“Once the Lord desired to go early in the morning with all His cowherd boy friends to the forest, where they were to assemble together and take lunch. As soon as He got up from bed, He blew a buffalo horn and called all His friends together. Keeping the calves before them, they started for the forest." (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 12)
An amazing aspect to the technological revolution of the past two hundred years is that even though participation in the agriculture sector of the economy has been virtually wiped clean, the overall output of food is larger than it has ever been. Due to increased efficiency, the fervent desire to turn a profit, and the innovative spirit of the human mind, more goods can be produced with less effort. As a result, we now have a seemingly unending supply of wonderful products that mostly aim to provide entertainment value. Therefore it is deemed that enjoyment and delights are at their highest levels in human history. Yet upon closer examination we see that these enjoyments don’t come without a cost. Indeed, there is much more toil, effort, misery and worry accompanying the advanced lifestyle, issues that were absent back in the days when over ninety percent of the workforce was engaged in agriculture. For these reasons the transcendentally situated don’t view the current makeup of the world’s economy as being very advanced at all. The mode of goodness, the superior level of engagement for the conditioned souls who have yet to understand their true identity and purpose in life, closely corresponds with rural life, while the mode of passion reigns supreme in the urban and suburban areas. Since the aim of human life is to break free from sense attachments, much progress can be made both in the spiritual and material facets of existence by appreciating and taking to a rural lifestyle, or at least by living by its principles.
“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)
Activity driven by the mode of passion eventually leads to a neutral state. The quintessential example is fruitive activity done simply for the benefit of the ego, such as sports. Even something as simple as a video game can illustrate the same principle. If we were to fire up the latest baseball simulation console game and finish an entire season, where would we end up? Even if we were to win the championship in the pretend game, does that leave us any better off? One may argue that at least the time spent playing was safe and stimulating to the mind, thus it couldn’t be considered harmful. But there is a timer attached to our stint here in this perceptible world, so the aim should be to make the best use of our time. Activity in passion, which can involve any venture seeking a fruitive gain, is considered in the mode of neutrality because it leaves the performer in the same state from where they started. Even something as basic as cooking an elaborate meal, though required for sustenance of the body, when performed for sense gratification is considered in the mode of passion because after the meal is eaten, the individual is right back in the same position. Hunger will surely return, and the same activities will need to be adopted again.
Knowledge acquiring acts are indicative of the mode of goodness. This isn’t to say that every engagement in the highest mode of material nature involves studying or taking exams, but one who abides by the principles of regulative life aimed at achieving a higher consciousness will slowly but surely rise to the proper platform of intelligence. The most difficult realization for the conditioned individual is the proper source of identification, wherein one understands that they are attached to the Supreme Lord in some way or another. Due to the preponderance of competing religious systems, which each claim that their God and their way of life is superior, it becomes difficult to take to any spiritual discipline with any sincerity. Therefore activities in the mode of goodness, which can involve sacrifice, penance and charity, help one to see through the cloud of nescience and understand their nature as Brahman, or the all-pervading spirit. Even if the need for direct and full surrender unto the Personality of Godhead is not accepted, simply taking to knowledge-acquiring activities can allow for a slight understanding of the equality shared amongst all life forms. The intelligence-augmenting techniques employed in the mode of goodness can be compared to the study of the sunshine through observation of the heat and light properties of the phenomenal world without actually looking at or acknowledging the existence of the sun. Even though one who studies the sunshine without knowing the sun will always remain in an inferior standing as far as intelligence goes, they will still have a chance to make progress on the march towards eternal freedom, a life free of association with material contact fueled by the seemingly endless cycle of reincarnation.
The mode of passion rarely leads to any higher knowledge. Indeed, passionate activity, especially that involving competition, must be performed in the absence of cognizance of the equality in constitutional makeup shared amongst all life forms. Without acknowledging the source of all spiritual heat and light, the realization that all life forms are equal can still be had. After all, once the gross body is assumed, a life form grows, performs activities, and leaves byproducts. Once the same dwelling is exited, the body starts to rot and decay. Therefore we can conclude that the defining entity in the individual is the spiritual spark within said form. A trained eye will see past the differences in qualities possessed by the different dwellings and understand the nature of the individual performing the activities. As such, there will be an automatic bond formed and affection felt towards all forms of life, even the animals like cows and ants. For association with the mode of passion to continue, identity must be solely taken from the outer covering, with individuals being viewed as wholly different due to their outward appearances and tendencies.
“That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.21)
The modern day advancements, though laudable for their unique ability to carry out important tasks, actually represent a neutral state as compared to the ones enjoyed by inhabitants of times past. How can a world filled with iPods, high definition television, cellular telephones, and the internet be considered on the same level as the rural lifestyle of the days of yore? The accurate barometer is level of enjoyment, something which is not dependent on any outward feature of the phenomenal world. Happiness is simply a state of mind, for you could take one person who is extremely wealthy and find that they are miserable and take another person who lives a completely renounced life and learn that they are always satisfied within the mind. These aren’t mere anomalies but rather factual case studies that highlight the driving force to happiness: consciousness. Anger and frustration are the results of unmet desires, and equanimity results from the ability to take enjoyment out of any situation. Even if one has all the latest technological amenities available to them, there will always be a desire for more. If that want is not met in a satisfactory amount of time, there will be frustration. On the other hand, one who is not wholly attached to any new device that comes out will miss out on the utility of the newly introduced functions, but at the same time, they will not be hankering for any features to be fixed or for the latest updates to be released. Therefore, their frame of mind will be more positive.
It is not uncommon for children growing up today to ask questions like, “How did people used to live without television? How did they survive without the internet? How did they go anywhere without the automobile?” As individual autonomous spiritual entities, it is the nature of all forms of life to seek pleasure. The actual nature of the engagement is not important, as one can find happiness simply by talking to friends and family and by taking walks outside. Society survived for thousands of years without television, and it had no problem doing so. If we were to compare and contrast the rural lifestyle to the modern day fast-paced technologically advanced time, we’d see that many of the most difficult to solve introduced problems of today were absent during times past.
While modern amenities are surely nice, there are obvious nuisances to deal with. For instance, owning an automobile is useful, but one must regularly fill it up with gasoline and make sure that the insurance coverage on the vehicle is valid. Thus simply by purchasing a car, two new attachments are created, obligations which can be the cause of great frustration and anxiety. Since the agriculture sector represents around three percent of the workforce in America, one must take up service to another proprietor in order to earn a living and put food on the table. Hence one’s family life is not stable in the least bit, as there are monthly issues concerning profitability and job loss. Economics is driven strictly by passion, so there will always be fluctuations in the buying and selling habits of the general public. Just as the waves of the ocean incessantly pound the sands of the shore, the desires of the consumer will constantly pull him in every which direction, thus leading to highs and lows in the profits of the companies that employ the majority of the workers in the nation.
Due to the unstable nature of economics resulting from the dependence on passionate activity, it is almost a requirement that both husband and wife take up jobs outside the home. As such, young children must now be taken care of by friends, family, relatives, or professional help such as nannies and daycare centers. Immediately this brings another cost element into the fray. In addition, property values have now greatly increased because families must constantly shift to wherever the breadwinner’s occupation takes them. The exchange of property is quite common as a result, thus leading to more concerns like paying rent and mortgage. Due to advancements in treatment, medical care is also now more expensive; having insurance coverage is almost required now to be treated anywhere. When all these concerns are factored together, a family must think long and hard before deciding to have more children. Every new child essentially comes with a price tag, bringing new fiduciary obligations for at least eighteen years after birth.
Now let’s compare the high-tech lifestyle to the seemingly primitive rural way of life. If one simply owns a plot of land and takes care of a few cows, immediately the economic problems are solved. Not only is there food on the table, but any surplus in production can be sold or traded for goods of necessity. In addition, there is ample space on a farm for children to play and friends and family to stay. As such, there is no concern for childcare or babysitters. Children also can be given constructive work to perform, such as managing the different aspects of the farm, during the daytime. Since there is full stability in terms of occupation, land can remain within the same family for generations, thus eliminating the need for hankering over mortgage payments and rent. Friends and family all live very close to one another, so there is no need to drive very long distances and risk accidents by taking to the roads. An automobile may even be completely unnecessary, as there is no requirement to travel far to meet the necessities of the body. Since everyone is living in a community with a shared love and fraternal spirit, the neighbors essentially become extended family. This is actually the case in many villages in India, where the residents of the community are all seen as belonging to one big family. Therefore there is already a built in support system, one that lessens the blow felt from tragedy and sudden hardship. Instead of begging the government for food, money, clothing and medical care, one can simply look to their neighbor, who will be more than willing to help out. Indeed, if the situations should reverse at some point in the future, the same destitute person will help out the neighbor who previously saved them from hardship.
One may argue that there is no enjoyment in a primitive lifestyle devoid of television, automobiles, internet, movie theaters and night clubs. As mentioned before, the key to happiness is consciousness. While introverted activities such as watching television and reading bring temporary relief from distresses, a higher level of enjoyment typically comes from associating with close friends and family. In many instances, the activities themselves are meaningless, as the important ingredient is being in the company of loved ones. Indeed, a devoted wife will sit through boring sporting events and violent movies simply to remain in the company of her dear husband. Similarly, a loving husband will sit through ballet shows and romantic comedies just to please his wife. The common element in these activities is association, the ability to remain in the company of the object of your affection.
While living in the mode of goodness sounds nice in theory, we also have tangible examples from days past of the sublime life that relies on simple living and high thinking. Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the spiritual sun from which all powerful individual sparks emanate, descended to earth in the guise of a seemingly ordinary human being named Krishna. The Supreme Lord can never associate with material elements, but to heighten the enjoyment felt by those who have surpassed the mode of goodness and taken to full God consciousness, Krishna gives the appearance of an ordinary entity. If He were to show off His divine capabilities at every second, what impetus would there be for the offering of sincere love and affection from the individuals so desperately craving a legitimate object of worship?
Krishna’s most delightful pastimes were performed during His childhood years in the rural community of Vrindavana, an area that still exists in India. Vrindavana is a replica of the transcendental realm of the same name that is situated in the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka. During Krishna’s time on earth, Vrindavana was wholly dedicated to the simple life in the mode of goodness, though all the residents were wholly God conscious and thus in pure goodness. They always thought about Krishna at every second, irrespective of what they were doing. The women were traditional housewives, but they were engaged in family business all day. As a farm community, the main source for income and wellbeing was the cows. The cow is the secret to economic freedom well established in the Vedic tradition. Instead of killing cows for meat, if one simply maintains a few of them, caring for them and providing all protection, there will never be any economic scarcity. Indeed, the great Vedic seers, who had very little interest in economics, would describe how to have high production of goods and services in society facilitated through proper taxation methods by pointing to the ways cows are tended to. Goswami Tulsidas, an endearing poet and saint, very accurately notes that if a cow is protected and allowed to graze freely without fear of punishment, it will supply heaps of milk without much extraneous effort on the part of the owner. On the other hand, if the cow is tied down and constantly forced to produce milk, the supply will be very little.
Not only does this comparison underscore the importance of cow protection, but it also reveals the secret to economic prosperity. The farm community is run by the mercantile class, or the vaishyas as defined by the varnashrama-dharma system. When a producer is allowed to produce, while at the same time prohibited from violating contracts and forcing others into parting with their property, there will always be a very large output of goods and services. Adding cows, the kindest of animals, to the mix brings an abundance of food products made from the milk and butter freely provided. In Vrindavana during Krishna’s time, the women would tend to the household affairs during the day while at the same time producing foodstuffs from the milk given by the cows. The cowherd women, the gopis, would actually go into the neighboring towns and sell their surplus supply of milk, butter and yogurt. As such, they can be considered the original “working women”, fully independent in their actions due to their complete and total surrender in thoughts, words and deeds to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.
“When Lord Krishna went ahead to a distant place in order to see some specific scenery, the boys behind Him tried to run to catch up and be the first to touch Him. So there was a great competition.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 12)
Krishna and His childhood mates were tasked with tending to the young calves, so they would go out to the pasturing grounds regularly. Given their lunch boxes by their parents, the children would sit down and eat together, play various games, and have an overall jolly time. The simple lifestyle was certainly more conducive to this type of enjoyment, but the real source of the pleasure was the association of Shri Krishna, who was everyone’s best friend. Anytime there was danger, Krishna protected the cowherd boys and the other residents of Vrindavana. Wherever there is God in the material realm, there are bound to be enemies, those who are envious of the Supreme Lord’s unwavering position as the ultimate authority figure. Yet with Krishna present, the nefarious characters, who were all very powerful, that came to Vrindavana could not even make a dent into the pristine happiness always felt by the residents. Krishna’s exploits were so wonderful and pleasurable that the elderly women, especially Krishna’s foster mother Yashoda, would sing of them on a regular basis. In this way their minds were totally connected with God at all times of the day.
There is no land in this world like Vrajabhumi, Krishna’s beloved Vrindavana which is always filled with the transcendental sweetness of the Lord’s presence. For those who simply remember the time spent there by Krishna and His elder brother Balarama, the faithful servant of the Supreme Lord and His number one protector, there is no chance of the cycle of birth and death repeating. The ancient Vrindavana life, which is mimicked in the spiritual world, is the example to follow, for all aspects of life were perfect. More than just members of a rural community engaged in the simple lifestyle passed down to them by the great Vedic seers, the residents of Vrindavana always kept their minds fixed on the beautiful, transcendental, original, and eternally existing form of their beloved Govinda, Shri Krishna, who always gives pleasure to the cows and to the senses. Regardless of where we find ourselves, either in a bustling city or on a quiet farm, if we can follow the example of the beautiful townspeople of Vrindavana, our time on this earth will have been well spent. Fruitive activity leads to enjoyment that is flickering in nature and the cause of much pain, but one who harvests the delights of the eternal pastimes of the Lord performed in the sacred land of Vrindavana will never run out of enjoyment, either in this life or the next.