A MATERIALISTIC PERSON, thinking himself very advanced in intelligence, continually acts for economic development. But again and again, as enunciated in the Vedas, he is frustrated by material activities, either in this life or in the next. Indeed, the results one obtains are inevitably the opposite of those one desires" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.7.41).
Through technology we have tried to improve our life. We've invented the tractor, for example, so that now one percent of a nation's people can grow enough food for the whole country. Guaranteed peace and prosperity?
On the contrary. By wiping out small farms, technology has spread unemployment, crime, and misery.
So it's time to look at another way to organize society with a focus that's not material but spiritual. That way is called the varnasrama social organization. Instead of trying to create or destroy a class system,varnasrama recognizes that four broad classes of people live in every society. And varnasrama purifies people of all classes by linking their work to the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna.
In Bhagavad-gita (4.13) Lord Krsna explains that He created the four classes that make up society the intellectuals (brahmanas), the administrators and military people (ksatriyas), the farmers and merchants (vaisyas), and the laborers (sudras).
In modern society, employers try to make money by exploiting their workers, but that goes against Lord Krsna's intention. In the social plan given by Lord Krsna, all classes of people work interdependently, forspiritual progress. And the Vedic scriptures say that this is the system of cooperation we need to follow to please the Supreme Lord:
purusena parah puman
visnur aradhyate pantha
"One can worship the Supreme Lord by properly following the principles of varnasrama. There is no alternative for pleasing the Lord than to follow this system" (Visnu Purana 3.8.9).
Under the plan of varnasrama, society prospers not by exploiting its laborers but by depending on the productive work of its farmers.
The Role of the Farmer
Srila Prabhupada explains how in varnasrama the social classes cooperate for a smoothly working Krsna conscious society:
The brahmanas [the spiritual leaders] would guide the head of state. The head of state would then give protection to the citizens. The ksatriyas [administrators] would take charge of protecting the people in general, and under the protection of the ksatriyas the vaisyas [farmers and merchants] would protect the cows and produce food grains and distribute them. Sudras, the working class, would help the higher three classes by manual labor. This is the perfect social system. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.17.9, purport)
The duties of the vaisyas noted here by Srila Prabhupada are specified by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (18.44): krsi-go-raksa-vanijyam "farming, cow protection, and trade." In the vaisya's duties, cow protection is central, and this implies that agriculture (krsi) must be carried out with oxen.
As I've explained before, protecting cows without working the oxen is incomplete. A bull is so costly to keep that unless he's working he's usually slaughtered. So in the varnasrama system the bull or ox is put to work producing and transporting food grains.
Modern experts may object that this is "labor intensive." But when millions of people are unemployed, what's wrong with that?
Since unemployment fuels crime, putting people to work by depending on ox power brings crime down, especially when you're moving toward a society with a satisfying spiritual culture. And the work of growing food with oxen provides a challenging, fulfilling engagement in a natural environment, in contrast to boring, grueling work in a hellish city factory.
By allocating land for ox-powered farming, a spiritually enlightened government helps make sure that land is distributed fairly. Tractors and even horses produce best on large farms, but oxen fit with small, family-sized farms. So the ox defines a human-sized unit of productivity a small farm, meant for a family.
Employment in a Godly Way of Life
Furthermore, using oxen to replace petrol-powered transport promotes peace and stability because it keeps production close to home. As documented by N. S. Ramaswamy of the Indian Institute of Management, for short hauls oxen are cheaper than trucks and trains. So when you're using oxen you're promoting a way of life in which people can easily get food grown locally. What need, then, to ship food in from hundreds or thousands of miles away? And what need to fight over the petroleum with which to do it?
Ox power is cleaner, too. As much as industrialism and pollution have filled our lives with anxiety, ox power and a natural way of life can restore us to a happy, peaceful environment, conducive for spiritual progress.
Ox power and cow protection are essential elements in the varnasrama system, a system that puts people to work in a spiritual, godly way of life. Srila Prabhupada taught that the world can be peaceful only with a spiritually reformed social structure. So the Krsna consciousness movement aims at introducing varnasrama system for spiritual progress all over the world.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, spent several years on the Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania. She is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.