Life in Sydney and Life in Vrndavana
There is a contrast between the Vedic way of life and the Western way of life. It’s a great contrast. Vrndavana is the holy city where Krishna spent His childhood five thousand years ago. It’s not far from the Taj Mahal so if you’re ever in India at the Taj Mahal you should remember, Let me go to Mathura, let me go to Vrndavana.
To become serious about spiritual life first we must become disgusted with material life. While we are enamoured by the objects of our senses and while we are thinking, “Somehow I can make a comfortable situation in this world,” it is very difficult to take spiritual life seriously. Of course we may have some sentimental attachment to a spiritual process and we may believe in God and have faith in God but if we are still attached to gratifying our senses, if we are still under the illusion that by gratifying my senses I can become satisfied, it is very difficult to come to the real spiritual platform. This is the greatest downfall of the Western civilization, because within Western civilization there is no sense of tapasya (austerity), there is no sense of regulated life. In many Eastern civilizations there is some sort of regulation for performing the activities which satisfy the senses.
It is easy to compare the life we have in the West to life, even today, in India. Of course in India in big cities they are moving towards the Western lifestyle, but you can still see a different culture in India. If we compare the two cultures we see in India people are more sober and things are done in a more regulated way. Almost everybody is having their meals at regular times, they are eating in their homes, they have their wife at home and she is cooking. They are eating the same type of food every day at a regular time, everything is regular, life is regulated.
They have information in their yoga system that regulation is important, even for good health. If the senses are satisfied in a regular manner even the body remains very healthy. In the Vedic (Indian) culture all the sense activities are there, it is not that the sense activities are denied. There is eating, sleeping, sex life and defence also, but there is some regulation, there are some times and places for these activities. Eating is done at a regular time and a regular place. Sleeping is done at a regular time and place, they are going to bed and getting up in the morning at a regular time. Everything is going on in a regulated way. Sex life is regulated, it is only happening within marriage and at a particular time. Everything is regulated.
This regulated life can make the mind peaceful because if we become accustomed to doing things at a particular time then we accept it. If I become accustomed to eating in the morning at a particular time, and if I have lunch at a particular time I can control my mind, I can tell my mind, “This is what I am going to do.” When the mind says, “No. You should eat this,” I can say, “No,” because in one hours time I will be having lunch so I don’t need to eat now. Similarly if all our sense activities are regulated the mind can be tamed, the uncontrolled mind is our greatest enemy. If the mind is not tamed it is our enemy because If I simply try to satisfy the demands of my mind that will become my whole life, my whole existence, I will simply be living to try and satisfy the demands of my mind and senses.
In the Western world our minds are generally in this “untamed” condition. This uncontrolled mind is encouraged by our Western civilization, we are encouraged to eat anything anywhere and at any time. I spend some time in the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall Station in Sydney. If you walk along the path from Town Hall Station to George Street you find dozens of shops selling food, there are so many things, ice-cream shops, every possible variety of international food, sweet shops, a health food shop, donut shops, fruit shops. Everything you could conceivably eat is available on that walk. The retailers are playing on the uncontrolled minds of the people walking past. Generally speaking, the people walking through the Queen Victoria Building don’t plan to eat an ice-cream or to eat a donut, or whatever else. There is no plan, they start at Town Hall Station with no idea they are going to go down and eat an ice-cream or drink a milk shake, there is no plan. The idea is as they walk along their senses are uncontrolled so they are attracted. The eyes are attracted first, the eyes see something beautiful, then the tongue is hankering after tasting that beautiful thing, this is called lust. kama esa krodha esa rajo-guna-samudbhavah, mahasano maha-papma viddhy enam iha vairinam (Bhagavad-gita 3.37), “It is Lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.” This means when we see an object which we think will provide satisfaction for our senses we start to lust after it and unless that lust is fulfilled the lust turns into anger and our mind will become very disturbed. As soon as one becomes angry his mind becomes disturbed and with a disturbed mind it is impossible to practice spiritual life. So if we were trying to cultivate spiritual life and our senses become attached to something which is not fulfilled and we become angry our spiritual endeavours will be frustrated.
It’s not only the stretch of walkway between Town Hall Station and George Street, everywhere we go in the Western countries we find so many arrangements meant to agitate people’s senses to force them to consume a particular product. Our civilization is based on dissatisfaction. The whole idea is to make people unsatisfied so they are thinking, “If I get this product I will be happy,” but the satisfaction is never there.
Sydney [Australia] vs. Vrndavana [India]
This is a contrast between the Vedic way of life and the Western way of life. It’s a great contrast. Last year I spent three months in Vrndavana, the holy city where Krishna spent His childhood five thousand years ago. It’s not far from the Taj Mahal so if you’re ever in India at the Taj Mahal you should remember, “Let me go to Mathura, let me go to Vrndavana.” Vrndavana is the city of Krishna, it’s not a city actually, it’s more like a village. There is a city, there is a commercial district called “Loy Bazaar,” but Vrndavana is actually some forests on the banks of the Yamuna river.
Krishna is a cowherd boy, Krishna appeared and spent His childhood in Vrndavana. Every day Krishna and His brother Balarama with all their cowherd boy friends would take the cows, they had thousands and millions of cows, and Krishna and the cowherd boys would take them every day from the goshalas, the places where the cows spend the night, and take them to the forests and mountains where there was nice grass for the cows. There is one very beautiful hill called Govardhana Hill. Govardhana Hill is very famous because the hill was always covered by very nice green grass for the cows. This was their daily routine, to take the cows out to the pastures. There were many adventures and many amazing things happened because there was a great intrigue going on by the king of Mathura, King Kamsa. It had been predicted that in the future Krishna would kill Kamsa, therefore to try and avoid this the King would regularly send His demonic friends to Vrndavana to try to kill Krishna. Srila Prabhupada has very nicely presented all these adventures of Krishna and His friends in Krishna Book. Krishna killed so many demons and He used to behave very sportingly with His friends.
Sometimes people become a little confused because Krishna appears as a cowherd boy and it appears He is acting like an ordinary person because He is going out to the pastures with His friends and the cows and playing like an ordinary boy. In one sense He is playing like an ordinary boy but His activities are uncommon, His activities are special. For example when Krishna was only seven years old one great demigod called Indra also became bewildered. It’s very difficult to understand Krishna. We can easily understand the spiritual effulgence, the Brahman. This Brahman is the concept of an all pervading supreme energy. It’s fairly easy to understand, but to understand that the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is the source of everything can appear in this world in Vrndavana in India and act as a cowherd boy playing with His friends in the forest. To understand this is not an easy thing.
Even Indra, who is a very great personality within this universe — he’s the King of one of the heavenly planets. He is very wealthy and opulent, a very highly placed demigod. Even he became bewildered, he became envious of Krishna because in the village of Vrndavana it was customary for the cowherd men to offer an annual sacrifice to Indra. Every year there was a big festival for Indra, it was called the Indra Yajna. The inhabitants of Vrndavana would cook nice food and chant prayers and songs glorifying Indra. They offered all this to Indra because he was providing the rain and Vrndavana was a pastural village, they were depending on the land, the grains and the cows. Nothing can be successful in such a village unless there are regular rains and the person in charge of providing that regular rainfall is the demigod called Indra.
Krishna suggested to His father, Nanda Maharaja, that, “This Indra Yajna is unnecessary. We don’t need to worship the demigods because the demigods have to do their duty, they are obliged to perform their prescribed activities. It is unnecessary to celebrate this festival for Indra, it would be far better to have a festival for the brahmanas and Govardhana Hill because these are our real worshipable objects.” In this way Krishna made Indra very angry because He stopped Indra’s festival. In retaliation Indra called all the great clouds.
The Christians also know something of the devastation of the universe because in the Bible one partial devastation is described in the story of Noha’s Arc in the Old Testament. It is described there was a huge flood and the whole world was covered by water. It is said that Noha was instructed to construct a great boat. This flood is actually a fact, it happens at certain times that the whole universe is inundated with water and everything is covered.
The cloud which is used to provide such an enormous quantity of water at the time of devastation was called by Indra to pour incessant rain over Vrndavana. He wanted to drown all the inhabitants, he was very angry because he was thinking, “I am very powerful.” Indra is in a very high position in the universal order and he was thinking his authority had been usurped by this little seven year old cowherd boy. “Why are they listening to this little cowherd boy anyway? He’s just a cowherd boy. Why are they taking so much notice of a little cowherd boy calling Himself Krishna?” Indra wanted to show Krishna how powerful he was so he called this cloud which is generally used at the time of the devastation of the universe. The cloud began pouring rain and Krishna could understand it was the work of Indra, firstly Krishna thought, “I will kill Indra,” but then He changed His mind thinking, “Indra is actually My devotee but now because he is a little puffed-up by pride he can’t recognize Me. He knows he is My servant but when He sees Me here in Vrndavana as a young cowherd boy he can’t recognize Me. Therefore I will use My mystic power and in that way defeat Indra.”
So Krishna picked up Govardhana Hill. Govardhana Hill is a large mountain about three miles across and with the little finger of His left hand, just to show how insignificant an effort it was for Him, He picked up this huge mountain and held it up as an umbrella, in this way He protected all the residents of Vrndavana from the torrential rains sent by Indra. All the cows and calves and all the residents of Vrndavana took shelter underneath Govardhana Hill.
Indra became bewildered, he was thinking, “I’m pouring all this rain but Krishna has frustrated my attempts. I wanted to inundate the whole area, I wanted to kill all the residents of Vrndavana but Krishna has made this arrangement, they are all taking shelter underneath Govardhana Hill.”
This is just one of the many pastimes Krishna had while He was in Vrndavana but the point is even the demigods find it difficult to understand Krishna when He appears in the human form. There is a verse in Bhagavad-gita (7.25)
mudho ‘yam nabhijanati
loko mam ajam avyayam
So the fools and rascals can’t understand Krishna when He descends in the human form and they actually deride Him. This is what happened — Indra became so puffed-up that he couldn’t see this cowherd boy called Krishna was his Lord and master. Ultimately, by Krishna’s wonderful activities of lifting up Govardhana Hill, Indra came to understand, “Here is Krishna — how could anyone else perform such wonderful activities?” Indra then surrendered to Krishna, he bowed down at Krishna’s lotus feet. This was an amazing sight to see — the king of heaven Indra bowing down in front of a small cowherd boy. Indra was very opulently dressed, he had a beautiful crown, beautiful jewellery — everything very opulent. Krishna is a cowherd boy, dressed very simply, He’s a young boy, seven years old, He looked more or less like all the other boys, but He was special. Krishna’s beauty is special. Krishna is called Krishna because He has all the attractive qualities in full — that’s actually what Krishna means — He’s the possessor of all the attractive qualities in full. He appears as a human being, but a special human being, He’s specially attractive. So Indra the king of heaven was bowing down in front of a small cowherd boy — it was a very beautiful sight to see.
Vrndavana and Sydney are worlds apart
If we compare the lifestyle of Vrndavana with the lifestyle of Sydney we find a huge difference. The the lifestyle of Vrndavana is simple. Even in Krishna’s time there was Vrndavana, a village, and there was Mathura. Mathura was a big city. Mathura is quite close to Vrndavana and Mathura is the place Krishna was born. Mathura is still there and Vrndavana is still there, but life is simple in Vrndavana.
There is a market place in Vrndavana called Loy Bazaar, it’s a very active market place, you could say business is going on very smoothly and undobutedly there are businessmen. It’s not that in Vedic culture there are no businessmen. Krishna says: (Bhagavad-gita 4.13) catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah, “I have created four different types of men.” These four different types of men exist eternally in every society; there are brhamanas, the intelligent class, there are ksatriyas, the administrative and military class, there are vaisyas, the businessmen and farmers and sudras who are the workers or labourers. This system is everywhere. We don’t like to hear this but in every society these divisions exist and they can’t be negated, the divisions exist eternally.
Today everybody wants a “classless” society but such a society is not possible because these different groups will always be there. So there were always businessmen, even in Krishna’s time they were doing business, and they are still doing business in Loy Bazaar, you won’t find any better businessmen in the West. Generally speaking the Indian businessmen are very expert at doing business but, at least in Vrndavana, they are not making very complicated businesses. They are selling clothes, cooking utensils, practical things — things you actually need. They are also selling all sorts of things used for worshipping Krishna in the temple. So many things are there, they are also selling drinks, sweets and many varieties of food, everything is going on. But basically it is simple, and they are satisfied with their simple business.
They’re not mad to expand. These businessmen in Vrndavana are satisfied, their business is not actually their real business. They are living on the bank of the Yamuna, the most sacred river in the universe. Every morning they get up before dawn and visit many temples to offer their obeisances and prayers to Krishna. By ten or eleven o’clock they start their business then at lunch time they close for lunch and after lunch rest during the hottest part of the day. So then everything is closed. Then at around three o’clock they open their business again and they do business into the evening. Business is going on like this in Vrndavana and they are satisfied with whatever they are doing, they take it as the arrangement of Krishna, whatever they are doing is quite alright. They are happy to live in Vrndavana and whatever is coming their way is by the mercy of Krishna. They just need to make some profit to maintain their families. Some businessmen are doing very well, they are very wealthy, and some businessmen have very small businesses and are quite poor. They more or less accept whatever they have as their lot in life, it’s not that they don’t endeavour to make their business successful, they try to make money, but they accept that behind everything is the hand of the Supreme Lord.
Sydney is different!
We see a different type of business in Sydney. Sydney is very different. No one is satisfied here. You can’t find a single satisfied businessman, they are always disturbed. I have been doing some work now with printing this magazine and I have to deal with many businessmen. They’re not satisfied, they want to expand their business, the people working in one company want to go to work for some other bigger company, nobody is satisfied. Everyone’s mind is disturbed and they want something, they want to go and do something else. They are thinking, “If I was in that other position — then I would be happy. So let me work hard to get to that other position,” but when they get into that position they think, “Oh, I’m not happy after all — so let me work for another position.”
This mentality is cultivated, it’s encouraged by the whole Western capitalistic system. This Western system works by cultivating this dissatisfaction. But in India it is not like this, in Vrndavana people are satisfied, they are living in the land of Krishna, they know, “If I die in Vrndavana I will go directly back to Krishna in the spiritual world.”
One of my friends in Vrndavana is a rickshaw driver called Mahesh. Mahesh is a big businessman, he has the nicest rickshaw in Vrndavana, he specializes in doing business with the Western devotees because they have a lot of money. He is a con-man, a very expert con-man, he provides his rickshaw service but he is very tricky. He makes many arrangements to get extra money from his customers — he provides special services for the devotees, at “special” prices. So he is doing his business in this way, but I visited his house, he has small hut on the bank of the Yamuna River, his wife and family live there. Every morning he gets up early and takes his bath in the Yamuna, then he visits five or six different temples. He lives very close to one very famous temple, the Radha Damodara temple. Then he starts his rickshaw business. He has faith in Krishna, he knows that, “I am here in Vrndavana and I will die here in Vrndavana and then go back to Krishna in the spiritual world.” This is his actual goal in life, this is his real business.
The difference between Mahesh and the busnessmen here in Sydney is quite striking. The difference is the spiritual background. The business activities are similar. Many businessmen are doing business more or less in the same way here as the Vrndavana businessmen, but the background is different. The Sydney businessmen take their business so seriously, it consumes all their energy, it’s their whole life, it’s everything to them — their whole world. Of course it is a means to an end, they are thinking, “This business is giving me money, and with the money I can get sense gratification, and that sense gratification is my life.” So they think the business is their life. But in Vrndavana they know Krishna is their life, the business is just their occupation.
Krishna consciousness is a very practical thing, Krishna doesn’t turn everything upside down, Krishna doesn’t say you should give up your business or you should go and live in the forest. No. Krishna says you should continue with your activities. You should just add Krishna
yaj juhosi dadasi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kurusva mad arpanam
In Vrndavana the businessmen are doing business, but they are worshipping Krishna as well. Their main business, really, is Krishna. Here, in Sydney, we don’t have that spiritual backdrop — so we are not satisfied — and we can never be satisfied unless the spiritual background is there.
The serious determination to take to spiritual life can only come at the point of frustration of our material desires and this world we are living in is designed to simultaneously give us an opportunity to fulfil our material desires, but to frustrate them at the same time. So we find, in the Western world, businessmen are becoming frustrated. It is our responsibility in the Krishna consciousness movement to give those frustrated people the knowledge about what to do after they become frustrated. The defect of our Western culture is that although people are becoming frustrated with material life, they have no alternative to material life. Our society doesn’t provide a spiritual alternative. So people become frustrated and commit suicide — because there is nothing left. If I come to the point where I am totally frustrated with material life there is no alternative in the Western world.
We have a very big job, the job is to provide that alternative, to provide the spiritual alternative so when people are frustrated with material life they can turn to Krishna. This is the business of the Krishna consciousness movement. I humbly beg that you please take this Krishna consciousness movement seriously and help in spreading the knowledge of Krishna to give everybody in the Western world a chance to understand the real purpose of life. Thank you very much. Hare Krishna.