“Human civilization is meant for purifying the senses, and objects of sense satisfaction should be supplied as much as absolutely required, but not for aggravating artificial sensory needs. Food, shelter, defense and sense gratification are all needs in material existence. Otherwise, in his pure, uncontaminated state of original life, the living entity has no such needs. The needs are therefore artificial, and in the pure state of life there are no such needs. As such, increasing the artificial needs, as is the standard of material civilization, or advancing the economic development of human society, is a sort of engagement in darkness, without knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.30 Purport)
Which side is correct, science or religion? Are they mutually exclusive? Can you be in both camps? In the authorized science of self-realization passed down since time immemorial, originating with the first guru, the teacher of all teachers, nothing is rejected outright. Consciousness is what really counts, and whichever path brings the individual back to the original consciousness is recommended.
“Does that answer the question about scientific advancements? What about the automobile? How about the television? Are these things good or bad? We’ve heard spiritual leaders criticize these things as the devil’s handiwork. They say that society is headed towards hell precisely because of these things. Look at what’s happened with the smartphone. When you’re at a restaurant, no one is looking at each other. They all have their heads down, checking their phones. How can that be a good thing? Then you have the professional video game players, who are seemingly rewarded for being totally antisocial.”
Material advancement basically means convenience. Instead of heading to the riverbank to clean your clothes every day, you have a machine in your house. Instead of drafting a letter by hand and placing it in the mailbox, you send a text message that gets delivered instantly. Instead of going to the cinema hall to watch the latest release, you download the same on your tablet computer and watch at your leisure. Instead of calling for a horse-drawn carriage, you get in your automobile that has the power equivalent of many horses.
The issue is enlightenment. Does convenience equal enlightenment? The human birth is meant for realization of the self, advancement of the consciousness. Whether a person gets their meal from a fast food restaurant or after cooking in their home really makes no difference. Whether you sleep on a memory foam mattress or on the floor does not matter so much in the morning. The experience is basically forgotten.
Enlightenment is the way to evaluate consciousness. What is your vision like? Do you know who you are? Do you know why you are on this earth? Do you know that there are so many different species? Do you consider one race to be superior? Do you think that women are inherently worse than men or vice versa? Material advancement does not address these issues. It has little value. Convenience does not automatically equal enlightenment.
There is also the saying that for every convenience there is an inconvenience. The recently introduced term of “first world problem” conveys a similar idea. In times past there was no washing machine, but there was also no repair of it. People living twenty years ago did not have to worry about a software update breaking the functionality of their phone. They did not get frustrated over a temporary loss of WIFI signal.
For these reasons spiritual teachers do not put much stock in material advancement. It is not necessary for advancement of the consciousness. At the same time, it needn’t be tossed aside entirely. After all, the intelligence in man comes from God. We know that a baby will eventually learn to crawl, walk and talk. No one programmed the baby; the intelligence was already there.
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
There is a way to appreciate material advancement from the spiritual perspective. Technology proves that man has at least a portion of the much greater intelligence belonging to the original person. That person’s handiwork is flawless. The sun is one example. There is no software update for the sun. The sun does not stop working for no reason on a given day. Material nature has properties so well-defined that man foolishly thinks it can alter things like the weather through studying those properties.
Religion and science can exist side by side. Religion without philosophy is sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. The mind can be the friend of the living entity and its enemy as well. The same goes for that on which the mind contemplates. The invention of the tablet computer can be used to look at disturbing images or it can be used to study the science of self-realization, as taught by the prominent teachers of this age. The petroleum extracted from the ground can be used to race cars on the street or it can be used to travel from village to village to help enlighten others about their true position.
Everyone is spirit soul, transcendental to the matter surrounding them. Science is interested in the material, after all, and the material is not what identifies us. We are spiritual beings, but in ignorance we think otherwise. Enlightenment in this age is found easiest through sound. The sound from the original teacher has been preserved in books, but in the fever of maintaining today’s conveniences even reading is rare. Fortunately, the same potent sound is found within the name of the origin of everything. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, may not seem like anything advanced, but it can bring the enlightenment that no scientific discovery can.
Despite science’s most amazing discovery,
No guarantee of spiritual identity’s recovery.
Conveniences today many there are,
But enlightenment still in the distance far.
Does not mean that all objects to shun,
Put to proper use, for knowing God done.
Enlightenment best coming through sound,
Even in darkness Supreme again found.