Formerly, the people of India (now misnamed as "Hindus") followed varṇāśrama-dharma or sanātana-dharma, the system that organizes human affairs according to four social orders and four spiritual orders. Those in the three higher social orders—namely, the brāhmaṇas (the instructive order), the kṣatriyas (the administrative order), and the vaiśyas (the productive order)—all used to lead the life of Vaiṣṇavism, or centering every action upon the Supreme Deity, Viṣṇu. In all the four spiritual orders—the student, the householder, the retired, and the renounced—and especially the householder order, Viṣṇu was being worshiped. The brāhmaṇa householders, particularly, used to worship Viṣṇu without fail, and even now the descendants of those brāhmaṇas continue to worship Viṣṇu daily as their family Deity.
These spiritually cultured people used to do everything for the sake of Viṣṇu. They used to earn wealth according to their capacity for the service of Viṣṇu. With their earnings they used to acquire eatables, and the eatables were cooked for the worship of Viṣṇu. Then the meal offered to satisfy Viṣṇu became prasādam—"the Lord's mercy," the remnants of His meal—and could be accepted by them. What was possible in days gone by and is still being done here and there even today can again be made possible in all spheres of life, by a little adjustment suitable to time, place, and people. In this way, everyone can get free of the binding network of actions and reactions.
The learned sages say that to approach the lotus feet of Viṣṇu is to get liberation. We can satisfy our ordinary desires by satisfying the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu, which is the ultimate goal of karma-yoga, or work with transcendental results. If we do not perform our duties in this manner, for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu, then certainly all and any work done by us will produce nothing but poisonous material results, and ultimately there will be disaster in the world. By doing everything for the satisfaction of Viṣṇu and taking the remnants of the offerings made to Viṣṇu, we can get rid of the vices and sinful reactions that accumulate in the course of our performing our prescribed duties.
Although we may take so many precautions against these vices and sinful reactions, even in the course of ordinary business exchanges and ventures we have to commit so many sins. For instance, we find it necessary and unavoidable in business dealings to speak lies—not to mention the volumes of lies that are spoken by members of the legal profession. Lawyers have to resort to all sorts of trickery to get around a law in which they have become professionally entangled. And of course, those who are in the service of other professions have to do the same kind of thing without fail. Intentionally or unintentionally, one has to commit such sins—and incur the sinful reactions—without any doubt.
Even if we take all precautions to protect ourselves against committing any sins—for the Vaiṣṇavas, the devotees of Viṣṇu, naturally do take all such precautions—still, unconsciously we kill many ants and other insects while discharging even the most ordinary duties, such as walking from one place to another. Even in simply drinking water, we kill many tiny aquatic creatures. We kill many such living entities merely by cleaning our homes or when eating and sleeping. In sum, we cannot avoid all the sins we incur, even unconsciously, in the ordinary course of life.
According to the laws of man, a person may be hanged when he commits homicide, but he is not hanged when he kills lower animals. But according to the laws of God, one commits the same sin by killing a lower animal as he does by killing a man. We are punished by the laws of God for either action. Those who do not believe in the laws of God or in His existence may go on committing such sins, and they may not come to their senses despite the countless sufferings they are put into for committing such sins, but that does not affect the existence of God or His eternal laws.
The law books known as the smṛtis mention five kinds of sin which everyone inevitably commits, no matter how unwillingly. They are as follows: (1) Sins committed by itching, (2) sins committed by rubbing, (3) sins committed by starting a fire, (4) sins committed by pouring water from a pot, and (5) sins committed by cleaning the house. Even if we do not commit any intentional sins, we have to commit the above five kinds of sin, without a shadow of doubt. Thus, it is our duty to accept the remnants of offerings made to Viṣṇu, to escape the reactions of all sinful actions committed unconsciously and unavoidably. Unfortunately, those who cook food not for offering to Viṣṇu, but only for satisfying their senses, have to undergo punishments for all the sins they have committed consciously or unconsciously, while discharging prescribed duties. For this reason, the worship of Viṣṇu still goes on in the households of the followers of sanātana-dharma, and especially in the households of the brāhmaṇas.
Therefore, those who are leaders of their respective countries and communities should first be sure to satisfy Viṣṇu, for their own benefit and for the benefit of those whom they profess to lead. All leaders should ponder how they can discharge their duties by satisfying the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu, for what the leaders do will be imitated by their followers. Therefore, the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, advises Arjuna as follows: "What is done by the leader is followed by the ordinary man. Whatever the leader establishes as truth, the followers take to it unhesitatingly."
But alas, the time has already come when the leaders, whom ordinary men regard as beacons, are themselves mostly atheists at the bottom of their hearts and are against the principles laid down by Godhead. As such, what can they do for the satisfaction of the transcendental senses of Viṣṇu? And if they do not do everything for the satisfaction of the transcendental senses of Godhead, how can they expect to drag themselves or their followers from the mire of sins committed in the course of discharging prescribed duties? If the leaders do not recognize the existence of the all-powerful Viṣṇu, who is simultaneously both the supreme transcendental personality and the impersonal spirit existing everywhere, then what will ordinary men understand about Him? He is the supreme enjoyer of everything that be, and thus none of us, however great we may be, can be the enjoyer of the universe and its paraphernalia. Since our position is subordinate to that of the almighty Viṣṇu, the Supreme Godhead (Īśvara, the supreme controller), we can enjoy only what comes from Him as a token of His kindness. We must not enjoy anything that is not offered by Him. We should not make any extra effort to obtain anything which belongs to Him or others. That is the spirit of Vaiṣṇavism.