By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Lecture given in Hyderabad, December 17, 1976
The most learned members of society should show others by example how to live peacefully and become Krishna conscious.
It’s 7:00 P.M., and I’ve been driving for more than an hour. As I head home from work along Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, I’m caught in the usual evening traffic jam. Like the car ahead of me, my car starts, stops, and starts again. While my car moves slowly, my mind races. I do mental mathematics with the number on the car plate in front of me. The traffic keeps building up all around me, and I feel miserable, hopeless, and sick.
Despite the crowd outside, a strange loneliness engulfs me. In these hours of solitude, when my thoughts are my only companion, I become a philosopher; I turn my life upside down and reflect.
All around me is a sea of cars, the latest models of Pajeroes, Mercedes, BMWs, Land Cruisers, sports cars, and others competing with one another to get a few feet ahead. But what’s the use of the latest and jazziest cars when they’re forced to move so slowly that even a bullock cart puts them to shame? Material nature seems to conspire to nullify man’s inventions. And why should she not? Modern developments have distressed nature, with pollution, perversion, and calamity everywhere.
I feel suffocated. I want to run out of my car to freedom. But I am hopelessly bound; I am not free.
And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Hundreds of thousands like me in this city and hundreds of millions around the world stoically go through this ordeal every day.
The Traffic Jams of Everyday Life
We take traffic jams to be part of life, of civilized living, the subject of long discussions in our living rooms. We’re frustrated. We see the need for unified action to improve the situation, but who will do it?
I’m moved by a desire to express our collective resentment. Thoughts that don’t find words flood my mind. My anger and frustration garble all expression.
I’m in a situation my physics teacher in college would refer to as “diarrhea of thought and constipation of expression.” I remember him teaching physics like an artist. In his teaching, the arts and science mixed into one coherent whole. I would remain transfixed in the class, mesmerized by the way he would handle complex topics such as wave dynamics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics like an opera maestro waving a wand to the musical crescendo.
I rarely experienced anything like that till I read Srila Prabhupada’s books. In his books Prabhupada has dealt in a unique yet simple way with diverse topics like science, metaphysics, philosophy, the arts, spirituality, music, language, and literature—taking us beyond this world into a transcendental realm where all boundaries vanish. The reader is moved, fascinated, and convinced.
Our Desires Cause Our Bondage
I’m transported to my days in college when it was my ardent desire to study in the US and drive on American highways. I did eventually drive on American highways, but without the thrill I’d expected.
When fulfilled, our material desires fail to satisfy us. The objects of our desires pale in comparison to the mental picture we have of them. In fact, my experience in life has taught me that no material objects please us, even though our mind fantasizes on the pleasures of obtaining them. Once got, the real thing does not excite us anymore. It falls into our routine.
I now realize the futility of my wish to drive on good roads. Dubai’s roads are as good as America’s, but driving on them is now the cause of my pain. My desires have me suffering like a caged bird inside the car. I could have been free, but now I have to suffer to enjoy the fulfillment of my earlier wishes.
The Lord, being merciful, grants our wishes, one after another. And because we are dissatisfied, we keep asking for more. We think we will ultimately be gratified, but we are not. Sometimes we spend many lifetimes fulfilling one desire after another, forgetting the real meaning of life. The Lord is generous, providing us with different bodies, cars, and other toys to play with. When will we realize the ultimate futility of material progress and care for our spiritual enlightenment?
From Boon to Cause of Trouble
One of man’s greatest inventions, the car, is also one of his greatest banes. We started out excited to be able to travel great distances quickly, but that’s no longer a thrill, but a routine drudgery. Like other inventions, we thought the car would remove toil from our lives, but it has only aggravated our condition.
True, we don’t have to walk miles like our forefathers, but the car has brought with it a new set of problems. Our ability to travel fast and far has made it necessary for us to travel fast and far for things as mundane or routine as working, shopping, eating, and socializing. Our neighbors are strangers. We dislike what’s locally available and travel great distances for alternatives. We may fool ourselves into believing this is progress, but in the ultimate analysis it is sheer stupidity. The advantage of the car has been lost because we do not know how to use this great boon judiciously. And our attraction to the car leads to global warming, wide-scale wars, and conflicts that threaten our existence.
Beautiful Buildings Hide a Sordid Tale
I look at the buildings around me. Tall, imposing structures, with bright neon lights give a sparkling color to Dubai, a marvel of the modern mind. This is the place where the world comes to shop and tour. All the open spaces are gone, replaced by state-of-the-art buildings. A desert has been transformed into one of the most modern cities, complete with all the latest amenities and services and their attendant virtues and vices.
I see the beautiful and majestic buildings competing with one another, but do they bring about a feeling of greatness in my mind or anyone else’s? While the builders and the promoters boast of constructing such marvels on earth, my heart goes out to the hapless workers who toil hard daily for little money, inadequately compensated for the inconveniences and risks they take.
I see these workers, most of them from other countries, herded onto buses that transport them from and to their pitiable living quarters. They look curiously and sorrowfully out of the bus windows. They have many pressing issues on their mind. They are busy fending for themselves and worrying about their near and dear ones in their own country, trying to save something so their kith and kin can live a little better.
The Light of the Scriptures
I think of Lord Krishna’s answer to Brahma prayers: