“The environment is burning in a hundred, in a thousand places worldwide. But there is no fire escape here, no ‘out,’ no other solution than a shift in knowing who we are.”
About sixty miles southwest of Melbourne, Australia, in rolling hills studded with gum trees, lies New Nandagram, an environmentally sustainable community of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Gokula Dāsa, the development director of New Nandagram, is supervising the planting of trees along the border of the property. Not only will they be aesthetically pleasing, but they will also provide extra forage for the community’s dairy cows. Expressing his concern about the degradation of the planet’s ecosystem, Gokula Dāsa says, “There is a sanctity about earth. Even lifelong urban dwellers are revolted by lakes of oil, stacks of crunched automobiles, unclean air, stinking sewage systems, dying forests, ugly garbage dumps, and unswimmable lakes and rivers.”
But what’s the cause of this? “A polluted environment grows out of polluted consciousness,” says Gokula. “It’s like Gandhi said-there’s enough on earth for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. We’re trying to run things on that principle at New Nandagram. We have a plan for providing all of our residents’ needs in a sustainable way. And that takes some careful decision-making about what we really need to live happily and peacefully. It all comes down to accepting a simpler and more natural way of life.”
Unfortunately, a simpler way of life proceeds from different systems of values than most people hold. In both “developed” and “undeveloped” regions of the world, people are seeking constant improvement in personal comforts, entertainment, and personal wealth. This quest seldom has discernible limitations. People seem to have a relentless, almost unconscious drive to have and enjoy more than they really need.
Writing for the (London) Observer News Service in 1972, Arnold Toynbee described the cause of what he called “the world’s malady” as spiritual. “We are suffering” he wrote, “from having sold our souls to the pursuit of maximizing material wealth, a pursuit which is spiritually wrong and practically unattainable. We have to recognize our objective and to change it.”
Many people are seeking such change. Gokula Dāsa and other members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) have chosen to explore an alternative worldview and way of life based on an ancient wisdom that offers long-term solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of the environment.
Although most members of ISKCON live in cities, they still embrace the concept of “simple living and high thinking.” But a significant number are now living in dozens of intentional rural communities throughout the world, where they practice a life of voluntary restraint based on spiritual values. Concern for the environment is a natural part of these communities.
In the hills of the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil’s São Paulo province, Rūpa Goswami Dāsa, development director of the Hare Kṛṣṇa farm community there, supervises the planting of crops that stem erosion on deforested hills. (He wins praise from local environmentally-minded officials.) At the Hare Kṛṣṇa farm community of Gītā-Nāgarī, in rural Pennsylvania, Sītā Dāsī trains a young ox to respond to her simple vocal commands. When grown, the ox will help plow the fields, freeing the community from dependence on tractors. In the former Soviet Union, some Hare Kṛṣṇa members are leaving the food and housing shortages in the cities to start self-sufficient farm communities in the countryside. In England, Ranchor Dāsa submits a proposal to the Worldwide Fund for Nature for reforesting India’s Vṛndāvana district, an area sacred to worshipers of Kṛṣṇa for thousands of years. The project is approved, with work now underway.
But there is lots of work yet to be done. Living in all parts of the world, the men and women of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are in a good position to witness firsthand the environmental crises now facing our planet. We have witnessed the air pollution in Mexico, the deadly aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union, the destruction of the rainforests in Brazil, Swedish lakes dead from acid rain, and the horror of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. Wherever we look, we see a planet in trouble, a planet in need of spiritual healing. It’s not difficult to identify greed as a root cause of pollution as we briefly survey the state of the world’s ecological predicament.
This is the introduction to a book called Divine Nature (by Michael A. Cremo and Mukunda Goswami) that can be had here.
Here’s the blurb:
What are the root causes of the environmental crisis? What can we do about them?
“Does a highly spiritual tradition like Krishna consciousness concern itself with concrete problems of this world? Do the teachings have a significant environmental impact?
“Divine Nature is a clear, even eloquent ‘yes’ answer to both questions. The chapter on ‘Meat and the Environment’ is the best succinct statement I have read on the environmental impact of meat consumption. But Divine Nature deftly weaves this concrete factual material into a worldview which includes history, scientific theory, and the metaphysics of karma. The implications of diet are far-reaching. Divine Nature is a must for professors of religion like myself and for students like mine. It shows us that the apparently abstract and ethereal realm of spirituality bears upon the environment in a quite positive and practical way.”
Professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy
Palomar College, San Marcos, California
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