Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

Lima, Peru: Several feet overhead against a gray-and-white marble wall on the departures side of the Jorge Chavez International Airport, foot-high black letters, all capitals, announce. "TENGO EL ORGULLO DE SER PERUANO." That is, "I have the pride of being Peruvian."

Well, for crying out loud. what is there to be so proud of? I have the pride of belonging to a small Latin American nation whose empire got wiped out four centuries ago. Now really! And why should I be so proud to be Peruvian rather than, say, Argentinean, or Chilean, or Colombian, or for that matter Australian, Bulgarian, or Japanese?

This national pride reminds me of my days at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey. Whether in basketball, football, or whatever, our Maroon Raiders were supposed to be the best When they trounced Tenafly, Bergenfield. or Cresskill, we were victorious. And when our Raiders lost damn!

But I for one could never figure it out What did I care for Englewood? After all, tomorrow my family might move a few miles over into Tenafly, and then the victories and damns would be reversed. As far as I could see, it was stupid.

And I grew up feeling the same way about national pride. Why should I feel so proud to be American? Cross the border into Canada, and everything's pretty much the same. So what's the big deal? If I'm born in New York. I'm supposed to get all worked up about the Stars and Stripes? And guys born in Montreal are supposed to get all teary-eyed over a Maple Leaf?

That's one thing I liked about Krsna consciousness. It came right out and said, "This is stupid." And it had even better reasons than I did.

According to the philosophy of Lord Krsna, I'm not my body. I'm the spark of consciousness within the body. My body is a thing, a machine, a vehicle, a temporary physical arrangement of muscles, nerves, blood, guts, skin, hair, eyeballs. That's me? The very idea is absurd.

Yet I stand up for that absurdity with great pride. "I'm an American." I announce. Yet what am I really saying but "I am this body"? My body was born in America, so Iam American. What nonsense.

According to Lord Krsna, for the real me, the conscious self within the body, there is no birth or death. So where's the question of being American, Canadian, Peruvian, or any such noble bilge?

I am eternal. But in illusion in utter ignorance and bewilderment I identify myself with something I'm not. I get scrambled in a mess of bodily labels, and I get so serious about them that I'm even ready to give my life for them.

"I only regret," said the American patriot Nathan Hale just before the British hanged him, "that I have but one life to lose for my country."

Wrong again!

Lord Sri Krsna says that we don't have "but one life"; we've got scads of them thousands, millions, an inestimably long queue of them, stretching back to since no one remembers when.

But while living within one such body. I the bewildered spark of consciousness, get so wrapped up in my false bodily identity that I devote myself, surrender myself, to that pitifully ridiculous thing. I live for it and die for it. And at the time of death my fixation on it my engrossment in it, my stupid corporeal idealism carries me forward to another round of birth and death in another body of the same crummy, perishable nature. Mens insana in corpore insano.

According to Lord Sri Krsna, the sane person is the one who devotes himself to getting out of illusion, to breaking free from bewilderment and putting an end to birth and death. When we give up our false identity. Lord Krsna says. and realize our real identity as spiritual beings, we regain our spiritual nature. And then birth and death cease to exist, like a bad dream when a person wakes up.

To bring about this awakening is the purpose of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.When our mind gets off the body and back to the spirit and comes back in touch with Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we return to our eternal, natural consciousness, or Krsna consciousness.

Meanwhile, as long as we devote ourselves to a messy mechanism of blood, bones, hair, and guts, and the labels that go with it those proud designations of family, nation, race, and gender we are no better, Lord Krsna says. than foolish asses. That's why, seen spiritually, "I am proud of being American" or "I am proud of being Peruvian" translates into "I am proud of being an ass."

Back To You

by Krsna Dharma dasa (Manchester, England)

As we are all too well aware, we have lately had our share of disasters, and many people are left still trying to cope with the effects of them.

Whether a tragedy is manmade or natural, its aftermath leaves everyone asking, "Why did it happen?" Public inquiries and disaster committees do little to assuage the grief of those most affected and always fail to answer the question "Why did the tragedy befall us and not others?" People look to their religions for answers and solace, but how well do they provide these? Many people suffer quite a test and often a loss of faith in God when subjected to terrible suffering.

Soon after the crash of the airliner in Scotland last December, relatives of victims admitted they had lost much faith in the existence of God. "If God is good and just, then how can innocent children and good men die in such a way?" This is the essence of their doubt and it seems like a good question. And since most major disasters are taken as "acts of God." the question becomes even more pertinent.

Perhaps we should start with a definition of God before considering this question. Dictionaries define God as "the Supreme Being" and "the creator and controller of the universe." These definitions should not provoke any argument. Therefore, being supreme. God must have the ability to prevent the death of seemingly innocent people. Yet He does not do so. Why? We cannot say He is incapable, for we then reduce Him to something less than supreme and therefore not God.

Could it be, then, that God is not always good? Perhaps He enjoys killing, as some persons do. But what kind of people are these? Are they godly? Do saints devoted to the service of the Lord act like that? Obviously not. Then neither does God, the source of godly qualities.

Recently, I attended a church service and heard in the sermon that God suffers along with us. I thought this didn't make any sense. Suffering is unwanted. If God suffers, again He loses His supremacy and thus His position as God.

Some may think that these considerations prove that God cannot exist. If He does exist. He must be all-good and all-powerful. But since innocent people are suffering. He obviously is not there, or else He would have prevented it.

There is, though, another possibility not yet considered: The suffering inflicted on us is not occurring by chance; it is deserved. An all-powerful and all-knowing God is awarding us the results of our own actions. This would surely be a fair system; we are already bound by a similar system in the form of state laws. If we break the law, we become fugitives until caught and punished. This is called justice.

Yet there still seem to be certain problems even with this idea. Perhaps I have been guilty of unpleasant deeds worthy of retribution, but what about the children. who are so often the victims of suffering? How could they deserve it?

The Bhagavad-gita (2.22) offers a plausible solution: "As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones." What we are now seeing is not the complete picture; we have lived before.

Imagine that you go to the cinema and arrive late, just in time to see on the screen a boy being beaten with a stick. You might feel sorry for him and become angry at his aggressor. But perhaps in the previous scene he had been shown stealing from a helpless old lady. Similarly, in real life we are seeing the results of previous activities, of which we are now unaware.

Someone might argue. "Well, all right, that appears to make sense, but I cannot remember any previous lives. Even if I did something wrong, what is the use of getting the reaction now? Will it serve as a punishment if the crime is forgotten?"

But would it be a valid excuse if a criminal on trial claimed amnesia and that he therefore had no recollection of his alleged crime? If eyewitnesses prove his guilt, should he be punished, even if, as he claims, he really has forgotten?

Punishment may not be the best word to use when referring to God's dealings with us. We learn from the Vedic literature that God acts only out of love, just like the father who sees his child acting foolishly and endangering himself. He may scold the child quite severely, but that is out of love. He does not want the child to hurt himself by acting in a dangerous way. It is not that the father derives pleasure from punishing the child.

Sometimes the reaction for a particular act is obvious. If we overeat, well have to endure stomachache. Sometimes the reaction is not so obvious. In any case, all of us have to endure many types of suffering despite our best efforts to avoid them. These are all reactions to past deeds. The Bhagavad-gita (13.21) states. "The living entity is the cause of the various sufferings and enjoyments in this world."

The cycle of action and reaction is called karma. The word and the concept are fairly well known, but how does karma work? What type of action produces what type of reaction? These are important questions indeed when we consider large-scale suffering. Can it be averted?

This raises another question: How can many people share the same fate and die together in big disasters? But consider: How can many innocent animals die together in one slaughterhouse? The Vedic literature suggests there is a connection.

As I read the newspaper account of the airplane tragedy in Scotland, something caught my eye. Lockerbie, where the plane fell is famous for its "lamb fairs," fetes put on for and by the meat industry. In fact, there is an abattoir in the very center of the village. The wording of the report went as follows: "On the slope above the abattoir was a scene of utter devastation." I reflected that within the abattoir there was another scene of devastation.

Implicit in the acceptance of the idea of karma is the need to accept a whole value structure: What is right and what is wrong? The frame of reference is provided by Vedic knowledge: "The right path of action is given by the Supreme Lord Himself."

Some people have difficulty accepting that God makes the rules and that when we break them we suffer. But it is impossible to find an alternative explanation that accounts for events as we witness them, if we include God in the picture which we must. For is it not the exclusion of God that brings about all of the calamities in the first place?