Should we ultimately be concentrating our efforts on ISKCON’s Rural Communities and cow protection?
Many ISKCON leaders are urging that we give much greater support to ISKCON rural development and cow protection. These are noble goals indeed, but here are some real, practical problems in fostering such a “change of consciousness” among devotees:
1. Although obviously different from “society” in important ways, devotees tend to follow socio-historical trends. When Prabhupada was here, there was a huge, “back to the land” movement. It’s over now. There is no large social wave to ride and much less public interest.
2. In 1974, in his Vrindavana Varnashrama talks, Prabhupada directly linked the need for farms to the geo-poliitical cold war between the West and the Soviet Union. Prabhupada predicted a nuclear holocaust and even gave a rough timeline. It didn’t happen.
3. The huge ‘green’ movement has supplanted the ‘back to the land’ movement, and the greens emphasize sustainable industry more than physically living in the country.
4. The current ’simplify’ movement is still urban. Mid-size cities are growing twice as fast as the biggest cities. So the trend is to simplify your life moderately in a way you can live with, not to make extreme, radical changes such as moving from a big city to a farm. Even Prabhupada said, “progress is gradual.”
5. ISKCON farms flourished when directly linked to flourishing urban programs. There are few flourishing Western urban programs that have surplus resources to invest in farms, as in the past.
So, as I’ve said before, we may preach that devotees have to lead and not follow social trends, but most devotees, within our principles, do tend to follow. That’s why devotees use the latest technology, fly on planes, flood the social media, gain weight in middle age etc etc. So, in regard to rural development, pep talks, resolutions, sermons etc won’t help much unless we face this reality. Otherwise, I also appreciate the sincerity of those advocating ISKCON rural development.
As for the arguments regarding the growing mainstream interest in organic and locally grown food, and the booming growth of the Amish:
1. I agree that there are economic opportunities for organic farms, much though less for ahimsa milk since it must compete with himsa organic dairy. However Prabhupada stressed self-sufficiency, not natural commerce. Motivating devotees to do natural commerce is not the same Bhagavatam class as pushing Prabhupada’s self-sufficiency.
2. The Amish communities are growing demographically entirely due to their reproductive abilities. They officially don’t preach. The Amish tourism is booming, partly fueled by a raft of mainstream movies involving Amish, but also surely from a nostalgia and wish for simpler life. Also, the Amish have a commitment to simple living that no ISKCON farm can match. Almost all ISKCON farms have computers, cell phones, etc etc etc. How many devotees are ready to go full-buggy like the Amish? Their religion requires it. Our religion merely appreciates it. We have yukta-vairagya and they don’t.
3. Prabhupada had extraordinary adaptive ability, and in changing times he would adjust. However, I have personally found that many devotees, including most leaders, stick to Prabhupada’s original detail statements no matter what the cost to practical preaching. So, while it’s true that Prabhupada would adjust, how many leaders are prepared to devote themselves to what Prabhupada might have done? That is a real question.