Historically, men have chosen to sacrifice individual autonomy for the benefits of life within human society. Nations, communities, tribes, communes—all attest to the truth of John Donne’s famous adage: “No man is an island.”
But history also attests that communities often weaken and dissolve. This is true for many reasons, but one of the most common is that the people in a given community lose faith in the basic principle of sacrificing their own interests for the collective good. And without a strong spirit of sacrifice among its members, no community can endure. America’s short-lived communities—Brook Farm, New Harmony, Oneida—bear this out. These communities grew up around a charismatic leader and an idealistic philosophy, but when the demands for self-sacrifice became too great, the members gave up striving for utopia, and their “ideal community” collapsed.
A cynic might predict the same fate for New Vrindaban, the Krsna Society’s farm community in West Virginia. But there is an important difference between New Vrindaban and communities based on some indefinite idealistic principles. New Vrindaban is successful and productive because its members are spiritually satisfied by serving the Supreme Lord, Krsna. Why is serving Krsna so spiritually satisfying? Because each of us is eternally part and parcel of Krsna, and serving Him means linking up with the source of unlimited transcendental pleasure. No one can be truly satisfied by working for the pleasures of the body, but when the soul is spiritually satisfied, sacrificing material pleasures for a common cause is not at all difficult. For a devotee, the reward for his service is the pleasure of the service itself.
The construction of Prabhupada’s Palace at New Vrindaban is a perfect example of how the transcendental pleasure of serving Krsna enables devotees to work hard without thought of material reward. By hard work and self-sacrifice, the devotees created a wonderful architectural tribute to God and His representative, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In the preface to The Nectar of Devotion, a guidebook for Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada writes,
Every one of us in this material world is perpetually engaged in some sort of service, and the impetus for such service is the pleasure we derive from it. Driven by affection for his wife and children, a man works day and night. A philanthropist works in the same way for love of a greater family, a nationalist for the love of his country and countrymen. But the relish or taste for the mundane does not long endure.
The mellow relished in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, however, does not finish, even at the end of life. It continues perpetually and is therefore called amrta, that which does not die but exists eternally.
The Vedic literature explains that because Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and we are all meant to serve Him eternally, natural happiness and harmony within society can easily be achieved when Krsna is the center and everyone engages in His service. A community founded on this ideology can weather storms of discord and settle all controversies-on the transcendental level.
But a society or community based on service to God must strictly follow revealed scriptures. Western theistic ideologies are often too vague to help their followers stay linked with the Supreme Lord while they work in community life. But in a Krsna conscious community, the members serve God in all their activities, not simply in their morning and evening prayers or weekly religious ceremonies.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says to His devotee Arjuna, “You should always think of Me, and at the same time you should carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” This is true yoga, “the art of all work.”
So, for a community or society to be successful, it must be based on pure devotional service to God, and that service must permeate the life of the society. Otherwise, the members will not be fully satisfied, and they will be unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices for the common goals.
The United States is supposedly a society based on faith in God. The founding fathers of American democracy recognized the Creator as the source of their “inalienable rights.” The phrase “one nation under God” in the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag” and the motto “In God we trust” on all currency also evince America’s theistic leanings. Yet in America today, as in Europe, God consciousness is lacking, among both the government leaders and the people in general. Americans may say, ‘In God we trust,” but they have little genuine knowledge of God—what to speak of trust in Him.
Today’s ideologies for social happiness are more hedonistic than theistic; noble, inspired doctrines have given way to the paltry and the mundane. The present generation—often called “the me generation”—is a selfish one. Ignorant of how to execute their natural activities in their eternal relationship with God, people have rejected whatever theism there was in the conception of Western democracy and have become engrossed in the pursuit of materialistic pleasure. When people take the body to be the self and sense gratification to be the goal of civilization, they see service to God as far removed from the needs of society.
The history of communist societies also demonstrates that no ideology short of pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord can satisfy people for long. Marxist philosophy is based on the misconception that people can be happy simply by working collectively for economic well-being. “Religion is the opium of the people,” declared Marx, and today more than 90% of the people in Russia under thirty are atheists, according to a mid-1979 report in Pravda. Arecent article in Harper’s magazine, however, reports that most people in the Soviet Union have lost their taste for communist ideology and their faith in Soviet leadership. Sixty-five years of communism in Russia has left a spiritual void among the people, and it has also failed to provide economic security, communism’s avowed goal.
Thus the two most powerful societies on earth have no ideology to inspire their people. Leaders may promise more and more sense gratification, but whatever a nation’s economic advancement, and however selfish a generation may be, the quest for material pleasure will never produce a successful society. There may be years or even decades of apparent prosperity and peace, but mass disillusionment and social dissolution inevitably await a society that pays only lip service to God, or that ignores Him entirely. The illusory quest for material happiness and the resultant dissatisfaction of the soul are eating away at the heart of materialistic society. And now the frustrated nations of the world stand ready to destroy one another with nuclear weapons.
The leaders of the world’s confused societies would do well to investigate the ideological basis of Krsna conscious communities like New Vrindaban, where spiritual satisfaction and economic prosperity result naturally from sacrificing all for the glorification of God.—SDG