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The Power of the Volcano — Notes from the Editor

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The Power of the Volcano

The media’s complete coverage of the Mount St. Helens volcano completely avoided seriously considering the cataclysm’s ultimate cause. Photographers in airplanes hovered over the mountain, taking sensational news photos of the blast, officials tallied the loss of life and money, but no one spoke of the ultimate cause; no one suggested the volcanic eruptions were the work of God. One observer cried, “Oh, my God, the mountain blew!” And a photographer at the foot of St. Helens cried, “O dear God, this is hell! God, I want to live!” and barely escaped with his life. The press, however, offered these exclamations not as philosophical statements but as human-interest sidelights.

The daily science pages, while admitting—we simply do not know enough about volcanoes,” mentioned only items of intermediate interest—continental plates, how lava forms, how volcanic dust particles are wonderful “windows” by which scientists can see into the mysterious bowels of the earth. But nothing of an ultimate cause, nothing about God. One reporter did raise the question of divine origins, but only to relegate it to the antiquated superstition of primitive religion: “The ancients were convinced that eruptions occurred because of the anger of the gods: today’s scientists have a more modern theory.”

If the editors of this science page had wanted to bring up a God conscious explanation of natural disasters, they could have given us something more thought-provoking, such as the explanations given in the Vedic literature. But then that might have upset their intention of presenting science as the last word in everything, including nature and her origins.

Both The New York Times and Time magazine made the same editorial reflection: there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it. “You can’t blame a volcano.” “It was literally inhuman.”

Said Ms. Brigid O’Hara-Forster. the writer of Time’s cover story. “It put our human failings and frailties in perspective.”

What does that mean, to “put our human failings and frailties in perspective”? Clearly, it means the volcano showed us a force for annihilation far greater than man’s most powerful and inhuman atomic weaponry. St. Helens, a baby volcano, erupted with five hundred times more power than the Hiroshima bomb. It reminded us that despite our advancement in science or military strength, man has no control over “inhuman” natural forces, forces that could in a moment dash the planet or the entire universe to pieces.

They say, “literally inhuman” and “You can’t blame a volcano,” but indirectly this admits to the supremacy of a power, and even a morality, incomparably beyond human scope. Call it what you will, “Nature” or “inhuman force,” St. Helens forces us to admit the presence of an awesome power not answerable to man.

A Krsna conscious person acknowledges the power of nature to be but an an insignificant energy of the all-cognizant supreme controller, Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna showed His devotee Arjuna a divine vision of the universal form, displaying the destructive power of all the universe. “If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky,” states the Gita, “they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form:’ (This was the verse quoted by Robert Oppenheimer in 1945 as he witnessed the first atomic bomb exploding at Alamogordo.) Seeing the fearsome universal form of God, Arjuna asked, “What is Your mission?” and the Lord replied, “Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people,” Was not the “baby volcano,” St. Helens, a reminder of God’s annihilating force, which will eventually engage all men?

People wonder: Why, if the Supreme is all-good, would He destroy? And this is a natural question with which we can begin our inquiry into Krsna consciousness.

That the disasters of nature often seem retributive is not beyond the jurisdiction of the supreme will. The Sanskrit term karma refers to the law that for every action there is a reaction, either in this life or in a future life. Karmic reaction may be good or bad, and the vicissitudes of nature are one way we may receive bad karma. The plan of the Supreme is complex, ultimately inscrutable; even an expert devotee cannot comprehend fully how Krsna is working. The devotee willingly acknowledges, however, that not a blade of grass moves but by the will of the Supreme, and he sees God in everything.

In the Gita, Krsna suggests how to see the Supreme in the varied manifestations of the world: “I am the taste of the water, the light of the sun and the moon; I am the sound in ether and ability in man. I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives…” The devotee knows that a volcanic eruption, like anything else, springs from but a spark of the mighty splendor of the Supreme.

In His original form, Krsna has very sweet features, and His dealings are all-loving exchanges with His pure devotees. This is His personal nature in the supreme eternal abode. All saints and prophets have described the material world, although produced of God’s energy, to be a foreign place for the lost and wandering souls, and they advise us to go back to the kingdom of God to be reunited in loving pastimes with Him.

But although persons who deny the Supreme cannot love Him and cannot know Him in His loving aspect, they ultimately embrace Him in a form they cannot deny—Death. Those who refuse to admit the presence of the Supreme are forced to submit to Him in this most unwelcome feature. No one escapes Him: “Time I am. I have come to engage all men.”

And sometimes, by His own independent will, the Supreme may manifest His power on such a grand scale that it puts even proud human beings “into the right perspective.”—SDG

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