A short time back I spent a few days in Houston, Texas, and while there I visited a friend who lives near the Astrodome, Houston’s multi-million-dollar ultra-sophisticated sliding-roofed stadium. Certainly impressive. But more striking than the Astrodome, I thought, were the places people went for entertainment nearby—a shining galaxy of bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants, all advertising one main attraction: naked human flesh.
They had it in all varieties—male, female, topless, bottomless, and best of all, the signs informed us, “Live Onstage, Completely Naked.” All this, of course, in addition to the “massage parlors” and “executive clubs” that seem to have become standard features of large cities throughout the nation.
Now, what’s interesting about this, first of all, is that say ten years ago, before I joined the Krsna consciousness movement, such places didn’t exist—at ‘least not so openly and boldly. Of course, there have always been places where vulgar entertainment has been available, but what’s relatively new is that now these places seem to have gained an apparent respectability and found a niche as a legitimate part of modern American culture.
What does this say about American culture? Nothing good. Putting aside various intriguing but peripheral issues and getting down to the nitty-gritty, what this trend obviously tells us is that Americans are becoming more openly and boldly intent upon crude bodily pleasures. They are growing less concerned with noble pursuits and are turning instead to the pursuit of raw sensual enjoyment.
Now, our purpose here is not to work up a frenzy of prudish self-righteousness and call for a citizens’ campaign to clean up America’s morals. That would be to miss the point.
The point is that human life is meant for self-realization, because such realization is the special prerogative of human beings that sets them apart from lower animals. After all, sex is easily available even in the lower species of life. Don’t even common dogs and hogs enjoy the pleasures of sex?
But dogs and hogs don’t have the intelligence to ask themselves what life is all about. The dog doesn’t ask itself, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?” On the contrary, the dog is satisfied merely if it has enough food to eat, a place to sleep, protection from fear, and a good share of sexual enjoyment.
But modern men are so bewildered that although endowed with the ability to try to understand who they are and what life is really for, they waste their valuable time and energy by doing something that can only agitate their minds, distract them from self-inquiry, and leave them feeling empty, frustrated, cheated.
Although our modern civilization is supposedly becoming more advanced and progressive, in fact we are losing sight of the higher aim of human life—the pursuit of self-realization—and are developing a kind of sophisticated degradation, in which men become hardly better than polished animals.
Why is this so? According to the Vedic literature, one’s individual temperament—and the temperament of society as a whole—is governed by three qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. When one is situated in goodness, he develops purity and knowledge and feels a natural sense of happiness. In passion, one develops strong, practically uncontrollable desires and attachments; in passion, one endeavors intensely for success, but inwardly feels unhappy. And in ignorance one becomes foolish, lazy, and mentally deranged. The problem, then, is that we have lost touch with how to live in goodness and pursue real knowledge, and therefore passion and ignorance are gradually taking over our society, our cities, towns, and neighborhoods, and our very lives.
The massage parlors and naked clubs now doing a flourishing business in our cities are sure signs that the quality of passion is rapidly gaining ground. And passion quickly gives way to ignorance. Bewildered by passion and ignorance, men think that although they have their wives at home, by going to a naked club they will enjoy something more. So they spend their hard-earned money to drink liquor and see someone’s daughter earn a living by revealing what they could have seen at home for free—and all they get more of is unsatisfied desire. How long can we expect people to go on this way before they become desperate, angry, wild, and violent? The Vedic literature warns us that if passion and ignorance grow too strong, men become less than animals, and the world becomes less than a jungle. As we sit in our homes with violence at our doorsteps and the leaders of the world snarling and barking at one another over our tv’s, can we deny that this is true?
American culture—and human culture throughout the world—is sinking because it is increasingly dominated by passion and ignorance, and therefore by superficiality, unhappiness, greed, madness, and illusion, with no clear aim toward knowledge and self-realization. Without progress toward self-realization, what is the value of human society, or even human life itself? What is the use of a multi-million-dollar Astrodome full of men more interested in beer, football, and naked bodies than in understanding who they are?
Unless we change our priorities and turn our attention toward spiritual understanding, we can only expect the qualities of passion and ignorance to gain further ground for a world of anxiety, frustration, bewilderment, and violence.