The systematic cultivation of greed can lead only to violence and worldwide disaster.
by Srila Ramesvara Swami
The whole world has come under the spell of economic development, which, in a simpler sense, means greed. And our leaders themselves openly admit it—they actually want us to become greedy. At an international conference in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes, the founding father of our modern economic system, declared, “We must pretend to ourselves and to others that vice is a virtue and that virtue is a vice, because vice is useful and virtue is not. For a little while longer usury, avarice, and precaution must be our gods, for they alone can lead us through the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” Words of enlightenment from the twentieth century’s leading economist.
Everyone knows that the basic charm for selling any product is advertising. And the basic principle of advertising is to be able to convince even a person who doesn’t want your product that yes, somehow he wants your product. Society, we are told, must therefore systematically awaken in its members—individually and collectively—greed, the desire to own and control as many material possessions as possible. This will make for economic development, which our leaders proclaim can solve the world’s problems.
But by awakening greed, they will never be able to realize their desire for a more peaceful world. How will increasing selfishness reduce political and ideological tensions? How will it reduce international competition for wealth and resources? How will it solve the energy crisis? How will it reduce social tensions and the breakdown of the family?
Every one of these crises can be traced to greed and selfishness. Why else does one out of every three pregnancies end in abortion? Why else does one out of every two marriages end in divorce? It’s all due to the same root cause—greed and selfishness.
We may ask, Why have we become so violent? Why are we competing with nature? Why are we destroying other life forms? Why are we fighting so fiercely with one another? There is a root cause. If we want to see why a person acts the way he does, we have to look at how he answers the question “Who am I?” In our era, so-called scientists have persuaded us to accept a materialistic, and basically atheistic, concept of self. For years and years we’ve been bombarded with this kind of materialistic propaganda, and so we have formulated our goals from the concept that “I am this body—I am simply a collection of chemicals.” So naturally our purpose in life is to enjoy physical pleasures derived from physical objects. Progress means material progress. Happiness means happiness for my body. Or, to put it simply, happiness means selfishness and greed.
Man has formulated his goals on the basis of this materialistic philosophy. If we examine any nation’s goals (it doesn’t matter what ideology it professes), we’ll find that the real goal is economic development. Eastern bloc, Western bloc, developed or developing nations—it doesn’t matter. They all embrace the same goals, because their basic philosophy of life is the same.
And what happens after the death of the body? That doesn’t matter. Even many of today’s religionists think they’ll automatically go to heaven just because they profess a certain faith. So they’re NOT worried about what happens after death. And, of course, to the atheist it hardly matters. So believer and nonbeliever follow the same path, the path of greed.
Unless we’re willing to go deep and change our definition of ourselves, we won’t be able to solve the problems caused by greed and selfishness. After we change this definition, then we can redefine the purpose and goal of our lives, and this will change our course of action. Granted, it’s not so easy to redefine ourselves and our life’s purpose. Most people are wary of blindly accepting a religious doctrine. But the Vedas of India offer much more than some creationist theory based only on faith. The hundreds of volumes of Vedic lierature contain a very rational, logical, and scientific explanation of life, an explanation not to be found in any other philosophical or religious literature in the world. The sages who compiled the Vedic literatures took great care to define life in terms at once spiritual and scientific.
The first thing the Vedas teach us is that we are not just combinations of chemicals. Anyone can see this fact. When you analyze the different parts of the body, you cannot find life. You just find hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and so on. And none of these elements has consciousness, the primary symptom of life. The source of consciousness is not atoms but the soul. If so-called scientists disagree, let them mix some chemicals in their test tubes and produce a conscious living being.
And more, the Vedas give a simple process that enables us to perceive our higher, spiritual identity. In this age, the Vedas recommend that we meditate on the Hare Krsna mantra. This transcendental sound vibration comes from the spiritual platform of existence; it penetrates the sensory and mental levels of perception and directly acts upon the soul, gradually awakening it to full self-realization. The Hare Krsna mantra is composed of Sanskrit names of God. In fact, this mantra is considered to be the Supreme Lord’s sound incarnation. Becoming self-realized reduces automatically the selfishness and greed our society cultivates, because the satisfaction of realizing the higher self surpasses and reduces the importance of material pleasures.
The Vedas purify and transform not only the way we see ourselves but also the way we see nature and the universe. Already, scientists are making our lives more comfortable through an understanding of nature’s laws. So we know that acting in harmony with nature’s laws will naturally lead us to more profitable, successful, and happy lives. And correspondingly, if out of ignorance we violate these laws, then there must be some reaction. As Sir Isaac Newton observed, for every action there is a corresponding reaction. Newton was talking about the law of karma, a fundamental operating principle of the universe that acts not only on the chemical and biochemical planes but on the mental and psychological planes. In other words, for every action we perform, there must be a reaction. This is the law of karma.
Now let us consider the karmic status of our modern civilization. Let’s consider man’s actions toward nature and his fellow man, and the resultant reactions. First of all, man is violent toward his environment. He exploits nature’s resources. Of course, sometimes he tries to repair the damage with a bit of environmental concern. He can sense that polluting the air, land, and water isn’t exactly the right thing to do, but in the end, economic considerations always seem to win out. Basically, man has become an exploiter of nature.
Now what about man’s actions toward other life forms? Even more obviously, the actions of modern man can be summed up in one word—violent. For instance, man is violent toward the trees. One may have never thought of that before. But just consider how many hundreds of millions of trees we’re cutting down just so that we can print rubbish novels and pornographic literature. Don’t the trees have a right to live? Who has given man the right to kill trees so that he can produce pornography? This is bad karma. We’re setting ourselves up for violent reactions. And man’s actions toward animals—incredibly violent. Every year we’re killing hundreds of millions of animals. This is even worse than killing trees, because the animals have a highly sensitive nervous system and so they can feel the pain more excruciatingly. We know we can get our protein from other sources—cheese, milk, butter, nuts, and grains, just to name a few. So why kill? Again, this is bad karma. So if the human race acts violently, then by the law of karma, nature will react violently—with energy shortages, drought, famine, racial conflict, social disintegration, moral decline, and finally, war. Each year the world’s governments spend $500 billion on armaments. Why is that? As we become more and more violent toward nature, so by nature’s law of karma, we are being forced to become more and more violent toward one another. We’re headed for a most destructive karmic reaction.
Just imagine you’re a judge and you see a human civilization killing hundreds of millions of trees and animals—and even its own children (every year some fifty million unborn children are killed by abortion)—year after year after year. You realize that you’re dealing with a society of murderers. So what is your sentence going to be? In the same way, nature is going to judge us very harshly. This is the real crisis—that the karma coming down on this modern civilization is going to be very violent.
And we’re seeing the warning signs now, in the heating up of the cold war. This is a clear indication of future karma. Just read the predictions of the effects of a thermonuclear war between America and the Soviet Union. A full-scale war would do away with 150 to 175 million Americans ‘ out of a population of 220 million. Is there even one person in this whole country who thinks this is impossible? People sense it’s going to happen. Violent karma is awaiting us, in one form or another, unless we change society’s present course.
As the singer said, “It’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall.” So the Krsna consciousness movement wants to stop this rain of karma. Even if we can’t stop the rain (although that’s our ultimate goal), at least we’re holding out an umbrella for people who have the courage to take shelter. This is the umbrella of knowledge, the knowledge of our individual and collective purpose in life, the knowledge of the spiritual nature of the life force and the universe. So we’re asking everyone please to consider the path we are pointing out. If you feel it is correct, then try to apply the principles of Krsna consciousness in your own life and try to give this knowledge to others. This is the duty of a person who has knowledge. A doctor gives medicine to the sick—he doesn’t keep it for himself. So please consider this request. If you find in the Vedic literature some enlightenment, don’t just keep it to yourself. Help people who are trying to spread it.