“Yes I am!” we pilgrims screamed at the top of our lungs. Time: early 1993. Place: Mount Smart Supertop, Auckland. Event: Metallica. The most famous heavy metal band in the world had finally graced God’s own.
I had never heard the original version of the Diamond Head song “Am I Evil?” which, although popular in metal circles in the United Kingdom upon its release there in 1980, only achieved international prominence after Metallica covered it as a B-side on their “Creeping Death” single in 1984. The chorus runs:
“Am I evil? Yes, I am.
Am I evil? I am man, yes I am.”
Like many small town Kiwi teenagers in the early ’90s, I was drawn to the heavy metal scene. Its dynamics—fast, intense and powerful, sheltered me, and I felt safe in this scene, solaced. Unlike many other parts of the world, growing up in “God’s own” meant that there was never any lack of the basics—food, shelter and clothing. But there was no lack of loneliness either, or desire for meaning and real fulfilment, and metal “filled the gap” for me, or, at least, understood it.
It was not until my mid-twenties when, after broadening my group of friends, I started to venture into previously taboo realms of music: grunge, electronic, flamenco, jazz, and classical to name a few. From then on metal started to take more of a back seat on my playlist, although still essential. But from my early teens up until then, practically 24/7, both my days and nights were filled with the sonic assaults of metal gods like Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, and Megadeth. They were angry at the world, and so were we. And rightly so. But who was really to blame for the way the world was? And were they or we really part of the solution?
But first things first. Before we get to the solution, did we really understand the problem? According to the essential bhakti yoga text Bhagavad-gita, Metallica and Diamond Head were in one sense right. The blame game human beings are so used to playing is simply a result of our unique expertise at self-deception. “When you point the finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you,” as the familiar saying goes. Honest introspection is certainly tough today, but the genuine seeker knows that it is also the beginning of any real solution, big or small, individual or collective. In the words of Bhagavad-gita:
“Those lacking self-knowledge truly believe that the acquisition of temporary pleasures for the body and mind is life’s ultimate goal, and thus, until the end of life, their anxiety cannot be measured.” (Bhagavad-gita 16.12)
Here is the elephant in the room. When we pursue gratification based on a lack of self-knowledge, we simultaneously sign up for the inevitable result: a deep existential frustration. We then subsequently embark on another misdirected quest, to nail down “the culprit,” of such disappointment.
Unfortunately, this belief in the existence of genuine satisfaction through transitory means has now been institutionalised as the new world religion. In other words, even though the word “religion” has practically no meaning today, especially down under, and many would indeed feel insulted if referred to as “religious,” it is actually more alive and well than ever, although in a somewhat clandestine “secular” way. How so?
Gross materialism, based on the beliefs and world view expressed above, and as taught in schools and universities worldwide, is booming like never before. Based on such dogma, and pushed on by a “work, buy, consume and die” culture, it is indeed the world’s fastest growing religion with more dedicated “true believers” than any other.
So, am I evil?
Fortunately, as Bhagavad-gita reveals, our “evil streak” is only assumed because of our contact with matter—the material coverings of the body, mind, and temporary atmosphere— exactly as a person assumes identities other than one’s own under the influence of a dream. And just as we can wake up from a dream, we can also wake up from the illusion of temporary identification, and all the contradiction and confusion it brings. How? How does one normally wake up from a dream? By sound.
The sound of our alarm clock in the morning reminds us that whatever we were taking so seriously while asleep, regardless of its power to absorb us in animated visions and vivid experiences of pleasure and pain, was nothing more than a temporary illusion, a powerful yet ultimately insubstantial creation of our own mind. Similarly, mantra (sound) meditation, the most recommended process of self-realisation for this time and place, is a wake-up call to all genuine solution and pleasure seekers.
Although I have not seriously listened to metal for many years, the message of some of its big guns still resonates with me. However, without genuine knowledge of the problem and solution at the deepest level, at the root, even the most sincere attempts at relief from the struggles, stresses and strains of contemporary life are, at best, nice sentiments.
Let us take responsibility for our role in the problems of the world by connecting our tongues and ears to “the sound of reality,” the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In this way, we can be an authentic part of the solution by showing a real and ever-increasing transformation in our lives, the reduction of the materialistic mentality and lifestyle.