Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

When asked by a London reporter what he thought about Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi said that he thought it would be a good idea. At the time, Britain ruled half the world and set the tone of Western culture. Today America sets the pace. It exports images and technology worldwide, conquering mankind with American "culture."

American-made sound and light shape consensual reality, wherever a monitor can be found. American civilization is being spread by the PC and the TV. One has become the indispensable tool for getting ahead in life, and the other a substitute for life itself. The machines are manufactured all over the world, but programs born in the USA echo from one continent to the next. Even middle-class India is captivated by the glitter of Hollywood, the canned laughter of sitcoms, and the cult of the personal computer.

It's strange to see where some TV programs end up, long after they've faded from home. Whether it's "I Love Lucy" laughter ringing in prime-time Bombay, or Jerry Lewis films still drawing raves in Paris, America's old programs go on imprinting minds everywhere.

America's imprint on PC programs also casts a giant shadow. From word-processing to games and multimedia, the U.S.A. leads the way, setting the standards. Nearly 200 million PCs live in homes and offices around the globe. And with the Infobahn, you don't have to wait for prime time. You can be networked to programs while bobbing in the middle of the ocean. And it's fast! This kind of imaging spreads at speeds approaching that of light. Just plug in, download, and tune in to anything, anywhere, anytime. And along with American PC and TV programs, you get American language, attitudes, and values.

Because of American technology the world is adopting a new kind of impersonalism as an article of faith. Americans are no longer human beings but "human viewings," absorbed in a facsimile of life, once removed. The average American watches more than 7.5 hours of TV per day. "Computer widows," their husbands lost in cyberspace, are losing their kids too, as teenage game addicts sit for days, glued to an artificial world.

Something is missing along the Information Highway, where the next program can become an ongoing reality. Where's the life? Channel surfing won't tone the muscles. Interactive computer games won't help us interact better with our neighbors. We're moving apart from our families and communities to find private little worlds filled with flickering fantasies (not much more than static electricity). Edgar Allan Poe said, "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."

Few people care about who's programming the "dream machine." Do you know whose reality you're buying into? Where's the substance underneath the packaging? Perhaps that is what Gandhi meant when he questioned the content of Western civilization. As a student of Bhagavad-gita, he would have recognized that human life should not be squandered on British pomp and circumstance (or American programming). Human life is meant for God realization the only program that lasts.

In the Gita, Lord Krsna explains that the material world is a gigantic machine built to entertain the desires of the living entities. You might think of it as "virtual reality," with unbelievable graphics. The problem is we do believe the graphics.

From the Gita Gandhi learned that beyond the fractals of the material world lies a transcendental vibration that holds the real substance of life. From the Gita he knew there was a higher culture, a more abundant life, waiting beyond the realm of the senses.

The process of going beyond matter is not a high-tech proposition. It has more to do with sound and memory than with modems and megabytes. Hear God's names, chant them, and remember Him. It's that simple. What could be more user-friendly? Everything can be found in just three little words: Hare, Krsna, and Rama holy names of the Lord.

Beneath all the layers of programs that capture our desires is a timeless drama, moving faster than the speed of mind, rushing toward us on more channels than any satellite could carry. That drama is the constant unfolding of Krsna's creation, His pastimes, and our own unique parts as His beloved associates. Though older than creation, the transcendental vibrations carrying the drama are forever fresh, personal, and interactive. The drama is eternal, blissful, and full of knowledge, and it's open to everyone any time, anywhere.

Trying to distract ourselves from life's hard lessons by grazing on the flickering images of TVs and PCs, we can easily miss a lesson found in true culture everywhere: the program of loving God. The Gita says that when you tune in, at the frequency of transcendental senses, "there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact." Compared to the eternal drama of our loving exchanges with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the image world of material broadcasting is no better than puppet shadows dancing on a wall.

As America basks in the spotlight of programming dominance, Americans might remember that their programs are insignificant unless we put God in the equation. And the Internet is a network to nowhere unless we use it to link up to God. Unless we can make "In God We Trust" the keystone of our cultural edifice, the contribution of American civilization may be of no significant matter nothing but a computer virus spreading throughout the prime time of our lives.

Food For Thought

Gopala Acarya Dasa

One million dollars a minute that was the cost for advertising spots during the televised broadcast of the Superbowl football game last January. And the ads themselves often cost a million to produce. For such expensive campaigns, advertising agencies compete for prestigious awards, in the process submitting their work for critiques.

Reading a review of high-profile ads, I learned that in one a man's dog licks his face while the man watches television and eats corn chips. The fellow in the ad is a popular Hollywood actor, and the dog is trained to perform on camera. In that sequence, the dog's trainer stood close by, out of view of the camera, and coached him. But verbal coaching wasn't enough. So to attract the dog to do his part, a studio man brushed dog food on the actor's face. After a few unsuccessful takes and several more applications of dog food, the problems were licked and the filming was completed.

Using animals to convince humans to buy snack food may seem a little preposterous. But there's more. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a major grocery-products company in England employs an expert who judges the taste of pet foods to determine their market appeal. This taste-tester is not a dog or a cat but a college graduate who wears pinstriped suits and speaks the king's English. His wife affectionately refers to him by the pet name Dog Breath. "Edwin chews a lot of mints," she says. "That does help."

Friends are somewhat skeptical when he invites them over for lunch, and they have been known to lift up the sandwich bread to sniff underneath before taking a bite. He is the only taste expert in his field who actually eats the product, and he admits that he favors the taste of gourmet cat foods. Through his work, Dog Breath is getting new ideas for human food products, ideas he plans to pass along to the folks in research and development.

So we live in a society where dogs are used to sell food for humans, humans are used to test food for pets, and cat food inspires new recipes for junk food. Society has been going to the dogs for years, but as we approach the twenty-first century man seems to be going to the dog's dish as well. It's a little too much to stomach, isn't it?

Srila Prabhupada referred to such degraded humankind as "a royal edition of the animals." In some parts of the world the slang for human is "long pig," and as we know, a pig will eat anything abominable while turning up his snout at savories.

As they say, "You are what you eat," and for that reason devotees of Krsna eat only sanctified foods, which purify our existence. The Bhagavad-gita says that those who eat prasadam, or spiritualized food, are freed from the reactions of karma. It is karma that perpetuates our material life, our encagement in these bodies made of flesh and blood bodies susceptible to animal cravings. And Krsna prasadam is so delicious. That's why the Hare Krsna movement has earned the delightful reputation for being "the kitchen religion."

The materialists have created a dog-eat-dog world out there, but if they think I'm ready to trade in my capatis for Milk Bones biscuits, they're barking up the wrong tree. Please pass the halava. I'll have a second helping. Hare Krsna.