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Scarcity In The Land Of Surplus

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Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

Scarcity In The Land Of Surplus

by Mathuresa dasa

1984-04-07The United States has enough surplus wheat to provide more than two tons of cereal and baked goods for every American family and enough surplus cheese, butter, and powdered milk to put forty pounds of dairy products in every kitchen in the country. Yet while these and other surplus foods sit in government warehouses, a debate over hunger in the United States is in progress.

On one side, President Reagan has said that he is puzzled by news that hunger is on the rise, and a special presidential task force has agreed: no “rampant hunger problem” exists in the U.S. The task force has also asserted that the Reagan administration’s cuts in food aid have not harmed the poor. These findings, however, contradict earlier reports.

In October the United States Conference of Mayors announced a marked increase in the numbers of hungry and homeless. One month later, after a five-state tour, Senator Edward Kennedy reported a similar finding. And in January, Kennedy referred to the presidential task force’s report as “a transparent cover-up of the serious and worsening problem of hunger in America.” The President’s economic policies are to blame, say Kennedy and other Democrats.

Both sides in the election-year hunger debate, however, seem to be ignoring a most important question: How could even a trace of hunger exist in a country so rich in agricultural resources as America? Even if the unemployment rate were double what it is now, what excuse is there for even one hungry person? A recent study by the Economic Research Services shows that a mere fraction of the U.S. surpluses would be enough to end hunger in the sixty-seven poorest nations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East—what to speak of the United States.

This contradictory state of affairs throws into question not just the Reagan administration’s economic policies but modern economic planning in general. What is it about our modern industrial economies that prevents food surpluses from reaching those who need them? In trying to answer this question, let us briefly consider the Vedic outlook on economics.

The Bhagavad-gita reminds us that the primary function of any economy is not to develop industry or commerce but to produce food through agriculture. As Lord Krsna explains, both men and animals live by eating products of the field. But because many Western countries, America in particular, are accustomed to food surpluses, they tend to minimize or ignore this simple truth. Automobiles, televisions, home computers, and the many other elements of technological advancement are useless without the fundamental wealth of agricultural abundance. We can’t eat nuts, bolts, transistors, and microchips.

Agricultural wealth depends in turn on the mercy of the Supreme Lord. While the atheist credits bumper crops to advances in farming techniques and technology, the devotee of Lord Krsna sees that without the cooperation of nature, which works under Krsna’s direction, not one stalk of wheat can grow. The severe droughts that over the past several years have baked large sections of America’s farmlands are one example of just how useless modern technology is without nature’s assistance.

Not only are the products of industrial technology inedible, they are all more or less unnecessary. When nature can profusely supply grains, fruit, milk, cotton, silk, wood, and other raw materials, why the overemphasis on heavy industry? We can’t live without nature’s gifts, but we can live without man’s. For the devotee, therefore, America’s enormous food surpluses confirm the statement of the Katha Upanisad that the Supreme Lord provides life’s necessities for all living beings.

In the ideal economic system, most families own some cows and a few acres of land, and whatever surplus grains and milk products they accumulate they can trade for other necessities. That, in a nutshell, is the commonsense Vedic outlook on economics.

Modern economists also recognize the central importance of agriculture, although not so much for its potential to supply all our needs as for its role in industrial growth. They point especially to the mechanization of agriculture as the foundation for industrial development, because to the degree that a nation frees its labor force from farm work it is able to build industry. Of course, taking men off their farms ends their direct access to nature’s tangible wealth, making them dependent on others for their livelihood and subjecting them to the danger of unemployment. But most analysts consider this a negligible drawback since they judge a nation’s wealth in terms of industrial development rather than in terms of the dignity and security of the labor force. The wealthiest nations, they say, are the ones with the smallest farm populations. In the U.S., for example, less than five percent of the labor force works on farms, whereas in many third-world countries the figure is fifty percent or more.

Agriculture (or the agribusiness industry), in addition to serving as the foundation for industrial growth, plays an integral role in the economic superstructure of the industrialized nations. In America the hundred-billion-dollar food processing and distribution industries are, of course, directly dependent on agribusiness, as are industries which produce farm machinery, insecticides, and fertilizers. The American consumer spends twenty percent of his income on food, so there is in fact no sector of the economy that is not deeply affected by the ups and downs of the food industry or, more specifically, by fluctuations in food prices.

While the consumer naturally appreciates low food prices, they spell bankruptcy for the agribusiness and food distribution industries and therefore threaten the entire industrial economy with collapse. The government is thus obliged to support food prices by buying up surplus commodities and keeping them off the market.

So if we are wondering why the vast U.S. surpluses can’t be used to feed the hungry at home and abroad, the answer is clear: widespread distribution of surpluses would cripple the economy. A case in point is the U.S. food stamp program, which enables the needy and unemployed to purchase goods from retail outlets. If this program were curtailed and surpluses were instead given directly to the needy, retail businesses would lose billions of dollars each year and the entire economy would suffer. In much the same way, large-scale distribution of America’s food surpluses abroad would have a detrimental effect on international trade. U.S. surpluses must, therefore, remain in U.S. warehouses—all in the name of economic development.

Thus our manmade industrial economies now stand in direct opposition to the natural economic arrangements of the Supreme Lord—a fact that both sides of the hunger debate have failed to realize. As the father of all living beings, Krsna is ready to provide generously for every one of His children. But instead of fulfilling Lord Krsna’s desire, economic planners the world over seem to consider it their duty to keep Him from flooding the market. Therefore, as one of this century’s great Krsna conscious leaders used to say, the only shortage in this world is a shortage of Krsna consciousness—a shortage of surrender to the plans of the Supreme Person.

Academia On The Rocks

by Drutakarma dasa

1984-04-08Material enjoyments, which are due to contact with the material senses, are sources of misery,” says Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita. “Such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” With alcohol abuse epidemic on the nation’s college campuses, students should consider this advice.

Thomas Adams, the dean of students at Loyola University in Chicago, states, “The single greatest drug abuse on this or any other campus is undoubtedly alcohol.” A research study by Boston’s Medical Foundation on 7,000 New England students at 34 campuses found:

—95% of undergraduates drink.

—20% of the men students and 10% of the women say that getting drunk is “important” to them.

—29% of the men and 11% of the women are heavy drinkers.

Gerardo M. Gonzalez, a specialist on alcohol at the University of Florida, stated, “People assumed you went to college, drank up, had a good time, and graduated. Now they’re beginning to realize that the problem of alcohol abuse is a national problem with tremendous personal and economic cost.”

One naturally wonders why, despite the dangers of alcohol, more and more of the nation’s college students are drinking. Industry advertising practices may have a great deal to do with it. Washington columnist Colman McCarthy reported in his article “The Booze Business is Booming on Campus ” about “the beer industry’s fierce campaign to capture not only the youth alcohol market but also create early loyalty that may last a drinking lifetime.” Outlining the methods of the industry, McCarthy said, “Beer companies like Coors, Miller, and Anheuser-Busch have college marketing programs. Miller employs student representatives on 550 or so campuses. . . . Coors is on 182 campuses. It pays between $150 and $300 a month. . . .The aim is to get as many student activities as possible centered around the beer can or keg.” An especially successful gimmick is for a beer company to give student governments money to put on rock concerts at which the company’s beer is exclusively sold.

William F. Plymat, Sr., director of the American Council on Alcohol Problems, said in a message before the British Parliament, “Immature youth are very susceptible to the clever advertising messages that are often aimed at them to use alcohol to achieve social acceptance and happiness. We owe a special duty to youth to protect them as much as possible from an industry that seeks to recruit them into using an extremely dangerous drug.”

Although complete prohibition has not proven practical, Mr. Plymat’s recommendation for a nationwide ban on all advertising for alcoholic beverages seems reasonable, as does placing the production of alcoholic beverages under government monopoly, for sale through limited outlets to adults registered as alcohol users. In addition, the government could fund programs to educate the public in the dangers of alcohol consumption and to provide rehabilitation for alcoholics.

Nevertheless, even such drastic measures will not be successful as long as people still feel an inner need for alcohol. Srila Prabhupada states, “Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment. The process of restriction from sense enjoyment by rules and regulations is something like restricting a diseased person from certain types of eatables. The patient, however, neither likes such restrictions nor loses his taste for eatables.”

How to become transcendentally situated is described in the Bhagavad-gita. “A liberated person is not attracted to material sense pleasure or external objects but is always in trance, enjoying the pleasure within. In this way the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness, for he concentrates on the Supreme.”

The process of concentrating upon the Supreme is technically called meditation. In This Side Up, a publication of the U.S. government’s Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, mantra meditation is recommended as a genuine technique for providing positive experiences that will help young people overcome the psychological need for alcohol and other drugs. “Mantra meditation is a simple and popular way to meditate. . . . Usually a mantra is given to you by the person who teaches you to meditate. It is a word or syllable that can be focused upon or repeated over and over.” The publication goes on to state that by meditation one can “achieve a high level of relaxation and a definite ‘up’ feeling.”

The authors of This Side Up recognize the spiritual foundations of meditation, and the Hare Krsna mantra is especially effective, being the transcendental sound vibration of Godhead. The Vedic literature teaches that God’s transcendental energies are concentrated in mantras—such as the Hare Krsna mantra—that contain the names of God. Among these energies is the Lord’s transcendental pleasure energy, hara (hare in the vocative). Thus by meditating upon the sound of the Hare Krsna mantra, one can experience a spiritual pleasure that far surpasses any material experience. Chanting Hare Krsna should be a part of everyone’s education.

The Pope And Saintly Qualities

by Kundali dasa

Back in January of 1984, when Pope John Paul II personally visited and forgave “as a brother” Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him almost three years before, the Pontiff’s message to the world was clear: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” His example befits a follower of Lord Jesus, who showed mercy even to his tormentors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Judging from the media’s coverage of this simple act of forgiveness, Pope John Paul’s reputation as a man of God has now increased. People the world over. Catholic and non-Catholic alike, were moved by the Pope’s example of saintly conduct. Thus we are reminded that saintly conduct can transcend all barriers of class, culture, and religious creed. I found the worldwide approval the Pope received to be heartwarming, and I took it to be a positive sign for the members of the Krsna consciousness movement, who are all endeavoring to develop the qualities of saintliness, one of which is forgiveness.

The science of Krsna consciousness teaches that to nurture a saintly character one must become a devotee of God; this is absolutely essential. Once one resolves to do this, his next step is to associate with persons of similar conviction. Consciousness is like a mirror, reflecting whatever it associates with. Therefore, if we want saintly qualities, we must seek saintly association.

The Krsna consciousness movement is a society of persons who have chosen to become saintly. Like most people, the devotees of Lord Krsna see the many problems of the world and want to bring about a change for the better; but they also know that the first step in effecting that change is to purify themselves. As I have already mentioned, forgiveness is but one saintly quality. A pure devotee of the Supreme Lord is also humble, truthful, equal to everyone, faultless, mild, magnanimous, and clean; he is without material possessions, he performs welfare work for everyone, and he is peaceful, surrendered to the Supreme Lord, devoid of selfish desires and indifferent to material acquisitions; he is fixed in devotional service to the Lord, he completely controls the six bad qualities (lust, anger, greed, illusion, madness, and envy), eats only as much as required, and is sane; he is respectful, grave, compassionate, friendly, poetic, expert, and devoid of false prestige; and he speaks only of God and devotional service to Him.

Sometimes misinformed persons try to discredit the process of Krsna consciousness, claiming that the devotees will fail; it’s too difficult to be good in a bad world, they say. Granted, it’s a struggle to be good in a bad world, but what else can we do? Shall we compromise? Give up? Become part of the bad world? Of course not. Even the people who make the world bad have to struggle to do so. Struggle is there in either case. One simply has to choose whether to struggle as part of the solution or struggle as part of the problem. But struggle we cannot avoid.

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