Alternative Ways of Living

By Sesa Das for ISKCON News on 1 Sep 2010

In the Vedic sciences sound vibration is the most crucial element. It is through sound vibration that knowledge is transmitted and received. Sound vibration is the method for keeping our bodies healthy, and for transforming the physical world around us. Indeed, according to the ancient Vedas, sound vibration is so powerful that it is credited with both the creation and destruction of this material world.

Times BuildingIn the Vedic sciences sound vibration is the most crucial element. It is through sound vibration that knowledge is transmitted and received. Sound vibration is the method for keeping our bodies healthy, and for transforming the physical world around us. Indeed, according to the ancient Vedas, sound vibration is so powerful that it is credited with both the creation and destruction of this material world.

In the course of his efforts to spread Krishna Consciousness, or love of God, Srila Prabhupada emphasized hearing as the best way to know God. When challenged, “Can you show me God,” in reply he would stress the importance of sound vibration, “Of course you may say, “Well, I do not see Him,” but why do we put so much stress on seeing? Why not hearing? Seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, and hearing are all instruments for experience and knowledge. Why do we put such exclusive stress on seeing? A devotee does not wish to see Krishna; he is satisfied by simply hearing of Krishna. Seeing may eventually be there, but hearing should not be considered any less important. There are things which we hear but do not see—the wind may be whistling past our ears, and we can hear it, but there is no possibility of seeing the wind. Since hearing is no less an important experience or valid one than seeing, we can hear Krishna and realize His presence through sound.”

When Srila Prabhupada first arrived at Boston Harbor on September 18, 1965 he faced the daunting task of changing the direction of Western civilization. His only asset was sound vibration. Describing himself as “the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar,” he wrote, “Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vasudeva. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.” Yet, by January 1977 Srila Prabhupada spoke of how future historians would look back and note “this period,” the years he spent transmitting “the transcendental message of Vasudeva” in the West, as a major turning point in the course of world history. Srila Prabhupada described how the world would be changed as an “historical renaissance.”

So, what’s the proof of this historical renaissance? Where will future historians be able to see evidence that Vedic sound vibration made such a difference? While it is true that Srila Prabhupada created a vibrant Hare Krishna movement with thousands of devotees all over the world which continues to expand today, numbers-wise the movement can hardly be credited with changing the course of civilization. However, if we examine the development of alternative ways of living that are starting to emerge in society at large we can get a glimpse of what Srila Prabhupada means by “historical renaissance.”

The “transcendental message of Vasudeva” Srila Prabhupada delivered contained both factual knowledge of God, as well as instructions on how to live a life conducive to God realization. He continually stress three points, (1) we are eternal spiritual beings, not this material body, who have life beyond the present body; (2) civilization based upon cruelty, i.e. animal slaughter, is conducive neither to peace and prosperity nor awakening our spiritual nature; and (3) so-called technological advancement will never make us happy.

These three alternative ways of living have taken root in Western civilization and can be seen exactly where future historians will go looking for such evidence, in today’s newspaper. Even as we get deeper into the internet age, we shouldn’t underestimate the influence newspapers. Newspapers both reflect what is going on in a society and attempt to shape public opinion in a society.

Let’s consider the New York Times. There is no more influential newspaper in America. Even though the New York Times is as establishment as you can get among the major media outlets in the world, they regularly lend their voice to exploring, nay endorsing, all three of the alternative ways of living Srila Prabhupada taught. Here are three recent examples.

#1 Reincarnation

On Saturday, August 28, 2010 the New York Times ran an extensive article on the front page of its Fashion & Style Section entitled, Remembrances of Lives Past. Although the article focused on debate amongst medical professionals on the value belief in reincarnation offers to patients in therapy, the piece dealt fairly with the religious origins of reincarnations and the practical benefits belief in reincarnation offers to therapy patients and religious seekers alike.

The article, which features a picture of Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, states:

“Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, Columbia University’s first Hindu chaplain, called it [reincarnation] “a re-do,” like a test you get to take over. After an unspecified number of tries, the eternal soul finally achieves perfection. Only then, in what Hindus call moksha (or release), does the soul go to live with God. “SPIRITUALLY minded Americans have had a love affair with Eastern religion at least since the Beatles traveled to India in 1968, but for more than a
generation, reincarnation remained a fringe or even shameful belief.

“I can remember, 30 years ago, if a person wanted to learn about reincarnation, they would go into a bookstore and go into a very back corner, to a section called ‘Occult,’ ” said Janet Cunningham, president of the International Board for Regression Therapy, a professional standards group for past-life therapists
and researchers. “It felt sneaky.” Now the East is in our backyards, accessible on the Internet and in every yoga studio.

“At the same time, Western religion is failing to satisfy growing numbers of people — especially young adults. College students Mr. Dasa encounters, most of them raised as Christians or Jews, “haven’t given up on the idea of spirituality or religion,” he said. “They’re tired of the dogma they grew up with.” According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of Americans express no affiliation with any religious tradition, nearly double the number in 1990.”

#2 Vegetarianism

Since 1983 the New York Times has published 256 articles about vegetarianism. The newspaper ran a news article entitled, Stop Eating Meat and Save the Planet?” on January 24, 2010 which featured a photos of ex-Beatle and long-time vegetarian Paul McCartney:

“Speaking at the European Parliament in early December, Paul McCartney, a former member of the Beatles, said there was an urgent need to do something about meat production, not only because of its effects on the climate but also because of related issues like deforestation and ensuring secure supplies of water.
Mr. McCartney, who has long advocated vegetarianism, urged European legislators to support policies like encouraging citizens to refrain from eating meat for one day a week, something that he said could become as commonplace as recycling or cars that run on hybrid technology.

Civil servants in the Belgian city of Ghent and schoolchildren in Baltimore already observe a meat-free day each week, he said.”

Later in April 2010 the New York Times ran another news article describing how governments now support vegetarianism entitled, California: If It’s Monday, It’s Veggies:

“Tuesday was a good day for vegetables — and San Franciscans who love them — as the city’s Board of Supervisors passed a nonbinding resolution declaring every Monday as “meat-free.” The resolution, sponsored by Supervisor Sophie Maxell, a vegetarian, urges restaurants, stores and schools to offer “plant-based options” every Monday to improve the general civic health. Ms. Maxwell tied the measure to the fight against global warning and said it would “encourage citizens to choose vegetarian foods as a way to protect the planet and their health.” The board also passed a nonbinding resolution commending businesses that use only cage-free eggs. Ms. Maxwell invited the entire board to her office “for a vegetarian treat.”

256 articles, all of which reflect a level of acceptance significantly different from a 1906 editorial in which the New York Times took the position that, “We have not heard that vegetarianism, that silliest of hygienic fads and fancies, has been making any very great progress of late, and had supposed that other and more exciting forms of nonsense had taken its place.”

#3 Technology and Happiness

Perhaps the greatest lure that technology presents is the idea that it will make us happy. During August 2010 the New York Times decided to test this contention by conducting a reader participation exercise called The Unplugged Challenge. The newspaper asked for volunteers to willingly give up technology for a period of time of their choice and to tell the newspaper about their experience. Here are some comments from those who participated:

Lesley said she experienced freedom from the clock on her cell phone. She felt like she had more time for herself, and described being unplugged from her cell phone for 72 hours as incredible.

Jason took the challenge because he wanted to see how he would change as an individual, whether he would feel agitated when he went unplugged. He found being unplugged made him less distracted and able to be more engaged and attentive with other people. Overall he found it to be a pleasant and fulfilling experience.

Rupa found that her internet use had become an uncontrollable impulse by which she devalued other activities that didn’t involve her laptop. Being unplugged from the internet for one week she experienced more focus and pleasure in other activities, and she developed a desire to be more tangibly engaged with the world.

John said he was less stressed, calmer, and less distracted. He said he got his time back.

Jean was happy and decided to permanently limit her use of the internet.

The bottom line of The Unplugged Challenge seems to be that technology may be necessary, but it doesn’t make us happy. Rather it is freedom from technology that makes us happy, and so perhaps we need to question its necessity.

These three alternative ways of living are seeds of the historical renaissance Srila Prabhupada spoke of, ideas that lead Western civilization in a very different direction than it has been proceeding for the last three hundred years. While the New York Times is not yet preaching pure love of God, the newspaper is creating a record of evidence by which future historians will discover the genesis of the change in West civilization, the alternative ways of living that can aid the transformation of our consciousness, and are a necessary step on the path to love of God. That genesis will be found in the power of Vedic sound vibration.

Posted in Editorials.