An Economic Eyeopener, A Spiritual Masterpiece
A review of HG Dhanesvara Das’s “Lessons in Spiritual Economics from the Bhagavad-gita – Part 1 – Understanding and Solving the Economic Problem” by Chaitanya Charan Das.
Srila Prabhupada once told Satsvarupa Maharaja to write a book showing how all the problems of the world can be solved only by Krishna consciousness. Satsvarupa Maharaj eventually wrote an illuminating small book, The Daily News: All Things Fail Without Krishna, in which he analyzed various news stories to show how the problems therein arise from a lack of Krishna consciousness. In the foreword of that book, Maharaj stated how this instruction of Srila Prabhupada is a huge mandate, which will require enormous research and effort to fulfill.
Dhanesvara’s Spiritual Economics book fulfills Srila Prabhupada's instruction in the somewhat unlikely (from the perspective of what is ordinarily thought of as spiritual) field of economics through its comprehensive research, penetrating analysis, scriptural and unambiguously devotional call to action.
Spiritual Economics marks a historic leap forward in the scholarly preaching of Krishna consciousness. In what is probably the first time in modern world history, the concept of the three modes is applied to analyze various economic systems throughout human history as being either in goodness, passion or ignorance. This analysis, presented in chapters three, four and five, of the book, constitutes the heart of the book - and
gives us an endearing glimpse into the dedicated heart of Dhanesvara Prabhu.
Spiritual Economics is simultaneously enlivening and disturbing. It is immensely enlivening to see the principles of Krishna consciousness, which we are all dedicated to practicing and preaching, presented so expertly, comprehensively and cogently in a field that has not been done, or even attempted (to my knowledge), by any devotee till date. For the intellectual rigor and spiritual vigor that Dhanesvara Prabhu brings to work in this book, he deserves a place among the likes of Sadaputa Prabhu, Drutakarma Prabhu, Satyaraja Prabhu, Garuda Prabhu and Devamrita M, who have all brought laurels for Srila Prabhupada by their scholarly writings.
At the same time, Spiritual Economics is profoundly disturbing; it documents in scary and gory detail the extent to which the exploitative and destructive mentality, characteristic of the mode of ignorance, has gripped the whole world - especially including the economic big shots. This contemporary research powerfully demonstrates Srila Prabhupada's statement that the world is being ruled by the demonic and drives home the crying necessity to vigorously preach Krishna consciousness. Spiritual Economics concludes that the solution to the prevailing global economic (and social) mess is to raise our consciousness individually and collectively through chanting the mahamantra and building a God-centered economy.
To fully solve the economic problem we must understand Krishna’s instructions for a spiritual culture. This focuses on the unfinished second-half of Srila Prabhupada's mission -- establishing working models of varnashrama dharma, with economics in the mode of goodness. This will be elaborately explained in Part II of the work.
Being myself an author of several books, I am impressed, even astounded, by the exhaustiveness of the research that has gone into making this book. Dhanesvara Prabhu has toiled for more than two decades, pouring over hundreds of books, to gift all of us - and the whole world at large – this ripe fruit of his devotional intellect. In the true spirit of the gifting economy that he advocates, he has made his book freely available to all in electronic form from here: http://tinyurl.com/oyh5ky. The book should soon be available in print from www.lulu.com.
Dhanesvara Prabhu deserves great credit for painstaking scrupulousness in study and unflinching faithfulness in preaching. By applying the principles of Krishna consciousness that Srila Prabhupada brought to the world and that Dhanesvara Prabhu powerfully presents in this book, we can all do our respective parts, small or great, in assisting Srila Prabhupada's mission to save the world from its present suicidal course.
The first volume of my book on Spiritual Economics -- "Lessons in Spiritual Economics from the Bhagavad-gita - Part I - Understanding and Solving the Economic Problem" is finished and available as a pdf ebook (from here tinyurl.com/oyh5ky). Actually the book was finished almost a year ago -- last August -- then the economic crisis hit and I thought that I would add something about that. That was a bad decision. As you may recall, the crisis dragged on for months. During that time there was lots to read and muse on.
Finally in January I had written another entire chapter, more than 35 pages, but there was a problem. I couldn't use it. The conclusions were sinister and would bring a mood to the book that I didn't want. But in the process I had the opportunity to massage the the last chapter further and am much happier about it.
In the book I list this livejournal account as my blog, and therefore I am motivated to put some attention here. If you look further you will see that I have not been very active in blogging. Well, this may change, because since I have finished the book there are almost innumerable things to comment on in relationship to the ideas presented there. Many of these could be book length, so maybe not too appropriate for a blog. In that case I will get them loaded onto my website, which is www.spiritual-econ.info, and use this blog as an introduction. BTW, that is where you can look for that chapter that didn't make it. The title is "Economic Chernobyl - The Economic Crisis of 2008".
Let me begin here with a recap of my recent trips to Poltava and Kharkov. Poltava is a city of great historical interest in Ukraine. A major battle was waged here against Peter “the Great” of Russia but Peter won, conquering a significant chunk of Ukraine. In the present day it is a fairly large city with some 1.5 million people. A nice city overall, for what I saw of it, which is not usually much. I do get to see some parts of the city as we drive through it on the way to preaching engagements. That’s about all there is time for.
On the first day here I spoke at a philosophical club that has been set up by some devotees. Could you find a philosophical club somewhere in the States and outside of a university? Yea, right. Fat chance. But, many people over here actually think. Imagine that. Not enough TV (yet). Such things are typically fairly well attended with members numbering about 50 to over 100 in the larger clubs, in Kiev for example. I’ve been to at least four of them, and even one that isn’t organized by devotees. Tonight there were about 50 in attendance, about half of them devotees. Guess what I spoke about? You’re right, Spiritual Economics.
BUT, I did it in a very different manner. I have a standard series of lectures that I generally give to devotees on the subject of Spiritual Economics, but since there were so many not-yet-devotees here I took a very different route. Beginning with modern economic problems I explained how they arise, weaving my way to the Bhagavad-gita at the end of the lecture. It was a great lecture if I do say so myself. I know when it’s good from the body language – I have lots of eye contact, and from the number of questions, which are typically many. The reason is that I challenge people’s assumptions of what they think is true, and there’s a lot to challenge there, let me tell ya.
The fact is that almost all of the main underpinnings of the dominant culture are false! The assumption is of course, that they are real, but for the vast majority of people these are almost completely unexamined assumptions. Or rather fictions that we create and try to impose upon vast numbers of people as though they were reality. That is why there are so many problems today – people are trying to live according to illusion! Well, you can’t keep that up for very long without going crazy, and that’s what is happening. They begin pill-popping at an early age in order to cope. More than ten percent of American children take Ritalin daily, and of course this is normal
What illusions are we talking about? The most obvious one is that we are this body. Well, if that’s the case then tell me, what is the difference between a live body and a dead one? Go to the hospital and watch someone die. You will notice a BIG change. The body no longer moves, speaks, breathes, etc. and all the cells are right there that were there just a second ago. But something else is missing. What is that? The person who was operating the body. That’s the soul. You are a soul also. The idea that we are the body is only an illusion. And it calls into question the idea that we can find real happiness by giving things to the body, such as nice food, sex, entertainment, etc. None of those things can feed the soul, and if your soul isn’t properly fed then you won’t be happy no matter how much you have, taste, do, etc. Those are only activities of the body.
There’s lots more illusions. How about money? Take some out of your pocket and check it out. What do you see? Dollars? Pound sterling? Euros? Well, it’s those things but it’s also something else. It’s paper. It’s only paper!!! It’s not much different than the newspaper that you read and throw away after one use. The newspaper hasn’t any lasting value but the currency does. Why? Because we give it value. You and I. We all play this game where we exchange things of real value for paper! We’ve been conned by some very clever people. They are so clever because they can print the paper but you cannot. They print lots of paper and buy all the world, and the housing and the stocks, etc. But if you try to print that paper they will put you in jail. You have to work for it. Or steal, or be bribed, or cheat, or do terrible things, etc., it doesn’t seem to matter to people any more how they get their paper, as long as they get it. And here’s the kicker. They steal even more from you by changing the value of that paper without your even being aware (so-called inflation). That’s why things keep getting more expensive. Things aren’t becoming more expensive, it’s only the value of your paper is becoming worth LESS. And people are chasing after that paper like there’s no tomorrow, and ironically, if they keep doing that there won’t be!
What else? Oh yea, here’s a good one. When I was a kid I had a globe in my room and on that globe all of the countries were divided by lines. This summer as I crossed six international boundaries I was looking for those lines. You know what? They ain’t there! Hoodwinking young people in such a way. They oughta be ashamed. Now this IS A BIG DEAL! It means that there are actually no such things as countries! No! It’s a fiction, an illusion. This side of the line is Germany, and that side is Poland. Well it’s not so, and we know it because they keep moving that line. Similarly, the lines for Palestine, and India, Russia, etc. There is actually no such thing as country. It’s a fiction (an illusion) that is made up by some people who indoctrinate small children (with the help of their parents) into believing that they are Russian, or American or Canadian, and so on, and so on. And because people believe that they can be convinced to go to war against the enemy of America, or Russia or India. “We Americans are great!” “No, we Russians are great!” “No, we French are great!” Sorry, you all have it wrong – we are spiritual beings who have nothing to do with this body, nor the place where it happens to be born. I think the NWO crowd will love me for that one, because they want to eliminate the idea of nations so that they can make a one world government. (Did you ever notice how they don’t call them countries any more, but only states? Yep, pay attention and you will see it everywhere. Those old countries are now only states of a one world government.) But waida minute – aren’t they the same guys that gave us countries to begin with? Yea, after the amajor wars. Before that there were only kingdoms and fiefdoms. Now after they convinced everyone that they are Americ, Canadi, Russi, Indi----ans, they want to change it again. Sheesh. Well why don’t they use my argument that there are no such things as countries—there is only the Earth! Fat chance, that.
Need some more examples? Here’s another whopper – private property! (Ameri— will hate that one, but the communists will love it—although in the context they both think in they are both wrong). Yea, private property. Private property means that you own it and nobody else does, right? You have exclusive title to that item, be it your car, your house, your land. But let me ask you this: who “owned” that land before you got it? And who is going to “own” that land after you die? Not you. What is ownership then? It’s another fiction! You’re born here and live for some time, then you die. You come with nothing and leave with nothing, but in between you want to claim that you “own” something? Psst, friend, I’ve gotta tip for ya – it’s another illusion. Who owns everything then? God. He made this world and everything in it, including that body you are wearing. It’s all His, and He gave this place for us to use according to our need. And let me tell you, nobody’s need is in the billions. All that money that everyone thinks they also “own” is also a clever way of stealing from God, and if you want to continue to do that you are going to have to pay the piper down the road. Take a tip from a friend – it doesn’t belong to you. None of it. So just use what you need and be content with that. Believe me you will be happier in the long run. (for more details on these issues please read my just-now-coming book on Spiritual Economics titled Demonstrations of Love due out in February 2008).
Ok, one more good one and we’ll move on to other things. Another GRAND illusion that we all accept as real, and which is wreaking havoc all over the planet, is . . . corporations. Now get this. The oligarchs that are running the show want to convince us that something that is just a figment of the imagination is more real than you or I. They call them corporations, and they give them eternal life, and more rights than real people. At the same time they convince us that the subtle entity we are, namely the actually eternal soul, does not exist simply because it can’t be seen. But waida minute – the corporation can’t be seen either! If the corporation can’t be seen but can be real, and eternal, why can’t the soul? Something is fishy here. Moreover, the only purpose of most corporations it seems is to make money for their shareholders. But who are those shareholders? People who already had more money that they need (which is why they could afford to buy shares). So why should a corporation work only to make more money for people who already have too much of it? And, get this, you’re gonna love this, why do all the people who work for the corporation? Because they don’t have enough money (else they would be shareholders/capitalists). Aaand the purpose of their job is to make more money for those who already have too much of it! Sucka. What do they work for? Small scraps of that paper that the big shareholders fooled them into thinking has value! They give their valuable time—40, 50, 60 hours a week and in exchange they get paper. What a game they got going. And unfortunately, all the people fall for it! Hey! Wakeup knucklehead! You are an eternal soul. Use your valuable time for something eternally valuable, not for some paper whose value diminishes by the day. (BTW, here’s a hot tip for those who play the illusion game – dump your dollars and buy euros. The fiction called the dollar is going to be made to tank so that they can replace it with another con called the Amero.)
That was fun. The next day we went to meet Iryna Markina, the Vice-rector in Science Affairs at the Poltava University of Consumer Cooperatives. She is also a doctor in economic science. (a doctor here is much higher than an American Ph.D.) She was curious about the idea of a spiritual economics which seemed like an oxymoron to her. Not so when we parted though. I explained that spiritual economics is God’s economics, based on reality, not illusions, where the returns are not just large, but also eternal. Even on the mundane plane we should note how generous God is with His economics. What kind of return do you get at the bank these days? Five percent? Ten percent would be good, wouldn’t it? Gambling in the stock market might get you more, but you might also go bust.
What is the return in Krishna’s economy? Well, if you plant wheat you will typically get about 4,500% return. If you plant rice you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000%. Corn will get you a whopping 100,000%! But better than that is apples, peaches, plums and other fruits. The return there is unlimited. And it’s all based on a reality of actual wealth that is practical and useful.
Aferwards we hurried to an interview with the editor of the Poltava “Evening News” with a circulation of some 40,000. She is going to write an article about this American in Ukraine who is going around speaking about something called Spiritual Economics. The next day we spoke with the Vice-rector of the Poltava Agricultural College, explaining to him our Gitograd project which is an economic-friendly example of how to live in this world, doing all agriculture only for food instead of for that illusory paper. By this method one is less likely to want to exploit the earth, squeezing production out of her at the expense of the health of the topsoil. Ukraine has the richest, blackest topsoil in the world, in some places meters deep, but it is becoming spoiled by modern farming methods. How to save the topsoil was of interest to this man, but he had difficulty with removing the profit motive. Oh well. We’ll keep trying.
Over the next several days we had the pleasure of speaking with the devotees on several occasions, before moving on to Kharkov. In Harkov we met with the publisher of another newspaper. Our mutual friend has been visiting him and patiently preaching to him for more than six years. We had a nice exchange regarding current events on the world scene and the spiritual basis of those events. The conclusion was that in order to save the situation (and the world) people must take up the chanting of the holy names of God.
That’s enough for one post. In the next post I will describe our invitation to speak to some of the leaders of Ukraine as well as our invitation to begin teaching courses in Vaishnavism at a university in Donetsk.
We came back to Ukraine by bus, traveling with more than twenty devotees from Altchesk. Back from Krinitsa that is. Krinitsa is a tourist town on the Black Sea in the southern most part of Russia. We had been there for about ten days for the Sadhu Sanga Festival, attended by more than 3,000 followers of Krishna Consciousness from all parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. This was now my fourth such event and I am becoming a bit of a veteran at such affairs. Nothing, of course, compared to my senior godbrothers who have been doing these things for their entire adult lives. But at least I feel more comfortable knowing what to expect and how things work.
This sojourn began with the Odessa festival, also on the Black Sea, about one month earlier. I had up till that point been working feverishly on my book in the attempt to have it translated and in print in time for these festivals, but to no avail. It was still missing the last chapter when it was time to pack up and prepare to put everything in storage for the time while I would be traveling. I did print twelve copies of the unfinished book to pass around to a select few for their comments/corrections/critical remarks. This is a tough job to get anyone to do, because the nature of most people is that they read the book UN-critically and have nothing to say, or are afraid to say anything thinking they will hurt your feelings. But, Hey! I want to hear those remarks so that I can make the changes before the book goes to print!! I am getting a few comments, and they do help.
This summer I stayed in a town northeast of Kiev by the name of Chernigov. It was a gorgeous summer, quite like staying in San Diego. I never was hot or humid enough to make you sweat, and the entire summer I didn’t see more than two mosquitoes! Unfortunately the only times I got outside was to take a walk and get some exercise, usually in the late afternoon, after I had been hammering away all day. We had planned to come back to Chernigov and set up operations there, but it turns out that my main supporter has some previous unpaid debts which the debtor was no longer willing to wait for. He had him thrown out of the apartment where he was staying, and all of my things that were with him for “safe-keeping” were stolen in the process. So I have the things that I had been using over the past two months, which for the most part are adequate for my needs. I would have liked to have my clothing, especially my nice goose down jacket for the very cold part of winter, but I am convinced that whatever I need will be supplied, since this is my almost continuous experience here. I earlier lost my fall jacket and one was purchased for me that is quite nice. Ditto for everything else that I really need. Things just come and go in and out of my life, and watching it happen makes me actually feel very secure and well cared for.
At the festivals I presented a seminar on varnashrama dharma, the culture of the Vedic tradition. This is the logical follow-through from Spiritual Economics, because after my Spiritual Economics seminar I am always asked “who is doing this?” and I must honestly reply “nobody.” It’s a good idea perhaps, but will it work in the “real world” as people like to call it? That has become my job to demonstrate, and to do that we need the social system of varnashrama dharma. But it’s a vaunting task to establish an alternative culture. Sitting with Indradyumna Swami at lunch one day he asked what the goal of my life was, and I replied “to establish varnashrama dharma”. “You picked a tough one!” he retorted.
It certainly seems that was, because in the forty years of Iskcon’s existence now, very few have tried to do it. There is lot’s of talk but nobody seems to know just what this varnashrama dharma actually is. I begin my seminar by discussing culture in general. I explain how the current dominant culture is arranged in such a way as to automatically increase our illusions about life, and it does so without our even slightly understanding the fact. As such the world sinks deeper and deeper into a set of assumptions that do not work, and which in fact create increasingly complicated questions. Lulled into unconsciousness by our every new purchase we do not recognize how we are being sold a bill-of-goods. I spend the first several hours detailing these things so that we can recognize what varnashrama culture is NOT. Next I again go over the economics of varnashrama culture, based on the ideals of Spiritual Economics, because most in the class have not been to my Spiritual Economics seminar. Then I describe the process of varnashrama culture, what its objectives are; and lastly then I can speak about what we have to do to get there.
After the Odessa festival I was interviewed for a television program. The host was told that I am a specialist in Spiritual Economics and was very interested to know about that. I explained that we are creating problems in the world today because we use an economic system based on the false assumption that we can own anything, and that I we at all want to correct the problems that the world is facing today we must begin at this point. This host also interviewed several other Americans that were present there: Nrsimhananda from Iskcon Television, and Gurudas, one of the pioneers of the Krishna Consciousness Movement in America, Europe and India.
After the Odessa festival I traveled to Herson and other parts nearby for about a week. Some of my supporters in Herson printed 4,000 copies of my first writing on Spiritual Economics and distributed them to every person at both of these melas for free. I call it my “Little Black Book”, and hope that it will create the same revolution that Mao’s Little Red Book did. I received many favorable comments regarding the ideas in this book.
We traveled to Krinitsa by train, sharing our compartment with a Russian lady who had been living in Hungary for the past twenty years. She wore a red and white training suit that was emblazoned with “U.S.A. – The Best” Of course we got into conversation about the United States and she was visibly disheartened to learn that more than 50% of the people of the U.S. doubt the official government story about the events of September 11, 2001. She asked: who is going to protect the world? I was sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news. The truth of the matter is however that it is the spiritual people of the world who have this responsibility. There are NO government leaders who are worthy of the appellation. They are not leaders in fact, but for the most part do as they are told in order to maintain the position that they have captured. Who indeed is going to save the world? It must be those who know the difference between right and wrong and are not acting to destroy the world. It must be those who live lives consistent with the ideals of a peaceful world. Not the hypocrites who cry “peace, peace” and sit down to two or three meals a day of violence and death.
After the Krinitsa festival, I visited a professor in Alchesk who is excavating 1400 year-old ruins just outside the city. He is convinced that the inhabitants of the place were followers of Vedic culture because he found symbology such as the swastika, etc. on the pottery. He showed me many of the samples they had painstakingly dug up, and had we time he was more than willing to take me for a tour around the site. No time however, as we went on to several other namahattas in the next two days before spending a week in Donetsk, the city that I first landed in last year after my Russian tour.
After Donetsk we went to Harkov. Harkov is the Boston of Ukraine, as it hosts more than one hundred universities. The devotees arranged a meeting with a Chairman of the Economics Dept. at Harkov National University. Grigorii (Gregory) Vasilevich Zadorojni was quite interested in my work since, as he put it, he has been convinced that there must be something more to economics than what is currently practiced. A spiritual side. He was dismayed that he peers have treated the idea with disdain, but then “you showed up” and “affirm my ideas to be correct”. I gave him my Little Black Book. He had me speak to his class of graduating students wherein I challenged the entire concept of private property. Since the days of Communism however, the idea of communal or state-owned property has left a bad taste in people’s mouths. It is therefore necessary for me to emphasize the point that God is the factual owner of everything. but that brings us back to the same conundrum: just as the State is only represented by very fallible people, God must also be represented by very the people of this world, and likely they are also fallible. How can this be any different? Same wine in new bottles, they challenge.
They would be right except for the powerful spiritual process that can lift us up to the transcendental platform, as explained thoroughly in the Srimad Bhagavatam, and experienced by hundreds and thousands of followers of Srila Prabhupada. The entire concept rests upon the existence of qualified men who can lead society according to the principles of religion. This same idea of high-thinking men to lead society was what was originally conceived for the United States’ senate. Where will we get such men? They can be, and are being created by the grace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His sankirtan movement is the prime benediction for humanity at-large, and the very powerful process of chanting the Lord’s holy names can lift up any willing person from the darkest abyss of sinful life to the transcendental platform. All they must do is sincerely take it up. We can, and are creating such qualified men to lead the world.
While in Harkov I also met the Valentin Fedyk, the financial director of the Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture farm. They have 50,000 acres in southern Ukraine and are using $600,000 tractors to plough, plant and harvest this huge tract of land. He was to meet with the President of Ukraine the next day as they have attracted the largest investment in the region. Valentin has taken up the chanting of Hare Krishna and reads Srila Prabhupada’s books regularly. I challenged him that by putting the word Vedic in front of everything they do, the TM people are destroying the understanding of what “Vedic” actually means. He abashedly agreed that they do not practice Vedic economics, as he learned from my writing. He wants to make amends by doing whatever he can to help us establish varnashrama dharma. I also met another TM’r who is chanting the Mahamantra, Anatoli Georgivich, who helped me to meet the Cossack headman earlier in the year.
I am recieving great support from Niranjana Swami, who has been preaching in Ukraine for more than seventeen years. With his blessings and support it looks like I will be wintering here in Kiev, and soon finish Demonstrations of Love.
Demonstrations of Love
Creating a Culture of Satisfaction to Heal the World
I’m back after a very long hiatus which is explained by the above title. For the past two months I’ve been engaged in a marathon writing exercise with the intention of finishing my book on Spiritual Economics. Lots of progress was made, but we haven’t crossed the finish line just yet. Several friends came together to create a beautiful cover, and several others have written some nice words of praise regarding parts of the book that they read:
I just read your "Introduction to Spiritual Economics." I found it very compelling. As I was reading it, I was conjuring images up in my mind of the ever-increasing global strife which currently plagues this planet. Srila Prabhupada often used the term "stopgap" when speaking about modern-day attempts to find diplomatic solutions to social conflict. If the leaders of human society do not make the paradigm shift about which you are writing, no matter what diplomatic measures they will come up with, their solutions will no doubt, be very short-lived.
Srila Prabhupada gave us a spiritual ideology which was revolutionary. It was nothing new or manufactured. His convictions stood on the same ground as those which you are basing your arguments in this paper. The answers have already been given by those who are "seers of the truth". Now, it seems, more than ever before, is the time to apply them. Whether society's leaders will listen or not, should not be our major concern. There are thousands upon thousands looking for an alternative way to live in harmony with each other and with the world around them. Your treatise on spiritual economics, will offer them a required awareness of this alternative. Take that, and couple it with a working model to show them, and by Lord Krsna's grace, there is no doubt that success will be knocking at your door. It is simply separated by time.
“Dhanesvara Prabhu’s work is the outcome of decades of his pondering how to apply Bhagavad-gita in today's economics-crazed world. I enjoy reading how, on a solid base of the parampara, he stands to erect a system for simple living that is beneficial for practicing Krishna consciousness, so that, through the complexities of living in the material world, a community of devotees can go the distance in spiritual life, back home, back to Godhead.”
The last chapter remains undone and the entire book must be gone over two or three times to make it fit to print. Nonetheless I am printing a very short run of ten copies to present to some of the senior devotees who will attend the Odessa Sat Sanga Festival next week, hoping that they will offer a valuable critique before it goes to press.
The book took an interesting turn with some realizations born just in the past year or so, hence the orientation towards love instead of (dry and usually boring) economics, and the resulting title. Here is the blurb from the back cover:
The economic methods of any culture are an expression of its love, which can be either material or spiritual. There is a gulf of difference between the two. Material love by its own nature cannot be extended to more than a few individuals, but spiritual love is easily extended to all of humanity, and even to all of creation, by the simple method of loving God. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna offers us the opportunity learn to love Him and all of His creation, and the Spiritual Economics of the Bhagavad-gita is an expression of this infinite spiritual love. This book offers penetrating insights to show you how to develop, and express, such love.
Love is the greatest healing force that exists. By learning the methods of spiritual love and demonstrating that love in our daily activities, together, we can heal the world.
The book will appear in Russian first, then I am looking for a publisher in
I had planned to travel extensively this summer but cancelled all of my plans when several supporters stepped forward from the
The government of
Once that land is obtained my desire is to build a temple, ashrama and several houses using straw bale construction. Such method should lend itself well to the extremely cold winters here. Last winter it reached -30oC here (same as -30oF—very, very cold).
Gitagrad will be the place to demonstrate the gifting economy of Spiritual Economics in practice. As Niranjana Swami noted, when the idea is demonstrated in practice it will be a very powerful idea whose time has come. The practice of Spiritual Economics necessarily involves the understanding and practice of varnashrama dharma. The good news is that the concepts of Spiritual Economics help us to understand what varnashrama dharma actually is and how to practice it, so Gitagrad will also be the prototype varnashrama community as well.
I hope you like the new blog and don’t find the adverts too distracting. I personally like it much better than the Yahoo blog. Also please note that although this blog was formerly by invitation only I have now opened it up for public access. If you find any of this worthy of sharing please invite your friends to have a look at what we are doing here in “Kiev-Rus”. Now that the writing marathon is over I promise more news on a regular basis.
I was startled to see Yoda sitting in my class. Yes, the one from Star Wars. Looked just like him. Except for the pointy ears and color, everything was the same—same round head, low brow, wise eyes. Amazing. But not only was this person amazing, the remainder of the country was exceptional in several regards.
When one travels from the U.S. to Canada the shift in the gunas is quite perceptible. Of course this is perceived as a more peaceful feeling in Canada, and a more passionate feeling in the U.S. The same was true going from Ukraine to Belarus. It is also a country on the northern border and the latitude of Belarus is comparable to the more northern parts of Canada. This shift toward sattva guna was characterized by the well-maintained roads, by the cleanliness, and by the pleasant nature of the people. I looked for litter on the streets, and in the entire visit counted not more than nine! Nine in five cities! You can find that much on almost any one street in any other country. Nor was there any graffiti, and even outdoor billboards (visual pollution) were very few in number. This was very nice. We visited five cities, all on the Eastern side, including Minsk the capital, and Vitebsk the northernmost one at about 54° parallel. It was light enough to easily read outdoors at 11:30pm, and the sky was beginning to get light at 3am (the extremes of my daily routine there).
Although the country is maligned by the U.S. government because it continues to lean toward Russia, it is comparable in almost every way with the States. The roads were almost without patches, such is their high quality, the buildings were all well-maintained with many of the newer high-rise apartments dressed in fashionable colors, and the stores were full of international goods such as one finds in America.
Damodar Pandit the Regional Secretary picked us up by car from Chernigov, one of the northernmost cities in Ukraine, and drove us everywhere. The only train on this trip was taken on the return. We began at Gomel, just across the border and two hours drive from Chernigov. Gomel had the misfortune to suffer heavily from the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe ten years ago. It is hardly more than 100 km from Chernobyl and the first city in direct line with the prevailing winds. We didn’t see any three-eyed people however, and for all practical purposes the results of the tragedy were unnoticeable.
The yatra in Gomel is comprised of about twenty devotees who gather together in one person’s flat for kirtan and sanga. There is no temple here because there is no leader who has the wherewithal to establish one—but there is much more to that story than it might appear. The government here is heavily influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church who has determined that there will only by two religions in Belarus: Orthodox Christianity and Judaism. Nothing else is permitted, not even other Christian groups. Ten years ago it was not so strict and the Movement grew there quickly, as it did in other parts of the CIS. When the current president came to power however, he was quick to do the bidding of the Orthodoxy and the devotees operate in a somewhat secluded fashion.
I had been warned earlier that when going across the border I must not show tilak, would have to conceal my neck beads, I should have some hair and wear a hat to cover my sikha, and of course, be dressed in civilian clothes. This is the intrigue that the devotees who penetrated the USSR in the 80’s had to go through. Being recognized as a Hare Krishna devotee at that time could mean that one disappeared into a Soviet prison. The reality now however is quite different. While we did indeed dress in “civies” and wore no tilak, no hat was required nor were neck beads covered up. Of more concern was my notebook computer for which I had no proof of purchase. The authorities are concerned that people are bringing modern electronics in for the purpose of trade and impose a heavy tariff on all such suspected goods. I offered that my ancient, and obviously well-worn computer was no threat because any person in their right mind would not offer more than $25 for it. Nonetheless the contraband was concealed deep in the luggage compartment. The entry was uneventful and quite relaxed.
Devotees who live in the country are not able to register their religious group and as a result are restricted in what they can do in public. No harinam chanting, no openly Hare Krishna festivals, and in most places no temples. The situation in Minsk is quite different. there they have a large, nicely decorated temple and every time I spoke during the one week we were there, there were some 60-75 people in the congregation. The temple had reached an understanding with the authorities after a series of lawsuits which were taken to the World Court. All lower courts in the country upheld the governments decree to banish the religion, but the World Court overturned that ruling, and fearful of an international backlash the government accepted it and reluctantly tolerates the devotees presence. The devotees have made friends with the police and KGB officers who regularly visit as well as with the neighbors by feeding them lots of Krishna prasadam in the form of sweets and cakes. They also fed us lots of cakes which we were happy to receive.
While in Minsk I had the pleasure of meeting with several university professors and one Deputy, the equivalent of our Congressman. Those who have high credentials are called “scientists” even if their field is the social sciences. One was Евгини Микхаил Бобосов, or Eugene Mikhail Bobosov, a professor of Social and Political Science. He explained how the country has made great strides in reducing poverty under the current president, going from approximately 43% of the people in poverty five years ago, to 15% now. He pointed out that in the 90’s a mere sixteen families were able to garner 80% of Russia’s wealth, as government industries were sold off in the largest privatization of all time. Comparatively, the top ten percent of Belarus has only six times the income as the bottom ten percent, while in Russia it is sixteen times as great. (I might point out that in India it is much more extreme with 50% of the income going to a mere 1% of the population!) He went on to explain the details of the political situation between Belarus and Russia, which necessarily means to understand the politics of Russia and related world geopolitics. It was more than interesting.
Another scientist is the leading Sociologist in the country. He brought with him one of his students who is specializing in the “cross-pollenization” of Eastern and Western culture. We had a delightful exchange. He explained the ideology of the country, that, to a large degree it is founded on heritage values. The word “talaka”, which has no equivalent in English, means “eagerness to help others”. Talaka, along with tolerance and respect for others, along with dedication to needs of local area: these are the basis of the ideology of the country. He further explained that the current president is popular because he understands these things and gives them their due. Interestingly, these same qualities form the basis of Vedic culture. As in Ukraine, some people are aware that Vedic culture is indeed the heritage of this country, this professor among them. When he saw devotees with Bhagavad-gita he told them that he would work with them because the Bhagavad-gita is the foundation of their ancient society.
My meeting with the Deputy was not supposed to be private. Originally she was simply going to listen in on a meeting scheduled with another scientist, but that person was inexplicably unavailable. The Deputy joined us back at the temple and we spoke for more than an hour. Not the first time she had been to the temple, but she seemed nonetheless a bit ill-at-ease. During the early part of the conversation she seemed to be skillfully trying to be indirect (a character trait of all politicians?) As she proudly spoke about the progress being made in Belarus it began to dawn on me that she is being defensive about her country; after all, she is speaking to an American. Often people relate to me in a way where they feel apologetic for what they have or don’t have, considering that I am coming from a country that has everything. Not that I position myself above them, but that apologetic attitude often shows up.
Finally she asked: “what do you want?” I was happy to have such a direct and straightforward question! “We want people to be happy” I answered, and went on to explain that personal happiness cannot be found by simply increasing the material resources of the population. Happiness and satisfaction can be found only when the soul is connected to God. Materialism alone can never make people happy. When people are able to increase their facility over what they had earlier they may feel themselves happy for a short time, but at a certain point the emptiness of it all confronts them. Then what? They don’t know why they are not satisfied.
Jeremy Seabrook points this out in his book What Went Wrong which describes the despair of the working class people of England, despite their material progress:
“In this book I have tried to explore a feeling of pain and resentment which remain in working-class communities, in spite of the considerable material improvements of the past thirty years or so. Some things elude even the most careful research, the most vigilant scrutiny of the social scientists, those who have looked at working-class life over the years, redefining poverty, assessing deprivation, measuring the effects of attempts at redistribution of wealth . . .
“But one of the questions this book asks is whether capitalism, which brought so many of us poverty, suffering and degradation, can now really bring its promise of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment; or whether there are not perhaps hidden factors, as damaging to our humanity, as brutalizing as poverty once was. How far has the antique secular dream of abolishing poverty, how has the better life striven for by the socialist and trade union pioneers anything to do which the way we live now? . . .
“The chance to abolish poverty, one of the great scourges of mankind, should have given rise to a spontaneous and sustained cry of joy; but instead, there is nothing but discord and violence, ruined human relationships, the contamination, not only of work, but of neighborhood, kinship and comradeliness, division between generations, distrust within families. The price is too high: humanity is not liberated, but subordinated by this capitalist plenty, which is sold to us as though it were life itself. It is joyless and destructive: it cannot be without significance that when you talk to the old about their poverty, the great consolation in all that suffering was the quality of human relationships; now that things have been so well perfected, the only thing wrong is seen to be people. That is not a gain for humanity.”
Accordingly I suggested to the Deputy that material gains alone will not be sufficient to create a satisfied and happy populace. They will need spiritual sustenance as well and the government must see to it that everyone is engaged in spiritual pursuits. At the end she allowed a photo but admonished that it must only be for private use—“after all, I am a politician” she said! Obviously we are not yet on the list of those whose association offers a political boost. No matter. One day that will change.
A reporter from the Bobrusk Telegraph Gazette came to make an interview while we were in that city (Bobrusk). He began by asking why such a famous economist had come to their city. “Thank you for the flattery” I replied, “but perhaps you are uninformed!” We had a very nice interview in which I explained the nature of modern economics: a system of cheating based on atheism for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. We are trending toward global fascism and unmitigated greed is going to destroy society. Economics based on religious principles is what is needed to solve the modern economic crises which the system itself creates. I suggested that the recognition of the ownership of God is what is required to correct the imbalance, and that satisfaction derived from spiritual activity will provide the satisfaction that everyone seeks, and then, at the end of life all of society will reap the highest reward by returning to the spiritual world. He liked the interview and didn’t find it too outlandish. Let’s see what they finally print.
In Gomel there a devotee who has created several very nice web sites offered to design one for me. We discussed the needs and he offered to do something very nice, very quickly. We hope so, and will let you know when it is up and running.
On the way to Minsk we spent the afternoon at the Belarus farm. I had heard much about this place and wanted to make sure that we visited. This farm is a bit famous because there are about two dozen cows and another two dozen bulls being cared for by three families. LOTS of work. They had cheese coming out of their ears and they were making many experiments to find some way to use all of the whey. They tried bathing with it. Not recommended. They tried washing clothes with it. Also not recommended. Finally they just feed it back to the cows and the garden. There is one man, Vishvambhara, his wife Prabhavati, and daughter Ananda, who are the backbone of this place. Prabhavati is an excellent cook, and an even better artist, and Ananda is quickly learning both arts from her mom. Ananda, who is a very sweet and shy girl of 15, finds it puzzling why the other kids at school are so crazy and restless. She, on the other hand, is very grounded and a wholesome person. Why is this family taking so much trouble to care for so many cows and bulls? Vishvambhara told us how he wanted to know the truth about the idea of how, by protecting the cows and bulls one could please Krishna. He decided to try it and see what the result was. One can see in his eyes that he knows something that the rest of us do not. A very wholesome bunch.
Belarus is a pleasant and attractive country from a tourists perspective, but Krishna Consciousness is certainly struggling under the restrictions of the government. Strong leadership is needed here. One devotee told me that I could understand the nature of the people in Belarus by knowing that there had never been a revolution there. Neither have they any home-grown leaders. In the government, and in our temples the leaders are often from Ukraine or Russia, but mostly Ukraine. There is room over here for more Americans who seem to have a more natural inclination for leadership. Anyone interested?
Journey to Pridnestrovien Moldova
The temperature plummets during our trip back from this breakaway republic. In the morning it rained for a brief period, but before reaching the train tonight we would be in the -20’s C. Snow came along with the cold, but not too much, drifting from 0-24 inches.
We began this trip at Ismail, a port town on the western side of the southern border, and to get to it we must pass through part of Moldova. It is mostly like the Canadian/American border with cursory questions and head count, although the guards carry automatic weapons. Ismail is a seaport where the Proot river meets the Black Sea. It was founded as a fortress of the Muslims, coming here from across the great sea, and as many cities that border the Black Sea has a great ethnic mix from centuries of trade. This namahatta is in the house of Slava, which, I am getting to know, is a fairly common name among the men. In Russian the word Slava means ‘glory’. There are about twenty-five in this group and we have one evening and morning together. Afterwards we return to Odessa for the Sunday Feast, and a temple room packed with about 80 members. Actually there isn’t a temple room that isn’t packed on any Sunday. In Dnyepropetrovsk the temple room cannot accommodate more than 120 of the more than 300 members, so many do not come except for special occasions. Monday morning we leave for what I expect will be a quick trip in and out of Moldova, simply to record my leaving and entering Ukraine. It is much more however.
Pridnestrovien Moldova has been one of the most surprising encounters of the entire (almost) five months, as it is here that I am introduced to several political candidates, one of Pridnestrovia and one of Ukraine. Edward Kovalenko is a current candidate for the mayoral race of Kiev (Ukraine’s capital city), and he introduced himself to me after I spoke at a new kind of school, well, new to me at least, the School for Political Leadership in Tiraspol, the capital city of Pridnestrovien Moldova. Their icon is Che Guevara a well-known revolutionary leader in Latin America. Who I was addressing was still vague to me even as I spoke, but everything has since come into focus.
The director of the school is, interestingly, also the second in command of the KGB here. I met him a few hours before speaking to his class, and we had an undisturbed conversation of more than an hour. Both of these things, the length of time as well as its being undisturbed, are practically unheard of given his responsibilities I am told, and he often hands his cell phone to his apparent body guard/assistant. The content of our engaged conversation is spiritual revolution. He is quite in earnest about bringing such a thing about, and from the perspective of this outsider and political neophyte, he seems to be in a good position to create such a change in the social order. He tells me several times in our talk that the exact words “spiritual revolution” are being written and heard in a number of places in his small country. What he is eager to hear from me is how to create the spiritual side of it.
Needless to say, I am as eager to hear from him about how he would bring about the other side. What he says is needed is, amazingly, the same thing that I have been telling the devotees here for the past four months: an ideal spiritual community to serve as a model, and huge propaganda. I tell him that for the model, if he gets me the land I will bring the people and create the model community; as for the propaganda, we can work on that together. I also mentioned my plan to write a book on the subject of Spiritual Communism and requested his help to find someone schooled in Marx/Lenin to assist me. He is delighted by the prospect of such a book and says that it will be no problem for him to find such a person.
We first disembarked from our train journey at the sea-side town of Odessa, the site of the first of the big festivals I originally came here to attend, and the nearest large city to Moldova. The reason I am going to Moldova is principally for visa reasons, as my 90-day limit is soon reached, and had absolutely no idea what was in store for me here. In Odessa I give my customary introductory lecture, and as a result one lady who was engaged in public relations with the devotees in Moscow offered to assist me in my work. I gave her a paper I had written twenty years ago about the marketing of Krishna Consciousness, asking her to read it to prepare to create such a marketing campaign to be used with the other temples in Ukraine. On the way back through Odessa to Dnyepropetrovsk I tell her that she will be working with the public relations people in Pridnestrovia to work on the propaganda campaign as well. She will also have to visit Pridnestrovia to find out what is being said about “spiritual revolution”.
Pridnestrovien Moldova is an unrecognized country, like Taiwan. It was formerly a part of Moldova, but during the break up of the Soviet Union they twice held a referendum to determine their political fate. They people not only wanted to be free from the Soviet Union, they also wanted their independence from Moldova. Moldova is actually closely aligned with Rumania, as on the map it is but a slice off of the later, and their native language is Rumanian. The republic of Pridnestrovia however, was founded by the leading Russian general of the time, some 200 years ago. Therefore in this republic (republics are a geographic area that would be equivalent to the American states, but which do not always have such political autonomy as our States purportedly have) they have always spoken Russian, and they have since been politically aligned with Russia. After they had determined in 1991 that they would have their freedom there was a brief war with Moldova, but with the intervention of another of Russia’s generals who had the military means to defeat Moldova thoroughly, the mother country un-officially released her upstart republic. However much they may have their independence they are not recognized by the international community, and therefore their citizens carry two passports, one from Pridnestrovien Moldova, the other from Moldova proper. I am told that the United States regularly makes derisive comments about them for their independence. So much for the so-called support of demoncracy the United States pays lip-service to.
When I arrived here I again give my now customary introductory lecture in which I challenge all the ways in which Krishna Consciousness has intermingled itself with the dominant culture, and as is also now customary, my remarks are hailed as “revolutionary”. Humbly I submit that it is revolutionary indeed. Given, therefore, this introduction to the devotee community, the president of the group decides that I must meet his friend Dimitri Soin, the director of the political school.
Addressing the students I get to the heart of politics—friends and enemies. “Who is the enemy?” I asked. “Bush” is the most common reply.
“You don’t even know who he is”, I challenged, adding that “he is so intelligent that he is controlling you without your even knowing it”. (The following is part of my “revolutionary” message).
Again I challenge: “Who controls you?” Surprised looks are returned as if to say “since communism fell we are now free!”
“So who has a job?” Many hands go up. “Why do you work?” I ask, as I usually do—this is a standard part of my introductory lecture. Many answers are offered, and as usual several submit frankly: “because I need the money”. But they are beginning to think a little deeper. “Would you rather work or be somewhere else?” . . . more thinking.
“And whose money do you need?”
“Huh? The national currency, what else?”
“Who makes this money? Who has the right to print this money? Can you print this money?”
“No, if we do we would be put in jail.”
“But somebody makes the money. Someone has that privilege, and to get their money you are forced to get a job that you don’t want.” By now, as usual, the audience is actively involved in this discussion.
“What is it about this paper (holding up a 25 Ruble note) that makes it more special than this paper (holding up the paper that my notes are on)?
Now I take them through the discovery process that it is their implicit agreement and cooperation that gives the government currency its special status. Without their agreement the government paper currency has no more value that any other piece of paper.
“IT’S ONLY PAPER!!!” I tell them. “YOU CAN AGREE TO USE ANY PAPER, BUT YOU ARE USING THEIR PAPER.”
“It is in this way that they control you, and you haven’t the faintest idea of the fact. Now you know who your enemy is.” By their looks I can see that they are thinking much deeply about the unexamined assumptions of modern life. This is the result I expect, because I have similarly challenged more than two dozen such audiences, each time resulting in the same look. When the eyes look up and to the right people are connecting the dots. Many such looks are found in this room.
Winding up I tell them of the prediction of Edgar Cayce that in the future Mother Russia would lead the world in a spiritual revolution, and that the time has now come. My closing words are “YOU are the people who will bring this about. Pursue it with all determination, with the same agreement and cooperation that you give in using their money, and together we will make this spiritual revolution a reality.”
Afterwards candidate Kovalenko comes up and shakes my hand. He gives me his card and tells me that he is creating a political party to work on bringing about such a spiritual revolution. He tells me that his group knows that the Vedas are at the historical footing of Ukraine, and they are in earnest in bringing this change about. Their icon is a stylized sun, more of a chakra really, and the party name is, according to my understanding of Russian, something like the “Social-Patriotic Assembly”. He is now touring around the CIS to establish his party, and soon when he is in Dnyepropetrovsk he will visit me for an in-depth discussion.
Afterwards I am interviewed for a television or news show which airs the next day. A the end the reporter asks me what I have to say to the people of her country. “Do good to others” is my immediate reply. However exciting it is to be on TV I am bushed at the end of the next day and go to bed before it airs. Dimitri comes over to speak to me for a few minutes before I leave the next day and tells me that the TV interview was very good. He adds that his people have posted the event (my speaking to them) on their news website which is accessed by people all over the CIS, Europe, South America and by some in the States. Maybe my new celebrity status is due to the fact that I recently finished reading, for the third time, the story of King Prithu Maharaja. One of the benedictions of thrice reading it is widespread fame. Srimad Bhagavatam Ki Jaya! Spiritual Revolution Ki Jaya!
It’s Christmas Day here. They have a different method of celebrating the holidays—gifts are exchanged around the new year, and not Christmas. But the commercial variety of Santa Claus and merchandising is working hard to become the main feature of the holidays judging from the stores and the advertising.
It has been more than two months since my last travelogue. As I am not traveling on the trains so much now I am deprived of the time that I had formerly earmarked for this activity, and therefore it has been put off and off. Today is Saturday, almost like a day off, so I am taking some time to write about my activities.
I have been settled in Dnyepropetrovsk for just over two months now, and have developed a routine that allows me be as productive as I can. I have been given the ultimate freedom in the sense that I can control all aspects of my life exactly as I desire—practically an unrealized dream in any other circumstance. So I am taking full advantage of this to establish a good sadhana and productive work time. My daily schedule is as follows:
• 9:30—10:00 pm take rest
• 3:45—4:15 rise, shower, etc.
• 4:45 attend mangal arotika ceremony (morning prayer service)
• 5:15—7:15 mantra meditation on Hare Krishna
• 7:15am greet the Deities, and offer obeisances to my spiritual master
• 7:30am wake my Deities and offer Them prayers
• 7:45-8:15 send/receive email
• 8:15—10:30 or 11 write Spiritual Economics book
• 11am Deity worship and puja
• Noon—2pm write
• 2pm Lunch: after lunch I have Russian lessons three days a week, or else I rest or relax for some time or write letters, do email.
• 5pm twice a week I have harmonium lessons; otherwise practice
• 6pm T-W-Th I invite people to come see me for counseling, visiting, etc.
• 7pm T-W-Th I give class on the Bhagavad-gita M&F either darshan or relax, read
It is a time of intense learning for me. The Russian is challenging to say the least, but I am also now motivated to take up some things that I hadn’t the opportunity to use or express otherwise, and that is playing the harmonium (hand organ) and learning more slokas, verses from Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam that instruct us how to live in this world so that we can make our lives successful by transferring oneself to the spiritual world at the time of death. This is a great science that people in the modern times are completely ignorant of, resulting in a very questionable destination after this life.
Several days a week I have the pleasure to eat at the Govinda’s or Damodara Café, and when not I take whatever is made for the devotees. These people love soup or borsch (made with beets) and it is always on the menu, along with a salad, rice, veggie dish and bread. They also are very fond of hot tea during these winter months but I still prefer cold drinks or water. It has become my habit to only eat once in a day now, as that is really all that I require, although I take a bit of fruit and nuts sometime in the late morning after puja, and maybe a snack some sweet in the evening. No American foods are to be found here except for the ubiquitous McDonald’s, and I have now lost any craving, even memory!, of the foods I formerly enjoyed. It is certainly nice to be able to do things in a very regulated way and a side-benefit of that is that I no longer require any alarm clock, waking timely every day around 4am. All bodily functions work so much better.
Every other weekend I travel to nearby temples, going as far as I can by overnight train, returning on Sunday night. I may go to temples up to three hours away by car. At such gatherings I join with the devotees in kirtan and dinner (prasadam), and give an address, usually speaking about my particular topic of interest, Spiritual Economics. There are many such places to go to: Poltava, Zapporogia, Dnyeprobrezinsk, Dontesk, Kharkov, Polvograd, Lugansk, Kiev, Kirovograd, and Kriver Rog. So far I have only visited a few of them more than once. The devotees are very kind and respectful everywhere and it easy to become attached to them.
So far it is working out quite well, although at times I feel that I don’t get enough writing done. This week for example I will not participate in the evening program so that I can have an intensive writing schedule, and reach my goal by finishing the Introduction. The reason for the increased writing is that next weekend I leave to go to Odessa, a city on the Black Sea, and from there I will go to Moldova, a small neighboring country, because of visa restrictions, and the writing will be on hold while I travel. Americans can stay in Ukraine for up to 90 days without a visa and my 90 days will expire toward the end of January. I will then stay in Moldova for a few days visiting the temples there before returning to Dnyepropetrovsk, stopping at Zapporagia on the way to visit someone involved with the Cossacks. After the next 90 days I will visit to the north—Belarus. That will be interesting for comparison as Belarus has decided to remain closely aligned to Russia, while Ukraine has not.
I’ve been taking some time to read about Ukraine’s recent history (since the fall of the Soviet Union in 91) and about the social-economic situation here, finding it all very interesting. This country is still openly under control of oligarchs who do the best they can to siphon large off amounts of money at the public expense. This was one reason for the Orange Revolution that took place just a few years ago in which they threw out the government. One of the few bloodless revolutions in Western history. One of the “stan” countries—Kirigistan, or Uzbekistan, or something also had a “color” revolution, and Russia is of course more than suspicious that the United States is behind these things.
There is still much vying for influence going on, although Ukraine is much more interested in joining the West—they want entry into the European Union and WTO—becoming free from Russia’s domination. The reason is that the Ukrainians have not been without a government ruling from a foreign place for a very long time. Before Russia it was Poland. They are finally happy to have their own independence and so seek to minimize Russia’s influence.
This history adds to the keen interest for establishing their own identity as a nation, and is what makes this such a good opportunity for my own purposes. The Cossacks were a group of military, or ksatriyas who protected the populace as late as the 16th century. The interesting feature about them is that they wore a sikha (tuft of hair on the back of the head such as I wear), and their habits were very similar to those practiced in Vedic culture. In fact, the connection of ancient Ukraine with Vedic India is widely known here. The Cossacks continue to act as the military forces. One of their members spoke at the Donetsk University that I mentioned in my last letter, and said some intriguing things. I am going to visit him to pursue the discussion of the Vedic connection and find out what their ideas are for the future. Perhaps we will supply the brahmanas and they will supply the ksatriyas in the next social arrangement.
Instead of going into a detailed visit to the neighboring temples and namahattas over the past two months I want to explain in more detail my purpose here, and a bit of preview from my book. It might be a bit bewildering to some how it is that I leave the nice conditions in the States, not to visit but to live, in 2nd and 3rd world countries, where the infrastructure and amenities are often greatly wanting by American standards. What am I doing here?
Let me begin by bringing you a bit up to speed with the current circumstances the world finds itself in. Yes, it is relevant, because we are all in the same boat, apparently headed down the same river, with no paddle because this thing seems to be going where it wants to regardless of what anybody says, and it looks as though there might be a waterfall not too far ahead and we’re all going to go into the drink, unless someone pulls a rabbit out of their hat. Fasten your seat belts, it’s a wild ride (and take some anti-nausea pills too!)
More than 1,600 “priests” of the modern society, including dozens of Nobel laureates (people who ought to know a problem when they see one), issued a “Warning to Humanity” in 1992, wherein they admonished the people of the world that the modern way of life is steering the globe into a ditch. The cause of these scientists was immediate and urgent: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated . . . A new ethic is required—a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth . . . This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.” Just prior to the global Kyoto meeting in 1997 on greenhouse gases they again admonished the leaders of the world that “Five years has passed and progress has been woefully inadequate”. The message was intended to be sobering, a wake-up call to the reality that our way of life is killing, not only ourselves, but the entire planet.
Ho-hum. Didja see that ABC Special last week? – Great entertainment . . . yada, yada, yada . . . life continues to go on in much that same way except that SUV’s apparently are not sooo much in vogue—at least for the folks for whom gasoline expense is an issue. But why worry? There are good intelligent people working on things, right? Mmm . . .
Some thirty years ago, maverick economist E. F. Schumaker admonished us that to deal with our economic problems “an entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based upon attentiveness to people.” He said that “The economics of giantism and automation is a left-over of nineteenth century conditions and thinking and it is totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of today”. Did we somehow get an entirely new system of thought in the last thirty years? I didn’t think so either.
What about Roger Terry? In his book Economic Insanity, after doing a great job of telling us how we’re all getting reamed, he says “we must break through this veil of illusion and misrepresentation that is holding us in a self-destructive cultural trance and get on with the work of re-creating our economic systems in service to people and the living earth.
To effectively rein in these out-of-control economic engines, we must also strive for fundamental philosophical and structural change. . . . Consequently, we have but two choices. We can either stand by and watch an out-of-control economy devour our future, or we can replace it with a system that makes more sense for the long term.” Great advice Roger! Although he tells us that we need fundamental philosophical changes he stops short of telling us what that new philosophy is, or how we are going to bring it about. Hey, you seen any fundamental philosophical changes lately? . . . I didn’t think so either. I guess we have to figure that one out ourselves.
Jerry Mander in his book The Case Against the Global Economy offers us this reality check: “[referring to the continued efforts at the World Band and World Trade Organization] . . . the euphoria they express is based on their freedom to deploy, at a global level, large scale versions of the economic theories, strategies, and policies that have proven spectacularly unsuccessful over the past several decades wherever they’ve been applied. In fact, these are the very ideas that have brought us to the grim situation of the moment: the spreading disintegration of the social order and the increase of poverty, landlessness, homelessness, violence, alienation, and, deep within the hearts of many people, extreme anxiety about the future. Equally important, these are the practices that have led us to the near breakdown of the natural world, as evidenced by such symptoms as global climate change, ozone depletion, massive species loss, and near maximum levels of air, soil, and water pollution.”
“ . . . it should be clear that the expansion of the global economy directly leads to a corresponding contraction of the local economies that it largely replaces. This inevitably marginalizes and renders obsolete a large segment of the populations of both the industrial and the so-called developing countries. At the same time, it devastates the natural world, homogenizes cultures, and destroys communities, depriving their members of any semblance of control over their own lives. This process must be brought to a halt—moreover, it must be reversed—even if, from today’s grim perspective, this may seem difficult to achieve.” Good advice, but Jerry doesn’t tell us how to do that! Seen any reversal of these things anywhere? . . . Yea, me neither. Only more Walmarts, not less.
Professor Sut Jhally at least is a bit more up front about his inabilities. He explains that advertising and our consumer way of life is leading people in a direction that is ultimately bad for them and for the environment, and he’s afraid for our future if we continue going living in this way. He says: “I actually believe the survival of the human race is at stake. We’re now coming to a stage in human history when that notion of unlimited growth can no longer go unquestioned. The physical limits of the planet are literally bursting at the seams and if we keep producing at this rate, the planet will destroy itself. What we need now is a vision of society that is not based upon ever increasing numbers of goods.
“The “reformation” will be a questioning of the very nature of economic growth, the health of our society, what we want it to do and how to organize it . . . But having said that, I don’t know how to do it. We can talk and analyze the situation, but when it comes to constructing a new vision, I don’t know how to do that.” Real good, Professor. YOU don’t know how to do that? Where then does that leave us??? Oh-oh. Houston, we have a problem.
There are lots more where these guys came from, lots of people with good education and a long list of university degrees who recognize lots of problems, and who tell us that we need a new philosophy, a new way of living. But nobody knows how to do that! They have some suggestions, though. Put the green deck chairs all together over here, and the alternate the blue and red ones. No, no, no, that won’t do. Put them all together along the perimeter and we can use them to jump from as the ship goes down. Simply rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic isn’t going to save the ship. The same concepts and thinking inside the same box isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. An entirely new system of thought is needed! Fundamental philosophical and structural change! A vision of society that is not based upon ever increasing numbers of goods.
Well then, why didn’t you say so. Who you gonna call? When you need a new worldview because your old one is drowning you in sewage and spoiling the future of countless future generations, who you gonna call? When your worldview can’t tell us why people are psychotically soiling their own nest, who you gonna call? When your centuries old worldview can’t explain why all these people are dying and then coming back to life, giving you the shivers, who you gonna call? When its revealed that your old worn-out worldview has been scientifically proven to fail in telling us how where we came from and we got here, who are you gonna call?
Um, that would be the good people at Vaishnava Community Development, standing at the ready to offer you a worldview based on spiritual principles as if people mattered. If your old worldview just doesn’t do the job anymore, can’t explain postmodern reality to you, can’t keep you out of the poorhouse, and is destroying the planet before your eyes, it’s time for a new one!
And we have one for you right here. It’s our “classic” model, never out-of-date, and guaranteed to work for you and all 6 billion of your friends, every time. All you have to do is be willing to cash in your old one, the one that isn’t working for the more than 1 billion marginalized people anyway. Let me ask you friend, are you willing to cooperate in a system that works for everyone, or are you going to insist on keeping the one that works for the lucky few, the 15% (likely including yourself) at the expense of everyone else, including all those poor “marginalized” folks who have no idea where their next meal is going to come from? Feeling comfy with a full refrigerator? Don’t get too attached to it. Just a few short years ago some other Nobel laureates let us know that we are not going to be able to hide behind our gated communities. The have-nots are soon going to be coming after the haves—get ready!
So, you ask, what am I supposed to do? I didn’t create this situation! I was born into it and I am trying to make the best deal out of a sometimes very bad bargain for myself! Yes, indeed, you are correct there. You did not create this mess, it is being brought to you courtesy of a very few people at the top who benefit from the destroying the lives of people and the planet. But wait! It’s still not too late. You do not have to be a part of the problem—no siree!—you can be a part of the solution! Why yes indeed. You can help to manifest an alternative reality that works for everyone. The one that Schumaker, and Terry and Mander and Jhally and so many others are asking for, because, you see, its already here. All we have to do is put it into practice and demonstrate to people what a wonderful system it is.
Guaranteed to have no pollution, no congestion, no murder of innocent beings such as animals in mechanized slaughter or unborn humans in not-so-mechanized slaughter, or fully adult population through mechanized warfare, no loss of biodiversity, no ecological disasters, no Prozac or Paxil or the need for it, no rainforest destruction or habitat loss, no ethnic cleansing, and so on, and so on, and so on . . . With an eternal guarantee from the same folks who brought you the Sri Isopanisad:
isavasyam idam satyam
yat kincha jagat yam jagat
tena tyaktena bunjita
ma gridha svasya svid dhanam
“—One can live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on doing his work in that way. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO THIS WAY FOR MAN”. Well, one that works in the long term anyway.
So that’s the adventure over here. Building a new society and a new future for the entire planet. Whew, it’s a big job, but the groundwork has been done by those who have paved the way for us, and the nice people here in Ukraine are taking good care of me while I labor at the drawing board. It’s actually lots of fun already. I hope you will join us in making this wish come true.
More soon. As far as Spiritual Economics (work and the results of work) goes this is what the Srimad Bhagavatam (the Beautiful Story of the Personality of Godhead) tell us:
The supreme occupation [work] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service [work], when unmotivated and uninterrupted, completely satisfies the eternal self, and will bring one both causeless knowledge, and such complete inner satisfaction, that it results in detachment from everything mundane in this world, thus pacifying envy and greed, the two great sins that result in so much misfortune in this world. The occupational activities a man performs [works] are meant to provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead, otherwise they are only so much labor for naught. All occupational engagements [work] can be used to bring one to the state of ultimate liberation, and therefore to perform them for material gain is to squander a most valuable asset. Therefore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification, nor should life’s desires be directed toward sense gratification, as it is the direct cause of spiritual bondage. One should desire only a healthy life to facilitate inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one's works.
Anapa is the sea-side resort town where the Russian festival is held. A new venue since the head of the Russian Orthodox church purchased land in the city of the previous years festivals and through his political power influenced the city to deny the devotees the necessary things required for the festival. Here we occupy a large health resort, and some of the seminars are held in exercise rooms. There are more than 2,500 who have traveled here from all parts of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. The mood here is a bit different and through the week I try to understand the difference. It’s a bit more formal and stiff than the Odessa festival. The kirtans aren’t so compelling, and there is more entertainment in the sense of drama, but what very good drama it is!
I get from 60 to 90 people to my seminar every day, and enthusiastic listeners they are. It is a well organized festival. My every need is taken care of, and I am treated to a good massage in the middle of the week. Here I again meet some devotees that I had gotten to know in India, and that is a nice treat to see some familiar faces.
The festival begins on a bit of a sorrowful note as the local Russian Orthodox church has gathered up a group of elderly ladies to come in front of our hotel to sing mournful songs and wave flags of the Christian saints. Apparently they either want to save us or drive us away. Or perhaps give us a good thrashing in the bargain. The elderly ladies are joined by about a dozen stout men dressed in camouflage fatigues, Cossacks (militia men) who are one hand for defense or offense, I am not sure which? I am told by a Russian devotee that if any excuse springs up they will immediately call in dozens of others for a major melee. Everyone is cool however, and a late morning shower sends them all packing. The head of the local KGB office is a friend of one devotee and intervenes to keep the protesters at bay and off of our grounds. Not advised to go into town dressed in devotional clothing however. One devotee who did so was beaten up pretty well for his conscience. Not too much religious tolerance here. I am told that the Russians are actually religiously xenophobic. Later I learn that the Russian Orthodox church is another tool used for control by the KGB. Perhaps. Or are they simply intolerant fanatics? Of course the question must be raised as to why they will tolerate all manners of sinful things that are as prevalent in the larger cities as they are in America, but are intolerant of other religions? That prejudice is telling, isn’t it?
Here I also have the opportunity to get to know some of the Russian celebrities. One is a devotee doctor who has penned a dozen or so books and has a very large following. I went to several of his classes to see what it was that he was saying, to find out that he wasn’t trying to give the entire message in one sitting. Keeping it very simple, keeping to the minimal basics. That seems to be as much as many can comfortably digest, and would serve as a reminder to others for their desired success.
The week here passes quickly and before you know it I am off on my tour of Russia. First stop is:
It took us about 6 hours to get here by car from Anapa, the festival site. I am accompanied by Subala Saka Das, a young man of 27 who is my constant companion, servant and translator for the next three weeks. Kurgenova is a typical Russian village and this one is home to the largest community of devotees in Russia—it’s the Russian counterpart to Alachua, Florida, and is a place where many devotees come to retire on small government pensions. The community numbers about 100, and only about half can fit into the small temple room at the same time. Judging from the gray hair many are elderly women in their sixties. They generally all have their own small house in the village and a small yard in which they grow their kitchen garden, which means that they grow a good deal of their own food there. In the villages many people keep cows, goats, chickens, ducks, geese and of course the ubiquitous watch dog.
The geese are an interesting lot who are not easily intimidated and who in fact can be quite aggressive. I had read that the wings of a goose are so powerful as to be able to break the leg of a full-grown man. Better that I hadn’t read that as it is embarrassing for me to be seen run off by a “mere” goose, however threatening. When they are ready to get hostile they keep their heads low to the ground and spread their wings. This is the final warning before they attack!
The house we stayed in was built by our host’s 70-year old grandmother. She, her daughter, our host, and his children are all devotees of Krishna. Four generations in one family is an extremely rare phenomenon. I give a modified version of my seminar in an non-seminar form, speaking about the Bhagavad-gita and how to actually follow its message. Of course, I get into the economics of the dominant culture and how it affects everyone. After I suggested one morning that the devotees in this community create their own private currency to boost the local economy, they went with “wide eyes” to visit our host, Sadhu Sanga, at his shop. They were all very excited about the idea. Sadhu Sanga is the former leader of this community, but was displaced by some political events. He is also a former children’s surgeon who suspended his medical practice to develop this country community.
While here I was treated to a Russian sauna, known as a “banya”, and after warming up one is treated to a light beating with the leaves of trees. This produces a brief but intensely hot sensation in the midst of the steam. A few of the fellows gave me a short massage, and by the time we left I was feeling quite clean and fit. One elderly lady keeps the sauna for the benefit of the community. She worked for the better part of two years to raise the funds to be able to offer this nice service. Look here! Someone who is following the principles of Spiritual Economics!
In Kurgenova I met one of Russia’s first devotees, Vrindavana das. He spent about six years in jail as a prisoner of consciousness, and while there endured repeated beatings. When the Russian authorities intensified their prosecution of the devotees in the 1980’s he and several others moved to this remote hillside location to avoid conflict with the government. They were however relentlessly pursued to these hinterlands and with great pomp the government held kangaroo court to offer up these dedicated devotees as examples to the less willful. Vrindavana is a modest fellow of his early 60’s and has a beautiful 8 year-old daughter by a second marriage. He lives in a simple village house, has a cow that gives delicious and rich milk, and has lots of time for spiritual pursuits. He is reasonably suspect of any and all, and told me that a KGB man told him while he was incarcerated that the KGB had infiltrated the Hare Krishna movement in the early 70’s—not from Russia—but from the United States! Interestingly, in America another devotee who had been incarcerated told me that the CIA had also infiltrated the movement in the early 70’s. Later, when visiting Moscow I will be told how the leaders of the movement in Russia were being compromised by bribes from the Masons! Everyone with a modicum of understanding knows that the world of espionage is full of such intrigues, but this still leaves us to wonder who-is-who within the society even now. Of course this may explain some of the many strange decisions that are sometimes made by our “leaders”.
I have developed a strong affection for some of the devotees here who have treated me so kindly. After three days we are off by car to another city in the deep south of Russia,
On the way to the train as we left Vladikavkas we finally had clear day and a terrific view of the craggy Caucusas Mountains. They towered over the plain in a majestic display that at first caused their peaks to be confused with clouds. The city is in the Republic of Ingushetia, and just to the east is the infamous and embattled Republic of Chechnya. As we pass the town next door to our destination I am told that it is the place where some 300 children were killed by Chechan militia several years ago. Just after dark on the first evening we heard sounds which could only have been a very serious fire-fight not more than a mile away. “It is going on all the time” our hostess sighed. Later I learned that this was only a fireworks celebration, and that, like India, there is no limit on the size of the ordinance they can use for celebrations. Ka-BOOM! This is the backdrop of these devotees lives.
This was one of the nicest visits in the entire trip. It is a small temple housed in Nayana Manjari’s flat. She is a devotee of about 15 years and likely in her late fifties or early sixties. Here, as in other parts of Russia there were a number of seniors who have taken up Krishna Consciousness, something almost unheard of in the United States. But they have the same enthusiasm and dance in kirtan with equal vivacity of those half of their age.
Many of the devotees here are relatively new and so I dispensed with my usual lectures centered around the undue influences of the dominant culture. Instead I took the devotees on harinam down the main street of the town. Like many main streets in America this one is all but deserted. It would have been better for me to say that we should go to the shopping districts, or entertainment districts where many people are gathered. In any case the few people that we managed to find were enthralled to see our exposition, and cell phone cameras were snapping away. Ours was a mixed crew—one baby with mother in tow, a couple of “babushkas”, as the elderly women are called, several young people dancing and drumming enthusiastically, and a few senior men, moi included. Another very elderly “babushka” took up dancing with us with great joy and we all reveled in her smiles and light-footedness. From the third floor of a large building several soldiers had opened the window wide for a good view and watched us for the entire fifteen minutes we were in their viewing area.
After we returned to the temple I spoke about the power of the holy name to lift up the hearts of all people, and gave the example of my aura-reading experience at the Berkeley Psychic Institute wherein the students (and teacher) were unable to see my aura since my entire being was protected (as they said) by a column of white light. Later experiences proved this to be the effect of chanting the holy names of the Lord. I then led a pretty good kirtan (if I do say so myself) which was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Leading of kirtans is something that I will have to learn to do since it is expected of me. Although shy about it among my peers that is now no excuse. And to be honest, my musical abilities, however low in my own estimation, are better than most here, so there is nothing to be shy about, really. The devotees thoroughly enjoyed it and I also led them to dance, often joining hands with the children and pushing many of the men to the center to demonstrate their own unique enthusiasm. Because the kirtan is itself its own reward I was quite surprised when afterwards almost all of them came to me to offer a donation (which will be used to print my book). Apparently they liked it very much. They had developed such an appreciation that they offered flower garlands twice a day, and upon my leaving they were snapping cameras with a fury that I have only witnessed for my godbrothers who were gurus. It was a truly heart-warming experience, and it was the first place that I was truly sad to be leaving.
On our trip out it’s a lovely day outdoors. We have a day train this time. The sun is shining and the temperatures were in the mild 70’s at the last stop where we could disembark for a while. Looking out the window one sees endless and vast fields that are just sprouting what I would assume is winter wheat, if I were to assume anything. While in India one sees many large cultivated fields surrounded by groves of coconut palms that hide the villages, here there are no such groves surrounding the fields. Maybe a narrow strip of trees just adjacent to the next large field. Where are the people who tend them? They gather together in the villages, apparently out-of-sight. In America one will see a farmhouse every quarter-mile or so, but not here. Whoever says the world is overpopulated hasn’t bothered to get out of the larger cities it would seem.
In Cherkesk I met another of the earliest Russian devotees, Visvamitra Das. He is here only temporarily, and will soon return to Moscow. He also was imprisoned for some time simply for being a devotee. While in Cherkesk we stay with the daughter and son-in-law of the temple president of Kurgenova. They have a charming little 3-year old who provided many smiles for us. The very special thing about this place is the cheese factory that the devotees have been running for the past four years. They buy farmers cheese from nearby villages and convert it into a mozzarella. They also make and sell ghee. The business is run according to religious principles which they take very seriously and it is a model for other devotees. I did an interview with the two managers and plan to write an article about the place for Back to Godhead magazine.
The streets in Cherkesk are worse than Michigan’s!! Not only are the patches bad, they are nonexistent. It appears that they never patch the potholes and driving is done in a snake-like manner as everyone attempts to avoid the pitfalls of travel. Now and again there is a pole sticking up in the middle of the street to warn drivers away from an open man-hole. This city has an impressive main street with many attractive government buildings but the balance of it is depressing in appearance. The untended grass is brown everywhere and the buildings in need of dressing up. It seems that nobody is inclined to decorate for anyone but themselves and the exteriors are all shoddy and depressing looking. However dull outside the insides are attractively decorated. The contrast is striking to my American mind. Such is the extent of envy here that people envy themselves, denying themselves in an effort to deny others.
Like Gary Larson once wrote, those past 40 seem to have experienced a withering of their fashion genes, as there is a seeming indifference toward personal fashion. Whatever image you may have of a large and elderly Russian woman with a kerchief on her head and mismatched sweater and skirt, you may be assured that there are many such women here. Utility seems to be the principle. I hope to get some more pictures of these babushka’s as their faces suggest a great deal about their struggles with life. However for the young, pointy shoes and stiletto heels are all the rage. Makes me wince just to look at the shoes they wear.
Sarotov—City on the Volga River
The Volga is a very large river, something like a mile across where we are, and my host lives in a flat about 200 yards away. In the morning we takes walks along its waterfront and enjoy the fresh air and every other day the sunshine. Now it is early October and the fall conditions are with us more often than not. Near the waterfront is a statue of Yuri Gagarin(?), Russia’s first astronaut. Statues of State hero’s are frequently seen in all the cities, and they stand out to me as blatant propaganda. This causes me to think of the States and if we have such monuments. Indeed we do, but curiously I have never thought of them in the same way that I see the monuments here. immediately I recognize that this is because of my own acculturation which becomes prominent when silhouetted against that of another country.
While traveling I bring three bags—one for my mind, that holds my computer and books; one for my body, housing clothing; and one for my heart which contains the paraphernalia for my Deity worship. My Saligram Shila goes everywhere with me, as He has since He came into my service a year ago. Usually I set up a small altar in whatever room I stay in. Here I have been invited to put my Deities on the altar and as such our host tends to Them along with her regular worship. I am surprised to find myself jealous when another is rendering the service to my Lord that I have become accustomed to doing—this transcendental attachment has grown quite strong! From now on He is staying with Me—I am not sharing Him with anyone.
There are about 35-40 devotees that come to my seminar here. classes are held in my host’s apartment because the devotees have no temple. Asked why they don’t get one I learn that everyone is working and there are no devotees to take up the task full-time. That’s a curious thought to me because we never had such a difficulty in America. With very few exceptions everyone comes to the program in the clothing of the dominant culture, and when I asked who would join me on harinam on the weekend nobody raises their hand. Whew. Their is something going on here that has everyone tightly-laced up. Not much freedom, and the argument of the religious xenophobia is again heard.
However that may be, they are very enthusiastic listeners and eagerly consume my message. Many good questions are asked. Again in just a short time I become endeared to these folks and there is an emotional parting. We leave by night train to our final Russian destination—Moscow.
This is as exotic as it gets—visiting the Kremlin. I never, ever thought I would come here. Well, before earlier this year anyway. On the third day here Subala Saka and another English-speaking devotee take me of a tour of Red Square, The Bolshoi Theater, and nearby parts including the Kremlin. I always thought the Kremlin was the counterpart to the White House, but it is actually the original part of old Moscow buttressed with a very large and high wall. Inside are the government buildings. Outside is the tomb of the unknown soldier, similar to what we have in Washington DC. Two soldiers stand guard for four hours at a stretch not moving a muscle for the entire time. I am told that this wreaks havoc on their health and they can look forward to lifetime circulation problems in their legs for their service here.
This center of town is very attractive. Red Square is huge and bordered by the “power houses” of parliament, Lenin’s tomb, and of course, the Orthodox church, to be seen in the attached photo. There are also large gardens, and a now-empty fountain with statuary from the Brother’s Grimm Fairy tales. Nearby is an enormous library—named after Marx or Lenin—and unavailable to the general public. Two hours walking about here gives us only enough time to see the outside of everything, but that’s enough for me on this trip.
The temple is housed in a temporary building while the permanent structure is planned and built. About two years ago the mayor of Moscow gifted a hectare of land in a very prestigious part of the city after the devotees were forced to vacate the housing they had been renting from the city for over a decade. The new temple will be magnificent, and that it is going up in the once capital of atheism is quite a victory. The temporary facility is very small for the 2-3,000 devotees in Moscow, therefore they have set up a tent with a capacity of about 700 outside for the Sunday programs. During the summer months there is an overflowing crowd, but since the fall came, and especially since it is raining while I am here everybody gets packed into the regular temple room—about one hundred are here. By now I have developed a regular series of classes and am practiced at delivering the lecture with maximum impact. I know by now what the reaction will be and am not disappointed here. The challenges I offer make people think and generates lots of enthusiasm, which of course, has the same effect on me.
There is not enough room in these quarters to house everyone so I stay at the house of a prominent member about 40 minutes drive away (when traffic is good). He earned lots of money during the post perestroika years and built a huge house in what was formerly a village. This once ordinary place has become yuppified, and there are numberous nicely constructed houses all around. This place is so big that the host is temporarily housing the thirty or so brahmacaris (single men), and still it seems almost empty. Everywhere here they use radiant heat and it is such a nice change from forced air, and always comfortable.
Getting around Moscow is a real hassle. Practically speaking anywhere we go takes at least an hour to drive. This city is huge. Similar I suppose to the greater LA or NY areas. It is home to some 20 million and growing quite rapidly. Why? Eighty percent of the money in Russia stays in the Moscow region so people follow the money. It is as modern and pleasant a place as any city in America, and cleaner than any that I know of save perhaps Chicago. In fact most the large cities that I have visited in Russia and Ukraine are very clean. It seems that the smaller towns don’t do so well in this regard. Even more curious is the fact that there are no trash cans on every corner, yet still people do not litter. The streets are also very, very good in Moscow—California quality. No potholes here, and not even a patch. They apparently do it right the first time.
My visit here coincides with a conference on religion at one of Moscow’s most prominent universities. The conference is organized by the devotees and the panel of speakers includes four devotees and four from various colleges. Since one of the devotees didn’t make it they ask me at the last minute to speak. Of course I use my time to give the briefest introduction to Spiritual Economics, mentioning that it describes a gifting culture. The chairman of the dept of religion asks if I had read Marx, to which I honestly answer “no”. He then goes on to say that Marx’s philosophy is very similar to what I have described, including a gifting economy. Well, I had no idea that Marx had such good ideas ;-). One of the speakers on their side is a professor from a neighboring university. During an intermission he pulls me aside and asks me if I will come and address his class at the end of the week. Sure, why not?
My host wanted to present me as a visiting professor of religion who specialized in oriental religions and Bhagavad-gita in particular. That Friday I addressed his class of about 30 students after meeting with the department chairman and the head of the college. After exchanging some pleasantries we went to the classroom, and to my surprise the students stood up to greet me as I entered the room! This kind of courtesy hasn’t been exercised by American students for at least forty years! I had an hour and a half, and given that it must be translated that gave me about 45 minutes speaking time, enough to develop a complete argument. I did a good job if I say so myself, analyzing the modern economic problems using the teachings of the Gita, as well as showing how disaster can be averted by raising the populace up to the level of sattva guna, the mode of goodness. My hosts both listened attentively and were well impressed.
Afterwards we visited in the office of the dept. chairman where I quizzed him on the national debate taking place to find a new national ideology. I was very happy to learn that they were both very much interested in this debate. The chairman in fact is a consultant to two political parties on these issues. The professor who invited me is also a student of the Gita, and he offered to help keep me informed of the more significant events taking place in the discussion.
After leaving Moscow I return to Ukraine by air, arriving at the city of Donetsk, actually донецк, but most of you won’t understand that spelling. It’s about 0 degrees C when I arrive, and fall has now fell. I traveled alone by plane, and of course, as in every single place of departure on this trip they want to search all of my luggage. Do I fit the profile of a ter**rist? I am beginning to wonder.
Since this fills out the Russian tour I am going to finish this with a short description of my visit to the university in Donetsk. That’s it for this piece. To Russia, with love . . . .
Today (28 Oct) I spoke at the Donetsk State Institute of Artificial Intellect, Department of Religious Studies, the guest of Professor Igor A. Kozlovsky. He is the director of the Center of religious science research and international spiritual relations of DSIAI. Three days ago I addressed his Philosophy of Religion class of twenty-some girls and only four young men. Today I spoke at a conference entitled “The Importance of Religion Today”, mainly an in-house conference of students discussing the application of religion to the affairs of the world.
The conference was held in four sections, and to my great interest, two of them were oriented towards economics! There is a prominent understanding of the relationship of economics to that of social welfare here, but perhaps that is not so surprising. One young man spoke directly about ecological economics and the morality of economics was raised on several occasions. I was invited to address one class and gave a brief iteration of my last presentation at the Moscow State Teachers College.
In private conversation with my host I asked him to speak about the efforts of Ukranians to establish a national ideal (this discussion is taking place in many, but not all, of the countries of the former Soviet Union). I called it “ideology” but he insisted that the term referred to an understanding imposed from the top down, while the current effort was to create an ideal from the bottom up—a grassroots effort. Asking him where this discussion is taking place—in the popular press or academia, or in the halls of government, he was certain that it is taking place everywhere! Oh my! My host Dr. Kozlovsky wrote a paper on the subject entitled “God, the People and Ukraine” that he passed on to his superiors. I asked for a copy of it at least three times. But he seemed resistant to my requests. Perhaps a copy will come by email, but I am not holding my breath. Imagine a country—actually at least two of them (including Russia)—searching for an ideology! This has never happened before in the history of Western “civilization” (and I use the term lightly). Moreover, Prof. Kozlovsky was quite convinced that the future ideology of Ukraine would have quite a significant spiritual side to it. Mama mia!
I also spoke with both him and the department chairman and was further told, in response to my question about the ultimate involvement of such an ideology with politics, that no such connection would exist. That’s hard for me to believe. In Russia they are much more realistic about this, and most of the ideas are funneled into two political parties who engage my last academic host as their consultant.
In Russia I had a very interesting time with a religious professor and his department chairman discussing this same topic. They are both very excited about the debates, and offered to keep me abreast of the developments there.
This is an opportunity of unprecedented proportions. In fact this has never happened in the history of the Western world. there is always a oligarchy, or ruling power, that tells people what they are going to think and how they are going to live. How did this happen? Apparently you are allowed to have any philosophy you want because you are not going to live according to it—you are instead going to live according to the cash and credit model of Western (American) civilization. Nonetheless it is happening, and add to this the fact that Darwinian evolution has all but died a scientific death (although the scientists won’t admit to it, almost everyone else does), and that the philosophy of Christianity is not commanding much respect these days, why can’t we do something to seize the moment? Add to this that I met another professor there who has been investigating the connection of ancient Ukraine with Vedic India—and their seems to be a great deal to that story. Can we see a pattern of dots emerging here? What if we try to connect them? Mmmm . . . we might possibly see the establishment of the Vedic worldview as the new national ideal of the nation of Ukraine! It’s not so far fetched at all.
Of course, my subject matter fits so very comfortably into all of this. As I travel I ask people whether they like capitalism better than Communism. They don’t want to go back to Communism but they are not really that happy with capitalism either. When I ask if they like the ideal of Communism and if it could actually be practiced that way I get a strong “yes” from many, but not all. Apparently some have their doubts about whether it can actually be done. And then when I ask if they think the idea of Spiritual Economics under the title of spiritual Communism would be welcomed, I often got a resounding “yes”. So I am searching for a devotee who knows Marx/Lenin well to help with a dialogue/debate between Marxism, Soviet Communism, and that of Spiritual Economics. I can show where Marx, and especially Lenin and Stalin went wrong. The book will be have a working title of “Spiritual Communism” and will be the first priority after I finish writing Spiritual Economics. I think I am finally in the right place at the right time.