Science is clearly showing that human life is not meant for material enjoyment, but when dedicated to spiritual achievements it achieves its complete harmony.
Imagine a village farmer who gets a Mercedes Benzas a gift. The only vehicle he has seen till then is a tractor and the only purpose that he knows of any vehicle is plowing. So he diligently attaches a yoke to his new Mercedes and starts driving it over his field. To his disappointment, he finds that the field, far from being ploughed, is being spoiled. And after sometime, he finds his car also starts malfunctioning. And he becomes totally frustrated – with himself, his car and his field.
Ridiculous, we might say, that somebody uses a Mercedes for plowing. But could this be the story of our life? The Vedic scriptures – and, in principle, the scriptures of all the great religions of the world – state that human life is meant for spiritual emancipation, not material enjoyment. The Vedic scriptures further explain that the human body is a precious vehicle that the soul gets after transmigrating through 8.4 million species. In all subhuman bodies, the soul is confined to struggling for the paltry pleasures of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The human body alone offers the soul consciousness evolved enough to conceive, pursue and achieve love of God, which is his actual eternal rightful source of happiness in the kingdom of God. Therefore the subhuman bodies which offer only flickering bodily pleasures can be compared to tractors meant for plowing a field. On the other hand, the human body which can catapult the soul to eternal ecstasy in the spiritual world can be compared to a posh Mercedes meant for a smooth ride. So from the scriptural viewpoint, to use the human body for sensual pleasures is not much different from using a car for plowing. Because we mooerns see almost everyone around us pursuing material goals sex, wealth, luxuries, prestige, power, and fame, we assume that to be the natural purpose of life. But, intriguingly enough, not only scriptures, but even modern science seems to be indicating that human life is not meant for material pursuits.
When a Mercedes is used for plowing, three things happen: the field gets spoiled, the vehicle gets wrecked, and the driver gets frustrated. We modern humans have been diligently using our human bodies for seeking material enjoyment. Let us examine scientifically what has been the result of this on the environment (the field), the human body (the car), and ourselves (the driver).
Biologist E. O. Wilson among many other scientists has studied the complex interdependence among various species in the biosphere. He found that every species makes some constructive contribution – small or great – to the ecology of the planet. For example, if the vegetation – grasses and shrubs – decrease, the herbivores suffer. And if the herbivores decrease, the carnivores are affected. But he found that there is one species that does not contribute to the ecology – the human species. If the human species became extinct, there would hardly be any problems for any other species or for the ecology. In fact, most ecological problems would be solved if humans became or were made extinct. The human species is arguably the most intelligent species on the planet. And yet science indicates that human existence is nothing but a burden for the planet! Wilson concludes his study by suggesting that the existence of the human species must be "for some other purpose".
As far as the human body is concerned, how is it affected by the various activities that moderns consider to be enjoyable? Smoking causes lung disorders, drinking leads to liver diseases, eating non vegetarian and junk food and drinks ruins digestion, and illicit sex that incessantly glamorized juice of life brings AIDS, an epidemic for which there is no aid. The pursuit of positions and possessions whether successful or not leaves people distressed and depressed, causing a variety of psychosomatic diseases. Thus the very activities which we are taught to be the goals of human life are what harm the human body the most. Could it be that we are misusing the human body for activities which it is not designed for?
And what about the effect on ourselves? Scientists are still groping in the dark about who or what the self the source of consciousness and life in the body is. But one thing is for sure the self is in big trouble. WHO statistics show that over one million people commit suicide every year. This is more than the total annual deaths due to wars and crimes combined. And this figure is only the reported number of suicides. Suicide has many causes, but the common underlying factor is frustration in achieving one's goals, whatever they may be. When this frustration rises to an acute and hopeless degree, one feels one's very existence to be an agony and the ending of one's existence to be the only solution to that agony. It is then that the person commits suicide. Why is it that we modern humans the most "intelligent" among all species are the only species whose members commit suicide and that too in such alarmingly high numbers? WHO calls suicide as "a tragic social health problem" and states that there is no proven cure for it. Could it be that the goals which we have set for ourselves are themselves intrinsically incompatible with our selves and so they invite the frustration that leads to suicide?
And conversely what does science say about the effects on the ecology, human health and the self of utilizing human life for spiritual elevation?
Most environmental problems have arisen from the materialism and consumerism that has accompanied the decline of spirituality and its inherent self restraint. Therefore the following quote of Alan Durning of the World Watch Institute represents what many scientists consider to be the only hope of salvaging our sinking environmental ship, "In a fragile biosphere, the ultimate fate of humanity may depend on whether we can cultivate a deeper sense of self restraint, founded on a widespread ethic of limiting consumption and finding non material enrichment." And all the known forms of non material enrichment prayer, meditation, yoga and chanting of holy names clearly point to a spiritual purpose for life.
The current epidemic of indulgence born diseases shows that timeless scriptural injunctions for self restraint sobriety (no intoxication) and continence (no illicit sex), for example are sound health advice too. Further Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School states that the human body and mind are "wired for God". Not only that, a survey published in the Readers Digest, Jan 2001 issue, stated that, on an average, believers in God live eleven years more than nonbelievers.
And what about the self? Although science has been mostly unable to offer any help in this regard, it has come up with one precious finding: spirituality is a sure solace. Survey after survey has shown that spiritual practices provide, protect and enhance inner strength. Patrick Glynn in his book God: The Evidence states that surveys show that those who don't attend spiritual prayer meetings are four times more prone to suicide than those who do so. And further the stopping of attending such meetings has been found to be the best predictor of suicide, better even than unemployment.
Thus science is clearly showing that human life given for material enjoyment is disharmonious. And it is also strongly indicating that human life dedicated to spiritual achievements is far more harmonious. So, even for those of us who have more faith in science than in scripture, maybe its time to stop using the Mercedes for plowing? And, for those of us who can see the wisdom in the scriptural teachings being uncovered by science, its time to put our human vehicle into gear by chanting Hare Krsna and to race on the highway of devotional service back to our longlost home with Krsna.
Caitanya Carana Dasa, 25, is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He holds a degree in electronics & telecommunications engineering and serves full time at lSKCON Pune. He runs a free cyber magazine, The Spiritual Scientist, which gives a scientific presentation of Krsna conscious philosophy. To receive new issues as they come out, write to iyfpune@vsnlcom.