The Seeds of Pollution

Krishna's lotus feet “Those who drink through aural reception, fully filled with the nectarean message of Lord Krishna, the beloved of the devotees, purify the polluted aim of life known as material enjoyment and thus go back to Godhead, to the lotus feet of Him.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.2.37)

While the advent of modern technology has brought about a generally higher standard of living, some unintended side effects have also come about. These effects are both unexpected and unwanted, with many of them labeled under the category of pollution. This pollution involves both the external, as in the contamination of air and water, and the internal, as in the muddying of mind and intelligence. The followers of the divine engagement, bhakti-yoga, proclaim that simply by dedicating all of one’s activities towards the satisfaction of the Supreme, every problem imaginable can be solved. Naturally, one would assume that this issue of pollution would be one of the issues eradicated, but the exact nature of its elimination remains unclear. Ironically enough, we can look to the example of driving a car to see how one can go about performing their everyday activities and still remain uncontaminated, or pollution-free, and spiritually advanced at the same time.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana travelling by horse and carriage In days past, advanced transportation consisted of horse-and-buggy and water transport such as boats and ships. The first major breakthrough came with the railroad, followed by the automobile. Today the automobile is the quickest way to get around for most people, especially those residing in industrialized nations. The exact nature of the driving can vary from country to country. For example, a driver in India and a driver in America are faced with completely different challenges. A driver in India must deal with pedestrians, animals, bicyclists, and cars all on a very narrow road with little or no adherence to traffic laws from others. In America, the driving is a little more controlled, at least on the highways. This controlled condition allows for cars to travel at much faster average speeds. On major highways, it is quite common for a car to be travelling over 70 mph.

Since a car can travel at such a fast speed, learning how to drive one can be a daunting task. In America, the eligible age for receiving a driver’s license varies from state to state, but it is usually around fifteen or sixteen years of age. Since a car can turn into a dangerous weapon if not controlled properly, student drivers are required to go through hours and hours of training, both in the classroom and out. Eventually a road test is taken, where the prospective licensee demonstrates their driving abilities to a certified examiner. Still, the receiving of a license doesn’t initially affect the attention paid during driving. New drivers tend to be attentive, keeping both hands on the wheel, paying close attention to their speed, and monitoring the cars around them. When they are behind the wheel, they are conscious of their driving and nothing else. They may not even want to look anywhere else or talk to anyone while they are driving.

Marathon runners This condition doesn’t last, however. There comes a time in a driver’s life where they put driving in the background of their consciousness. This doesn’t mean that they start driving poorly or start paying less attention. It just means that the consciousness becomes adjusted to the rules of the road and the ins and outs of driving. In this condition, the subconscious almost takes over in a sense and handles all the issues of the road. This frees the mind to ponder other issues. A similar phenomenon can be seen with runners. Those who are unaccustomed to running long distances are always conscious of where they are going and how they are feeling. “Do I have enough energy to finish? Am I going to make it to the end?” For the advanced runner, however, there is no consciousness of these things. The body essentially starts to move on its own, similar to a sleeping state. The subconscious takes care of the running, leaving the active part of the mind free to ponder other issues.

This condition is nice because it allows a person to multitask. They are able to conduct important activities like driving and running while remaining unattached to them. This same concept can prove to be invaluable in spiritual life. For followers of the Vedic tradition, the highest dharma, or occupational duty, is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. In simple terms, this can be thought of as the religion of love. Its primary activities include chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, along with reading books about the Lord, preparing and offering nice foodstuffs to His deity, hearing discourses about Krishna, and visiting temples. Along with this positive activity, there is the requirement for abstention from the most harmful activities of intoxication, gambling, illicit sex, and meat eating.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)

Lord Krishna Just as with every other activity, spiritual life has an ultimate destination. The aim of bhakti-yoga is to elevate one’s consciousness to the point where they are always thinking of God in one of His transcendental forms, at all times. The Supreme Divine Entity certainly does exist, and though He can expand Himself into an all-encompassing energy, His original feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This same Bhagavan then expands Himself into multitudes of other forms, all aimed at attracting the spiritually inclined conditioned soul. The highest consciousness is that which is constantly fixed on one of these transcendental forms in a mood of pure love.

Upon first glance at these truths there appears to be an issue. If we’re always thinking about Bhagavan, and this consciousness is also the ultimate objective, what are we supposed to do about other issues? The technological age has brought about great pollution, not only from cars and planes, but also from factories and chemical plants. If we simply focus on spiritual life all the time, won’t we be ignoring this issue of pollution? To find the solution, we simply have to look to the example of the expert driver. When a driver becomes accustomed to driving, they eventually shift their focus to other areas, all the while carrying out their duties of driving. The secret to performing bhakti-yoga properly is to put all other mundane activities and issues in the background, adhering to them in a matter of fact sort of way. Essentially the idea is to put the mind on autopilot while doing things unrelated to God consciousness, all the while keeping focused on the beautiful transcendental form of the Lord. The Vedas tell us that God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is so beautiful that one of His names is Shyamasundara, meaning the attractive one with a complexion of a dark rain cloud. Not only is this God’s original form, but also His most attractive one.

“The ideal yogi concentrates his attention on Krishna, who is called Shyamasundara, who is as beautifully colored as a cloud, whose lotus-like face is as effulgent as the sun, whose dress is brilliant with jewels and whose body is flower garlanded.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47 Purport)

Lord Krishna So we see that it is possible to perform our everyday activities of meeting the demands of the body while remaining committed to spiritual life. But how does this solve the issue of pollution? It takes a trained eye to see that devotional service performed in this manner actually already tackles every kind of pollution. Currently, the issues of pollution are taken on from the material point of view. “Driving is putting so much dust and poison in the air, what can we do to stop it? Can we find a new source of fuel that will not inject as many pollutants? Maybe we can raise taxes on gasoline so that people will drive less? Pollution in other areas can be tackled in a similar manner, i.e. using the power of government to force consumers to change their habits.”

The problem with these solutions is that they don’t remove the seeds of pollution. Smog and air pollution are not actually caused by the automobile, but rather the desire for kama, or sense gratification. Kama is one of the primary rewards in life, along with dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], and moksha [ultimate liberation]. Kama is sought out through dharma and artha, both of which come about through fruitive activities, or karma. In simple terms, since we have a desire to enjoy our senses, we take the necessary actions to acquire that enjoyment. Planes, trains, and automobiles came about through a desire to enjoy material nature. We can also think of it in terms of playing a sport. In the sport of tennis, players played with wooden rackets for a very long time. Then there came a desire to enjoy tennis more by hitting the ball harder. This desire led to the development of graphite rackets, and more recently to the evolution of new types of string. Hence the game was drastically changed not due to technology, but due to the desire to enjoy the sport even more.

New racket technology requires a more violent swinging motion But this enjoyment came with consequences. Many say that tennis today isn’t as enjoyable to watch as in days past due to the extremely fast serves and heavy hitting. Players are also more prone to arm injuries today due to the violent swinging motions. The newer strings are very nice in that they allow players to swing very hard and yet still maintain control of their shots. The drawback is that for one to get this control, they must swing the racket very quickly, a motion which is quite violent for the arm. As amazing as this sounds, if the players don’t swing hard with the new strings, they will actually have less control of their shots. The drawback is that violent swinging has led to an increase in wrist and arm injuries.

These injuries, or negative side effects, can be thought of as pollution in a sense. The same principle took effect with cars. People wanted to increase their speed in travelling, so the automobile and train were developed. While this seemed like a great thing, there came unintended negative consequences such as pollution and accidents. Thousands of people die in traffic accidents each year, but this issue is just swept aside as collateral damage. Pollution, in the form of unwanted negative side effects, is seen in practically every area of increased sense gratification. Even the latest iPods, iPhones, and high-definition televisions come with their own forms of pollution.

Mirabai performing bhakti yoga Simply eradicating the pollution or forcing people to change their level of enjoyment won’t solve any problems. The seeds for pollution, i.e. the never-satisfied desire to enjoy the senses, will still remain. Returning to the issue of bhakti-yoga, we see that the Krishna conscious devotee automatically has these seeds removed. It doesn’t mean their activities are necessarily changed in any drastic manner. They still might drive cars, travel on airplanes, or use smart phones, but the forefront of their consciousness is different. These secondary material activities are performed as a matter of fact, with the ultimate aim being the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. In this way, one makes spiritual progress while eliminating the root cause of pollution. In reality, even the pollution itself is purified due to its utility. For example, if someone drives their car to a temple or to travel to a holy place of pilgrimage, the resulting pollution then becomes purified since it is part of bhakti-yoga. Air is only dirty if it is harmful to our achievement of the ultimate purpose. If our ultimate aim in life is to enjoy the senses, then air pollution certainly represents an impediment. However, if our ultimate aim is to satisfy Krishna, then even something like air pollution becomes tolerable if it is unintentionally generated through acts of devotion.

These concepts may seem a little hard to grasp at first, but those who have practiced bhakti-yoga for a long time can certainly attest to their validity. God consciousness is something that has to be developed; it cannot be acquired solely through intense study. We have to put in the time to see the benefits. Once these benefits are realized, one will see that the proponents of bhakti-yoga are certainly correct in their assessments of pollution and how to deal with it. By following the prescriptions of the bhaktas, we can carry out our day-to-day activities by putting the mind on autopilot, thus leaving our consciousness free to contemplate on spiritual matters.

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