By Sankirtana Das
The cover of the recent Time is intriguing – The Answers Issue – with dozens of little cubes, each asking questions about some of today’s most important concerns, and looking like some information terminal. I thought that this would surely be a breakthrough in journalism. I thought that maybe I could find some answers to our troubled existence and why so many of us feel burdened all the time, or about breakthroughs in curing the common cold and societal ills, especially the perpetual political and economic problems which plague us today.
SPOILER ALERT!!! The magazine contains no real answers. The issue is just mostly filled with data and statistics, as if they could provide any real solutions to problems (or answers to life’s persistent questions – sorry, Guy Noir).
But if you want to know what outer space smells like, or the average distance of a home run, or the best cities for singles, or if you like to dream about what you could buy with $18 trillion (our national debt), The Answers Issue is for you.
If you’re planning a trip to the beach, the mag will let you know the best ones. It will also be comforting to know that hardly anybody dies of shark attacks, but that each year 200,000 deaths are attributed to snails and 755,000 to mosquitoes. So watch out for those snails and mosquitoes.
The Effective Workout page is promising but skimpy. And two whole pages are dedicated to the likely ways we can die at different ages in our lives. I guess that’s good to know since we’re all going to die sooner or later.
The Answers Issue might make you feel guilty if you drive over 13,400 miles a year (the average), since it claims that car emission is the biggest factor to our individual carbon footprints. Eating meat comes in second. Something to consider for those who want to make an impact on their carbon footprint but can’t bring themselves to give up driving. Other lessor categories are our use of air conditioning, air travel and beer drinking, etc. The interesting thing is that the mag is silent on the carbon footprint of our purchases of goods from overseas, since we can hardly buy anything that’s’ manufactured in America anymore.
If you’re a filmmaker or singer, it might be important to know of potential movie remakes people are eager to see, or the makings of a great summer song. You’ll find that in the mag. And for those who are planning to cut school budgets, you can read about how art and theater can change our lives for the better.
And maybe it’s important to know that you can’t buy alcohol in Indiana on Sundays, or that Mississippi gives the biggest tax refunds, or that Texas has the largest bat colony, and that California is the biggest supplier of milk and New Mexico has the most wanted bank robbers – 59 (although the mag neglects to mention how many bank robbers actually work in banks, whether in New Mexico, Wall Street, or elsewhere). But I guess these are all good things to know if you’re planning a move or a career change.
The most fundamental questions asked in The Answers Issue: Is world peace possible? Questions we should be asking? What defines us? In regards to the latter two, the subsequent questions posed for consideration are dismal. It’s seems that journalists nowadays don’t know how, or feel too uncomfortable asking the probing questions that should be asked. Or is it because they don’t understand the nature of the problems to begin with?
As for the first question – Is world peace possible? – rather than look at the sacred literatures of the world, the best they could come up with are a few random quotes from contemporary thinkers. Yoko Ono thinks it’s possible “if all of us think it is possible.” Someone else says it’s ‘theoretically possible.” By far the best was a quote by James Baldwin – “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” OK. The Answers Issue has spoken. Now what?
Unfortunately there was no deeper probing of the core problems to world peace. Our misidentification with the body, our unregulated senses, our personal and corporate greed, the wholesale slaughter of animals, our inability to view the world around us as personal & sentient and that we all spring from a common source and have a common father are all ignored.
Ultimately, The Answers Issue does not provide the reader with any real knowledge. On the other hand, a few simple verses chosen from Sri Isopanisad immediately addresses the question of world peace:
“Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.” Mantra 1
“He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all living entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything never hates anything or any being.” Mantra 6
“One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks, in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?” Mantra 7
We all have the same hopes and joys and fears. We all breathe the same air and make use of the earth’s God given resources. We are all truly connected. And indeed, we are all spiritual beings. Such knowledge is liberating. With knowledge, we can become proactive. In contrast to the flimsy, scattered approach of The Answers Issues, the Vedic literatures – the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and Sri Isopanisad – understand that our time is precious. Thus, they provide concise knowledge in a tangible, straight forward way for our consideration. It is up to us to simply apply it in our lives.
Sankirtana Das (ACBSP) is an award-winning author ( see www.Mahabharata-Project.com ), a recipient of a WV Artist Fellowship Award and an Ohio River Border Initiative Grant. He and his wife have resided in New Vrindaban for 40 years.