Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

The Bhagavad-gita informs us that we are each an individual spirit soul, completely different from our temporary, physical bodies. The body changes from childhood to youth to old age, but we, the individual souls, remain the same, observing these changes. During our lives we are forced to suffer old age and disease, and at the end we die. At death, we leave our present bodies and transmigrate to another womb, there to develop another body and start all over again in one of the millions of species.

ISKCON Paintings

According to the Gita and other Vedic scriptures, the purpose of human life is to escape from this painful cycle by rendering devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna. Through devotional activities we cure ourselves of false identification with our bodily coverings. Thus at the end of this life we are not transferred into another womb; rather, we go to the spiritual world to enjoy eternal life as Krsna's servants.

The trouble is, most people aren't aware of the painful cycle of birth and death, so they have no desire to escape it. They see no need in giving up their materialistic activities and taking to devotional service. In fact, even when people come face to face with the reality of repeated birth and death, still they are often hesitant to do the needful and give up their materialistic ways for spiritual life.

I found some evidence of this hesitancy in an incident that followed in the wake of last December's disaster in Bhopal, India, where 2,500 died and thousands more were blinded or crippled by leaking methyl isocyanate gas at the Union Carbide plant there.

Although Union Carbide has stopped manufacturing methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, Union Carbide and other companies continue to produce the deadly gas at five sites in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a sixty-seven-page report last February indicating the chances were extremely remote that methyl isocyanate could leak from any of these sites. Two sites, however, one in Woodbine, Georgia, the other in Middleport, New York, were cited for serious violations of OSHA standards. Union Carbide owns the Georgia plant. The one in Middleport, from which isocyanate has leaked five times since 1982, is owned by FMC Corporation.

The largest leak in Middleport was a forty-gallon release on November 15, just two weeks before Bhopal. Police evacuated the area near the plant, and eleven persons, nine of them children, were treated for eye irritations at the local hospital. OSHA, however, says "the Middleport plant has never had an uncontrolled isocyanate reaction," which must mean that the stuff has never blown into town the way it did in Bhopal.

Speaking over the phone to a reporter, an employee at the Middleport FMC plant said, "I'd get fired if they knew I talked to you. Sure I worry sometimes. That thing in India, it was terrible. I went home that night we heard about it, and my wife and I just looked at each other. But I need the job."

There you have it. The man is staring untimely death in the face and yet he's unable to relinquish the work that put him in such a precarious position. He needs the job, of course. How many of us would react any differently? But weshould react differently. We are faced not just with death, but with repeated birth, death, disease, and old age. But who knows? Maybe some people will never give up materialism for serving Krsna, even after fully understanding the calamitous result of such a choice.

Another Middleport FMC employee was defensive: "If the government says we're safe, we're safe. They know what they're doing."

He might be right. Maybe he can stick to his job and not get fatally gassed. In any case, anyone who sticks to material life is assured a fate worse than fatal.