Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Brother

Krishna and Arjuna “That action performed in ignorance and delusion without consideration of future bondage or consequences, which inflicts injury and is impractical, is said to be action in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.25)

The mode of passion can be so strong that it drives people to do things they know will be harmful to them. Passion means fruitive activity, or being driven to work by one’s desires for rewards and benedictions. In any society there are general rules of propriety that people try to adhere to. Having respect for the property of others is one of them. Yet we still see that there are many people who take to stealing, even though they know it’s not a good thing and that it can have negative consequences. The mode of passion is so strong, that if left unchecked, it can bewilder a person into thinking that stealing is acceptable, when it really isn’t. This is the very definition of illusion; a person who acts on such illusion descends into the mode of ignorance.

Credit Cards In today’s world, one of the common forms of theft occurs with credit cards. Most countries use paper notes and coins as their form of monetary exchange, but with advancements in technology, people can now pay for things using credit cards. Issued by banks, credit cards allow people to make purchases which are tracked through a world-wide electronic system originating at the banks. Once a month, the credit card company issues a statement telling the cardholder how much they have purchased and how much they owe. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. The credit card companies make money by charging interest to customers who don’t pay their full balance each month. The customer is benefitted by not having to carry lots of cash around all the time. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere these days, even at fast food restaurants. This means that one can ostensibly live without ever having to use paper currency or coins.

There are drawbacks to using credit cards though. If a thief steals cash, they can only use whatever amount of money they stole from a person. Cash is also not very easy to steal because it is a physical object, meaning that the thief has to forcibly take the money away from its owner. Credit cards are a little different, because though it is itself a physical object, it is the number on the credit card which is really important. Simply knowing a person’s credit number allows a thief to make purchases online. Unlike with cash, thieves of credit cards aren’t limited in the amount of money they can steal. Most credit cards have large spending limits, up to $2,000 for a typical card, while there are also many cards that don’t have any credit limit at all. This means that if a thief can steal a credit card, they can purchase thousands of dollars worth of goods, both online and in person at retail stores.

Cash These facts make it very appealing for someone interested in becoming a credit card thief. There is a serious drawback, however, aside from the issues of morality and virtue. All credit card purchases are tracked, for that is the key component to the entire credit system. When paying for something with a credit card, a physical record is automatically created which contains the date, time, location, and description of the purchase. This also has its pros and cons. This tracking system is great for businesses because they can more easily keep track of their expenses. Some credit card companies now issue year-end statements which give a breakdown of your purchases, letting you know how much you spent on gas, food, shopping, etc. This system is harmful for thieves though. If a person loses their credit card or has it stolen, they can very easily call the credit card company and have the card cancelled. This means that the next time someone goes to use the card, the merchant will be able to tell that the card is stolen. When encountering a stolen card, merchants are advised to cut the card up into pieces and report the incident to the credit card company. In severe cases, the police may also be called to the scene. The built-in tracking system of credit card purchases is enough to keep honest people away from using them. People don’t want “Big Brother”, a euphemism for a watch-dog government, keeping track of their every move. Many people prefer to use cash as a way of keeping thieves away and also as way of keeping their spending habits private.

Credit cards Though credit card thieves are some of the easiest people to catch, we still see that many people are drawn to such a nefarious activity. They think that somehow or other they won’t get caught. What leads people to this delusion? The Vedas tell us that the mode of passion is one of the three modes of material nature, along with goodness and ignorance. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that the mode of passion is better than ignorance, but that if our passions are left uncheck, they can lead to lust, anger, resentment, and loss of rationality. This is precisely what occurs with credit card thieves. The seed for their immoral act comes from their desire for some material object, either money or a particular product. Not wanting to pay for it themselves, they warm up to the idea of buying something without paying for it. Thus the initial desire turns to lust, which in turn leads them to committing theft. Anger and resentment come later on when they get caught, but it is the lust which causes their mind to become agitated and forgetful of common sense.

Ravana Uncontrolled passion, descending into ignorance, was what led to the downfall of a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana many thousands of years ago. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Ravana had risen to power in the world through his defeat of many great celestials. Ravana had many wives and a beautiful kingdom, yet he wasn’t satisfied with his materialistic way of life. He wanted more. He heard that there was a beautiful woman by the name of Sita residing in the forest of Janasthana. She was married to Lord Rama, a handsome prince and an incarnation of God. Ravana obviously didn’t know that Rama was God, for he didn’t believe in a higher power. He knew of the demigods, but after defeating many of them, he didn’t think they were so powerful. If anything, Ravana thought that he was God.

Ravana’s associates warned him that Sita could not be won over by flattery or huge displays of prowess. They also told him that he wouldn’t be able to defeat Rama. The only way for Ravana to have Sita would be if he kidnapped her in Rama’s absence. Ravana saw no problem with this idea, so he went ahead and made plans to achieve that end. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were lured away from their cottage, which left Sita vulnerable. Ravana approached her and took her away by force on his aerial car. Ravana’s path home was not free of interference though. The great king of birds, Jatayu, saw what was happening and stepped in to protect Sita.

“Just as the unintelligent, without knowing the future bondage caused by their actions, are vanquished very quickly, so shall you meet with your own destruction in a short time.” (Jatayu speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 51.26)

Lord Rama with Jatayu In the above referenced quote, Jatayu is warning Ravana that he will meet his end for perpetrating the horrible act of stealing another’s wife. Ravana would end up mortally wounding Jatayu in battle, but the bird’s words would indeed hold true. Ravana was so taken away by his passion, that he lost all sense of decency and intelligence. Ravana ruled over the kingdom of Lanka, which was situated on an island very far away from land. He thought that the geographic location of his kingdom insulated him from any serious enemy attack. He thought that by taking Sita to his kingdom, Rama would eventually give up His life, for He would never be able to find her.

Of course this logic was foolish. Just as a thief never thinks they will get caught until it’s too late, so Ravana never realized the folly of his ways until the very end. While flying away on Ravana’s car, several of Sita’s ornaments fell to the earth. Rama and Lakshmana discovered some of these items, which eventually led to their meeting with Hanuman, a great Vanara warrior. Hanuman took them to the Vanara king, Surgriva, and an alliance was formed immediately. It was through the help of Hanuman and the other Vanaras that Rama eventually discovered Sita’s whereabouts. The great Lord eventually marched to Lanka, took on Ravana in battle, and soundly defeated him.

Rama and Lakshmana with the Vanaras The lesson here is that no one can escape the results of sinful activity. With whatever activity we perform, God and His attendants watch us. They keep a ledger of our good and bad deeds. Knowing this, we should take to the process of devotional service. If the Supreme Lord is already tracking us, why not take to pious activity? There is no better deed to perform in this life than to chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The results of our good deeds also come to us very quickly. Those who regularly engage in devotional service will quickly be rewarded with Krishna-prema, or love for God, which is the greatest blessing one can receive.