Chakra Discussions

Applying Our Resources to Healing Vrndavana

by Urmila devi dasi

Posted January 18, 2007

Second of two articles
In the first article of this two-part series, Urmila prabhu detailed some of the difficult social problems besetting modern Vrndavana, including widespread maltreatment of cattle, violence towards women and heedless development leading to likely environmental devastation.

Forty years ago, environmentalism was considered outrageous and socially deviant. Science and technology, we were told, would give us happiness and prosperity. Authorities touted the artificial and man-made as superior. But, today even Wal-Mart carries organically produced produce to meet the huge demand. There are also examples, such as abortion and same-sex marriages, where what was once rejected as abominable becomes an acceptable part of a society, often within a decade or so of the initial propaganda.

Widely disseminated stories, along with facts, can very quickly change values. When values change, social pressure mounts for people to adjust their behavior to match the new values. There is then economic pressure for the behavior to be widely adopted and accepted. If strongly entrenched mundane norms and culture can be changed in a decade or two through well-developed and aimed propaganda, why don't we use the same principles?

The first arm of propaganda is through media. Television and movies are everywhere in Vrindavana. A few are about Krishna's lila (not necessarily bona-fide in the content or motive), but most are nonsense inspired by the worst of the west. Suppose, instead, the Brijbasis could watch movies about people like themselves, showing how well they cared for cows and bulls, and how they were rewarded with material and spiritual prosperity. Suppose there were movies about people like themselves who were intelligent and happy, and also followed the regulative principles, and even took care of their trash and waste in a responsible manner. The stories should portray the desired values and behaviors as socially acceptable, with the opposite shown as foolish and inept.

The second way is through children's education. Most of the schools in the Vrindavana area are either virtually useless or are training children in the worst of western values. Children are told that it is best if they leave the village, go to university, become a doctor or lawyer, artificially have few children, live in an environment divorced from the cow, and so forth. Of course, this view of the future is not within the grasp of most Brijbasi children. They end up, as adults, simply resenting their village life.

Suppose, instead, there were stories in their textbooks, and practical classes, on how to care for the land, dispose of waste, live without intoxicants, value pious family life, properly care for cows, use bulls and oxen for working, and so forth. Just imagine a curriculum, based on sastra, which guided the village children to want to stay in the village with respect for each other, the land, and the cows and bulls! Imagine hands-on classes where students properly tended cows and bulls, learned to farm with oxen, and generate electricity from dung. Imagine textbooks that glorified natural life in relation to Krishna. Imagine teachers who love to live in the dhama the way that Prabhupada taught. The local government in the Vrindavana area is already starting to turn over schools to ISKCON, so creating such a system is on the verge of reality, if we grasp it.

Another way of change focuses not on residents, but on visitors. First, there can be a vigorous educational campaign both throughout India (especially in Delhi), and in Gaudiya groups out of India, that helps people to shop responsibly. Signs, videos, and multimedia shows (maybe one could be added to the Delhi temple's exhibition) can emphasize only buying from shops that use ox power, paper bags, and clay or glass cups instead of plastic. Each ISKCON center could periodically show videos or have booklets about how to visit the dhama in ways that serve the environment, cows, and local residents. Since a large number of visitors to Vrindavana come because of ISKCON and/or from Delhi, if we concentrate on our existing temples, we will reach enough of the visitors to create a critical mass. A group could regularly inspect shops and issue a "plastic-free" sign to those that use recycled paper bags instead of plastic. "Ox-friendly" shops can be those that use oxen instead of electricity or petrol to run their machines. We can start certifying milk from cruelty-free goshallas, since most goshallas engage in cow slaughter. Produce produced from ox power instead of tractors can be so labelled. If consumer demand is created for these products, especially if people are willing to pay a very slightly higher price, farmers and shopkeepers will change their behavior. Greed is what is driving the cows and brahmanas out of Vrindavana. We should devise ways to channel the merchants' greed to preserving Vrindavana rather than destroying it.

As Prabhupada explains: "We do not expect that everyone will agree. Everybody will disagree. Just like our book. Say, four, five years ago, nobody knew these books. So there was no market, but we have created our market. That is preaching. We have created our market. Nobody was dying for want of these books. So that is preaching." (Morning Walk -- December 11, 1973, Los Angeles)

In a similar way, an education program could target those wishing to visit or move to the dhama, encouraging them only to live in housing complexes that are connected positively with the cow, the bull, and Brijbasis. Each housing complex should have a goshalla where cows are taken care of according to ISKCON guidelines. Bulls and oxen should be used to care for the grounds. Electricity can be generated from cow dung rather than petrol. There should be cows and bulls physically on the premises rather than only a beautifully manicured garden. Grazing grounds should be connected to the housing projects. In these ways, living compounds for the huge influx of people from outside the dhama could be built, based around cow protection and farming. Brajbasis could then be offered a simple home with adjoining land in exchange for work with the cow and bull on the land. "Cow- and bull-friendly housing" as well as "Brijbasi-friendly housing" can get a certificate, so people can know where to rent or buy. There is a great opportunity now for business-minded devotees to use the greed of these owners and builders as a wedge for service to the dhama. They are attracting people on the basis of the very place they are disrespecting, cutting the throat of the hen that lays the golden egg.

If you have a video camera, know someone who could write a script and others who can act, you could start producing dramas the Brijbasis will watch. Of course, the videos would have to be in Hindi. If you are a retired teacher, you could work with people such as Rupa Raghunatha prabhu to write curriculum that would help the Brijbasis to live in harmony with Krishna's plan and to be happy in such a life. If you have an MBA or business experience (if you also speak Hindi, that is a bonus!), you could create a market for dhama and cow friendly shopping. Among the talents and expertise needed are:

Certainly there are many people connected with ISKCON who have these qualifications. If we do not personally possess these skills or connections, at least we can encourage those who do to work in these areas. But suppose we neither have needed skills nor know anyone who does. Is there anything we can do? Distribution of Prabhupada's books in Vrindavana, both to residents and visitors, is a very powerful tool for change. Anyone can help with book distribution, at least in a small way.

As for daily habits while in the dhama, we can bring cloth shopping bags with us when in Vrindavana and refuse to get anything in plastic bags. Comment to shopkeepers who deal a lot with foreigners and visitors that you would buy more from people who used recycled paper instead of plastic. We can purchase leaf plates without plastic inside. We can buy drinks in glass or clay cups, not plastic. We can make sure that when we throw plastic bags away, there are no food scraps inside. We can give financial support to the programs already in place to educate local residents, to save cows and to help the local environment. These include Rupa Raghunatha dasa of Food for Life, Kurmarupa dasa of Care for Cows, and Sudevi (a German woman who is not an ISKCON member; contact her through Care for Cows) who does a cow and bull rescue program in Radha Kunda. There are also other devotees and programs to serve the dhama with which I am not personally familiar, but which are worthy of investigation. One can enquire from the above persons in this regard.

We can give food to wandering cows and bulls -- and how about brushing them? If we drink milk from a goshalla that sends cows to slaughter, which is most of them, we can pay for the care of cows in their old age. If we buy or rent, we can ask questions about how trash and sewage are dealt with. We can ask how cows, bulls, and local people are part of the housing arrangement. Just asking those questions tells builders and developers that there might be an economic advantage in addressing those concerns.

The most important way we can change values is through our own personal purity through chanting the mahamantra with great care and attention, and begging Srimati Radharani for service to Vrindavana.