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18 Feb, 2001

“Brilliant” thinking of today no match for the simple and very clear wisdom of the past

Originally Published: 18 February 2001

The latest hoopla over mad-cow disease and the collapse of the European beef industry is further testimony to how the principles of global religions are being proven true, bit by painful bit, with entire industries ultimately paying the price.

Beef is banned in Hinduism, primarily because of its association with the cow, a sacred animal to the Hindus. Of late, it had been classified as a “red meat”, the consumption of which was discouraged because it was considered cancer-causing. Same goes with pork, bacon and ham, also considered red meat and banned in Islam and Judaism.

There is a growing drift towards vegetarianism, seen as being the most healthy diet of all, favoured by both Hinduism and Jainism. Obviously, the prophets and messengers who propagated these diets — for whatever reason — knew something that we clearly don’t. Neither did they need a slew of esoteric medical research to “prove” that certain forms of diet are best avoided.

Alcohol is discouraged — some would say, banned — in many religions, including Islam and Buddhism. Read any newspaper and there is a daily deluge of articles of the chaos created by people who, with their brains befogged by booze, beat up their wives, shoot their children, kill innocent people on the roads, lose their jobs and cost the national health systems far more than cigarettes ever did or will.

Then there is illicit sex — a major reason for broken homes and of course the spread of the AIDS virus. Today, homosexuality has become both acceptable and fashionable. Having affairs and fooling around is just a normal part of the equation. Many are paying the price of that, too, be they men or women.

Billions of dollars are being spent on seeking cures for something that could have been better prevented. There is a growing debate about the profiteering by major drug companies which claim, justifiably, that they have spent millions on seeking ways to halt the spread of AIDS and are now facing charges of being unethical in not making those expensive drugs easily available to those who can least afford them.

In Thailand, it was the culture of prostitution that partially helped spread the AIDS virus. The national economy would have been devastated had it not been for the efforts of crusaders like Mechai Viravaidhya who almost single-handedly brought the looming debacle to the forefront of public thinking and forced a nation-wide effort do something about it. The threat is still looming, but is not half as intense as it would have been without the preventive campaign.

World-wide, once conservative societies have become liberal and laissez-faire. The advertising industry, music and movies inundate our children with sexual images designed to sell products. Adults, too, get affected — the prominent Senator at the centre of a much-publicised sex scandal has admitted to a liking for young girls, images of whom abound on local TV advertisements.

Keeping children away from watching sex and violence through parental guidance is an accepted norm. But who is to protect children and the young from straying and sexually-frustrated adults exposed daily to titillating media images?

The computer industry has a term for it, GiGo (garbage in, garbage out). As the garbage of what we eat, drink and watch goes into our bodies and minds, so too does garbage come out in different shapes and forms.

The final cataclysm has yet to come — the price to be paid by societies in their unbridled pursuit of material wealth, otherwise known as economic growth. Religions are divided about the role that money can and should play in societal development — some favour total renunciation but others support a more balanced role.

It becomes clear that the blind pursuit of economic growth has caused some of the world’s greatest ecological disasters.

At one end is a world that has some of the highest per capita incomes but is also responsible for creating much of the global warming problem in pursuit of that income. At the other end is a world that wants to become more like the “rich” world. The amount of fossil-fuel energy that will be consumed to fuel the economic growth necessary to make poor countries rich will finish off the polar ice-caps for sure.

No wonders that many religious leaders are very, very worried about the entire process of globalisation, its mindless pursuit of growth at all costs and the havoc it wreaks. While they may agree that financial renunciation is not an option in today’s heavily materialistic world, balance is a better option.

One cannot but help asking: How much grief would humanity have avoided if it had steered clear of some of the warnings sent down years ago?

The holy books and the people who wrote them are often described simply as messages or guidelines, or sometimes more forcefully as warnings. But it is truly amazing that words written thousands of years ago — and progressively ignored as being archaic or irrelevant — are being more than proved true today.

Even for the scientific community, which wants everything to be “proved”, how much more “evidence” and “proof” is necessary to show that the most “brilliant” thinking of today does not hold a candle before the simple and very clear thoughts penned years ago?

Today, one of the big buzzwords is “sustainable development.” Cloning, tampering with the DNA and genetic modification of crops will be neither sustainable, nor a path to good development. It is only going to open up more problems which the scientific community has no clue how to contain.

Having tripped up a few more times along what would-be US President Al Gore called “God’s unforeseen paths”, humanity will realise that “old ways” are far better than “new ways” for the simple reason that they were designed to prevent problems while the “new ways’ can only attempt to “solve’ them, and that, too, not very well.

Today’s “restructuring” involves only companies. Much more heavy-duty restructuring is yet to come as humanity slowly realises the unsustainability of these “development” processes. In going back to the basics, waking up to the truth of some of the guidelines regulating consumption of certain types of food and drink may be a good way to start.