“Spiritual realization is a process of learning who we are and what we are not. It can take years to throw off the yoke of social condition, but the reward is in realizing your eternal constitutional position as a child of God, not as a pawn in the game of racial identity politics.”
A lot has been done with the Gita in our little movement. And I think that’s great. Take the Legend of Bagger Vance. Not bad. I totally don’t get the golf thing, but that’s not important here.
What’s important is that yesterday the book The Bhagavad-Gita in Black and White; From Mulatto Pride to Krishna Consciousness came into the bookstore I own. It’s authored by Charukrishna dasa (Charles Michael Byrd) who is, bodily, of black, white and Cherokee heritage. Charukrishna, before becoming a devotee, was a proponent of mixed-race pride.
The book is laid out into 18 chapters, each titled as the corresponding Bhagavad-gita chapter (Ch. 7 is Knowledge of the Absolute). Charukrishna prabhu then picks out a verse or two, gives a very nice explanation based upon Srila Prabhupada’s gita. After he finishes his purport, he then explains how it relates to our society’s perception of race.
I started picking through the book last night, figuring that since I’m white and have very little experience with the black community, I couldn’t possibly relate. But after reading a bit, I’m really getting it.
It’s amazing that even through all this social conditioning that I, a white boy from farm country, was having the same realizations about race, racism and race pride that a mixed-race fellow from Virginia turned mixed-race pride advocate was having.
A lot of what he is saying in the book is fairly politically incorrect. But I challenge anyone to say he’s wrong about how the race card is used against us (“us” meaning all people).
For example, in his Bhagavad-gita 7.5 section, he first explains, exactly as Srila Prabhupada does, that living entities are of a superior energy of the Supreme. He also quotes the same Srimad Bhagavatam verse (10.87.30) as Prabhupada. He discusses false ego and how to become fully Krishna conscious. Just like Srila Prabhupada’s purport.
He next applies this to race-consciousness. And this is where it can get a bit dodgy for the liberals amongst us.
The clamor over hate-crime legislation is a perfect example of how competing racial and ethnic divisions – brought about by impious souls diverting their minds to illusory pursuits such as racial pride and superiority – are tearing our country asunder. In the aftermath of the vicious dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998 by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said the case “clearly shouts across the world for the urgent need of this Congress to move quickly to strengthen and to pass anti-hate legislation.” As I wrote in “A Guilty Verdict in Jasper,” Mfume’s remarks border on the preposterous, as if to say that Byrd would still be alive today if Texas had anti-hate legislation on the books and if his killers knew of it beforehand.
Although anti-hate legislations may result in courts meting out heftier sentences after the face, these laws won’t resurrect the dead. Why is there no emphasis on reconstructing race, on teaching our children, from first grade on, that it is a social construct, that difference between human beings – whether between white and black or between Serb and Kosovan – are largely perceived? ….
Once this country’s race leaders cease exploiting the gross and subtle inferior energy (matter) for their own financial and political purposes, the superior energy (the living entity) will have a better chance to remember its real spiritual mind and intelligence and transcend this senseless race-consciousness. Only by developing htis spiritual insight will we be able to co-exist on this planet and gradually work toward understanding our common source, God.
And folks, that is one hell of a Bhagavad-gita class.
My one critique of the book is that he doesn’t connect this enough. He doesn’t link this as much as he could to our philosophy. For example, at the end of the last paragraph, he could have ended “…whose identity is firmly ensconced in a racial essence, a racial consciousness, a bodily concept.”
Doing that would not only link what he’s saying directly to Srila Prabhupada’s words, but would also give devotees a better understanding of what he’s talking about. Not that we’re too dim to get that racial consciousness is a bodily conception, but seeing it there on the page really drives it home.
In the final paragraph in the section above, he does, of course, connect the two, but, at least to me, it seems clunky. While he explains what inferior and superior energy is, he doesn’t really let on how it relates to what he’s talking about. In race-consciousness, the superior energy (the living entities) is manipulating superior energy (other living entities) by using inferior energy (bodily concept – in this case, race).
He then jumps right back into a Bhagavad-gita purport, writing “Continual study of the Bhavad-gita leads to the firm understanding and realization that Krishna alone is the ultimate limit of para-tattva (the science of understanding the highest truth), the Supreme Absolute Reality, and that there is no more exalted knowledge than knowing Him. Only by surrendering exclusively to His lotus feet can one become free from the bondage of maya.”
While I certainly agree with that, it seems to almost come out of nowhere.
Now I didn’t come here to rip apart this book. Not at all! I’m really excited about it. This is my new favorite thing ever! Sure, I have a few critiques, but overall, the whole of this book is amazing.
Take, for example, his critique of Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive!” campaign from Chapter 9 – The Most Confidential Knowledge.
Inasmuch as “hoping” is the same thing as “postponing” – i.e., it is not “doing” for oneself – what is Jackson actually advocating that black folk do? Think about that, won’t you?
That quote alone speaks volumes. Hoping is postponing. When taken in light of something as heavy as revolutionary thought, that’s some pretty scary stuff. Just who is Rev. Jackson working for?
However, my critique of his work comes back in Chapter 10 – Opulence of the Absolute. Charukrishna prabhu writes “America’s success is by the grace of God, but our nation tends to neglect this truth. Moreover, we seem to ignore our virtues as a nation and prefer, instead, to break into small factions and warring groups.”
This is true. But the conclusion which he’s hinting at is, in my opinion, flawed and simply not spiritual. He is saying that instead of being a united America, we are splitting ourselves into groups according to (among other things) race. But isn’t America, or any nation, inferior energy? Isn’t patriotism a by-product of bodily consciousness? Essentially, we are not American or Russian or Chinese anymore than we are Black or White or Mulatto. These labels are illusions. And our so-called leaders use these labels, these illusions, to manipulate us. It is true of black leaders, it is true of national leaders.
He goes on to say, “Whenever one sees some extraordinary power, one should understand that it is derived from God’s power. It logically follows, therefore, that America’s predominance in the world is due to God’s favor.”
But this is faulty logic. A rapist, for example, rapes to have power over his victim. Is this power, this predominance over the victim due to God’s favor? No. It’s due to the rapist’s freewill and misuse of God’s energy. This is an extreme example, but I don’t see how either could be from God’s favor.
In the next paragraph, however, he and I are back on track.
Recall the dismay expressed by many Africa-Americans when the Census Bureau reported in 2003 that Hispanics had surpassed blacks as the largest minority in America. Observe also the increasing warfare between black and Latino street gangs in many of our nation’s largest cities – particularly Los Angeles.
This is due to a depraved devotion to race-consciousness. In fact, it would not be far off to say that in our country – and throughout most of the modern world – race-consciousness has replaced God-consciousness.
All this is true. But all this could be extended to national-consciousness, patriotism, as well. His book isn’t about that, so I wouldn’t expect him to draw that connection. However, I didn’t expect him to so awkwardly bring up that America’s power is due to God’s favor.
Again, I feel as if I’m criticizing too much. This is a very important book. I think it should definitely be read. Not only that, I feel that books like this should be written more often. We always talk about spiritual solutions to material problems, but we never see examples of them (aside from a few here and there that often seem pointless and very out of touch). But this book really is in touch with its audience. It’s grounded enough in Bhagavad-gita philosophy to please nearly any devotee and its critique of the equal rights movement is, often, brilliant.
And maybe that is where my own problems lie. I have little to no interaction with the equal rights movement. While I’ve always felt a comradery with black culture (starting way back with Sesame Street and continuing through the 80′s hiphop movement), I’ve not actually worked hand-in-hand with these folks.
Maybe my critique of his nationalism is premature. Maybe his audience is nationalistic and not yet ready to throw off the yoke of that particular social condition. Or maybe it’s Charukrishna who is not yet ready.
And maybe my ignorance of the inner workings of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan prohibits me from understanding why Charukrishna prabhu slags on Farrakhan’s February 2007 speech where he states “How come we, the people of God, cannot embrace each other?” The author criticizes Farrakhan for not being realized enough. Farrakhan doesn’t see Krishna as supreme, only Jesus and Muhammad. But shouldn’t Farrakhan be praised (at least in this respect) for coming as far as he has?
Charukrishna praises Malik El Shabazz’s (Malcolm X’s) transformation at the end of his life. Malcolm traveled to Mecca and realized that he no longer believed in the separation of the races. Farrakhan, now, seems to be preaching the same thing. Charukrishna’s politics again seem to get in the way. Or maybe my own politics are getting in the way of me seeing what this devotee is actually saying.
I did, however, particularly enjoy this quote:
We should school our children from kindergarten by teaching them that race is not real, but we won’t. We’ll continue to focus on battling racism, race-based violence and race-hatred, but we’ll be content to leave the construct of race standing as if it has a basis in reality. It sounds good and noble, but it’s akin to fighting the symptoms of a disease without giving a damn about combating the root cause.
His spiritual conclusions are perfect. They are directly from Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita: As It Is. He explains the Gita in usually common terms and is very clear and concise.
However, what he is also saying is very politically incorrect. It will take some amount of understanding by those of us who have been brought up believing in the equality of races. But Charukrishna explains that races don’t exist and therefore cannot be equal. Why waste times trying to equate zero to zero?
Politically, he is a Libertarian (note the capital L). Libertarians are generally capitalistic isolationists. However, in this book, he is arguing against isolationism, at least on the basis of race. I personally don’t feel that devotees should enter into the political spectrum. We do not belong in Washington DC. Just as Srila Prabhupada said about the Mantra Rock festival in 1967, “This is no place for a brahmacari.”
But, as is the nature of his book, Charukrishna prabhu must be political. It’s a book about politics. However, sometimes his arguments seem contradictory. In one chapter, he’s down on Marx, but in the next he praises the idea of empowering the nation’s poor and oppressed (though not with “venomous diatribes” or “separatist ideology”), which is a Marxist idea (albeit, more Marxist than Marx).
These lead me to believe that Charukrishna had a spiritual crisis and solved it with the Bhagavad-gita and Krishna consciousness. That is, naturally, a great thing. Who among us will object? But he also seems to be having a political crisis. Maybe he didn’t work through it prior to becoming a devotee. I personally didn’t either. I was a social democrat, but that never sat well with me. I dabbled in the libertarian thing, but capitalism seemed too creepy and directly opposed to what we, as devotees, fundamentally believe (that everything, including wealth, is Krishna’s). That’s when I figured out that I was an anarchist and it fit perfectly within the Krishna conscious philosophy.
And my critiques (the political ones anyway), come from my anarchist background. My critique of his patriotism, especially. Of course, I feel that most anarchists miss the conclusion of the “we are not this country” philosophy, which is also, “we are not these bodies.” But that’s for another time.
In conclusion, I’ll let Charukrishna take us out on a high note…
Our highest calling is the clarion call to return to God. We do ourselves a disservice to think in terms of race and ethnicity. We do the world a disservice to think in these terms, too. Violence begins at home, and if we identify with our bodies, we commit the greatest violence to ourselves and to others as well. Unless we recognize our spiritual birthright, our relation to every living being in existence, we cannot recognize our common Father. If we do not recognize Him, we recognize nothing.
The Bhagavad-gita in Black and White; From Mulatto Pride to Krishna Consciousness by Charles Michael Byrd (Charukrishna) is available from Powells for $16.95.