5. “I’d prefer to practically help the world.”

2020 was one of the most challenging years in the history of the world - a global pandemic that brought practically every part of the world to its knees. Scenes of suffering confront us every day, and we feel impelled to be an agent of positive change. What can spirituality really do to help? One may worship, pray and chant but isn’t it more important to do something practical and tangible to help the world? Wouldn’t time, energy and resource be better spent in hands-on welfare work rather than ethereal meditation? How can spirituality address the environmental, economic, political and social problems facing our generation? Isn’t it selfish to focus on cultivating our own spirituality, rather than selflessly helping others?
In a beautiful verse from Chapter Five, Krishna explains how those endowed with knowledge and gentleness (vidya vinaya) naturally become spiritually realised (pandita), causing their vision to become universal (sama darsinah). This spiritual vision enables them to see the equality of all living beings beyond external difference, and the divinity in all aspects of creation. It is this elevation of consciousness that’s the greatest need of the day.
For a moment, consider the problems that surround us and try to decipher the root cause. A closer inspection reveals that most of them stem from a lack of spiritual vision. Some people are programmed to exploit, pillage and hoard, whereas others will nurture, share and give. Some people make every decision in life based on how it facilitates their enjoyment and pleasure, while others have a broader vision which considers beyond their own instant gratification. Are we driven by selfishness, or has selflessness become second nature? The answers to these questions reveal our vision on the continuum of material to spiritual. The fundamental cause behind every issue in the world is a severe lack of spiritual vision – racism, sexism, nationalism, ageism – all based on the body, which is just a temporary, superficial covering of the spirit self.
During the British rule of India, the government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. To mitigate the issue, the Government advertised a generous bounty for every dead cobra. The strategy met with immediate success as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Later, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras and then turn them over for the extra income. When the Government realised what had happened they scrapped the scheme. The cobra-breeders then set all the ‘worthless’ snakes free, and the number of cobras increased exponentially! Not only do artificial solutions fail to address the root cause, but they often aggravate the problem due to ignorance of the unintended consequences of the so-called solution.
Though we’re all eager to jump into action and do something to improve the world, it’s worthwhile spending some time to develop our spiritual vision and deeply understand how to help the situation. We need to solve the immediate problems but also prevent them from resurfacing. We need solutions which are comprehensive and sustainable. The passion to serve the world must be guided by a compass of knowledge, because when that passion meets the compass, then it becomes true compassion.

“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Bhagavad-Gita 5.18)