Common worldview and value system in eco-communities

This post is the second in the little series about my research on solving the ecological crisis. In the previous post I wrote about the first conclusion of my research. That conclusion was that people would have to live in local ecological communities in order to solve the ecological crisis. That would be the way of sustainable living. This post is about the second conclusion: the importance of a common worldview and value system in eco-communities.

So, it is also important that members of these communities share a common value system ​​and worldview. However it is not only important to have a shared value system and worldview. It is also necessary that it contain a conception about the transcendence. That element of the worldview can be the basis of an essential idea in the value system. That idea is that happiness does not lie in the accumulation of material goods and pleasures. Instead it lies in the attainment of a higher, transcendental goal.

The general elements in an ecological worldview and value system

The higher purpose basically stems from the view that individual human beings and communities are inseparable from nature, or if we take a further step, from the transcendent. They are organic parts of it, just as cells are parts of the body. Cells play their role in the body. They are subsystems in a larger system. Similarly individuals and human communities must keep in mind the state of their environment. Since the environment is the larger system in which they live. They need to work together with each other and their environment in order for them and the future generations to live a balanced life and for their environment to survive in the long run.

This systemic approach is essential for communities so that they can have a sustainable attitude towards their environment. That attitude means that they produce only the necessary quality and quantity of goods from natural resources and not more. And just as they take into account the capabilities and limits of the natural resources available to them, the capabilities and needs of members of the community need to be kept in mind. This means that everyone in the community should do the work they are naturally attracted to.

The universal presence of the principles

These principles of the ecological worldview and value system can be found in the scientific literature about sustainability and resilience. One overarching example is the Gaia-theory. But they occur not only there, but they are there also in the anthropological descriptions about traditional societies. In most of the cases indigenous people had some kind of a natural ecological knowledge. Moreover we can discover them in the scriptures of different religions, for example in the ancient Vedic scripture, Bhāgavata Purāṇa. According to the scriptures, these principles originate from God. Actually they are the laws of nature, like gravity and other physical laws and cannot be ignored. Otherwise we get unexpected results, like an ecological crisis.

Research on solving the ecological crisis

For the past two years, I have been commissioned by the Bhaktivedanta College (Budapest) to look at the question of what the real solution to the ecological crisis can be. I would like to briefly summarize the results of this research in this post and in the next few ones.

The research meant that I read a lot of literature on the subject, books, articles, studies. I tried to find common points in them, to synthesize their conclusions. Most of these were Hungarian and English scientific works written by ecologists, biologists, environmental scientists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, etc. However, there were religious works among them as well. Most of them came from the Vedic scriptures, and in particular from those of Vaisnavism. Such are the Bhagavad-gītā and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. I chose mainly the scriptures of Vaisnavism because I myself belong to one of the schools of Vaisnavism, Krishna Consciousness.

The works I have read included reports on individual research and works that summarized, synthesized previous results. Among Hungarian authors, I would like to highlight András Takács-Sánta. He is the director of Eötvös Loránd University’s Master’s degree in Human Ecology. In his work, he presents the subject of sustainability in a comprehensive and straightforward manner, for example in his book A közlegelők komédiája (The Comedy of the Commons).

Surprisingly, despite the wide selection of what I have read, I have found almost entirely consistent conclusions and suggestions for solutions in the various writings. And not only the conclusions of the scientific works were similar, but also the conclusions of the scientific and religious writings.

What were the conclusions about the ecological crisis?

Firstly, one of the main points in common was the finding that people would have to live in relatively small so-called ecological local communities in order to solve the ecological crisis. These communities are ecological and local because they produce to a large extent locally the material resources they need. Furthermore they take maximum account of the carrying and sinking capacity of the natural resources and sinks available to them.

It is not a complete self-sufficiency, since in most cases, beside the basic material goods, they would have to produce others that the natural resources available to them are unable to provide, at least in the long run. How do they get the missing part of their needs? From other communities that have access to other natural resources and thus can produce other goods in a sustainable way. It follows that these ecological local communities should also be organized into communities, communities of communities.

So that was the first conclusion. I will write about the followings in the next few posts. In the meantime, I wish everyone a pleasant community building!

Reduce your meat and dairy consumption to save the future

The ecological crisis is here, we live in it. And it’s getting worse day by day in spite of the big climate conferences and summits. It seems that these politicians and other leaders are too attached to their old ideas, positions, money and power to see the obvious facts. Or if they see it they are just not able to act accordingly. Greta very strongly expressed this to them at the 2019 UN climate action summit in New York. The question arises what is it that one can do in this situation? There are many things (see below). But, according to a paper, titled Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers by J. Poore and T. Nemecek published in Science, the most effective way to decrease our environmental impact, to save the future for the next generations, is to reduce or, if possible, terminate our meat and dairy consumption.

Even if we don’t stop eating meat and/or dairy products completely, if we only reduce it by 50%, it will still have a huge benefit. Of course, it is better to stop eating them, or at least meat and the products of the dairy industry. If one only reduces her consumption, it is also important, that she should buy what she eats from local farmers. If we don’t eat meat, but we eat dairy products, then – according to my belief – we should buy them from local farmers who don’t kill the animals and who don’t send them to slaughterhouses.

The most important method, still not accepted

The conclusions of the above mentioned paper are well supported scientifically. It’s not really a question if these conclusions are true or not. Anybody can read all the details in the paper and draw the same conclusions. The problem is that many politicians and even scientists don’t want to accept and talk about the fact that if we changed our diet, it would make the biggest difference.

Of course, there are many other things what we can do and they are also important. We can reduce the amount of our waste, collect it selectively, we can compost our organic waste, we can produce our own food or buy it from local farmers, we can walk or use bicycles or public transport instead of cars, we can reduce our water and energy consumption in our homes etc. These are all important things and we should do them. However reducing our meat and dairy consumption has a much greater impact. So this is the most important method of decreasing our impact on the environment. If we don’t do anything else, we should do this. If we want to start somewhere, we should start here. Poore and Nemecek prove this in their paper. Still, many politicians and even scientists don’t accept it.

It can be understood that this is not so easy. It can be very difficult to change our old habits. However, the fact is still a fact and if something has to change, it should, even if it’s difficult. The situation will be much more difficult in the near future if we don’t change.

The shortcut to change our old ways of thinking and habits

The shortcut, the most effective way to change our difficult-to-change old habits and ways of thinking is autosuggestion or meditation. By meditation we can reprogram our minds and start to think and behave in a more beneficial way. If you are interested, you can read more about meditation at my other blog.

To show the important role that meditation could play in sustainability, I mention another necessary change we should make somehow. That is to create and revive real human communities. This is also a difficult task, because it is very far from us to live in communities. For this we should develop such qualities as selflessness, tolerance, truthfulness etc. But meditation could help in this regard too. By it we could make the necessary changes in our minds and in our behavior in a relatively short period of time.

The origin of the name Sākṣi

As you can read it on the About page, my spiritual name is Sākṣi or Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa. Maybe this name seems a little strange to many of you. Therefore, in this post I would like to shed some light on it. I try to explain it in simple terms, however, be warned that you must be quite open minded to understand what comes if you are not familiar with vedic philosophy, theology and culture.

Actually, the full name is Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa, Sākṣi is just the short version of it, a nickname. This name comes from the Sanskrit language, which is not written originally by Latin letters, but in Devanāgarī script. In Devanāgarī, Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa looks like this: साक्षिगोपाल दास​. There are several methods of transliteration from Devanāgarī to the Roman or Latin script, here I use the IAST scheme. That explains the interesting accents.

If we translate it to English, it means the servant (Dāsa) of the eyewitness (Sākṣi) cowherd boy (gopāla). Now it seems even more strange, doesn’t it? Well, I can explain it, at least I can try.

The cowherd boy and the servant

Cowherd boy refers to none other than God. In the ancient vedic literature of India it is written that the Absolute Truth is a person, the Supreme Person, God. He has many forms, but His original form is Kṛṣṇa, who is a very beautiful, all-attractive cowherd boy and He lives in Vṛndāvana. Who could refute this? This is beyond the sense-organs, beyond logic, this is revealed knowledge.

Dāsa means servant. So, the name has two parts. The first part is a name of God, the second part is servant. In general terms it means the servant of God. Everyone is a servant of God, if we know it or not, accept it or not. We can have some abilities, some knowledge, some properties, but what we have, we have got those things from God, we haven’t created them, and we can lose them, God can take them back anytime. Even our own bodies. God created everything what is there. He is the owner of everything, and He is the Supreme Controller. He provides these things to us so that we can use them to serve Him. We can offer what we have to God, but actually He doesn’t need those things. He is the owner of those things already. What He needs is our love. He accepts our love, our devotion when we offer something to Him, and He reciprocates.

Why is this cowherd boy an eyewitness? There is a story from which we can understand it. However, before sharing the story some concepts should be explained.

Concepts

In the traditional vedic social system there were four occupational divisions or varṇas: learned and pure intellectuals (brāhmaṇa), administrators or soldiers (kṣatriya), merchants or farmers (vaiśya) and laborers (śūdra). In the story the two main characters will be brāhmaṇas.

In the vedic tradition God is worshipped in many ways. One of the most important methods is worshipping God in the temple in His Deity form. There are detailed descriptions in the vedic literature how should the Deity form of God look like, how to make it and so on. It can be made from different material elements, for example metal or stone.

When a Deity form is ready, then there is a ceremony during which brāhmaṇas ask God to accept that form so that the devotees can worship Him through it. After God has accepted the form, it is no longer a material form, it is God Himself, they are not different. The Deity reciprocates with everybody according to their spiritual level. Those who are materialists, they see only a stone statue, those who are advanced spiritually, they can see that the Deity is God Himself. The Deity even talks to them, and they can see when the Deity moves, and performs His pastimes. There are many stories in the vedic literature about Deities, how they manifested themselves to advanced devotees. The following story is also like that, it is from the book called Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

The story

“Once there were two brāhmaṇas, one elderly and the other young, who were inhabitants of a place known as Vidyānagara. After touring many places of pilgrimage, the two brāhmaṇas finally reached Vṛndāvana. The elderly brāhmaṇa was very satisfied with the service of the young brāhmaṇa, and he wanted to offer him his youngest daughter in marriage. The young brāhmaṇa received the promise of his elder before the Gopāla Deity of Vṛndāvana. Thus, the Gopāla Deity acted as a witness.

When the two brāhmaṇas returned to Vidyānagara, the younger brāhmaṇa raised the question of this marriage, but the elderly brāhmaṇa, due to obligations to his friends and wife, answered that he could not remember his promise. Because of this, the younger brāhmaṇa returned to Vṛndāvana and narrated the whole story to Gopālajī. Thus Gopālajī, being obliged by the young man’s devotional service, accompanied him to southern India. Gopālajī followed the younger brāhmaṇa, who could hear the tinkling sound of Gopālajī’s ankle bells. When all the respectable gentlemen of Vidyānagara were assembled, Gopālajī testified to the promise of the elderly brāhmaṇa. Thus, the marriage was performed. Later, the king of that country constructed a fine temple for Gopāla.”

Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta,
Madhya-līlā, Chapter Five. This is a summary of the story, the full story is available in the online Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
Sākṣi-gopāla Temple
Sākṣi-gopāla Temple
The temple is located almost midway between Jagannātha Puri Dhāma and Bhubaneswar, in a town called Sākṣi-gopāla, about 20 km west of Jagannātha Puri Dhāma.

How did I get this name?

The last question I have to answer is: How did I get this name? To answer this, first I quote a verse from Bhavagad-gītā (Chapter Four, verse 34), the most famous and most important book in the vedic literature:

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः
tad viddhi praṇipātena
paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

Translation:

Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.

Based on this principle, everyone who wants to get spiritual knowledge should approach a spiritual master, a guru. When the spiritual master accepts someone as his disciple, he initiates her or him. This means that the disciple takes vows, promises that she or he will follow the instructions of the guru, and the guru also takes the responsibility of guiding the disciple in spiritual life. During the initiation ceremony the spiritual master gives a name to the disciple, because the initiation is like a new birth. This is how I got the name Sākṣi-gopāla Dāsa, my spiritual master gave it to me, out of his mercy.

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda

My spiritual master is also a disciple, and his spiritual master too, and so on. In this way, the succession of gurus and disciples creates a disciplic succession which goes back to God, because the first spiritual master was God, of course. God gave perfect knowledge to His disciple and he gave it to his disciples without any modification, so it remained perfect and so on right up to our present times. The disciplic succession guarantees that the knowledge is not modified and remains perfect. The spiritual master of my spiritual master was a very significant and outstanding guru. He was His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

In 1965, at the age of sixty-nine, he left India and in the following twelve years he circled the globe 14 times on lecture tours spreading the teachings of Lord Kṛṣṇa, established temples, farm communities, a publishing house, and educational institutions around the world. He began what has now become the world’s largest vegetarian food relief program, Hare Krishna Food for Life. He authored over 70 volumes on the Kṛṣṇa tradition, which are highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, fidelity to the tradition, and clarity. His writings have been translated into 76 languages. His most prominent works include Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, the 30-volume Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the 17-volume Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.