Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

We came across a disconcerting ad recently in Time magazine. Across the top of the page was a large black-and-white photograph of a schoolgirl sitting at her desk in an empty classroom. With her snub nose and pleated skirt she couldn't have been but thirteen or fourteen. She was gazing despondently into the camera, perhaps in the throes of math anxiety. But no. Below the picture was this bold caption: "Do I look like a mother to you?"

Miss Conception

The text beneath this perplexing query explained the plight of the girl, and of millions of other fourteen-year-old girls in the United States, forty percent of whom will become pregnant before the age of twenty. Almost always unwanted, these pregnancies create an enormous burden on society, we are informed, giving rise to such problems as malnutrition, disease, unemployment, and child abuse. Moreover, says Time, the real tragedy is that each of the young mothers is "robbed of her childhood and her hope."

Certainly a sobering picture. Then the real blame for this shocking state of affairs is revealed: an "increasingly vocal and violent minority" who stand in opposition to the option of "legal and safe abortions." The ad goes on to decry the policies of these antiabortionists, who want to "outlaw abortion for all women, regardless of circumstances. Even if her life or health is endangered by pregnancy. Even if she is a victim of rape or incest. And even if she is too young to be a mother."

But let's look at the circumstances surrounding these pregnancies. Do the facts show that nearly half the teenage girls in this country will become pregnant because of rape or incest? Or that they will fall into the category of serious health risks? Of course not. How are all these children getting pregnant in the first place? How is it that fourteen-year-old girls are forced to confront the overwhelming decision of whether they should bear an illegitimate child or kill it by abortion? What is the real threat to their childhood and hope?

Sexual promiscuity has become such an accepted part of today's society that we don't even consider the enormous price we pay for such freedom. Moral restraints have disintegrated into useless reminders of archaic repression, as the sexual drive becomes an increasingly prominent expression of "self-growth." What is in reality only a minor aspect of human life has become the glamorous symbol of liberation.

Consider the influence of the media. Virtually from the time they are old enough to be propped up, children are sitting for hours a day before a television screen. Before their eyes the scene is created again and again: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so on. Little cartoon boy bunny rabbits chase little cartoon girl bunny rabbits. Every adult who crosses the screen appears preoccupied with pursuing the opposite sex. And every show is punctuated by sixty-second reminders of the ideals of passionate living: be active, be sexy.

Then the children enter a school system that teaches them all the principles of sex. It is assumed that they will be sexually active, and to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy they are encouraged to become familiar with various methods of birth control. (These are children who haven't even reached puberty.) By the time they hit their twelfth year, they are well informed about what is expected of them. How can we be surprised when there is "accidental" pregnancy?

Beyond the agonies of the adolescent struggling to meet the demands of an active sex life, society as a whole bears a heavy burden for its raging sexual passion. Sexual deviations such as homosexuality and incest grow increasingly common and even acceptable. And there's a big problem of abused children, even within the family. Diseases, some uncurable, are passed by careless sexual encounters. Families are weakened as parents divorce and separate. Human relations revolve around superficial attractions. Self-gratification is a legitimate philosophy. Churches modify moral codes to placate a promiscuous congregation. All these anomalies and more are fueled by one thing: the increasing demand for free sexual expression.

Naturally, moralistic convictions that curb this widespread promiscuity are quite unpopular. Yet it has been cited by the greatest saintly persons that sexual attraction forms the very core of materialistic life. Although we are all of a sublime spiritual nature, this is forgotten when we identify with the material body. To forget your spiritual identity means that you will never see beyond the pains and pleasures of your body. If the highest happiness you know of is that which brings pleasure to the body, your desire for sex becomes very strong; its allurement keeps you blind to the possibility of spiritual elevation.

For a spiritual entity to remain trapped in such degraded consciousness is utterly stifling. Aside from the innumerable discomforts that result from unrestrained sexual activity, there is the further problem that sex never truly satisfies. You'll always feel that craving for something more. No matter how many partners you find, no matter how beautiful your body, no matter how remarkable your prowess . . . the craving will always be there. To increase sexual activity, says the Vedic literature, is to fuel the insatiable fire of material desire. It won't bring you the pleasure you want.

Learning the science of the soul and uplifting the consciousness will bring relief from the torments of sexual agitation. And simultaneously it will solve the problems that come with sexual promiscuity. Human beings are endowed with an intelligence that allows them to cultivate higher knowledge and thus become free from the shackles of sex desire. To fail to use this intelligence is to waste our most valuable God-given resource. And a society of such people is condemned to suffer the ghastly consequences of unrestrained sex: disease, abortion, child abuse, unwanted pregnancy.

Rather than teach our children artificial methods of birth control, we should teach them sense control and spiritual realization. Thus unwanted pregnancies and all the other anomalies of unrestricted sex will be eradicated, not through puritanical restraint, but through understanding of the purpose of human life.

Although spiritual realization is much more than mere antiabortion politics, one who is spiritually aware automatically respects the sacredness of all life. Such a person would never condone killing others as a matter of convenience. To the spiritually enlightened, the violence of abortion as a method of birth control is the most appalling crime. To encourage or support legal abortion, therefore, is to become implicated in the reactions for such sinfulness reactions so severe that you would never wish them upon a fourteen-year-old girl.

Think again about the picture. Consider: "Does she look like a murderess to you?" Without transcendental knowledge, what hope does she have?

Nature's Unshakable Laws

In the aftermath of two devastating natural disasters, an earthquake in Mexico City and a volcanic eruption in Colombia, public attention was attracted briefly to the efforts of scientists trying to understand the causes of such large-scale calamities.

Some geologists study the movement of enormous masses of rock that make up the earth's crust. When these masses overlap and work against each other, tremendous stress results. The predominant theory is that if this stress is released all at once, the violent readjustment can cause an earthquake or a sudden expulsion of trapped magma from a volcano.

Nature's Unshakable Laws

Is there a reliable, accurate way to predict such disasters? As yet scientists have found none. They place seismographs along known fault lines and study minute changes in the level of underground water. They observe the behavior of animals that sometimes seem to mysteriously sense an impending earthquake. They even consult psychics. Yet despite all their years of research, millions of dollars spent, and volumes of data gathered, they have not sufficiently understood the principles of nature. Therefore they were powerless to control or even to predict these two greatly destructive natural disasters.

Perhaps today's scientists are overlooking an obvious and important aspect of the very phenomena they study. To a student of the Vedic literature this certainly appears to be the case. There appears to be a blind spot in the investigations of the earth scientists, a blind spot that is the result of a basic error in their premises.

Scientists generally assume that earthquakes, volcanoes, and all other natural events are produced by unconscious and essentially random forces. They are confident, therefore, that given enough time and money for research, man, with his rational intelligence, can eventually prevail over the blind, mechanical processes of material nature.

Such scientists are materialists, seeing the universe as ownerless and driverless, moving along by dumb momentum. If we could only run fast enough, they think, we might be able to jump behind the steering wheel and take control becoming, in effect, nature's overlords and proprietors.

Disappointing as it may be to such dreamers, however, the universe is neither ownerless nor driverless. It remains firmly and forever the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has no equal and no superior. He holds absolute control over material nature, and no one, no matter how intelligent or powerful, will ever wrest that control from Him.

In the Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna declares His sovereignty:

mayadhyaksena prakrtih
suyate sa-caracaram
hetunanena kaunteya
jagad viparivartate

"This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again" (Bg. 9.10).

It is thus rightfully said that not a blade of grass moves without the sanction of God. Indeed, the Supreme Lord enters every atom and controls its movements. And the massive plates of rock composing the earth's crust cannot move even an inch without His permission. The notions of the materialistic scientists are thus incomplete. While it is certainly true that natural processes are the direct cause of such phenomena as earthquakes and volcanoes, these are not blind, mechanical processes. A superior intelligence directs the seemingly random movements of nature. This intelligence is Krsna.

"But what kind of God is that?" counters the skeptics. "Why should we love or serve a God who is so merciless that He kills thousands of innocent men, women, and children?"

The "cruelty" of God is manifest in response to a living entity's forgetfulness of his own tiny subordinate position. Through the agency of karma (action, and reaction for our past good and bad deeds) we are put into situations that exactly correspond to our previous pious and sinful acts. The Supreme Lord does not relish such punishment, nor does He award it indiscriminately. Rather, it is the unfortunate consequence of our own sins.

The material world is a prison. Only those who are unwilling to follow the laws of God are placed in such an uncomfortable setting. It is a miserable place, devoid of the natural freedoms to which we, as eternal servants of God, are entitled. The Lord's purpose in incarcerating us here is merciful. Here we may live in forgetfulness of God and of our spiritual nature, since that is our primordial desire. But life here is also fraught with terrible tragedies, such as those that occurred in Mexico and Colombia. We are forced to face the fact that death and destruction are the prominent features of material existence. So natural calamities are neither accidents nor cruel, senseless acts of a capricious God.

Actually, death serves two essential functions. It gives justice, and it gives opportunity. It is by death that the individual spiritual souls are moved from one body to the next, according to their past deeds and their particular mentality. Those who are sinful, who have violated the laws of nature, or whose activities have put other living entities into unnecessary difficulty, are brought to justice by the agency of death. At the appointed time they are dragged out of their present bodies, no matter how comfortable they may have been or how well protected by earthquake-proof buildings or bodyguards.

What follows for the sinful is arraignment, trial, and sentencing, much like in our customary legal systems. In the court of the Lord of Death, however, no evidence is overlooked. Every detail, every willful deed of the defendant's life, is examined. Nor is the hand of justice ever stayed by the legal maneuvering of a tricky attorney. Justice is always served, and the condemned is placed in a new material body (perhaps in one of the lower species) to serve a term of suffering for his misdeeds.

On the other hand, death represents an opportunity for the pious living entity to improve his position. This can mean acquiring a better body and a better life, with more opportunity for material happiness.

But ultimately it is Krsna's desire that we leave the material world altogether, because it is not our real home. As eternal spiritual beings, we belong with the Supreme Person and His liberated devotees in the spiritual world, which is full of light, consciousness, and bliss. That supreme abode of Lord Krsna is eternal, and the inhabitants are never troubled by old age, disease, death, or any of the other pains of the material world. Thus death is the means by which the Krsna conscious soul sheds the temporary, miserable material body and enters eternal, blissful life.

The material world is literally meant for suffering, and last year's catastrophes in Mexico and Colombia simply magnify the fact. Even if we don't live on a fault line or near an area of volcanic activity, nature has plenty of other ways of striking us down. No one can avoid death. We should, therefore, consider our own preparedness for that final blow.

Whether it comes by earthquake, volcanic eruption, old age, or any other means, death directly represents the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Death comes either as a feared enemy who carries us to judgment or as the dearmost friend who carries us back to Godhead. Death friend or foe? The choice is ours.