Friday, March 4, 2011

Scarcity

Lord Krishna “By proper utilization of thoughtfulness, one comes to the stage of thinking of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By thinking of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one becomes free from the contamination of the faulty association of the material world, and thus one becomes peaceful. The world is in a disturbed condition because of a scarcity of such peaceful devotees in human society.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

Aid to struggling African nations seems to always find itself among the top causes adopted by the well-wishers of humanity. The kind gestures offered to the down-trodden are certainly noble and worthwhile, as the inhabitants of poverty ridden areas lack basic necessities such as drinking water and shelter. While providing remedial measures to areas which have a scarcity of necessary resources is a worthwhile activity, a better solution would be to tackle the root of the problem. Why are these sections of society disadvantaged to begin with? The dedicated welfare worker may retort with, “Well, I’m not concerned with that. These people need help right now. Who cares how they got to where they are?” Actually, finding out the source of the problem is far more important than offering temporary solutions, especially when playing in the field of material activity, where bodies and situations constantly go through cycles of creation and destruction. Indeed, you can feed a man for a day by providing him a hot meal, but by giving him the necessary tools to provide for himself, he can have food for the rest of his life.

iPadSome will say the root cause of scarcity is greed. “Too many have nots and too few haves. The greedy take to hoarding all the resources for themselves, thus limiting the potential for production by others.” While there is no doubt that greedy businessmen are interested in only one thing, profit, their behavior alone doesn’t explain rampant poverty. From studying the most successful businesses in the world, we see that the majority of them can source their wealth to support from the common man. For instance, computer and software companies get rich off of people buying their products and using them. Apple Computer makes millions of dollars selling music players, computers and portable entertainment devices that aren’t necessarily inexpensive. Their latest high tech product, the iPad, is overpriced in the estimation of many, yet the device still sells extremely well. The truth is that a key factor in making millions of dollars is finding a product that appeals to the common man, producing it at a low cost, and then selling it at a price that will garner a profit. So in this sense, the greedy businessman has nothing to gain by forcing his customers into poverty. He is not benefitted by mass starvation and famine.

The other credited source for poverty is tyranny. This idea certainly has more validity, but again, there is a root cause for the iron-fisted behavior of a ruling tyrant. In a system of totalitarianism, land and property are confiscated by a higher authority, one that assumes absolute power. The producers are punished for no other reason than their success. With an overarching government, the rulers view the wealthy citizens as their enemies, for they are providing for the common man better than the government ever could. As an example, giant superstore chains in America are often hated by government officials and their attached lobbying groups. The purported justifications for this hatred range from the companies not offering sufficient health benefits to the fact that the laborers at such stores are not unionized, but the real reason for the gripe is that the common man, the average citizen, is hugely benefitted from patronizing such institutions. For those who take government officials to be God, or the ultimate order supplier, other free individuals cannot exist who supply the majority of the needs to the ordinary man. Being soundly defeated by their competitors in the private sector, the government officials vying for supremacy are left with no other option but to confiscate property and land. They are able to get away with their unseemly behavior by invoking class envy. Indeed, this is the major cause of poverty in the suffering African nations, where private property rights are nonexistent due to government intervention.

Is the cure for scarcity the removal of tyrannical regimes? After all, an area where goods are freely produced and traded will surely see an economic boom. This was indeed the source of the first great harvest seen in the New World by the Pilgrims. After implementing a new competition driven economic system, the Pilgrims’ harvest was so bountiful that they decided to hold a grand feast and give thanks to God. This feast subsequently became the annual tradition known as Thanksgiving. Yet simply removing tyranny is not the answer, as even the unpleasant, oppressive behavior of powerful governing bodies has a root cause. Simply instituting a competitive system driven by private property rights will not do the trick, because there is every chance for greed and corruption leading to the increase in power of the almighty government in the future. Those who are successful in a free market system are often its greatest enemies. The successful capitalist will have no qualms about lobbying government to grant favors to their specific industry, thereby crumbling the very system that allowed for prosperity.

The solution to the scarcity issue can be found from studying the very nature of freedom. Throughout the course of history, there have always been struggles between liberty and tyranny. Who wouldn’t agree that being free is better than being oppressed? Yet the history of the world is that of oppression, showing that people have chosen to be put under the control of governments that weren’t concerned with their interests. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, clue us in as to why such behavior takes place in spite of the natural preference of man for uninhibited movement. The spirit soul, the individual autonomous spark within each life form, is the basis of identity. Though the soul is imperceptible to the human eye, it can be recognized through outward symptoms, namely, the movements of the body. We know that a soul is inside of a particular form if the body is moving, breathing, or talking. When these functions cease, we know that the soul has left the body.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord KrishnaThese perceptions indicate that the soul is very powerful, but where did it come from? Where does the spiritual spark go upon exiting the body? What are its properties? At the core, the soul has an affinity for God. Divine love is built into the spirit’s makeup; it is a property that cannot be removed. In fact, the desires to affectionately embrace the Supreme Soul and seek out its pleasure are the most dominant features of the individual soul, even trumping its properties of full knowledge and eternality. Just as fire is known by its heat and light properties, the soul is known by its pure loving propensity manifested through the service attitude. In order for there to be love, there has to be a beneficiary, an entity to whom affection can be directed. Since the soul is always in a state of existence, the ideal recipient of its service must bear the same property. Not surprisingly, that ultimate reservoir of pleasure is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as the soul wants to act upon its transcendental affection at all times, its loveable object must be capable of accepting service and subsequently providing the greatest pleasure. It is in this area that Krishna stands out amongst all other benevolent masters and objects of interest. The name Krishna is Sanskrit for “all-attractive”, so it serves as a much better appellation for the original Divine Being than does the word “God.” Krishna is the original Godhead, the same person everyone in the world worships, despises, adores, or fails to acknowledge.

Lord KrishnaThough everyone, including the atheist, believes in God, they may not know who He is, what He looks like, or what their relationship to Him is. How can the atheists, who outwardly deny the existence of a Supreme Being, who despise every aspect of divine love and the worship of any entity aside from matter, be servants of the Supreme Lord? When the intrinsic loving property pushes activity towards Krishna, the soul remains in a purified state. Due to the resulting connection, which is known as yoga, all knowledge and proper behavioral characteristics are acquired. It is said that the soul is like a self-illuminating lamp of knowledge; therefore it never has to actually acquire any information. The education that individuals are subjected to in terms of schooling and instruction from higher authorities merely serves to remove the covering of nescience that envelops the spiritual fragment, which is resting comfortably within the heart.

Birth is a time of great importance because this is when the covering of ignorance surrounds the soul. When trying to see through the dense fog of illusion, not only is the eternal knowledge clouded, but the aim of activity goes off center as well, causing the natural loving propensity to miss its target. Not surprisingly, the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, refer to the living entity faced with this predicament as conditioned. The conditioned living entity, a pure spirit soul residing in a temporary covering composed of material elements which are deemed inhibiting, redirects its loving propensity towards worldly objects and temporary relationships that fall short of providing happiness in every way. The atheist is simply a lover of God who has directed their natural affection towards objects of matter, including the senses. The fruitive worker, who is a bit more advanced than the staunch atheist, directs their service mentality towards acquiring and enjoying the fruits of their labor, such as the home, car, family, children, etc., through regulated activities based on some system of piety. One step above the fruitive worker is he who loves saintly people, the poor. and the exalted living entities in charge of the material creation. Such individuals attempt to help the disadvantaged and the victims of scarcity.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)

Lord KrishnaOnly when the burning desire to perform service is directed at the Supreme Object of Pleasure can the right system of knowledge be revealed. One may question that since everything is created by God, what is wrong with worshiping matter or other temporary objects. The answer is that the Lord’s influence is certainly seen in everything, but direct service, one that leads to perfect yoga, can only be offered to His personal self or one of His representatives. The feet, hands and legs are different parts of the human body, but if we want to feed ourselves, we have to go through the mouth and eventually reach the stomach. If we offer food to our foot, nothing will come of such service, regardless of how devoted we are. Indeed, such a method of worship is rooted completely in ignorance. In the same way, serving matter, which is Krishna’s external energy, does nothing to further our knowledge, enhance our bliss, or purify our behavior.

When the penchant for loving service misses its intended target, what results? Revisiting the issue of liberty, tyranny is nothing more than the misuse of freedom. You cannot have tyranny without liberty; therefore the primary objective is not to simply root out oppressive behavior, but rather, to find a proper use for liberty. If we have freedom and don’t know what to do with it, we will naturally offer our service to worldly objects, those things which are temporary and bear no direct relation to Supreme Spirit. The resulting service, since it is neither natural nor authorized, will eventually lead to tyranny, even if there was a peaceful condition to begin with. For example, the greed exhibited by politicians is simply an outgrowth of the staunch devotion to matter. A businessman has a strong affinity for money, so he’ll do whatever he can to acquire as much of it as possible. If he sees the opportunity for increased profits through partnership with government officials, he will most certainly take hold of the chance. The politician who is after fame and worship from the common man will then violate the laws of nature by confiscating the property of others.

Lord KrishnaThis output of effort is actually a waste of time, as the Supreme Lord is capable of providing for simple acquisitions of matter and much more. History has shown Bhagavan to be the greatest benefactor, bestowing kingdoms upon the most downtrodden who had the good sense to chant His name regularly. Yet when one ignores Krishna’s helping hand and instead worships matter, they are essentially searching for tiny food grains within heaps of garbage. A grain is typically an abundant commodity, so it is not very valuable. Searching amidst rubbish for something as ordinary as a food grain isn’t a very wise use of time, but when deluded by ignorance, the conditioned entity takes the grain to be more valuable than the eternal kingdom capable of being bestowed by the ruler of all worlds material and spiritual.

When the service mentality is directed at Krishna, the opposite behavior is seen, i.e. instead of trying to hoard material resources, the predominant desire is to increase everyone else’s happiness. The pure lover of God is known as a bhakta, or devotee. Through engaging exclusively in acts of chanting, hearing, remembering, worshiping, offering prayers and the like, the devotee remains in constant contact with Krishna. Behavior following bhakti automatically solves the scarcity problem because it leads to the highest form of knowledge. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava and devotee of Lord Rama, remarks that evidence of God’s existence can be seen in the price of worldly objects. Those things which we actually need, like food grains and water, are readily available and inexpensive. Those things that we don’t need, such as valuable jewels, palatial mansions and fancy cars, are expensive. Understanding this dichotomy and the purpose behind it, the devotee automatically avoids the greedy mentality, voluntarily adopting a meager lifestyle and taking only what is required to continue their standard of devotional excellence. Only through a purified vision acquired through divine love can the uncontrolled competition that results in lying, cheating, stealing and lobbying the government for favors be eliminated.

Lord ChaitanyaWhat about the food problem? How does worshiping God remove the fears pertaining to putting food on the table? In the conditioned state, man lives to eat, sleep, drink and be merry. On the other hand, the purified devotee lives only to perform bhakti. Hence they automatically acquire the knowledge necessary to provide for their sustenance. Whatever food is procured in the home is prepared and offered to Krishna first, with the results turning into prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Lord Chaitanya, the greatest preacher and most merciful saint the world has ever seen, kindly informed one of His disciples one time that the devotee’s body belongs to God. Therefore the bhakta takes special care to maintain the body for Krishna’s service. Where there is worship of the Supreme Lord in pure goodness, without any impure motives, there is always an abundance of life’s necessities. Water, food grains, milk and other bare essentials are always available.

The devotees can solve their food problems, but how does that help others who are suffering right now? Not only do the bhaktas reveal the potential for happiness brought on by utilizing the loving propensity properly, but they are also kind enough to teach others how to evoke their natural love for Supreme Spirit. In addition to showing love to everyone equally, a saint is someone who is able to evoke the highest loving sentiments in any type of person, irrespective of their religious affiliation or standing in society. By helping others arouse their natural love for God, all the problems in the world get solved. Good behavior, the proper use of liberty and the reduction in conflict are all measly, insignificant byproducts of bhakti-yoga. Rewards pertaining to comfortable outward conditions are considered paltry in comparison to the loving emotions exchanged between the individual and the Lord of their life, Shri Krishna. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say that the only scarcity in this world is that of Krishna consciousness. The more bhaktas there are in the world distributing the mercy of the Lord, the less problems there will be.

Sankirtana What is the quintessential act of bhakti? What is the one activity we can take up that will aim our natural loving propensity at the right target? Which engagement will help us make the best use of our God-given freedom? Shri Gaurahari, Lord Chaitanya, inaugurated the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, to save the fallen conditioned souls of this age. God is the same for everyone, but explicitly reciting His names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, proves most effective at evoking transcendental, loving sentiments both in the chanter and in the hearts of those who are within audible range of the transcendental sound vibrations emitted. The sound of Krishna’s name is so powerful that it immediately creates the greatest motivation to maintain life. When there is motivation, a fire in the belly, there is no scarcity in production. The most abundantly produced products are the ones that sell very well, so when introduced into the marketplace of ideas and philosophies, the ancient art of bhakti immediately becomes the most demanded commodity. The more people that chant the Lord’s names, the more devotees there will be. The more bhaktas there are, the greater the influence of bhakti in the arenas of philosophy and metaphysics will be. When the natural loving sentiment towards God takes hold of society at large, the only remaining scarcity will be ignorance, a shortage we can all live with.