MANY INDIANS want to come to America or the West. The scientific progress of Western civilization and the obvious comforts, luxuries, technology, and efficiency afforded by modern science attract people. Are these amenities purely material distractions? How should the fruits of progress be used?
Historian Charles A. Beard in his book A Century of Progress suggests that progress "implies that mankind, by making use of science and invention, can progressively emancipate itself from plagues, famines, and social disasters, and subjugate the materials and forces of the earth to the purposes of the good here and now."
Srila Prabhupada, however, explains progress differently: "Material advancement of civilization means advancement of the reactions of the threefold miseries." That is, miseries from other living beings, miseries from Mother Nature, and miseries from one's own body and mind. "There are many calamities like excessive heat, cold, rains or no rains, and the after-effects are famine, disease, and epidemic. The aggregate result is agony of the body and mind. Manmade material science cannot do anything to counteract these threefold miseries. They are all punishments from the superior energy of maya under the direction of the Supreme Lord." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.14.10, Purport)
But how can this be? Advancement in science adds to our sufferings? But there are so many obvious comforts. Diseases have been eliminated, damage from natural catastrophes minimized, and so many mechanized luxuries produced.
Srila Prabhupada gives the answer with the example of an equation. In solving a mathematical equation, if the first step is done wrong, no matter how well we may do the rest, we are just going further away from the right answer. In the same way, modern society has done the first step wrong by accepting the self as the body. So by trying to make perfect arrangements for the body and neglecting the spirit soul, society is going further away from the truth and degrading itself.
No matter how hard science may try to subdue the forces of nature, Mother Earth sends greater calamities and leaves us baffled. We stamp out one disease, and a new, more dangerous one appears. Identification with the body makes us want to secure as much as possible for ourselves and our families, communities, and nations. This selfishness ultimately leads to wars. Because of neglecting the Supreme Lord, we suffer.
So should we give up scientific advancement and go back to living without computers and cars? Beard says, "When critics and scoffers, writing under soft lamps, or lecturing for fees to well-fed audiences, in comfortable rooms electrically lighted, venture to speak of an alternative, they can only offer a return to agriculture and handicrafts. … Are we merely to surrender the tractor and return to the steel plow? Why not the wooden plow? Or better still, to the forked stick hardened by fire? In the process of retreat are surgery and dentistry to go into the discard? … The problem is not one of retreat, but of ends and methods, of choices and uses."
The perfect use of modern technology lies in the service of Krsna. Instead of throwing material conveniences away, we must use them for Krsna. This is andha-pangu nyaya, the logic of the blind man and the lame one. Though India has a rich spiritual culture, she is lame in material progress, and though the West is materially progressive it is blinded by the glamour of materialism and can't see the real goal of human life self-realization. But if the blind person takes the lame on his shoulder, the lame can direct and the blind may walk, and both may work successfully. India is the land of dharma, the land where Krsna appeared and all the Vedic knowledge was stored. Indians have a natural inclination towards Krsna consciousness. So if India provides the spiritual vision for materially advanced America, then human society can peacefully work in the proper direction for spiritual advancement. This was Prabhupada's vision, to unite the East and West. He knew that since India is hankering after Western technology, if he made the West Krsna conscious then India (and the world) would follow. He said he was bringing Sita, the goddess of wealth, back to Rama, the Supreme Lord, by using wealth in the Lord's service.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura employed this principle of yukta-vairagya, using the material energy in the service of the energetic, Krsna. Later Srila Prabhupada, on his spiritual master's instruction, crossed the ocean to spread Krsna consciousness. When people asked him why he wore watches, traveled in cars, and flew in planes, Prabhupada replied that he didn't own a thing everything belonged to Krsna, and Prabhupada was using everything in Krsna's service.
When we use everything in Krsna's service, whatever we use is spiritualized. Prabhupada gave an example. When a thief steals your money he will spend it, and if you had kept it you would have spent it. So either way it would be spent. Why then is he a criminal? Because your money should be spent for your purposes and he has diverted it for his purposes. Similarly, everything belongs to Krsna, so when we use it for Krsna we are acting spiritually, but when we use it any other way we are acting materially and we are thieves. So when we change the focus of science from serving the body to serving Krsna, we straighten out the equation of civilization.
Ravi Gupta, age twelve, lives at the Hare Krsna center in Boise, Idaho, run by his parents.