“Lessons in Spiritual Economics from the Bhagavad-gita –
Part 1 Understanding and Solving the Economic Problem”
by Dhanesvara Das
This is not your typical book on economics. Those expecting to find the usual economic jargon such as hedge funds, derivatives, exchange rates, balance of trade, deficit spending, monetary policy, and so on, may be disappointed. But perhaps not. Instead of working with these typically dry and often sterile ideas I approach economics in a way that is more realistic and more alive than these concepts can ever hope to be. I approach economics on the basis of consciousness and relationships based on that consciousness: relationships between people, between people and the earth along with all of her other inhabitants, and between people and God. These are the things that are the most real to us and that give meaning to our lives. The manner in which we handle our economic affairs, which is what most economists concern themselves with, is but a reflection of our consciousness and of the way we see or understand life and our place in it. In that sense economics is the most visible demonstration of our ideas of life. If we desire to change the manner in which we handle our economics we must first understand the conceptions of life underlying our economic behaviors; making changes there and living accordingly, will automatically adjust our economics.
While our economic behaviors do reflect a particular way of life, they may not be, and in many or even most cases are not, the ways in which people think about the world. At first glance that may seem to be a contradictory statement based on what I’ve said above, but it is not. I present it in that way for the purpose of calling to attention the fact that in our modern world we no longer live according to a specific philosophy of life. Instead we live according to an economic method, or more specifically, a monetary method, while at the same time professing to believe in quite different ideas than are reflected in our economic behavior. Our ways of thinking about the world and our behavior in the world have become dissociated by our economic system. Hardly anyone notices this fact to say nothing about understanding the consequences. Moreover the outcome of such dissociation is significant both in our personal lives and in society as a whole. These differences between thought and action and their attendant consequences will be examined throughout the pages of this book.
My approach to economics is even further removed from typical economic discussions in that I examine economic behavior from a spiritual perspective. All living things in this world are first and foremost spiritual beings and the suit of material energy that they wear has a very specific influence on their consciousness, meaning their perceptions, thinking and behavior. Those influences and behaviors are very visibly displayed in their economic dealings, all of which will be thoroughly explained by reference to the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.
The basis for my analysis is the Gaudiya Vaishnava spiritual tradition as popularized worldwide through the books of my spiritual master and eternal guide His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada). He was the founder and acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known worldwide as The Hare Krishna Movement. Far from being a newly created religion as some people think, this spiritual tradition reaches back into antiquity more than five thousand years. It is founded on the eternal knowledge revealed to human kind in the Vedas. The Vedas are a vast body of work, requiring a life of study to master. While in earlier times people had sufficient capacity and time for this, modern man most certainly does not. We should not despair however since the most essential and indeed the most elevated elements of the spiritual science are brought to us in four essential works: the Sri Isopanisad, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita. The introduction of the spiritual science begins with the Isopanisad and Bhagavad-gita and is continued in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The title Bhagavad-gita translates as “The Song of God.” The speaker of the Gita is Lord Krishna, who is accepted in the Vedic tradition as the Supreme Lord. If we do not accept Krishna as God then the Bhagavad-gita makes no sense. The Vedas acknowledge that there can only be one God, although He is known in different ways to different people. We cannot say that Krishna is a “Hindu God” any more than we can say that the sun while over Germany is a “German sun” and while over America is an “American sun.” The sun cannot be so designated and neither can God. If this concept is challenging, the reader may substitute whatever name of God he prefers while reading the text and the meaning will not be disturbed. Or the reader may temporarily put aside such differences and return to his own preferences after having read the book.
Srimad-Bhagavatam translates as “The Beautiful Story of the Personality of Godhead.” Its subject matter is bhagavat-tattva vijnana, or the science of God, which is considered in minute detail in the 54 volumes of this great work. The Chaitanya-charitamrta brings this science to its summit with the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the greatest and most munificent avatar of the fifteenth century.
In his books Srila Prabhupada followed the ancient spiritual tradition of elucidating each individual verse with a commentary. In these commentaries he wove the threads of the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism into a complete philosophical tapestry that beautifully displays a succinct understanding of reality, both material and spiritual. This includes our relationship with God and all of His varieties of energies that are manifest in this phenomenal world in the form of plants, animals, the physical elements, the cosmos, and all other phenomena that lie beyond our imperious gaze of inspection. In this way Srila Prabhupada presented an entirely new worldview, or spiritual paradigm, before his readers. This is a worldview that at once satisfies the intellect as well as the heart. It explains the mysteries of life and creates a singularly unique perspective from which to see the world. This vantage point, unavailable to mankind from other philosophical and religious traditions, permits one to penetrate the labyrinth of confusion that so perplexes today’s society, providing insights into solutions for modern problems.
The usefulness of such a spiritual science in dealing with the issues of the modern day has been elaborately described by Sri R. Subramaniam, the Deputy Director of Research in the Lok Sabha, the Secretariat of India’s National Parliament. Writing in appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of the Srimad-Bhagavatam he says:
A strange feature of the modern world is that in spite of vast advances in science and technology and the establishment of a good number of institutions for human welfare, mankind has not found true peace and happiness. Knowledge of material sciences and arts has increased tremendously in recent times, and millions of volumes on each fill the libraries the world over. People and leaders in every country are generally well versed in these arts and sciences, but despite their efforts human society everywhere continues to be in turmoil and distress. The reason is not far to seek. It is that they have not learned the science of God, the most fundamental of every other art and science, and fail to apply it to the facts of life. The need is, therefore, to know and live this science if mankind is not only to survive but flower into a glorious existence. To teach this science of God to people everywhere and to aid them in their progress and development towards the real goal of life, Srimad-Bhagavatam is most eminently fitted. In fact, this great ancient work of Vyasadeva will fill this need of the modern times, for it is a cultural presentation for the re-spiritualization of the entire human society.
This book, Spiritual Economics, is presented as a tool by which to learn how to practically live the science of God. The practice of spiritual economics is the practice of bhakti yoga, which should not be confused as idle meditation with little practical value. As the reader will see, it is a most practical book for solving the problems of life, which are so numerous in today’s modern world. It deals with consciousness, the foundation of all human behavior, and it is written for those who are concerned with both the social and economic issues of the day, which include as a subset most of the ecological problems we now face.
I have assumed that the reader is unfamiliar with the Vedic literatures on which this book is based and have therefore taken care to explain the fundamental concepts in some detail; and hopefully in a manner that will also be refreshing for those with previous acquaintance. Since the Isopanisad and the Bhagavad-gita introduce a worldview that is vastly different from that of the current dominant culture, the complete significance of this work may not be fully and immediately apparent to those who are new to the spiritual science. The reader should not assume that a foundation of thought from other religious traditions such as Judeo-Christian, Buddhist or the so-called New Age, will adequately prepare one for this work. The differences between these worldviews requires study and time to assimilate, after which one will be better equipped to draw conclusions. I recommend that the reader thoroughly study the Bhagavad-gita As It Is by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, on which this work is based.
Although this work focuses on economics and introduces a completely new economic theory based upon the principles of consciousness, it is not written for economists. Neither do I anticipate that many economists will find it very meaningful. Some may find it mildly interesting from a theoretical or philosophical perspective, but I have no doubts that most will dismiss it as idyllic sentimentalism of no practical value in the real world. Their world after all, is the “real” one (to their way of thinking at least), the one that deals with the immediacy of the hard facts of life. They may also dismiss this effort for not being sufficiently scholarly. They would be right. I am not credentialed in the field; I have often been forced to use secondary rather than primary sources; and my treatment of many of the issues is not exhaustive from a historical perspective. This book is intended for the layman who is seeking solutions that professional economists do not provide to the existential, economic and environmental problems arising from the current economic paradigm. It is also written for the average person who sees nothing but a dead-end at his job and wonders what his future will be, as well as those who may no longer have a job and simply struggle to survive.
There is one inescapable fact that must not go unnoticed: despite all the posturing and fancy theories, the economic profession as a whole has not solved the problem of providing for the most basic needs of humanity—food, clothing and shelter. Indeed, by the application of their collective efforts things continue to get worse with each passing year. It is a hidden irony that while most professionals work to serve others who are in need, professional economists do not. Carpenters build houses for people who need a place to live, doctors care for those who are ill, cooks whip up delicious meals for the hungry, and mechanics fix the cars of those who don’t know a carburetor from a radiator. But do economists ply their trade for those who are in need? To relieve the plight of those who don’t have enough money? Hardly it seems. Although the work may sometimes go on in that name, we find exactly the opposite result.
The reason for this is that economists work to preserve the status quo for people who have more money than they can reasonably use and who hire them. Somehow these employers are only interested in increasing their wealth unlimitedly at any-and-everyone else’s expense. One must suspect that is the objective because that certainly is the result. I do not fault those in the economics profession personally, however, because they, like the rest of us, require a job and financial support. They simply do what they are paid to do. If they dare to think for themselves or apply discerning intelligence to their work by questioning the workings of their own craft, they may suddenly find themselves unemployed, like Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist for the World Bank. He had the audacity to speak the truth to outsiders on various occasions, pointing out that the policies of that leviathan were severely damaging everybody they were purportedly trying to help.
One doesn’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Neither does one need the stature of a chief economist to understand the results of economic forces in his own life. In dozens of books and all over the internet one can find a solid explanation of the facts by many amateur and credentialed economic analysts who can clearly understand the situation as it is. A few honest professionals have also come clean on this point and have clearly stated that today’s economic methods are actually intended to take from the poor and give to the rich. One such maverick economist, E. F. Schumacher, has taken his profession to task, writing: “The conventional wisdom of what is now taught as economics by-passes the poor, the very people for whom development is really needed…An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods…If it [economics] cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start fresh. Are there not indeed enough ‘signs of the times’ to indicate that a new start is needed?”1 Indeed there are. We offer this book as one such fresh start, a new system of thought that is based on attention, not just to people and their needs on this earth, but to the entirety of all living beings, serving both their spiritual, as well as their material needs.
To give of oneself in the spirit of devotion is an important principle in spiritual life. We actually receive more in giving than the person receiving. Giving of ourselves means giving to ourselves. I consider this book as an “assignment,” the information being given to me for the purpose of teaching it to others. Since Spiritual Economics encourages a gift economy based on devotional service I am making this book available, as far as possible, for free from my websites. In the gift economy everyone offers their services to others without consideration of immediate exchange or direct reciprocation. However, if you feel you have been blessed by what you read here you may want to participate in the gift economy by offering a gift to another person in the mood of “paying it forward.” It can, but does not have to be money, and may be your time or expertise in the service of others. If you do pay forward we would be happy to hear the story so that we may use it to encourage the circle of gifting.
Now that this philosophy of spiritual economics has been put into writing it has become my task to demonstrate the practicality of the idea of a spiritual economy that functions on the basis of love (this idea will be more clear after reading volume 2 of this work, “Creating a Culture of Satisfaction to Heal the World”). I am sometimes challenged as a dreamer whose ideas are utopian. Indeed, these ideas are utopian. I will remind the reader that utopian does not mean impossible. It means to live an ideal. And why not have an ideal society when the means to achieve it are right before us? Is there any benefit to be had in creating yet another mundane community based on illusory conceptions of life? For my part I am convinced that the message of the Bhagavad-gita is the most practical way to live and through this book I invite as many as possible to join me in creating and living this utopia. The world is in great need of an ideal to show the way out of the hopeless mire of modern economics and the infinite problems it creates. The way to do that is to simply live a life of love according to the instructions of Sri Krishna and the philosophy He presents in the Bhagavad-gita. Our efforts to do so take place at our Gitagrad communities, where we are practicing the economics of love, spiritual economics. (Information about our Gitagrad communities is offered in Appendix B). It is my hope that upon reading this book you will be encouraged to join in re-spiritualizing the world by bringing dharma into your life, particularly the practice of the yuga-dharma, and do your part to establish transcendental communities that lead the way out of the economics of ignorance.
Conventions Used in this Book
I often give emphasis to selected sections of quotes. If the emphasis is contained in the original quote I will note it as such. Otherwise all emphasis should be understood to be mine.
For brevity I have used a convention with citations to the main references of this work: the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Citations of only two parts, i.e., (2.4) refer to chapter and verse of the Bhagavad-gita specifically. Citations of three parts, i.e., (7.1.14) refer to canto, chapter and verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Other citations include the book title.
Many people have helped bring this book into print and I would like to recognize their contributions. First I would like to thank His Holiness Niranjana Swami who invited me to Ukraine and gave his support for my efforts there. This provided the opportunity to speak frequently to receptive audiences, which provided important support and encouragement for this work. Next I would like to thank my interpreters Jaya Mangala Das, Bhakta Maksim Artemenko and Paritosani Citra Devi Dasi, without whose selfless help I could have done nothing in Ukraine. Thanks to: Samba Das, for his editing work, and also Vijitatma Das, Veda Priya Devi Dasi, and Bhaktin Lida for their translation of the Russian edition; and to Niranjana Swami and Bhakta Oleg of Mykolaiv who provided support for my writing. I am very grateful to all of the Krishna devotees throughout Ukraine for their love and support. I am grateful to Chaitanya Chandra Charan Das (Russia) and Chaitanya Chandra Das (India) for reviewing the book, and to Bhakta Nelas of Lithuania for the cover design. And finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to my godbrothers and dear friends Prabhupada Das (Paul Rattray), Sri Nandanandana Das (Stephen Knapp), and Madan Mohan Das (Mark Birenbaum) for their friendship and very helpful, personal support and encouragement during the development of the concepts of spiritual economics.
I must explicitly state that the contents of this work are not to be construed in any way as the official position of ISKCON. I alone am responsible for the content.
Gaura Purnima Day, 14 March 2006 (Month of Vishnu, 519 Gaurabda era)