Don’t just sharpen the axe – reform the axe-holder
Albert Einstein once said, “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” Today when the world is increasingly apprehensive of barbaric tyrants acquiring weapons of mass destruction, his statement seems more than prophetic. Unlike an axe that can maim a few, such weapons can massacre millions in moments.
Actually, Einstein’s bleak diagnosis came true in his own lifetime – and with his unintentional participation. He, due to fears that Hitler might develop atomic weapons first, wrote to the US President the letter that kick-started the Manhattan Project and led to the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a tragic testimony to the hazardous nature of technological progress that the greatest insight of one of the greatest modern minds (Einstein’s discovery of the inter-convertibility of matter and energy) paved the way to one of the worst man-made modern disasters.
It is a tragic testimony to the hazardous nature of technological progress that the greatest insight of one of the greatest modern minds (Einstein’s discovery of the inter-convertibility of matter and energy) paved the way to one of the worst man-made modern disasters (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
My point is certainly not to blame scientists or science or technological progress. My point is the same as was Einstein’s in his above quote – to highlight the danger of lopsided human progress, of sharpening the axe without reforming the criminal, of gaining increased outer control without gaining commensurate inner control. Martin Luther King Jr echoed, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.”
“Spiritual power” refers here to the power that brings out humanity’s higher side and curbs and cures its lower side. Metaphorically speaking, spiritual power disarms and heals the axe-holder. The Bhagavad-gita (16.21) indicates that lust, anger and greed are three anti-spiritual inner forces that bring out the worst within people. That is, they make the axe-holder criminal and pathological. Under their spell, people abuse technology. For example, greed for absolute power made Hitler’s Nazis abuse technology to murder millions in the Holocaust.
Authentic spirituality counters the inner enemies by connecting us with our noble core, the soul, and also with the noblest being, God. Such spiritual connection centers on tangible inner transformation, not nominal religious affiliation. Nominal religionists are as vulnerable as everyone else to the inner enemies.
Transformational spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation enable us to realize the spiritual connectedness of all living beings and to relish higher fulfillment – fulfillment that empowers us to resist the lures of power and pleasure dangled by lust, anger and greed.
In recent times, humanity has invested enormous intellectual energy in developing technologically, but hardly any energy in developing spiritually. If we take up spiritual practices diligently and set positive examples of all-round human progress, we can stimulate a healthy chain reaction of similar holistic progress in society. Such balanced all-round progress alone can empower people to use technology for human well-being.