Are Economic Development and Bhakti Mutually exclusive?
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
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
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!
The article first appeared in “THE EIGHT PETALS”, a monthly e-newsletter in support of Daivi Varnasrama. The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org