etam drstim avastabhya
nastatmano 'lpa-buddhayah
prabhavanty ugra-karmanah
ksayaya jagato 'hitah

The Science, the Bomb and the Bhagavad-gita

"Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world." [Bg. 16.19]

The age of atomic waeponry began before dawn on July 16, 1945, with a blinding flash on the desert flats near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who had organized the intense scientific effort that led to the explosion, instantly thought of lines from one of his favorite books the Bhagavad-gita: "The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds…"

Today this image from the Gita retains its frightening warning power. But a closer reading of the Gita reveals a deep wisdom that may help us avoid the holocast. The Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literature allow us to see that nuclear weapons are not an abnormal development in an otherwise healthy state of affairs. Rather, they are the inevitable fruit of the tree of modern civilization, which is firmly rooted in a thoroughly mechanistic and materialistic scientific world view.

Since nuclear weapons and the problems of nuclear war are the natural products of our science-based civilization, we must thoroughly reexamine the materialistic assumptions underlying modern science if the world is to ever become free from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Already many scientists are themselves beginning to question whether materialistic principles are really adequate to explain basic features of reality.

Limits of Science

Consider, for example, consciousness. John C. Eccles, a Nobel-prize-winning neurobiologist, states, "The ultimate problem relates to the origin of the self, how each of us as a self-conscious being comes to exist as a unique self associated with a brain. This is the mystery of personal existence." Eccles is convinced that " . . . the uniqueness each of us experiences can be sufficiently explained only by recourse to some supernatural origin."

According to the Bhagavad-gita, our unique sense of individual experience results from the presence within the material body of an eternal spiritual particle, the symptom of which is consciousness.

But today, influenced by scientific theories that deny the existence of a nonmaterial conscious self, people identify heavily with the body, thinking, "I am American," "I am Russian," "I am Israeli," "I am Palestinian," etc. Virulent nationalism and conflict are the inevitable result.

"Nationalism and chauvinism have developed in different parts of the world," writes Srila Prabhupada, "due to the cultivation of nescience by the general people. Such foolish people are drawing up various plans to render national demarcations as perfect as possible. This is ultimately ridiculous. For this purpose, each and every nation has become a source of anxiety for others. More than fifty percent of a nation's energy is devoted to defense measures and thus spoiled."

If knowledge of the factual nature of the conscious self were firmly integrated into our educational and cultural institutions, people of different nationalities could appreciate their unity on the spiritual platform. Furthermore, the overwhelming impetus toward the domination and exploitation of matter that underlies industrial civilization and culminates in the building of weapons of mass destruction would certainly be lessened. Unfortunately, modern scientists persist in ruling out, in advance, any kind of nonmaterialistic explanation of consciousness and selfhood.

Laws of Karma

Some scientists, however, are beginning to expand their conception of laws of nature. The studies of Roger Sperry, a Nobel-prize-winning brain scientist, have led him to conclude that the principle of causation has to be broadened: "We have to recognize … different levels and types of causation, including higher kinds of causal control involving mental and vital forces that material science has always rejected."

The laws of karma, integral to Indian philosophy, would be one example of such a higher law. Huston Smith, a professor of philosophy at MIT, stated, "Science has alerted the Western world to the importance of causal relationships in the physical world. Every physical event, we are inclined to believe, has its causes, and every cause will have its determinate effects. India extends this concept of universal causation to include man's moral and spiritual life as well."

Karma has important implications regarding the threat of nuclear holocaust. A basic principle of the law of karma is that every act of violence sets off a chain of events that will eventually end in a violent reaction. In this regard, those who understand the subtle law of karma are very apprehensive about the effects of such widespread acts of violence as the killing of billions of innocent animals each year in slaughterhouses and the killing of upwards of fifty million unborn children each year by abortion.

Specifically relating animal slaughter to the threat of nuclear war, Srila Prabhupada declares, "Those who kill animals and give them unnecessary pain … will be killed in a similar way in the next life and in many lives to come…. Therefore occasionally there are great wars. Masses of such people go out onto battlefields and kill themselves. Presently they have discovered the atomic bomb, which is simply awaiting wholesale destruction."

When we understand the laws of karma, we can more fully appreciate Einstein's statement that "all our lauded technological progress our very civilization is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal." Can this pathological mentality be changed? Only by a radical revision of the world's present intellectual consensus.

In his book Where the Wasteland Ends, Theodore Roszak calls for "a wholly new science, transformed from the psychic ground up." Roszak says, "No one who is not lying himself blind to the obvious can help but despair of the wellbeing that a reductionist science and power-ridden technology can bring…. On that level, we 'progress' only toward technocratic elitism, affluent alienation, environmental blight, nuclear suicide…. But there is another progress that is not a cheat and a folly; the progress that has always been possible at every moment. It goes by many names. St. Bonaventura called it 'the journey of the mind to God'…. The way back. To the source from which the adventure of human culture takes its beginning."

Srila Prabhupada, recognizing the absolute necessity of the quest for the divine, titled the monthly journal he started in 1944 Back to Godhead. Analyzing the situation of a world at war, Srila Prabhupada proclaimed, "This is actually the civilization of nescience, or illusion, and therefore civilization has been turned into militarization." He quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury: "In every quarter of the earth men long to be delivered from the curse of war…. But all our plans will come to shipwreck on the rock of human selfishness unless we turn to God. Back to God, that is the chief need of England and every other nation." Srila Prabhupada repeated the phrase "back to Godhead" thousands of times in his writings and speeches, making plain the importance he attached to this slogan.

Robert Heilbroner also proposes that modern civilization is in need of a drastic overhaul. He says this would imply "the end of the giant factory, the huge office, perhaps of the urban complex." And even more important, he stresses it is likely "that the ethos of 'science,' so intimately linked with industrial application, would play a much reduced role." What would the new order be like? Heilbroner states, "It is therefore possible that a postindustrial society would also turn in the direction of many preindustrial societies toward the exploration of inner states of experience rather than the outer world of fact and material accomplishment."

Like Roszak, Heilbroner, and others, Srila Prabhupada believes that the problems of modern civilization are deeply rooted in its dangerous commitment to science-based technology and industry. "The gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a godless civilization," he writes, "and they cause the destruction of the noble aims of human life…. The natural gifts such as grains and vegetables, fruits, rivers, the hills of jewels and minerals, and the seas full of pearls are supplied by the order of the Supreme…. The natural law is that the human being may take advantage of these godly gifts by nature and satisfactorily flourish on them without being captivated by the exploitative motive of lording it over material nature."

A New Direction

The solution to the problem of nuclear war is not going to be simple. Gradually, the goals and aspiration of humankind must be directed toward self-realization and genuine God consciousness. When this change of direction begins to take place, the unrestrained expansion of urban industrialism, with all its unfortunate by-products, such as the threat of nuclear annihilation, can begin to be controlled and even reversed.

The philosophy of ancient India, as expressed in books such as the Bhagavadgita, contain the essential ideas that could serve as the superstructure of a nonmaterialistic science capable of successfully challenging the materialistic world view now dominant throughout the world. In the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic books of knowledge can be found ways of understanding the higher spiritual nature of man and the universe-not only by means of a consistent and detailed cosmology and psychology but also by a highly developed scientific system of meditational techniques, such as the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, that radically transforms consciousness and give experimental verification of the nonmaterial.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has also channeled resources and energies into building prototypes for a postindustrial civilization. Over the past twenty years, the Society has established more than forty successful agrarian communities worldwide. These are not merely places for growing crops and herding animals. They are communities in the full sense of the word, supporting a wide variety of arts, crafts, and appropriate technologies. A God conscious philosophy and natural way of life are both necessary if the world wants to become free from the threat of nuclear war. Anything short of this does not address the real causes of the impending catastrophe.