Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
A Question Of Quotas
by Drutakarma dasa
A recent survey of the world economic situation published in the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 24, 1984) concludes, “Today despite 12,000 years of technological progress, an enormous increase in material production and consumption, bloody revolutions aimed at redistributing wealth, and well-intentioned reforms aimed at ameliorating the effects of inequality, human society remains divided between haves andhave-nots.”
The disparity is readily apparent in the distribution of the world’s food resources. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world is growing enough food to feed its 4.7 billion inhabitants; yet 460 million people are going hungry. In Africa, millions are on the verge of death from starvation, while American granaries are bursting with surpluses.
To help deal with the immediate effects of hunger, the Hare Krsna movement is providing relief through its worldwide Hare Krishna Food for Life program and regularly cooperates with private and government relief agencies. But beyond this, members of the movement are convinced that unless world leaders recognize certain fundamental truths about our planet, its resources, and human nature, there can be no permanent solution to the problem of scarcity in the midst of abundance.
The Vedic literatures of ancient India provide some key insights. “The Supreme Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes.” So states Sri Isopanisad, one of the classic works of the vast Vedic wisdom. This important truth can help us understand the root cause of the unbalanced distribution of resources that results in the rich few getting richer and the many poor getting poorer. God has provided enough for everyone, but because of a deficiency of spiritual knowledge we are creating imbalances that result in widespread deprivation and suffering.
When American scientists launch a space vehicle like Challenger into orbit, the crew can safely assume that their physical needs have been anticipated and provided for. Biomedical specialists have doubtlessly calculated the requirements of the crew members for food, air, and water and have supplied the spacecraft with adequate amounts of these necessities. But just imagine the havoc that would result if one or two crew members began using up the supplies that were intended for the other astronauts aboard the spacecraft. And then let’s further imagine what would happen if all the have and have-not crew members completely forgot about their mission and instead began to devote all their energies to fighting over the spacecraft’s resources. That would be a very accurate picture of what is going on in the world today.
Having lost sight of life’s real mission, namely self-realization, most of spaceship earth’s crew members are engaged in a purposeless struggle to amass material assets. We tend to forget that our stay on this planet is brief and temporary. When we leave, all that we take with us is the amount of spiritual realization we have acquired. If that realization is complete, we attain liberation from material existence and return to our original position as associates of the Supreme Lord in the spiritual world. But if our spiritual realization is incomplete, then we must return for another lifetime in the material world.
If we are to avoid this unwelcome prospect, society should be arranged so that all members are aware of life’s spiritual goal and can peacefully devote themselves to attaining it. It will then naturally follow that the unrestricted competition for material resources that leaves some with plenty and others with not enough will be alleviated. The Isopanisad gives a simple formula for economic well-being for everyone on the planet. “Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”
Of Mice And Meat
by Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi
Consider for a moment the plight of the carnivorous beast. Skulking about the forest brush, sniffing and listening with intense concentration, hunger gnawing at his belly and burning in his eyes, he searches for prey. His meditation is single-pointed in hopes of a kill. But his task is difficult: to find his prey inattentive and unwary. He must be ready—for whenever the opportunity comes—and his attack must be swift, fearless, and lethal. And at last it does come—the kill: the fearful eyes of the victim, the screams of pain and terror, and the stench of fresh blood. For us this would certainly be a repulsive task simply for the business of eating. And this sort of act—this barbarity, this furtive slaughter—marks the difference between civilized and bestial existence.
For animals, however, this gross violence is acceptable, without any consideration of right or wrong. The anguish and suffering of hapless prey is hardly the concern of predators in the animal kingdom. And, of course, the killer incurs no sin. For us human beings, however, even to witness such brutal killing is painful, because we are endowed with the quality of compassion. If necessity suddenly forced us to prowl the jungle for creatures to leap on, kill, and devour, most of us would starve. Our bodies, when pitted against the prowess of the animal kingdom, are frail. Our intelligence facilitates devising other means of nourishment, and our philosophical vision and capacity for empathy lead us to regard the feelings of others.
Nevertheless, our so-called civilized society promotes the slaughter of animals as a necessary clement of modern living. We may not have to see the brutality behind those neatly wrapped and ordered packages of red meat displayed under lights in our local supermarkets, but the savage slaughter was there as surely as in the jungle. Although our modern approach to getting food may appear civilized, in essence it is inhuman. Thanks to our superior intelligence, our approach is more sophisticated and controlled, and we feel sufficiently removed from the ghastly carnage by the intervention of industry and commerce. Most of us will never see the throngs of cows herded into the slaughterhouse, or hear their pitiful cries, or witness their anguish.
Indeed, what we often see of the meatpacking industry is cartoons of smiling cows, chickens, and pigs dancing across the TV screen, inviting us to relish their tasty flesh. Our language buffers us from any suspicions about the origin of our prized sirloin steaks, as we regularly eye slabs of rotting carcasses and refer to them as “cuts of meat,” or “tender aged beef.” Mothers encourage their little ones to eat their hot dogs, which are stuffed with toxins and intestinal wastes, and smiling waitresses serve hamburger patties comprised of the most repulsive organs of the cow and often containing such substances as earthworms and decayed rodents. Yet most of us are somehow convinced that our daily quota of meat is not only safe but necessary for our nutritional well-being, a conviction we maintain even when confronted with the most gruesome details of animal slaughter and meat-eating.
Recent investigations into the practices of a meat-packing plant in the western United States provide a strong challenge to such false security regarding the sanctity of our red-blooded American diet. Rudolph “Butch” Stanko, owner of the Colorado-based Cattle King Packing Company, is presently facing charges for alleged discrepancies in the cleanliness and purity standards at his plant. The company was a big supplier of meat to the U.S. Defense Department, to fast-food restaurants, and to local supermarkets. Larry Andrews, a former employee, testifies, “He told us not to throw away anything, to use every bit and piece, even the blood clots.” The company was accused of regularly bringing in already dead animals and animals known to be diseased to mix in with the ground meat products. In defense against the charges. Cattle King’s attorney acknowledged, “Yes, these things happened—like they do at every other plant in the United States.”
Certainly these statements suggest a nasty business full of cheating at the expense of the customer, and you may find yourself viewing your next hamburger with a new wariness. But even without these horrid details, if we think about it objectively, where is the consideration of any real cleanliness or purity when dealing with carcasses? The meat that people are purchasing for their families’ dinners is nothing more glorious than contaminated slices of flesh, slashed from animals ruthlessly killed after their brief, miserable, disease-ridden existence, which ended in violence and terror. To ignore the suffering of the animal from whose very body your steak or cutlet has been obtained and to romanticize the business of animal slaughter as healthy, sanitary, and necessary is a kind of madness. What you’re getting is simply a package of decaying flesh, toxins, and wastes, and in exchange you implicate yourself in the most horrible kind of violence imaginable.
Human beings possess a higher intelligence and a finer sensitivity that allows for moral judgments. To witness the death of an animal such as a cow, therefore, would be very painful for us. That’s our natural human compassion. And yet we eat the flesh of the cow without any qualms of conscience. The heinous act of slaughter may be out of sight and out of mind, but by eating the flesh we become implicated in sin.
According to the strict laws of karma, every human being is responsible for his actions. These actions create reactions, which propel each of us into particular circumstances of happiness or distress. In the case of animal slaughter, a grievously sinful act for one with human discretionary resources, the reaction is that the offender is forced to accept an animal body in his next birth and to suffer the same horrible life and death.
Our meat-eating isn’t as bloody as that of the animals hunting in the forest, but in light of our superior capacity for understanding suffering and death, it’s far more horrible. We don’t need to eat the flesh of animals to survive, and to remove this violence from our lives would create an immediate improvements in consciousness. Being vegetarian may not be the perfection of human life, but it is one of the first steps on the path of perfection.
by Grahila dasa
How many times have you had trouble finding a parking space downtown? Well, according to some scientific theorists, the day may soon come when you won’t have to drive around block after block looking—the computer in your car will tell you where you can park. And when you want to go on a trip, your car’s computer will map out the best route. According to experts at last year’s World Future Society convention in Washington, D.C., these are but a couple of the conveniences we’ll be enjoying in the future.
We’ll also be able to program our computerized home appliances without even pushing buttons. For example, just tell your video entertainment center which programs you’ll want to see. Too busy to catch Monday night football? Tell your TV to store the telecast till next week. You will even select alternative plots to dramas and soap operas.
Geoffrey Calvert, a Canadian economist and actuary, predicts that in the near future people will live in good health well beyond one hundred. Some experts predict that we will soon have vaccines to prevent most major forms of cancer, drugs that will unclog arteries and prevent heart disease, and wrist devices that will warn us of illness. Artificial blood vessels, hearts, and kidneys will be commonplace and inexpensive.
Researchers in agriculture hope to greatly increase crop and dairy production through genetic engineering, farming the sea, and developing new-age foods such as spirulina. Industrial advancements would include factories in outer space, better utilization of solar energy, and the robotization of many boring, dangerous, and tiring jobs.
Such predictions may make us optimistic about a bright future of comfort, convenience, increased enjoyment, and longer, healthier lives, but let’s not forget that the promises of science often prove empty. Placing our faith in the predictions of modern science may result in a big letdown. Remember DDT? In January of 1945, Science magazine proclaimed,
Success in at least one such campaign was cited by Professor Essig. About twenty years ago the Mediterranean fruit fly, a terrible menace to certain fruit and vegetable crops, especially the citrus fruits, was accidentally introduced into Florida. Drastic measures were necessary, but by thorough cooperation among federal, state, and private interests the last traces of the fly infestation were wiped out in a short time.
DDT’s promise spreads broadly over three fields: public health, household comfort, and agriculture. In the first category come the triumphs already scored by DDT against such plagues as malaria and typhus. Household comfort will be promoted by the abatement or even the complete wiping out of such insects as flies, fleas, bedbugs, and ‘nuisance’ mosquitos. DDT can be useful to agriculture not only in combating field and orchard insects, but also in protecting forests, livestock and poultry.
Unfortunately, by the 1960s, the U.S. government had to place heavy restrictions on the use of DDT because of its harmful effects to fish and waterfowl and its probable harmful effects to human communities who consumed contaminated wildlife. So although in 1945 the readers of Science may have felt confident that the problem of insect pests would soon be conquered, forty years later Florida citrus growers are still contending with the Mediterranean fruit fly, and flies, fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitos remain a problem.
Nor can we overlook that science and technology has helped create for us the threat of nuclear holocaust. According to Theo Brown, executive director of Ground Zero, which studies nuclear war, a ninety percent reduction of nuclear arms would still leave the U.S. and the Soviet Union with enough nuclear might to destroy oneanother.
The above are but two instances of the plethora of science’s dubious achievements. To regard the achievements and promises of modern science with optimism, therefore, may well be naive, even foolish. If we think long and hard about the matter, without becoming enamored by scientific gadgetry and titillated by brash promises of a technological Utopia, we should see that the contributions of modern science are at best superficial. In many cases they prove counterproductive, even suicidal. We want to be free of suffering and to enjoy happiness—that’s natural. But science has helped us only to palliate, not to cure. It has lulled us into a preoccupation with the symptoms of our suffering, without showing us the root cause.
If we examine the real cause of the problems we are trying to alleviate through science and technology, we should see that increasing creature comforts is no solution at all. This is nicely explained by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
The sufferings of human society are due to a polluted aim of life, namely lording it over the material resources. The more human society engages in the exploitation of undeveloped material resources for sense gratification, the more it will be entrapped by the illusory material energy of the Lord, and thus the distress of the world will be intensified, rather than diminished.
In other words, not understanding that we are eternal spiritual beings, servants of God, we strive for pleasure by gratifying the bodily senses. Because of a strong desire for sense gratification, we develop an exploitative mentality toward material resources, humanity, and other living beings. Especially in this age of spiritual ignorance, this exploitative mentality leads to extremely sinful activities, like cow slaughter, abortion, and unrestricted sex indulgence. We needn’t, however, condemn science and technology. They are tools. In the hands of self-realized persons, they can serve the highest aims and noblest end of society. In the hands of exploitative sense-gratifiers, science and technology will wreak havoc.