FROM THE SECOND we got there I knew something was wrong. I mean, there were some very dedicated people there, supporting some very righteous and urgent causes. Still, something just wasn't sitting right with me.
As I wandered around the Earth Day fairgrounds, I saw so many special-interest groups with so many tables set up the vegan all-organic veggie-burger stand, the now almost cliche Save the Whales people, even old ladies from the recycling committee knitting discarded plastic bags into everything from jewelry to knapsacks.
One man had dedicated his life to banning lawn chemicals. "I won't stop until every lawn in the world is free of these perversions," he said straight-faced, locking into me with a determined stare as he handed me a clipboard full of signatures to add to.
I walked away disheartened, shuffling my feet through the dirt. I couldn't help thinking that even if he did succeed, even if all his work paid off, sure, the world might have better lawns than at any time in history, but so what? In fact, if everyone on this whole fairground succeeded in his or her own little cause, would the world suddenly turn into paradise? For all the protesting and all the hype, nothing was really changing.
The Save the Earth movement has been going strong for thirty years now and life on earth has only gotten worse.
This all rolled through my mind as I left the Earth Day fairgrounds. What were all these "Save the fill-in-the-blank" groups doing? The things they fight against exploitation of animals, depletion of natural resources, mistreatment of other human beings are just symptoms of a much deeper cause.
Our enemy isn't Exxon, McDonald's, the CIA, or whatever our target of protest happens to be. Our enemy is this mysterious root cause, and by locating and annihilating him …
But he's smart. He's elusive. While we squander our energy searching for him in the factories, the rain forests, the slaughterhouses, and the vivisection labs, he stays safe in hiding …
He's inside each of us, hidden deep in our own hearts. The enemy, the root cause, is our own intrinsic desire to see ourselves as the center. Deep inside each of us is this seed of exploitation: the desire to be Number One. That's what makes us grab what we can for ourselves, even at the expense of others. It's there in all of us. Sometimes it can be as obvious as the hamburger-chain mogul who slaughters innocent animals to turn a profit. But sometimes it's there more subtly, in the most seemingly innocent people, where it's disguised in their altruistic efforts to put things in relation to them first my nation, my race, even my cause. The focus is all on "me."
"Me first" is the cause of all our "isms" and the problems they bring about. Racism comes from someone thinking, "My race comes first." Sexism: "My sex comes first." Animal slaughter: "The gratification of my appetite comes first." It's this consciousness of "I-me-mine" that keeps us stepping on others and has locked the world into a nosedive.
This consciousness of I-me-mine is a spiritual problem, and no amount of material rearrangement will solve it. Our pickets will fail. Our protests will fail. Until we learn to change the world inside us, we'll never change the world outside.
Only under illusion do we see ourselves as the central, all-important figure in the universe. As individual living beings, we are not independent; we are part of a greater whole and therefore meant to serve and act in harmony with that whole.
The whole is a person Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the Absolute Truth, or "that from which everything emanates." When we acknowledge Krsna to be the center, our false vision of ourselves as the center will naturally disappear.
When we stop deluding ourselves into thinking we're independent of any higher power, we'll stop thinking we're free to exploit material nature and then exploitation will stop. By helping people get back in touch with their spiritual identity, we actually help them uproot their selfish desires, which are the real disease in the material world. Krsna consciousness kills the consciousness of I-me-mine, along with all its symptomatic problems.
Sure, the world needs a revolution, but to make a real change is going to take a revolution in consciousness. It'll take a war, but a war on illusion.
Paramananda Dasa lives at the Philadelphia temple and is a disciple of Ravindra Svarupa Dasa. He plays guitar for the Krsna conscious straightedge band Shelter.