Chapter 16: From House to Home, from Home to Temple
Just the other day, I heard that the U.N. has made a documentary film on the street people, on beggars. America has thirty million beggars, but the government is not ready to accept the fact. They have opened a small place for a few hundred street people. They have given them houses, food, clothes and some kind of employment. The U.N. has included that experiment in its documentary so that other countries can also see that something has to be done. It was included with all the good intentions in the world, they were not including it to criticize America. They were including it to praise America, but the American government forced the U.N. to edit out that part.
Even the U.N. authorities were surprised. They said, “That is the most important part and it brings credit to you that you are doing something for those poor, hungry, shelterless people, without enough clothes, just sleeping on the streets.” But the American politicians have a different attitude. They said, “That means your intention is good, but the world will come to know that America also has street people.” They have been continually denying that they have any beggars, and it is absolute nonsense.
My conflict with the American government began on the question of street beggars, because I invited three thousand street beggars to be part of our commune. Now, the commune was an international headquarters; there were people from every country, and thousands of people were coming and going. Seeing that three thousand street people had reached the commune - and they were so happy. For the first time they were being treated as human beings: with the same love, with the same food, with the same clothes, with the same houses, with all the facilities that were available to sannyasins who had donated millions of dollars. Perhaps for the first time they recognized that they were also human beings, not dogs of the street.
That was the beginning of a conflict between Ronald Reagan and me. What harm was I doing to America? If three thousand people can be absorbed by a five-thousand-person commune, can’t the whole of America absorb thirty million people?
But the real trouble was that those thirty million people were almost all black, and they were afraid. The news media was continuously coming to the commune. Every day, their planes were landing at the commune’s airport. They were surprised, seeing three thousand black people - people to whom they have never paid any attention. But now they had to pay attention.
The American government tried in every way - and the Christian church - to persuade those people that, “Just for the shelter, food, clothes and work you are getting, soon you will drop Christianity too, without knowing it.” Afraid of losing numbers - that was the fear of the Christian church.
And they are doing the same thing all over the world. In India, who becomes converted to Christianity? - the beggars, the orphans. And we were not converting them to another religion. We don’t have another religion. My whole approach is for religiousness.
The government was afraid that the world would come to know that America has beggars.