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Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Talking Turkey

Danger at every step

A plane crash into a mountain in Turkey yesterday killed all seventy-five passengers on board. Ironically, most of the passengers were part of a United Nations peacekeeping force returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

I will be flying from South Africa to Turkey in July. Should I be nervous?

Well, not really. Where in the world is it safe? Turkey may be safer than Afghanistan in today's political climate, but this crash reiterates that there is no place in the world that we can be absolutely safe. This world is therefore known as martya loka — the world of death.

Where in the world is there no birth, death, old-age, and disease (janma, mrtyu, jara, vyadhi)? What to speak of Afghanistan or Turkey, South Africa or India, we are told that no planet in the material universe is free from these four principles of material existence:

abrahma-bhuvanal lokah
punar avartino 'rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

"From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again."

So our real concern is not so much to worry about dying — we all have to die — but to try to discover how we can live our lives so that we never have to take birth in this material world again.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam [10.14.58] it is said:

samasrita ye padapallava-plavam
mahat-padam punya-yaso murareh
bhavambudhir vatsa-padam param padam
padam padam yad vipadam na tesam

"This ocean of material existence is as insignificant as the water contained in a cow's hoofprint to those persons who have taken full refuge in the supreme shelter — the boat of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna, whose glories are universally sung as purity's own self. Their destination is the Lord's supreme abode, not this place where there is danger in every step of life."

Whether in Kolkata or Johannesburg, Ankara or Kabul, Timbuktu or Kalamazoo, there is danger at every step (padam padam yad vipadam) but, on the order of Srila Gurudev, we must step forward boldly.

In my old life I might have been a little more concerned about what airline I flew on, but now I go wherever Srila Gurudev sends me. And sometimes that means that I fly on some pretty scary airlines.

Besides, what kind of an itinerant monk would I be if I was afraid to travel?

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