Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
Playing The Olympic Game
by Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi
Television cameras zoom in as the young athlete thrusts his arms upwards in triumph. Perspiration mixes with tears, and thousands roar with appreciation. The atmosphere is surcharged, and time itself seems to pause in honor of the jubilant occasion. In an exhilarating celebration of outstanding athletic performance, even differences of nationality and political conviction dissolve.
Yet although the applause is tremendous, within minutes it subsides, and the cameras move to the next event. Heads turn aside, smiles fade, and muscles begin to ache. The great moment in history passes on, as all others before, and almost immediately this particular name and face begin to recede into a shuffle of statistics. Such is the fleeting glory of the Olympic gold-medalist, and the honor and virtue of his heroic performance is quickly transformed into dollars and cents by the advertising industry. As the last reporter hastily scribbles down the victor’s gasping exclamations, the crowd moves on in search of another sweaty idol to shower with their fickle adoration.
Meanwhile, in the locker room the losers blame the sun or the wind and try to sport a noble attitude toward their inglorious defeat, hiding bitter pain in their hearts. Years of intense training had preceded their arrival at the World Olympic Games, and in a matter of hours it’s all over. Fair or unfair, their names will not appear on the roll of victors. Their not-quite-perfect-enough bodies shake with inexpressible anguish.
The moment of triumph may be brief and awarded to only a very few, but, despite its agonies, it attracts the hearts of us all. We feel drawn to the excitement of witnessing a good match, and we also enjoy rising to meet our own challenges. The tangible gain of winning is often negligible, and the pain of defeat is great. Still, we compete. Why?
Our competitive spirit arises from our age-old desire to assert ourselves as supreme. Anyone who accepts this material world as his home and who accepts his material body as his self will feel a pressing need to justify his brief existence by forcefully exercising his material prowess. Whether he seeks this recognition on the sports field, in an executive office, or on the dance floor is immaterial. The motivation is the same. We all sense that, as individuals, we have some special, inherent worth. Now, if we are unaware of our spiritual nature, we will struggle to prove that worth according to some scale of relative material perfection. Thus we feel a tremendous psychological attraction for the competition of sports and other material skills, and the stimulation of such competition offers a distraction from the more serious issues of our material existence—issues such as old age, disease, and death.
For the self-realized soul, however, material competition has no appeal. He feels no need to prove himself materially, nor is he impressed by those who do. He understands his real identity as spiritual, beyond the abilities and limitations of the temporary material body. The soul, he knows, exists eternally, transmigrating from one body to another, birth after birth. A person with knowledge of his own eternality is instinctively aloof from the temporary attraction of sensual stimulation, realizing that such fleeting pleasures inevitably lead to frustration. A self-realized person simply won’t allow himself to be cheated by the desire for materialistic achievements, which are uncertain and temporary. Such a person is hardly satisfied simply by winning a tennis match or a bowling trophy.
As the Katha Upanisad declares, nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. We are all spiritual, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord Krsna, from whom we derive all our own qualities. Because He is eternal, we are eternal. Because He is cognizant, we are cognizant. And when we harmonize our activities with His desire, we realize true satisfaction of the heart. One who engages in devotional service to Him is acting on the platform of complete spiritual understanding, even while in this body.
Thus we can see that spiritual life is not devoid of activity. One may still eat, work, and even compete, but he does all these things in relation to the Lord and His instructions, for His pleasure only. The material world simply being an impure reflection of the real, spiritual world, whatever we find here exists there in perfection. On the transcendental platform, therefore, competition has its place. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, “There is sometimes competition between servitors of the Lord, but such competition is without malice. In the Vaikuntha [spiritual] world if a devotee excels in the service of the Lord, others do not become envious of his excellent service but aspire to come to the platform of that service” (Bhag. 4.20.27, purport). Thus the competition that is exhibited by the pure devotees of the Supreme Lord is competition in its pure form. When devotees compete in the service of the Lord (simply to increase the pleasure of the Lord), then everyone benefits. Krsna becomes satisfied, and everyone shares in His satisfaction. There is no bitterness or envy.
So, although material competition brings but flickering happiness to the winner and agony to the loser, spiritual competition acts as a catalyst to bring us closer and closer to Krsna, thus creating joy in the hearts of all participants. We have a natural love for competition, and this need not be suppressed nor disguised. “The perfect society does not eliminate competition,” Srila Prabhupada has said, “but it eliminates envy.”
Evolution: Science Or Skullduggery?
by Kundali dasa
Perhaps you’ve never given the matter much thought one way or another. Or maybe you’re convinced of the theory after seeing the way some people behave.
In any case, if you’re at all intrigued by the notion of evolution, you will be interested to know about “Ancestors: Four Million Years of Humanity,” an exhibit currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is generating a new wave of interest in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. More than forty legendary fossils that supposedly chronicle man’s evolution have been flown in from Europe and Africa for “Ancestors,” which tells “the wondrous tale of how humans become human,” Newsweek said in April. Ian Tattersall, co-curator of the exhibit, called the fossils our “family portraits, . . . the real crown jewels of the human race.”
The news media, obviously very pleased to deliver this news, have run stories strewn with photos and facts about the Taung child, “Lucy,” Homo habilis, Sivapithecus, and the well-known Neanderthals. They also cite dates that stretch way back in time—thirty-five thousand years, one million years, three million years, and even seventeen million years. Impressive. In fact, a person reading about “Ancestors” or touring the exhibit itself might easily feel a sense of awe and wonder, of reverence even, both for the fossils and the evolutionists.
According to William Fix, author of The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution, awe and reverence is exactly what the evolution scientists intend us to feel. Fix claims that while making a careful analysis of the more than one hundred and twenty years of archeological discoveries, he unearthed a “catalogue of fiascos,” findings recorded by researchers more interested in publicity, funding, and reputation than in truth. To protect their pet theories and their reputations, says Fix, researchers have deliberately ignored or dismissed contrary evidence. To back his claim he cites examples—one of them the discovery of a “modern-type” skull some seven hundred thousand years old. Fix ultimately concludes, “The origin of man is more mysterious than either the evolutionists or creationists contend.”
I agree completely. Many people, however, are so mesmerized by the idea of evolution that they flock to see “Ancestors.” These innocent people have been hyped into believing that with nothing but an assortment of relics, a pile of old bones, and some very lively imagination the evolutionists have actually discerned what life was like between thirty-five thousand and seventeen million years ago!
Fortunately, not everyone is bewildered by the clever word jugglery of the evolutionists. A growing number of scientists are voicing dissatisfaction with neo-Darwinism. But this discord is not widely publicized.
The main bone the dissenters have to pick with the evolutionists is that, from a mathematical point of view, evolution is impossible. What the evolutionists, with amazing optimism, claim was achieved by chance is just not possible—not in terms of the time scale they have established for the various stages of the earth’s development. This and other flaws were pointed out in 1967 at a conference called “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution,” chaired by Nobel laureate Peter Medawar. In opening the meeting he said, “The immediate cause of this meeting is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought of as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian theory.”
An even more severe criticism has been leveled from another quarter. Karl Popper, a philosopher of some distinction, challenges that evolution is not science at all. He argues that the theory can be neither proved nor disproved, because no one can go back in time to see what factually happened. All that can honestly be said from a purely scientific viewpoint is that fossils suggest such an explanation might exist. That’s all. In other words, the theory of biological evolution, far from being a scientifically proven fact, is sheer conjecture.
Why then so much fuss over fossils? Why is evolution being taught in schools as though it were fact? And, considering all this, where does Mr. Tattersall get the authority to call his pile of old bones “the real crown jewels of the human race”?
I can easily think of a candidate far more worthy of that distinction—the Vedic literature of India. Common sense tells me I can learn much more about the past from man’s literary legacy than from his bones.
The Vedas are the literary legacy of mankind. They are the oldest surviving body of writings in existence, containing knowledge of events going back millions of years. Formerly they were passed down by word of mouth, but about five thousand years ago it was seen that the human memory was getting too short to retain such an enormous wealth of knowledge, so they were put into writing.
But many scientists and scholars discount the Vedic literature as too fantastic to believe. Ironically, however, they boldly make even more fantastic claims based on their collections of fossils. Are their “bone readings” necessarily more credible than the wisdom of the ages stored in the Vedas?
Some say that the Vedas are mythological writings from a more recent time, because five thousand years ago man was too primitive to write such literature. But how do they know this? Today many primitive peoples are coexisting with civilized ones. On what grounds should we assume that the situation was any different previously? Especially if we have such reported anomalies as seven-hundred-thousand-year-old, “modern-type” skulls staring at us.
The main reason for the evolutionists’ assumption that the Vedic literature could not have been written five thousand years ago is that Europe at that time was not civilized. But is it science to assume that because Europe was uncivilized so was the rest of the world? That is faulty logic. It’s like the man who assumes that because he is deaf and dumb, all men must be deaf and dumb.
A possible motive for the rejection of the Vedas’ authority is the simple fact that to accept them would be to accept India as the seat of civilization and culture eons before Europe—a most untenable notion if you happen to be a cultural chauvinist. And a careful analysis of Western history will reveal a chauvinistic attitude toward other cultures and an implicit assumption that the West is the standard of civilized life for the rest of the world. But the Vedic literature challenges that assumption. It describes a civilization centered on the development of human virtues, simplicity, spiritual enlightenment, and saintliness rather than on the acquisition of wealth, fame, power, and technological prowess.
The evolutionists, our so-called arbiters of scientific truth, doubt there is evidence of a Vedic civilization so long ago. But actually the Vedic literatures themselves are the evidence. And why shouldn’t they be? What better evidence could there be? Smokestacks? Skyscrapers? Railway boxcars? Bones? The Vedic culture stresses spiritual values, not technology. The very fact that the literature exists is substantial evidence.
How can evolutionists prefer bones over books? Why this peculiar fetish for fossils? Why are the evolutionists so keen to convince us that we descended from the apes?
We in the Krsna consciousness movement are certainly dubious about the integrity of such men. As followers of the Vedic literature, we are seeing practically that these writings are not the result of anyone’s fanciful reveries. Their recommendations for a high standard of human life geared towards self-realization yield wonderful results. Elwin Powell, professor of sociology at the State University of New York, has noted this fact: “If truth is what works, as Pierce and the pragmatists insist, there must be a kind of truth in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is [the essential Vedic text], since those who follow its teachings display a joyous serenity usually missing in the bleak and strident lives of contemporary people.”
This joyous serenity, along with the enlightening information the Vedic literature bestows—on cosmology, politics, science, psychology, and philosophy—firmly convinces me that should these writings ever be pitted against Mr. Tattersall’s “Ancestors” for the title “real crown jewels of the human race,” the Vedic literature would win hands down.