Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL

Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL
Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL (Personal Deities)

13 July 2008

Where Is The Simple Living?

Both in the first and third world, people are facing a range of health problems. To name a few: bird flu, threat of a worldwide influenza pandemic, drug resistant tuberculosis, mad cow, e-coli infections on green-leaf crops, uncertainties about irradiated food, cloned and bio-engineered plants and animals, the mysterious dying bee population and lifestyle repercussions such as obesity and Alzheimer. In addition, the planet is facing unprecedented challenges: peak oil, climate change, melting ice caps, financial meltdown, nuclear strike threats in the Middle East, terrorism and loss of human rights in our democracies. The list goes on…

Srila Prabhupada had the answer: Simple Living.

Of all Prabhupada’s instructions, I think the most important one, the one closest to his heart, is the one to set up rural communities to live on the land, keep some cows for milk and fertilizer, bulls for hard work, grow our own organic crops, produce our own karma-free food and offer it all to Krsna in a spirit of devotion. The rewards are a no-brainer: health, both material and spiritual, self esteem from achieving independence from the corporate greedbags and an opportunity to create an inclusive spiritual community wherein no one’s talents, big or small, would go unrewarded. This proposal is not utopian. As I child I grew up in rural northern Italy on a small household farm. We lived as a big joint family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, all in all about 30 souls. We didn’t have a lot of land, just enough to meet our necessities. There were no machines. Everything went on bull power. One uncle was a carpenter and he made the carts and the wheels, another uncle was a blacksmith and he made the rims, the plows and the simple tools. The other men knew how to farm, bake bread, make the best olive oil in Italy and, Italy being Italy, wine. The women knew the basic principles of herbs to use as medicines. We kept all kinds of animals like chickens, turkeys and rabbits around the farm to augment our basic diet of polenta (maize meal) and vegetables. We fished in the nearby rivers and lakes. Once a year we slaughtered a fat pig. No, we weren’t vegetarians but at the same time there was no question of keeping cows for slaughter. They were too valuable. We needed the milk and the bulls. The entire enterprise wasn’t based on making a profit. It was based on self-sufficiency. It never crossed our minds to raise animals for slaughter as a business. My mother sewed my clothes and when they got too small they were passed on to my younger brother. Us kids made our own toys: bows from tree branches, arrow tips from old umbrella ribs, catapults from discarded bicycle inner tubes, penny whistle flutes from the green branches of poplar trees and our carpenter uncle could make a beautiful rocking horse, hand cart, wooden train, or spinning top. Once a year in the summers there’d be a fairs at nearby villages where everyone was fed free polenta and sausage and we got a chance to buy stuff from traveling vendors. Me and my group of small friends knew every fruit tree for miles around and the stealing would begin with cherries in late spring, continuing with plums, apricots, peaches, loquats, figs, pomegranates, pears, apples and, just before the winter frost, kakis (persimmons). Wild strawberries, black and red berries and chestnuts were free. Among the adults it was a given that those who had a strong spiritual bend could always become monks or nuns and practice a life of renunciation and prayer in nearby monasteries. The rest went to church regularly and chanted on their rosaries. One of my early memories is of my grandmother waking me daily at 6:30 AM to go to church with her. Sunday was a day set aside for church and other things beside work and production. On Fridays we strictly ate no meat. It was a simple life but not a hard one. In the spring there was intensive work to prepare the fields, late summers were for harvest and late autumn to get ready for the winter. In between there was a lot of free time when the men would gather in the “cantina”, where the wine was aged, and sit around philosophizing, drinking and generally contemplating their life situations. The women had their own sphere of influence centered around the home and the children. So it wasn’t all work, especially not debilitating, soul destroying 12 hour days for some corporate, soulless corporation bent of exploiting you and everything around you. The concept of God was central to the people around me and because of that example and training I was later able to go to India and deepen my search for meaning that culminated in my practice of Krsna consciousness, which, please note, did not in any way convert me from nor minimize my Christian experience, rather it enhanced and perfected it so that nowadays I can reap the benefits of some spiritual maturity to go along with my 65 years.

So, don’t give me the spin that we need 50 million dollars to built a Temple in Mayapura (I saw the two designs and was appalled -- they look like glorified Sikh Gurudwaras) or that we need annual half a million plus dollar travel budgets for some of our swamis, hundred thousand dollar cars for some of our GBCs, or fat salaries, perks and golden retirement benefits for some of our managers. No! What we do need is some serious money and manpower for Prabhupada’s plans of simple living high thinking because without that we simply following the ardha murkha logic. And most of us can perfectly understand how a half baked half chicken idea will keeps us rotating in this material world for far longer that we or anyone else needs to.

Thank you for your attention.