Chakra Living

Using a Thorn to Remove a Thorn

by Madhava Gosh

Posted October 22, 2009

In a recent article on someone writing under the pseudonym of "Tattva das" asked "New Vrindaban and Gas Drilling: High Thinking or Not?" My answer is that it could and should be.

First "Tattva das" attempts to compare gas drilling to the so-called "scamkirtan" that many sincere devotees naïvely worked at during the building stage of New Vrindaban. One key difference is that "scamkirtan" was organized as an illegal activity. Receiving signing bonuses and royalties from natural gas production is not illegal. While this differentiation may not be important to "Tattva das", to the rest of the world and many devotees it is. On this basis alone the two activities cannot be compared.

"Tattva das" seems to think that it is the drilling for gas that would make New Vrindaban an industrial area. If only it were that simple. The sad fact is that New Vrindaban is already an industrial area. What does Srila Prabhupada counterpose to the idea of an industrial area?

"My idea of developing New Vrindavan is to create an atmosphere of spiritual life where people in a bona fide order of social division — namely brahmacaris, grhasthas, vanaprasthas, sannyasis, or specifically brahmacharis, sannyasis and vanaprasthas — will live there independently on agricultural produce and milk from the cows."

From this it seems clear to me that what makes New Vrindaban an industrial area is not gas drilling, but living on food that is not produced in New Vrindaban or even locally grown — food that is grown with fertilizer derived from oil (nitrogen fertilizers), hauled across great distances by trucks and planes fueled by oil, stored in coolers powered by electricity generated from coal, and cooked on propane.

If you don't know the name of the person who grew your food, you are living in an industrial atmosphere. That is currently the situation in New Vrindaban. What will it take to move from this situation to local food production?

"Every endeavor requires land, capital, organization and labor. Just as in business one requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor and some organization to expand, so the same is required in the service of Krsna." — Bhagavad Gita As It Is 12.10, purport

New Vrindaban has land, labor, and organization to do these things. The key lack is capital. Especially for vaisya activity capital is required; food production and cow protection are vaisya activites.

The cow protection program has submitted to community authorities a budget for the last two years of what it will take to rejuvenate the cow protection program. Due to the generous donations of a few, the cow protection program has been surviving, but it is not thriving. Cows will be slaughtered today that could be saved if there were sufficient funds available. Not one penny of necessary funding for capital expenditures has been forthcoming. Cow numbers are dwindling.

A few years ago I almost left my body. When I survived, I took it that I needed to have a purpose. I set as a goal that before I left my body for real, I wanted to see a million dollars in a trust fund, the income of which would provide enough to protect 100 cows.

I have tried to get the attention of devotees to the concept of donating to cow protection programs to offset the purchase of industrial milk where cows will be slaughtered, like the environmentalists' example of carbon offsets.

While there are certainly some notable exceptions, most of the leaders of ISKCON as well as the rank and file haven't been inspired by either the idea of milk offsets or more conventional methods of donating to cow protection programs.

This push for a trust fund and capital expenditures to renovate the cow protection program at New Vrindaban were put forth well before the gas-leasing issue arose. While I again am very grateful for all those who do donate, the need is greater than the few can provide.

When the gas-leasing issue came up, I also was wary at first. My initial reaction was to oppose it, until I realized that this too was Krishna's mercy, offering a hand up to New Vrindaban to wean itself off industrial food and to once again turn to Srila Prabhupada's original vision.

My initial involvement was based on promises from the GBC and all temple authorities that none of the monies that come in from gas drilling will be merged into the general fund but will strictly be used for capital expenditures and improvements.

The majority of funds will be used to capitalize cow protection and food production. A very partial list would be root cellars, grain storage and grinding facility, alternative energy production and acquiring the equipment essential for low-impact food production.

Srila Prabhupada said that one day people will come in great numbers to our farms. While many devotees are comfortable in ignoring this, there are some of us at New Vrindaban who take that to heart and are seriously looking at what it will take to accommodate them. The capital produced by gas drilling will provide the means by which we can prepare for this influx.

While some equate gas drilling with oil and coal production, there are numerous differences, not least of which is that while coal and oil production create voids in the earth, gas drilling does not. It has a fraction of the environmental impact of coal and oil production and is being promoted by environmentalists as a transition fuel from oil and coal to alternative energies — a thorn used to remove a thorn.

The key to many of us is yukta vairagya — how the money will be used. If it can be used to wean New Vrindaban from a coal- and oil-dependent lifestyle and get us back on course to Srila Prabhupada's vision for New Vrindaban then it will be like using a thorn to remove a thorn.