Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

While other women pursue the temporary rewards of wealth, fame, and slim waistlines, Sally Burton has her mind on eternal arrangements. The widow of the illustrious Welsh actor Richard Burton, Sally was reportedly disturbed by the lavish funeral arrangements of Burton's more famous partner, Elizabeth Taylor. When she further heard rumors that Liz might be contemplating claiming a place beside Burton underground, Sally took decisive action. She bought a plot next to her late husband and designed a new headstone large enough to link the couple eternally. "That's my plot," she said. "I'll be buried next to him."

To her merit, she is at least facing the fact of her own imminent death. She's considering what's important in the afterlife—proximity to her husband. Though that may seem romantic and faithful, she's neglecting one important detail: Richard Burton is not present in that cemetery in Switzerland. There is as little connection between Richard Burton and that coffin in the ground as between any random animate and inanimate objects in this world. The minute he died, Richard Burton gave up all connection to his body, his name and fame, and his wives. Now that body is the property of worms and insects. And when Sally dies, she too will lose all relationship with her body. What benefit will she gain from having their bodies rot side by side?

Our bodies are infused with life only when the spiritual energy of the soul is present within them. From the moment of conception to the moment of death, the body's activities and growth symptomize the soul's potency. As soon as the soul leaves the body, the body once again becomes nothing more wonderful than a collection of material elements, neither significant nor lovable. As the Bhagavad-gita describes, the real person is the soul, who inhabits a particular body according to karmic destiny for a given time, and then takes up residence in anew body. "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" (Bg. 2.22).

How differently might we live if we understood the temporality of material circumstances! There would be no need to fret over our neighbors six feet under. Nor would there be any need to become envious or possessive; whatever we are clinging to will be lost at some unspecified point in the future anyway.

Now Richard Burton has another body, another family, another spouse. He no longer remembers either Sally or Liz, so why should there be any enmity over his wormy remains? Eternal aspirations, then, should be based on the knowledge that we have a future beyond this body, and we should seriously pursue information about our destinations. This information is authoritatively provided in scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita which clearly explains the past, present, and future of the wandering souls.

Ironically, all Sally's attempts to solidify her connection to her husband are overshadowed by uncontrollable forces. In the public fancy, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton will always be united. Building a bigger monument over Burton's gravesite won't change that. Nor can she change the superior karmic laws that allow one soul to associate with another for some time and then move on. Better she take the lesson from her husband's death and detach herself from all material calculations, meditating instead on the welfare of her spiritual self.


Tune In To Danger

by Mathuresa dasa

O n my way out the back door earlier this evening, I smelt gas and dashed to the kitchen to find that the oven was on but not lit. Through the oven window I spied four potatoes steeping peacefully but ineffectually in the fumes. After waiting for the air to clear, I relit the pilot and went to tell my wife what had almost happened to dinner.

We live in the country now. We moved last month to give our kids more room to run around, and to get away from traffic noise and from dog excreta on the sidewalks. The seclusion here is pleasing on one hand, hard to get used to on the other.

The nearest grocery store is ten miles away instead of two blocks, and the big-city newspapers arrive a day late. Without an outdoor antenna, I couldn't even pick up the six o'clock news.

Country living, O.K., but let's not flirt with barbarism: I drove to town, bought a nine-foot-tall TV antenna, hauled the contraption up thirty feet to my sloping roof and—balancing on my haunches while fighting off fits of acrophobia—strapped the thing to the chimney. After lowering myself with relief through the skylight, I ran downstairs to find, with further relief, that the TV now picked up channel eight, an NBC affiliate. Ah, civilization!

The six o'clock news says there's an "explosive" situation in the Persian Gulf, with U.S. battleships and minesweepers escorting Kuwaiti tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. Russian warships are also in the area.

What would be a Krsna conscious perspective on, or solution to, Gulf tensions? I'm not sure. Foreign warships are there because of oil, because all industrial nations depend completely on oil to keep their economies moving. If oil grew on trees, or if it were as easy to come by as water, we'd have nothing to fight over. But it only grows especially well around the Persian Gulf and a few other places, so the Gulf has to stay open and peaceful for our economies to run smoothly.

The long-term Krsna conscious solution would be to depend more on the land for our needs, including our fuel needs. The Bhagavad-gita asserts that the land is the foundation for a truly stable economy. Here in the country, fuel does grow on trees, oras trees, rather. One of my neighbors says (no, he doesn't work for the Federal Bureau of Statistics, but he's the best I can do) that one tenth of the dead trees standing in Pennsylvania forests could provide enough wood to heat every Pennsylvania home this winter. A mile away from me is ISKCON's Port Royal farm, where all the buildings are wood heated and where the devotees haven't had to cut a live tree since they bought the place twelve years ago. And this year they're cutting all felled wood with their ox-power unit: five oxen walking in a circle turn gears salvaged from a junked cement-mixer, sending a saw whirling at 2,500 rpms. Shame on chain saws. Ox power is quiet, and it runs on hay and oats.

Trouble is, you can't gear up the oxen enough to whiz down the highway at sixty miles an hour in an ox-cart. Ox-carts are safer than cars, since even in head-on collisions, which are next to impossible anyway, nobody gets hurt. For speed, though, you want a car. I can't see myself riding the 150 miles to my monthly editorial meeting in Philadelphia behind an ox team, or on a train behind a wood-fired steam engine. So I guess we still need oil.

Then again, editorial meetings are boring. The heck with them.

A broader Krsna conscious perspective on the Persian Gulf is that our world, oil or no, Persian Gulf or no, is not a safe or happy place. The potential for suffering is immense. Lord Krsna sums it up concisely: no matter what you do, this world isduhkhalayam asasvatam, temporary and full of misery. After narrowly avoiding a kitchen blowup, for instance, I risk my neck to hookup an antenna so I can watch the news. Then I tune in to learn that there's another explosive situation thousands of miles away that has much of the world on edge. If the oil-based Gulf conflict caught fire, the flames could easily spread, and millions of us might lose our potatoes, our homes, our lives.

The Gulf-conflict danger is larger scale, since it's the tempers of heavily armed nations that could explode, not just a few oil tankers or refineries—what to speak of one stove. But danger is danger, and a fall from the roof or a faulty pilot light could put mein just as bad shape as a world war. If we want to avert the danger of the Persian Gulf conflict, we should consider simpler, land-based energy sources, however quaint wood heat and ox power might sound to us now. But that alone won't give us total safety.

Perhaps, however, in quainter times we'd be more inclined to avert altogether the dangers of this irreparably miserable and temporary world by raising our mental antennas for reception of the Gita's directions to a world that is eternal and full of pleasure.