Kali yuga is the era of evil. Not only human society degrades to below animal behavior, the nature itself conspires against Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It’s not an exaggeration, it really does.
Usually, we assume that climate changes that come with Kali yuga are just to make our lives uncomfortable – droughts, cold winters, hot summers – those are just minor annoyances in the big scheme of things. We still have enough food to eat and even if our lifespan gets ten times shorter than in previous ages it’s not such a big deal – it means we can return to Kṛṣṇa ten times faster.
However, the nature, as it turns out, has direct influence on the state of varṇāśrama dharma and that means on practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Pure devotees will never be stopped, of course, but we are not those, we are hoi polloi, the great unwashed masses that can’t become Kṛṣṇa conscious on our own. We need to be herded and corralled and dealt with via sweeping policy decisions. External circumstances can make or break our devotion very easily.
On this point – if we are meant to be saved en masse, like through world wide saṇkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya, does it mean our spiritual future should be institutionalized, too?
From the very beginning we are being taught that every living entity has his own (her own?), personal relationships with Kṛṣṇa. Our whole philosophy is based on this personalism, yet when we consider our place in Lord Caitanya’s army we are nothing more but another nameless face in the crowd. Sure, some of us get noticed by name but the very notion of selecting best of the best means there must be many more completely unremarkable devotees as well, or it wouldn’t make sense.
Should we demand equal recognition from the Lord? Not in terms of fame, of course, but in terms of being “special”, I guess. Let’s say there are three billion men on the planet, we can talk about their generic qualities and stereotype them and generally treat them as a whole, yet each one of these faceless, nameless men is “special” to their partners. To achieve that the Lord must provide three billion women. How would it work if we all wanted to be special for the Lord Himself?
We have “cop outs” where Kṛṣṇa appears alongside each devotee and makes him/her think that they are alone but this isn’t a real solution. Personal relationship, at least how it works here, is that one gets special attention ahead of all the others. That won’t work with Kṛṣṇa, not unless He duplicated Himself into six billion forms, which makes Him not so special Himself.
This muddling distraction might be the result of trying to comprehend Godhead with my materially limited mind but to that I’d answer that if I don’t understand this, why should I assume that I really understand other, seemingly rational concepts of Kṛṣṇa consciousness? We use our material minds all the time, why do we cherry pick results only when they make us feel we understand something about Kṛṣṇ?
Let’s leave that for now.
My point today is that nature affects life of the humanity as a whole and that means certain qualities get more prominence and others less. Some of these qualities are conducive to spiritual life while others aren’t, and sometimes we can see this connection clearly.
A few days ago I read a summary of a research article published in the journal Science earlier this year. The researchers set out to explore roots of psychological differences between Westerners and Asians and they found something really amazing, if true.
It turns out that rice based agriculture produces societies perfectly suitable for varṇāśrama while wheat based agriculture breeds demoniac qualities.
By demoniac qualities I mean individualism and selfishness and by varṇāśrama friendly qualities mean collectivism and hierarchy. Individualism, as we can see from modern civilization, leads to atheistic democracy while collectivism and deference to authorities is a feature of varṇāśrama pyramid of power.
How does wheat and rice fit in all this?
Usually, the well documented differences between East and West are explained through modernization, assuming that individualism and accompanied analytic thinking is a natural result of human progress. Why does analytic thinking is part of all that? Because the opposite of it in this context is holistic thinking. In western logic if A is true then non-A is false. In Eastern logic both A and non-A can be accommodated simultaneously.
An example of this is a simple experiment – people are asked to group two out of three objects. Let’s say they are carrot, rabbit, and dog. Analytical thinkers would choose rabbit and dog because they are animals and carrot is the odd one out. Holistic thinkers would choose rabbit and carrot because this way rabbit will have something to eat rather being thrown to the wolves for the sake of logic.
Essential part of this holistic thinking is the need to forgive and overlook minor transgressions for the sake of the whole society. As the article says, in Asian soceities friends are not being punished for cheating, for example – it’s more important to have friends than to be right.
To the western mind it gives rise to corruption and nepotism, two big enemies of progress and democracy, and so it’s assumed that Eastern way of life will naturally die out, that Asians haven’t evolved yet to the Western levels.
Authors of this study, however, demonstrate that individualism or collectivism naturally follow from agriculture, and they show it by studying quantifiable differences between Asians themselves.
Cultivating rice is a communal effort, even if land plots are in individual possession successfully growing rice requires the whole village to coordinate their work. Paddy rice needs a lot of water and so irrigation structure must be maintained by everybody for the sake of all. Planting and harvesting rice also requires a lot of manpower applied in short periods of time so quite often villagers work on each other’s fields in turns and form a queue to plant rice on individual plots so that it doesn’t need to be harvested at the same time, too.
We can easily see how this collective work lends itself to varṇāśrama structure of sharing power.
Wheat, otoh, can be grown by families without any outside help. Wheat relies on rain, not on irrigation, and it requires half the work needed for growing rice. Consequently, wheat growers do not have a strong communal sense and do not feel the obligation to accept anyone’s authority but their own.
In China, northern provinces grow wheat and southern provinces grow rice, and researches found strong enough correlation between wheat and individualism, and even the number of patent application (a measure of “progress”), to declare that “Western” thinking is more influenced by agriculture than by anything else. They point to well developed countries like Japan and South Korea that, despite all their progress, remain very communal and “Asian” in their thinking. These countries do not grow wheat at all. And the West doesn’t grow rice, it’s not the right climate.
One thing they didn’t discuss about wheat is that it encourages laziness disguised as progress. Wheat doesn’t take much work to grow and so, I think, this makes people enjoy and appreciate their free time, which leads to trying to increase productivity and invent things so that they have even less work – that’s what we call progress.
Growing rice makes people appreciate work instead of leisure. It makes people value interpersonal relations more than their own free time, it makes people value work done together with others. They are not looking for innovations to ease their burden, they are perfectly content with what they already have – more goodness, less passion. For them, idle hands is devil’s playground.
I wish there was a similar study on cow based agriculture or at least on variations within India. We know that even in Lord Caitanya’s time rice was the staple food in Bengal but not so much in northern India, not Vṛndāvana. Did it make any difference? I don’t want to speculate.
Did they even grow rice in Kṛṣṇa’s time? I don’t remember anything about it from our Kṛṣṇa book. It was mentioned in the description of Govardhana feast and that’s it, nothing about growing it as their staple food. When Mādhavendra Purī establised the temple of Govinda at Govardhana in Lord Caitanya’s time rice was featured very prominently in that festival but generally, Bengali devotees were not used to Mathura diet – not enough rice and too much wheat.
Whatever they did in Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana then, we can grow rice now regardless. Of course that would require setting up farms in a suitable climate, and this means that all our Western devotees remain hostages of their geography, as I discussed yesterday and wanted to demonstrate today.