“More than ten million travel in the local trains of Mumbai daily!” my friend read out the statistics aloud. As we discussed the bizarre lifestyle of Mumbaities, rushing at a breakneck speed to work from sunrise to eight hours past sunset, local trains now became the subject of our discussion. There are men seated on top of the trains, dangerously close to the electric wires overhead. If this isn’t hazardous enough there are others who hang between the two coaches, as the electric locomotive rushes at over 100 km/hr. Then there are the especially adventurous, who cling on to the windows of the train from outside. A small sneeze or a little itch in the hand, its certain they would fall under the racing train, their body crushed beyond recognition. The city has millions of its go-getters chasing the elusive goal of lasting happiness, amidst the passionate battering from the body and mind. Traveling in these trains reveals the passionate mindset of Mumbai.
Srila Prabhupada notes the tragic plight of a local train traveler in his commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam (5.1.1), “……People are being educated and trained to work very hard for sense gratification, and there is no sublime aim in life. A man travels to earn hislivelihood, leaving home early in the morning, catching a local train and being packed in a compartment. He has to stand for an hour or two in order to reach his place of business. Then again he takes a bus to get to the office. At the office he works hard from nine to five; then he takes two or three hours to return home. After eating, he has sex and goes to sleep. For all this hardship, his only happiness is a little sex……… human life is not meant for this kind of existence, which is enjoyed even by dogs and hogs. Indeed, dogs and hogs do not have to work so hard for sex. A human being should try to live in a different way and should not try to imitate dogs and hogs…”
Miseries- the inevitable laws of nature
A few do search for their inner calling, groping in this dark city for the light of wisdom, to lend a semblance of meaning, purpose and sanity to their life. As I lamented at the engulfing passion of Mumbai, which has everyone from little kids to old ladies, in its vicious grip, my friend assured me it’s no different in any other part of the world, Mexico, Tokyo, New York, Moscow or Chennai. The challenge he reiterated is to see through the eyes of ancient scriptures, which not only protects us from the modern negative influences, but also offers healthy foundational principles that act as a beacon light at all times.
As we wondered about the Mumbai trains and passion, the voice of Srimad Bhagavatam (5.5.1) rang loud and clear, “Lord Rishabdeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever”.
Srimad Bhagavatam implores humans to be industrious but not at the cost of searching for the true goal of our life. Imagine boarding a crowded train and wondering where the train is off to? On enquiry from other passengers, suppose a scenario when all are clueless about their destination. On asking one gentleman why he boarded the train, you get a reply, “well I saw so many hundreds get in, I thought I too must be with the crowd”. You enquire from others and get a similar response. We may consider such a coach to be filled with crazy men but that’s the state of existence for most in this world. Men are busy working sixteen to eighteen hours a day, yet when asked where is the train of their life heading to, they are stunned, “never given it a thought… because no time…so busy working…”
“Working for what sir?”
“Well…ultimately for happiness”
“But you’ve been busy for the last forty years and are you really happy?”
“One day I will be… anyway so many are working hard like me…why be different?”
Does this strike reasonable to you. Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is what are you so busy about?”
Hare Krishna devotees also work hard, board the trains and fight it out. However they have a noble and worthy goal to pursue, an endeavor to please the Lord by their thoughts and actions, and after completing the responsibilities in this world, go back to our original home, the Kingdom of God. Working hard with only the bare needs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending as the goal to pursue, puts us on the level of struggling animals. The Mahabharata pleads humans to explore their higher faculties for spiritual awakening, failing which we are simply well dressed, polished, sophisticated, two legged animals.
The scriptures extol the glories of a person who uses this rare human life for pursuing Krishna consciousness as a wise man. On the other hand one who misuses this facility for fulfilling only the bodily and mental needs is compared to a miser, who although possessing precious wealth is wasting it away by never using it. The human body is also compared to a perfectly constructed boat having the spiritual master as the captain and the instructions of the Personality of Godhead as favorable winds impelling it on its course. Considering all these advantages, a human being who does not utilize his human life to cross the ocean of material existence is considered to be the ‘killer of his own soul’.
Being in Mumbai we may have little choice regarding the mode of transport. We may be helpless, packed in a train compartment, but we do have a choice to say ‘Ýes’ to spiritual life, to remember Krishna, and offer our remaining years in this body in service to God and society.
The author is a celibate teacher at ISKCON ashram at Chowpatty, Mumbai