Chakra Discussions

Gandhi And Prabhupada And Swadeshi

by Hare Krsna dasi

Posted September 14, 2006

In 1920 a young man who had just completed his studies in philosophy and economics at Scottish Churches College came home to his father, a pious cloth merchant in Calcutta. The young man was wearing home-spun khadi cloth. His name was Abhay Charan, and the khadi cloth he wore signified that he was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Eventually, the young man's spiritual hunger took him to the shelter of a revolutionary spiritual leader named Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, and he became convinced that direct service to Lord Sri Krsna had to take precedence over any plans for nationalism. And, eventually, that young man became A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the world's foremost proponent of Krsna consciousness in the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, even though he came to realize that nationalism could never bring satisfaction as the goal of life, he continued to value Gandhi's concepts of simple living and high thinking as ideals that could be valuable in creating the kind of spiritual society, dedicated to the service of the Supreme Lord, that he envisioned. Srila Prabhupada was particularly interested in Gandhi's idea of Swadeshi or "localized economics" as Prabhupada termed it, as a means of reducing humanity's materialistic fever.

Now, on the 100th anniversary of Gandhi's peace movement, it is instructive to compare and contrast the ideas of Srila Prabhupada and Mahatma Gandhi, and see how they point the way to peace.


GANDHI: Industrialism is, I am afraid, going to be a curse for mankind. Industrialism depends entirely on your capacity to exploit, on foreign markets being open to you, and on the absence of competitors. (Village Swaraj, p. 11)

PRABHUPADA: Manufacture of the "necessities of life" in factories and workshops, excessively prominent in the age of Kali, or in the age of the machine, is the summit stage of the quality of darkness. Such manufacturing enterprises by human society are in the mode of darkness because factually there is no necessity for the commodities manufactured...

Increasing the artificial needs, as is the standard of material civilization, or advancing the economic development of human society, is a sort of engagement in darkness, without knowledge. By such engagement, human energy is spoiled, because human energy is primarily meant for purifying the senses in order to engage them in satisfying the senses of the Supreme Lord.

(Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 2: Chapter Five, Text 30: PURPORT)


GANDHI: What I object to, is the craze for machinery -- not machinery as such -- but the craze for what they call labor-saving machinery. Men go on "saving labor" till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation...Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the back of millions. The impetus behind it all is not philanthropy to save labour, but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might. (VS p.18)

Whatever the machine age may do, it will never give employment to the millions whom the wholesale introduction of power machinery must displace. (VS p. 155)

PRABHUPADA: We are not against machines. You can utilize machines. But we should not use machines and allow others to be unemployed. You can use machines, that's alright, but not at the risk of keeping others unemployed. The first consideration is that everyone should be employed. If you have got many men, why should you engage machines?

These rascals, they do not know. They're taking to machines and making so many men unemployed. And the welfare department is paying them. They do not know how to organize society. Therefore hippies are coming out. Crime, criminals are coming out. (Room Conversation: New Orleans, 1 August 1975)

Machines mean unemployment for the many. The tractor they're using means unemployment for bulls and plowmen. Then the bulls must be killed. This is going on. Unemployment, then kill them. Send all the men to fight in Vietnam and kill them. As soon as there is overpopulation of unemployed, they declare war so that people may be killed. (Morning Walk: Mayapur, 12 February 1976)


GANDHI: Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry, I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me. What belongs to me is the right to an honorable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. (VS p. 51)

PRABHUPADA: Sri Isopanisad enjoins "Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One must therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one must not accept other things, knowing well to Whom they belong."
Consequently all living entities, beginning from Brahma, the highest demigod, down to the lowest ant, have the right to use natural resources. Narada Muni points out that we can use these resources as much as we require, but if we take more than required, we become thieves. (Raja Vidya: Chapter Seven)


GANDHI: Real socialism has been handed down to us by our ancestors who taught: "All land belongs to Gopal, where then is the boundary line? Man is the maker of that line and he can therefore unmake it." Gopal literally means cowherd; it also means God. (VS p.103)

PRABHUPADA: Communists and socialists are trying to propagate the philosophy that everything belongs to the mass of people or to the state. Such an idea is not perfect. When this idea is expanded, we can see that everything belongs to God. That will be the perfection of the communistic idea...Every one of us must be satisfied with those things the Supreme Personality of Godhead has allotted us. We should not encroach upon the possessions of others. This simple idea can be expanded in our daily lives. (Madhya lila: Chapter Twenty five, Text 101: PURPORT)


GANDHI: If we follow the Swadeshi doctrine, it would be your duty and mine to find out neighbors who can supply our wants and to teach them to supply where they do not know how to proceed, assuming that there are neighbors who are in want of healthy occupation. Then every village of India will almost be a self-supporting and self-contained unit, exchanging only such necessary commodities with other villages as are not locally producible. (VS p. 59)

PRABHUPADA: Nobody should take to very hardship labor. The modern civilization has discovered severe types of dangerous industries, and laborers are attracted for high wages. But they should not accept such work. Then naturally there will be less capitalistic idea. Because the laborer cooperates, therefore demoniac persons they take advantage and make unnecessarily increase of artificial demands of the body.

Better one should be satisfied with agricultural produce than go into large cities to be engaged in industry. Peaceful life depending on agricultural produce can bring him real happiness and prosperity, not otherwise. The more persons will be satisfied at their home, with home economics, not to go outside the home, that is peaceful life.

In India, Mahatma Gandhi tried to organize villages in that way so that not to drag the people to the town. So peaceful atmosphere can be attained only when there is large scale village organization, actual village life. Not to borrow the ideas from the cities in the village life; poet Cooper said that country is made by God, and the cities and towns are made by man. So that is the distinction...

If people cooperate with this Krishna consciousness movement, certainly a better type of civilization can be introduced for permanent peace and prosperity of the whole world. (Letter to Rayarama: Seattle, 17 October 1968)

Guest: How can we solve the problems of India like poverty and lack of balance between rich and poor?
Prabhupada: That Gandhi wanted to solve, but you rejected. Gandhi wanted village organization. He started Wardha asrama. You have rejected. What can Gandhi do? That was a good proposal, to remain satisfied in one's own place. That was Gandhi's proposal, "Don't go to the city for so called better advantage of life. Remain in your own home, produce your food, and be satisfied there." That was Gandhi's policy. The economic problem he wanted to solve by keeping cows, by agriculture, by spinning thread. You want food, shelter and cloth. Produce here and remain here. Don't be allured by the capitalists and go to cities to be engaged in industry. But Jawaharlal Nehru wanted overnight to Americanize the whole of India. That is the folly. (Room Conversation London, 11 July 1973)


PRABHUPADA: I have seen, Gandhi wanted to organize a program for the village...but because they had no engagement, why should they remain in the village? There are so many attractions in the city. The factory wallas are inviting, "Come here. You shall get twenty rupees per day." Why should they remain in the village?

So organize the villages so they are interested in chanting Hare Krsna mantra and getting nice prasadam. One must have some spiritual attachment. In the city there are so many artificial attachments. So on what ground will they remain in the village? Unless you can give some spiritual attachment, there is no possibility of success. Gandhi's program was very nice, organize so that they may not come to the city and help the capitalists. Remain satisfied in the village. But where is that satisfaction? That is the failure. (Room Conversation: Vrindaban, 12 September 1976)


GANDHI: The public should be educated to become self-reliant. Once they know that they have got to stand on their own legs, it would electrify the atmosphere. (VS p. 63)

PRABHUPADA: Every man should produce his own food. That is Vedic culture. You get a piece of land and produce your family's foodstuff. (Prabhupada's Lectures: Bhagavad gita 13:35 -- Geneva, 6 June 1974)


GANDHI: In cattle farming the individual effort has led to selfishness and inhumanity, whereas the collective effort can abate both the evils, if it does not remove them altogether...The system of co-operation is far more necessary for the agriculturalists. The land belongs to the State; therefore, it yields the largest return when it is worked cooperatively. (VS p. 107)
PRABHUPADA: Everyone should have a piece of land given by the government, and everyone should possess a few cows. Both of these should be utilized for one's daily bread. Above that, if something is manufactured in a factory, it should be considered the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead because the ingredients belong to the Supreme Lord. Actually, there is no need to manufacture such things artificially, but if it is done, one should consider that the goods produced belong to the Supreme Lord. Spiritual communism recognizes the supreme proprietorship of the Supreme Lord. (Madhya lila: Chapter Twenty five, Text 101: PURPORT)

Syamasundara: He [communist leader] believes that whatever is produced, all should be given. Everything.
Prabhupada: Why all should be given? That means he's killed my independence.

Syamasundara: There should be no proprietorship. There should be no private property.
Prabhupada: No, proprietor should be allotted proprietor. The king or the government gives me this land. So that is my proprietorship. Just like I have taken this house. My proprietorship is under a higher proprietorship

Syamasundara: Even the farms in China are collective. The people work together, cooperate to produce such and such products. They give the whole product to the state. In return, they receive their lodging, their clothes. Prabhupada: But that will never give them satisfaction. That is artificial. Syamasundara: He believes that proprietorship leads to exploitation and misery for others.
Prabhupada: Misery for others? You have got proprietorship, I have got proprietorship. How are you deprived? Because government has given me some land, it does not mean that a fellow subject, my brother, should not be given land. As I have got, he has got. Therefore our Upanisad says, tena tyaktena bhunjitha. "Whatever is given to you by God, be satisfied." That is Vedic system.

(Philosophy Discussions with Syamasundara dasa: Mao Zedong)


GANDHI: We have been asked whether District Boards can invest in motor vans for propaganda work of various kinds in villages...What happens if, in the place of the motor van, the much-despised bullock cart were used? ...It can reach the most remote villages which a motor lorry cannot do. It costs only a fraction of the money required for a van, so that many bullock carts can be bought, if necessary...The money spent on them goes to the village carpenter, blacksmith and cart driver. Not a paise of it need go out of the district. The cart itself may be made an exhibit, if it is scientifically constructed with disked wheels, proper steel bearings, and axles with well placed and designed hubs, spokes and felloes. The expenditure on equipment consequently instead of draining wealth out of the village will direct it into it. (VS p. 176)

PRABHUPADA LETTER: Bulls can be engaged in plowing and transporting. Nice bullock carts can go village to village for preaching. Make the farm the center and go ten miles this side, ten miles that side, ten miles this side, etc., with four bullock carts. Sell books and preach and live peacefully on the farm. People used to engage the bull for this purpose. So there was no problem how to utilize them. First of all this artificial way should be stopped, and the bulls should be engaged in plowing and transporting, and smashing the grains. To avoid machinery, petrol, machine oil, by nature's way. (Letter to Balavanta: Bombay, 3 January 1977)


PRABHUPADA: Mahatma Gandhi was actually a great personality. There is no doubt about it. So far as Bhagavad gita is concerned, he did not know anything. But from his behavior, we can see that at heart he was a devotee. Yes, at heart he was a devotee, because he was chanting... (Room Conversation Stockholm, 5 September 1973)

Because he was chanting raghupati raghava raja rama, that has produced its effect...He did not know anything about Rama, but the name Rama is so powerful that it was effective. Gandhi may not know the purpose of Bhagavad gita, but as he chanted "Rama," that has been effective. (Room Conversation London, 2 September 1973)

All Gandhi quotes are from Village Swaraj, compiled by H.M. Vyas (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House) 1962.