Closing our eyes is no way to deal with the wolf bearing down on us.
By Devamrta Swami
The entire human species deserves thunderous applause. If not that, then at least the Nobel prize for delusion. Finally, after thirty-eight years, the world is sluggishly waking up to a devastating reality: nuclear warheads are everywhere, and at any moment they can annihilate everything.
Ever since July 16, 1945, human beings have lived side by side with the Bomb. After the first successful test detonation in New Mexico, the scientists responsible immediately sent President Truman an ironically worded message: “Babies born successfully.” Four decades later these babies have finally matured. Year by year their number has increased, until now approximately fifty thousand of them grace the earth, with a total explosive yield 1.6 million times that of the primitive firecracker which leveled Hiroshima. In other words, these metaphorical nuclear babies seem sure to make the world uninhabitable for any real babies.
A huge cross section of the earth’s population, both in nuclearly armed and conventionally armed nations, now feel shock and outrage at the current overmilitarized condition of the world. Why did we ignore this nuclear insanity for so long? many wonder. And why are many people still not taking the grotesque situation more seriously? they ask. After all, thirty-eight years of false security is quite a long time. Why are people still reluctant to see the obvious impending doom?
Ignorance + Economics = Bliss?
For one who studies the psychological knowledge contained in the Vedic literature, there is no surprise about human folly. Not only in regards to nuclear extinction but also in regards to the whole issue of material existence in general, we love voluntary ignorance. Like a rabbit cornered by a wolf, the human rabbit closes his eyes in the face of danger and thinks he is secure.
Self-imposed blindness is a necessary ingredient of material life, because if we dare confront the basic existential problems, how can we push on to achieve our goals? We want the flickering happiness and imaginary satisfaction that a materialistic culture offers. So we must stand our ground and zealously reject any knowledge that can wake us from our dream.
In today’s societies, most citizens are completely convinced that the “good life” means full opportunity to sport about in an intoxicating atmosphere of comfort, luxury, and sensual pleasure. They praise their political leaders as progressive and enlightened when the current administration seems to increase or at least maintain the standard of materialism. Otherwise the people throw out the leaders by votes or violence.
Modern societies have subordinated all goals and policies beneath the mass distribution of the soft life. The supreme objective is rapid economic development, and the supreme means is technological advancement. Our intelligence is so much absorbed in this that we cannot and will not consider anything else, even the urgent peril of nuclear extinction. We must have a higher and higher standard of material happiness, and to attain this the economy must prosper. Let everything else be damned!
One of the greatest scholars in Vedic culture, Srila Prahlada Maharaja, has extensively researched the age-old phenomenon of man’s blind dive into bottomless materialism. He summarized his findings with the analogy that the materialistic living entity is like a deer who neglects real water lying under the grass at his feet and dashes off into the desert to chase a mirage. Prahlada Maharaja explains that the happiness of pure, spiritual consciousness is the water lying a little obscured but within easy reach and the so-called pleasure we get from exploiting matter is the mirage we gallantly pursue in the desert.
The Vedic scholars advise us that the higher intelligence of the human form is meant for discriminating between life and matter. The beginning of knowledge is said to be the understanding that life and matter exist as separate energies emanating from a common source. The Vedic scientists define life as that which is conscious, and matter as that which is unconscious. Consciousness is associated with a non-material particle within the body, just as electric and magnetic fields are associated with electrons within the atom. The Vedic literature teaches that in the same way that we cannot directly observe an electron but must perceive it indirectly through the trail it leaves in a cloud chamber, so we cannot directly observe the real living entity, the spiritual particle, but must understand the symptom of conscious awareness it manifests in the external, material body.
Unfortunately, today’s advanced human being is completely ignorant of his non-chemical, nonphysical identity. He has no idea what consciousness is or how consciousness enjoys. In other words, nonmaterial pleasure—Krsna consciousness—is unknown to him. Misidentifying himself as utterly a product of biophysical interactions, the great materialistic genius madly plunges into the manipulation of matter through economics and politics.
But how can anyone think organized, technological materialism will satisfy him? Matter is temporary, and it is continuously undergoing transformation. This is why we can never seem to get our hands on a permanently satisfying situation or experience. Futhermore, matter is dead, insentient, and inert. How can this lifeless, unconscious substance, whether manifesting as legs, breasts, gold, a house in the country, or a new Corvette, provide the conscious self, the soul, with anything other than a phantasmagorical taste of imaginary satisfaction?
Yet the average man will think. One should not more than briefly take note of these odd statements. Faithfully closing the mind, one must continue to vigorously move ahead toward what we all know is the ultimate good. Increase the gross national product. Raise the wages. Spread the profits. When there is steadily increasing wealth and comfort for everyone, then love, peace, and happiness will spread throughout the land. And somehow or other the missiles will never leave their silos.
The Olympics of Illusion
In The Fate of the Earth, the now world-famous best-seller about nuclear disaster, Jonathan Schell offers some comments on the determination of human beings to ignore any threats to their materialism. Although dealing primarily with the lethargic response to nuclear proliferation, his remarks shed light on our reaction to existential problems in general.
He states, “When one tries to face the nuclear predicament one feels sick, whereas when one pushes it out of the mind, as one must do most of the time to carry on with life, one feels well again.”
This behavior could be classified as psychotic, Schell admits, because society is willfully closing its eyes to its own annihilation. But fear not. He goes on to reveal that the refusal to face reality might actually contain something praiseworthy and sublime. People are just trying to do what is necessary to protect their commitment to marching on in life. Our most valuable asset, he surmises, is the undaunted enthusiasm or love for fulfilling aspirations, and this should not be rudely disintegrated. “Because denial is a form of self-protection,” he explains, “and because it contains something useful, and perhaps even, in its way, necessary to life, anyone who invites people to draw aside the veil and look at the peril face to face is at risk of trespassing on inhibitions that are a part of our humanity.”
Certainly, to uncover and analyze the massive problems in material life may not appear the nicest function a human being can perform. If one does this too diligently and thoroughly, one transgresses a certain well-established social etiquette. Sniper fire is allowed at selected aspects of materialism, but wholesale refutation is quite unpardonable.
Members of the Krsna consciousness movement know this very well. A Krsna conscious person is concerned not only with the impending horror of a nuclear holocaust but also with the basic, inherent flaws of material existence as a whole. Therefore, many times the Krsna consciousness movement is not appreciated. It is offering a consumer product rabbits don’t want: reality.
Just consider the example of a great runner training for the Olympics. His goal is to bring back a gold medal and achieve eternal fame. Hence, he trains very rigorously every day by doing whatever is necessary to build his body for victory, and he scrupulously avoids any behavior that might impair his racing ability. Day after day he works hard to shave seconds off the clock. He disciplines himself not only physically but also mentally. Any sports coach will tell you that besides the physical stamina of an athlete vying for stardom, his mental attitude is also very important.
The mind of the prospective Olympic champion must be one-pointed, fixed on winning the race. The dedicated sprinter or hurdler has to constantly surcharge his mind with what the U. S. Marines call the “can-do go-power” of positive thinking: “I can win and I will win. Nothing will stop my inevitable championship.”
This total adoption of the victory mentality must be accompanied by a strict refusal to let any negative thought or worrisome anxiety enter the mind during the prerace period. The star must close his eyes to any personal, social, or political problems that may seem to attack him, understanding that his precious powers of concentration are simply meant for the race alone. After all, the sweet taste of success easily minimizes any austerities undergone during the struggle.
A Small Dose of Reality
Like our hopeful Olympic champion, people today are so attached to pursuing the illusory gold medal of material satisfaction that they often regard realistic criticism as a great nuisance or a severe disturbance. It may appear to them that the Hare Krsna devotees are always mercilessly shooting out of the sky the high-flying balloon of material contentment, which is actually artificially inflated. The devotees always seem to spoil the lively party of blind material positivism with grave warnings that the human form is meant for something else.
Albert Schweitzer even went as far as to say that the Vedas, the standard Krsna conscious texts, are “world- and life-negating.” But the Krsna devotee must ask. What is wrong with negating a conception of the world and life if it is false? To distinguish between reality and illusion is actually the greatest public welfare service, because as long as the phantasmagoria predominates, there is very little chance for us to focus on the transcendental truth.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes that life is a kind of fight with the laws of nature, which force deterioration and death on all. The entire material cosmos is described in Sanskrit as bhava-sindhu, the great ocean of becoming and unbecoming. Generally, people are attracted by anything new. Newborn babies look so fresh and cute. New cars and homes look so stunningly elegant. It is so wonderful to travel to new places, learn new things, and capture new friends and lovers. Indeed, for the materialist the ideal scenario would be to continuously accumulate newer and newer experiences, until his body is too aged to sport any more.
The problem with anything in the material world is that it must become old. In other words, anything that becomes must unbecome. Our bodies are attacked by the passing days and nights. Although we don’t think realistically whenever we see the grandeur of a sunrise, the fact is that the sun’s rising and setting indicates that our life is running out. The waves of the great ocean of nature, the bhava-sindhu, are tossing, impelled by the winds of time, and components of our existence—the bodily self, wife, children, home, school, society, technology, and so forth—are like foaming bubbles appearing and then disappearing very quickly on top of these waves.
Besides all the various aspects of our life under the control of time, the experiential taste of living—the juice you extract by struggling in the world—is also spoiled by time. Haven’t you noticed how the sweet beverage of material joy always refuses to remain fresh? Pick your favorite activity—intellectual, physical, mental, sexual, or whatever—and just try to do it continuously, hour after hour, day after day, without change. It’s impossible. Sooner or later the taste will become stale, and you’ll have to change to another pursuit, another race.
But the ruin caused by the time factor is so all-pervasive that even if you saturate your life with variegated endeavors for pleasure in the style of a millionaire playboy or a jet-setter, still the whole load quickly loses its thrill. Then, collapsing under the weight of monotony, you retreat into deep depression while externally mouthing, “I’m O. K., you’re O. K.”
Involvement with material existence means complete submission to the fascists of temporality and staleness. There is no material alternative to this surrender except contentment through self-enforced blindness. Pretend the problems do not exist, and then possibly you can be happy. As the old quotation goes, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” But now the problems of the world are becoming so extreme that even ignorance is losing its charm.
Neither Rabbit, Dog, Nor Hog
What is wrong when Krsna conscious teachers negate this kind of “life”? What is the harm when Hare Krsna adherents point out the gross failures of this kind of “world”?
Yet in addition to the wonderful charity of dissipating illusion, the Krsna consciousness movement has even more to give. After prying open the eyelids of the voluntary blind, Krsna conscious teachers present them with the positive alternative: real life on the transcendental platform, beyond the material senses, mind, and intellect. As succinctly put by the great devotee Rsabhadeva in Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.1): “Of all living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has received the human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for the dogs and hogs. One should engage in the spiritual processes necessary to attain the divine position of Krsna consciousness. By such processes one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position he attains eternal blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness.”
For one who can understand the difference between the external body of matter and the internal quantum, or packet, of spiritual consciousness called the soul, an unlimited realm of nonmaterial enjoyment opens just by his executing the perfect techniques of Krsna consciousness. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, states in the sixth chapter of Bhagavad-gita, “In the pure state of perfect consciousness one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through nonmaterial senses. Established in such permanent ecstasy, one never deviates from this truth, and upon gaining it one understands that there is nothing else to be had. Firmly situated in perfect awareness of the individual soul and the Supreme Self, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulties. This, certainly, is real freedom from all miseries arising from contact with material nature.”
While all over the earth human beings are marching to protest nuclear weapons, outer space is quickly becoming the most lucrative military battlefield. In other words, having successfully endangered the entire earth and its atmosphere, now it is time for military technology to ruin the heavens also. Is there anything that modern man cannot do?
In the foreword to the 1982-1983 edition of Jane’s Weapons Systems, the most authoritative guidebook on military armaments, we find this statement: “War in space is now a practical matter.” Jane’s then describes the two categories of space armaments: the spaceborne laser and particle-beam weapons, and orbiting vehicles that destroy enemy satellites. Both the East and West have covered in complete secrecy any information about these new toys.
Obviously, now may be a very appropriate time for modern man to glimpse the overwhelming truth: he doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do with himself. Although he has made ingenious advancement in technology, he has failed completely in the tiny matter of dealing with himself. In fact, he does not even know what the self is. There is no scientific theory or evidence that can adequately point out what consciousness is and why one’s abstract identity does not change even though every cell in the body (even the brain) is constantly transforming. Might not this utter lack of knowledge cause some social problems?
Of course, in the past we never cared to understand this subject. Although voluminous, detailed answers about the self are given in the ancient Vedic texts, we have successfully ignored them. Burrowing deep inside our mountains of machines and gadgets, we’ve simply worried about inflation and the standard of living. But now the rapidly increasing economic decay and military conflict throughout the world are mercifully pressing even dedicated rabbits to open their eyes and see. And as reality becomes more and more popular, Krsna consciousness will become more and more loved.