Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

After a recent airliner crash, investigating officials ruled out "human error" as a possible cause. But it wasn't apes who designed, constructed, flew, and serviced the aircraft. Clearly some human screwed up. Who's to blame, and what did they do wrong?

A plane crash brings the newspapers a windfall of poignant tragedies … the young mother and children waiting for the father who grabbed an early flight so he could meet them at the airport … the adolescent girl on her first plane trip leaving her grieving parents with a room full of stuffed animals … the happy family on the way home from a vacation … the local high school turned into a morgue.

Officials vigorously investigate, hoping to learn something to prevent future tragedies. This may lift the dead to technological martyrdom. Still, some of the mourning may blame God for this inhuman error. If an all-powerful, all-good God exists, how could He sanction this wholesale suffering?

As one popular theologian explains, when bad things happen to good people it's not God's intent, just His mistake. A true believer forgives God His occasional lapses. To err is divine, to forgive humane.

A devotee of Lord Krsna knows that God, Krsna, is beyond mistakes, imperfections, illusions, and cheating. A devotee also knows that there are no good people, and that nothing bad happens to anyone. Why?

Lord Krsna explains that all living beings are born into illusion, overcome by desire and hate. He does not cause anyone's suffering in the world of birth and death, nor does He create the world itself, for that matter. The material world exists only due to His parts and parcels, we living beings, who show up here to enjoy life without Krsna, and end up suffering our own karma.

The human error is to forget Krsna. And the human tragedy is to miss the flight back to Godhead.

Out of His compassion, Lord Krsna makes it easy for us to return to Him. All we need do is chant His holy name.

If we practice chanting we can remember Krsna at death. Then our eternal souls will go back to Him instead of back for another trip around the cycle of birth and death.

Suppose you were on that plane. You're sitting back, enjoying your flight, your safety belt securely fastened, observing the no-smoking sign, your carry-on luggage safely stowed in the overhead rack above your seat. Then, "THUNK" … something breaks.

The plane reels out of control. Flight attendants fall over the complimentary beverage cart. You now have thirty seconds to live.

You realize thirty seconds isn't much, but it's more notice than a lot of people get.

You remember the great king Pariksit, who learned he'd die in seven days and at once dropped everything to hear and chant about Krsna. You now have fifteen seconds left. All around you, panicking passengers scream hysterically, not knowing what to do. If you're Krsna conscious, you're ready for this. Are you? Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

One Woman's Compassionate Contribution

By Gopala Acarya Dasa

IT POPS UP, like a tab on a file folder in a desk drawer, every time I hear some half-baked appeal for protection of animals by those who eat them every day. It is the memory of a conversation I had with a middle-aged woman fifteen years ago. With horned-rimmed glasses, a briefcase, and a mission to match a friendly but businesslike demeanor, she was en route to the nation's capital.

As we waited in the airport, I inquired about her trip, and she answered, "I'm going to visit my senator to push for legislation to stop the inhumane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses."

That's a worthy purpose, I thought, as she bubbled on.

"You see, when cattle are sent to slaughterhouses they're subjected to inhumane conditions, and I want Congress to pass explicit laws to protect them. The cattle are run through long, narrow, crowded chutes made of roughly milled lumber. It's full of sharp splinters. The cows get splinters as they're herded into place to be killed. They suffer needlessly. So I'm on a personal campaign to lobby for legislation that would require that all the corrals in slaughterhouses be made of aluminum."

Still waiting for the punch line, I coaxed her on.

"OK, and what about the fact that at the end of the chute, splinters or not, they are killed? What are you doing to stop that?"

She flatly informed me that animal slaughter was necessary, but she intended to ensure that the animals did not suffer needlessly in the process. Hers was a meat-based diet, and she supported the beef industry, but her conscience bothered her when she considered the discomfort wooden splinters would cause for cows about to be butchered. Her compassion had specific parameters that did not extend to the dinner table.

She left me to wonder: What is real compassion? And how do we express it unconditionally? These questions are at the core of the conversation between Krsna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita. We learn from the Gita that devotional service to Krsna is the greatest act of compassion. God is sometimes likened to the root of a tree, and the living beings and their various interest groups to the tree's leaves and branches. If we water the leaves but neglect the root, the whole tree perishes. And if we water the root, then automatically the water is distributed to every leaf and branch, without separate endeavor. By focusing on spiritual life, we become free from the bodily conception of life, which is the source of misery, and we reconnect with Krsna, the source of pleasure. And because Krsna is the root of everything, when we serve Krsna we serve everyone. So everyone benefits. It's the holistic solution to our problems.

The woman had some good sentiment, but it was incomplete. We can add Krsna consciousness to our attempts at compassion and make them successful. Or without devotional service we can try, till the cows come home, to put an end to suffering and wind up with nothing more than an unblemished carcass.