Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

At last it seems the world is waking up. Green politics are becoming quite the fashion now, and even the most adamant politicians are making overtures to ecology. "All Conservatives are conservationists," intoned Mrs. Thatcher, somewhat uncharacteristically, at her party's recent gathering. "We are committed to the environment." Well, at least it's a start to talk concerned, even if one's actions seem to evince a rather different outlook.

Certainly there is enough evidence to indicate the disastrous effects our consumer society is having upon the environment. Even in India, one of the last bastions of agrarian life, the facts are horrifying. Walter Schwarz, a well-known ecologist and journalist, says that a third of India's 266 million hectares of agricultural land is now wasteland because of erosion, waterlogging, or salinity the grim effects of deforestation and modern irrigation. Another third is classed as "partially" degraded. The average Indian now has a quarter of the land he had in 1951.

It is none too soon for people to become aware of the absurdities being perpetrated in the name of progress the atrocious rape of our planet, for which we must all accept some blame. Actually, blame is ours as soon as we become a part of the corrupt system that demands continuous and total exploitation of the earth's resources. The person who receives the stolen goods is as much a criminal as the thief. Even unwittingly from our very birth, we are all quickly caught up in a vicious chain of global misdemeanors the baby's bottle made from oil-derived plastics, the leather shoes, the multifarious chemical drugs we swallow.

"But wait!" I hear you cry. "Don't blame me; I hate this crazy system. And as for my child, he has no idea what is going on out there; he's surely innocent."

Which brings us to the real point: what is the actual cause underlying the abuse of nature? Why has man not been content with his traditional piece of land and a few animals, gleaning just enough for his day-to-day survival?

Let's take the situation of a villager plowing over his smallholding and milking his cows. Meanwhile, elsewhere, the industrialist has set up his nuts-and-bolts factory and, in search of workers to man his enterprise, heads out to the villages. Espying our hapless villager, he promptly offers him currency to come and work for him.

Now we get to the root of the real problem. The villager is swayed by the prospect of acquiring Western-style clothes, cosmetics, cars, and so on the trappings of a so-called successful material life, which have all been broadly advertised as necessities by the entrepreneurs who produce them. But will these items ensure his happiness and free him from suffering?. Will he ever be satisfied by any number of such possessions?

Obviously, the answer is no. He will be caught in the same upward spiral of increasing desires that grips the man who exploits him. From theBhagavad-gita, we learn that lust, the basis of all desire, "burns like fire and is never satisfied." One who attempts to satisfy lust becomes "bound by a network of hundreds and thousands of desires."

The villager gives up producing food and sets off to manufacture metal parts or whatever. Thus those who remain working the land, now faced with producing food for those who went in search of inedible fortunes, resort to modern, assisted farming methods to better exploit the earth. If our foolish villager had resisted his lusty desires when approached by the entrepreneur, then the whole ruinous system would have halted at its outset. Thus the actual cause of the degradation discussed here is ignorance: the mistaken belief that material acquisitions will bring happiness.

Of course, this greatly simplifies what has now become a "complex society," to cite a popular phrase. But is the truth so far from this simple tale? What about ourselves? What are we striving for? If we aim to increase our material happiness by adding to our possessions and bank balance, then are we not a cog in the machine that is grinding away the earth? Who among us wouldn't choose a good post carrying a substantial wage over living off the land, with no money and all the austerities such a life would entail?

Once this has been understood, it becomes clear that no amount of scaremongering with terrible accounts of transgressions against nature will solve the problem. Even given the solution, who is going to apply it?

Actually, Krsna wants us to live a peaceful life, harmonious with nature. In the Third Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (3.9-14), He informs us that we should live by sacrifice to produce rains and thus food grains. There is no mention of industry and other modern-day anathemas that outrage the ecology-minded. The saintly queen Kunti says in Srimad-Bhagavatam, "The cities and villages are flourishing in all respects because the herbs and grains are in abundance, the trees are full of fruits, the rivers are flowing, the hills are full of minerals, and the oceans are full of wealth." What has brought about this desirable situation? A high GNP? A low trade deficit? Good exports? No.

She continues: "And this is due to Your [Krsna's] glancing over them." The glance of the Supreme Lord all that is required to ensure prosperity.

But how does one elicit the Lord's glance? Perhaps one good way may be to try following His suggestions on how to live, as we have already mentioned. But again, who will or even can do this? Some are already, but the numbers who daily capitulate with the advance of so-called technological progress far exceed those going back to the land. We need some incentive before we can contemplate the prospect of abandoning the comfortable amenities of modern society, illusory though they may well be.

Being the supremely intelligent person, Krsna is certainly not foolishly recommending a wholly impossible and intolerable way of life. He is completely aware that if we do not follow His edicts, we will suffer far more than if we do, a fact now being discovered by the environmentalists. Lord Krsna says, "One who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice established by the Vedas … lives in vain." By following His directives, we "become free from the bondage of fruitive actions." As all suffering is due to karma, or reactions to previous acts, freedom fromkarma means an end to suffering. The wealth accrued from industrial endeavors is never going to free anyone from karma, although by aspiring for a life free from suffering, the worker is in effect hoping for just that.

By developing huge capitalistic enterprises, we move away from God and His instructions and become victimized by our own greed. Life quickly becomes intolerable. In India, because of decades of power pumping for "advanced" agriculture and industry, millions of wells have dried up or become saline. Groundwater levels have fallen thirty meters in one decade. "At the national level, current patterns of agricultural development will outstrip water availability by the turn of the century," says a report by the Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage.

The need is urgent, as pointed out by many, but the answer is seen by few. We have to take note of the instructions of Krsna and act accordingly. Then we will experience real material prosperity and actual happiness. Otherwise, the consequences are too dreadful to imagine.