Posted 03/04/2010 - 01:24 by rajiv

The problems of today as seen by Mahatma Gandhi and solutions by Param Pujya Gurudev

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This blog is based on a talk I delivered onTechnology- The Passion &  Responsibility”at the National level symposium on "The message of Hind swaraj and its contemporary relevance" at Madurai on 27th Feb 2010
The talk was based on a book "Hind Swaraj"written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1908. I spoke on a chapter about machinery. This wonderful book is attached here.

Today, technological innovation is considered a modern day marvel which has improved the living conditions of people. It is virtually impossible for people to imagine a life without using technology.
Technology is essential to physical existence of humans. Fire, clothing, farming is all part of technology. It is technology that enabled the hasty evolution of life on earth.

There are 2 types of machine use.
1. Those that aid human efforts
2. Those that reduce human efforts
Machines like telescopes, microscopes allow you to see far and smaller objects. The potter’s wheel allows you make pots that are stronger and uniform. The telephone allows you to talk to people far away. The car lets you travel fast. The grinder lets you grind fine. Machines like a crane or JCB lets you lift heavy weights. The pressure cooker cooks your food fast. The microphone lets our voices go across the room. Today technology allows you to fly in the air, go into space as a tourist, go to the depths of the ocean, technology allows you to do your entire genome decoding, create satellites around the earth, build a space station, technology allows you to place stents in arteries, destroy cancer cells with chemotherapy, you use computers in a multitude ways to communicate, compute, record, play, document, entertainment etc.
Certainly, life has changed in the past 50-100 years in such manner as it has done never before. The main reason for this exponential growth is the advancement of technology.

Technology allows us to develop better technology. This is a self-serving cycle that is the cause of all these wonders.
Technology makes life easier
Think of how would you meet a stranger at a park a few years earlier. You would plan the visit, identify the place where you would meet, identify the exact location, the exact time, the modes of identifying each other and then go and wait for the other person.
Today, you set a time and place and then keep calling each other over phone on where one is. We probably have forgotten the art of planning.
Technology brings awareness
One of the advantages of modern technology is that it brings the world to your door – it brings more means of entertainment to us. While this is certainly true, how has this been beneficial for your individual growth?
We are aware of what is happening around the world. This widens our horizons. (We see the same violence in all places, the same natural disasters, at times we see better responses to disasters, but seeing it, are you trying to better our situation? In that case, it will be useful.) For most people, their life will remain unchanged if their televisions stopped working for a couple of months.
Entertainment is something that turns stale very soon. While you might love a movie or a genre of movies, you will not be interested in watching the same thing again and again. It always seeks newer things.

The question that we have to ask ourselves is Have we really improved our lives with technology?
After all, modern technology has its basis in the science whose forefather Francis Bacon said “… nature had to be hounded in her wanderings, bound into service and made a slave. She was to be put in bounds and the aim of the scientist was to torture nature’s secret from her … ”. The modern science and technology has evolved with this basis and has succeeded in achieving this aim.

  • Technology has brought with it pollution
  • Industries where people work from morning to night
  • The number of jobless people is increasing
  • The economy is growing, but there are more poor
  • We spend more time working than with family
  • Our stress levels have gone up – not reduced
  • We have medicines for diseases and yet there are more diseases that we don’t know how to cure
  • Americans have forgotten the art of cooking a meal. Their grand dream was to just pop a pill that has all nutrients and avoid cooking completely. With packaged meals, their health habits are worsening. The social leaders are trying to convince people to cook meals at home with fresh nutrients.
  • Our air, water, food is contaminated with no means of cleaning them up.
  • We have better weapons that can annihilate the planet.
  • Are our children better equipped to handle the world? Why do we have so many suicides?
  • You see workers laboring from morning to night earning a wage to sustain themselves
  • Both parents have to compulsorily work nowadays in the cities to make both ends meet. Who then takes care of one of the most sacred duties – to bring up one’s children well?
  • A ratio of thousand to one for jobs
  • A lack of dignity in traditional jobs – The story of an Andhra engineer. He gave up an IT job to take up farming when his father who was a farmer died. He eventually had to leave farming and go back to IT because he was not getting a bride.
  • Growing disparity between rich and poor
  • Loss of jobs because something can be done cheaper by machines
  • The founder of the company I work for said this - “the purpose of business is not just about creating stockholder wealth. It’s about meeting the needs of all the constituents—employees, customers and stockholders—in a scenario where everybody wins”. How many companies can claim that they work with this model? The primary mode of operation is selfish – to succeed individually.

It is in this context that we have to understand what Gandhiji is talking about. His comments were made when the industrial revolution was just opening in India. His comments created a controversy then and would have created an even bigger controversy today. But his comments were relevant then and relevant even today.

Gandhiji wrote “...Machinery has begun to desolate Europe. Ruination is now knocking at the English gates. Machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilization; it represents a great sin. …. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on “saving labour” till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation …”
To understand why this is happening, we should understand who we are and what are we doing on this planet.

Technology and development
Primary focus of people has now become to work and relax. Personal growth is considered in terms of money and progress in one’s career. Progress on the front of personal, psychological, emotional and mental development is not considered at all. We lack both the will of developing and the means of measuring progress on this front.

Many of us define our lives and achievements in our lives by the materialistic gains we have made. We talk about our salaries, the vehicles we own, the house we own, the vacations we take, the multitude of ways we spend money. But do we define the progress in our lives by the actual metrics of progress? Do we look at the increase in empathy, nobility, love in our lives? Do we look at increase in our mental capacity? Do we look at our social responsibility?
When a kid grows up, every year we look at how he/she is developing. Though these days we actually measure the ability of the kid to memorize rather than understand, we can say that there is some form of measurement however imperfect it may be. Unfortunately, this measuring of personality development ceases quickly. This personality development stops in the early twenties for an average person. Today’s expected lifespan is 70 years. If we are spending only the first 20-25years of our life and then stop, it is a complete waste of human potential.
When you look at successful politicians, actors, businessmen you see that many of them are active and ambitious even at an age of 70+. This zeal and ambition makes them successful. But an average person’s aim would be to get a job, marry, have kids and probably own a house. Is this what is needed in human development?
Scientists tell us that a successful man today uses only about 7% of the total brain’s potential. Today, humans are the pinnacle of evolution. We are the best evolved We are all proud of it. But is this the end? Is this what we could achieve?
Scientists think and many scientific spiritualists claim that humanity is just a transitory phase in evolution. They talk of all the potential achievements that can be made.
One example is the advanced senses of Rishis (Astronomy in Vedas). This is

Gandhiji said “Impoverished India can become free, but it will be hard for any India made rich through immorality to regain its freedom. I fear we shall have to admit that moneyed men support British rule ; their interest is bound up with its stability. Money renders a man helpless. The other thing which is equally harmful is sexual vice. Both are poison. A snake-bite is a lesser poison than these two, because the former merely destroys the body but the latter destroy body, mind and soul. We need not, therefore, be pleased with the prospect of the growth of the industry”

Even though Gandhiji rejected the craze for machinery, we all live in a world where machinery have become commonplace. His warnings fell on deaf ears and now we have to salvage this. What is our responsibility now?
Now that we see that we are stuck with the problem, we have to identify how to solve this problem. One of the greatest seers of this era – Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya gives solutions on how to control this problem and get
One of the greatest seers of our age – Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya has given systematic and simple techniques – The 5 sheelas and 4 varchas - which if applied to our daily life, helps humanity come out of this quicksand. We will discuss these techniques during the course of this talk.
Today, we are all slaves to machinery. If the machinery around fails to work we feel lost. Check what happens in your life if the machines – Geysers, cars, fans, air conditioners, television, phones stop working.
The only way to salvage the situation is to limit their use to only such places where it is absolutely essential.(mitavyaya on physical, emotions and thoughts so that you can use swarajya) By controlling the use of machinery, we gain control and cease to be slaves of machinery.
One of the popular modes of keeping fit is to jog in the morning. Would a person who walks to work and back need this? It is needed to only those who have stopped using their limbs. Today, many follow Yoga asanas for health. We see that Yoga teachers teach us asanas that were actually part of one’s routine if the machines were not there. For example, if you have seen the asanas taught by Baba Ramdev, there are exercises like using the grind stone, sweeping the floor, washing clothes etc. Why are we doing these now? We need them now because these physical activities have stopped in our daily lives. As Gandhiji predicted above, the unrestrained use of machinery has led to atrophy of the limbs and is causing grave health concerns.
The only way to salvage the situation is to start physical activity in our day to day activities. We should avoid looking for means to reduce physical activity and instead adopt physical activities for a healthier lifestyle.
What does this mean to our lifestyle? If you are taking the lift to climb 2 floors, start taking the stairs. Walk to your nearby shop instead of taking the vehicle. If you have no health problems, start taking bath with regular water instead of hot water. You will save energy and also feel more refreshed.
On the other hand, if you have to take a patient to a doctor, don’t think that you will make him walk. Take him in the fastest mode possible. Frugality does not mean poverty. Frugality means to use only that which is essential.

When you buy a bigger TV, see why are you buying it. Are you buying it because your neighbor has one or is it because your existing one does not work? Many people buy huge TVs even though their living rooms are not big to watch them well. They end up watching grainier pictures.
Do you really need to take a vehicle to your neighbourhood shop?
What are you gaining by taking a vehicle to work instead of walking?

  • You could stay in a calmer part of the city
    • Lets me meditate in peace
  • You could stay in a cheaper part of the city
    • Lets me contribute to the society
    • Lets me buy a bigger TV
  • I have to take a vehicle because my home is near to a better school for my kid.
  • I have no choice – I spend hours travelling everyday because the city is big

Why do you build a factory?

  • So that I can build better products
  • So that I can reduce the number of people needed to work
  • Produce iron so that people can build sturdier houses.
  • So that I can save money and make higher profits
    • What do you do with the profits? – Buy more land and build a bigger house…
    • Goes to charity – Tata sons: More than 70% of the shares are held by charities. The profit that these companies make are contributing to the betterment of the society.

Courtesy towards one another. When a person thinks that the entire world is his family – vasudhaiva kutumbakam, he learns to love and respect the others. If you love others, you will become less selfish.
Example: Teeth biting the tongue

As Gandhiji said, the root of the problem is not machinery but the craze for machinery. “How can I be when I know that even this body is a most delicate piece of machinery? The spinning wheel is a machine; a little toothpick is a machine. What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on “saving labour” till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour not for a fraction of mankind but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not the philanthropy to save labour, but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting
with all my might. . . The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to atrophy the limbs of man. For instance, I would make intelligent exceptions.
Take the case of the Singer's sewing machine. It is one of the few useful things ever invented, and there is a romance about the device itself

It is the specific types of machinery that trigger laziness that is the problem than the ones that aid human development. All machines fall into this category. It is how you use them that result in the difference.

At a deeper level, remember that the human life is a transitory phase in evolution. It is just a temporary stage between animal and superhuman stages of evolution. The human body is a very powerful and delicate piece of machinery that allows life to evolve. Even this body is to be discarded as one moves ahead in evolution. That is the grandest dream of Gandhiji and many spiritual beliefs.
As long as man is a slave to his body, he is tossed and thrown about as the body wishes. However, when he becomes the master of his self – when he attains – “swa raj”, does he attains swaraj. When Indians remember this truism and adopt it, we will have a true hind swaraj.


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Posted by sethshawn on Thu, 02/24/2011 - 07:49