(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest english language daily newspapers, on 24 March 2003.)
This is a true story. Akbar the Great, king of India from 1556 to 1605, once asked a confidential minister how long the sex urge exists in man. The answer: "right up until the moment of death."
"Humbug," said the king. Months later the same to minister asked the ruler to accompany him to the home of a dying man. "And bring your 15-year-old daughter." commanded the aide. "l want you to notice the man's eyes from the moment we enter his room until when we leave. This is most important." The girl went with the minister and her father to see this fellow on his deathbed.
After the brief visit, Akbar, the minister and the princess walked in silence back toward the palace. "Now I see what you meant", said the emperor at last. "From the moment we entered until we left, his eyes remained on my daughter. He had no regard for his king."
If it's true that no servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-oriented, was the dying man a slave to his own cravings?
Such basic drives have always dominated our earthly existence. The Gita informs us (7.5) that the cause and content of the material world is due to the living beings. The passion to enjoy nature and create progeny comes from the immemorial longing to mate and raise children.
This is natural. But, the material world, the Vedas inform us, is only one quarter (the ekapad vibhuti) of creation. So we're a minority. There's nothing wrong with being a minority, but since we're talking about the whole material world, there's something disquieting about such a revelation.
Furthermore, we deserve to be legitimately disturbed if we can't readily perceive the extent of this other dimension - the tripad vibhuti.
It is precisely this invisible realm that gives seers that otherworldly demeanour; but spirituality is not their exclusive domain. In fact being "in the world but not of it" is a desireable position. Our responsibility is to tackle the most complicated issues of the day through the lens of full God consciousness.
A God who simply grants wishes, fulfils needs, protects us against misery and untimely death, punishes the wicked and rewards the good, has been cut a size too small. If we grasp the implications of a "fully-engaged God" we have made the break. We can be part of the big picture.
(The writer is emeritus member, of the ISKCON governing body commission)