and face the results of his activities. Similarly, people may think they can escape the universal laws and do whatever they like, but when they are forced by the law of karma to face their destined punishments either in this life, or after death or in a future life, it will be too late.

When we see, therefore, that people in certain areas of the country are suffering from drought, that farmers cannot grow their crops, that fires are consuming vast forests and destroying homes, that storms are causing destruction and devastation to cities and towns, or incurable diseases are affecting more and more people all the time, or when other countries threaten us with war, we should not miss the message. It is easy to ask ourselves, “Why has God done this to me?” or “Why has He allowed this to happen?” and then try to put the blame on someone else. But why should such reversals in life not happen to us? What have we done to avoid it? Usually nothing. Therefore, we must understand how the law of karma affects everyone.

When we stop to consider that as many as 134 million animals and 3 billion birds are slaughtered every year, and hundreds of thousands more are tortured and killed for useless scientific experiments, is it any wonder why there should not be a heavy reaction to the cries of pain from so many innocent living beings as they are butchered in order to satisfy mankind’s thoughtless cravings? Everyone wants to be happy and live in peace, but how can this be peace when so many other entities suffer from the most painful experiments in so-called scientific laboratories? Or are methodically killed each day at slaughterhouses so that their corpses can be sold in supermarkets? But it is not just commercial enterprises that do this, but it is also the government. In 1986, the Office of Technology Assessment reported that 84% of all painful animal experimentation is carried out by the military. The “In Defense of Animals” group also stated that of 22 military bases, 83,389 animals were used in 1987, and 142,735 in 1988, of which pain was used in 99% of the experiments on dogs, 81% on cats, and 43% on primates. And there is no public outcry about this?

This does not include the widespread torture of people by people. Political prisoners are often tortured by rulers or their military to keep people in line with the particular agenda of the regime. Some leaders have such a mentality that they enjoy keeping their subjects in a miserable condition. Or there is torture and fighting of people for being of a different religion. This type of thing goes on much more than we think, and has been going on for hundreds of years.

Therefore, when society in general has such a cruel and callous attitude towards other living entities, or are too wasteful in regards to the planet’s natural resources, or live an unnecessarily decadent or frivolous lifestyle, nature arranges reactions in various ways to humble us, or teach us a lesson. One of which is in the form of wars. From time to time we all have to watch as we ship our young men and women off to be killed or maimed in the slaughterhouse of war. As long as there are large numbers of innocent animals being unnecessarily killed and tortured day after day throughout the year, there will never be peace for long, for war will always exist somewhere, in which we will be forced to become involved. But war also means war in the family, such as discontent, arguments, separation, and divorce; war in the community, such as gang wars, crime, robberies, murders, and rape; and industrial and economic wars as well as international wars and terrorism. These reactions affect many millions of people every day around the world, and it is nothing more than the workings of nature as it reflects the consciousness of the people who inhabit this world.

When the majority of people in a country are influenced by commercialism and addicted to the four most karmically implicating activities–meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling–there will definitely be reactions to endure in the future. This is the universal law. There is no amount of economic planning, defense buildup, agricultural arrangement, or even weather forecasting that will help us to avoid unexpected karmic reactions. If the ruler of a country receives one-sixth of the aggregate good or bad karma of the citizens, then the citizens themselves will also experience the reactions that the country is destined to receive, as arranged by nature.

By understanding the law of karma and abiding by the four principles which are especially recommended for this age–namely, truthfulness, cleanliness, austerity, and mercy–the people (ad the leaders) of this country will surely become strong, develop good moral character, be concerned for the welfare of all others, acquire a sound state of mind, and will attain a great destiny like no other country in the world. We all want to make this country and this world a better place, and there is a method which will enable us to do that, which we are revealing. But we must understand that there is more to it than the obvious plan-making that goes on amongst our politicians, economic advisors, judiciaries, etc. There is the subtle aspect that goes on and is determined by the decisions and activities of each and every individual. Therefore, those who take the time to understand the law of karma and try to abide by it can certainly be understood to be people who are working for a better future, not only for themselves, but for a better America and, indeed, for a better world.

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