It kills 350,000 Americans every year. Six to nine times more addictive than alcohol, it is also eight times deadlier. Addiction to it is harder to treat and cure than addiction to heroin, and it leads to a higher incidence of fatality. Yet the drug is so easy to get even children can buy it. And what’s more, the production of this dangerous drug is subsidized by the U.S. government.
The drug—you guessed it—is tobacco, nicotine.
Last fall, Dr. William Pollin, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported in the Journal ofthe American Medical Associationthat while illegal heroin has 400,000 addicts across the country, nicotine has over thirty million.
And let’s not forget that cigarette smoking also causes lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema, and it is suspected to be the cause of a number of pregnancy complications, including fetal injury and premature birth.
Just what is our government’s stand on this deadly, addictive drug? That appears to be anybody’s guess. On the one hand, the government spends monies to campaign against cigarette smoking. On the other hand, it spends even more tax dollars to subsidize tobacco production on 182,000 farms in six southern states. Recently, Congress killed a proposal to have tobacco labeled “addictive.”
The question in some observers’ minds is whether this most pernicious of drugs will eventually be outlawed. Well, judging from our government’s equivocal policy toward smoking, I can answer that question with a definite “maybe.” To which I will add, “But don’t count on it.” The issue is really a very complicated muddle. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake. Untold billions of dollars for state and federal revenues are at stake. The power of big business is at stake. Five southern states grossed 2.6 billion dollars from tobacco sales in 1983. Believe it or not, there is greater interest in those figures than there is concern over the 350,000 dying yearly from tobacco.
When you consider the hue and cry we raised over the tragedy in Jonestown, where the fiendish Jim Jones coerced nine hundred of his followers to fatally poison themselves, or the outrage we felt over the loss of fifty-eight thousand young Americans in the Vietnam War, it’s hard to believe that right here at home 350,000 smoke themselves to death every year to almost no protestation. What possible good can come from this government-sanctioned criminality?
Obviously, something should be done. But what? It should be something constructive, something realistic.
I was a pack-a-day smoker for seven years, but when I took up Krsna consciousness I found that I would have to give up all intoxicants. From the Bhagavad-gita I learned that I am not this material body but an eternal spiritual soul, part and parcel of God. I also learned that I am the eternal servant of God, not the servant of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds. This understanding helped me immediately. t decided to no longer be a slave of tobacco. I vowed to chant the Hare Krsna man tra whenever the urge for a cigarette hit me and to not stop until the urge went away. After about two weeks the urge went away and just never came back. I haven’t touched a cancer stick in twelve years.
A Cry For Human Rights
by Tota-gopinatha dasa
Silent Scream—afilm that shows ultrasound pictures of a twelve-week-old fetus being aborted—is fanning the flames of controversy over abortion. The embryo’s heart begins to race—up to two hundred beats per minute. Then the embryo reacts to the surgical instruments and, although too young to cry out, opens its mouth in a “silent scream.” The unborn child is subsequently torn apart piecemeal and is vacuumed, bit by bit, from the womb.
Those favoring abortion, the prochoice faction, argue that a woman has the human and constitutional right to control her own life and body and therefore the right to a safe and legal abortion. Silent Scream, on the other hand, representing the prolife faction, contends that human life begins at conception. And to convince us, it appeals to our emotions and sentiments, vividly showing and describing the mechanics of abortion. But neither faction has satisfactorily answered the most crucial question here: What, exactly, is a human being? In other words, at what point should an embryo be seen as a human being entitled to protection under U.S. constitutional law?
The most obvious answer to this question is also the simplest. When a woman is pregnant, we understand that the newly conceived embryo will become a baby, then a child, and then an adult, by natural progression. Thus, the simple truth is that a human being is present from the moment of conception. This conclusion is in line with the Bhagavad-gita, which states that a nonphysical spirit soul animates the body at every stage of life. The person is never the body at any stage of development.
Human rights are ultimately the soul’s nights, a fact implicitly recognized by the U.S. Constitution: “All men are created equal.” Obviously we aren’t equal in intelligence, beauty, strength, and so on. We are equal only as eternal souls, part and parcel of the Creator.
By divine arrangement the transmigrating, eternal spirit soul begins a new life by taking shelter in a womb at the time of conception. From that moment the spiritual rights of the unborn, beginning with the right to life, deserve respect. Trying to justify abortion on the grounds that the embryo is not developed enough to protest is like trying to justify murder because the victim is asleep or unconscious.
Unwanted pregnancy must be accepted as a lawful reaction of material nature, under divine sanction, to previous violation of spiritual principles—indulgence in illicit sex. That is called karma, or reaping what you’ve sown. You may try to circumvent your karma by abortion, but this simply violates another spiritual principle and makes matters worse.
The real solution is to live in harmony with spiritual principles. Human life is an opportunity to become enlightened and transcend material miseries altogether. The purely spiritual process of bhakti-yoga, devotional service to God, beginning with chanting the names of God, Hare Krsna, frees one from karmic reactions and unveils one’s divine qualities, moral purity, and love of God. Only by sincere application of nonsectarian spiritual principles can America truly be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In A Nice Neighborhood Like This
by Mathuresa dasa
Out for a walk after a deskbound morning, I left Fairmount Park and entered Chestnut Hill, a wealthy Philadelphia suburban community of rolling lawns and old stately houses. As I left the park path and emerged onto a smoothly paved road, I was surprised to see a heap of decomposing trash—paper, cardboard, and cans—half concealed in the roadside bushes. Odd, considering the nice neighborhood.
Half an hour later, retracing my steps, I again neared the heap, but when I was still about fifty yards away, a station wagon with a “MAKING DELIVERIES” sign in the back window passed me. Groceries maybe. But no, the driver stopped at the heap, tossed a hot-water bottle out the window, turned the car around, and sped back up the road.
The next moment another car, a blue Valiant, passed me and braked beside the papers and cans. The driver, a young man, jumped out, scanned the trash, and found the hot-water bottle. Holding it upside down with his right hand, he shook it vigorously above his cupped left palm.
Figuring the “delivery” contained illegal drugs and thus not wanting to interrupt the young man, any more than you want to interrupt a dog that is eating, I at first hesitated to walk by him into the park. But he hardly noticed me passing.
I could be wrong. Maybe the hot-water bottle contained an invitation to tea, a diamond ring, or some hot water. But the incident got me to thinking about drugs anyway, pondering the hundreds of tons of narcotics that the news media tell us flow across the U.S. borders and into the U.S. bloodstream annually. Although I’d been surprised to see a drug delivery, I shouldn’t have been. Dope is everywhere.
What that means to me is that people everywhere have unwittingly discovered a basic fact of life: Even if you have wealth, education, and other material advantages, these things alone don’t satisfy. The West, America in particular, enjoys a high standard of living, but despite our good food, expensive clothing, electronic entertainment, free sex, fancy cars, and the best and worst in art and literature, everyone is frustrated. They can’t get any satisfaction, because they are spiritually poor.
Spiritual assets begin to accumulate when we understand our identity as eternal individual souls. Now we’re living in temporary physical bodies, attempting to enjoy life by catering to the demands of our physical senses: eyes, ears, tongue, nostrils, genitals, and so on. Enjoyment, according to the Krsna consciousness scriptures, is indeed the purpose of life, but gorging and caressing our physical and mental habitations is an extremely limited platform of enjoyment. The body lasts for only a few years; youth, when the senses are strong enough for wholehearted indulgence, spans only a fraction of that time; and the enjoyable moments themselves—a passionate embrace, a friendly conversation, a hearty meal—are just that: moments.
That’s just not enough for the spiritual self. The self, being eternal, longs for eternal enjoyment—which the physical body, no matter how you fondle or pummel, can’t supply. This limitation doesn’t bother the animals, who make do with eating, sleeping, and sex. But we humans have more intelligence; we’re able to understand, however dimly, there’s more to life than sensory indulgence. We naturally hanker after knowledge, freedom, bliss, satisfaction, enlightenment. And drugs can create an illusion of these things. But that illusion simply serves to thwart our search for the real thing.
Most of us probably underestimate the extent of our involvement in this illusion, overlooking, for instance, the $50 billion a year Americans spend on alcohol (a drug). And the illegal drug trade grosses even more, $100 billion, according to Vice-President Bush. Marijuana and cocaine are becoming as commonplace as beer.
One day last January, federal authorities arrested a dozen sheriffs in Georgia and Louisiana on charges of taking $100,000 bribes from drug smugglers to leave certain airstrips and beaches unpatrolled. The evening news showed a southern governor responding to the incident with a declaration that we should be ready to call in the Army and Navy to stop drug traffic.
The proposal just didn’t sound practical. Call in the armed forces? Weren’t the sheriffs an armed force? What makes the governor think the Army isn’t also implicated, at least to some degree? If Americans are spending $100 billion on illegal drugs, then is there any force, armed or unarmed, that isn’t implicated, that isn’t affected either by drug addiction or quick-money addiction?
I very much doubt it. I look at it like this: When I hear that tens of millions of people in the U.S. have venereal disease of one kind or another, I assume that besides “ordinary” people, there are plenty of senators and congressmen and scholars and journalists and corporate executives and soon who have it too. Similarly, when I hear that a measly sheriff gets $100,000 just for turning his head, I assume head-turning is far more profitable for higher-ups. And when I read that the teenage son of wealthy parents sold the family silver to buy cocaine, I wonder what an Army officer or an IBM executive or even a governor might sell. It is not my intention to asperse great institutions or great people, but epidemics have a very egalitarian way of spreading. And, after all, this is a democracy.
It makes little sense to call in the Army whenever we discover a Delorean involved in a cocaine deal or a few sheriffs taking bribes or a Kennedy dead from an overdose. Our society is unable to resist the disease of drug abuse because our natural immune system (spiritual practices and values) has broken down. Until society in general receives a substantial injection of Krsna consciousness, which is the scientific culture of genuine spiritual life, even the Army and the Navy won’t be able to help.
America is a nice neighborhood. But somewhere, partially hidden in the bushes, there’s a rotting heap of trash we are unwilling—or unable—to clean up.