The political heads of England and France recently announced their sanction of "the biggest construction job of the century," the building of a railroad tunnel beneath the English Channel to link the Continent with Britain. The new tunnel, or "chunnel," as it is called, will be at least ten years in construction and will cost $7.5 billion. It will reduce travel time between London and Paris from four hours to three hours and fifteen minutes.

The concept is not a new one. More than a century ago Henry David Thoreau, writing in Walden, gave his views on the subject of international chunnelling:

We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New, but perchance the first news that will leak through the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough …
There is an illusion about modern improvements. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which was already but too easy to arrive at.

The English Chunnel promises to be yet another distractingly pretty toy. We pursue material happiness while neglecting self-realization. But we should think, Do technological breakthroughs really improve the quality of life? Is driving my car underneath the English Channel that big of a deal? Or are such diversions just distracting me from serious things? like solving the problems of repeated birth and death and suffering. Better to become Krsna conscious and realize our eternal identity as servants of God. By acting in our original positions as the servants of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead; each of us will find the perfect happiness that has for so long eluded us.

Material development and Krsna consciousness are compatible provided one endeavors only for the pleasure of Krsna. To build a great temple or cathedral to glorify the Supreme is as spiritual as prayer and meditation. And if express ways and tunnels can be used to facilitate the distribution of transcendental knowledge, so much the better. But our priorities should be clear, our lives sane and balanced. We should not pursue material development with such blind ferocity that we find ourselves with neither the time nor the energy to understand the goal of life.

Ideally, economic development should proceed as a by-product of our increasing spiritual awareness. As the great sage Prahlada Maharaja once said, "Endeavors merely for sense gratification, material happiness, or economic development are not to be performed, for they result only in a loss of time and energy with no actual profits. If one's endeavors are directed toward the development of Krsna consciousness, one can surely attain the spiritual platform of self-realization. There's no such benefit from engaging oneself just in economic development."

It is our leaders' responsibility to provide the citizens of the world with facility to become Krsna conscious. In former ages, government leaders lived up to this responsibility and provided for the citizens both materially and spiritually. This is balanced government, and the Vedic classic Srimad-Bhagavatam gives many accounts of heads of state who knew how to maintain that balance. According to Vedic vision, balanced government is imperative. And any government that promotes material advancement at the cost of spiritual realization is unbalanced. A life devoid of spiritual discipline, spiritual values, and the cultivation of spiritual knowledge is so stunted and onesided as to be regarded by the Vedic literature as subhuman. Today's materialistic societies, therefore, despite apparent progress, are a conglomeration of so many stultified lives misled by shortsighted leaders into unfulfilling materialistic pursuits.

A spokesman for the Channel Tunnelling Group said the ambition of the tunnel's financiers is "to make billions." And, of course, the political ramifications should be exhilarating for opportunists in both England and France. The Chunnel's champions, lacking spiritual realization, are content to shuttle the citizenry back and forth at high speeds in the darkness of ignorance. They encourage the people to live like animals, oblivious to life's spiritual essence, and to enter yet another life of suffering. Like Ravana's efforts to erect a staircase to heaven, the grandiose plan of the politicians and financiers to build the English Chunnel epitomizes society's wasteful pursuit of a material happiness it will never find.

Rather than inviting private corporations to bid for the rights to construct this tunnel, government leaders should invite authorities on spiritual knowledge to discuss the goal of life and the process for freeing oneself from death. In this way the citizens will be protected from unscrupulous exploitation and will be able to take advantage of the human form of life.

The human birth is very rare. Out of all the species of life, the human form offers the full opportunity to understand matter and spirit and to develop one's innate love of Lord Krsna. We should not waste our valuable opportunity. A human being should not be a royal edition of a beast, nor should our cities be places where people rush about like cats and dogs merely to eat, sleep, mate, and defend. Our time would be better spent in hearing about Krsna, in reading Krsna conscious books, in talking about Krsna, in working for Krsna, in worshiping Krsna, and in chanting His holy name: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The frenetic bustle of contemporary culture leaves us with little time and no direction for spiritual life. On the other hand, "plain living and high thinking," in the words of the English poet William Wordsworth, are conducive to a satisfying life of spiritual development. And at the conclusion of a life of spiritual endeavor one can become free of the temporary material body and its miseries and return to the spiritual world to serve Lord Krsna eternally in bliss and knowledge. SDG