Monday, September 21, 2009

Culture of Life

Lord Krishna “A devotee should see that Krishna is present in everyone's heart as Paramatma; therefore every body is the embodiment or the temple of the Supreme Lord, and as such, as one offers respect to the temple of the Lord, he should similarly properly respect each and every body in whom the Paramatma dwells.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11 Purport)

Caviar is one of the staples of fine dining and high-class culture. Considered a delicacy, it is the appetizer of choice for the very affluent who regularly serve it with hors d’oeuvres at fancy dinner parties and other gatherings.

In a nutshell, caviar is fish eggs. It is usually procured by gutting a fish that is caught specifically for its caviar producing potential. Wikipedia describes the production of caviar in this way:

“Commercial caviar production normally involves stunning the fish (usually by clubbing its head) and extracting the ovaries; most of commercial fish farmers are using cesarean section to surgically remove ovaries from the fish and then sew it to keep sturgeon alive, allowing the females to continue producing more roe during their lives.”

Once the fish is cut open, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of fish ovaries/eggs available. Since caviar is usually extracted from certain kinds of fish such as the sturgeon and salmon, it is generally very expensive to purchase.

The American television sitcom Frasier had an episode that involved certain people’s obsession with caviar. The main characters in the show, brothers Frasier and Niles Crane, are depicted as being very stuck up, upper class people living in Seattle. They enjoy fine wine, dining, the theatre, and throwing lavish dinner parties where caviar is served. In one particular episode, the brothers find a local shop which carries Beluga caviar, a kind they especially like. Addicted to the caviar, the brothers regularly visit the shop.  One day, they inadvertently anger the shop owner, who thereby bans them from the store. Since no other store carries this particular brand of caviar, they are forced to purchase it on the black market. One thing leads to another and they end up in the middle of a high stakes caviar smuggling ring, with the police eventually getting involved.

Frasier Obviously this was just an episode of a fictional television show, written to be comedic and it no doubt was funny. Yet the story still raises an interesting point. According to Vedic philosophy, this material world is governed by three gunas, or qualities. Sattva guna meaning goodness, rajo guna meaning passion, and tamo guna meaning ignorance, are the three qualities that govern material existence. By definition, something is material if it has any of these qualities attached to it. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is often described as nirguna in the Vedas, for He has no material qualities. Even when He appears on the earth from to time, it only appears that He has a material body, but in fact He is always spiritual. The Lord is above the three gunas of material life, though people sometimes mistakenly think He is a mortal just like them.

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

Of these three qualities, it is passion that is most prominent in human beings. The mode of passion is pretty self-explanatory; it deals with one’s desire for fruitive activity and sense gratification. We all have desires; to be is to want. This cannot be changed. Anything that we desire for our own benefit or for the benefit of our senses falls under the category of rajo guna. Rajo guna, which is better than tamo guna (ignorance), is a dangerous mode to be in because the material senses can never be satisfied. We see evidence of this in our own lives. The wealthiest among us are often times the ones who are most unhappy. For this reason, we will often see extremely wealthy and famous rock stars and celebrities take to drugs and alcohol. These addictions can even lead to suicide. The mode of passion can never be satisfied, but since most people are unaware of this, they constantly look for ways to be happy through their passions.

The mode of passion, when left unchecked, can become very dangerous and lead to anger and lust.

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 2.62)

God has given us an ample supply of food grains to survive on, so much so that farmers are in many instances paid by the government to limit food production. Along with the milk provided freely by cows, mankind can easily feed itself very sumptuously. However, the mode of passion is so strong that it has driven people to open slaughterhouses where innocent animals are killed simply to satisfy the taste buds. Of course that is not enough, so now fish have to also be killed. Not only are they killed, but then their offspring in the form of eggs, are taken as well. Even though caviar is expensive, people’s desires and lust override any cost concerns, allowing them to overcome any obstacle put in their path to sense gratification.

Krishna with cows Due to this unchecked rise in the mode of passion, there is an overall lack of respect for life in society. Man isn’t satisfied simply by killing animals to satisfy the desires of the tongue. Sex desires are even stronger, and that has now led to the widespread practice of abortion. According to Vedic doctrine, one should only engage in sex with one’s spouse and that only for the purpose of raising God conscious children. Instead of following this model, people today are freely engaging in sex, fearing no consequences. If they get into trouble, they can always resort to killing the baby in the womb. This is all done out of ignorance as well, for one may not be able to see the immediate consequences, but the laws of karma dictate that fairness must be maintained. If one makes a life of killing innocent living entities, it is only natural that those same people will have to suffer a similar fate in this life and in future lives. The extreme practice of abortion is not enough to satisfy people’s desires either. Nowadays, they are using the aborted fetuses for the process known as stem cell research. The karmis are hoping that by studying the tissues and cells of aborted life, they can one day find cures to common diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. People have become so addicted to their lifestyle of sense gratification that they will go to any extreme to prolong it.

All hope is not lost however. The Vedas and the Bhagavad-gita give us the solution to all our problems. One must rise above the mode of passion and act in the mode of goodness.

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 14.17)

People in the mode of goodness are charitable, kind, pious, and adhere to religious principles. The Mahabharata tells us that addiction to wine, women, dice playing, and hunting lead to a man’s downfall. Abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life (intoxication, meat eating, gambling, and illicit sex) can go a long way in reducing one’s dependence on objects of sense gratification.

Above all other methods, one should take to the process of devotional service; a process which transcends all three material modes of nature. Lovingly serving the Supreme Lord is a completely spiritual activity. We should respect all forms of life, even the animals, for we are all God’s children. By making Krishna the center of our lives, we cleanse ourselves of the nasty desires for sense gratification.

Maharishi Valmiki The great Maharishi Valmiki composed probably the first book ever written, known as the Ramayana, which is the story of Lord Rama. In his youth however, Valmiki wasn’t such a great person. He was a dacoit who lived off robbing others. Fortunately for him, he came in contact with the venerable Narada Muni. Narada travels not only this world, but other planets as well, teaching about God and service to Him. He has reformed many a great soul in his time. When he met Valmiki, Narada instructed him to give up stealing and to instead meditate on the holy name of Rama. Following his advice, Valmiki transformed himself from the worst kind of a person to a Maharishi, or great sage.

This is the key. We need to have association with great saints, and then be wise enough to submit to them and follow their instructions. Let us leave the fish, cows, and unborn children alone. Instead, let us follow Narada Muni’s instructions and focus our time on chanting the names of God, reading stories about Him, offering Him our prayers, and eating Krishna prasadam.