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The Vedic Observer

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Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

Terror From The Year Zero

by Suhotra Swami

1986-08-12The year 1986 is proving to be a strange and terrifying year, especially for Americans living in Europe. The fear of terrorist reprisals against U.S. citizens in the wake of President Reagan’s air attack on Libya is palpable. Here in Heidelberg, where I spend much of my time, the once-easygoing American military off-base housing installations have been sealed off from the surrounding German neighborhoods by roadblocks manned by armed soldiers in full combat gear. AFN, the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network, recently aired a half-hour program instructing its listeners on what to do if, while seated peacefully in one’s airline seat and quietly anticipating a happy landing in some exotic tourist mecca, “a wild-eyed kid suddenly shoves an AK-47 in your ribs.”

It got so bad that American travelers began avoiding Western Europe like the plague, with Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg canceling trips to the Cannes Film Festival. Despite America’s recently rediscovered celluloid jingoism, swaggering body-sculpted clones of Rambo were nowhere to be seen in the traditional vacation haunts of London, Paris, and Rome. Instead, globe-trotters from the land of the free and the home of the brave were opting for more somber destinations in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the Chernobyl reactor began spewing deadly isotopes all over the map. The harried leader of a group of thirty-one tourists from Long Island told Newsweek after the group’s hasty exit from Kiev, “We came to the Soviet Union because there is no terrorism. And here we were, suddenly in the middle of a major catastrophe.”

Though an American by birth, I have an entirely different point of view on all this. I’m a member of the Hare Krsna movement and have accepted the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, which many Americans might feel presents a too-pessimistic outlook on life. In a sense, that’s true—this ancient book of knowledge does describe this material world as duhkhalayam asasvatam, “a temporary, miserable place.” However, in my understanding, recent events have only confirmed these wise words. Having no illusions about what to expect from this present plane of existence on which we’re all situated, I’m engaged in elevating myself to the ever-blissful spiritual realm of Krsna consciousness. That I am doing mainly by preaching Krsna consciousness to others, which is the reason I live in Europe.

I’ll admit to the possibility of my being too simplistic, but it seems to me that Americans have an unlimited capacity for self-delusion. Despite the shocks to our national consciousness that have been summarily delivered with pitiless regularity in Beirut, on board the Achille Lauro, and elsewhere, we are not learning the real lesson. It is not a question of a recently increasing trend of terror—the trend was firmly established way back in the year zero. Be it by bullet, bomb, or Alzheimer’s disease, everybody’s going to be killed by material nature.

Despite their growing sense of unease about the state of the world, Americans have not yet recognized the extent of the danger. While agonizing over the possibilities of long-awaited pleasure tours exploding in our faces, why not just admit from the outset that there is no real pleasure to be had in this tour from birth to death we call life? Let’s finally recognize the simple fact that there’s no security from death in this material world, wherever we may go. And let’s get on with the real business of life: breaking our attachments to falsehood, and rising to meet God face to face.

Saving The Day

by Mathuresa dasa

China thinks it may need to establish time zones. The Peking Energy Association has even submitted a proposal for a daylight savings time system: turn the clocks ahead April 1, turn them back September 15.

Although wider than the continental United States, China runs wholly by Peking time. This makes things hard for people living in western regions, such as Tibet. At 10 a.m. in Peking, Tibet is still dark, and the Peking evening news arrives on the airwaves in the early afternoon.

I’ll bet all this doesn’t really inconvenience most Tibetans, though. They probably ignore the clock, if they have one to ignore, and get up, like most people, sometime around sunrise. And who needs the evening news anyway? It’s really preposterous how some people impose on everyone else their versions of time and news.

Not that I’m anti-clock or anti-time. I own an electric snooze alarm. It features a lighted dial so I can see what time it is when one of my kids wakes up crying, and a back-up battery just in case the electricity goes out while I’m sleeping. The alarm is set for 3:30 a.m., but I always hit the snooze control twice, rising at 3:50 to shower, dress, and make it to the nearby Hare Krsna temple by 4:15.

The first service every day at the Hare Krsna temples, in whatever time zone, is mangala-arati. It begins one and a half hours before sunrise during a daily time period called brahma-muhurta. According to the Vedic literature, this brahma-muhurta period is especially favorable for spiritual advancement. One who regularly rises at this time, glorifies the Supreme Lord by chanting His names and offering Him prayers, and hears attentively about the Lord and His pure devotees from revealed scriptures makes steady progress toward the eternal kingdom of God. Brahma-muhurta at the Hare Krsna temples is an exhilarating experience no one should miss.

I can understand that a Tibetan trying to make spiritual advancement by Peking time would be in big trouble. Four o’clock in Peking must be around midnight in western China, and midnight is nowhere near brahma-muhurta. So, out of respect for Tibetans with snooze alarms set to 3:30A.M, China should definitely institute time zones.

But then again, why bother? Peking’s rationale is that time zones would save electricity (all those light bulbs burning at 10 a.m. in Tibet), which could be channeled into the country’s electricity-starved industries. Here we have a typical example of faulty reasoning coming from people who, due to ignoring the brahma-muhurta, are interested in material, instead of spiritual, progress. China just wants to get its textile factories humming so it can turn out more blue jeans for export to the West. This is both materially and spiritually shortsighted. China is the world’s biggest producer of not blue jeans but rice, and for rice production I’m sure rising with the sun works just fine, no matter what’s happening in Peking. If rice farmers wanted to they could rise an hour and a half earlier, make some spiritual progress during the brahma-muhurta, then spend the day in the paddy fields chanting the holy names.

Behind The Nuclear Nightmare

by Kundali dasa

1986-08-13Seven years ago I lived only an hour from the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. An accident there threatened to trigger a partial meltdown, and alarming quantities of radiation were released into the atmosphere. It was a hair-raising experience. Yet I was more frightened by the recent disaster in the Soviet plant at Chernobyl, even though it was some fifty-five hundred miles away. Thinking this over, I realized why Chernobyl was so chilling to me. You see, in the interim since Three Mile Island, I have gained a greater appreciation of Krsna’s words in Bhagavad-gita. Specifically, I have a greater appreciation of His description of the materialistic mentality, which He calls demoniac, and which is responsible for the nuclear terror.

In the sixteenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita Krsna contrasts the godly and demoniac mentalities. In so doing He makes a point pertinent to atomic meltdowns and other nuclear nightmares:

The demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.

Commenting on this verse, Srila Prabhupada explains that although inventions such as atomic reactors and nuclear warheads are considered to be advancement of human civilization, the net result is more tension, fear, and anxiety. At the time of this writing, for instance, about eighty-four thousand people had to be evacuated because of Chernobyl, and we won’t know the toll in human life and the damage to the environment in and around the Soviet Union for many years. As Srila Prabhupada has written, “Ultimately, they will invent or create something that will bring destruction to all…. Such weapons are not meant for the peace and prosperity of the world.”

Of course, the materialists don’t want to destroy the world. They don’t set out to create nightmares such as Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Their real motive seems far more innocuous: to make the world more livable, to harness nature and make it work for them in achieving more and more sensual pleasures from life.

But Krsna’s teachings scientifically show that the materialistic outlook is based on the false assumption that the material body is the self and that to gratify the senses is the prime goal of life. Materialists—whom Krsna calls karmis because they are ensnared in the retributive law of karma—are ignorant of the self beyond the temporary body and of the purpose of human life; they do not know what is good or what is bad for them. Thus, although proud of their technological feats, they are, as Krsna says, less intelligent.

All but the most humble materialist, however, are loath to admit these facts. They prefer to concoct various atheistic theories and philosophies (which defy both reason and experience) to justify their attachments to sense gratification. They present themselves as being interested in world peace, using terminology like “the family of man,” “the working classes,” and so forth. But their words do not tally with their actions.

Krsna’s version, on the other hand, tallies well with the deeds of these unscrupulous persons:

The demoniac person thinks: “So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more. He is my enemy, and I have killed him, and my other enemies will also be killed. I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful, and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am. I shall perform sacrifices, I shall give some charity, and thus I shall rejoice.” In this way, such persons are deluded by ignorance.

Materialists, whether communists or capitalists, rich or poor, scientists or philosophers, altruists or misanthropes, educated or illiterate, have one common purpose: sense gratification. As long as they remain our social, economic, political, and intellectual leaders, life will continue to be fear-ridden. The plain and simple truth is that even if we manage to do away with the nuclear threat, we will still not have peace and happiness for long because the persons behind such projects as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in their unrelenting quest to bring nature under their rule, will continue with their “unbeneficial, horrible works.”

Does Krsna give a solution?

Yes. First, before we can achieve collective peace, we must have peace within ourselves, for society can be only as peaceful as its members. Such peace cannot be legislated. It requires a change of heart, from material consciousness to Krsna consciousness. However, once we have made a commitment to effect this change in ourselves, we can try to change the hearts of others.

Krsna’s formula for this change is that we acknowledge Him as the supreme beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all the planets, and the actual benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities. He assures us that a person in such pure Krsna consciousness “attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.” Any solution short of a change of heart, a relinquishing of material values for spiritual ones, insures that the nuclear nightmares or their equivalent will remain with us in one form or another, because the mentality behind them will still be with us.

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