Vanity thought #1092. Of mice and rice

It turns out that I’ve touched on some very big topics in the past couple of days and so there are some loose ends left.

Rice, for example, is a kind of mystery – when did Indians start to cultivate it? Was there a time when it wasn’t grown? What do Vedas say?

Official version by modern science is that rice was first domesticated in China long before Kṛṣṇa’s appearance, ie long before Kali Yuga started. What can we say about it? That we don’t trust this kind of “scientific” information? Okay, but then we should justify our rejection, we can’t just say that science uses imperfect methods, this argument only opens the door for the possibility of science being wrong, we need to demonstrate how exactly it could have gone wrong in each particular case.

Science might reject authority of the Vedas but when it predicts precipitation and then it rains, it apparently works, so there must be something going for it, too. Sometimes it obviously doesn’t work but usually we can easily find faulty links in the chain – not enough data, not enough processing power, limits of the currently held theory, perfectly acceptable margins of error etc.

What can we say about rice?

I can think of two-three approaches here – we don’t know how reliable samples used in genetic studies that put birth of rice in China are. Do we have enough of them? Is it possible that one random discovery can overturn this theory completely? What are the chances of discovering strains of rice grown many thousand years ago? Or rather – what are the chances of these strains being preserved when we don’t have enough evidence for much large events, like the battle of Kurukṣetra?

Another line of questioning is that rice alternatives, wheat and barley, are believed to be first cultivated much later than rice and in areas that are traditionally believed to be cradles of western civilization – between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Generally, we argue that those ancient civilizations were offshoots of Vedic culture. We do not accept that Vedic culture started after Indus Valley civilization was overrun by Aryans. If we can defend that proposition we can dismiss wheat and barley as original “Vedic” food and claim that it has always been rice.

Koreans have done their own research in rice origins and, surprise surprise, discovered that it was their ancestors who first cultivated rice, long before the Chinese. Well, it wasn’t much of a research, they simply found very old grains of rice, genetics be damned. Scientific world reaction was predictable and these findings were dismissed and written off as nationalistic propaganda.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the oldest rice was found in Korea, maybe Koreans were wrong. Who knows? Once there is evidence that doesn’t fit into the prevailing theory the issue becomes political, not scientific. If North Koreans find even older rice no one would even listen to them, scientific method doesn’t do well when politics are involved.

Current, genetics based dating of rice is also very very vogue – domestication happened between 8,200 and 13,500 years ago. That is a very big range, bigger than the number of years passed since Kṛṣṇa’s appearance. A lot of stuff can happen in 5,300 years, it’s enough time for our modern world to evolve practically from nothing. What were Aryans eating before then?

This goes so far back in time that we can afford to be very skeptical about any claims made by science there. They can say there were no Aryans yet, for example. We can say that there were so few of them and they were so advanced that they didn’t leave enough evidence. We just need to remember that “advanced” means different things for us and for scientists.

This goes back to the origin of civilization question I mentioned earlier. If we can deal with that, we can deal with rice.

Indian scholars also question the allegation that rice was not mentioned in the earliest Ṛg Veda. Traditionally it’s thought that Ṛg Veda only talks about barley but Sanskrit scholars challenge that view and insist that rice was the staple food then and it was used for sacrifices ahead of barley, which was in the “and other grains” category.

One such article I read argued that rice was called dhana in the Vedas. Usually, it’s translated as wealth (na dhanaṁ na janaṁ na sundarīṁ kavitāṁ) but Sanskrit is a tricky language that way – it does not just label things, it describes their purpose and function so rice could have been a word for wealth in that society just like gold has become a symbol of wealth later or money is a word for wealth now.

Anyway, the point behind this is that rice based agriculture suits varṇāśrama perfectly while growing wheat leads to development of demoniac qualities, as I argued yesterday. Today I just want to say that Vedic culture could have always been rice based. I’m not touching on importance of cows yet, that’s a whole different topic.

Another point that came up yesterday was that we might not have as personal relationships with Kṛṣṇa as we first imagine we would from our books.

Just think of it – there’s one Kṛṣṇa, there’s one Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, one Mother Yaśodā, and that’s it. Occasionally Kṛṣṇa invites other girls to join rasa dance but, generally, He doesn’t spend much time with anyone but Śrī Rādhikā. He just doesn’t have time.

Well, this argument assumes that life in the spiritual world has the same limitations as life down here, that Kṛṣṇa does things in sequence there and so if He is with someone He cannot be in at another place at the same time. However, spiritual reality, as we’ve been told, is that rasa dance is a never ending pastime, for example. One does not have to wait to engage in it, it happens as soon as Kṛṣṇa and His devotees want it.

Still, daily life in Vṛndāvana as we saw it does not allow many opportunities for everyone to have Kṛṣṇa’s attention all the time. Same is true for Lord Caitanya’s pastimes, too.

We have writings of the Six Gosvāmīs that might tell us differently but I can raise what I think a very reasonable argument here – Gosvāmīs were describing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes from the point of view of His most confidential servants. I have no doubt that it looks exactly as they say but only in their small circle but it doesn’t mean our experience would be exactly the same.

Think of any famous person – they always look differently to those who are close to them while outsiders mostly deal with their public persona. Why should it be different with us? We aren’t Kṛṣṇa’s confidantes, we aren’t confidantes of His closest servants either. We are nameless faces in the crowd. We are mice.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though – we do want to be servants of the servants of the servants, after all. We value this position higher than trying to get closer to Kṛṣṇa than He wants us to be. We know that our masters please Him better than us so we can increase His pleasure much more by serving others. This is our whole Gauḍīyā mentality – we prefer to be mice if that gives Kṛṣṇa more time with those who really matter to Him.

This position isn’t inferior even from the standpoint of rasa – we don’t need to be directly engaged in service to experience it. Think of some male celebrity and thousands if not millions of his female fans. Justin Bieber, perhaps? All those girls long for his association but I’m pretty sure they would loathe him if they actually get to know him up close. For their rasa, it tastes better from a distance. Why can’t it work with us and Kṛṣṇa?

I mean we ARE being prepped for serving Him from relatively far away, it’s the ideal for rūpanugas. Even if we happen to prefer some other rasas the principle still holds.

When it comes to serving Kṛṣṇa – mice is nice.

Vanity thought #1091. Evil wheed

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.