“In this endeavor (Krishna consciousness) there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)
It is a widely accepted fact that the life expectancy in America is as high as it has ever been. People today live longer than their ancestors primarily because of advancements in medicine and health care technology. One would think this good news would equate to a higher level of happiness in society, but we see that is not the case. Instead, medical advancements have brought on a whole new set of problems.
Every material advancement has unintended consequences. This is because we are not meant to be happy in this temporary world full of miseries. One may wonder why we are here in the first place if life is so bad. The reason can be traced back to the desire of the spirit soul to lord over material nature. God is great. He is so powerful that others want to imitate Him by pretending to create things and rule over others. This desire lands them in this material world. It is similar to a playground, in that this world serves as a field for the karmic activities of man. This lifestyle is allowed to continue due to the presence of maya, God’s illusory energy. Maya tricks us into identifying with our gross material body; a body which is subject to destruction at the time of death. Everyone eventually realizes that they are going to die; nevertheless, they still try to make adjustment after adjustment in hopes of satisfying the demands of the body.
Since it is destined to be destroyed, there is nothing that can give permanent happiness to a body which is composed of five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). Only the soul that resides within the body is permanent, unchangeable, and blissful by nature.
“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bhagavad-gita, 8.3)
If we act in the interest of the soul and the Paramatma, God’s expansion as the Supersoul, then we are working towards eternal peace. Acting in accordance with the demands of the body and its senses only brings about temporary happiness, and increased misery. The automobile serves as a great example. Considered one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century, the automobile revolutionized the transportation industry. People can now travel great distances in short amounts of time. This means that we have greater flexibility in deciding where to live and work. We also aren’t required to grow food on our own, since we can just drive to the local market which is always fully stocked with every kind of food imaginable. With such living conditions, who wouldn’t be happy?
Yet we see the automobile has brought many miseries as well. Since practically anyone is allowed to drive a car, we see many cars and drivers out on the road. This means that new roads and bridges must be built. The existing roads also need to be constantly maintained. All this brings along added expense. Cars can travel very fast, upwards of eighty miles per hour. Every one of us is born with different qualities, or gunas. This means that some of us will be good drivers, while others will not. Put thousands of good drivers on the road alongside the bad, and you are bound to have many accidents. Since cars travel so fast, many of these accidents are fatal. There are literally thousands of automobile related fatalities each year, and no one bats an eye. Yet if a few thousand people die in a war, there is a public outcry.
So we see there is a price for advancement. This is the inherent nature of activity performed in the interests of the body, or karma. Actions are not without consequences. Sometimes the results of our actions can be seen, while other times they bear fruit many years later; sometimes even in another lifetime.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)
The reason that material advancement fails to provide increased happiness is because it is part of the mode of passion. All activity on the level of karma can be classified as belonging to one of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, or ignorance. The mode of goodness constitutes any activity done with knowledge, or in accordance with the regulations of the scriptures. The mode of passion is any fruitive activity. The mode of ignorance is any activity which lacks goodness or passion. Most human beings are engaged in the mode of passion. We want a nice job when we grow up, so we study hard in school. As adults, we want a nice house and car, so we make sure to work very hard, even changing jobs if we have to. This is all part of the mode of passion.
“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.16)
Adjusting our material comforts also falls into the mode of passion. On the surface, fruitive activity doesn’t appear to be bad for us. Yet we start to run into problems when our desires grow stronger and stronger as a result of our material success. The advancements in medicine are a great example of this. So much research has been done in the area of fighting diseases, that today the life expectancy is as high as it has ever been. In actuality, people lived much longer in previous Yugas. The Vedas tell us that each creation is divided into four time periods, with man’s duration of life dwindling with each successive Yuga. We are currently in the last Yuga known as Kali. The Vedas tell us that man generally lives to one hundred years of age in the Kali Yuga. In previous Yugas, people lived for hundreds and even thousands of years. These are the authorized statements of the great Vedic texts, but sadly this information is unknown to today’s scientists.
Life support machines, organ transplant surgeries, and life saving drugs are staples of the medical profession today. Yet just as with the automobile, these advancements have failed to bring about increased happiness. This may seem hard to believe, for after all, people are living longer on average, so wouldn’t that in and of itself lead to an increase in happiness? The biggest problem is that this advanced medical technology doesn’t come without a price. Medical machinery isn’t cheap, and neither are the latest drugs. Pharmaceutical companies invest millions of dollars in drug research. They make this investment for one reason; the hope of one day turning a profit. This motive may be viewed as evil by some, but it is actually quite natural. Businessmen are in business for one reason; to earn a profit. As long as there are many businessmen honestly competing for profit, society is usually benefitted. This fierce competition for profit leads to the discovery of life prolonging drugs, more jobs, and a healthier economy.
Doctors are also part of the equation of modern medicine. Becoming a doctor is no easy task. In America, after graduating from high school, it takes around ten years before someone can start practicing medicine for real. Even then, doctors usually have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to pay off. They must also pass medical examinations and adhere to stringent government regulations.
All these factors lead to an increased cost for the patient. Life can be prolonged, but it comes with a price. Even the added cost, by itself, shouldn’t really pose a problem. After all, people are more than willing to spend top dollar for a nice car, television, or house. Yet for some reason, people have become wary of paying for medical treatment on their own. Health insurance is now the name of the game. Rather than pay the doctors themselves, most people now have health insurance. This may seem like a good thing, but it has also led to an increase in costs. For example, consumers as a whole would never dream of paying upwards of one thousand dollars per night in a hotel room. Yet that is precisely how much it costs to spend one night in a hospital, but since this cost is paid through the insurance companies, the patient has no knowledge of it. All they see is the monthly premium cost. Thus the power of the consumer is limited, meaning costs aren’t controlled directly by market forces.
Since health insurance premiums rise so rapidly, many people now believe there is a health care crisis. There is a strong push to have a national healthcare system, wherein the government manages and pays for all medical services. Again on the surface, this doesn’t seem bad. “Free health care? Why not?” Yet we see from its implementation in other countries that national health care leads to a rationing of care and decrease in quality. This is totally in line with the laws of economics. If the government is controlling costs and profits, doctors have no incentive to provide better care. Not only does the quality of medical treatment decline, but also there is no control on supply. Price not only conveys information about what producers and consumers are thinking, but it also correlates with supply and demand. When price is taken out of the equation, supply runs out.
“Prices perform three functions in organizing economic activity: first, they transmit information; second, they provide an incentive to adopt those methods of production that are least costly and thereby use available resources for the most highly valued purposes; third, they determine who gets how much of the product – the distribution of income. These three functions are closely interrelated.” (Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, Ch 1)
Let us compare modern medicine with the classic Vedic system. Veda means knowledge, and the original Vedas emanating from India contain knowledge not only about religion, but of material subjects as well. Even medicine is covered in what is known as Ayurveda. This system was started by Lord Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Krishna. Today Ayurveda is generally equated with holistic or homeopathic medicine. It is seen as an alternative style of treatment, but a long time ago, it was the primary way medicine was practiced. Ayurveda focuses on the three components or elements of the body: kapha (mucus), pitha (bile), and vayu (air). If these three elements are in balance, the body is healthy. Likewise, a disproportion of any one of these elements will lead to bodily discomfort and disease. In Vedic times, the brahmanas, the priestly class of men, would serve as doctors. Brahmanas are the knowledgeable class of men. Their duty is to study the Vedas and to instruct others on Vedic wisdom. They are so smart that they can teach anyone in any discipline. Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, took birth as a kshatriya, or warrior. Growing up, He was trained in the military arts by brahmanas, Vashishta and Vishvamitra.
Brahmanas would make house calls, and afterwards, would be paid. It was considered a great sin to not properly receive any guest in the home, let alone exalted sages. Brahmanas didn’t practice medicine for a profit, but rather simply to help others. Since the medicines were all natural, there wasn’t a great cost incurred on the patient.
This all stands in stark contrast to today’s system. Malpractice lawsuits are very common. The overall lack of God consciousness in society has led to an attachment to sinful activity and a mood of miserliness. The average sinful person generally thinks along these lines: “I want to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, regardless if innocent animals such as cows have to be slaughtered. In my leisure time, I want to gamble and drink as much alcohol as I see fit. Then I want to satisfy my sexual urges at any cost. If a girl happens to get pregnant, we will simply kill the child in the womb through the abortion process. While engaging in this sinful activity, if I get sick, I want to go to the doctor and have someone else pay for it. If the doctor makes a mistake, I want to sue him for everything he’s worth.” This type of mindset can only come about when there is a lack of spiritual education. With the current situation, people will never be happy, regardless of any advancement in medicine.
It is unlikely that we’ll ever return to the traditional Vedic system of medicine. So what are we to do? The answer for every material problem is always the same; Lord Krishna. Our forgetfulness of our relationship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead serves as the root cause of all our problems. One simply has to arouse their inherent love for God. Love conquers all, and love for God allows us to endure any and all hardships. The first step towards reconnecting with God is to constantly chant His name, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
This body is temporary. Whether we have a long or short life doesn’t really matter in the end. If we still have material desires at the time of death, we are guaranteed to take birth again in the material world. This is quite a sobering fact. Yet if we develop an attachment to Lord Krishna, He will immediately transport us to His spiritual abode at the time of death. Reaching the spiritual sky, we can enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in the association of our best friend, Lord Krishna.