Discrimination and prejudice

Question: 
Does our physical body in any way define who we are or make us superior/inferior to others? There's so much discrimination in this world, but from what I understand Krishna resides in all of us as paramatma. Does this mean we are all the exact same? If so, why is there discrimination based on race?


Our Answer:
From God's point of view, we're all equal. We're all parts of Him; we're spiritual beings with eternal, individual relationships with God. God is all about "equal opportunity." Once we come to the material world, however, we become subject to karma. This means we're all put into temporary bodies, each of which has different qualities—strong, rich, educated, beautiful, etc. Some bodies are male and cannot bear children. Some are female and can. There are many, many differences on the bodily level.

Discrimination—such as racial prejudice—is a misunderstanding of the importance of these differences. In the most important, eternal, spiritual sense, we're all equal. Our temporary differences change more frequently than the weather. In this lifetime, I may be in the downtrodden minority, but in the next life I may be in the oppressive majority, for one example. If I take bodily differences so seriously that I judge others (or myself) based totally on the relative status of the temporary body, I'm being foolish.

As infants, for another example, we're all completely dependent on the care of others. We can do nothing for ourselves. We can't even talk or feed ourselves. Does that mean we're stupid and useless? No, we're just in baby bodies. In old age also, we generally face similar limiting circumstances. The limitations we face then are a result of the body's changes. They don't mean the person within the body is any less of a person.

In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna categorizes bodily prejudice as being in the mode of passion and ignorance:

"That knowledge by which one sees that in every different body there is a different type of living entity you should understand to be in the mode of passion." (Bhagavad-gita, 18.21)

Krishna also describes true knowledge:

"That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all living entities, though they are divided into innumerable forms, you should understand to be in the mode of goodness." (Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

If one judges a person's true quality by his/her outward body, then that judgment is in the modes of passion and ignorance. It becomes influenced by ignorance when—due to that misunderstanding—one discriminates for or against someone just because of their outward bodily situation.

On the other hand, a person in true knowledge recognizes that different bodies are endowed with different qualities and abilities (or disabilities), while the souls within all bodies are spiritually equal, and have an equal opportunity to offer whatever their present body allows in the service of the Lord.

Krishna is also right next to the soul, and within everyone as Paramatma, directing everyone's actions based on their desires, and awarding them suitable bodies for living out their dreams. The bodies are all Krishna's energy. We don't create them. So really, everything we see is Krishna's energy. From our limited, materialistic point of view, one body may be temporarily and superficially "better" than another, but in the ultimate sense it's "all Krishna." Or, as some people like to say, "it's all good."

Removing prejudice has to be done on both sides—by the seer and the person being seen. If someone is rich but not wise, they should learn to recognize and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses—to use their gifts in the Lord's service and at the same time to not envy others.

Problems arise when we try to act in ways that are unrealistic or foolish due to our jealousy of those with qualities or abilities we don't have. Also the seer needs to recognize that everyone has a part to play and the Lord accepts any offering, small or large, expensive or not, done with sincerity and love. If both parties have this vision then prejudice will vanish.