TED TURNER, founder of the Cable News Network (CNN) and vice chairman of Time Warner, pledged a donation of $1 billion last year to the United Nations. At the time, his net worth had risen in nine months by over $1 billion. (To earn $1 billion, an average American family with a $40,000 annual income would need to work for 27,000 years.) Mr. Turner has long been critical of wealthy people who give little or nothing to charity. He says America's super-rich are too preoccupied with their competitive rankings in Forbes magazine to be concerned with the plight of others.

A billion dollars is an enormous sum, the equivalent of the annual operating budget of the United Nations. Ted Turner is going to give it in $100 million portions over a ten-year period. The money is not to be used for administrative costs. Instead, it will be going directly to projects such as inoculations for children and removal of land mines.

When asked why he would give away so much money, Ted replied that it makes him feel good. He takes inspiration from the Charles Dickens classic novel A Christmas Carol and from the happiness Ebenezer Scrooge felt when he became kindhearted toward Bob Cratchit and his family.

Sacrificing one's hard-earned money for a worthwhile cause is no doubt commendable. But we should determine which cause is most truly worthwhile. So many questions arise when considering how to benefit others. Should I give indiscriminately to the poor? Should I give to a hospital to fund cancer research? What about the International Red Cross or the United Nations they do humanitarian work all over the world, don't they?

The real need of humanity, whether rich or poor, young or old, healthy or diseased, is for advancement in the spiritual realization of Krsna consciousness. If a person acts for someone else's welfare without addressing the needs of the soul, the result will be limited and temporary. Srila Prabhupada gives the eloquent example of saving a drowning man's coat instead of the man himself. If we lessen someone's distress with money but the person goes on in ignorance, piling up sinful reactions and falling further into the ruin of repeated birth and death, how have we really helped him?

Seeing to the material needs of the human society has its place, but it must take secondary consideration to the spiritual needs. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has a variety of programs to meet spiritual needs: daily worship of Krsna in the temple, education in the science of Krsna consciousness, distribution of books of transcendental knowledge, worldwide distribution ofprasadam (food offered to Krsna) to nurture body and soul, and congregational chanting of the holy names of God. These efforts will save the drowning man.

In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna tells Arjuna that one should be fully absorbed in loving thought of Him, the Supreme Lord. If unable to do this, one should carefully take to the rules and regulations of devotional yoga to gradually come to the platform of spontaneous love for God. If this proves too difficult, one should simply try to work for God, and in this way come to the next platform. If one is unable to work for God, Krsna explains, then one should try to give up all the results of one's work and try to be self-situated. Srila Prabhupada explains that one can sacrifice some wealth or energy for a good cause. He writes, "In that respect, social service, community service, national service, sacrifice for one's country, etc., may be accepted so that some day one may come to the stage of pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord."

So Lord Krsna recommends mundane philanthropy, but only if the giver can do no better, owing to lack of knowledge or other circumstances. A person fortunate enough to receive the mercy of the Lord and His devotees may get a chance to help spread Krsna consciousness. That will do great and lasting good for him and all mankind.

Titanic Disasters

by Giriraja Swami

AS I WAIT AT the dentist's office, my eyes fall on the cover of an issue of Life magazine. A huge ship, half submerged, heads down into a vast, dark ocean. People gather frantically around the railings of her upward-poised stern. In the foreground, other people sit stunned in a lifeboat, watching. Lights from the ship reflect dimly on the water and the small lifeboat as its passengers row away from the destiny awaiting those left on board. Superimposed on the night sky, an eye stares, captivated by the ghastly spectacle.

A haunting picture with a title to match: "Titanic Fever Why we can't look away from disasters."

The article describes various disasters in history: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, which buried Pompeii and its 20,000 citizens under 20 feet of volcanic ash; the Great Chicago Fire of 1906, which ravaged 2,000 acres of the city and killed 250 people; the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, in which 60,000 died; the great Boston Molasses Flood, in which a fountain of molasses burst out of a distillery's cast-iron tank and oozed through the streets, suffocating 21 people; the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, telecast live before millions; and almost 50 years before that, the crash of the zeppelin Hindenberg, broadcast live over the radio to millions of listeners. No dearth of disasters in world history.

The article focuses on people's fascination with the Titanic. "Titanimania" has given rise to dozens of books, a CD-ROM, a television movie, a Broadway musical, a blockbuster Hollywood film, a multimillion-dollar exhibition of Titanic artifacts, and even a cookbook: Last Dinner on the Titanic.

Although advertised as a ship that could never sink, the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after just four days at sea. Built as the largest, most luxurious ocean liner of that time, her construction cost $7.5 million and engaged thousands of workers. She boasted a crew of 892 two for every three passengers and, remarkable for 1912, amenities such as a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and Turkish baths. The passengers would have everything they needed and would dine on delicacies.

Everything seemed set for a comfortable and pleasurable voyage. Among the elite on board were millionaire realtor John Jacob Astor, millionaire retailer Isidor Straus, millionaire industrialist George Widener, and English artist Francis Millet. Passengers' spirits were high as the Titanic left Southampton port. One thing was sure in their minds: the journey would be safe.

After two days at sea, the captain began to receive warnings of ice and bad weather ahead. Two days later, on Sunday, April 13, 1912, there was not much sign of weather change, so the captain retired early, leaving the ship in the hands of other crew members. He told them to rouse him if the situation became "at all doubtful."

Crewmen posted in the crow's nest had no binoculars, and the ship's wireless operator, overburdened by demands from passengers, failed to respond to repeated bad-weather warnings. While life on the great luxury liner carried on with abandon, she was moving into treacherous waters. The crew of the 46,329 tons of Titanic, plowing through the Atlantic waves at 21 knots, spotted the iceberg too late to divert the ship from inevitable disaster.

At first none of the passengers took the collision seriously. But as water gushed into five of her front compartments, and her nose started to dip, reality took hold: the Titanic was sinking.

More than 1,500 people would go down with the Titanic that night. Those who got away in lifeboats lived to tell the tale. The rest held on till the last minute, before plunging into the icy North Atlantic waters as the ocean swallowed the great ship.

Reading the article, I recalled Prahlada Maharaja's prayer to Nrsimhadeva (Lord Krsna's half-man, half-lion incarnation) in Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.19):

balasya neha saranam pitarau nrsimha
nartasya cagadam udanvati majjato nauh
taptasya tat-pratividhir ya ihanjasestas
tavad vibho tanu-bhrtam tvad-upeksitanam

Lord Nrsimhadeva, O Supreme, because of a bodily conception of life, embodied souls neglected and not cared for by You cannot do anything for their betterment. Whatever remedies they accept, although perhaps temporarily beneficial, are certainly impermanent. For example, a father and mother cannot protect their child, a physician and medicine cannot relieve a suffering patient, and a boat on the ocean cannot protect a drowning man."

In the purport Srila Prabhupada writes, "Through parental care, through remedies for different kinds of disease, and through means of protection on the water, in the air, and on land, there is always an endeavor for relief from various kinds of suffering in the material world, but none of them are guaranteed measures for protection. … Ultimately the shelter is the Lord, and one who takes shelter of the Lord is protected. This is guaranteed. …

"In the history of the world, no one has been successful in conquering the miseries imposed by material nature. … Our humble attempt to propagate the Krsna consciousness movement all over the world is the only remedy that can bring about a peaceful and happy way of life."

Although everyone in the material world is trying to deflect the attacks of material nature, the efforts have never succeeded. In Bhagavad-gita the creator Himself certifies the material world as a place of misery (duhkhalayam asasvatam). Only surrender to the Lord can save us.

Srila Prabhupada says, "The material world is full of dangers (padam padam yad vipadam). For example, if one is on the ocean one may have a very strong ship, but that ship can never be safe; because one is at sea there may be dangers at any time. The Titanic was safe, but on its first voyage it sank, and many important men lost their lives. So danger must be there, because we are in a dangerous position. The material world itself is dangerous. Therefore our business now should be to cross over this sea of danger as soon as possible." (Teachings of Queen Kunti)

Instead of being disturbed by the waves in the material ocean, which perpetually come and go, we should tolerate the waves and try to cross the ocean to safety, to the shore of the spiritual world. How? By the boat of Lord Krsna's lotus feet:

samasrita ye pada-pallava-plavam
mahat-padam punya-yaso murareh
bhavambudhir vatsa-padam param padam
padam padam yad vipadam na tesam

"For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoofprint. Their goal is param padam, Vaikuntha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.14.58)

Shall we make no practical effort to protect ourselves? We should take normal precautions. Yet, as Srila Prabhupada writes, "although as a matter of routine duty one must of course accept other remedial measures, no one can protect one who is neglected by the Supreme Personality of Godhead."

If Krsna wants to save someone, no one can kill him, and if Krsna wants to kill someone, no one can save him (rakhe krsna mare ke mare krsna rakhe ke). "Unless one is protected by the mercy of the Lord," Srila Prabhupada writes, "no remedial measure can act effectively. One should consequently depend fully on the causeless mercy of the Lord."

A person completely surrendered to Lord Krsna is confident of Krsna's protection in all circumstances. Knowing that Krsna is ultimately the well-wishing protector of His devoted servant, the devotee accepts any situation as the Lord's mercy. Srila Prabhupada explains that we should not think, "Because I have become a devotee, there will be no danger or suffering." Devotees like Prahlada Maharaja, the Pandavas, Vasudeva and Devaki, and Haridasa Thakura apparently suffered greatly. But they never gave up faith in Krsna. Rather, when a devotee faces difficulty, he humbly thinks he deserves worse but Krsna is just giving him a token reaction so he can learn from his past mistakes and come closer to Krsna:

tat te 'nukampam su-samiksamano
bhunjana evatma-krtam vipakam
hrd-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak

"My dear Lord, any person who is constantly awaiting Your causeless mercy to be bestowed upon him, and who goes on suffering the resultant actions of his past misdeeds, offering You respectful obeisances from the core of his heart, is surely eligible to become liberated, for it has become his rightful claim." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.14.8)

The Lord explains in the Bhagavatam (10.88.8) that sometimes to show special mercy to His devotee He takes away material things to which the devotee is attached. Krsna thereby induces the devotee to take full shelter of Him and thus achieve the highest happiness and perfection.

The material world is fraught with danger; the only shelter is Krsna and Krsna consciousness.

The Life article points out that man has always been fascinated by disasters. Why? I'd say it's because we know that a disaster may strike any of us at any moment. Although in recent years a whole field of risk management has developed to counteract risks and dangers, still the only shelter is the Lord's lotus feet. And to take shelter of the lotus feet of Krsna in the present age, one need only chant His holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare and follow His instructions in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.

The alternative is disaster titanic disaster.