Once Srila Prabhupada was in discussion with a scientist who was averring that nature was the cause of all phenomena. “Why do you propose a God?” he asked.
Prabhupada replied, “But when you say nature you must also say whose nature. It cannot exist independently.”
It is an interesting point. We all have different natures, but who has this vast and wonderful nature we see all around us?
On a different occasion he faced another philosopher who said that everything was formed from an eternal impersonal energy, again asserting that there was no need to introduce any God. Prabhupada said, “Energy means there must be an energetic source, it cannot stand alone.”
This is a verifiable truth. Heat, light, sound – any energy must always have a point of emanation, a source. So what is the source of the total material energy? Prabhupada gave the answer. “That is God.”
Obvious points to some perhaps, but sadly they seem to often elude even the brightest among us. It was therefore refreshing when Prince Charles in a recent speech attributed our current environmental crises to a “deep, inner crisis of the soul.” Suggesting that we were becoming “de-souled” by consumerism, he said that the problems we now face cannot be solved simply by green technology. It required something deeper, a return to spiritual teachings.
As the poet Wordsworth said even 200 years ago, “The world is too much with us, late or soon.” The spiraling rate of consumerism is driven by an obsession with improving our worldly conditions, an insatiable material greed, both from the consumers and from those who would supply them. It is surely not sustainable no matter how hard we try to move to renewable sources. The New Economics Foundation calculated that if the whole world today consumed at the same rate as the US it would require over “5 Earths” to keep up the supply.
And that is the way it is going. Much of the ‘undeveloped’ world would very much like to have the wealth and amenities enjoyed by the affluent West, and are working hard to get them. Thanks to the all-conquering TV and film industry, even the remotest of places can stare goggle-eyed at a lifestyle that seems to offer a thousand times more enjoyment than theirs.
It is an illusion of course. Happiness will never come from “getting and spending”, as Wordsworth put it. All that will do is agitate the heart and mind, push us to higher levels of anxiety as we hanker for more and more commodities – stuff that somehow never seems to give us the satisfaction and contentment we crave. Obviously. Otherwise how would the free market survive? It runs on the principle that the consumer will always want something new, “a bigger and better illusion” as one rock singer put it.
Surely it is time then for those spiritual teachings mentioned by Prince Charles. Unless we connect with the soul and indeed the Supreme Soul, we will be helplessly driven by our material desires. We must recognize the spiritual in the world and in our selves. The nature we want to exploit and enjoy does not belong to us, it belongs to God, and so do we. Everything is divine energy. Only when we realize this truth and try to act on it, engaging all things in the service of God according to his desire, will the fever of materialism subside, making way for real happiness.
At the moment the fever is threatening to become an epidemic. Prince Charles pointed out that the world population, currently approaching 7 billion, will be some 9 billion by 2050. Allowing for the rapid global spread of TV and other digital media, all pumping up demand for all those nice shiny items the media companies are also selling, there is no chance that even renewable sources will be able to meet the demand, as the Prince suggests. Something has to give.
Prabhupada actually said that the Earth can maintain any number of people, at least in terms of food. I am not sure he meant that every household could have two cars and six TV’s though. He also said that nature has her own way of adjusting problematic situations, such as a population gone mad with frenzy to lay waste her resources in the shortest possible space of time.
So let’s take Prince Charles’ advice seriously. Seek the divine within and without, find peace and bring down the material fever before it goes right off the Richter scale.