Calcutta, India — Monday, July 30th

Birds of a feather...

I don't have access to the internet from my room above the nat mandir of the temple, so after the morning darshan, I take a walk along the road next to the "Tank #3" kunda, to check my email using the internet facilities at our new Sevak Bhavan building.

It is not a long walk (it's just a few doors down from the temple), but before I get there, I wrinkle my nose at a smell so unpleasant that it penetrates the latent olfactory filter that the body activates as a defense mechanism after a few days exposure to the open drains and sewers of Calcutta...

In the short grass at the side of the road just ahead, I see four agitated crows... They seem to be dancing around something... something that looks like— Oh! It's a big, fat, rat!

Well, it was a big, fat, rat!

Now it's a big, not so fat, dead rat! It is lying on its side, front and hind legs at full stretch — perhaps the unfortunate creature's last, desperate attempt to evade the wheel that crushed its abdomen...

The biggest of the crows, cawing and flapping its wings aggressively to keep the other three at a distance, callously clamps its claws just above the unseeing eyes in the besmirched and bloodied face of the rat, plucks the intestines, entrails, and other delicacies out of the rat's once fat belly, and with a quick tilt of its head, swallows them down into its own.

A rickshaw-wallah rides by, unconcerned... A dapper gentleman going the other way does not (or pretends not to) notice... On the steps to the kunda, a washerwoman slaps a wet sari against the concrete, young men ritualistically perform their morning ablutions, and children splash and play...

But I am not as blasé as the locals... I am mesmerized by the grisly scene before me... Crows are such vile creatures, aren't they? They are like miniature vultures, really. Squabbling over what? The rotting carcass of a filthy, stinking, sewer rat!

At first I try to be nonchalant about the whole thing: "Ah, what can you do? It's survival of the fittest (phalguni tatra mahatam), right? One living entity is food for another (jivo jivasya jivanam), is it not?" But I cannot maintain such insouciance for long. "Kill or be killed" may be the way of this world, but why does the world have to be this way?

The ugliness of life is portrayed so vividly in this disgusting image of the crows fighting over the carcass of a dead rat! And yet that's why I have come to this dog-eat-dog world, isn't it? Like the crows, I am attracted (not repulsed!) by the rotting remains of the dead material objects in this world of death (martya-loka). My desire to exploit and to enjoy has brought me down from the mental world of my previous karma (bhuvar-loka) to this horrible world of suffering and death (bhu-loka).

Although I am eternal, pure spirit (nabhavo vidyate satah), I constantly try to enjoy temporary, decaying matter (nasato vidyate bhavo). So why am I repulsed when that same behavior is exhibited by the crows? Am I not like them?

Wrinkling my nose once more and taking one final, fascinated look at the grim spectacle, I continue on to the Sevak Bhavan... But I carry this indelible image with me, and when I connect to the internet — to the deluge of news and information that is just a few mouse-clicks away — this sloka gushes into my mind:

na yad vacas citra-padam harer yaso
jagat-pavitram pragrnita karhicit
tad vayasam tirtham usanti manasa
na yatra hamsa niramanty usik-ksayah

Srimad Bhagavatam (1:5:10)

"Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there."

I spend so much time on the internet — on this "place of pilgrimage for crows"! I know, I know... I came to the Sevak Bhavan supposedly "to check my email"... but connecting to the internet just to check your email is, to borrow an expression that I once heard Goswami Maharaj use, "like trying to look up just one word in the dictionary!"

And what is the news on the 'net today? That's odd... It seems to be the same as yesterday's news...

Everyone is rushing into the jaws of death. This is the sum total of the news of this world — it is the only news. Every second, everyone is entering the jaws of death. This is the real problem — nothing else. All other talks are irrelevant to the real problems of life.... The whole world is dying, so always, at every second, the real need is Krishna-katha...

—Srila Sridhar Maharaj (Sri Guru And His Grace)

"But, but, but..." I hear you protest, "The internet is not just a place of pilgrimage for crows. It is a brihad-mridanga for Krishna-katha too! Our Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math also has a presence on the internet, to give everybody an opportunity to hear the words of Srila Gurudeva and Srila Guru Maharaj..."

No doubt, some fortunate souls will find some morsels of prasadam on the internet — like that fortunate crow scavenging for scraps in the garbage the other day — but whenever I go on the internet, more often than not I find myself hanging out with the crows rather than with the swans...

Tags: Association | Anecdotes

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Layout by iMonk — July 30th, 2007.