By Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, Air Vice Marshal (retd)
In Nov. 1970, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun created uproar. The editor of Sun had been told by Murdoch that either he increases the circulation of The Sun or else. In desperation Larry Lamb, the editor, took a controversial and risky step of publishing a ‘topless’ photo of a sexy young lass. He cleverly chose full page 3 for his design. Page 1 and rear page would have been highly risky; page 3 was just right, not too obvious nor too hidden. Those days publishing of nudes was highly risqué although bikini clad sexy girls were being published freely. The risk, though created uproar, paid handsomely, the circulation of ‘The Sun’ increased.
Since then colourful page three has become indispensable for media, both electronic and print; indeed it has become so rampant that every page is used as page 3 ! A beauty pageant, anywhere in the world is a must for the media. Under this concept, ample colourful photos of models, actors, sports persons and entertainers etc are given prominent place but not appropriate place to a lecture by a scientist even on the burning issue of global warming. These are called celebrities who nonetheless are fake creations of media for their own devices. All these super ambitious super celebrities would do anything to remain on the Page 3. Media, celebrities, Ad agencies, technology and industrialists act in unison to create market for commodities produced by the industry. Most of the time, the commodities are redundant if not superfluous. The proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has been turned on its head to ensure that ‘invention becomes the mother of necessity’. Industry invents and the consumers consume those as necessary. Of course a sense of freedom is given to consumers by providing them with choices; the choices given are few which eclipse the earlier choices that were abundant. The profit, which is the sole motive, goes to the machinators or plotters comprising ad agencies, media and industrialists, and also to celebrities. And the profit goes from the pockets of ignorant consumers who are made to think that this is essential to become modern and happy. This entire machination is projected mainly with the help of ‘topless models’ who are topless in both the senses. But what is surprising is that they make the consumer behave as if he is topless!
Had the situation remained so, it wouldn’t have been too bad. In the race for becoming the top consumer, the consumer becomes topless and totally self-centered. As nobody else can consume for him, he has to consume the commodities himself to be ‘happy’. His aim of life becomes to be a top consumer and therefore totally self centric. Money and commodities become the symbols of success, achievements, status, self respect, modernity and happiness. His relationship with the world becomes that of a consumer and the supplier. Even the marital relationship becomes ‘business like’, in that, both look at each other as a source of fulfillment of desires. The moment one does not fulfill the other’s desire trouble erupts like a dormant volcano. Where is the love that sacrifices and understands ? Where would the love for elders, even infants be in the consumers’ world? Infants can be left to TV or baby sitters, while the couple remains busy with earning and ‘pleasure seeking’. A person is exposed to the media’s colourful machinations from childhood and is therefore becomes a confirmed consumerist before he can realize it. If consumerism is the aim of life then the consumerist youth in their hunt for pleasures may use any method including violence. A spurt in criminal activities involving alcohol, sex and money confirms this impact of this mindless consumerism.
Apart from using page 3 culture, media uses ‘cheap’ entertainment programmes to confine the mind of the viewer to trivialities to reduce him to a zombie. In India where healthy food is available, why should one enjoy junk foods like hamburgers, or drinks e.g. Colas when they have been proven to be harmful. What more can demonstrate our intellectual bankruptcy then the fact that we do not have faith in scientists but in celebrities! We are day dreaming to become a ‘krorepati’ whilst making celebrities, ad agencies, media and industrialists multikrorepaties.
Even the politicians have joined the band wagon of the celebrities et al. After all, the progress that India has made in last few years is mainly due to consumerism. Cars, colour TVs, sexy entertainments, telecommunications, refrigerators, washing machines, shoes, clothes, 5 star hotels etc are the symbols of progress – economic and industrial and therefore of happiness. If aim of life is consumerism then any wise person would eulogize the agents of consumerism.
Whilst this is certainly true that consuming (actually nourishing) is essential for life, but the question is ‘how much’? We must understand the difference between consumerism i.e. ‘bhogwaad’ and consuming which is nourishing i.e. ‘bhog’. If one’s aim of life is bhog then it is bhogwaad. If one has bhog as a necessity for living, then it is not bhogwaad but bhog. Surprisingly, for consumerists luxuries are necessities. The correct meaning of the two words depends upon the worldview of an individual. For a consumerist or a bhogwaady luxury is essential. A consumerist’s worldview is well expressed by what an American thinker Ken Schoolend in his book ‘A Guiding Principle of Life’ states, “ Your property is your life’s total earning, result of the hard work in cultivation of the field of life. It is the gift of your invaluable time, the product of your energy, toil and intellect.” What is clear is that his aim in life is to earn property ! The progress and happiness of a consumerist’s society is measured by what and how much it consumes. Is it not an animalistic, nay demonic world view? Whole world is asking for more and better to consume, at least 10 % more every year. Every person is busy like a blinded bull pushing an oil mill.
Did consumerism begin with Page 3? No, consumerism was born when the concept of heaven was born! Not surprisingly, religions and poverty kept a control on the urge for consumerism in this world, and it was left for heaven after death. After the Second World War, the giant of consumerism woke up. All the big machines and their technology, suddenly shocked with a void of demands at the end of the war, were ready to produce like a cornucopia. People were also demanding better life after the poverty stricken unending days during the war. After the War the victors had control on all the resources, trades and markets etc. With the mass production technology, the giant machines were producing more than the necessities which of course had to be sold. People had to be brainwashed into buying the unlimited products. Here the ad agencies and the media played the role of pimps and soon capitalism came into form and consumerism became the world view. That is why youth, certainly in India, works like a blinded bull, 12 hours a day to earn to become a multi millionaire, but ends up making the consumerists machinery comprising ad agencies, media, topless models, sport persons, entertainers and the industrialists multimillionaires. Everybody is too busy running the blindfolded race to have either time or vision to see through the demonism of consumerism. The youth in this treadmill becomes sick and effete before reaching the old age and unfortunately his sons are ready to takeover his yoke.
It is not that in the West nobody has opposed this demonic consumerism. Karl Marx opposed it. He rightly said that in capitalistic mode, a ‘thing’ or a commodity becomes an object of worship. But he favoured his model of consumerism which is no less demonic. Famous thinker Thornstein Weblen described this phenomenon as ‘Conspicuous Consumption’, and said that media has glorified it as a status symbol. Famous philosopher H. D. Thoreau, who was influenced by Indian philosophy, said that instead of consumerism, simple living should be the world view. Economist Scot Nearing, anthropologist and poet Gary Snider, Gandhi’s follower Richard Greg etc opposed consumerism in order to wrest the control of life from commercial establishments. Later on ‘Conservationists’ joined the movement and gave it strength. Demand for ignoring the ads was made but has not been able to defeat the strong army of ‘topless’ girls. The reason for lack of success of this anti – consumerist movement in the West is lack of a convincing alternate world view.
It should be obvious that there is sufficient on this earth for the needs of the people of the world, but not sufficient for the greed of even one individual. But consumerism, the supreme greed, is growing like the mouth of Surasaa, the demon described in the epic Raamaayan. Obviously the answer is what Hanuman did by becoming smaller, not larger, than the body of Surasaa.
The West had already created a division in the society by accepting individualism as an important value of life, which weakened the social and family ties. Now with consumerism, not only the joint family system has died, even the nuclear family system is under stress. Now consumerism is glue by which the family remains united. But we ought to know that consumerism can not unite humans, because it creates a deadly competition among the members for enjoying commodities which are invariably insufficient. Competition breeds rivalry and not love among the members. In a consumerist culture, where love beween couples has been restricted to mean sex, the difference between an animal and a human being is hardly significant. In humans and animals food, sleep, fear and sex are common. In a consumerist society, sacrifice, humane love, ethics, compassion, truth etc. are relegated to lower priorities, if they are allowed at all. No wonder, consumerism ultimately turns a man into a beast. Noida, where I live, has witnessed such demonic acts that humanity is put to shame. And Noida is not an exception, but a rule in Indian cosmopolitan cities. Is humanity safe in India? Famous thinkers like Andre Malraux, Alfred Toynbee etc, after experiencing the decay in the West, had been looking at India for saving humanity. Now who will save humanity? Shrimadbhagawad Geetaa, especially its chapter 3, has the answers, if someone would care to follow them.
In the first two chapters, Lord a is trying to convince Arjun to fight the war which has been imposed by his blindly selfish cousin Duryodhan. For three reasons Arjun does not wish to fight the war: respect for his grand uncle and Guru Dronaachaarya together with compassion for people; killing is a sin, and to save the society from the decadence resulting after the death of huge number of soldiers (1.40). On basis of Saankhya philosophy, a tells him that the soul is immortal, hence a war need not be feared, indeed he must fight it and either win it and enjoy the kingdom, or accept death and enjoy the heaven. He does not accept this advice as it does not satisfy his three reasons for not fighting the war. Realizing that Arjun is not able to understand the purport of immortality, a then tells him that he should follow ‘Buddhi yog’ which is to establish himself in the Self, and to perform an action without getting attached to it, and accepting the outcome with equanimity. He further tells him that Buddhi yog is far superior to ‘Karm’. This confuses Arjun as it appears to him that sometimes a recommends action and sometimes thinking. The chapter 3 begins with such a question. Therefore a now explains ‘Nishkaam Karmayog’ to him. With this the three doubts of Arjun would be calmed. Nishkaam Karm simply means performance of action not motivated by desires, which is an extremely difficult concept to understand. a explains it in the chapter 3.
Not performing an action is not Nishkaam Karm, nor its renunciation. One cannot live for a moment without performing an action. The actions that have to be performed, must be performed for this body cannot survive without actions. If someone does not perform an action by controlling his organs of action yet contemplating the same in his mind, then he lives in a false world. Actions are performed under the force of nature. Let us analyze. Do we eat and drink out of our desire? Or is it hunger and thirst that force us to eat and drink. The only choice we have is to choose what to eat and drink. But if thought wisely, we ought to eat and drink that which is within our means and is most beneficial to the body, and not what the celebrities coax us. Most of the bodily actions are urged by the body. Earning our lively hood is basically motivated by our body and our family’s needs, unless we have been brainwashed by the consumerist culture. In the consumerist culture our desires start controlling our actions, and not the needs of the body or the family or the nation. It should be clear that all our actions are performed under the force of ‘nature’, and we ignoramus and egoists think that it is we who are controlling our actions. Actually we are under a delusion of our ego, our so called identity which clouds our thinking and make us believe that we are the ‘doers’. We do not even know ‘who we are?’ If we were to ask our body, “Are you the doer of the actions?” The body would reply, “I am performing actions as per the strict rules of the nature, I am merely an instrument of nature.”
a says, that wise persons, knowing that it is the forces or ‘gunas’ of nature that are interacting with each other, do not get attached to or overwhelmed by actions performed by their body. It may appear to be opposite of what is taught by management gurus viz. ‘Get involved if you want success’. Getting involved means the task is yours, it is your responsibility, you will get rewarded if you succeed, and get punished if you fail, and so on. The performer is worked up; he has a fever so to say, of the action. a tell Arjun to fight the war without its fever, without hope and without involving ego’. a’s view is closer to the reality. Once freed from the tensions of success and failure, the mind functions at its best, and continues to do so as the tensions do not get accumulated like in the opposite view, Involve means get attached, and a is advocating non- attachment. It also means a step closer in the spiritual evolution, because going above the mind towards the Atman is the goal of spirituality.
Arjun asks Krishn, “Why does a man commits sin even against his will?” Krishn tells him that it is because a man is under the control of his desires and the force of anger attached to it, these two are sins like unquenchable fires and therefore his enemies. The meaning of sins here are actions that take one away from the spiritually evolutionary path. The desires and the attached anger cloud up the state of ‘Jnyaan’, which prevents realization of Self. Jnyaan tells makes us realizes who we are, or what is the Reality. Ajnyaana tells that we are this body, mind and intellect, and thus covers the Jnyaan. If one looks within oneself, one would find desires, anger, greed, delusion, ego, jealousy etc crowding the horizon of the mind. And the desires are endless, therefore whoever thinks that by fulfilling his desires he would get happiness is under delusion. The entire cosmos is ever changing, and therefore so are the desires. A consumerist is one who wants to fulfill his desires in search of happiness, and therefore ends up chasing a mirage. A consumerist is a willing slave of his desires, and a slave can never be happy.
Krishn tells Arjun, “You control your organs of sense and actions and annihilate these desires which are inimical to both jnyaan and science. One might say control of desires by intellect is understandable, but their destruction is totally incomprehensible and impractical. No action is performed without its motivating desires. No desire therefore would mean no action, and therefore no life. We ought to understand that actions are indeed performed by the forces of nature in our body. We under false knowledge introduce desires in between. Desires are also entered by the mind when not under control of a developed intellect. Desires that do not meet the real needs of the individual are the culprits and need to be controlled and eradicated through wisdom.
Actions that are needed for living must be performed, desire or no desire. So why desire, which only builds ego. And thus these actions can be performed with full vigour, capability and equanimity. Such actions do not bind a man. Actions that are not needed, but merely arise out of desires generated by the consumerist conglomerate are to be negated; and such desires are to be extirpated. Thus one becomes desireless and yet performs to ones best ability. This is ‘Nishkaam Karm Yog’. Performance of such karmas is Yog because it ultimately leads to union with Brahman, leads to Bliss and to eternal happiness. Contrary to miseries of chasing mirages, one realizes that one is Brahman, SatChitAanand, ie. Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.
Lest one might interject that this sate of Bliss is utterly selfish, it must be clarified that on the contrary this state leads to the most altruistic state. It is so because after that realization, one feels unity not only with Brahman, but also with every being on the earth if not in the universe. Such a person loves his neighbour not because some great soul has commanded him to, but because he realizes that he himself is the neighbour. He actually lives all the principles of ethics such as compassion, sacrifice, truth, brotherhood, equality etc. because they are so natural to him. He not only becomes ‘Free’ from fear, but also from all the passions, yet he remains full of love for all the beings.
End of desires, actually freedom from desires is not the end of ‘bhog’ that is nourishing of the body, but the end of ‘Bhogwaad’ i.e. Consumerism. It should be clear that ‘Consumerism actually consumes the consumer and others’. Thus chapter 3 of Geetaa redeems one from consumerism and liberates him from the miseries thereof. Further, it makes a humane world possible which can make progress with all the science and technology, without making one a slave of technology. Technology is a good slave but a very cruel master. The world needs this world view of ‘Nishkaam Karmyog’ if it is to be saved from the decadent life caused by chasing mirages of happiness but resulting in miseries.
India is the place where such a world view was born and nurtured, but unfortunately India is also going the way of consumerism. It is the result of ignorance about our great heritage, which is the outcome of slavery of a thousand years. The situation has been further aggravated after independence because of willing acceptance of dominance of English language over Indian languages. Out culture and heritage can be transmitted to us in our languages and not though a foreign language. Education in India through English medium would bring consumerism lock stock and barrel, because that is the culture of the West. English should be learnt but not at the cost of Indian languages. However till it can be done, let us follow Nishkaam Karmyog and save ourselves, and the world, from consumerism to the extent we can.
It may be mentioned that Larry lamb, the erstwhile successful editor of The Sun, before his death regretted the introduction of Page 3 culture, of course it was too late; or is it?
Page 3 vs Chapter 3 English