As Satyaraja Dasa points out in this issue’s cover story, one of the main components of Srila Prabhupada’s vision for New Vrindaban was simple living. Though Prabhupada grew up in Calcutta and lived in cities as a family man, he loved the simple, natural, agrarian way of life and was happy to do without many of the modern conveniences most of us hold dear.
Prabhupada presented various arguments in favor of the simple life, all of them grounded in Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita. For example, in a 1966 lecture, Prabhupada illustrated our misguided desires for what we think are solutions to our problems.
“A diseased man, a suffering man, suppose he has got a severe headache. Now, he sometimes thinks, ‘Oh, I am suffering. If instead of a headache, if there would have been some other pain in the hand or feet, then I would have been glad.’ It is like that. Our thoughts are like that. We don’t want to get rid of the pains.”
We think we’ll be happy by increasing our “material necessities” (a favored phrase of Prabhupada’s), but that won’t work.
Prabhupada continued with another example. In India, men would sometimes pull a boat up a river by attaching a rope to it and walking along the riverbank. This task was naturally very painful to the feet.
“So he is thinking, ‘When I shall be a very rich man, then I shall cover this bank of the river with soft pillows so . . . I shall have no pain.'”
The poor boat-puller never considers that as a rich man he won’t have to pull the boat anymore. Our thinking is like his. If we’re not rich, we tend to think that money will solve our problems, and if we’re rich, we never give up the desire to get richer. It’s rare to find someone who says, “I have everything I need,” and even rarer to find someone who says, “I have too much. Let me simplify my life and permanently solve all my problems by dedicating myself to the spiritual pursuit.”
What we generally see is that people work hard to fill their lives with artificial luxuries. The result of all that hard work is dissatisfaction. Acquiring more and more stuff can never truly satisfy us because we’re spiritual beings with spiritual needs. To find fulfillment, we need to reconnect with Krishna, the source of all happiness.
This basic principle of Krishna consciousness lies at the heart of the devotee’s quest for a simpler way of life. It’s an important point to grasp, and until we do so, we’ll fall victim to the allure of material things. There’s nothing wrong with living a comfortable life and practicing Krishna consciousness in that environment, but modern life abounds in ways to distract us from our essential task of making spiritual progress. So we have to be careful.
On early-morning walks with his disciples, Srila Prabhupada would often remark on how people were rushing to work at breakneck speed while he and his disciples were enjoying a park or seashore and discussing spiritual topics. He also liked to point out that although the devotees were not working hard “like asses,” they were serving Krishna and therefore He was fulfilling all their needs. A simple life of service to Krishna, Prabhupada would maintain, is the key to satisfaction and fulfillment.
– Nagaraja Dasa