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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Assumption of Civilization (Part 1)

The history of the world has factually proved that attempts to increase economic development for bodily comfort through the advancement of material civilization have done nothing to remedy the inevitability of birth, death, old age and disease. Everyone has knowledge of huge empires throughout the history of the world — the Roman Empire, the Moghul Empire, the British Empire and so on — but all the societies engaged in such economic development (sarve 'rtha-kāmāḥ) have been frustrated by the laws of nature through periodic wars, pestilence, famine and so on.

Thus all their attempts have been flickering and temporary. In this verse, therefore, it is said, kurvanti martyasya kiyat priyaḿ calāḥ: one may be very proud of possessing a vast empire, but such empires are impermanent; after one hundred or two hundred years, everything is finished. All such positions of economic development, although created with great endeavor and hardship, are vanquished very soon.
-Srila Prabhupada, purport to S.B 7.7.39

It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine
-a modern Southern sage

The assumption of civilization is based on three statements:
1) That, as a society of devotees (ISKCON), we are economically dependent upon the external, material, ugra-karma infrastructure for such things as foodstuffs, utilities, transport, and financial support.
2) That our awareness is limited that the ugra-karma infrastructure has a very tenous and temporary foundation and may collapse like the proverbial "house of cards".
3) That, as a society of devotees, we are not prepared for such a paradigm shift across the economic and social horizon. What will we do when we can no longer place our dependence for our sustenance on sources outside our society?

The points presented this piece will show that Prabhupada wanted us to create an alternative to this arrangement i.e Krsna conscious rural communities, not only for the spiritual benefit of the devotees, but also to provide for them materially in a way independent of the ugra-karma infrastructure.

In the microcosmic view, in our own immediate situation, we must be aware of the karmic situation of the global society, which to put it lightly, is not good.

We should not assume the support of the ugra-karmic infrastructure as it stands now is always going to be there. This could be potentially dangerous to the future of ISKCON

This isn't "conspiracy theory". The implications of this assumption of civilization lie in the hallowed print of Prabhupada's books all the way down to the gaudy but all-too-real headlines of today's news outlets.

The universe may not be dissolved, the world may not end, but the way we live and breathe and eat and function within these bodies may change in a drastic fashion, and it may come sooner than we plan or think. Are you, or we, prepared for this?

"Although the Krsna conscoiusness movement is a movement for brahmanas and Vaisnavas, it is trying to reestablish the divine varnasrama institution, for without this division of society there cannot be peace and prosperity anywhere" Srimad Bhagavatam Purport

What Srila Prabhupada wanted was for his disciples and granddisciples and so on to create an alternative culture of devotion through which the entire Planet Earth could benefit from, materially and spiritually.

With devotee-led rural communities in the lead, Prabhupada wanted us to show the world how "Simple Living, High Thinking" could lead the suffering peoples of this world to ideal happiness.

Prabhupada wanted that daivi-varnasrama be establsihed as the central guiding principle in these communities, and he wanted that these communities creating this ideal would be able to be self-sufficient, or in modern terms, "off the grid."

This means communities producing their own foodstuffs, utilities, transport, and means of life without having to be dependent in any economic way from sources outside the community.

In today's ISKCON, we are still in a great struggle to bring to reality this vital portion of Prabhupada's spiritual vision for the world.

The creation of this simple, rural lifestyle ethic is as important a part of Prabhupada's vision as is sankirtana, temple construction, and book distribution.

HH Bhakti-Raghava Maharaja writes that "As early as 1949, Srila Prabhupada described his mission in a letter to the Hon. Sardar, Dr. Vallavbhaiji Patel, Deputy Prime Minister of India, outlining four movements. The first was the “sankirtan” movement of chanting and philosophical discourse that was to be introduced all over the world. Then came the “temple entry” movement; organising temples as centres of spiritual culture according to scriptures like Bhagavad-gita. Thirdly, he described the “spiritual initiation” movement, a movement that would be conducted under strict disciplinary methods to enable “mayajanas” to attain the perfection of human life. This would “be organized in such a manner that people all over the world may take interest in it.” Finally, he described the "classless society" movement or the "scientific division of the caste system as envisaged in the Bhagavad-gita”.

He continues "However, the establishment of a society based on the traditional village lifestyle has been neglected. Although one can still advance in Krishna consciousness living in the cities, the degraded influences of urban life place serious constraints on the progress most devotees can make. ISKCON must recognise the need to re-establish, develop, and maintain the ideals of village-based communities, the natural Krishna-conscious village lifestyle which was shown by Krishna and Balarama Themselves. Initially, perhaps only a few will want to take it up, but without it, Srila Prabhupada's mission in four phases or "movements", and ISKCON's preaching programs, remain incomplete.
(Position Paper on Promoting Vrndaban Village Development in India)

The reasons for our lack of success are myriad and complex, but following in the example of Prabhupada's boundless determination to establish his vision around the world, it is our duty not to give up or claim that it is "hopeless."

Indeed, the future of ISKCON may depend on it.

Stau tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday.

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