Out for a walk after a deskbound morning, I left Fairmount Park and entered Chestnut Hill, a wealthy Philadelphia suburban community of rolling lawns and old stately houses. As I left the park path and emerged onto a smoothly paved road, I was surprised to see a heap of decomposing trash paper, cardboard, and cans half concealed in the roadside bushes. Odd, considering the nice neighborhood.
Half an hour later, retracing my steps, I again neared the heap, but when I was still about fifty yards away, a station wagon with a "MAKING DELIVERIES" sign in the back window passed me. Groceries maybe. But no, the driver stopped at the heap, tossed a hot-water bottle out the window, turned the car around, and sped back up the road.
The next moment another car, a blue Valiant, passed me and braked beside the papers and cans. The driver, a young man, jumped out, scanned the trash, and found the hot-water bottle. Holding it upside down with his right hand, he shook it vigorously above his cupped left palm.
Figuring the "delivery" contained illegal drugs and thus not wanting to interrupt the young man, any more than you want to interrupt a dog that is eating, I at first hesitated to walk by him into the park. But he hardly noticed me passing.
I could be wrong. Maybe the hot-water bottle contained an invitation to tea, a diamond ring, or some hot water. But the incident got me to thinking about drugs anyway, pondering the hundreds of tons of narcotics that the news media tell us flow across the U.S. borders and into the U.S. bloodstream annually. Although I'd been surprised to see a drug delivery, I shouldn't have been. Dope is everywhere.
What that means to me is that people everywhere have unwittingly discovered a basic fact of life: Even if you have wealth, education, and other material advantages, these things alone don't satisfy. The West, America in particular, enjoys a high standard of living, but despite our good food, expensive clothing, electronic entertainment, free sex, fancy cars, and the best and worst in art and literature, everyone is frustrated. They can't get any satisfaction, because they are spiritually poor.
Spiritual assets begin to accumulate when we understand our identity as eternal individual souls. Now we're living in temporary physical bodies, attempting to enjoy life by catering to the demands of our physical senses: eyes, ears, tongue, nostrils, genitals, and so on. Enjoyment, according to the Krsna consciousness scriptures, is indeed the purpose of life, but gorging and caressing our physical and mental habitations is an extremely limited platform of enjoyment. The body lasts for only a few years; youth, when the senses are strong enough for wholehearted indulgence, spans only a fraction of that time; and the enjoyable moments themselves a passionate embrace, a friendly conversation, a hearty meal are just that: moments.
That's just not enough for the spiritual self. The self, being eternal, longs for eternal enjoyment which the physical body, no matter how you fondle or pummel, can't supply. This limitation doesn't bother the animals, who make do with eating, sleeping, and sex. But we humans have more intelligence; we're able to understand, however dimly, there's more to life than sensory indulgence. We naturally hanker after knowledge, freedom, bliss, satisfaction, enlightenment. And drugs can create an illusion of these things. But that illusion simply serves to thwart our search for the real thing.
Most of us probably underestimate the extent of our involvement in this illusion, overlooking, for instance, the $50 billion a year Americans spend on alcohol (a drug). And the illegal drug trade grosses even more, $100 billion, according to Vice-President Bush. Marijuana and cocaine are becoming as commonplace as beer.
One day last January, federal authorities arrested a dozen sheriffs in Georgia and Louisiana on charges of taking $100,000 bribes from drug smugglers to leave certain airstrips and beaches unpatrolled. The evening news showed a southern governor responding to the incident with a declaration that we should be ready to call in the Army and Navy to stop drug traffic.
The proposal just didn't sound practical. Call in the armed forces? Weren't the sheriffs an armed force? What makes the governor think the Army isn't also implicated, at least to some degree? If Americans are spending $100 billion on illegal drugs, then is there any force, armed or unarmed, that isn't implicated, that isn't affected either by drug addiction or quick-money addiction?
I very much doubt it. I look at it like this: When I hear that tens of millions of people in the U.S. have venereal disease of one kind or another, I assume that besides "ordinary" people, there are plenty of senators and congressmen and scholars and journalists and corporate executives and soon who have it too. Similarly, when I hear that a measly sheriff gets $100,000 just for turning his head, I assume head-turning is far more profitable for higher-ups. And when I read that the teenage son of wealthy parents sold the family silver to buy cocaine, I wonder what an Army officer or an IBM executive or even a governor might sell. It is not my intention to asperse great institutions or great people, but epidemics have a very egalitarian way of spreading. And, after all, this is a democracy.
It makes little sense to call in the Army whenever we discover a Delorean involved in a cocaine deal or a few sheriffs taking bribes or a Kennedy dead from an overdose. Our society is unable to resist the disease of drug abuse because our natural immune system (spiritual practices and values) has broken down. Until society in general receives a substantial injection of Krsna consciousness, which is the scientific culture of genuine spiritual life, even the Army and the Navy won't be able to help.
America is a nice neighborhood. But somewhere, partially hidden in the bushes, there's a rotting heap of trash we are unwilling or unable to clean up.