THE CONSCIOUSNESS of the farmer while interacting with the earth not only affects productivity but also reveals the farmer's spiritual standing.
First we may ask, Who or what is the earth? Is the earth simply a mass of chemicals, or is it a person with feelings and desires? And if the earth is a person, how can we learn about and how should we relate to that person?
Although most traditional cultures have for centuries respected the earth as a person Mother Earth modern industrial agriculture has mostly treated the earth as simply an impersonal amalgamation of chemicals, to be pushed into productivity or subdued with other chemicals. So the growing popular movement to reestablish connections with Mother Earth as a person is sometimes viewed as a step backward. But is it really?
In the Bhagavad-gita (17.4), Lord Krsna says that people in the mode of goodness worship the demigods and that people in the mode of passion adore demons. Thousands of modern farmers obediently follow researchers and agricultural agents who advise them to lace their fields with chemicals to grow more feed to fatten animals for slaughter. In the most practical sense, following such materialistic gurus is pretty close to worshiping demons. It's worship in the mode of passion.
And what is the result of such worship? Krsna says (Bg. 14.12) that the symptoms of the mode of passion are great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering. From the mode of passion, greed develops. (Bg. 14.17) And happiness in the mode of passion is "just like nectar in the beginning and just like poison in the end." (Bg. 18.38)
These symptoms show up when farmers revere materialistic scientists and economists who preach the wonders of chemically based agribusiness. The lives of such farmers are full of greed, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire.
And what has been the outcome of this mentality? Modern agriculture seemed "just like nectar" in the beginning, when chemicals prodded the earth into turning out surplus crops. But now that farmland in so many places is eroded and stained by chemicals, modern agriculture often seems "just like poison."
Although worship of the personality of Earth may at first look like a step backward, compared with worship in the mode of passion it is a step in the right direction. Because the Earth is one of the demigods appointed by the Lord to control aspects of the affairs of the universe, earth worship can bring one from the mode of passion up to the mode of goodness. And Krsna says, "From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops." (Bg. 14.17)
So it might seem that earth worshipers are on the right track. And to an extent they are. But for their efforts in spiritual life to succeed they need to go one step further, because elsewhere in the Bhagavad-gita (7.23) Krsna points out the shortcomings of demigod worship. "Men of small intelligence worship the demigods," Lord Krsna says, "and their fruits are limited and temporary."
Demigods such as Lord Brahma or Mother Earth live thousands of years, but eventually their life and the material benedictions they award must come to an end. Srila Prabhupada once said, "If you worship demigods you may get some temporary benefit, but at the end the benefit will be finished, you'll be finished, and the demigod who has given you the benediction will be also finished."
The problem is that demigod worship is spurred on by a desire for material gain, whether it be for tangible wealth or for a peaceful life. Krsna says, "Men in this world desire success in fruitive activities, and therefore they worship the demigods." (Bg. 4.12) And the desire to enjoy in the material world binds us to it.
So on one hand Krsna says that worship of the demigods is in the mode of goodness and that acts in goodness can lead to knowledge. But on the other hand He seems to condemn demigod worship. So how are demigod worshipers to attain lasting benefit?
The secret is that the demigods are great devotees of the Lord. So by submitting to higher authorities, the demigods, thus acting in the mode of goodness, one prepares oneself to submit to the highest authority the Supreme Lord. And in this way one transcends even the material mode of goodness.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila 24.124) Lord Caitanya tells Sanatana Gosvami, "If those who are attached to demigod worship fortunately associate with the devotees, their dormant devotional service and appreciation of the Lord's qualities gradually awaken. In this way they also engage in Krsna's devotional service and give up the desire for liberation and the desire to merge into the existence of impersonal Brahman."
How is it that mixing with devotees can turn demigod worshipers into worshipers of the Supreme Lord? Here's one way: By mixing with devotees, a demigod worshiper will hear of his demigod's relation to the Lord.
For example, although some people may know prayers to Mother Earth, they may not know that she also prays to the Supreme Lord and has many interactions with Him. Several passages about Mother Earth also known as Bhumi Devi are found in the Vedic scriptures, such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam. By studying these accounts, worshipers of Mother Earth will learn not only of her activities but of the Supreme Lord's wisdom, power, and generosity, as shown in His pastimes with her. What's more, they'll learn that Mother Earth is most pleased not when we worship her directly but when we learn to use her bounty to worship the Lord, who is so kind to her.
In the next issue, we'll study the pastimes of Mother Earth and King Prthu, an incarnation of the Lord's power to rule. Their activities have powerful relevance to our life on earth today.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.