Friday, February 19, 2010
The Yoga of Ecology is a collection of inspiring and action-packed resources for the spiritually-inclined eco-activist. Alongside our collection of timely and practical articles, we offer a deeper perspective on our collective ecological crisis.
It is a perspective rooted in time-tested, traditional wisdom that challenges us to remove the pollution within ourselves to truly remove the pollution from our external environment.
The Yoga of Ecology connects the internal environment of our self with the external environment we earnestly seek to preserve and make whole again. We have to realize that our ecological situation is one that is deeply personal.
To contribute with articles or your own perspectives, contact the editor Chris Fici at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, September 14, 2009
It’s the question that drives me. It always has and always will. And it drives me toward true realization of my self. It's a natural calling that I have cultivated ever since I could think. For so long I was confused about who I was and what I was to do in this world.
If I had to pinpoint one moment where this inner journey began, it would be when I tried to convince my grammar school friends that the ant they were about to crush under their feet was ‘God’ or maybe a god or maybe one of God’s blessed creatures.
I didn’t really know and I didn’t have much of a chance to explain my confusion since they were still rolling in laughter. I was embarrassed but amazed that I was bold enough to say what I felt. I inherently believed that the ant had a purpose and that it deserved to see it through. I was a critical player in this ant’s environment and I had a choice to be a constructive or destructive piece in it’s universe.
I wanted to be constructive; a conduit for its journey. This experience gradually opened up in me a yearning to know more and be more than I was. I believed my journey culminated when I came across the deeply profound spiritual teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in college.From these teachings I felt I got a deeper balance that has endured in my life.
After all, I survived childhood. I overcame the trappings of college life. I made my way into a decent career. I married a good woman. I even found spiritual fulfillment. Not a bad shake out of the quagmire of existence, especially at 31. Sure I could be richer, better looking, taller, more athletic, more popular, and have better digestion. But other than that, things are pretty good.
Yet I am afraid about something. What’s the deal? Why am I so afraid? Where’s the balance I thought I discovered? What is gnawing at my insides? Maybe too many bad headlines. Maybe too many doomsday movies. Maybe the economic pendulum is swinging way too fast. Maybe…I just can’t seem to get a grip on it.
And that is scaring me more than anything else. It’s coming from so many directions. But my thought process refuses to stop there and be satisfied with that. My incessant hunger to get to the root of my pre-midlife crisis melodrama usurps any gravitational pull to stick to the status quo. What is messing with my internal stasis?
I got a clue one fine Monday morning as I was headed to work. Like most mornings, as I was rushing down the stairs, strapping on my shoes, and grabbing the car keys, I hurried out the front door. I opened the back door of my Honda Accord and left my things in the back seat. Settling into the driver’s seat, I realized I still had to wait for my wife to come. I thought to myself, “Ok, you’ve got a few minutes to relax.”
But as I situated myself, I was feeling unusually uneasy. And I was uneasy about feeling uneasy since this was a pretty typical weekday morning. It definitely wasn’t the breakfast because I didn’t have any as I usually don’t so early and I certainly wasn’t feeling sick. So while I was introspecting on the source of my psychological nausea, my attention shifted towards steering wheel. I noticed it was made of leather. I thought, “Hmm, some poor cow probably suffered a lot so that I can have this nice steering wheel.”
My thoughts continued towards the other facets of this contraption. The tires, windows, door knobs, engine, seats. What did it take to make this car? The emissions from the multitude of cloth, steel, glass, plastic, and rubber factories required to produce every inch of this car would be astronomical. I started to feel guilty.
Growing up, I was always taught to have a grateful attitude, as so many are much less fortunate than myself. As I explained before, life is pretty good. But for the last post-college decade, I am observing gradually and increasingly that I am somehow and in some way I am responsible for the lack of good fortune for many of those less fortunates.
How did I come to this? Why is this true? Well, the statistics are out there. Article after article highlighting how our planes, trains and automobiles are killing this planet. How my consumption is unsustainable for billions of its human and non-human citizens. My mind was wandering to every facet of my life – my home, my work, my play.
Ok, I get it. I am becoming an eco-activist. Al Gore is my eco-shepherd and I love to garden. Right. Right? I care about what we have done and are doing to nature for the sake of a ‘better’ life. However I was being nagged by a pain that went deeper than the soil of the Earth. I wasn’t satisfied with just being Green. It somehow seemed to address only the external problem even though it is such a massive one. My intuition told me to dig deeper. I haven’t hit the root yet.
I knew this was getting philosophical. And if you know me, I have a penchant for metaphysical conclusions and assertions. But unlike other times when I try to intellectualize the problem to simply understand it better, this time I was feeling something. My Honda’s steering wheel made me cringe and squirm in my seat. It was an emotional and painful burst that swung through my body. But WHY?
As my wife got into the car, I continued to behave as if it was just another morning and drove off. But my mind was back there, immersed in those few moments of deep contemplation. After some time, prayer and introspection, it hit me that this whole matter was getting awfully personal. And there it was.
It was personal. A clear connection between my needs and the impact those needs were having on every facet of this world illuminated before me. I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to think it. I didn’t want to believe it. But, I was responsible. In playing my role as a trusted consumer of all that can be mined, manufactured and consumed, I was an active participant in the transformation of the planet and its citizens.
Now, many would argue that this ‘transformation’ is a good thing. A progressive step in evolutionary chain of being. Survival of the fittest. However, the statistics say otherwise. And so does anyone looking at the reality of it all will say otherwise. While Al Gore and eco-activists make strides to reshape the way we consume, I wonder how I got into this bubble in the first place. How is it that it took so long to notice that my behavior has such a direct and indirect influence on so much of this world?
While on one hand I am quite eager to unravel this mystery right away, I am also quite satisfied. I’ve ventured into myself in a meaningful way to begin mapping out the blockages to deep, spiritual fulfillment. And ultimately that is what I truly want. That is what I am chasing endlessly and sometimes fruitlessly through my TV, my MP3 player, my car, my friends, my family, my life – a communion with creation. Therefore, I am grateful for the introspective question that is like a spotlight on these profound experiences that unveil a beautifully challenging reality. And this is but only the first leg of an exciting journey.
Palak Shah contributes for us as the eco-columnist of the Spirit Matters staff.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and currently a recruiter for a major IT consulting firm, Palak is always on the hunt for a good discussion on philosophy, the human condition, and society's spiritual evolution.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Sometimes life puts you somewhere you never thought you would be. Sometimes you look back and think, "How did I get all the way over here?" Life has its twists and turns, no doubt, and even a boring guy like me has had his fair share. I'm guessing that it's probably safe to assume that maybe you've had yours. My parents split up when I was young, which was probably unexpected, but being three years old I don't remember much.
The Atlanta Falcons lost in Superbowl 33 to the Denver Broncos, which is something I definitely didn't expect (I lost fifteen bucks on that game). And, for the past four and half months, I've been living in New York City on the top floor of a six-story building in downtown Manhattan next to a tattoo parlor, which I guess on my list of places I thought I would be in life is somewhere near the bottom.
Not that I don't like New York. In fact, I love it. It's just not somewhere that as I looked ahead in life that I was planning to be. And depending how you look at, or rather depending on how I look at it, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Throughout my small journey, I've found that simply trying to eliminate all the twists and turns in life is not the key to peace and satisfaction, because life by it's own nature is a windy road. Somehow or other it seems that the joy of life can be found along those twist and turns, and for me, I've found it through the people I've met along the way.
My road starts back in Whittier, California, which is the home city of our former president Richard Nixon. In fact, my high school prom was at the Richard Nixon Library, where his childhood house is still available for tours. Whittier is right on the border line of L.A and Orange County, so technically speaking, I lived in the unincorporated district of L.A. county, which I always translated as "nowhere land."
While growing up, my sister and I lived with our mom who ran a public day-care center from her home, so I was always around other kids and people. I'm not really sure what it would have been like growing up with a dad in the house, but my sister and I got along well enough and our mom loved us enough that I was happy with just the three of us.
I even remember crying once at the thought that my mom would remarry and disturb our little world that I had gotten used to. All the while, the 15-20 other kids in the house definitely gave a bit of life to the whole scene. We lived right next door to the elementary school and only a few blocks from the junior high school, which I walked to and from each day with my best friend Chris Taylor as we carried our tenor saxophones that we borrowed from the school's music department.
Chris's mom actually used to drop him off everyday next door at our neighbor's house, who also ran an at-home day care center, but as we started to become good friends, we convinced his mom to start dropping him off at my house.
Chris and I would have breakfast together, watch an episode of Mighty Max, and then head out the door. Throughout elementary school, we went through phases of pogs (remember pogs?), marbles, Marvel comic cards, Magic the Gathering, and eventually degraded ourselves down to Garbage Pail Kids. Chris didn't get so in to marbles, but everything else we did together.
In junior high, as I mentioned, we both played the tenor sax, which means that every day during fourth period we got to sit next to each other and envy the alto sax players who always got the better parts and and burst up laughing as we compared the trombone player behind us to the sound of Chewy from Start Wars. It wasn't the nicest thing to do, but it was an honest observation of what she sounded like. (If you're reading this Denise, I'm sorry if we ever made you feel bad).
High school came up quickly around the corner for both of us, and as most of us have probably experienced, we don't always keep the same friends throughout our school years. Somehow or other, we had different schedules and started to move on with our own lives. We kept in touch, but not so often, and as far as I know, Chris is still living in Southern California working at a home loan office and making plans for his future dream to host his own late night T.V. show. He would be the perfect guy for the job.
As for me, I've somehow or other found myself clear across the country right in the heart of the big city. I make weekly trips down to Chinatown to buy groceries, stand in line every day to use the bathroom while my other roommates brush their teeth, and utilize the moments I have in between to connect in a personal way with the people around me who make my life meaningful.
If the truth be told, pogs were never really that fun to play with, Magic cards were always too complicated for me, and Garbage Pail Kids weren't really that funny (O.K., maybe some of them were). What made everything worth doing, and still makes it worth remembering, is the fact that it was something I got to do with another person.
My friendship with Chris, as well as many others, have helped me discover that the real reason why something in life becomes meaningful, is because there's someone there to share it with, either big or small. I've never been able to tell myself a good joke, surprise birthday gifts to myself are never the same, and playing a game of solo freeze tag gets boring really fast. Life just isn't the same by yourself. We really need each other to experience it, or at least I do.
The activities themselves can in a way be seen as a medium through which I've gotten to know and spend time with others, and that's where the real meaning, sustenance, and stability of my life can be found. When I look at it through that lens, all the twists and turns of my life just become details to decorate and frame the real painting which is the relationships with all the people I've met along the way.
So I do my best to make the most of it. In a city of over 8 million people where I'm constantly bumping in to, stepping over, and stacking myself on top of everybody else, the more friends the better. Or, at least, the closer I can come to the friends I already have, the better I can ride smoothly throughout each day, and try to live a more meaningful life.
David Jenkins (Doyal Gauranga Dasa) is a monk and vegetarian/vegan chef who runs weekly cooking seminars and meditation classes at Columbia University and New York University
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It was at the peak of a sweltering-hot summer afternoon when our party of seven arrived at the New Delhi train station, headed north for cooler climates. The heat and humidity was so intense that we all sat down on the platform. Just standing is a work-out in that kind of heat. Added to the temperature was a hefty dose of culture shock for most of our party. I guess I forgot to mention things like stray cows walking down the train platform when I prepared them for the journey.
After a few minutes, our guide came over to me and spoke confidentially in my ear, "We weren't able to get tickets for this train," he said, "so I'm going to go see what I can do. If the train arrives before I return, just get on and get off at the Hardwar station." I looked at him blankly. Our flight had been delayed one day from the States—which is why he had no tickets—but if we missed another day it would upset our entire schedule. We had to catch this train.
He smiled and did the traditional Indian head wag. That's a thoroughly Indian gesture midway between yes and no that is as versatile as it looks: one can use it to mean yes, no, please, thank you, or I'm going out to play cricket now. Then he disappeared into the crowd. I looked at the students who had flown over with me for the excitement of visiting India, their foreheads sweaty and their eyes wide open, as they watched men with piles of luggage stacked on their heads, walking by with half-naked children tugging at their shirts. The adventure had begun.
Fortunately, our guide reappeared just as the train was pulling in. He corralled us into a car and had us stuff our bags into the little space between the train car and the bathroom. "No luck?" I asked, putting two and two together. "No problem," he replied, "I'll find us seats later on." Desperate not to delay our journey any longer, we squeezed tightly together as the other passengers pushed past us into their cars.
When the train departed, our anxiety broke and we began to laugh: At least we're going somewhere! After time, we discovered that our compartment's door could be swung open, giving us a nice breeze and a view of North India's lush landscape. Little by little and one by one, our guide found seats here and there throughout the train.
Still my mind kept churning about those tickets: What will happen when I run into the conductor? What if one of our party, separated from the rest, has a bad experience? I'm supposed to be a monk escorting students on a spiritual journey to India and now look what I've done! I stow away our whole party in a reckless moment for the sake of keeping a lousy schedule? Because a guide who I just met—and who was ready to abandon me a minute ago—says it's ok? They don't throw stowaways in jail, do they? After all, it is a third world country. The mind conjures up all kinds of scenarios when it wants to.
I tried to chill out a bit and just before we reached our destination I got my answer. The conductor came in and sat behind me in an empty seat. He made notations in a large book and conversed with the man next to him. Suddenly he turned to me and said something in Hindi. His manner was grave. Especially grave. Hindi can be a very grave language. "He wants your ticket" a man next to me explained. I thought for a moment and felt around my pockets for a slip of paper I knew I didn't have. "I'm with a group of others," I said, trying to find the American equivalent of that all-purpose Indian head wag. I was getting more concerned by the moment. Especially as I realized that saying "I'm with a group of others," was about to bring our whole party into the mix. I waited anxiously as it was translated back to the conductor.
The conductor blurted something out in a serious voice and then, suddenly, a smile filled his face. A few people around laughed and he turned back to his conversation. Just then the train pulled into our station and I gathered my things gratefully and went to make sure the rest of our little band had made it off the train as well.
When we got into the cab, one of our party, Arthur, shared his experience on the train. For me, his story has become an iconic description of the culture of India. A few minutes after our guide had brought Arthur to his seat, a gentlemanly-looking man came and squeezed in next to him. He spoke English, so they chatted. His new friend welcomed him to India and inquired about his origin. "Welcome to our country," the gentleman said, "You are our guest, If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know."
After fifteen minutes of talk about Arthur's travel plans, the conversation turned to the gentleman's business. Gradually, it was revealed to Arthur that he was sitting in this gentleman's seat! Horribly embarrassed at the mistake, Arthur got up to leave, but the man insisted, "No, I want you to sit there, please!" When Arthur protested, the man persisted, "You are our guest. Please, be comfortable!"
As the rest of our visit unfolded, we were forced to tolerate many of the disturbances all travelers from the West experience in India: Having to argue over the price of everything you buy; enduring the driving etiquette that, when someone goes to pass your car, they hold their horn down constantly from the time they decide to pass you until they are 100 yards ahead of you. I could go on but it would just convince you of how little I've been able to integrate the point I now wish to make.
At such times, I often remembered the incident on the train: The conductor cutting slack to a traveler who was obviously bewildered by the Indian Railway system; the passenger who took pleasure at giving up his seat for a guest. Again and again in India I saw this ethic of selflessness and tolerance manifest in moments where lower responses could easily be defended. I saw that in a land where there is so much potential for disturbance, this society has learned to accept such things graciously.
Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krsna movement, once said that a person's greatness is shown in their ability to tolerate provoking situations. What character it shows when even strangers sacrifice for one another happily! How your heart melts toward such people! And so far as I could see, the deeper the relationship was, the deeper the willingness to sacrifice. And as beautiful as this was to see, it also shed light on a much less palatable truth, as I saw my own short-tempered responses to the little struggles that country threw my way.
I explained to him my plight and with lightning speed he shot back the classic, rhetorical question in his New Jersey accent, "So what do you want me to do about it?" I waited for a moment to see if he followed it with a smile. It would have been so charming, wouldn't it have been? Of course, he didn't. As I tried to absorb the blast of Americana that just hit me, I thought: "Welcome to our country." What an irony. I just left a rich heart in a poor land and found a poor heart in a rich land.
Christopher Timm (Radha Vallabha Dasa) is a monk and filmmaker whose forthcoming documentary "Today We Have The Power" chronicles the spiritual aspects of contemporary activism.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Dr. William H. Deadwyler has a Ph.Din religion from Temple University, and is a leading member of the main ecclesiastical board of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
An initiated disciple of A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he has served his mission since 1971
For more of his writings, check out www.soithappens.com
The heroes of my youth were the great healers of humanity. While it’s true that in those days I could be seen with other American boys paying homage to the likes of Elvis Presley and Joe DiMaggio, I rendered them only lip service. My real—if somewhat secret—devotion was reserved for a pantheon of great medical pioneers like Edward Jenner, discoverer of the smallpox vaccination; Robert Koch, who identified the tuberculosis bacillus; and Ignaz Philipp Semmelweise, who crusaded to save women from childbirth infection by teaching doctors to disinfect their hands. I avidly studied the life stories of these saviors and dreamed of becoming like them by slaying some modern scourge—leukemia, say, or coronary thrombosis. In my eyes there was no higher calling than to wage war on behalf of humanity against disease and death.
I entered college intent on medical studies, but a little over a year later abandoned that aim. I had not been fatally disheartened by my encounter with other pre-med students, profiteers eager to mint gold from disease. A book, rather, had destroyed my vocation and my faith. Mirage of Health: Utopia, Progress and Biological Change is a pioneering study of medical history written in the late fifties by a physician named Rene Dubos. His conclusion devastated me: Progress toward some utopia of health is an illusion. Disease will never be “conquered.” Disease is so inescapable a part of our human condition that today’s remedies inevitably become the agents of tomorrow’s ills.
Using an abundance of historical evidence, Dubos shows how the diseases we suffer from arise out of the complex social, political, and economic dynamics of our particular society; as society changes, our ills change with it. Some diseases fade away, and others, out of the inexhaustible bounty of material nature, rise to take their place.
In modern industrial societies, as Dr. Dubos points out, we no longer suffer and die from smallpox, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, and the other microbial plagues of the past. We have made “progress”: We suffer and die instead from cancer, coronary heart disease, emphysema, and mental disorders (with their attendant drug abuse and suicide).
According to Dubos’ analysis, even my boyhood heroes, those unswerving foes of deadly microbes, had little to do with the disappearance of infectious diseases. These afflictions were retired mainly by the social and economic reforms that followed industrialization. At the same time, that same process was ushering in a whole new set of scourges. And even those old diseases are by no means “conquered,” Dubos warns. They are merely held at bay (at a high price), and they can reenter human history any time the conditions are right.
I was undone by Dr. Dubos’ lesson. Medicine at once underwent a catastrophic devaluation in my eyes. I wondered why that should be. Dubos, of course, never claimed that medicine was useless, a waste of time. True, it may not save humanity, but it can save humans. That ought to be enough, I argued with myself. I could still live by ideals, modest though those ideals might be. Surely, real heroism lies in doing humbly what little good one can, without some fantasy of wide-screen, Hollywood heroics, soundtrack booming in the background. Be realistic: There are no saviors of humanity, because humanity will not be saved, and that’s that.
Still, I could revive no enthusiasm for medicine. The truth of the matter was that at heart I badly wanted to be saved from disease and death altogether, and I had possessed a real faith that scientific progress would, at the end of its struggle, win just that for all of us. To me it had been a foregone conclusion that through science and technology nature would be eventually conquered and tamed, made entirely serviceable to us, and we would live without worries in a man-made paradise on earth. Although I had never spelled out this conviction to myself, it had insensibly become my true faith, my religion.
How was it a religion? Religion and science—like faith and knowledge—are supposed to be opposites. Yet somehow science itself had become a religion—call it “scientism”—an ardent faith that progress in science and technology will so improve upon man and nature as to rid earthly life of all ills. This religion was—and still is—the true faith of America, the spiritual motor that drives its enterprises.
Where had I absorbed this religion? I had bowed before no altar, recited no creed, sung no hymns, enacted no rites. However, this religion does not need special buildings or ceremonies. As the true religion of America, it is woven completely into the fabric of life. I had absorbed it all along from my parents and teachers and friends, from the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, from museums and theme parks, from My Weekly Reader and Reader’s Digest and Life and Post and Popular Mechanics. I had soaked it in from “Meet Mr. Wizard” and the unending iteration of corporate commercial slogans (”Progress is Our Most Important Product” and “Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry“), from the biographies of my medical heroes, not the least from my hoard of science fiction paperbacks. The faith that formed America was a creation of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Eager to extend Newton’s success in describing nature in rational, mathematical form, a coterie of European thinkers battled to dethrone traditional religion and morality and replace them with empirical science and natural reason as the valid guides for human activity.
Unenlightened and superstitious Christians believed in a future millennium, a thousand-year kingdom of God on earth that would start with the prophesied second coming of Christ. That belief had to go. Yet the savants of the Enlightenment replaced it with their own secularized faith, their man-made millennium: Steady progress in science and enlightened reason would gradually bring the natural and human world totally under rational scientific control. Nature and society will be consummately engineered. Free from drought and flood, poverty and crime, disease and even death, man will have established on earth the kingdom of God—without God.
This was my faith, and I had lost it. Science would not save us; there was no “progress.” That explained my strong reaction to Mirage of Health.
In the years since I read that book I have come to recognize the striving for release from material nature, the struggle against disease and death, as profoundly and essentially human. It’s a struggle we cannot avoid. Even though we may be unwaware of it, it drives and shapes our lives. For this reason, even popular culture is about serious things. It is not mere whimsy that leads people to describe Joe DiMaggio as a baseball “Immortal,” or makes them believe that Elvis Presley could not possibly have died. Operating with more sophistication, Enlightenment thinkers set themselves against religion, but they merely replaced salvation through Christ with salvation through science. They could not free themselves from the desire for transcendence, the urge to go beyond the limits of nature into everlasting life.
We are all transcendentalists at heart. The problem is that most of us are foolish ones, whose various schemes for liberation are doomed from the outset. We persist in worshipping idols and gods that fail. We engineer projects for salvation that only increase our bondage. Nature can send mile-high sheets of ice flowing over continents and level cities with a twitch, yet we embark on a quixotic war to conquer her. An anthill has as good a shot at it as “advanced civilization.” Or consider this: Survival is the primal urge of life, and for millions of years all organisms have struggled for survival, just as we now struggle. Now, look at the record. Where are the winners? In all of history, has anyone survived?
The death rate is one hundred percent. It is a foredoomed attempt, but we cannot help ourselves. We must be transcendentalists, but what makes us invest and reinvest in foolish, impractical schemes? Let me suggest the reason. At the root of our foolishness lies a dumb insistence in trying to actuate a self-contradiction, make real an absurdity: We want to transcend material nature, become free from her control, while at the same time we want to continue to enjoy and exploit her.
This was the answer I discovered. After my crisis of faith, I studied philosophy and religion for years; it was, in effect, a quest for successful transcendentalists. And I thought that I had finally discovered them at the vital center of the great spiritual traditions of the world. In spite of their differences in culture and style, they seemed unanimous in this: They agreed that to succeed in transcendence we must become free from the mentality of enjoyment and exploitation.
All of them recognized the systematic endeavor to gain mastery over the mind and senses, to extinguish material desires, as necessary for real salvation or liberation of the spirit. These successful transcendentalists understand very well that material nature binds and controls us precisely through our desire to enjoy and exploit her. That desire is, therefore, our ultimate disease. Cure that disease, we shall become free from disease and death altogether.
Eight years after Dr. Dubos destroyed my faith in material progress, Srila Prabhupada initiated me into the path of bhakti-yoga, transcendental devotional service. I was attracted by the magisterial way Srila Prabhupada exposed what he called “the illusory advancement of civilization.” On the street a Krishna devotee had handed me a tract containing these simple but impressive words of Srila Prabhupada:
"We are trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her. This illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our eternal Krishna consciousness."
Srila Prabhupada hadn’t done the research of a Dr. Dubos, but somehow he understood it all. His clarity astonished me.
Attacking the idols of scientific progress and other ersatz religions, Srila Prabhupada did not compromise in presenting the truth—if we want transcendence, we must become free from material desires. He was the only contemporary transcendentalist I’d encountered who did not offer any cheating religion, an accommodation with material ambitions for cheap popularity among the foolish.
My heroes still are those saviors who wage war on behalf of humanity against disease and death: Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Rupa Goswami, Thakura Haridasa, Madhvacarya, Narada Muni and many others form my pantheon. These heroes have won the war against death because they have mastered the actual science of transcendence and delivered it to humanity.
In the meantime I credit Dr. Dubos with a good deal of prescience. Events have proven him uncannily accurate. Even as researchers in high-tech laboratories feverishly sought the “magic bullet” to destroy cancer, a brand-new plague erupted, surprising almost everyone. Studies predict that Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome will have claimed about 400 million lives by the middle of the next century.
Like horror films that spawn even more ghastly sequels, some old-fashioned diseases have begun staging spectacular revivals: A new, drug-resistant version of Koch’s bacillus threatens a tuberculosis epidemic in North America, where a remake of the scarlet fever microbe is implicated in a run of deadly cases of sudden, massive septicemia. Pediatricians report a steady rise in children with chronic bronchitis and asthma, apparently the result of pollution. Indeed, a family of new afflictions of the immune system, all apparently related to man-made chemicals in the environment, has led to the establishment of a new medical specialty called clinical ecology. Some studies show that in the industrial nations up to forty percent of all diseases are “iatrogenetic.” That means “caused by physicians.”
In Pittsburgh recently, a man survived seventy-one days on an implanted baboon’s liver, which was still in good shape at autopsy. Transplant technicians are planning farms where genetically engineered animals will grow crops of organs for use in humans; biomedical engineers are machining body parts out of space-age plastics and microchips. They’re promising immortality by the end of the next century.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
by Aditi Sriram
In his autobiography The Journey Home, Sri Radhanath Swami writes about his struggle with two inner voices, one from his mind and the other from his heart. They push and pull him towards yogic gurus, geographical adventures, mental purgings and diligent observation. He demonstrates repeatedly that when his mind seeks an answer, he is befuddled with the choices before him, but when his heart seeks a truth, Krishna responds with a sign.
The mind can only respond based on the way it has been conditioned, but the heart knows what is pure, since it houses the purest entity in all of us – our soul. Hearing a beautiful song fills the heart with peace and stirs the soul; a person can immediately sense when his heart is happy. But the mind is much more analytic, weighing the attributes and drawbacks of every situation, factoring in external reactions to internal choices, and is thus diluted in its stance.
Sitting in Lincoln Center, watching the London Symphony Orchestra tune their instruments, I am impressed by each musician’s independent talent. But the majesty of a symphony lies in musical collaboration. The individual instruments play their prescribed parts, but the conductor leads the entire operation. Valery Gergiev, a large, spirited Russian with wisps of hair that he whips back and forth when he moves, charges the performance with life: sweeping his arms over the stage, he offers it to something higher and larger than himself and the music on the page. He is the heart in this act, and his musicians the limbs that he breathes life into. Compared to the heart, the mind is limited by its functional capacity – a violinist can only play a violin and not a trombone – but the conductor rules over all the instruments, like the heart over the mind, to produce divine sound and generate divine thoughts. As long as the musicians follow their conductor and the mind surrenders to the heart, harmony reigns!
In this way, Service and Humility are born out of the heart. The mind may think it understands these attributes, but its comprehension is limited. The mind can just as easily convince a person to be lustful as to be respectful, or to continue eating when one feels full. A group of musicians could play their instruments together and produce a beautiful sound, but they are truly flawless only when they are led with conviction, by someone wholly convinced of the cause and effect of that music – and that is where the conductor is crucial. If the heart is the primary voice, it will always be the song leading the step.
Service, if done sincerely, never gets tiring: the heart knows infinity and the most intimate loving exchanges when it is engaged in its rightful service, so how can it feel anything other than bliss? A teacher loves teaching her students, day after day; a Broadway performer repeats the same lines and songs every night and a devotee serves the Lord as his servant without any doubt. Without a contented heart, the mind can provide only temporary guidance and stability, since it relies on the external for value and action. The heart meditates on the internal, the divine, and finds uninterrupted love.
The closer one becomes to God, the smaller, meeker and more insignificant he feels on Earth, even as his followers exalt him. This paradox seems to highlight the stark contrasts between the fame and conditioning of material life and the simplicity and single mindedness of faith – how wrongly we are going about Life and Love on earth! Mother Teresa exclaims that when her beloved leprosy victims see Jesus in her, it is a “miracle,” absolving herself of any ownership of such praise. She defines service by example, noting that there is no hierarchy in service: it can only be real when it is done with humility.
The orchestra accelerates over arpeggios and punctuates the air with vibrant, resonant sounds. My eyes are on each musician, and I nearly forget Gergiev! In fact, he is turned away from this audience, for his job is not for show or for praise. He serves his musicians and he pampers every musical note, cherishing each moment. Hearing the pristine music, the conductor is humbled – those are the fruits of his labor, not the subsequent applause. Gergiev keeps the tempo of the orchestra; he is their pulse, their heart, beating before them in their mind. And with eyes only for his musicians, it is clear who he serves.
The heart speaks the transcendental language of Love. Throughout his journey, Sri Radhanath Swami witnesses yogis, devotees and passersby moved to tears by some divine feat. Great gurus and meager followers are never shy to express their happiness with tears, which spring naturally to their eyes and flow like the rivers that led Sri Radhanath Swami to his guru. Tears are the universal sign of humbled bliss, grateful joy, earnest appreciation, and they come to Gergiev as well – his eyes mist and beads of sweat drop from his face as his orchestra comes to the resounding conclusion of the symphony. He has completed his musical journey, just as Sri Radhanath Swami has found his true inner voice.
Graduating from Columbia University in 2007, Aditi Sriram works as a consultant in New York City. Her spiritual heritage and contemporary search for truth has led her to the fountain of Vedic wisdom.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
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