Last month a cover of New Scientist had emblazoned on its cover, “Move over nature, we’re taking control” Interesting, I thought. Have they discovered some way of checking the force of hurricanes? Could it be that we will no longer have to fear earthquakes and floods? Alas no, the article in question spoke only about that other great evil faced by man: sleep. Apparently science is developing drugs that can control our need for somnolence. “In 10 to 20 years we’ll be able to pharmacologically turn sleep off,” said Russell Foster, a biologist at Imperial College London, quoted in the article.
This is the main aim of modern science – to circumvent the conditions of nature. Not just sleep of course, but everything that impedes our ability to enjoy; to somehow overcome all diseases, stop the aging process, and eventually defeat even death. Recently another scientist, working in genetics, announced he was close to discovering how the aging process could be slowed to the point where we might live for a thousand years. Well, at least the mortgage will be more manageable.
But behind all the bold claims, just how successful will the scientific method prove? Interestingly, during the same week the New Scientist article appeared, Professor Woolhouse, an epidemiologist from the University of Edinburgh, addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. He revealed the disturbing fact that new diseases are emerging at an exceptional rate. He admitted that scientists were struggling to keep on top of them. “We’re going to have to run as fast as we can to stay in the same place,” said Professor Woolhouse.
Scientific efforts to defeat death have fared no better, of course. Death and taxes remain the two certainties in an uncertain world. And according to Vedic wisdom, no amount of scientific or material effort will ever overcome the stringent conditions of this world. Despite the audacious assertions of some scientists, we cannot overcome nature because it is not ours to control. Indeed we are subject to the very same power that controls it: the Supreme Lord.
An atheistic scientist once spoke with Srila Prabhupada, questioning God’s existence and suggesting that nature was the cause of everything. Prabhupada replied, “Does nature exist alone? You speak of nature, but whose nature is it? Just like I can say to you, ‘This is my nature, to ask questions.’ So here is a very big nature and my question is, whose nature is it?
In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna tells us it his. He says, “This material nature, which is one of my energies, is working under my direction.” If we do not recognise this truth all our efforts to triumph over nature will ultimately fail and she will crush us. This is what we are seeing. We have advanced technology in an attempt to improve the conditions of life, but now we see an environmental crisis looming. One of its chief causes is the motorcar, but how well has this helped us overcome life’s problems? Now we have to work very hard to get money to pay for them, only to spend hours in traffic jams, or suffer all kinds of injuries in accidents. Then when they break down we have yet more headaches. And all for what? Prabhupada pointed out, “The dog runs on four legs and you run on four wheels. So where is your improvement?”
As for the various wonder drugs being touted today, we all know how these often have so many side effects. On one packet of over-the-counter medicine I recently purchased I saw the following warning, “may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea, stiffness, indigestion, dizziness and blurred vision.” Overdoses of many common drugs can result in fatality. We’ve all heard of thalidomide, the one they couldn’t hide, and now there are reports suggesting that great liberator, the contraceptive pill, may be carcinogenic. I hate to think what side effects will eventually be discovered from these new sleep-controlling drugs (apart from bags under the eyes).
It is the same in all areas of life. One Vaishnava saint said that our so-called material solutions are often worse than the problems they try to solve. This is called illusion. As Prabhupada says, “The illusion is that we are all trying to be lords of material nature, while actually we are under the grip of her stringent laws.”
Overcoming nature is only possible by God’s grace. When we surrender to him we can “easily cross beyond it.” The Lord will at once release us. This is the intelligent course. Rather than trying to defeat the painful conditions of life so we can stay here forever, better to recognise that we don’t belong here anyway, take shelter of the Lord, and get right out. No pills needed for that, thank God.[ dharma ] [ disease ] [ karma ] [ nature ] [ sleep ]