By Vishakha Devi Dasi
A life that allows us to reunite with mother earth and offer her products to Krishna favors our spiritual growth.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “Whatever is taken from the earth—either from the mines, from the surface of the globe, or from the atmosphere—should always be considered the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and should be used for Yajna, Lord Vishnu. As soon as the process of yajna [sacrifice] is stopped, the earth will withhold all productions—vegetables, trees, plants, fruits, flowers, other agricultural products, and minerals. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, the process of yajna was instituted from the beginning of creation. By the regular performance of yajna, the equal distribution of wealth, and the restriction of sense gratification, the entire world will be made peaceful and prosperous. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.18.13, Purport)
A Beautiful Energy
The earth planet, along with its atmosphere, comprises all five of Krishna’s material energies, the primary elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (space). It is a priceless asset given to us by Krishna.
Mother earth is to be honored as a display of God’s energies, and as Krishna is beautiful, so the earth is also inherently beautiful.
For devotees living on farm communities established under the guidance of Srila Prabhupada, our task and pleasure is to serve the earth so that she is kept not only beautiful but also healthy, protected, and productive. Toward this end, in Saranagati Village, British Columbia—where my family and I live—a good number of us have gardens. When I established mine I was obliged to clear and level the land, thus giving our small parcel a more tamed beauty (as opposed to a wild beauty), and I fenced it in to protect it. My garden, although modest, keeps me grounded, in touch with the earth, and through empathy with its goings-on, regularly reminded of my vulnerability. It also keeps me and my family in the ecological loop: In our home, nothing organic is thrown in the trash—it all goes into our compost pile, along with manure, then into the garden, where we’re rewarded with dark, crumbly, rich soil.
An added and unexpected benefit to this garden is the untold gratification we get from simply looking out our living room and dining room windows to see our fruit trees—in spring, so laden with white flowers they look snowed-on—and our lush vegetables. There is a certain dignity, a certain ineffable rightness to this view and to the roots we have set down in this remote corner of the earth.
When I visit my city friends and see that they throw organic matter—leaves, fruit peels, vegetable parts—in the trash, I have an urge to gather it all up and ship it to Saranagati. Meanwhile, what my city friends eat is often grown by far-away farmers who use harmful chemical fertilizers instead of the organic matter that’s been trashed. An ugly anomaly lurks in this scenario.
Pleasing Mother Earth
But whether in the city or the countryside, we can honor mother earth by understanding the natural system her creator, Krishna, has established for her well-being and attractiveness. When we do this and offer her yield to Krishna with love and devotion, Krishna is pleased and mother earth is also pleased. Srila Prabhupada writes, “There is enough of everything by the will of the Lord, and we can make proper use of things to live comfortably without enmity between man and man, or man and animal, or man and nature. The control of the Lord is everywhere, and if the Lord is pleased, every part of nature will be pleased.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.5, Purport)
Our bodies and the bodies of all living entities are generated from the earth, are transformations of earth with different names according to their transformation, and in the end return to the earth as dust. And our bodies and the vegetation on the body of the earth are intimately related: The vegetables, fruits, and grains—used both as food and as medicine—provided by the earth nourish humans and animals. Thus the earth’s well-being and our well-being are inseparable. If our mentality is unhealthy and we fail to respect the earth, we will pollute her, and that pollution will make us physically unhealthy.
Continuing the theme of how the pleasure of the Lord leads to every part of nature being pleased, Srila Prabhupada writes,
The river will flow profusely to fertilize the land; the oceans will supply sufficient quantities of minerals, pearls and jewels; the forest will supply sufficient wood, drugs, and vegetables, and the seasonal changes will effectively help produce fruits and flowers in profuse quantity. The artificial way of living depending on factories and tools can render so-called happiness only to a limited number at the cost of millions. Since the energy of the mass of people is engaged in factory production, the natural products are being hampered, and for this the mass is unhappy. Without being educated properly, the mass of people are following in the footsteps of the vested interests by exploiting natural reserves, and therefore there is acute competition between individual and individual and nation and nation.
—Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.5, Purport
Misusing the Earth
Just as cattle (so-called “livestock”) are dealt with ruthlessly, living and dying only for their owner’s profit, similarly agribusinesses exploit the earth, tilling her for productivity and profit at the expense of her beauty, health, and permanence. Such a callous and calculating mentality is symptomatic of passion and is characterized by fanatically rapid changes and a fascination with innovation, like genetically modified foods, before the consequences of that innovation are fully explored. By nature’s way, growth and change are self-balancing and usually gradual, but growth and change among technologically dominated humans is neither. As a result of this greed-driven shortsightedness, we find that huge tracts of mother earth have been turned into eyesores. The mass of people, lacking a spiritual perspective and spiritual guidance, caught up in surviving and in meaningless pleasure-pursuits, cannot see or break free of the profit-motive mentality; and they are unable to understand Krishna’s desire: that each individual live a meaningful and truly happy life by using Krishna’s energies in His service.
The way we use our land indicates the future of any society, including ours. This means that, overall, we face a bleak future if we continue using unsustainable farming methods. And what have we gained from taking this risk? More free time? More pleasure? Better health? More happiness?
Ironically—and by the arrangement of the Lord—the amount of real leisure a society enjoys tends to be in inverse proportion to the amount of laborsaving machinery it employs. Generations of people have been lured from farms to urban and suburban living by the promise of an easier life, but judging from the stress level in those areas, that promise is largely unfulfilled. Meanwhile, the more laborsaving machinery a society creates and uses, the more the world’s resources are depleted, the more waste we must deal with, the more debt we incur.
And—more irony—in today’s society a person’s prestige varies in inverse proportion to his or her closeness to actual production. Compare the CEO on the top floor of a skyscraper to the farmer with his hands in the earth. In addition, modern technology has deprived agriculturalists and laborers of the kind of work they most enjoy—creative, useful work with their own hands and brains. Production—even food production—has been turned into an inhumane chore that does not enrich people but empties them and jeopardizes their health.
Country Life Versus City Life
People in the cities, even our devotee friends, may wonder what we find attractive in a rural community like Saranagati. Where are the diversions, the entertainments, and the many comforts of modern life? And we Saranagati-ites look at our city friends and wonder at the stress they live with, at the fume-fed lives they live, at the television they and their children watch, and at their unending, ever-looming expenses, and wonder why they put up with it all. We see how city life makes people feel insignificant and powerless not before God but before a vast economic system that isolates them and leaves them with little opportunity for their individual economic betterment. We see how they lose confidence in their personal initiative and become highly specialized, fiercely competitive cogs in some big enterprise, without security or independence. Just the impersonal, concrete vastness of city streets, buildings, schools, offices, superstores, and crowds makes one feel inconsequential—a pawn.
The sublime spiritual life Srila Prabhupada offered us all can be found in the simplicity that is natural and easy in rural communities—and how much better it is for children to spend their formative years away from the degradation of urban and suburban influences.
As productivity is attained as a byproduct when the land is healthy and beautified, similarly people feel useful and fulfilled when they live as they are meant to live—in concert with the creator. And, just as when the earth is exploited and neglected eventually her productivity diminishes, so a person who, due to circumstances or greed, does work that is ultimately meaningless will be damaged by an inner sense of uselessness and defeat. In other words, in making production and wealth primary goals (and making spiritual goals questionable), the modern economic system ravishes nature and mutilates human beings. In Srila Prabhupada’s words, “What is the need of an artificial luxurious life of cinema, cars, radio, flesh, and hotels? Has this civilization produced anything but quarreling individually and nationally? Has this civilization enhanced the cause of equality and fraternity by sending thousands of men into a hellish factory and the war fields at the whims of a particular man?” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.4, Purport)
Mother Earth and the Supreme Lord Krishna
The products of the earth are meant to be offered to the Lord for His satisfaction. Mother earth is called Vasundhara, meaning “the holder of wealth” (vasu means “wealth,” and dhara, “one who holds”). Whatever is taken from her belongs to Krishna and should be used for sacrifice. And when we make sincere offerings to the Lord, we advance in spiritual life as well as in austerity, cleanliness, truthfulness, and mercy; we become pious and a source of pleasure for the earth.
Although the earth has tolerated atomic explosions, rampant oil drilling, the cutting of forests, bloody wars, and a host of other atrocities, she has the power to withdraw her gifts, to deprive us of life’s necessities. Srila Prabhupada writes,
One is mistaken if he thinks that by applying modern machines such as tractors, grains can be produced. If one goes to a desert and uses a tractor, there is still no possibility of producing grains. We may adopt various means, but it is essential to know that the planet earth will stop producing grains if sacrifices are not performed. . . . Now, of course, atheists will not believe in this spiritual method of producing grains, but whether they believe or not, the fact remains that we are not independent to produce grain by mechanical means.
—Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.18.8, Purport
The stark reality is that when she is overburdened by the lies and irreligious acts of nondevotees driven by lust, anger, greed, and envy, mother earth may check her production. Again, in Srila Prabhupada’s words,
Although there are immense potencies within the earth for the production of grains, fruits, and flowers, this production is checked by the earth itself when it is misused by nondevotees, who have no spiritual goals. Everything belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and everything can be used for His satisfaction. Things should not be used for the sense gratification of the living entities. This is the whole plan of material nature according to the directions of this material nature.
—Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.18.6, Purport
Happiness and the Earth
Happiness comes from spiritual growth not economic gain. But, influenced by this age, individually and collectively we tend to emphasize profit over everything else. Left unchecked, this tendency can run rampant like a noxious weed, resulting in the earth’s being desecrated by people who are endlessly restless and dissatisfied, who feel worthless and impotent, and who are held hostage by the economic system. The enormity and indifference of that system produces insecurity, helplessness, and dependency. No wonder people are desperate for relief and infatuated by diversions.
Meanwhile, Krishna conscious rural communities like Saranagati promote a simple, largely stress-free life among fellow spiritual seekers. Such communities can restore our confidence in our own initiative, can encourage self-expression, can help us develop appreciation for the earth and the many creatures of the earth, and can bring us closer to Krishna, the Supreme Father. Even the simple act of gardening for Krishna can enrich us beyond our expectations.
All external activity, including economic, has significance and worth if it furthers our life’s goal. Any activity that does not do so, including the many, and much-coveted, forms of material success, will simply leave us unfulfilled and envious of those who have more than we do. Deep down inside even materially successful people know they are missing something critical.
“Human civilizations,” Srila Prabhupada writes, “should depend on the production of material nature without artificially attempting economic development to turn the world into a chaos of artificial greed and power only for the purpose of artificial luxuries and sense gratification. This is but the life of dogs and hogs.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.4, Purport)
A trifling life of making and spending money or squandered on diversions is not what we were created for. We are meant to realize our potential for spiritual growth and to experience the happiness that accompanies that growth. One way this process can start is by reuniting with mother earth and offering her bounty to Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.