“Advancement of civilization is estimated not on the growth of mills and factories to deteriorate the finer instincts of the human being, but on developing the potent spiritual instincts of human beings and giving them a chance to go back to Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.12 Purport)
It’s strange to think that the advancement we’re so desperately seeking will actually not do much for us. For instance, take the scenario of the first member of the family to attend college. Perhaps previous generations were relegated to life on a farm, where there wasn’t much of a chance for rapid economic development. You worked to eat, and you didn’t have to work that hard. Perhaps a few months out of the year to tend to the crops, and the rest of the time you had to yourself. At the same time, the drawback was that others who were involved in industry had more disposable income, which afforded them the ability to travel far and wide. But does such a lifestyle represent advancement? To find the answer, the key components of the competing worldviews need to be analyzed and assessed in relation to the effect they have on consciousness.
Yes, it is consciousness and not the amount of money in the bank that determines your wellbeing. The disposition of the mind, whether or not it is peacefully situated, trickles down into all other activities. A peaceful person will not fight with others and they will not be so easily distressed at the first sign of trouble. And who wouldn’t want to possess these attributes? Would we rather be miserable all the time, envious of our fellow man, and unable to tolerate the sudden rise in temperature or the inclement weather that appears on a particular day, at just the wrong time?
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
In the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that one must learn to tolerate the sudden shifts in fortune, for they come and go like the seasons. It would be silly to complain about the summer because it will arrive no matter what we do. Nothing can be done to change the temperature of the earth, though foolish philosophers who have no understanding of the forces of nature and how powerful they are will think otherwise. If nothing can be done to redress temporary ailments and prevent them from reappearing in the future, what is the use then in overly lamenting bad times?
By the same token, what goes up must fall down. If I am on top of a particular industry today, it should be remembered that previously I wasn’t holding the top post. As my upward mobility indicated a shift in possession of the leadership position, I should remain aware that the same shift can occur again in the future. This is already visibly identifiable with the process of death, but alas the ignorant human being mired in a cycle of acceptance and rejection tries to forget the eventual end of life as much as possible. You can defer the payments you owe on a specific loan if the entity lending the money allows you to do so, but eventually you’ll have to pay the money back. In the game of life, we may put off thinking about death, but nevertheless the forced exit from the body must occur.
If we are compelled to leave the form that we call home for so many years, why should there be any attachment to happiness and sadness that come with temporary success and failure? Only through illusion is a temporary ascendency towards a higher position taken to be the ultimate objective in life. Look at the world’s wealthiest individuals. Are they satisfied with just one million dollars or starting a single profitable venture? With each new success comes a desire to inch towards more advancement, leading the passionate individual to work harder and fear even more about future outcomes.
Throughout all the changes that occur around us consciousness remains our best friend. It can also be our worst enemy, but this only happens if there is an improper identification. Unfortunately, the flawed identification is the one we accept at the time of birth. Taking a collection of material elements that constantly change to be our identity, we assume that anything that provides satisfaction to that collection will lead to our personal satisfaction as well. The consciousness, however, is not solely hinged upon physical strength, dexterity, association with other living entities, or one’s personal net worth.
Consciousness is shaped through experiences, and it reveals what the living being thinks of most. Consciousness also indicates the presence of life, for once consciousness dissipates the living being is no longer considered alive. The soul is the carrier of the consciousness, and it travels from form to form in the process known as reincarnation. These facts are nicely revealed in the Vedas, whose most famous work is the Bhagavad-gita. Through the lessons of the Gita, which are provided by Shri Krishna, the fountainhead of knowledge and the object of sacrifice, man can learn to purify consciousness.
If it is consciousness that remains with us, why shouldn’t we make its purification our top priority? But how would that work exactly? If I want to purify my consciousness, what do I need to do differently? What am I doing now that I should give up and what should I take on in the future? Though the explanation of the shift can be quite lengthy, using a simple example can help to illustrate the foundational principle. Revisiting the family farm example, in a simple life the mind has much less to worry about. Though the subsistence farmer is considered poor in the standard estimation, they actually get all of their necessities in life supplied without too much of a problem. Is it poor to not have to worry about food? Are you in poverty if you’re not constantly worried about having a job in the future?
The competing lifestyle hinged on progress provides a nice contrast. In a world filled with mills and factories, the precious value of the human life is traded for hard work to earn a paltry living. The aggregate earnings are considered paltry because in menial work the result should be the ability to eat and sleep peacefully. Moreover, the work shouldn’t be that difficult and it shouldn’t last that long. In the end, we just need some basic food to consume and a sturdy shelter to put over our heads. I can use my God given abilities to plant crops, tend to them, harvest them, and live in a simple housing structure.
With a mill or factory the labor is quite intensive, and it repeats for long periods of time each week. The worker is so tired at the end of the day that they are happy if they can just sit on the couch at home and do nothing. Perhaps kick back and drink alcohol and forget about the fact that you have to go back out to the mill the next day. The person working in the office may have less intense labor to complete and better working conditions, but the cycle of action and rest is the same.
The biggest difference between the two lifestyles is the effect on consciousness. In the simple life, there is less competition and thus a lower occurrence of strife and envy. If I am a farmer and my neighbor is a farmer, both working to eat food, what need is there for competition? Rather, since we are in the same boat, we will likely help each other out. In the close-knit community the neighbors are like extended family members, who provide nice companionship and help to raise the children.
The properly situated consciousness has more time to contemplate the meaning of life and why birth and death occur. The sober truths of the Vedas are meant for uplifting the human spirit towards true enlightenment. Mired in an endless game that provides paltry rewards, the members of the so-called advanced civilization don’t have the time to see things properly. Should I really spend the majority of my time on this earth engaged in fruitive activity that leaves me so tired and disgusted that I don’t want to do anything else in my little free time?
“Okay, so the simple lifestyle of a farm community is more ideal, but what am I supposed to do today? What if I can’t just give up everything and buy land and go live on it? I still need to eat, and with the way civilization is structured today that requires getting a college education and working hard in an office. Do I thus have no opportunity for spiritual realization?“
The modern conditions show the presence of the Kali Yuga, the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Maya, or material nature, has a strong influence during this time period, illustrated by the fact that the majority of society considers the modern way of life to be superior. We have cell phones and the internet now, so why should we return to the primitive days of the farms? Maya makes sure that the past work applied to get paltry rewards is quickly forgotten. Only with forgetfulness will a person try the same activity repeatedly and hope to get a different outcome.
The holy name is the strongest weapon to curtail Kali Yuga’s power. The holy name represents the Supreme Lord, the savior of the fallen souls. The consciousness can be purified only when it learns to focus on that sweetheart, whose original form shows a beautiful youth with a blackish complexion holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair. If you are not keen on accepting this vision of the Supreme Lord, chant the holy names anyway. Through a positive activity not related to fruitive gain, personal sense enjoyment, or the elimination of temporary ailments, the consciousness can learn to focus on pure spirit.
If the consciousness is accustomed to hearing the sacred sound vibrations of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, there is no question of worrying over the issue of advanced versus primitive. A properly situated consciousness can keep the individual peaceful and calm during both the most intense storm and the peaceful and soothing presence of the springtime sun. The source of this consciousness and its resulting strength is the person addressed through the holy name. The features of that person are revealed through the removal of the veil of ignorance. He is always present before us and also inside of us as the Supersoul, but He must be accessed through the consciousness. The principles of bhakti-yoga, the discipline to bring about true spiritual freedom, give the conditioned living being the tools to have their consciousness always fixed on God. Connection with Him is always beneficial, so in whatever situation we find ourselves, if a desire to associate with Him is present, favorable circumstances will automatically follow.
In mills and factories work hard with pain,
So that in the end to enjoy a paltry gain.
The subsequent day difficult cycle repeat,
Too tired at end of day, on couch take a seat.
This is not how precious human life to be spent,
To understand Supreme Lord our existence meant.
Know that connection with Him pleasure will bring,
That is why Vedas, Puranas, and saints His glories sing.
Primitive versus modern, debate to continue on and on,
In whatever condition, holy name of Krishna rely upon.