“The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.23)
“Should I move to the electric car? I’m not happy with the carbon footprint I’m currently leaving. The office I work at is thirty-five miles away from my home, so I could use a car with better gas mileage. In addition, I’d be comforted knowing that my trips to work aren’t using up valuable resources, that the burden upon the fragile economy is lessened to a degree by my smart decision. Perhaps this new hybrid car, which requires an electrical charge, is the answer. And if I take this bold move, perhaps others will follow suit. In this way, we can all change the world for the better.”
With the torchlight of knowledge shone brightly from the Vedas and their bona fide teachers, the many flaws in the above logic are exposed. This isn’t pointed out due to jealousy or miserliness. It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize someone else. It takes no intelligence whatsoever, just observation. “Oh look at that person! Remember when they yelled at that little kid the other day? Sure they were having a bad day, and they only snapped for a second, but still, how could they act like that? Oh, and remember when they didn’t say ‘hi’ to you when you walked by them. I tell you, they are not nice at all. They have so many flaws.”
The fault-finding of the truly wise souls has a purpose, and a positive one at that. If you correct real mistakes, you can find real answers. The electric car and other inventions that look for alternative sources of energy are themselves a type of correction, an attempted one at least. But when the real problem is unknown, how can the right solution be found? To tackle the issue head on, the properties of the spirit soul must be known, along with its tendencies when encased in matter. Combine the association of other similarly encased souls and you have similar tendencies followed by an unimaginable number of autonomous creatures.
In the above hypothetical scenario, shifting to a new type of vehicle is for easing the burden on fuel when driving to work. We see that the trip to the office is the constant factor. That issue is not being addressed; we still have to travel such a great distance to earn a living. From the constant factor we see that the fuel problem is but a symptom of a larger issue. Whatever mode of transportation we adopt, if the objective we are supporting is the same, we will require a source of fuel. And if that objective requires daily indulgence, refueling is a must.
You can think of it in even simpler terms. You can change what you eat every day, but regardless you must eat. Food is required to keep the body moving. No matter how you alter your diet, the energy within the body must be present. Therefore whatever it is that is producing the food needs to keep working. Whether I eat a banana every morning or a bowl of yogurt, that food must be produced through some other work. And as long as my body continues to act, that food must appear before me every day.
The long distance trip to the office is a common symptom of the modern advanced economy, or that which is also known as progress. “How can you be against cars, computers, cellular telephones, airplanes, and other such wonderful inventions? Think of how much they have improved our lives. Why would you want to stop progress?” There is certainly progress in terms of ingenuity. The standard of living is also increased. Living with an air conditioner is much more comfortable than sitting in your steaming hot room in the summer months. Relying on the oil truck to deliver home heating oil to you in the morning is much easier than going out to the forest in the bitter cold to find firewood.
But each new invention is two-sided, as duality is par for the course in the land we inhabit. Sure, the automobile is terrific at what it does, as it allows us to now travel great distances in a short amount of time. Because of this new ability, we can live far away from the office, the place where we earn a living. Ah, but the living is the more important factor. The advanced lifestyle must be supported. No longer will a simple farm cut it. You have to either start your own business or work for someone else. That someone else must produce a good or a service for a profit; otherwise they will not stay in business long. Despite what the less intelligent might think, people don’t start businesses to create jobs. There is a passion to produce something, and if it can be produced and sold for a profit, the jobs come automatically, as the extra labor helps to increase production, which thereby also increases overall profit.
As the buying habits of the consumer are ever-changing and difficult to predict, it is rare for a business to stay continuously profitable for a long time. Since there is open competition, not only can the consumer choose between different products, but the workers can choose between different companies to work for. The result is constant shift in employment, adding further reliance to the trusted mode of transportation.
What all this means is that regardless of the fuel source, it is the trip to work, the desire to sustain “progress”, that will keep the engines pumping. Whether I drive my car to work or take a bike is really of no concern when the aim is to satisfy the senses. The spirit soul is a lover of God at the core, but without confidence of this fact, the conditioned soul will seek to satisfy the senses first. In this area satiation is short-lived, so repeated indulgence on an increasing scale of magnitude is required.
The concept of progress itself validates this fact. In days past you could live on a farm, get milk from the cows, have many children and relatives for companions, and be at peace. Why travel so far to work when you can get up and produce the food you need with your own hands? Why have your family separated from you when they can all live on the same property, with enough elbow room to keep everyone happy? Why require the cell phone to talk to someone so many miles away when all the important people in your life can be in close proximity?
Through progress in technology, the human being turns into a less efficient machine, requiring more energy to reach the same level of happiness that can be found through a simple lifestyle. And the problems never stop either. The car is great, but then there are the oil and pollution problems. You get the electric car, but now you need to charge it in your home. And that charge is not simple either. Some cars require a complicated charging system, and the charging must take place regularly, as the total mileage available from a full charge is pathetic compared to what gasoline can provide.
And of course new problems would be introduced should everyone switch to electric cars. The reliance on energy would still exist, as nothing is changed with respect to fruitive activity, which is known as karma in the Vedic tradition. Karma is an engine that requires fuel, and the human being desperately seeking cherished fruits will find some way to get that energy. If they should be pricked by the many thorns on the trees providing the fruits to feed karmic activity, the pain is considered worth it.
The Creator provides more than enough fuel to meet life’s basic necessities. If you don’t believe this, just look at how much food is produced in the United States alone. Other areas of the world have much more area available for farming, but in America the desire for profit and the advanced machinery allow for enough food to be produced to feed the entire world. The original source of that food is the seeds in the earth, which comes from the Creator. The rain is also necessary for food production, and no nation is responsible for producing that.
Just as the worker is given the fuel required for karmic activity, so the transcendentalist seeking true ananda, or bliss, is given the necessary energy to complete their tasks. Karma is shunned by three types of transcendentalists, namely the jnani, the yogi, and the bhakta. The jnani is a philosopher who speculates on the meaning of life. The yogi is a mystic who looks for enhanced personal abilities through meditation. The bhakta is the devotee who can follow the actions of any of the other three classes. The devotee can seemingly engage in fruitive activity, mental speculation, or meditation, but since their acts are dovetailed with service to the Supreme Lord, the results are not the same. And neither are the same pitfalls borne of duality present.
“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.19)
In bhakti-yoga the divine master kindly offers His personal intervention. The neural network of reactions attached to karma are guided in the right direction, along the path towards emancipation in devotional surrender. As the aim is changed, no longer is the fuel required only for maintaining sense enjoyment. Instead, all the dependencies focus on worshiping God, which means that the negative turns to positive. The burden becomes a source of pleasure. The philosophical speculation turns into a fruitful mental exercise on how to find new ways to glorify God, whose wonderful attributes are limitless. The meditation turns into a way to better focus on those attributes, to feel the pleasure of knowing that there is a Supreme Lord and that He is on the side of those who are devoted to Him.
The real treasure of that devotion is the ability to constantly think of Him, which automatically produces good qualities in the worshiper. The devotees become good stewards of the environment, and through their example they show others the way out of the doldrums of material existence. And the best model they set is through the regular recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
To the electric car should I make the switch,
Do good for the environment without a hitch?
Less gasoline to be used by my hybrid,
My massive carbon footprint I will rid.
But know that fuel required for karma’s engine,
Reliance on work for pleasure real tension.
Take same energy and use for God worship,
Then becomes a time for yoga your office trip.
Supreme Lord gives devotee all that they need,
Do good for all when this lesson you heed.