A Proposal for Economic Sanity
from Back To Godhead Magazine #17-10, 1982
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Unemployment. Inflation. Recession. High interest rates. Mounting personal, national, and international debt. Depression. The litany of economic woes pours from television, radio, and printed page, and no one can seem to explain them, much less do anything about them. Yet as complex as they seem, all these problems share a common root: the presence of insatiable lust and greed in the human heart. Expunge lust and greed, and you solve these economic problems. Sound too simple? Let’s analyze the situation from the viewpoint of the Bhagavad-gita, a summary of India’s ancient spiritual wisdom.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna is asked by His disciple Arjuna, “By what is one impelled to perform sinful acts even unwillingly, as if by force?” Krishna replies, “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.” Later Krishna explains that lust is inherent in the lower self of a materialistic man—in his senses, mind, and intelligence—and that this lust is never satisfied. By acting under the impulse of lust, Krishna says, one becomes greedy.
Greed is the constant push to accumulate wealth, to exploit nature and our fellow man and thus increase material enjoyment as far as possible. In the 1940’s Hollywood film Key Largo, the “good guy” (Humphrey Bogart) asks the mobster (Edward G. Robinson) what he wants that drives him to theft and murder. In reply the mobster snarls, “I want more, more, more!” This is greed, the demand of the lower self.
When our lower self dominates our higher self (the soul), our intelligence serves lust and greed, and so we seek to exploit nature and other people unlimitedly. Thus we have built up a huge technological machine that requires vast amounts of natural resources like oil, iron, and uranium to keep going. Since the earth’s resources are limited but man’s desire to exploit is ever-expanding, naturally there are imbalances, shortages, poverty, and depressions. Also, the desire to exploit leads to haves and have-nots, which in turn leads to social chaos.
Let’s consider an alternative society, one based on the principles of Krishna consciousness. Such a society would emphasize the fulfillment of our spiritual needs while providing sufficient but not exaggerated material necessities. This is the ideal Wordsworth spoke of a century and a half ago: plain living and high thinking. The lower self, as expressed by the gangster in Key Largo, should be controlled by the higher self. We can do this not by suppressing our lower impulses but by experiencing the higher taste of our eternal relationship with Krishna.
Basic to Krishna consciousness is the knowledge that the real self is beyond the body. The real self, the spirit soul, is eternal, and human life is meant for self-realization, for coming to the state of full awareness of God, or Krishna, and attaining our eternal life with Him. A devotee therefore minimizes his material desires and necessities by directing his energies toward activities of self-realization, such as chanting the names of God and helping others to become Krishna conscious. The transcendental pleasure a devotee feels from these activities diminishes his greed and lust; he is thus satisfied with a simple life and is not a burden on the earth’s resources or on his fellow man.
We should not conclude, however, that because devotees don’t exploit nature unnecessarily they are all poverty- stricken. God provides basic economic well-being to all creatures, what to speak of His devotees. As the Ishopanishad states, the world is so created by the Supreme that it supplies the needs of all the living beings who inhabit it, provided they take only what is their quota and do not encroach upon the quotas of others. Seen in this light, problems such as poverty and a shortage of food are but creations of man’s greed and foolishness. We don’t find poverty or a food shortage in the animal kingdom, except where man has tampered with the animals’ natural habitat.
Therefore, we should be satisfied with what nature provides. We should also use nature’s resources in the service of Krishna. Then, as He Himself states in the Bhagavad-gita, He will supply everything needed for material well-being.
The produce of the field, for example, is under the control of nature, which in turn is under Krishna’s control. Man can develop the most sophisticated agricultural technology, but if nature doesn’t supply the rain there will be no fruits, grains, and vegetables. Ultimately, therefore, earth’s natural resources are under the control of Krishna, and He can provide a bounty as long as man lives sanely, in accordance with the laws of nature and God.
So we do not advocate that man should live as a primitive. There can be Krishna conscious cities and farm communities, along with the development of culture and science at the highest level. But we should create nothing for exaggerated sense pleasure or for the exploitation of the many by the few. When we center all our activities on Krishna and work for His satisfaction, there will naturally be economic, political, and social harmony. According to Vedic history this kind of God- centered civilization once flourished throughout the world.
Here is how the Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.10.4-6], the foremost Purana, or Vedic history, describes the prosperity people enjoyed during the rule of the pious King Yudhishthira: “The clouds showered all the water that people needed, and the earth produced all necessities in profusion. Due to its fatty milk bag and cheerful attitude, the cow used to moisten the grazing ground with milk. In every season, the rivers, oceans, hills, mountains, forests, and fields paid their tax quota to the king in profusion. Because the king had no enemy, no one was ever disturbed by diseases, mental agonies, or excessive heat or cold.”
No doubt our proposals sound radical or Utopian to the economic pundits, who think in terms of how to increase the gross national product, how to stimulate production and consumption. But for all their accountant’s jargon and expertise at analyzing colossal debits and credits, things are simply out of their control. The world economic juggernaut is running wild, a man-made monster of greed. Only by transcending greed, as suggested by Krishna in the Bhagavad- gita, can we alleviate the economic problems causing acute suffering in every country of the world.
Image shows actors Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in the movie Key Largo