Baltimore I am with Brajajana

April 25th, 2001


I am with Brajajana and Gaura-Priya. It seems that my life and journal follows themes. This week’s theme is the importance of community and a simple lifestyle in terms of spiritual development.

Brajajana and Gaura-Priya told me that she is expecting a child. It made our discussions on developing a community in Upstate New York even more relevant. Brajajana and Gaura-Priya both like children, will be natural parents, and wouldn’t mind raising a large family. They are also practical. I was surprised in my discussions with them to find out how costly it is to raise a child today in an urban environment by middle-class standards. It dawned on me that, in contrast, fifty years ago, when I was growing up, that parents of even moderate means could easily raise three children. My father brought home $200 a week from his small business and my mother stayed at home and raised a family of three children. And that was still enough to pay the mortgage on a eight-room house with land that my family purchased in south Brooklyn for $36,000 in 1956.

I also recalled the prices when I went to college?gas at 19 cents a gallon and the same for a quart of milk. A decent two-bedroom apartment in college costs me $90 dollars, and the elaborate Sunday feast I cooked at my place every week for over twenty people was less than fifteen dollars.

I also dwell on the gradual decrease in the quality of life. In this regard, a particular incident stood out in my mind. Twenty years ago, when I returned for a visit to my parents after three years in India, they took me to a supermarket to buy my groceries. I was taken aback when the cashier was able to decipher and register the price of an item by just wiping the item along the counter. It was a new development since I left for India. I thus, in wonder, inadvertently blurted out to the middle-aged lady cashier, ?Oh, things have advanced so much!? Catching myself in a contradiction to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about modern civilization, I then quickly added, ?but the quality of life has not improved!? It stuck a chord on abject agreement in this simple working-class lady who looked at me and nodded in agreement.

It’s a good mantra: ?Things have advanced so much, but the quality of life hasn’t improved.? It applies more now than ever.

America is very prosperous but, still, the business-class is very much favored. The working class is not exploited in terms of their salaries, but they are exploited in another way. The business community expertly creates more and more and needs, and raises the prices on basic commodities like housing and health, so ironically, although the working class has more money than ever before, they are less free from want than ever before.

Businessmen are also entering the medical field so that the cost of even basic health care is becoming unaffordable. This brings up fond memories of our dedicated family doctor, Dr. Ralph Burke, with his personal care, his friendly home calls, and his moderate fees.

I?ve known Brajajana since 1990, when he came to Vrindaban and then became Satsvarupa Maharaja’s cook in his pilgrimage to Jagannatha Puri. Brajajana is a bit anarchistic by nature, but has honest ideals, and the thought of a life too confined to the dictates of corporate America irks him. Brajajana and Gaura-Priya also have a desire for a more natural life and they are looking for some land in Upstate New York. I like their vision and spirit in this regard.

Yes, there are devotees in the city that have managed healthy spiritual lives for their families and there are devotees who have moved to the country and failed to maintain even the basic standards of living for their families. Each family has to make a practical plan for their development based on the nature of their family and their means of livelihood. I see, however, many devotees feeling oppressed in their spiritual lives by a lack of community and the nature of their work, especially in the city. I like the mood of ?let’s do something about that??especially when it practically embraces Srila Prabhupada’s genius and insight into simple living and high thinking.

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