Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
When Technology Fails
Why here do you look for the future of America? In technology? In politics? In urban renewal? In outer space?
Ah, outer space that final, endless frontier that, though alien and forbidding, beckons nonetheless with irresistible mystery and unlimited promise, that great, unfathomed starry expanse that just may hold the key to creation and existence. We Americans are known for our appreciation of a challenge, our passion for new frontiers. And the limitless reaches of outer space provide a welcome contrast to the troubled frontiers on our crowded planet. Time magazine noted that "Going into space was the obligation of America, an absolute writ of being and staying free" (Time, Feb. 10, p. 46).
America, despite its ethnic diversity, is unified in its reverence for exploring outer space. Americans are genuinely impressed by the photographs of their flag on the moon, and they admire the bravery of their astronauts. Thus it was that, on January 28 of .this year, America was plunged into mourning. On that day the U.S. space shuttle Challenger exploded just seventythree seconds after take-off, killing all seven crew members. In one sense, it was a small loss: only seven persons died. Yet their deaths struck the collective consciousness of America with unusual force, penetrating the indifference so carefully preserved in a world of unceasing tragedy.
Perhaps there is a reason for America's grief that reaches beyond the loss of the seven lives, beyond the frustrated space mission. That the U. S. and space technology have become united in inspiration and purpose is undeniable. As John Logsdon, a space policy expert with George Washington University, commented, "It [the space shuttle] is one of our most common national symbols now. Right after the bald eagle." In a society without distinctive cultural traditions, technological advances have become our heritage and our hope. We place our trust in science and technology to cure our diseases, to lessen our work loads, to bring ordinary people close to the wonders of space. Although there is the acknowledged risk, still we are shocked when technology falls short.
Is our faith in science supplanting our faith in God? Perhaps it's not so obvious, but many Americans are drifting away from their religious faiths and finding solace in the solutions offered by modern technology. God is a mystery, while science is explained with neat logic and numbers and equations. Science and technology are created and understood by fellow human beings; thus it seems that we have somehow outwitted the Supreme Intelligence. Like mischievous pups, we delight in this apparent independence, moving ever further from His strict supervision, enjoying what appears to be ultimate freedom from the laws of nature, the laws of God.
But we are not free. We are under the control of God His nature and His laws. Despite our endeavors, we cannot achieve any technological gains without His sanction.
We will become fortunate when we depend on God rather than imperfect modern technology which betrays us repeatedly. God is independent and omnipotent; His technology never fails. If we turn to Him, He will not only solve the problems that we have looked to technology to solve, but He will also enlighten us in our true relationship with the universe and Him.
Bones Of Contention
by Mathuresa dasa
The Vedic literature expounds the perfect evolutionary theory. The first point is that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna, fashioned all species of life at the very beginning of creation. Men and apes, microbes and mosquitoes, have lived more or less side by side from the start.
What evolves, the Vedas say, is the soul. An eternal individual soul inhabits and activates each and every body. Transmigrating in a cycle of repeated births and deaths, the soul automatically evolves through the lower species until it is finally placed in a human womb to inhabit a human embryo.
In the human form, the soul has higher intelligence and is therefore held responsible for his activities, just as a citizen, at a specified age, becomes answerable to the state. According to his activities, a soul embodied in human form is either thrown back down in the lower species or elevated to higher levels of existence and ultimately to the transcendental kingdom of God.
That's the Vedic version of evolution, a version that hasn't changed in thousands of years.
And what about the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian (and neo-neo-Darwinian) theories? To make a long diatribe short, any theory claiming that one species of life evolved from another is unacceptable. There's no fossil evidence that this ever happened, and the idea that simple life forms somehow upgraded themselves contradicts known scientific laws.
But in all fairness, a theory or a school of thought doesn't have to be reasonable to be interesting, or even useful. Darwin and his descendants have done a great service to mankind by showing us how people will sometimes undergo intellectual contortions, defy common sense, and perpetrate grand frauds to paint a picture of the universe without God or the soul. I like the grand frauds best, and Java man was, until recently, my favorite.
Java man, once accepted by many fossil experts as strong evidence of an evolutionary link between modern man and the apes, was unearthed at Trinil, Java, in 1891. Dubbed Pithecanthropus erectus by his proud discoverer, Java man became a celebrity. A life-size model of his humanlike form toured museums throughout Europe, and drawings were published showing in fine detail even the hairs on his head and the lines on his face. Gazing at these dramatic re-creations, no one could have guessed that the only relevant remains the Trinil site had yielded were a piece of a skull, a thigh bone, and a few teeth.
Java man is of course not alone in the gallery of questionable, or downright fraudulent, archeological finds. Piltdown man, discovered in Sussex, England, in 1912, was thought to be "the missing link" until 1953, when tests showed him to be a forgery a modern human skull fitted with an ape's jaw. And Nebraska man, alias Hesperopithecus, turned out to be nothing more than a pig's tooth! Ironically enough, before these "men" from Java, Sussex, and Nebraska were exposed, they served as proof of the theory of evolution at the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925, and thus they helped set a precedent in U.S. education favorable to the teaching of Darwinian evolution, a precedent that remains today.
People are still trying to make a man out of a few bones. With my sharp ear for scandal, I came upon one of the latest incidents of fraud while watching a CBS television news story on MIAs soldiers missing in action in the Vietnam War. This particular incident doesn't involve archeologists, but I'd say it sheds some light on the proper attitude toward alleged bone proofs. It's my new favorite.
Colonel Thomas Hart, the story began, was shot down over Laos in 1972. CBS learned that when the Air Force gave Ann Hart what they said were her husband's remains, she was doubtful. She hired a forensic anthropologist, who confirmed that identification was impossible from the few bones the Air Force had provided.
Kathrynn Fanning is another MIA wife. She had already buried what the government had said were the remains of her husband, Hugh, missing over North Vietnam in 1967. She too became suspicious. She had the bones exhumed and examined by Michael Charney, an anthropologist at Colorado State.
"There's no way they could identify this as Major Fanning or anybody else," said Charney while showing the bones to a CBS reporter. "In fact, we're not even sure they all belong to the same individual."
Hey, you know, that's what more than a few people said about Java man way back in the 1890s. Archeologist Eugene Dubois found Java man's thigh bone fourteen meters away from his skull and teeth, prompting other scientists to suggest that the thigh bone belonged to someone else, maybe an ordinary, garden-variety human being. But Mr. Dubois was evidently under pressure to produce proof of Darwin's theory, just as today the Armed Forces are apparently under pressure to somehow or other account for all their MIAs.
Says Mrs. Hart, "The technical people involved [at the Army's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii] were simply told that thirteen people died on this aircraft. Here's what we brought back…. Find thirteen people, and they did."
Neither Ann Hart nor Kathrynn Fanning are willing to accept, merely on the basis of a few bones, that their husbands have died. And their example has helped inspire me, at least, to refuse to accept that Java man, or any other missing link, ever lived. If the two ladies prefer to wait, hoping all the time that the future will bring good news, I'll wait too, understanding in the meantime that my human body descended from other human bodies going back to the beginning of creation, that man has existed alongside all the other species from the very start, and that the origin of all species of life, and of all us embodied souls, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.
Moral Failure Of The Secular State
by Drutakarma dasa
Contemporary civic life in America and around the world is predominantly secular. Discussion of values and ethics from a spiritual point of view is discouraged in both public educational institutions and government. Especially for those who regard themselves as liberals, the rigid separation of Church and State has become an inviolable principle. Yet things may be changing.
The Brookings Institution, one of America's most renowned liberal think tanks, concludes in one of its recent reports, "Religion in American Public Life," that American democracy "depends for its health on values that over the not-so-long run must come from religion." In other words, secular value systems cannot maintain peace and harmony in society. It is through religion, the report says, that "human rights are rooted in the moral worth with which a loving Creator has endowed each human soul, and social authority is legitimized by making it answer to a transcendent moral law."
At this point a problem arises: how to practically introduce "transcendent moral law" into government and society. After all, there are many religions, each with its particular version of such law. Is the version of one religion to be imposed upon members of other faiths? Srila Prabhupada gives a solution in his commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam:
Nowadays there is propaganda everywhere, all over the world, for a secular state interested in only mundane activities. But if the citizens of the state are not educated in good qualities, how can there be happiness? For example, if the total population is untruthful, how can a state be happy? Therefore without consideration of one's belonging to a sectarian religion, whether it be Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or any other sect, everyone should be taught to be truthful. Similarly, everyone should be taught to be merciful.
In other words, there are certain basic spiritual principles that are common to all genuine religions. The Vedic scriptures of India are unique in that they focus on these universal principles rather than sectarian religious beliefs. According to the Vedic literature, the fundamental principles of religion are truthfulness, mercy, cleanliness, and austerity, and the fundamental religious practice is chanting the names of God.
Without imposing sectarian religious views on the citizens, the government must nevertheless assure that the religious principles of truthfulness, mercy, cleanliness, and austerity flourish in society. Rather than standing idly by, waving the flag of secularism while unguided citizens lead lives of decadence, our leaders should discourage sinful acts. The Vedic literature identifies four sinful acts specifically responsible for eroding religious principles: Gambling destroys truthfulness, meat-eating destroys mercy, intoxication destroys austerity, and illicit sex destroys cleanliness.
Of course, before the leaders of society can encourage the citizens to refrain from sinful activities, they themselves must become free from these habits. The citizens can then be trained in spiritual practices that will gradually destroy their desires for irreligious life.
It is not possible for government to effectively ban the sinful activities mentioned above as evidenced by the days of the Prohibition in America unless the citizens are educated about the value of following religious principles and are feeling the satisfaction of genuine spiritual conduct.
The most effective way to educate and purify the citizens is to give them a direct experience of spiritual life. God can be perceived in the sound of His names. The leaders must therefore actively promote the chanting of the holy names of God. This sublime spiritual practice is recommended in all the scriptures of the world. Government cannot favor one religion over another, yet it must encourage everyone to chant the name of God as he understands it be it "Jehovah," "Allah," or "Krsna." God is one, though He may be known by many different names.
Only by instituting these fundamental spiritual principles can government insure peace and prosperity in human society. As Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, "He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination."