For those who have some intelligence, it is not hard to fathom in our modern so-called culture that underneath all the external hype over technological and economic expansion is the impending face of reality—a reality that is wrought with social, political, and environmental issues, just to mention a few of our present-day woes. Surely, it doesn’t take much to scratch the surface of the façade and see through it.
In my teens, the increasing hypocrisy of our leaders and institutions particularly distressed me. I became disturbed to the extent that my only solace was to delight in nihilistic expressions of art, especially in music and literature. Having little faith in our present-day culture and all it has to offer, I engrossed myself in a dark, pessimistic underground scene that berated the world. With vehemence, I composed pernicious forms of sound and contrived in acts of insanity that were counterproductive for my life and the lives of others. I lived as a youthful radical, totally rejecting all established laws and organisations, and relishing the taste of destructiveness. I had morphed into an extreme skeptic, denying an all-real existence, or the possibility of an objective basis for truth, brandishing slogans such as “God is dead,”and joyfully embracing the obliteration of our society, cheering its imminent end, whilst taking everyone else to the grave.
Persons who share this skepticism cannot be all-out condemned for postulating in this way. There is only so much refuse people can accept from our crumbling paradigm, before honest and intelligent individuals must confront the precarious situation. In my youth, I could perceive the miseries of material existence but had no concrete solutions to deal with the muck. In the same way I did, others embrace the dissolution by getting involved in manic groups, only to make matters worse, and why not? We’re living in hell; everything is going to hell anyway, so why not expedite the entire course of action?
According to the ancient seers of bygone ages, there are three types of men in this world: the foolish, the enlightened, and everyone else in between. The fools cannot perceive the suffering in the world, being immersed in it themselves. The enlightened are those who are truly blissful, transcending external strife and experiencing personal satisfaction. Most people fall in between—they are neither totally foolish nor are they perfect transcendentalists. Such persons have the facility to be conscious of the all-pervasive suffering inherent in our world and are qualified to fulfill the ancient aphorism: “Om athato brahma jijnasa.” This Sanskrit dictum of ancient India translates to: “Now one should inquire into the absolute reality.”
These wise sages affirm that the destitute nature of the world is meant to evoke elucidations into the authentic quality of the self. Who am I, beyond the smattering interactions of my body and mind? What is the self? And why must I suffer? These are the questions of one advancing in consciousness. The transcendentalists expound that genuine progression is not based on gross technology and economics, contrary to what we are led to believe. Rather, advancement is indicated by how one is reaching higher states of consciousness. Despite society’s technological sophistication, we can observe that the consciousness of individuals is no better than a royal rendition of an animal’s life. Therefore, one should contemplate, what is it that really differentiates me from the members of the animal kingdom?
To address this question, Srila Prabhupada, one of the world’s most distinguished authorities in Indian philosophy and spirituality, provides the following insight in a verse from the reputable metaphysical encylopaedia, the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
The general mass of people, unless they are trained systematically for a higher standard of life in spiritual values, are no better than animals,…they have particularly been put on the level of dogs, hogs, camels and asses. Modern university education practically prepares one to acquire a doggish mentality with which to accept service from a greater master. After finishing a so-called education, the so-called educated persons move like dogs from door to door with applications for some service, and mostly they are driven away, informed of no vacancy. As dogs are negligible animals and serve the master faithfully for bits of bread, a man serves a master faithfully without sufficient reward.
Tending to a wounded ego, I intently meditated on these proclamations. Consequently, my transition from punk to monk began, as I concluded that life without inquiry into a higher spiritual purpose relegates one to the platform of animalism. Whether he or she is a sophisticated mammal or a self-professed brute, or in other words, whether society deems one as a civil conformer or an antagonistic punk, there really isn’t much difference in either feeble existence. The basic instincts of sleeping, eating, mating, and defending are universal to those in a material body. The human form of life is unique to other forms, because it is capable of philosophical analysis. Thus, with this realisation my exploration into monastic life began. A shift of extremes perhaps, but what was there to lose? Why not undertake a nobler outlook into resolving the issues of life?