Theres’s something charming about writing letters to your local newspaper in this internet age. I suppose no one actually writes letters but sends e-mails but still. Most of the newspapers have plenty of space for comments on their websites but also keep “Letters to the editor” section, out of respect for tradition, I guess. There are plenty of correspondents, too, and the general level of conversation is a couple notches better than in cheap, throwaway comments, it’s moderated much heavier, lots of letters get rejected, and so all in all it appears much more civil than anything else you read on the internet.
Not that the arguments themselves are any better, just better worded, often wittier, and more charming overall. It’s also probably the only space for people with love for old-fashioned prose to showcase their verbosity. They have no place on twitter, obviously, and would be laughed off any pure internet platform, letter section is exactly what they need to survive and I, for one, am glad that the humanity hasn’t lost one of its species completely yet.
In short, I like reading it.
The other day someone rekindled the old vegetarian debate in my local paper and added a somewhat new dimension to it. Usually it was about two sides listing various studies and statistics to prove their point but this time a meat eater added a bit of his own experience with a twist.
He had written that he just completed a two weak meditation retreat where they were fed “rabbit food” and it taught him one important lesson – vegetarian diet makes meat tastes even better, especially when paired with good wine.
I was incensed, I might even write a reply, though we have enough outspoken vegetarians to refute arguments like that, but then I realized that I was still thinking in clichés.
It’s okay to call our diet “rabbit food”, it’s a cheap shot that shouldn’t register with devotees at all. Vegans with their kale, carrots, and soy substitutes for everything are a better target. I, myself, hate soy milk, it tastes like paper and I like reading mine in the morning, not having it blended into a shake. That’s how they make soymilk, I understand – grind beans into powder and then mix it with water, but I digress.
This reaction from a meateater is actually a good case study in learning how karma works.
The main point that he made, even if unspoken, was that he ate his steak but the Earth didn’t open up and swallowed him, so it’s okay. This is the very first and totally expected reaction from both meateaters and vegetarians alike – karma is supposed to punish these sins and since it doesn’t it either doesn’t exist or eating meat is not sinful. Vegetarian answer to this problem is patience and statistics, not necessarily a deeper thought into the nature of karma as a law.
First of all, there WILL be punishment of some kind. Every actions brings a reaction, what we eat influences our life in many different ways. We can’t prove that there’s a hell awaiting meateaters in the next life but we can be sure that there WILL be a reaction, even if not as bad as described in the śāstra. We shouldn’t worry too much about it not being immediate and not being up to our expected standards.
That’s the first lesson about karma we should learn here – as a law of nature it’s impersonal and indifferent to our desires. It doesn’t exist to help us feel self-righteous. It doesn’t exist to prove our faith in God. It doesn’t exist to bring us instant gratification. It doesn’t care about expectations and our time frames in any way. It just is, it rolls over on its own, taking its sweet time without a care for those subjected to its rulings. It doesn’t care for those who want to rush it and it surely doesn’t care for those who want to postpone it. When it finally comes around it’s inescapable. No mercy, no negotiations, just cold justice.
As devotees we can try to make a deal with it, or rather with Kṛṣṇa who can change our karmic reactions, but we are doing it out of ignorance and general lack of realization. Our karma should have absolutely no effect on our devotion. As neophytes we can’t avoid it in the beginning but it shouldn’t take long to realize that our goal, unalloyed devotion, should be as indifferent to karma as karma is indifferent to us.
Secondly, the worst part about committing a sin is not a reaction but growing attachment to committing it again and again. People do not indulge in sinful activities just to prove that hell doesn’t exist. Most of the time sin feels good, there is a certain taste in it, and people love it. Try it once, try it twice, and you got yourself a habit. After some time this habit becomes impossible to break and that’s when people become hopelessly trapped.
It’s not the reaction to one little steak that one should worry about. Actually, it would already be pretty bad but atheists won’t accept this argument on faith. They say that they can handle whatever comes from eating one steak and so let’s play along. It’s not this one steak but all the steaks that will be consumed in the future as a result of developing a habit that would kill you.
It’s like somebody dashing across a multi-lane highway and surviving – it feels great, sure, and you probably have saved yourself some time, and you probably feel confident that you can do it again and it’s not that dangerous at all, but it would take only one car to kill you. It might happen on your next time or it might happen on you hundredth time but it WILL happen. Your odds diminish with each run in inverse proportion to the growth of your thoughtless confidence.
Or maybe this one meateater was a member of a species everyone has heard about – those who eat meat, drink alcohol, smoke a pack a day, and live until the ripe age of ninety when they die of an unfortunate accident, possibly surfing. I heard of these people but never met one myself. They inspire others to follow in their footsteps but here’s the thing – odds are it won’t happen to you. That’s why there are statistics about cancer, clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes, and statistics here are against you.
There are people who hit jackpot in casinos, too, and they inspire others to try their luck, but any sober person knows that house always wins. Far more people would lose their money than win anything, it’s just how the frequency of jackpot wins is set. Out of a thousand tries it will show you five wins and pay maybe half the money you spent on the nine hundred ninety five losses. You can sit and wait for that win and it will feel enjoyable but it’s not an investment, you won’t make profits that way. You would essentially pay through the roof for this little taste of victory, and maybe it’s worth it. Most casual gamblers play for the experience, not for profits.
Eating food, however, should not be compared to gambling. It’s supposed to give us nourishment, not shorten our lives in exchange for a brief moment of satisfaction. This should be clear even to those who don’t believe in reincarnation. This understanding, however, is impossible to maintain when under the influence of the mode of passion. We want things and we want them now regardless of the future cost.
This bring me back to the habit argument – bad habits are very easy to acquire but impossible to break. We should at least warn people about this fact when they still have a chance to make the right choice.
So, should I write to my newspaper? Or should I leave it to karma to sort it out. There’s a lack of the mode of goodness for a reason in this age and we, as devotees in Lord Caitanya’s movement, shouldn’t try to reverse the Kali Yuga and teach people how to live better lives. We are not here to elevate them in incremental steps, our solution to acquiring bad karma is a radical one and if I don’t mention it in my letter it would be a waste of time.
I need to think hard how to incorporate a solid spiritual advice and get it passed by the editors. So far I haven’t figured it out and it’s one of the reasons that I just quietly lament the barrage of bad news and stupid reactions to them. “Letters to the editor” is not a proper platform for preaching, if I really want to help people I need to find something better.