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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Are Economic Development and Bhakti Mutually exclusive?

Friday, 04 February 2011 / Published in Articles / 3,974 views

By Vrndavanlila dasi

Development has generally, unless specified, has come to be understood as “economic advancement”. Let us understand this material or economic development little more analytically.

“Having attained this human form of life, we should inquire after Brahman.” “What is God? Who is God? What is my relationship with Him?” These questions distinguish human being from animals, and mark the beginning of Krishna consciousness – atatho brahma jijñasa.

The modern civilization may foolishly encourage boatmen to go sailing without rudder, but traditionally people’s material life was also guided by spiritual paradigms. They catered to everybody’s interest. Vedic way of life recognized catur purusharthas or the four goals of human life in the material world – moksha (liberation), dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), and kama (passionate desire). Moksha and dharma take care of the higher spiritual development of a human being – mind, while the other two,– artha and kama – though considered inferior to other two , are responsible for securing the bodily requirements of a human being.

Moksha and Dharma, though superior to the other two goals of human endeavor are still not considered worth striving for by a devotee. No wonder, the whole Kartik mas devotees, while lighting the lamp to the Lord sing,

varaḿ deva mokṣaḿ na mokṣāvadhiḿ vā 
na canyaḿ vṛṇe haḿ vareṣād apīha 
idaḿ te vapur nātha gopāla-bālaḿ 
sadā me manasy āvirāstāḿ kim anyaiḥ

[O Lord, although You are able to give all kinds of benedictions, I do not pray to You for the boon of impersonal liberation, nor the highest liberation of eternal life in Vaikuntha, nor any other boon (which may be obtained by executing the nine processes of bhakti). O Lord, I simply wish that this form of Yours as Bala Gopala in Vrndavana may ever be manifest in my heart, for what is the use to me of any other boon besides this?]

In a similar strain, the Lord Himself tells Arjuna to abandon all kinds of ‘dharma’ that take him away from the Lord’s lotus feet:

sarva-dharman parityajya / mam ekam saranam vraja 
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo / moksayisyami ma sucah

[Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.] One may feel that when the higher goals itself are being eliminated, where is the room for other two, which are anyways obviously considered lower, catering only to the physical requirements.

The beauty of Vedic life lies in recognizing difference in the nature of different human beings, in their proclivities and natural capabilities (that is why varnasrama) and further sanctifying everything, including the carnal requirements (that is why daivi-varnasrama); therefore the pursuit of artha and kama was also defined by dharma or morality. Hence, while Vedas extolled being “anyabhilashita shunyam” also acknowledge the presence of desires in majority of people and thus suggest ways how they can accomplish their desires without compromising on the spiritual component. So, the superscript of dharma – one could indulge in sense gratification but on the condition that it did not violate the injunctions of dharma (varnasrama dharma).

Artha or economic development was also defined. One’s material acquisitions were defined and limited. One was supposed to adhere to the dictum of simple living and high thinking, keeping just enough to keep the body and soul together! Srimad Bhagavatam 11.8.9 clearly states:

stokam stokam grased grasam / deho varteta yavata
grihan ahimsann atishthed / vrittim madhukarim munih

[A saintly person should accept only enough food to keep his body and soul together. He should go from door to door accepting just a little bit of food from each family. Thus he should practice the occupation of the honeybee.]

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu rejects all the four to give us the highest goal of life, the pancham purushartha of achieving devotion for the Lord or bhakti. Narayania confirms this in the following verse:

ya vai sadhana-sampattih/ purusartha-catustaye
taya vina tad apnoti / naro narayanasrayah

The four purusarthas remain different processes of fruitive activities and help in making a human being lead more civilized life than animals and slowly help him evolve towards realizing the higher goals of life. But where are we when studied in relation to this perspective?

Our departure from the vedic paradigms has been so drastic that it has become a good example of the inverted tree image parallel given in the Bhagavad Gita. We are not just following the lower purushartha of just ‘artha’ but also with all possible distortions. There is no room for bhakti to prosper. Rather, artha has come to define simply economic or material prosperity with the destructive combination of its divorce from dharma and moksha. The absence of the latter has made it the lowest and an absolutely material goal. The time where material requirements were kept to the minimum to leave one with more time to utilize for spiritual evolution we have regressed to if not total rejection of the spiritual objective to its relegation as the last priority. Wallowing in the deepest mire of ignorance, and thus forgetting our real identity, we have turned ourselves to the biggest worshippers of matter. No wonder, the present society is hedonistic and founded on sense gratification – pride, prostitution, intoxication and falsehood. Our economic development is geared to pamper these four impulses (violating the four tenets of dharma – austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness). It is noteworthy to read Srila Prabhupada’s words (SB 4:22:34 Purport):
“The four principles of life allow one to live according to religious principles, to earn money according to one’s position in society, to allow the senses to enjoy the sense objects according to regulations, and to progress along the path of liberation from this material attachment. As long as the body is there, it is not possible to become completely free from all these material interests. It is not, however, recommended that one act only for sense gratification and earn money for that purpose only, sacrificing all religious principles. At the present moment, human civilization does not care for religious principles. It is, however, greatly interested in economic development without religious principles. …Similarly, although the government may license liquor shops, this does not mean that liquor shops should be opened unrestrictedly and illicit liquor smuggled. Licensing is meant for restricting. No one has to take a license for sugar, wheat or milk because there is no need to restrict these things. In others words, it is advised that one not act in a way that will obstruct the regular process of advancement in spiritual life and liberation. The Vedic process of sense gratification is therefore planned in such a way that one can economically develop and enjoy sense gratification and yet ultimately attain liberation. Vedic civilization offers us all knowledge in the sastras, and if we live a regulated life under the direction of sastras and guru, all our material desires will be fulfilled; at the same time we will be able to go forward to liberation.”

Though we are aware of cultivating bhakti being the only worthwhile goal of life but since not everybody is a devotee like Haridas Thakur just by dint of they also being humans. There will always be variegation in basic nature and propensities. In this age, economic development will almost always appear top on the chart as it facilitates other sense gratifications, but our intelligence lies in acknowledging these differences and working out a solution. Are economic development and spiritual development (bhakti) mutually exclusive? Fortunately, they can coexist. Daivi varnasrama set up is a social set up which allows for our differences, even those with lower intelligence have room to grow and find themselves gradually on the path of bhakti (by serving other classes).

Economic prosperity, even when seen from common sense perspective, appears shallow. What will it ultimately allow? – Better comforts, better and more luxurious way of enjoying our senses (eating, sleeping, mating, and defence). Does it make us in any way different from animals? Speeding around on our four wheelers has only made us compete with dog (who also runs on four feet), we are mere “royal editions of animals”. Srimad-Bhagavatam denounces human beings who waste their life working hard to earn money and are compared to asses kept by washermen which carries the heavy load of washing, in the hope of a handful of grass. But it never occurs to him that grass is growing everywhere and that he could get it freely without so much endeavor. Working in this way, human beings are missing the aim of life, which is spiritual development.

Economic development is not necessarily abominable as long as it is based on land and cows. But in the present age, it is however thriving on distorted versions of the dictum. Instead of land or bhoomi it is real estate business or exploitative activities of mindless mining, tantamounting to raping of bhoomi and instead of worshipping the cows, it is cow slaughter, but restoration of economic development with the sight of ‘dharma’ (realization of our original relationship with the Lord) and ‘bhakti’ (desire to develop devotion towards Him) as the two eyes will again set the order right. The example of Kardama muni and Devahuti are beautifully relevant in the context. One does not need big factories for economic development. Srila Prabhupada says emphatically, “You don’t require industries, trade. You don’t require. If you have got land and cow, then everything is complete. This is basic principle of Vedic civilization. Have some land. Have some cows. Dhanyena dhanavan gavayah dhanavan. Not industry. There is no need of industry. Because you want some food, nice food, nice milk, nice fruit, that will be produced by nature. You cannot manufacture all these things in the factory. At the present moment, the big, big factories, they are the activities of the asuras [demonic persons], ugra-karma [terrible, harmful activities].” While living in a Krsna-centric world of daivi varnasrama, vaishyas, the engineers of economic development need to possess the following five attributes (SB 7.11.23):

deva-gurv-acyute bhaktis tri-varga-paripoṣaṇam
āstikyam udyamo nityaḿ naipuṇyaḿ vaiśya-lakṣaṇam

The three primary activities of vaishyas are [Bhagavad-gita 18.44]: krsi-goraksya-vanijyam vaiśyas-karma svabhava-jam
krsi (agriculture), go raksha (cow protection) and vanijyam (trade and commerce) and is imbued in the love for Guru and Godhead, everybody will have the opportunity to make the most of their human birth. Thereby allowing artha (economic development) and bhakti go hand in hand. Hare Krsna!

Vrndavanlila dd

The article first appeared in “THE EIGHT PETALS”, a monthly e-newsletter in support of Daivi Varnasrama. The author can be contacted at:

Makhancora Class at Sri Mayapur International School
Three Levels of Devotees Which One Are You?

4 Responses to “Are Economic Development and Bhakti Mutually exclusive?”

  1. ananda dd says :

    Hare Krsna.
    Firstly when we as an organisation called Iskcon want to preach a particular subject matter such as Cow Protection and Economic Development based on land and cows we need to define exactly what we mean.As a preaching organisation we have to understand what we are practicing before we can preach it otherwise we create a falsity of practice.
    When we consider Economic development based on Land and Cows we have to know how to practice it ourselves to be able to have the blue print example for others to adapt to.
    If we dont know how to practice Cow protection in an Economic environment in Iskcon then where would that leave us as a preaching society.How do we exist as a society that is an example for people to see with their own eyes.And more importantly how does our livestyle reflect that practice of Economic development based on Cows and Land?
    How do our buildings,homes and lifestyle reflect our own faith that Cows and Land are enough to base our Economy on?
    This is the main point that is missing from Iskcon.We dont actually reflect our faith into our own philosophy on a practical level.Where do we find the infrastructure,the buildings the community,the society the example of our own faith in these things.Its easy enough to put words on a page but how do we demonstrate practically this rural lifestyle for economy to even begin?
    When a society has faith in the future of its community,development and economically,then society manifests this faith through its buildings and government.So if we walk through our Iskcon world do we witness in our buildings a hope and faith of the future in ourselves that reflects our commitment to economy based on land and cows.For example if we were to build a Goshalla what would be the criteria for its architectural design.If we were to build a Goshalla for the general public to view protected cows we would come up with a particular design but if we were to design a Goshalla with economic development in mind the design would be completely different.
    The change in our direction to an economy based on Cows and Land will be shown when our buildings that we create for the future will have that vision for the economic stability that Cows and Land bring with them and that beautiful simple,noble lifestyle of harmonius economy in a tranquil rural setting affords.

  2. Akruranatha says :

    I like Vrndavanalila’s article very much.

    It is true that bhakti stands above the four purusarthas as the fifth purusartha, and it is not dependent on the other four.

    Nevertheless, as long as we have material bodies we have associated dharma, artha, and kama. We need to engage everything in devotional service. We cannot (and need not) neglect our natural needs for occupation, wealth and sense gratification, we just have to sanctify it all by putting Krishna in the center.

    The way Srila Prabhupada would sometimes express this is by pointing out that without Krsna, all our so-called assets like good education, job, bank balance, family etc. are just like zeros. But if we pout the “one” of Krsna in front of all those zeros, it becomes a big number.

    A poor man can worship Krsna. What Krsna really accepts is the bhakti. Anyone, however poor, can secure a little water or flower or piece of fruit or tulasi leaf to offer Krishna.

    That does not mean we have to be poor to worship Krsna. We should worship Krishna with whatever we have. If we are talented for making money, we should offer lots of money to support the Sankirtan movement. If we are talented in writing or speaking, we should use these assets, which otherwise would be “zeros”, in glorifying Krishna. Then those assets become glorious too.

    We have to perform devotional service according to our nature, which we have been given just to offer to Krsna. Because of our nature as living human beings, we have to eat, sleep, breathe. Most of us have to mate also, according to the dharmic rules of sanctified family life, and to maintain a righteous family one must have some honest occupation and some wealth also.

    “By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done. By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.”

    During Lord Caitanya’s talks with Ramananda Raya, Lord Caitanya rejected the idea of renunciation as exemplified in the sarva-dharman parityajya verse as also external. Sannyas is also one of the four asramas or stations of life. It was the verse that says “sthane sthitah sruti gatam tanu-van-manobhir” which Lord Caitanya first accepted. That verse glorifies those who devote their bodies, words and minds to the narrations about Krishna while remaining in whatever social position.

    Of course, the tendency generally is…

  3. Akruranatha says :

    The general tendency of all people is to become too much absorbed in economic development and sense gratification and to neglect devotional service.

    Therefore, the Vaisnava sannyasis who show an example of dedicating everything and minimizing all needs of maintaining the body are the spiritual masters of the other varnas and asramas.

    However, the goal is not sannyas. Krishna did not ask Arjuna to become a sannyasi. He asked Arjuna to fight the battle, remaining as a householder prince, but to do so as a fully surrendered devotee. The goal is bhakti, is pleasing Krishna in any way, at all costs. And Krishna wants His devotees to flourish and lead society.

    Srila Prabhupada compared sense gratification to salt on food. If there is not enough, it is not so palatable, but if there is too much it is completely spoiled. The general tendency of conditioned people in the world is to overdo it when it comes to economic development and sense gratification and to neglect devotional service, thereby spoiling their lives.

    However, we should not think that to be a devotee one has to lose all one’s material assets. Rather, one has to *use* all material assets in devotional service. That is the purpose for which these assets, like our material body and all our various abilities, are meant to be used. To reject these assets thinking them material is phalgu renunciation, but to do everything very nicely for Krishna is yukta renunciation, and is much better.

  4. ramavijaya says :

    Best thing is to set the example instead of merely writing article.

    Create a self-sufficient society which resembles the economic development explained in above article and show that people can be more happier.

    If you show the above, people will automatically follow it.

    >> The modern civilization may foolishly encourage boatmen to go sailing without rudder

    It is foolish to criticize modern civilization when you cannot provide good alternative.