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Farming: The Noblest Profession

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The Noblest Profession

The roots of peace and prosperity lie
in working the land, protecting the cow, and loving Krsna.

by Suresvara dasa

Winding through Sri Mayapur, the sacred Ganges shimmers in the cool light of dawn. The villagers are up, wiry Bengalis, worshiping, working in rhythm with nature. As temple bells fill the air, barefoot bullock drivers plow the earth—the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all bodies.

And Hare Krsna pilgrims are there, as mindful as the farmers of the persistence of life through death, the passage of energy through changing forms. These pilgrims come from all countries and creeds, seeking their roots in the sacred soil, in the eternal soul, and in Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

At the ISKCON temple, the sanai players blow ragas that herald the rising sun. Before long, Hare Krsna farm minister Paramananda dasa is touring the bountiful fields and complimenting his guide, Dr. S. K. Nirmal.

“It is all Krsna’s magic,” Dr. Nirmal exults, sweeping his hands skyward. “We are simply His servants.” The author of a book on natural pest control, fifty-two-year-old Nirmal lived as a landholder and an entomologist before coming to Mayapur last year. “I was a Gandhian,” he says with a smile, “spinning my cotton, growing grains. I have academic qualifications, but I am retired now. I want to serve Krsna and make this farm an example for the people.”

Paramananda, who runs an ISKCON farm in Pennsylvania, grins appreciatively. It is good to get away from the West—with its agribusinesses and state-of-the-art slaughterhouses—and visit the holy places of India, home of simple living and Krsna consciousness. But that doesn’t mean Nirmal’s job is an easy one.

On ISKCON farms, devotees apply timeless Vedic instructions for working tile land with oxen.

On ISKCON farms, devotees apply timeless Vedic instructions for working tile land with oxen.

“The villagers are stubborn,” he asserts. “For generations they have been losing their people to the city and forgetting the techniques of good farming.” He points to a neighbor’s shabby wheat field. “They were just scattering the seed. That means 10 percent goes to the birds, and another 10 percent doesn’t get enough moisture.” When Nirmal sowed his kernels in lines—a simple technique that cuts the cultivation cost and promotes a high yield—a hundred villagers gathered and shouted, “You madman! What are you doing?” But now his wheat stands tall and triumphant, and next year, say the villagers, they too will sow in lines.

Rice was a lesson in seed selection. When the villagers cut the paddy to sow, they use about 30 kilos of seed. With the seed Nirmal selects, though, he needs only 18 kilos. His method: Drop an egg in a bucket of water. Add salt to increase the density until the egg floats. Take out the egg and immerse the paddy seeds in the water. The healthier seeds will sink. And so will costs. In a recent planting, Nirmal sowed only 38 percent as many seeds as his neighbor, but reaped a higher yield.

High yields abounded in Vrndavana, where some fifty centuries ago, Krsna herded His 900,000 cows. With so many cows fertilizing the soil, one could use a simple wooden plow and get tremendous results. Earlier this century in India, extensive tests done by Sir Albert Howard (the father of contemporary organic farming in the West) proved to the agricultural world the beneficial effects of cow dung and other composted manures. During Mayapur’s hot season, the sun bakes out much of the soil’s richness. But by adding huge quantities of cow dung, the devotees have been able to plant and harvest year round.

And how they have distributed the bounty! During the Bangladesh War, ISKCON founder and spiritual master Srila Prabhupada started 1SKCON Food Relief, and since then the devotees have pooled their own and government resources to serve needy villagers more than seven million free meals. But Nirmal says this is just the beginning.

“Prabhupada wanted that no person within ten kilometers of our temple should ever go hungry. Now we are giving them food, and better, we give them knowledge so that they can grow more themselves.”

A pump engine drones at a nearby tube well. Farther on, a plowman coaxes his bullocks forward in a high-pitched staccato, “Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat! Ta-hah, ta-hah!” He wears simply a saronglike lungi, Paramananda notices, with rags tied about his hair against the fiercely rising sun. “Do you have any problem getting water?”

“Yes,” nods Nirmal. “Water is a big problem here. We have two wells, but we don’t always have diesel to run them.”

“Why don’t you use the oxen?”

“Yes, bullocks are best. That is the Vedic system I want to revive. The diesel is from the previous manager. We have so much manpower—why buy machines and wait on the Arabs for fuel? And if there is war, then what? I stopped the engine at the sugar-cane press; the diesel was spoiling the taste of the juice. People have forgotten the dignity of farming. I am trying to help them, but it will take time.”

Times have changed in India, as everywhere else, since Krsna sported in the fields of Vrndavana. Centuries of foreign domination and hodgepodge Hinduism have left Indians poor and confused. Even the Krsna conscious renaissance that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu started in sixteenth-century Mayapur seemed to fade when the imperial British imported the Industrial Revolution. After independence, India’s leaders held on to the secular-industrial policies of the West and deliberately ignored the Vedic principles of agrarian living and God consciousness, the very treasures Sri Caitanya said could spiritualize all humanity, But in disciplic succession from Sri Caitanya, Srila Prabhupada brought Krsna conscious spirituality to the West—and many spirited young Westerners back to India—and now Indians are remembering their true culture, realizing its relevance to today’s world.

“Srila Prabhupada used to criticize the Indians for imitating the West,” Paramananda recalls. ‘”My policy,’ Prabhupada would say, ‘is that I am going to the West and making them Krsna conscious. So you imitate them, you rascals!'”

Nirmal laughs uproariously. “Yeah! ‘Now you imitate!’ Fantastic!”

And Prabhupada would add, “Rascals think Vedic culture is primitive, but actually it’s most scientific.”

Paramananda and Nirmal walk toward an eggplant patch where two bamboo crosses stand like scarecrows. Says Nirmal, “You’ve heard of Laksmi, the goddess of fortune? She represents everything that comes from the soil—crops, jewels, raw materials—all wealth. Anyway, when rats were destroying the crops, I got some zinc phosphate from Bombay. It worked well for a while, but the rats were so intelligent they stopped eating it. Then the Vedas gave me a hint. The sages describe Laksmi as riding on an owl, a nocturnal predator. To give the owls the hint, I put up these bamboo perches, and watched them land at night. One by one, the rats came out of their holes and ended up in the owls’ stomachs. Krsna’s natural pest control.”

But a goddess, riding on an owl? Paramananda can hear his Pennsylvania neighbors chuckle. Actually, he and the other devotees get along quite well with these folks. Even if they don’t always understand us, they seem to appreciate our work. Whenever we hold open house, they turn out five-hundred-strong—to see our champion cows, ride the ox cart, eat good food, and laugh till sundown. And when .22-caliber bullet holes showed up on our brightly painted cow sign recently, a friend called to tell us who was bragging about it: old Clyde. Our friend called us not so much because he loves cows. He hates a braggart.

Characters like Clyde make us cautious. But even the gruff guys sometimes surprise us with encouragement. Early last spring, a feisty local stopped Paramananda in town. “You out plowin’ with the oxen yet?”

Paramananda looked at him. “We were going to last week, but the snow beat us.”

“Damn snow.”

Mostly they’re rooting for us—leathery cornhuskers in their bib overalls and John Deere caps; plump, perm-curled farm-wives in big house dresses; towheaded kids with slingshots, riding double on rusty bikes. They’re rooting for us, if only because we remind them of an America that was—a wholesome, agrarian America. We’re family members of an endangered species: the small farmer. Still, they tell us, “You can’t go back.”

Nor do we want to simply “go back.” When Lord Krsna came to earth. He appeared in a family of farmers. By His personal example, Krsna taught us the value of farming the land and protecting the cows.

“Agriculture is the noblest profession,” Srila Prabhupada wrote. “It makes society happy, wealthy, healthy, honest, and spiritually advanced. If we really want to cultivate the human spirit,” he noted, “we must have intelligent men of character to guide society. And to assimilate the subtle form of transcendental knowledge, we need sufficient milk and milk preparations to develop our finer brain tissues. Ultimately, we need to protect the cow to derive the highest benefit from this important animal.” Seen in this light, our relationship with the land and the cow is not only symbiotic, it is sacred.

To slaughter the cow, to exhaust the earth with chemicals and crush her under the “wheels of progress,” and then to shrug and say, “You can’t go back,” is to accept the slogans of those who hold nothing sacred but money. Shall we accept what else they say?

“They say,” as Krsna observes in the Bhagavad-gita, “that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust. Following such conclusions,” the Lord continues, “the demonic, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.”

Recalling Lord Krsna’s words, Nirmal is stirred up. “These monkeys are spoiling the whole world. At any moment, nuclear bombs can rain down. Why? Because people have forgotten God. Nobody wants to work the land. Everybody wants to go to the city and become a big shot. But when He was here, even Krsna, the Supreme Lord, would go to the forest for His spiritual master and cut firewood. But if people forget the dignity of working the land, how will they grow the food they need to survive?”

We must go back, back home to Godhead. And to sustain and inspire us on our way, we need to return to a simpler, more natural way of life—the life Krsna gave us. And if we can’t immediately stop the big wheels of industry, we should at least turn them in a spiritual direction.

“America has technological advancement and wealth,” Srila Prabhupada used to say, “and India has spiritual knowledge. The job of the Krsna consciousness movement is to combine the two strengths and uplift the world.”

In a nearby field where schoolboys with sparkling eyes pull weeds and chant Hare Krsna, Paramananda recognizes his favorite sweet corn. “Silver Queen?”

“Yes. From the kernels you sent from the States.” Past the corn, Nirmal points out a nitrogen-fixing legume. “Barseem. It’s like alfalfa, but it’s not perennial.”

“Our alfalfa lasts five to ten years,” says Paramananda. “Just keep out the weeds.”

“Can you send some of those seeds, too?”

As Paramananda and Nirmal return from the fields, the ISKCON compound (with its lotus-shaped fountains, formal English gardens, huge devotional buildings, and devotees from all lands) emerges as a stunning model of Prabhupada’s East-West combination. The spiritual city the devotees are building at Sri Mayapur is starting to rise from the fields, to show even the most sophisticated Westerner what the simple Vedic villager has known for ages. That the life arising from the earth contains innumerable eternal souls. That the soul who has come into the human form has a golden opportunity to transcend nature’s cycle of birth and death. And that our prosperity, peace, and happiness remain rooted, as always, in working the land, protecting the cow, and loving Krsna.

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