Hedonism, the path of unrestricted sense enjoyment, of ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and ‘beg, borrow or steal’, as advocated thousands of years ago by the Indian atheist philosopher Charbak, has now become a fashion in the Western countries. Teachers and students alike openly, proudly and, may I add, “foolishly” propound this distorted philosophy, which leads to all kinds of immorality and degradation in society. While more and more people indulge in all kinds of sense gratification, with obesity becoming a national concern in both North America and China, an ever increasing number of people on the planet cannot even meet their basic necessities of life. According to 2010 census, 1 out of 7 persons on the planet suffer from malnutrition, or in hard figures, 925 million people out of the estimated global population of 6.5 billion, 13.6%, cannot meet their basic needs of life, with hundreds of thousands dying every year due to such an impoverished condition. [http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm]
Contrary to popular belief, however, meeting one’s basic needs in life is no guarantee to happiness; nor is increasing one’s needs beyond the basic necessities of life automatically leading to increased happiness. Ironically, the opposite is true: to increase sense enjoyment is to increase ones entanglement in this material world and to increase sense gratification, disregarding the established laws of nature, directly increases one’s suffering.
One of the most illuminating purports on the topic of “basic needs” written by India’s foremost spiritual visionary, Srila Prabhupada, gives us a clear insight as to what the Vedic standard of life is meant to be. “Basic needs” for most people refer to those things in life needed to keep their body healthy and stout so that they can live without undue encumbrances. Living within a world of relativity, the poverty line drawn for one country often differs drastically from that of another. In the USA for example, statistics showed in year 2009 that close to 15% of the population were living below the poverty line. Yes, the claim is that in America, “the land of plenty”, such a high percentage of its population live below the poverty line. At a closer look, however, what the figures reveal is that close to 15% of the population were earning less than $ 20,000 a year with the American poverty level for 2011 now set at $ 22,350 for a family of four.[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_the_United_States]
Clearly, what is basic for one country is seen as overindulgence for another. The Vedic culture, however, adds an important dimension to meeting one’s “basic needs”. “Basic needs” are meant to encompass not only the needs of the body but indeed those of the soul. Of the two, those of the soul are considered more important. The Vedic injunction is “jivasya tattva jijnasa”.
“Life's desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one's works.” [SB 1.2.10]
Let us thus properly utilize this human form of life to inquire about the absolute truth and thus become truly happy. Actual civilization begins with “atma-jnana”, knowledge of the soul.
Every single human being, including all embodied living entities in lower species of life, is burdened by the four same bodily necessities of life: eating, sleeping, mating and defending. According to the Vedic way of life, these four basic necessities of life can best be achieved by living within an agrarian based environment where life is simpler and our basic necessities can more easily be met. Have you ever wondered why historically the majority of the world’s population have lived in Asian countries and why this fact remains so even today? There are injunctions in the ancient Vedas whereby one is recommended to live only in such places where mango trees and papaya trees grow naturally. One should live in places where one can find natural pure waters, where one can easily grow one’s own food, where one can peacefully tend cows and associate with saintly persons, brahmanas, all governed and protected by a good responsible king. The Vedic culture thus stresses in many practical ways this most important principle of “simplicity” or “simple life”, a concept almost forgotten in today’s ever increasing complex way of living.
Srila Prabhupada thus explains the flaws of modern society, a society which has deviated in a major way from these simple concepts of life: “The basic principle of economic development is centered on land and cows. The necessities of human society are food grains, fruits, milk, minerals, clothing, wood, etc. One requires all these items to fulfill the material needs of the body. Certainly one does not require flesh and fish or iron tools and machinery. During the regime of Maharaja Yudhisthira, all over the world there were regulated rainfalls. Rainfalls are not in the control of the human being. The heavenly King Indra deva is the controller of rains, and he is the servant of the Lord. When the Lord is obeyed by the king and the people under the king's administration, there are regulated rains from the horizon, and these rains are the causes of all varieties of production on the land. Not only do regulated rains help ample production of grains and fruits, but when they combine with astronomical influences there is ample production of valuable stones and pearls. Grains and vegetables can sumptuously feed a man and animals, and a fatty cow delivers enough milk to supply a man sumptuously with vigour and vitality. If there is enough milk, enough grains, enough fruit, enough cotton, enough silk and enough jewels, then why do the people need cinemas, houses of prostitution, slaughterhouses, etc.? What is the need of an artificial luxurious life of cinema, cars, radio, flesh and hotels? Has this civilization produced anything but quarrelling individually and nationally? Has this civilization enhanced the cause of equality and fraternity by sending thousands of men into a hellish factory and the war fields at the whims of a particular man? [SB 1.10.4]
Meeting the basic needs of life is meant to be a simple affair which should not be much time consuming. But it is only possible when we keep in mind the spiritual dimension of life. The real basic needs of life are those of the spirit self. The basic need for every living being is to reconnect with the Lord in love and devotion, only then will he be happy. That we have forgotten in today’s misguided society. We falsely run after the illusory temporary material comforts of life falsely thinking we will be happy. It is for this reason that the Vedic culture advocates that we minimize our bodily demands to nourish our spiritual needs. It is for this reason that we find statements advocating a total disinterest in working towards economic development which further entangles the living entity in this world. And it is for this reason that we find such astounding statements that the Vedic way of life advocates that one actually earns less and remains happy with whatever Krishna easily provides. Only then we will experience real lasting happiness in both this world and the next.
“Everyone requires possessions such as food grains, clothing, money and other things necessary for the maintenance of the body, but one should not collect more than necessary for his actual basic needs. If this natural principle is followed, there will be no difficulty in maintaining the body. [NOI, Verse 2, Purport]
“This is the picture of ideal family life. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked Ramananda Raya about the goal of life, Ramananda Raya described it in different ways, according to the recommendations of the revealed scriptures, and finally Sri Ramananda Raya explained that one may stay in his own position, whether as a brahmana, a sudra, a sannyasi or whatever, but one must try to inquire about life's goal (athato brahma jijnasa). This is the proper utilization of the human form of life. When one misuses the gift of the human form by unnecessarily indulging in the animal propensities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending and does not try to get out of the clutches of maya, which subjects one to repeated birth, death, old age and disease, one is again punished by being forced to descend to the lower species and undergo evolution according to the laws of nature. Prakriti kriyamanani gunai karami sarvasaha [Bg. 3.27]. Being completely under the grip of material nature, the living entity must evolve again from the lower species to the higher species until he at last returns to human life and gets the chance to be freed from the material clutches. A wise man, however, learns from the sastras and guru that we living entities are all eternal but are put into troublesome conditions because of associating with different modes under the laws of material nature. He therefore concludes that in the human form of life he should not endeavour for unnecessary necessities, but should live a very simple life, just maintaining body and soul together.
Certainly one requires some means of livelihood, and according to one's varna and asrama this means of livelihood is prescribed in the sastras. One should be satisfied with this. Therefore, instead of hankering for more and more money, a sincere devotee of the Lord tries to invent some ways to earn his livelihood, and when he does so Krishna helps him. Earning one's livelihood, therefore, is not a problem. The real problem is how to get free from the bondage of birth, death and old age. Attaining this freedom, and not inventing unnecessary necessities, is the basic principle of Vedic civilization. One should be satisfied with whatever means of life comes automatically. The modern materialistic civilization is just the opposite of the ideal civilization. Every day the so-called leaders of modern society invent something contributing to a cumbersome way of life that implicates people more and more in the cycle of birth, death, old age and disease.” [SB 7.14.5]
To facilitate meeting our basic material needs as well as to help meet our spiritual needs, in his wisdom, Lord Krishna, the creator of this material world, has devised a simple yet very scientific social system called varnasrama dharma. When properly understood and applied, the varnasrama way of life, which is centered on land, cows and Krishna, automatically helps individuals and society alike to advance and prosper. Daiva varnasrama dharma is that same varnasrama dharma which emphasizes the need to focus all our activities on the divine and thus spiritualize our lives to become happy both in this life and the next.
The article originally appeared as a regular column in, THE EIGHT PETALS, an e-newsletter in support of Varnasrama dharma. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information contact: email@example.com