Benjamin Franklin is just one of the many famous politicians of the past who appreciated the virtues of village life.
“All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced by performance of yajna [sacrifice], and yajna is born of prescribed duties.” [Bhagavad-gita 3.14]
The basis of “Simple Living and High Thinking”, the norm for civilized human beings, lies in the acceptance of village life centered on the performance of sacrifice, yajna, which is born of prescribed duties as delineated in the scientific system of varnas (social orders) and ashramas (spiritual orders). Such a social system, being very intimately connected with land, cows and higher consciousness, namely Krishna consciousness, is the most perfect and holistic way to live. When human society, due to neglect, bad leadership or misfortune (all based on lust, anger, greed, illusion, madness and envy) deviates from this established norm, a norm scientifically designed and created by the highest of authorities, Lord Krishna Himself, a norm meant to uphold, protect and foster the universal principles of dharma or religiosity, we should know for certain that only chaos will prevail and immense suffering must follow.
In any discussions on varnashrama dharma, the importance of village life and social organization are a must. Village life needs to be clearly outlined and strongly promoted. Vedic leadership that will give shape to social organization needs to be explained and strongly advocated. As we have heard Srila Prabhupada many times explain, the very foundation of varnashrama dharma begins with cow protection, for without cows the brahmanas cannot perform their duties within the varnashrama system and without following the various samskaras (rituals) within the varnashrama system, the aim of life cannot be realized, the result of which are varna sankara (confused progeny) and ugra karma (exploitive activity) at its worse. In such a degraded condition the dependent members of society, namely the cows, the brahmanas, the children, the women, the diseased and the elders cannot be protected:
“Without protection of cows, brahminical culture cannot be maintained; and without brahminical culture, the aim of life cannot be fulfilled. The Lord, therefore, is described as go-brahmana-hitaya because His incarnation is only for the protection of the cows and brahmanas. Unfortunately, because in Kali-yuga there is no protection of the cows and brahminical culture, everything is in a precarious position. If human society wants to be exalted, the leaders of society must follow the instructions of Bhagavad-gita and give protection to the cows, the brahmanas and brahminical culture.” [SB 8.24.5]
What follows are quotations from various sources which support the basic premise enunciated above, i.e. without the majority of people taking up the simple standard village lifestyle which allows for a natural execution of prescribed duties [traditional occupations largely connected with land and cows] and which in turn favours the appearance of regular rainfall that guarantees the production of natural and wholesome food grains, no society can prosper or maintain itself for long, no society can protect its citizens from even simple calamities, and no society can lead its members to the goal of life, self-realization. In brief, no society can consider itself to be civilized. Hence the great need to remain in or return to the traditional village lifestyle as enjoined in the scriptures and as advocated by all spiritual mentors and all responsible social leaders.
Our philosophy is that you produce your food anywhere you stay, and keep cows, take milk, produce vegetables, food grains, and chant Hare Krishna. That’s all. This is our philosophy. Make your life successful. By becoming Krishna conscious, you become free from all these troubles of material condition. This is our education. Don’t be after these motorcars, television, and all nonsense things, sporting, wine, women. Don’t be after these. Simply eat sufficiently, keep your health nicely, chant Hare Krishna, realize Kåñëa, and go back to home. This is our philosophy.
[Conversations: May 25, 1974, Rome]
In the above exchange, Srila Prabhupada clearly stresses the need to produce our own food and to learn to be satisfied with this more simplified rural lifestyle. In other conversations, Srila Prabhupada makes it abundantly clear that life will be more healthy and peaceful if we learn to depend on agriculture produce and live in the villages. He discourages people from leaving the villages:
Nobody should take to very hardship labor. The modern civilization has discovered severe types of dangerous industries, and laborers are attracted for high wages. But they should not accept such work. Then naturally there will be less capitalistic idea. Because the laborer cooperates, therefore demoniac persons they take advantage and make unnecessarily increase of artificial demands of the body. Better one should be satisfied with agricultural produce than go into large cities to be engaged in industry. Peaceful life depending on agricultural produce can bring him real happiness and prosperity, not otherwise. The more persons will be satisfied at their home, with home economics, not to go outside the home; that is peaceful life. In India, Mahatma Gandhi tried to organize villages in that way so that not to drag the people to the town. So, peaceful atmosphere can be attained only when there is large scale village organization, actually village life. Not to borrow the ideas from the cities in the village life; poet Cowper said that country is made by God, and the cities and towns are made by man. So that is the distinction.
[Letter to Rayarama dasa, 17 October, 1968, Seattle]
Ethics of Chanakya
(On Principles of Provincial and Local Governance)
As we know, Chanakya Pandit was a great diplomat and wise moralist whose writings are greatly appreciated by politicians, educators and people in general. In the book “Ethics of Chanakya,” the author summarizes some of Chanakya’s thoughts regarding the importance of statesmanship in terms of village self-governance, village sustainability and village autonomy:
While an effective control was kept on towns, villages were free from the active jurisdiction of royal officials. They were rather autonomous bodies and were administered by local men. They were not only self-sufficient units economically, but politically, they were self-governing. Under such a system, villages continued to exist as self-sufficient little republics, which remained the basis of higher political existence. They survived successive turmoil or changes of fortune, and continued to maintain the prosperity of the people, in spite of the change of dynasties or the rise and fall of empires. The village was regarded as a co-operative social unit, and its head was the Gramika. From the evidence of one passage, this man seems to have been invested with minor magisterial authority and was empowered to expel thieves, criminals, adulterers and other undesirable persons.
[Ramesh, T. Y. Ethics of Chanakya, Sahni Publications, New Delhi, 2000, p. 178]
It is clear from the above descriptions that villages were the norm for most people and that these villages prospered following principles of self-governance and self-sufficiency.
[Extracts from VILLAGE SWARAJ]
As often quoted by Srila Prabhupada, Gandhi was a strong advocate of village organization:
In the future set-up we shall have only two things, the village and the world. We may have the names of countries on the map for the sake of convenience, but in reality, there will be no intermediary between the world and the village. All the authority concerning the material side of life will rest with the village. The village will have power to order its own life. The power of moral advancement of the whole world will rest in the world centre. The districts or the States will only be the agents of the village community. Thus we shall have the village at the base and the world Authority at the Centre. Human society will be organized on the basis of small village communities of say, 2 to 3 thousand souls each. There would be real fraternity and co-operation in the village community. There would be no private ownership. The village will be a model of corporate life. The world centre will be the ultimate co-ordination link between these primary communities.
and from Preface....
The experience of mankind testifies to the fact the collective life is more genial, varied and fruitful when it is concentrated in small units and simpler organizations. It is only small units which have had the most intense life. Collective life diffusing itself in vast areas would be wanting in cohesiveness and productiveness.
Ancient Greek City States and Village Republics of India provided specimen of all-round development of rich and puissant life. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “This system of village self-government was the foundation of the Aryan polity. It was this that gave it strength. So jealous were the village assemblies of their liberties that it was laid down that no soldier was to enter a village except with a royal permit….
As late as 1830 a British Governor in India, Sir Charles Metcalfe, described the village communities as follows: “The village communities are little republics having nearly everything they want within themselves and almost independent of foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little State in itself… is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.”
Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village will be a republic or Pancayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world.
I want to resuscitate the villages of India. Today our villages have become a mere appendage to the cities. They exist, as it were, to be exploited by the latter and depend on the latter’s sufferance. P. 83, from Village Swaraj.
I am convinced that if India is to attain true freedom and through India, the WORLD also, then sooner or later the fact must be recognized that people will have to live in villages, not in towns, in huts, not in palaces. Crores of people will never be able to live at peace with each other in towns and palaces. They will then have no recourse but to resort to both violence and untruth.
In a recent conversation with a former Gurukula boy from Nepal, the following description was given. “Even today many villages in Nepal have their own blacksmith, their own barber, their own tailor and other skilled workers. They serve the villagers as and when needed throughout the year. When harvest time comes these different labourers come to the land and are remunerated with grains and other produce from the land. This simple lifestyle and this simplified economics still prevail in many villages of Nepal today. It is the remnants of the ancient Vedic varnashrama system."
(one of the founding fathers of America):
There seems to be three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbours. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, where a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favour as a reward for his innocent life, and his virtuous industry.
(American lawyer and politician with great interest in agriculture):
Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labour of man. Man may be civilized, in some degree, without great progress in manufactures and with little commerce with his distant neighbours. But without the cultivation of the earth, he is, in all countries, a savage. Until he gives up the chase, and fixes himself in some place and seeks a living from the earth, he is a roaming barbarian. When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” [Speech delivered to the Massachusetts Legislature (Boston, 13 January 1840)
The meaning of varnashrama dharma and its practical application will remain largely concealed as long as individuals do not leave their present comfort zones in the cities. This requires the accommodation of another paradigm, the village lifestyle paradigm. Only by spending quality time in the villages will the inner truths and secrets of varnashrama dharma become revealed. The principle of self-sufficiency and sustainability will only become manifest when one learns to live in a localized way. As boldly stated by Srila Prabhupada, one must learn to live “on the lap of material nature.”
This will require tremendous courage and determination on the part of those taking up the mantle given to us by Srila Prabhupada. The varnashrama mission or daiva varnashrama dharma means re-introducing village lifestyle as the norm within all of societies, the most ideal norm which can best facilitate the advancement of our Vaisnava practices in devotional service. Education and training at the village levels must be re-introduced and for this reason both Gurukula (devotional primary school) and Varnashrama Colleges are of paramount importance. The Varnashrama Shikshalaya programs introduced in India are meant to serve as forerunners to these educational reforms.
Let us know, let us realize and let us demonstrate the importance of village life. Let us become convinced that village life, based on the eternal principles of Krishna consciousness, is indeed part of our eternal philosophy, our eternal education and our eternal lifestyle.
The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org