MY FATHER subscribes to an electronic conference that discusses issues related to India and the Indian community. Several times a year the topic comes up, How can nonresident Indians (NRIs), who live outside India, help their motherland?
Mathew Koshy from San Francisco writes, "The most productive thing for expatriate funds is to help people at the local level solve their own problems such as sanitation and health."
Krishnan Ramanathan writes that he donates funds to an eye hospital in Coimbatore. Sitansu Mittra contributes a modest amount to a boys home in West Bengal.
And Mahesh Prakasm writes, "My personal feeling is that pumping money into India is not going to make any big difference. Also, any other means of developing India is going to make only a physical change, which is temporary. … The change should be a change in the minds of the people of India. … India needs Moral Re-armament (MRA). … a spiritual, philosophical, psychological, or scientific way of creating a change in an individual."
Yes, what India really needs is MRA and more. India needs a change of consciousness, from material to spiritual.
After all, how much money can we give? Foreign governments have probably given more dollars than NRIs will ever be able to give. How many hospitals can we open? We cure one disease, and soon another strikes. How many poor can we feed? Peace Corps volunteers have toiled with more sweat than most of us ever will. But have they improved the condition of India more than superficially?
The best way NRIs can help India is by their personal example. We NRIs have a golden opportunity to make a difference, not by pouring dollars or technology into India but by emulating the greatest NRI, Srila Prabhupada. He knew that we Indians consider imported things superior, so he came to the West and then returned to India to re-import the Vedic teachings. When we return to India or communicate with people there, we can also re-import the Vedic teachings through our example. Srila Prabhupada knew that residents of India naturally look toward NRIs as models because NRIs live in opulent countries. He desired that NRIs not imitate the West but accept the pride of India Vedic living, or simple living and high thinking.
We can benefit our family and friends in India by encouraging them to shun the non-Vedic habits that have become common there. Take, for example, tea drinking. I estimate that every year an average family in India spends 15,500 rupees, or about $500, on tea. If Indians went without tea, there would be an instant annual savings of $500 times 100 million families, or $50 billion. And there would be immense savings on health costs. The money saved from following this one Vedic principle would surpass all donations. And this is only one such example.
Srila Prabhupada gave us the chanting of the Lord's holy names, and he gave us the four regulative principles: no gambling, no meat-eating, no intoxication, and no illicit sex. The biggest gift NRIs can give India is to become examples for others by following these principles:
Insist on eating only Krsna-prasadam.
Refrain from going to the movies or watching TV shows that promote illicit sex.
Refrain from intoxicants, including tea, coffee, cigarettes, and colas.
Refrain from gambling, including the state lotteries.
If we can influence people in India to follow these principles, the benefits will be great. People will get immediate material benefits, and develop good qualities that help them reach the ultimate goal of human life self-realization. Without donating even a dollar to any fund, we will have contributed to the welfare of India.
Srila Prabhupada writes, "A person engaged only in ministering to the physical welfare of human society cannot factually help anyone. Temporary relief of the external body and the mind is not satisfactory. The real cause of one's difficulties in the hard struggle for life may be found in one's forgetfulness of his relationship with the Supreme Lord. … Therefore, to act to revive this consciousness within the entire human society is the highest welfare work." (Bhagavad-gita 5.25, Purport)
We can send money to India, but if we want it to make a real change, we should give to people and funds that develop spiritual principles. Our money can then help satisfy both the immediate physical and the ultimate spiritual needs. For example, by giving money to feed people Krsna-prasadam, we satisfy their hunger and also help them spiritually.
All Indians are dutybound to give their countrymen the benefit of Krsna consciousness. As Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught:
bharata-bhumite haila manusya-janma yara
janma sarthaka kari' kara para-upakara
"One who has taken his birth as a human being in the land of India [Bharata-varsa] should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people." (Caitanya-Caritamrta, Adi-lila 9.41)