Dhanurdhara Swami July 4th, 2016
There are four foundations of life that a traditional society automatically provides its community so that they can focus on spiritual life and need not overly preoccupy their minds with worry. They form the basis of a peaceful life.
- Where one will live
- Whom one will marry
- What one’s occupation will be
- Who is one’s guru
I will discuss each individually, but first I ask everyone reading this to reflect. Are these things settled in your life? If not, how much time and mental energy do you spend to fulfill the ones not settled. If they are fulfilled, how much struggle did you face to achieve that? And finally, if they have been provided, how grateful are you to the culture and people who have facilitated that?
Where you are going to live
Tejiyas das, a close god-brother of mine, who Śrīla Prabhupāda asked to start the kisān (farm) movement, and who seems to know as much about economics as anyone, once shared with me an interesting insight gleaned from his study of real economics (sustainable living). He told me that just by being born, living and dying in the same place ninety percent or all of one’s economic and social problems are solved. Without elaborating more deeply, just starting life without a mortgage by being gifted a residence by your parents (the traditional system), having a life long community support program and being assured protection and care in old age (and innumerable other advantages), one is gifted a substantial financial, social, and emotional advantage in life. Life’s natural struggles are difficult enough without having to find out where home is. You are lucky if you never had to negotiate the problem of where you should live.
Whom you are going to marry
I listened to a thought provoking talk by professor Barry Schwartz called the Paradox of Choice. He showed that although modern life offers us more choices, decisions are increasingly more difficult to make because we are constantly agonizing over which choice gives us the most enjoyment. It was a very thought provoking talk, but what caught my attention the most was his statement from personal experience that each five years he gives 25% less homework to his students, because the students have become increasingly preoccupied with thinking about, maintaining, and finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. There is so much mental energy that goes into such endeavors when there is not a system and culture in society to fulfill the most fundamental need for a lifelong partner. Needless to say, a culture that facilitates finding a suitable partner at an early age, although not perfect, is still a blessing. How fortunate not to have to waste our mental energy in such endeavors!
What is your occupation
One of the most important aspects of life is finding an occupation that not only reciprocates our economic needs, but is also fulfilling. Again without going into the details, varṇāśrama (the social/economic system of ancient India) provided full employment to it citizens with training and work according to one’s qualification. Work that reasonably reciprocates one’s needs for maintenance with an occupation suitable to one’s psychophysical nature is one’s joy in life, not just a chore. Such work also facilitates one’s spiritual life, which often entails some tapasyā or discipline, as after work one can enter one’s practices with a peaceful mind. Oppressive work demanding long hours and travel and less than ideal work conditions exhaust one. Upon returning home from such a job the last thing one has energy for is the discipline of spiritual practice. Rather one gravitates to the couch, the TV, and often a beer for relief. One is fortunate to have found one’s occupational calling in life. Tradition, especially varṇāśrama, did a much better job of doing that.
Who is your guru
There is an old Indian saying: Don’t go to a village that doesn’t have a river, doesn’t have a doctor, and doesn’t have a brāhmaṇa (spiritual teacher). Previously most villages and towns in India had bona fide teachers from authentic spiritual lines who were thoroughly trained. Today even if one transcends the propaganda of mass media that increasing material life is one’s goal, it is still difficult to find a bona fide teacher, and even if one does find a bona fide teacher and has minimal self-discipline, still there are so many cheaters in the name of spirituality. To have found one’s path and teacher is the greatest fortune.
What if I don’t have a spouse or job or have not found my place? Of course, ultimately whatever God sends or doesn’t send our way is meant to bring us closer to Him. Kṛṣṇa has a unique way to bring each closer to Him. We should have full faith in that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for a stable life. Just as it is one’s duty to try to both maintain one’s health, and to see disease that comes away as God’s mercy, in the same way one must reasonably endeavor to stabilize one’s life and accept one’s lot in life at the same time.
We sometimes dismiss traditional society when we feel its principles are not intelligently applied, but we should never lose sight of its wisdom. They offer basic foundations of peaceful life. We should thoughtfully understand their value and appreciate the culture that provides them.