Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Perfect Inventions

Lord Krishna“Because Krishna says so, we immediately know that the cosmic machine, of which the earth is part, is working so nicely and wonderfully because behind this machine is a driver - Krishna. Exactly as behind any machine there is a machine driver, similarly, behind this big machine of material nature there is Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure, The Perfect Person)

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We are certainly proud of our famous inventors. For whatever reason, they were motivated to think outside the box, to push the boundaries of conceivability, which then promoted the general welfare of the people, at least for the time being. Often times the inventions involved new kinds of machines or improvements upon old ones. Yet through it all, the inventions were all flawed to some degree, which in no way diminished their utility at the time. If such machines and their creators deserve praise, admiration, time, and attention, then surely the inventor of perfect machines deserves even more credit.

Before there was electricity available from the local utilities company, people relied on candles and lamps to get their lighting after the sun went down. Depending on where you lived, you might require a lot of candles every year. And so good citizens devised ways to improve upon the lamps so that they didn’t waste as much wax. This was a conservation of energy. They also proposed ways to modify behavior in order to cut down on usage.

One of the most famous inventors in history one night played chess longer than usual. Upon going to sleep, he noticed that the sun was out. On another occasion, he awoke accidentally in the morning hours, earlier than usual for him. The shades in his room happened to have been left open the night before and so the light from the sun filled the room. Upon making this discovery, it dawned on him that during certain times of the year the sun rose very early in the morning. Writing anonymously to a local periodical, he then proposed to the society at large that if man altered the time that they awoke to match the periods of the sun’s being out, they would save so much in candle usage. In keeping with the conservationist attitude, he even half-jokingly “ran the numbers” to ascertain how much exactly would be saved by a particular city each year.

“I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o'clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o'clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.” (Benjamin Franklin, Letter to the Editor of the Journal of Paris, 1784)

Daylight savings timeAnd with this seed of an idea, eventually daylight savings time was born. Some love it and some hate it, but it is one among many such inventions to have come along that aimed to improve society. With the improvement of lamps, eventually the issue of conserving candles became moot. There is electricity now, and so light bulbs are used. Even so, the first light bulb invented by Thomas Edison is currently in the process of being faded out. Known as the incandescent bulb, it is considered by some to be a large consumer of energy, and needlessly so.

Take the first smartphone that was very popular several years back. At the time, it was considered a grand invention, something novel. Now that same model is considered antiquated, a dinosaur. The first cell phone itself looks like a giant brick that would better serve as a power adapter for today’s laptop computer than a device to make phone calls.

Old cell phoneIn this way we see that the machines, while novel, useful, and difficult to conceive, are all flawed. They obviously have some defect, otherwise there would be no need for progress. Indeed, one who says that progress is the aim of society subtly admits that everything they seek is flawed, for that which they look to progress from must not fit the bill if it needs to be improved upon later on.

Now consider the sun. We are using the same one since the beginning of time. The same goes for the earth, which contains the many seeds needed to continue life. The sky contains all the stars, and that sky has been the same since forever. If the author of the most popular smartphone is so famous, shouldn’t the author of the sun, the moon, and the earth get fame, attention, and honor every day?

“Just as within the earth are found every kind of seed and within the sky live all the stars, Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama’s holy name is the reservoir of all dharma.” (Dohavali, 29)

“But how do I honor the maker of the sun? Don’t people fight over this? One group says their deity created everything and that in order to worship Him you must honor the Sabbath, follow fasting days, and pray a number of times in a particular institution. Another group says that you must follow their path or be forever condemned. At least with the makers of the flawed machines I know who they are. I know their names, what they look like, and perhaps even where they live today.”

Edison light bulbFrom these insightful questions we get a way to judge the usefulness of a religious system. The more a tradition explains about the origin of the creation, the maker of the perfect and flawless machines of nature, the more benefit the followers derive from it. In the Vedas the original author is addressed through so many names. The list of names still barely suffices, but at least it has the ability to bring to mind the person who needs to be honored. One also finds out about His appearance, likes, dislikes, tendencies, emotions, and overall desire for each one of us, who are His innumerable children.

The machines created by nature are meant for bringing the children back to Him, the heavenly father. There is no other purpose. If I use electricity to zap my neighbors, I’m not really using it properly. If I take my smartphone to act as a paperweight while reading outside, the best use isn’t there. The invention essentially goes to waste. In the same way, the light of the sun, the refreshing rays of the moon, the energy from grains and vegetables, the fuel and shelter from trees, and the resting places from the ground are to be used in remembering God, honoring Him, and being always conscious of Him. Only then does any invention become useful.

Virtual bookshelfEven the flawed machines are useful in this regard. The smartphone that will be out of fashion in a few short years could still hold words of wisdom from this great author found in works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. In these books you get words spoken directly by the greatest inventor, and so you don’t need to go far to connect with Him. The souls eager for knowledge of Him use whatever lighting instrument is available to always hear about Him, sometimes even into the wee hours of the night. There is never enough information available on the Supreme Author, and so the inventions of the world can never be used enough, flawed that they may be.

In Closing:

New ways to find light,

Ideas from inventors bright.


Though devices not forever to stay,

Progress to improvements to give way.


Still standing strong is the sun,

In potency’s comparison there is none.


The sun, the moon, the earth and water,

Of all these Supreme Lord the author.


So why not to Him honor to pay?

Hear His words, His holy names say.