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Computers: Microchip Mentors

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Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

Microchip Mentors

by Drutakarma dasa

1984-05-11I use a computer myself—I wrote this article on one. So I’m definitely not a latter-day Luddite, on some crusade against technology. But some of the full-color double-page computer advertisements I’ve been seeing lately in the newsweeklies make me cringe, especially the ones directed at parents of young children. Typical is one for Texas Instruments. A sad-faced schoolboy stands morosely before a blackboard with some arithmetic problems written on it. The headline says in part, “If he stumbles on sixth grade math, he may never catch up.” Below, the copy reads, “Somewhere in every child’s life, there’s a subject that throws him. Where he was once even with all the other kids, maybe even a little ahead, he’s now beginning to fall behind. He needs help.” By this time, the parental heart is full of guilt and anguish. Who will help their beloved child? Texas Instrument’s computer, of course.

It annoys me how the ads try to portray computers, which are really nothing more than hunks of plastic, wiring, solder, and microchips, as personalities capable of delivering the highest knowledge. “It’s a friendly teacher. It responds to your child’s learning level on a one-to-one basis. . . . It encourages him. Rewards him . . . turns the entire process into a positive experience, challenging your child to explore and reach out for more.” Now that’s really pushing the limit of credulity. Perhaps someone could make a film, Goodbye Mr. Microchips?

Undoubtedly, all loving parents want their children to have the knowledge that will enable them to successfully negotiate life’s hazards and achieve an acceptable level of happiness. And of course, the quest for knowledge is not limited to children. At any age, people want to learn more about life. But what is the knowledge that really frees us from the prospect of future suffering, and from what source do we obtain it? The computer companies suggest that material knowledge is what we need and that the way to get it is through their mysterious and wonderful machine.

But let’s look deeper. What are the real problems of life? Taking a very shortsighted view, one might consider getting a good education, attaining career goals, and selecting a marriage partner to be the major problems. But the Bhagavad-gita directs our attention to other problems, which although obvious enough, are generally ignored. Those problems are disease, old age, and death. And looking beyond death, we are, according to the Bhagavad-gita, confronted with inevitable rebirth. So if knowledge is valued for its ability to free us from future suffering, then the most valuable knowledge would be that which frees us from the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease.

We therefore require a different sort of knowledge—transcendental knowledge—to become free of life’s most serious problems. Thus the Bhagavad-gita declares, “This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets.”

This confidential knowledge begins with understanding the difference between the soul and the body. The body is perishable, but the soul—the real, conscious self within the body—is imperishable. “For the soul there is neither birth nor death,” the Gita says. The Gita also describes the positive activity of the soul: devotional service to the Supreme Soul, Lord Krsna. By engaging in devotional service, one becomes qualified to enter the spiritual world as one of the Lord’s eternal servants. This alone solves the problem of repeated birth and death in the material world.

And from where does one receive this knowledge? Only from the bona fide spiritual master, the living representative of the disciplic chain that extends all the way back to the original source of perfect transcendental knowledge, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.

The Vedas stress that if we desire the transcendental knowledge that brings freedom from life’s perplexities, we must approach a spiritual master in the authorized line of succession. Thus we enter into a personal relationship with the spiritual master, who teaches transcendental knowledge and demonstrates the practical art of devotional service to Lord Krsna. This relationship between guru and disciple, the Vedas teach, is a lifetime commitment.

Harvey Cox, chairman of the Department of Applied Theology at the Harvard Divinity School, said in a recent interview, “It’s a very intense relationship in which there’s a very intense interaction going on, of wrestling and struggling. I get a little of that with my graduate students, but still it’s decimated by the fact that they work with other professors as well. We don’t encourage in the Western educational system that kind of long, devoted work with one particular person . . . but I think some people look for that.”

So it’s not computers I’m mad at, just the suggestion that by running some material-education software on them you can be getting the highest, most valuable knowledge possible. Of course, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get the highest knowledge on your CRT. Already, computer programmers in the Hare Krsna movement are laying the groundwork, and I’m happy to say that someday soon, personal computer owners around the country will be able to download Bhagavad-gita lessons and talk on-line to devotees of Krsna about spiritual life.

Who’s In The Doghouse Now?

by Jayadvaita Swami

1984-05-12Iceland’s minister of finance may soon face a hard decision—his country or his dog.

In Reykjavik, the capital, a 62-year-old law bans dogs from the city on health grounds. Yet the minister, Mr. Albert Gudmundsson, lives in Reykjavik with a dog (the family pet), a 13-year-old mongrel named Lucy.

“Lucy is a dear member of our family, as dear to us as a child,” he said.

This family has now been unsettled by a journalist at the state radio, who has reported Lucy’s illegal presence to the police. If prosecuted, Mr. Gudmundsson may be fined, and his pet may be taken away.

But Mr. Gudmundsson, who placed third in Iceland’s presidential election four years ago, has pledged to do everything to keep her.

“We will never agree to part with her,” he said. “Rather, we will emigrate from Iceland, and I would thereby resign from politics.”

Politics aside, we’d be sorry to see Mr. Gudmundsson have to give up either his country or his dog.

Unfortunately, he’ll have to give up both.

As spiritual souls, all living beings—including both dog and master—are eternal parts of Krsna, the Supreme. But because we’ve forgotten our relationship with Krsna, we’ve come to this material world, a world of birth and death. Here we devote ourselves to our country, our family, our dog—whatever. We bark a while or we speak in the state house, we run after bones or run for office. But time finally runs off with everything we have—bark, bones, body, and all.

At the time of death, we give up our country, give up our dog, give up our politics—give up everything—and the laws of nature take us to a new body. The dog may then assume the body of a future politician, and the former politician the body of a dog.

Such a change takes place because of love. According to the Bhagavad-gita, our thoughts at the time of death are what carries us on to the next body. So the faithful dog that dies thinking of its master may next be born human, and the master who dies thinking of his beloved dog may soon find himself on the dog’s end of the leash.

The human life, therefore, is meant not for devotion to dog or country but for devotion to spiritual inquiry and understanding, and ultimately for devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.

Neglecting the Supreme, we may try to settle happily with our family and live a useful, productive life. But what is the point of clinging to a world where we can’t stay, and to loved ones we can’t live on with? Of what use is a life lived without spiritual inquiry? What will it produce? And what is the value of living happily at home as a fool?

One who lives for that which perishes lives for nothing. The Vedic teachings therefore point us beyond the perishable material world—beyond dog, family, politics, and Iceland—to our real home, our real family, our real life, in the transcendental world of Lord Krsna.

Total Liberation

by Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi

They gaze at you from billboards, newsstands, and television screens, with carefully painted, defiant eyes. Their lips, outlined in bold colors, are parted sensuously, and their hair cascades around their faces in calculated disarray. They are Today’s Women: attractive, dynamic, independent, free of sexual hang-ups, and determined to make their way in our fast-paced modern society. They demand respect for their capabilities, and they challenge the world of men on its own terms. We see them everywhere, inviting us to follow their liberated path and enjoy real freedom. Their influence is felt by high school students, bank tellers, aspiring doctors and lawyers, the young and the old, the plain and the pretty. Their message is clear: women need no longer suffer in the restricted position forced upon them by exploitative men. Now they can enjoy the world, so long withheld from them, unencumbered by archaic misconceptions of sexual inequality.

Someone may argue that the archetypal model of a liberated woman has little influence on attitudes and values of women in general. But it is not at all difficult to see that the advertised ideal of womanhood, as it has changed dramatically over the past century, reflects the evolution of woman’s role in modern society. Much has been said and documented about the growing discontent of women with their traditional roles, and the complicated issues of eroding marriages and broken families continue to create private and collective turmoil.

In their search for identity, many women reject the role of mother and homemaker as being too limited and confining, only to discover that the position of career person can be equally oppressive in terms of time management, financial freedom, and creative expression. The much celebrated sexual revolution, with its promises of deeper, more intimate relationships with loving, open-minded partners, is taking its toll in ghastly abortions, unwanted children, and horrible, incurable diseases. Many women suffer deeply from alienation and loneliness as they rapidly grow old in a world that serves the young and beautiful but offers little shelter for those whose glamour has begun to fade. From all this it would seem that woman’s quest for identity and equality is badly in need of a transcendental perspective.

The root of the problem extends beyond the controversy over whether sex roles are determined by early training or by heredity, beyond the heated accusations of suppression and denial, and beyond the scope of new-found liberation. The problem arises when any of us—female or male—try to establish our identity on the basis of our body. The goal should be not how to fully realize our potential as a man or a woman, but how to discover our real identity, beyond the bodily covering. Obviously, to create equality among all the various material bodies is impossible, because someone will always be stronger or smarter or more talented. How can we ever be equal on that platform?

According to the Bhagavad-gita, all living entities are spiritual beings and are originally and constitutionally eternal loving servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Thus, spiritually we are all equal. Our present body, with its accompanying psychological needs, is temporary and has nothing to do with who we really are. It has simply developed as the result of our past activities (karma). At present we may possess the body of a man or a woman, but that is only a brief role for the eternal spirit soul. So the real bond is due to ignorance, misidentification with a temporary material body; and liberation lies not in social reform but in spiritual enlightenment.

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