Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York

September 13th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

“The drowning man is not troubled by rain” (Persian Proverb)

We worry about such trivial things. In the face of calamity such worries seem petty. The Bhagavatam teaches that we are always facing impending disaster?that everyman is “the man who is about to die”? and thus our daily worries are always trifling.

The Bhagavad Gita says that the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. Does that mean devotees are callous to suffering? No. However, we do not lament for the inevitable. Dying is inevitable no matter what form it takes. What we do lament for is the real cause of suffering – identification with the body due to ignorance. Out of compassion we therefore try to enlighten others with real knowledge.

Some devotees asked if we should volunteer to help with the rescue effort in New York or perform other welfare work. They cited the example of Cardinal Egan of the Roman Catholic Church who was immediately at St Vincent’s Hospital, the main trauma center, lending his support. It is a religious principle to help save life and devotees should not be callous (see SB 10.1.48). It is a principle of devotional service that one should not give unnecessary pain to any living entity (see devotional principle eighteen in the Nectar of Devotion). Bhakti requires a soft heart, so we should be cautious to avoid coldness in the name of brahma jnana (introspection and philosophy). Srila Bhaktisiddanta thus instructed his grhastha disciples not to pass a beggar in need without giving them something. We are not needed, however, in New York to be rescuers of the body. We suffer for the pain of others and perform the more important duty of comforting and enlightening people with real knowledge.

A prominent NY psychologist advises, “People are in trauma because they are losing control of their lives. They need to sense some certainly in life, a situation where they can again sense that they are in control of their lives. They should be with their families and loved ones.”

I appreciate his sentiments from a standpoint of psychology, but it is a shallow view of reality. Are people ever in control of their lives? Doesn’t attachment to family just foster the illusion that this temporary life full of misery is our eternal position? Sukadeva Goswami advises:

“Persons devoid of atma-tattva do not inquire into the problems of life, being too attached to the fallible soldiers like the body, children and wife. Although sufficiently experienced, they still so not see their inevitable destruction.” (SB 2.1.4)

A devotee offered me an interesting theory on how newspapers in New York correspond with the four varnas (occupational duties). The Times is for brahmanas and ksatriyas, the Wall Street Journal for vaisyas, the Daily News for the sudras, and the Post for the untouchables. It’s an amusing theory.

It was hard to find a newspaper today as delivery trucks are not allowed below 14th street. A friend could only find the NY Post. I listened and thought about my friend’s theory as he shared some excerpts from their main editorial condemning terrorism and recommending action in the language of the common New Yorker.

America bleeds. This is war. It needs to be prosecuted as such. The men behind the men who rained havoc on New York and Washington need to be called to account. The heavens need to fall on their heads. They need to bleed. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Cast a wide enough net, and you’ll catch the fish that need catching. And it is inconceivable that American Military intelligence – working with allies like Britain and Israel – doesn’t know where the big fish run. So locate them. Pinpoint them. Bomb them. And then bomb their smoldering rubble – one more time! They believe that they are on a fast track to Heaven. Which is fine. Dispatch enough of them on the journey with no return, and this war will end quickly enough. Bombs away.

I saw today the transcript of a lecture that His Holiness Radhantha Swami gave two days ago. It was a very brilliant and balanced exposition on the situation. Not discounting the appropriate proper military response to the terrorists, his lecture pinpointed the real cause of crime and terrorism – hate and envy in the heart. In that sense we all must share the blame for the tragedy.

I really appreciate Maharaja’s analysis. It’s something we may not want at this time to preach outside, but we cannot forget that collective sinful activity is the ultimate cause of calamity. The appropriate response to what happened can be viewed from different levels. I reflect on something I remember hearing Srila Prabhupada say from the standpoint of Varnasrama in terms of the duty of a statesman response to terrorism.

When some American soldiers were attacked in Cambodia 30 years ago, Srila Prabhupada was asked what the proper response would be. Reflecting in the mood of ksatriya leader he said something like, “If America became Krishna consciousness they would say, ‘If you harm one hair on the head of our man there will be fight!”

In conclusion we are all responsible. As long as sin and hate remain in our hearts there will be sinful reactions and disaster. The best response to calamity is to cleanse one’s heart….. and then kill those bastards!

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