As global environmental concerns continue to grow, the cutting-edge results of GEV are getting well-deserved attention from far and near.
By Hladini Sakti Dasa
In contrast to the notion that the Hare Krishna movement advocates withdrawal from the world, the striking accomplishments of Govardhan Eco Village show how “engaged bhakti” is bringing extensive and crucially needed benefit to the world.

Recently I boarded a flight to Maharashtra, India. My destination: ISKCON’s internationally celebrated Govardhan Eco Village (GEV). Its founder, His Holiness Radhanath Swami, established it to fulfill the desire of his beloved guru, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, to showcase the practicality of the ideal of “simple living and high thinking.” Its international impact and its contribution to planetary wellbeing have attracted worldwide attention and elicited much praise (more on that later), but to give you a firsthand glimpse of the project, here’s an entry from my diary.

Morning Meditation, Govardhan Eco Village, Maharashtra

Early this morning I rounded a bend in the parikrama path and suddenly saw His Holiness Radhanath Swami on the river Yamuna’s bank.1 He sat atop a red sandstone gazebo, beneath its intricately carved canopy. Alongside him was his friend His Holiness Niranjana Maharaja. Wrapped in saffron robes, both absorbed in chanting Krishna’s holy names, they swayed, eyes closed, like two flames rising to greet the newborn day.

Surprised by my good fortune, I prostrated myself on the Yamuna’s bank, my head pressed to her grassy lawn, and silently offered obeisances. Rising after a moment, I approached a few steps and, determined to keep a respectful distance from their sandstone perch, sat quietly at the base of the gazebo and resumed my own chanting. Minutes passed. The three of us quietly chanted Hare Krishna. Then, opening his eyes and looking around, Radhanath Swami happened to notice me. He smiled and beckoned me to come sit beside him. I happily complied.

As we each dipped back into the nectar ocean of Krishna’s holy names, the newly risen sun slowly mounted the sky, burning away the last vestiges of night, along with the night’s bracing cool. In a nearby waterfall Yamuna’s waters sang. Brightly colored nectar gatherers – exotic butterflies and hummingbird moths – drank from the fragrant flowers along the river, fluttering their intricately painted wings. Morning birds flew here and there, their cries festooning the liquid air. Drunken bees dipped and hummed as they went about their madhukari.2

Suddenly, Niranjana Swami crisply asked, “What? Is that a crab? There,” and he pointed across the Yamuna to the opposite bank.

I strained to see, and after a moment spotted the pale creature, slowly stepping sideways across the narrow strip of green grass along the water’s edge.

“I thought it was a scorpion,” Maharaja chuckled. “But it’s big!”

We all tittered at the chilling notion of a scorpion that big. Suddenly, before our eyes, from nowhere a dark-brown toad, as big as the crab, appeared and sat, as still as stone, inches from where the crab continued its strangely graceful, almost comical, sideways morning stroll.

An instant later, faster than my eye could follow, the toad threw wide its gaping mouth, flashed out its long tongue, and, grabbing hold, whipped the unsuspecting crab into its fat maw. Gone! In a flash, the delicately stepping crab – gone! And the fat toad, after vigorously shaking its head once or twice, having swallowed the struggling crab in a single gulp, just sat there alone, unblinking, rock-steady, motionless on the quiet river bank.

We were stunned. The swift finality of the crab’s morning promenade was shocking. And in the now ominous silence, the precarious nature of our own existential situation in the material continuum, so powerfully demonstrated by what we’d just witnessed, pointedly advertised the uneasy burden we all bear but speak of so seldom. Stuck in the material world, most of us struggle to mask the constant but subliminal abrasion offered us by our inherent mortality.

Niranjana Swami softly broke the silence: “Jivo jivasya jivanam.”3

Indeed. We’d just seen the living truth of the Bhagavatam declaration in action . . . yes, jivo jivasya jivanam . . . yes, one living being is food for another! Yes, even here, in Vrindavan, the grim reaper keeps busy.

Unexpectedly changing the channel, Radhanath Swami offered a refreshing commentary on Niranjana Maharaja’s succinct Bhagavatam presentation.

“Now we’ll see,” he suggested, referring to the fat, rock-steady toad. “If he was a devotee in his previous life, now he’ll go left side down.”4

What could we do but all laugh? Even so, because I was still digesting the ghastliness and perplexing banality of the savagery we’d just witnessed, I didn’t hear what Niranjana Swami said next. But the gist of Radhanath Swami’s rejoinder rests in my memory vividly, however imperfect my paraphrasing:

“It’s an eco village – a healthy eco-village – so it’s a self-sustaining chain of life. All the natural elements for eco-sustainability are here in a complex, ever-changing balance.”

And then, with compelling reference to the mini spectacle we’d just witnessed, characteristic wit, and a graceful note of inspired theatricality, he added, “And if a big snake were to come along right now and suddenly swallow up the toad, we could see it’s really healthy – a super-healthy eco village.”

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Indeed, ISKCON has created a super-healthy, super-attractive eco village. And the world is paying close attention. Environmentalists, philanthropists, spiritual foundations, prestigious educational institutions, as well as concerned industrialists and private citizens are being drawn there by the understanding that the world’s ecological crises, if not properly addressed, threaten catastrophe. As global concern mounts, the cutting-edge results of GEV are getting well-deserved attention from far and near.

Its rural development programs alone benefit 78 tribal villages, dramatically improving the lives of over 1.5 million people. More than 7,000 rural communities have been transformed by GEV’s introduction of educational resources and forest- and land-cultivation programs, and by its implementation of state-of-the-art techniques for water conservation and irrigation.5 In addition to these innovations, GEV’s entrepreneurial initiatives for women have dramatically improved the quality of life for women and children in the region, doing much to supplant entrenched patterns of social and economic disenfranchisement. The many fortunate souls thus benefited are becoming spontaneously and naturally attracted to the devotees and to the practices of bhakti-yoga because everywhere in GEV Prabhupada’s teachings are being followed and promulgated: regular temple worship and daily classes in bhakti-yoga, sharing of sanctified foodstuffs (prasadam distribution), production and distribution of authorized books on bhakti-yoga, and a visible focus on cow protection and harmonizing with Mother Nature. Of course, most powerfully, there is the constant interaction that locals, visitors, and guests have with Srila Prabhupada’s followers, the many highly skilled and committed devotees dedicated to developing the Eco Village. It is they, by their devotional service, who are ensuring that the Krishna consciousness revolution Srila Prabhupada came to inculcate worldwide continues to gain traction and expand exponentially. Greatly inspired, people in the region are working with government agencies and private concerns with profoundly life-affirming eco-green results that are attracting global attention.

On the cultural front too, GEV is furthering a central feature of Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual mission, namely it is promoting India’s rich spiritual heritage by re-creating the holy land of Vrindavan. There in Maharashtra various pleasure pastimes enacted by Krishna with His intimate devotees in Vrindavan all come to life in beautiful dioramas. And Vraja’s rich forest groves, its pristine streams and enticing bodies of water, as well as its prominent temples have been enchantingly replicated in the lush beauty of Govardhan Eco Village.

Certainly, Srila Prabhupada is greatly pleased. And the world, poised on the brink of ecological catastrophe, is being shown the way back – back to the life-supporting patterns intended by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, back to Godhead.

Hladini Sakti Dasa is a disciple of His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami.

NOTES

1 Within its borders, GEV has re-created Sri Vrindavan Dham, along with the sacred Yamuna, as well as a number of its temples and holy places.

2 Madhukari, from the Sanskrit “honey carrying bees,” refers to the Vedic custom of charity in which an ideal sage behaves like a busy honeybee. Traveling from flower to flower the bees move about, gathering morsels of honey from each. In the same way the ideal sage travels from place to place begging alms, limiting his brief visits to just a few houses, and accepting in charity only enough to keep body and soul together.

3 The phrase jivo jivasya jivanam appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.13.47): “Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another [jivo jivasya jivanam].”

4 By jokingly referring to “left side down,” Radhanath Swami was citing the practice popular among Krishna devotees of lying down after a feast on the left side to aid digestion.

5 The statistics quoted come from https://ecovillage.org/project/govardhan-eco-village/

The entry was last updated in July 2020, but the project’s accomplishments are continually expanding in numerous ways. To learn more about GEV, visit any or all of its websites. Or, if possible, even better, visit the eco village to experience firsthand the many extraordinary and beautiful transformations taking place.