Over the years the effects of drought, famine, and civil war in Africa have evoked the world's compassion. Our hearts have gone out along with the shiploads of food sent to Biafra, Ethiopia, and other afflicted areas.

But our compassionate hope turns to disappointment, discouragement, and indifference. How can we help when the food that does reach Africa can't be effectively distributed because of war?

March on Mozambique

The East African nation of Mozambique is the latest focus of world attention. The images we see are of emaciated people sitting blank-faced and motionless. Nothing new. We saw the same thing in Ethiopia. But those with first-hand experience in Africa say it is by far the worst they have ever seen. It's hard to find a building in Mozambique that hasn't been burned or riddled with gunfire. Because war destroys everything, no one even bothers to plant crops.

What are the warring parties in Mozambique or Ethiopia fighting for? For the right to govern. And what's the duty of government? To serve and protect the citizens. And yet the warring factions are forcing the citizens into starvation. Whoever wins, if winning is possible, couldn't possibly care about the citizens.

It's enough to evoke not merely compassion but anger, chivalry. Why just raise money and send food? Let's raise an army, march in, and set things straight. Can't NATO, the United Nations, Robin Hood somebody send at least enough troops to deliver food shipments? Communist or capitalist, superpower or third world, black or white, world leaders should agree that the particular form of government is irrelevant when millions of innocent people are dying.

But no, we can't expect such a unified effort by world leaders, any more then we can expect reconciliation between the warring factions in Mozambique, because we are for all practical purposes ignorant of what united us. Appeals to our "common humanity" are not, and never have been, enough.

A human being is an eternal individual person encaged in a temporary body of flesh and bone. There are five billion of us souls in human bodies of different degrees of wealth, strength, intelligence, beauty, and so on, and all of these differences are due to individual karma to activities we have performed in previous lives and in this life. We are not communist or capitalist, black or white, old or young, Jewish or Christian or Hindu. We are eternal individual persons, and eternal parts of the Supreme Person, who is the Absolute Truth.

That is the common platform, not only for humanity, but for all living things. The animals and plants are also eternal individuals wrapped in bodies according to their karma. If we mistakenly reserve spiritual individuality for man, we'll never properly understand spirit.

Our own spiritual identity reveals itself as we revive our relationship with the supreme person. Lord Caitanya has urged us to precipitate this revival by regularly chanting any of the hundreds of names for the Absolute Truth and by eating vegetarian foods offered to Him. Chanting cleanses us of mistaken identification with the body, while eating sanctified food purifies the mind and reduces violence toward nonhuman life to a minimum.

So is it possible to raise an army to march into Mozambique and feed the starving? Yes, but only if we set aside thinking in terms of our nationality, our sectarian religion, our politics, our race even our humanity and put practical spiritual matters first. And if we can this accomplish our own spiritual purification, then equipping our invading troops might be less expensive. They could march in "firing" the hundreds of names of the Supreme Person and attack the enemy spiritual ignorance with the holy names and an arsenal of sanctified food.