I'VE TALKED ABOUT how farming declines when leaders make it hard for would-be farmers to get land. And even when the U.S. government made land easier to get, eventually cow slaughter and centralized agriculture made it nearly impossible for the small farmer to make a living.
Now let's look at the recent history of China, where the government gave farmers their own land and where farmers, by tradition, protected working oxen. Though I don't condone the extreme methods China used to change from centralized to family farming, a look at the history is informative.
Between 1949 and 1952, the new Communist regime took about forty-four percent of China's arable land from rich farmers and landlords and gave it to poor and landless peasants. Most of the land became family farms of about equal size. This land reform inspired farmers to work harder, and grain yields went up quickly. (1)
By keeping some form of cow protection and putting farmers on the land, China improved the life of millions of its citizens. But two developments undermined self-sufficient family farming: farm families gradually lost their land to collectivized production, and the Chinese became more willing to kill bulls for food. Tractors replaced bulls. And for tractor farming to pay off, landholdings had to be larger.
More subtle but perhaps even more important, the efforts at land reform had nothing to do with God.
Unless one nurtures one's essential relationship with God, farm work can quickly turn into drudgery. Then people lose their enthusiasm. So they run to jobs that pay them enough to buy new pleasures for their senses. As modern China turns more and more from the farm to the factory, she repeats the experience of other countries that have shifted from farming to industry and the military. Consider this report from Song, a small Chinese village in the province of Henan:
Young people complain that there is another problem with Song. There is nothing to do here. "It's terribly boring here," complained Chen Yangmin, an 18-year-old native son. "Everybody wants to leave…" For the young men of Song, the Army is a major escape route. (2)
And this report from the province of Guangdong:
One prosperous township brimming with companies is Houjie, … which has an official population of 75,000, mostly peasants who used to wade through surrounding rice paddies. But it is also a temporary home to more than 80,000 migrant laborers who work on assembly lines in the township's 900 factories. "There was nothing to do at home," Yan Jimei, a 20-year-old woman, said of her village in nearby Guanzi Province. "So I came here to look for a job. Life's much better here." (3)
Simple Living, Simply Boring
In the end, you'll find it hard to support yourself, sustain your farm, or practice permaculture without high thinking, or cultivating your eternal bond with the Supreme Lord. Simple living without high thinking is boring.
Seeing the misery caused when a few people hoard wealth, the Chinese Communists asked citizens to give up their greed and take only their given share. But if the search for pleasure is part of human nature, it can't be held down forever. "Just say no" is a motto that won't work in the real world. As Krsna Himself states, nigrahah kim karisyati: "What can repression accomplish?" Krsna explains that the only lasting and effective way to get past sense pleasure is to get a higher taste. That higher taste comes from devotional service to the Lord, performed under the guidance of His envoys the brahmanas (self-realized souls).
Sustainable, self-sufficient farming, therefore, calls for these three basics: The farmer must have land, he must protect and employ the cow and the bull, and he must be guided by qualified spiritual leaders.
Spiritual Leaders Ward Off Disaster
Spiritual leaders need a sound understanding of the scriptures to fulfill the role of reminding people of the will of the Lord. If spiritual leaders are unfit or not respected, they can't protect society.
For example, the Bible states, "Thou shall not kill," and even more specifically, "He that killeth an ox shall be as if he slew a man" (Isaiah 66.3). If early American spiritual leaders had truly grasped what this means, they could have warded off widespread social and ecological disaster not to speak of senseless cruelty to millions of animals. But they didn't. So farmers now find themselves boxed into unsustainable corners, and machine-heavy countries face the likelihood of an agricultural collapse just a few years down the road.
Spiritual Culture Motivates the Farmer
But spiritual leaders can't simply lay down prohibitions. "You shall not raise cows for slaughter. You shall not waste grain to make beer …" Beyond that, spiritual leaders must help farmers (and everyone else) come closer to the Supreme Lord and find satisfaction in devotional service.
This may sound abstract, so let me give some examples from my experience at Gita Nagari Farm and the way the Lord's holidays are celebrated there. Though each holiday has its own special features, one of my favorites is Govardhana Puja. It commemorates Krsna's lifting Govardhana Hill to shield the residents of Vrndavana from a devastating rain.
Early in the day many guests arrive to help make a huge feast for the Lord. They bring vegetables and flowers from their own gardens. Someone mixes up a huge batch of oats, wheat-flour, soymeal, and molasses, and the children make several hundred sticky molasses balls to feed the cows. Once the kids are are all washed off, they run to the barn to paint the cows with bright-colored hand prints. One special cow (often the milker's favorite) is decorated with golden hoofs and ankle bells, a bright silk blanket, and a feathered headdress. The whole barn is done up with bright-colored streamers and flags.
Back at the temple, the growing number of feast-makers listen to accounts of Krsna's Govardhana pastimes. Other guests help decorate the ox-cart and the ox who will pull the Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Damodara to the barn to visit Their cows.
At last, as the chanting begins, the Deities in Their new jewelled outfits are placed onto the cart, and the ox pulls up the road to the barn amid the dancing and singing of the devotees. The Deities tour the barn and see all Their cows, to the constant chanting of the kirtana party. Devotees then worship the Deities and the cow with incense, flowers, and water, just as Krsna Himself did five thousand years ago. As the ceremony ends, the children dash for the boxes of molasses balls and make sure each cow gets a share (personal favorites get extra).
The ox-cart procession returns to the temple. Soon the time comes to worship Krsna holding up Govardhana Hill. At Gita Nagari the hill takes the form of a large mound of sweet, buttery halava, adorned with candy rocks, bushes, and streams, and even candy snakes. After the guests sing and walk around the hill, they get to eat pieces of it. Finally, everyone enjoys a great feast that's been offered to the Lord.
From year to year, devotees add new features to this wonderful celebration of Krsna's pastime among the cows and cowherds of Vrndavana. Sometimes devotees compete in sawing firewood and in other games. Sometimes the ox-workers read to the Deities from a notebook listing services the oxen have done during the year.
The festival calls for a lot of extra work. At the end of the day, everyone is physically exhausted but spiritually refreshed and satisfied.
No mundane festival can match the natural simplicity and beauty of spiritual festivals held in a country setting. A festival for anything other than the Supreme Lord and His pastimes can never give the same satisfaction. Krsna is in the heart of all living beings, even the cows and plants, and He can reciprocate in a personal way no one else can come close to. Devotional service is Krsna's internal potency for pleasure, so nothing can match the pleasure of serving Him.
The spiritual pleasure a person feels by serving the Lord in a festival like this is not like the pleasure one gets from watching television or taking intoxicants. It's more like the pleasure of drinking cool spring water on a hot day. The pleasure we get from serving Krsna is a pure pleasure we need to survive.
And if we can't get real pleasure from serving Krsna, we may have to slave away in a hellish factory to get money to buy some plastic unsatisfying pleasure. This is an important lesson not only for China but for every-one else too.
1. "What's Next in Chinese Agriculture?" Macroeconomics: Principles & Applications, by Robert P. Thomas (Dryden Press, 1990), p. 780.
2. "Far from Tiananmen: Color TV and Contentment," Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, 7 Oct 1990.
3. "Free-Market 'Dragon' Gains in the Fight for China's Soul," Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, 26 March 1992.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi has been an ISKCON devotee since 1978. She spent several years on the Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania. She now lives in Maine. Her address: 9B Stetson St., Brunswick, ME 04011.