Monday, April 14, 2008

More food for thought

Human Footprint

This interesting link has several articles on recycling and how it helps the environment. It is part of a program that has appeared on the US National Geographic channel.

Sample an excerpt:
Several organizations, including the EPA, have classified diesel exhaust as a probable or potential human carcinogen.
I knew diesel exhaust to be as harmful as any other exhaust. What I didn't know was that diesel exhaust has been called out as a specific potential carcinogen.

Another ominous sounding excerpt:
Mel Peffers, an air quality project manager for Environmental
Defense, explained: “Along that route all that pollution
coming off of the diesel exhaust is very significant and
it is the largest driver for our air cancer, our additional air
cancer risk, and specifically the soot associated with diesel
… is very bad.”
Come to India now, where every car manufacturer offers a diesel variant of the car (Toyota, Hyundai, Maruti, Skoda, Tata). Diesel, as we all know, is priced approximately Rs 15 lower than petrol/gasoline. This is exploited by car owners and manufacturers as an incentive to buy and make diesel variants.

Most of our public and cargo (buses, trucks, vans) transport is via diesel. Every other car seems to be a diesel one. How does it feel to drive and live in cancer-causing soot everyday?
Diesel is convenient because it is cheaper. However, it is not so conducive for our well-being as these statements show us. Even if this information is pasted on all walls that we see, I don't think we will see any reduction in diesel consumption.

At least diesel gets us somewhere. Cigarettes, which do not get us anywhere in particular, are all the more popular. In spite of draconian laws being instituted by Anbumani Ramadoss, cigarette consumption has not dropped in India. It is still viewed as glamorous despite standard warnings written on every single cigarette packet. That pleasurable ingredient in tobacco seems to outweigh all health related concerns.

Which brings me to an age-old conundrum. Why should pleasure and well-being be at loggerheads? It is not just with tobacco/diesel but across several things in life. For instance, if you have to be healthy, you have to exercise. Imagine all the trouble when we have to get up at 5:30 AM on a cold wintry day and head out the door when we could rather be asleep in the warm confines of our beds. Almost all tasty food that can be easily prepared is dangerous in some way or another. A lot of healthy food done easy doesn't taste as good.

This seems to point to something basic in human behavior. We seem to like things that are pleasant at the outset. We don't seem to care enough about longer term issues that might result from our actions. This has been discussed extensively in our literature, especially of the religious and spiritual kind. Sukha and hita can be used to denote pleasure and good respectively in Samskrit.

The Upanishads talk about preyas and shreyas. Preyas - "desired" and shreyas - "welfare". In the immortal dialog between Yama and Nachiketas (in the kaThopanishad) we have the same discussion, rather a postulation by Yama.

anyac chreyo anyad utaiva
preyaste ubhe nᾱnᾱrthe puruṣam sinītaḥ:
tayoḥ śreya ᾱdadᾱnasya sᾱdhu bhavati,
hīyate ‘rthᾱd ya u preyo vṛṇīte

(Translation by Swami Sivananda):
Yama: One is good, while another is pleasant. These two having different objects chain a man. Blessed is he who, between them chooses the good alone, but he who chooses what is pleasant, loses the true end.

Yama continues:

śreyaś ca preyaś ca manuṣyam etas tau samparītya vivinakti
dhīraḥ. śreyo hi dhīro’bhipreyaso vṛṇīte, preyo mando yoga-kṣemᾱd vṛṇīte.

(Translation by Swami Sivananda) The good and the pleasant take hold of man; the wise man examines and distinguishes them. The wise man prefers the good (Sreya) to the pleasant, but the ignorant man chooses the pleasant (Preya) for the sake
of the body.

As old as this riddle is, the answer seems to be equally old.

Discrimination (not the caste/race based ones) but viveka - the knowledge of what is transient and what is lasting will help us in this direction. In other words, specific categorization of what comes in life as short-term and longer-term will help us identify what is shreyas and what is preyas. Understanding the big picture will also help. In short, a Zen master like mind.

If only were it as easy as typing this post...

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