(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 20 January 2003.)
HANDSOME YALE-graduate Nathan Hale was hanged in 1776, aged 21. He died without trial at the hands of the British army, shortly after his capture as a spy, during the American War for Independence.
Just before dying, he is reputed to have said, "I regret that 1 have but one life to give for my country". Riotous blood of the new homeland throbbed in Hales veins.
As a keen nationalist he ached to make the supreme sacrifice of his life more than once -- for America. He is thought of as a hero, and to this day all US schoolchildren learn about his unusual zeal. He knew nothing of the soul or transmigration.
In the Bhagavata, Shri Krishna advises the sages that identifying with one's land of birth (bhauma-ijyadhih) is dangerous.
A lot of blood has been spilt in the quest for political, economic, and intellectual power, all of which can manifest as extreme nationalism. If religious loyalties enter the mix, then this noxious brew fuels deadly rioting and warfare.
The Crusades are Generally known as religious wars, although some historical theorists are convinced that money and power were the basis of the 200-year-long conflict between Christian and Islamic interests.
Shri Krishna advises Arjuna to abandon all forms of religion (dharma) in favour of surrender to God. (Gita 18-66) This suggests that love of God is attainable through any faith that denominationalism -- in and of itself -- is incomplete, and that no one faith has all the answers. When religion fuses with nationalism, it's certainly time to ask questions about what God's love means for the world.
The wise know that identifying oneself as a servant of God, ultimately to obtain love of God, is the 'consummation devoutly to be wished'. This consciousness is available through regular practice of any faith with devotion, including Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or Christianity. In this context, reciprocation with the Supreme Being brings deep peace.
Relinquishing race, religion, occupation, nationality, gender, and the vast panoply of earthly identities and pleasures can be psychological suicide.
Shri Krishna wants to raise us to the spiritual level, but not at the cost of immature renunciation, and rejection of life itself. Headlines grab our attention, but God is found in the smallprint of loving kindness.
The writer is member of ISKCON governing body.