“Advancement of material vision or material civilization is a great stumbling block for spiritual advancement. Such material advancement entangles the living being in the bondage of a material body followed by all sorts of material miseries. Such material advancement is called anartha, or things not wanted.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.27 Purport)
“Son, back in my day, we used to walk five miles in the snow to school and back. We didn’t have the comfortable, air conditioned and heated bus to take us places. We would go to work on the farm right after school. None of this video game playing, television watching, and general time wasting. We also got married at a young age and didn’t get divorced. In my day, we didn’t have so many of the things that you have now, and yet we liked everything that we did have.” The classic old fuddy-duddy grumbles about how much life has changed since their time and how the newer generation doesn’t know how good they have it. Though it is natural for the human being to get into this mindset as they grow older, the attitude actually uncovers the secret of how easy it is to find a baseline of happiness. Though the advanced lifestyle hinged on progress seems the better option, by comparing the disposition of the consciousness and the minimum requirement for having peace of mind, there is no question which system is superior.
How can there be any contest in this matter? Nowadays we have microwaves, internet, cellular telephones, high definition television sets, automobiles and airplanes. Just from these basic advancements so much of everyday life has changed. No longer do you have to worry about the harsh winter coming to wreak havoc on your family. The drought in the summer is also okay, for you can buy your food from some other source. The vital provisions can be shipped in from an area where the harvest is bountiful. Because of these options there is not so much of a reliance on aspects of the past lifestyle which now seem primitive.
Easy to overlook in this analysis is attachment. With each new gadget and advancement of technology comes a new source of misery. You can take something as simple as the automobile to see evidence of this. In days past, you had to walk many miles to get to places. Correspondingly, the places you needed to get to weren’t too far away. The neighborhood school served the people living within close proximity. The larger plots of land allowed for food to be grown locally; you didn’t have to travel very far to eat. With the requirement for walking, exercise was automatically accounted for. This not only helped in keeping one’s physical health strong, but it aided in mental faculties as well. A sedentary lifestyle can become so mentally debilitating that it can lead to depression. Obesity in children is now an epidemic, though this is a veritable enigma. Children have the most energy, so why should they ever become excessively overweight? They can handle a tremendous amount of food because of how much energy they can burn off in a given day.
With the automobile comes the responsibility of insurance payments and maintenance. If the car stops working, you have to find a way to fix it. This is going to cost money, which means that part of the time that you travel to work is spent on maintaining your car, which, ironically enough, you use to get to work. In one sense you’re working just so that you can maintain something that can ensure that you keep working.
The automobile also brings an increased risk of accidental death. The news media pays much attention to soldiers killed in action overseas, but the number of deaths on the highway each year dwarfs that by a significant amount. On one side you have people killed while carrying out their occupational duties, namely the protection and defense of the innocent, and on the other you have people travelling to work, school, or the homes of family and friends. Obviously the number of deaths should be higher for those involved in dangerous combat, but the total number of traffic fatalities is much greater. Though the number is so high, it is just brushed aside as being part of the collateral damage that comes with having the freedom to drive on the open road.
For the champions of advancement the underlying appeal of progress is the ability to travel to new destinations. A person can now explore outer space if they want instead of being stuck in a tiny little area with no way out. Why would a person choose prison life over a life of freedom? Why would someone want to remain complacent and follow the same behavior every day when they can continuously explore and discover new things about this complex place that we call the creation?
The questions can be turned around though. Who is actually more advanced, the person who is content with a simple lifestyle dedicated to service to one particular entity or the person who requires constant expensive change to feel stimulated in the mind? Let’s think of it another way. Say we have two cellular telephone devices. They are identical except for the performance of the battery. One phone has a battery that can allow the phone to operate for up to a week with average use. The other phone’s battery goes dead in a few days. Obviously the phone with the stronger battery is superior, as it is more efficient. It can do more work with the same amount of energy as can the other phone with the inferior battery.
Applying the same principle, the living entity who requires costly advancement simply to find mental felicity is less efficient than the person who can find happiness at any time and in any circumstance. Lest we think the latter person is a myth, the Vedic principles provide instructions to create that very disposition for all of us. At the heart of activity is the search for ananda, or bliss. The external appearances can cloud this fact, but when the wise person abstracts behavior, both present and past, it is seen that this desire for pleasure is the instigator of every single action. Even austerity measures like dieting and observing ritualistic functions are undertaken for eventually furthering a better mental condition.
As consciousness is the key determining factor in a person’s happiness, when it can be focused on something that has an inexhaustible supply of bliss, pleasure can be found in any circumstance, regardless of the time period or how advanced society may be. That ultimate source of pleasure is, not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, who thus gets a specific description based on this feature. Since He is the reservoir of pleasure and all-attractive, He is known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition.
How do we connect with Krishna? Do we need the simple life of the farm or the hustle and bustle of the city? While for the spiritualist it is easy to put down the latest advancements in technology, can’t things like e-readers and internet videos help one to connect with God? Aren’t these outlets easier to use than the past requirements of having to travel to a place where discussions on Krishna were being held? Shri Krishna, being absolute, can be found through His holy names, which are put together nicely in the perfect prayer known as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The maha-mantra addresses Krishna and His energy and asks them to be allowed to be engaged in the Lord’s service without motivation and without interruption. The same desire for pleasure is there, but since it is directed at connecting with Krishna, the devotee is considered free of desire, akama. Since there is no personal desire, the service can continue without interruption, for there is no stage of maturity that causes the outflow of service to cease.
For the spiritualist who makes the chanting of the maha-mantra a serious occupation and follows the prescribed regulations of reciting it for sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads coupled with abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the Supreme Lord and His smiling face can be remembered at any time and at any place. Shrila Haridasa Thakura, the acharya of the holy name, would find tremendous pleasure by living in a cave and chanting the maha-mantra in front of the sacred tulasi plant, who as a goddess grants devotion to Krishna to those who honor her.
On the other side, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples found supreme pleasure by travelling around the world and distributing the holy names to as many people as possible. This endeavor required travelling on airplanes, using typewriters and computers, and making use of basically everything the modern advanced society had to offer. Therefore in either situation, in the primitive or the modern, the soul desperately craving lasting happiness can find it.
In general, the simplified, renounced lifestyle is considered superior, for at least there are less distractions. But all in all, it is the efficiency of the mind which determines whether one’s condition is superior or not. The person who doesn’t need to travel far and wide to find happiness is much better situated than one who is aimlessly looking for that elusive happiness in all places around the world. As inside of every living being rests the Supreme Lord within the heart next to the individual soul, we don’t have to go far to find God. Through following the simple instructions of the bona fide spiritual masters, the mind can turn into a very efficient machine that uses the strong attachment to God to fuel further activities, which in turn keep the flame of devotion alive.
More than just finding happiness in the present, it is promised by Shri Krishna Himself, who is the source of that pleasure, that into the next life the same engagement will continue for the devoted soul. The lower animals find sense pleasure through basic activities, but we don’t consider the animals to be advanced because they don’t know anything about the soul. Repeatedly taking birth as a pig is considered a punishment because one never learns how to connect with God, who brings the highest pleasure anyone can ask for. In this respect there can be no comparison between the person immersed in bhakti and the living entity comfortably situated in material affairs. One side has an engagement that will continue for lifetime after lifetime, while the other is both burdened by many unwanted responsibilities and limited by the duration of their body’s existence.
The supremacy of bhakti is proved by the efficiency of the workers who follow it. Moreover, their superior standing validates the position of Shri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Material life in an advanced society requires exploitation of resources that aren’t so abundant. With scarcity comes fierce competition, and with competition comes a loss of compassion, leading to the predicament where everyone is always suspicious of one another. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that there are so many wars and constant strife in a life focused on material pursuits.
The fact that those things we actually need are the most abundantly available shows that God exists. Water, grains, milk and sunlight are available to practically everyone, and they are not expensive. Those things that we don’t require - elegant jewelry, modern electronic gadgets, and fancy cars - are more expensive on purpose. In a similar manner, in spirituality, Krishna is most fully represented in the processes that are the easiest to implement, that are applicable to the most number of people. The holy name is thus His greatest blessing, a sound vibration that is Krishna Himself. Anyone can recite it and find their way towards a most advanced consciousness.
Primitive better than advanced lifestyle, say we dare?
Before you scoff, the efficiency levels do you compare.
One side to so many amenities is attached,
While the other from everything is detached.
To find mental stimulation must travel far and wide,
While simple take pleasure having God by their side.
No need for expense, chanting holy name is free,
From the benefits supremacy of bhakti you’ll see.
Whether old or new, use everything that is around,
To serve Krishna, to maintain His name’s sound.