Perhaps the reaction to this crisis by many investors gives us a clue. When the prices of shares and even oil tumbled, one price went up considerably: gold. Good old gold is something of substance, unlike the pieces of paper that once represented it, or even worse, digital files on a hard drive.
What is real wealth? According to Vedic knowledge, and surely it should be obvious, real opulence means the earth’s bounty. Grains, vegetables, fresh water, minerals, jewels, gold, and every everything else we need comes from mother earth. Not one single factory has been built that can manufacture even one of these items to provide for human society.
Commenting on the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.8.40), Srila Prabhupada writes, “Human prosperity flourishes by natural gifts and not by gigantic industrial enterprises. The gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a godless civilization, and they cause the destruction of the noble aims of human life. The more we go on increasing such troublesome industries to squeeze out the vital energy of the human being, the more there will be unrest and dissatisfaction of the people in general, although a few only can live lavishly by exploitation.”
Now it seems even the lavish livers are finding it hard, although I expect most of them have adequately insured themselves against the present crises. Certainly though, we are squeezing out our vital energy for no profit other than increasing our stress and anxiety levels, with tranquilizers and mood elevators being prescribed and consumed at record levels.
Advice from the Gita
Although essentially a spiritual treatise, the Bhagavad-gita does offer some material advice. “Grow food,” Krishna tells us, and He goes on to explain how that is best achieved, describing the cosmic hierarchy that provides our necessities and how we can work in harmony with it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, He doesn’t mention huge industrial enterprises, investment banks, and all the other trappings of capitalism.
Growing food may seem like unnecessary advice, but increasingly that is not what we do. More and more it is being left to huge agribusinesses to provide food for the world while the rest of us work in a thousand and one other industries. And then market forces, our friends the financiers again, act to complicate the whole business. As a result we have seen huge amounts of produce dumped into the sea while parts of the world starve.
But while we are seeing headlines about so-called global food shortages, huge swaths of land everywhere could easily be employed to produce our food. Often, though, the insatiable demand for cash steps in, and instead of food, what’s being grown are biofuels or other useless crops like tea or coffee, or worse still, livestock feed. And all the while most of us continue to squeeze out our vital energy producing any number of items that, at the end of the day, we really do not need.
Pursuing Noble Aims
And this is Krishna’s real point, as stated by Srila Prabhupada. We are meant to pursue the “noble aims” of life. These are not to unlimitedly increase technology, equipping ourselves with an array of gadgetry in the misguided belief that it will make us happy. The real aim of life is to get free of worldliness and realize our true spiritual nature, beyond this temporary sphere.
Krishna therefore tells us to grow food and get the few basic necessities we require out of the way, then we can concentrate on life’s noble aims, the noblest of which is to know Krishna Himself, the Supreme Person with whom we have an eternal loving relationship. That knowledge cannot be achieved by any kind of material progress. In fact, the more we become wrapped up in the vain attempt to improve our happiness by material adjustments, by striving for more wealth, then the less we are able to peacefully concentrate on realizing the Absolute Truth.
But it is a long way back to go from our highly industrialized and urbanized society to the kind of simple living and high thinking proposed by the Bhagavad-gita. Before even attempting that, perhaps the first question we should ask is why we moved and are still moving rapidly in the opposite direction. The only answer is that we lost touch with our spirituality. Allured by the promise of spectacular enjoyment proffered by our scientific progress, we turned more and more away from the divine. But now we are seeing the result, in our environment, our society, and our own hearts, which are always hankering for something more, something we never seem to find.
The time is therefore right to follow Krishna’s and Prabhupada’s advice. Turn back toward the divine. Give up our frantic pursuit of material possessions and find the real treasure that lies within. A treasure that even the worst economic collapses cannot diminish.
Krishna Dharma Dasa is the author of the world’s best-selling English editions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and his editions have been translated into twelve other languages. He lives in England