Thursday, August 9, 2007

Locally-Grown Wisdom

I first met HG Tapahpunja Prabhu at the 2006 Festival of Inspiration. I was instantly charmed by his radical war-stories from the 60s scenes of Ann Arbor and Berkeley, and I was very curious about the large garden he was commanding. Since then, I've come to respect and understand who Tapahpunja actually is, and I pray to take very serious action on the inspiration he has given me.

The Garden of Seven Gates Tapah is speaking about refers to his large agricultural project here at New Vrindaban that he is overseeing, of which we all have been relishing the chard-like glories that have been now appearing in our breakfasts and lunches, thanks to Tapah's locally-grown wisdom.

For more on this check out Tapah's website

Tapah is always striving to connect the ideals of Krsna consciousness to the dirt of the land. He is especially interested to do many different educational ventures with students of all ages interested in salt of the earth. Contact him at or (304) 243-5990

By Tapahpunja dasa

This particular piece of land is called “Garden of 7 Gates”, because from a practical point of view there are 7 gated entrances the size of the one we just walked through-about 20 foot wide.

The reason for 7 gates along the fence line here is because the vision is that some day in the not too far future this will be the centre of an agrarian revolution in New Vrindaban, in the sense that persons settling intentionally around the field will have certain lifestyles and the spiritual perspective of that lifestyle that intergrates nicely with their sadhana (daily devotional practices), the temple and especially the original vision that Srila Prabhupada (the founder of Iskcon/New Vrindaban) had for New Vrindaban which was to give visual confirmation how “simple living” lent itself to “higher thinking” ( a key phrase Srila Prabhupada used for Iskcons farm communities was “simple living/high thinking”).

What is that connection? How do you prove that by your lifestyle? By depending on nature-by eating what you grow/ growing what you eat, depending on the cows (for milk to be used for making cheeses,sweets etc…). So, this particular property is our only property in which there is protection from the inbalance in the “age of kali” (a vedic term denoting the current age we are in-one of quarrel and hypocracy) in the form of deer. For every square mile, if you can picture a square mile-it is four city blocks, so for every one square mile there are 100 deer! Thats the average population and sometimes there is more!

If you cannot fence your growing space then you are wasting your time, you are basically growing deer food. This is the biggest and only protected area that there is. The way that this fence got put up is amazing. Below, there is a smaller version of this called “The Teaching Garden”. In that garden I was giving a tour to 10 persons, 2 families from Cincinnatti, and at the end of that tour I mentioned that this is a nice garden but it is not big enough to meet the growing needs of the whole community. One of the people present during the tour said “what do you need?” and I replied that we have a pasture but need a fence, a physical barrier because the deer are so bad. And he said “how much??”. At that time I really didn’t know but somehow I was inspired to say “about $8000″. The gentleman said “okay!” and on the spot he wrote a cheque for $8000!!! That amount worked out to be exactly the amount of money that was needed for the fence!

Then we want to develop this as a place where we develop the culture - the “agri-culture” where simple living based on actual connection to the land begins to develop pursuant to what Srila Prabhupada actually wanted here. This year we have a grant from West Virginia state university. They supplied $2000, all the seeds and all the transplants such as Tomato, Peppers, Okra, squash of various types and a material called black woven ground cover. The grant was given so that we can gather data for some of their organic research called “Organic Seed Partnership” and it’s an honor that they picked this particular farming project as part of that collaborative effort which is about 5 universities and around 10 farms around the country.

Actually, everybody that resided and used this property before we moved here grew corn on it for around 100 years. And then after that they basically wrecked it by throwing chemicals on it to stimulate growth. We have inherited a big problem with fertility but the good side of that is that the colleges that we are working with see that challenge as a brave endeavour on our part that we are taking an old abandoned West Virginia field and making it fertile again and in the process help develop community.

Everybody subsists on food grains , thats really the staple. To know how to develop and grow food grains you have to employ the use of draft animals to do it properly. The fact is that if you live in the country and know what is involved in working the fields in a sustainable way. Sustainable meaning not being utterly dependant on tractors , fossil fuel and that whole world of inputs from the outside-of course you want animals. We know that philosophically that the animals service is to assist in these processes. Their services to God are to assist in being co-authors in agriculture, the growing of things that can be offered with love and devotion to Him. Connecting the issue of sustainable development with spirituality is a huge preaching and educational field because the fact is that there is no such thing as sustainable development without spirituality as the only real sustainable thing is the soul and it’s relationship with God. How agriculture fits into that is: “yes, we are the stewards of this land, to use it in service to God. Without that spiritual dimension added to agriculture there is just a type of business. You are seeing now that Walmart now has “organic”, it is sort of organic but if you trace the products back to their sources in China you will find that it is not 100% organic. It is horrendous the way that they are growing produce actually. Likewise, if you live in the city and you go to a wholefood store and they are selling organic produce , you might ask “where is the farmer that you made the contract with to grow the produce?”. If you trace it back and you ask that farmer (and I have done this) - “How do you fertilise your soil? You are not using cow manure or any other kind of manure, what do you use to keep your rate of fertility up?”. They will say - “Oh we have a kind of brown powdered fertiliser that is organic”, and I will ask “can I see it?” And you then go into their storage are and you look at the bag and it says “blood meal, bonemeal, fish emulsion, it’s basically ground up cows!”

It’s made up of all the parts of a cow that they cannot use for things like ply wood , tyres, paint etc.. that they have pulverised and bagged. So, is it organic? Sort of! Is it vegetarian? No way! What organic really means is a spiritual commitment to only use what inputs are natural to the area. If you have cows, a cow on average gives 47 pounds of manure per day. To honor and revere that arrangement, to compost properly that cow manure and then apply it to your fields is actually the heartbeat of sustainability. Thats how cows fit in. Unfortunatly, within our Iskcon society, most of our farm communities are kind of fledging. We go there and see that there is really not much farming. It is more like suburban living that happens to be in the countryside. That is not going to change until we connect food production to why we have cows. If we have cows or bulls, it should be because it has something to do with how you feed yourself in a genuine way-not just out of sentiment. You have a garden and a pet cow! Then you think “Wow! This is vedic life!”. No, vedic life means that you dont go to Sams club! You don’t go to Walmart, you don’t need or want to, because your needs are contained within that community of mutually dependant and loving spiritual relationships and occupations that gainfully and properly employ everybody in connection to the local environment.

That is the actual culture of spiritual rural living. Hopefully we will develop that here. I am doing a conference next Febuary entitled ” Bad Karma is not sustainable”. The theme of it is that if you are going to enter into a career in agriculture in which you are taking the lives of other entities even if they are vegetables, what to speak of animals, that you might want to consider carefully why the patriarchs of the whole organic movement in the west. The people who wrote the treatises on why you should be organic all turned to indian thought and practice before they wrote books and articles-Sir Alfred Howard, Rudolph Steiner, the biodynamic people. Even though technically within the Iskcon movement we dont have such a great working model as yet, we do have the philosophical foundation to explain why and how spirituality is connected to sustainability and that there is no such thing as sustainability without spirituality. It is nothing but understanding the movement of the modes of nature, the permutation of goodness, passion and ignorance moving around. But the actual sustainability is that you are doing it for the pleasure and service of God. Therefore by Gods grace and his expansions or assistants, that arrangement makes everything co-operate with your effort to make nice devotional offerings. Thats actual sustainability.

My feeling is that you cannot have the physical aspects of sustainability without the social, they have to be married. Srila Prabhupada said that you cannot have brahminical culture (living in goodness and Godliness) without cow protection and agriculture-they have to go together. Our special blessing is that there are between 30-40 thousand people coming here yearly. Part of the vision of developing this is to use it as a teaching opportunity to help people become aquainted with the principle of sustainability intergrated with sprituality.

These 2 principles should nourish each other and not conflict priorities. The first priority when Srila Prabhupada was at New Vrindaban was about the lifestyle of simple living on the land and not really creating a “Hindu Disneyland!”. Not that we are on that level right now but we could easily go that way! Within Iskcon there is the whole feeling that the city temples are predominantly being “hinduised” and that there not as open to western people and they dont feel so inclined to come.

Lets take an issue like global warming , as you know there is a huge debate worldwide about this. The fact is that there is scientific evidence, it not someones opinion, nor is it debatable. The chief cause for global warming is? Meat eating. It is animal agriculture, not C02 emmisions like everybody thinks although that is also a problem. You have too many cars, trucks and factories belting out C02/carbon dioxide. To give you an idea of the scope of this problem-for every person on planet earth (6.5 billion) there are 5 cows ready to be slaughtered right now. It is not in the future, but right now as we are standing here. They are all in living arrangements that are confinded in heavily concentrated feedblocks (30 billion of such cows) and the methane generated by 30 billion cows in confined areas is certainly not good for the environment. It is 23 times more destructive to the environment and the ozone layer than C02 is. Where do you hear this information though? You dont hear it in the media, if you go to you can read about it. The government and media is not talking about it-who should be talking about it? We should be talking about it ! We were in the 60’s the forerunners in the cutting edge of vegetarianism and animal rights. So, what a great opportunity for us to reach out to the public and say that we have an understanding based not on a techno fix, not about hydrogen cell cars, thats not going to work! It takes 90 gallons of oil to make a car! Where is that oil going to come from? How are you going to make a transition like that? From fossil fuel dependancy to sustainability-its not a techno fix! It is a lifestyle change. The question is natural-what is the philosophy for this lifestyle change? How will we convince people that to change your lifestyle-to become simpler means that you have to become happier in ways that dont depend on all this technology. That happiness is going to come internally, by chanting of the holy names of God, embracing spiritual culture, by the joy of communal activity. Thats the actual lifestyle change that has to take place. One of our leaders (HH Hridayananda Maharaja) said that we should become guardians of the mode of goodness. Not that we use styrofoam plates and think that we are above everything! “We are so transcendental and can just use styrofoam plates-who cares, it is just the material world!”. The way that is percieved by the public is that “the Hare Krishnas think that they are so far beyond all this that they are willing to destroy the earth in real time than they are to do the right thing!”.

I know, I have been to numerous Rainbow gatherings (a North America gathering of earth friendly persons of varying backgrounds and practices) and brought people back here. They stay for 2 days and take a stroll behind the temple and see the dumpsters filled with styrofoam plates and they are out of here! They leave immediately because they think it is just such utter hypocracy. If we want inspired and courageous leadership, it is not going to come from academic institutions, the government nor is it going to come from corporations. Its going to come from local people. Ordinary sincere local people who are doing the right thing. That is what is going to change us. Because the scope of the problem is so far beyond all these institutions-its all got to turn into “local”. How you are doing and interacting locally and actually my understanding is that Srila Prabhupada’s intent for our temples all over the world is that your congregation of whatever area you live in should reflect your ability to successfully interact with your local people. Even the guy next door! We are talking about saving the whole world and we cannot even interact nicely with our neighbor-we dont even know him! We are afraid to go and talk to him. Environmental activism, personal health issues, are a great way to draw in all people but especially at this particular junction in time-people of western origin. The biggest grass roots movement in the world is the issue of sustainability. This dialogue we are having right now is going on all over the world. We are not even in the arena of dialogue right now. We have to set an example and use the most exacting and pristine philosophy there is to explain the connection between spirituality and sustainability.

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