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Samsara in California

By: for So Its Happens on Sept. 19, 2009
Opinion
Photo Credits: From Ravindra Svarupa's Blog
Los Angeles at night. Fires burn in background.

As I write, California burns. Multiple wildfires continue to afflict the land.


California! For so long the migratory terminus of American dreams, her own Hollywood gave those dreams back to the world crafted in dazzling pageants of lights and shadows that seemed more real than reality itself. Yet California herself now suffers under multiply woes, most of them, like the Los Angeles fires, self-inflicted.


The state’s budgetary mess has become the stuff of legend, and the one-time paragon of material progress seems on the descent toward third-world status. Yet the main engine of decline is the state’s own electorate, captivated by the spell of an ancient error, described in Vedic literature as “the fallacy of half a hen,” ardha-kukkuá¹­Ä«-nyāya.


A man cherishes the egg-producing end of his hen, but resents the expense of providing for the other end, the mouth which eats. He thinks he’ll do better if he cuts off the eating end. By various referendums the voters have radically circumscribed the states ability to tax, but still want the state to provide benefits. Even their Hollywood superhero governor cannot save them by conjuring something from nothing.


Ah, the material world.


Now California illustrates another ancient Vedic trope: This world as wildfire.


THE METAPHOR OF THE WILDFIRE


Should we find ourselves at some time surrounded by a monstrous wildfire, we are doomed; there is no way out for us. So the uncontrollable conflagration of a wildfire or forest fire becomes used as an apt emblem for our factual state in this world: Death surrounds and engulfs us, and there is no escape.


Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu uses the Sanskrit compound bhava-mahā-dāvāgni: Bhava, material existence, is a huge (mahā), forest fire (dāvāgni). He says that saṅkīrtana, the cultivation of the divine names in association of devotees, causes the extinction (nirvāpanam) of the fire.


Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhakura develops this imagery. Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka, he writes. Saṁsāra, the unending cycle of birth and death in which we are trapped, is like a forest fire, dāva-anala, that consumes (līḍha) the whole world (loka).


If we are trapped in a huge conflagration, no human agency may rescue us. Yet should the clouds open above and pour down rain, we are saved. Therefore, Viśvanātha Ṭhakura writes that the Vaiṣṇava guru is like a cloud heavy with rain (ghanāghanatvam) whose downpour of mercy (kāruṇya) obliterates the all-consuming fires of saṁsāra.


The image of this world as an all-devouring fire should be kept in mind. The Vedic sages advise us to see this world as it is. Kṛṣṇa notes that those who are great souls (mahātmas) understand this world as duḥkhālayam (full of suffering) and aśāśvatam (temporary).


To those dedicated to preserving their illusions, the sober realism of the wise looks like pessimism.


A California scene: In 1970, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a huge crowd of counter-youth gathers for Rathyatra. Prabhupāda—coming like the raincloud—praises them for their frustration and discontent:


In this country especially, in all other countries also, the younger generation are not very satisfied. In your country, they say that the frustrated community, the confused community, the hippies. But I have got all sympathy for these frustrated community, everywhere. They should be frustrated. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is said that athāto brahma jijñāsā. This human form of life should feel frustration. If he does not feel frustration, then it is animal life. The symptom of human life is that he should be very much pessimistic, not optimistic, of this material world. Then there is path of liberation. And if we think that we are very much happy here, that is called illusion, māyā. Nobody is actually happy here. But if anyone wrongly thinks that he is happy, that is called māyā, illusion.


So my request to you, those who are feeling frustration, confused, this is a good qualification. Good qualification in this sense: that those who are feeling frustration and confused, they are disgusted with this materialistic way of life. That is a good qualification for spiritual advancement. But if you are not properly guided, then that will be another frustration. That will be another frustration. To save you from that frustration, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement has come to your country, Lord Caitanya’s movement.


We are being devoured by the all consuming flames of saṁsāra, yet we think we are safe.


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