We are encouraged to live a Life of excess by advertisers, retailers, the government and society, with the promise that this will make us happy and fulfilled.
This is having a huge impact on the planet, on mental health and on our state of peacefulness.
The Vedas propose that our well-being and happiness is tied to a life of restraint and moderation, of “simple living and high thinking”, as my spiritual teacher used to say.
Two verses from the Bhagavad-gita which I quoted:
“One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” Bg 2.66
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” Bg 2.70
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So the talk this evening, I’ve titled it Maybe Time to Dial it Back. Actually this is a pretty persistent spiritual message, the message of more simple living and higher thinking. There was a meme that somebody shared with me which I thought was quite hilarious, and I think everybody would think it’s pretty far out unless you—well, we won’t go there. But it was a picture of Mount Everest, and it said, “Every dead body on Mount Everest was once a highly motivated person, so maybe calm down.” I thought that was rather funny. Of course, there’s a tragic side to it. Either way, it’s a really significant message.
When we become driven to achieve, driven to act in different ways, driven to try and enjoy in this world, there is always going to be a consequence, and we’re usually quite—we just—we’re oblivious to what the consequences often are. We try to just focus in on what may be a shorter term benefit that we perceive from whatever it is that we’re doing or getting into.
We are basically, and have been for decades now, encouraged to live lives of excess. I mean, it’s glorified, the lives of the rich and famous. You have all of the social media influences, for example, and just all kinds of people seeking to be praised, and loved, and liked for their excessive consumption. In many countries it becomes a status symbol, that if you can spend vulgar amounts of money on something, that somehow you’re now worshipable or praiseworthy, and people look up to you and adulate just on the basis that you spent an obscene amount of money on an unnecessary article that actually doesn’t change anything for you. It doesn’t make any difference to your life.
This promotion of—this type of attitude, we see it coming in a lot of different ways, beginning from government. All over the world, you have the worship of the economy. And if the economy is growing then everybody’s celebrating, and all the government officials are elated, because the government officials—one of the big reasons for being elected or unelected, thrown out of office, can often be tied to people’s perception of how well the economy is doing. But it’s kind of like, yeah, but what’s that all about? I mean it’s the most insane thing for highly intelligent people, economists, to promote an idea that all growth is good: the economy is growing.
The question of course is, growing into what? And that’s sort of a big—that elicits a bit of a blank. I mean has anybody established that if the economy reaches a specific size that suddenly everybody’s life is going to be incredibly so much better, and we have everything now that we need, so we can sort of just plateau off with—we’ve achieved what it was that we were targeting? That would be a bizarre idea in economics.
There is this idea of this need for continuous growth, and in order for there to be continuous growth there has to be continuous and increasing consumption. And so government measure people’s willingness or ability to consume by a consumer index. When consumers are not buying so much then they say, “Oh, consumer confidence is down,” and they look for ways to boost consumer confidence. And of course, one of the ways that this is done is to increase the availability of credit, so that people truly can spend beyond their means. We can go into debt to enjoy now, with the understanding that we have to pay it off in the future.
Of course, that all presupposes that everything is going to go along the way it is now, or to some degree, and so we’re going to be able to do that. Of course, when economies begin imploding and banks start calling in the credit that they’ve lent, and people’s houses and cars get repossessed and foreclosed, then it’s kind of like, wow! now we have monumental amounts of suffering. But what it does is it creates a very clear idea, if you think about it, that the citizenry is serving the economy, that your job is to consume to keep the wheels turning, so that nobody’s going to start calling in the credit, and even the different institutions and countries that the countries borrow from, that they are not all going to be shut out of any more credit. They’re not going to have to default on loans. So this is this whole idea: we’ve just got to keep whipping it along, keep it all moving.
But to what end and for what purpose? I mean if you went to a farmer who was growing something, and you saw him busily watering and fertilizing whatever it was he was growing, and you asked him, “So what is it that you’re growing? What does this grow into?” He goes, “Well, I’m not sure. I’m just—my goal is to have it grow, so I’m going to perpetually water and fertilize it, just watch it grow and grow and grow and grow.” You’d think he’s a nut case. And yet economists are proposing this. Government people are proposing the perpetual growth of economies without any clear idea of where it’s all going, and what is it that’s it’s growing into.
Then you have the makers and sellers of goods trying to constantly entice you into a life of excess. The more you can consume, the more you can be influenced by their advertising and promotion, and offers of happiness and fulfillment, the happier they are. And then you have your peers and society. And it’s like everybody’s pushing this growth mantra, either directly or indirectly, and it’s always on the promise of some great fulfillment, that you’re going to become increasingly happy and increasingly fulfilled.
And yet the paradox is we have all of these problems. I mean, this consumption ends up having a huge impact, on the planet, on individuals, on all kinds of species. So many are negatively impacted because of all of this. And it’s kind of like—and it’s for what end?
I mean, part of what’s inspired me to speak on this is this upcoming climate summit that they’re meant to be having, and everybody’s talking about. “It’s catastrophic what’s going on! And we really need to make a decision now! And we need change! And it’s government that has to do it.” I mean it’s like, this is incredibly naive that you think that governments are going to be able to solve the problem, that a big summit, you know, they’re all going to set targets for carbon dioxide emission. I mean do you really think it’s just down to carbon dioxide emission?
I mean I saw this extraordinary documentary on, I think it was on Al Jazeera, where they went around the world covering all of the new types of mining, and wow, extraordinary ecological devastation that’s going to be—which is currently going on, and needing to grow massively, in order to feed the alternate energy industry. And it’s kind of like, okay, so now you’re kind of trying to shift the problem from one kind of a problem to another kind of problem that’s not necessarily going to help and make anything better.
The big focus on alternate energy, for me, is very hollow. The problem is the consumption; and whether you’re doing it with green energy, or you’re doing it with dirty energy, it’s not really going to make very much difference. It’s still going on.
And in these big summits and everything there is going to be zero attention on reducing consumption. This is like—when you raise this idea of reducing consumption, it’s almost like, wow, you’ve become a heretic. You’re likely to be burned at the stake. Because it’s like the economy has become God, and everybody is meant to be mindlessly—this blind faith that if you serve the economy by consuming, and causing it to grow, then you are on the right path. And if you were wanting in any way to disrupt that, or to alter it, it’s like you’ve become a heretic, you’re speaking against somebody’s religious views.
And so we have this terrible situation where people are looking for solutions—One of my spiritual masters, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, he made reference to, in the state of material consciousness people are deep in illusion. I mean their illusions are profound. The idea that this world is my home; the body is who I am, I attach my identity, my feeling of worthiness, my lovableness all to the body; that I can find shelter and protection and perfection in this world—no, not true. But in the state of material consciousness there is the tendency to want to find perfection and shelter, and so people make choices on how they’re going to do that.
And if their choice turns out to be a wrong choice then they will try, in recognizing, or not recognizing, either way, but if they recognize, “Oh we’ve made a mistake,” the tendency will then to make another choice to correct that mistake, which itself will also be a mistake. And so it’s just like piling one bad decision upon another, and then that becomes the foundation for building a society.
So I personally reject the idea that the economy is God and the idea that everybody should slavishly work and consume just to keep it all going. It’s kind of like, for what? So what’s the end game here? Where does it all go? “Oh, you just keep consuming.”
On a personal level, if we look at the impact of economy worship and consumption, people are not becoming more peaceful and more happy. The rates of suicide, the rates of depression and mental illness, the rates of drug addiction—I mean it’s just growing in an enormous way. It clearly shows that there is something wrong with our chosen direction. And rather than considering, oh, should we change direction?” the decision is: No. We keep going in the same direction. We just find ways of doing it a little bit differently. We’re still going to go to the same place. We’ll just find a slight—alternatives, alternative means of getting there—when the real problem is the direction that we’re heading.
In the Bhagavad-gita there is a verse where it says:
“One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”
I mean that’s a huge question: how can there be any happiness without peace? And if we accept that to be fundamentally true then I have to question how peaceful am I? If I am not deeply at peace then it’s like, well, what is it that I’m doing wrong? What is it that’s creating this situation? So it’s almost like people no longer—we just don’t see that many big thinkers anymore, people with really long term vision. Everything has become so driven by the whole instant gratification mantra.
And even politicians are all driven simply by polls, the desire to be elected and stay in office, where in reality the greatest driver for someone in that job, you would assume, is what is in the great interest of the people in the country that I govern? What is in their best interest? And it’s not about giving them toys, and titillating them and exciting them so that they— and making promises so that you will be elected in the short term, particularly when the things you are offering are going to lead to more unhappiness and suffering for the people longer term.
If one wants to actually achieve peace it means that you’re going to have to be a rebel. You’re going to have to stand up to, push back against, all of these ideas that we’re talking about, like the sacredness of the economy and the idea that endless consumption is going to fulfill me and make my life of value, it will give me meaning and purpose. It’s a lie. It’s not true. Doesn’t matter how many pairs of shoes, and handbags, and cars, and vacations you spend money on, that does not add purpose to your life, nor does it create actual lasting happiness. In fact, the opposite is true.
Many of you—I’ve mentioned before that there was one point in my life when I was working for someone who was an extraordinarily wealthy individual, one of the biggest jewellers on the planet. I used to decorate palaces in a partnership with him. And he had two private jets. He had a 45 US million dollar yacht, and that was back in the 80s. Now it’d probably be a 70 or 80 million dollar yacht. And there were times when we would travel, and he’d be staying in a 5,000 US dollar a night suite in the hotel, presidential suite. And sometimes he was just so tired of everything that he and I would just sit together and eat, just order a baked potato with yoghurt, salt and pepper. We’d just sit there and eat, and he would—whispered to me one time. He said, “You know what? You are the only one I can do this with.” If he tried to do this in the normal course of things, he would be looked down upon by all the people with their caviar and extravagant food that they are eating.
So how is it that we can come to a point of peacefulness? The Bhagavad-gita tells us exactly how this needs to be done, and it means you need a revolution in your life. I mean a complete 180, or at least beginning that process. So in the second chapter, the 70th verse of the Bhagavad-gita, it says:
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but always still—that person alone can achieve peace and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.”
So this is just like, whoa this is an extraordinary idea, because we’re told when you feel empty, when you feel agitated, when you feel incomplete, go out and spend money. Buy something. Wear it. Eat it. Experience it—that then you’ll feel okay. And people actually think that they feel okay when they do these things. They’re not even cognisant of the fact that this so-called okay experience they’re having is so fleeting and so temporary and it doesn’t satisfy them, and that if we are going to come to a position of peace then one needs to tolerate the constant urges of the senses and the mind to be experiencing, to be consuming, to be engaging in so many different things. We need to find something of deeper meaning in our life.
And so this is all about, and the bottom line I guess, for that verse I read, it’s about learning both restraint and to live in with moderation, temperance, how to dial it back. Because if we don’t do this there’s no possibility of so-called saving the planet. It’s going to turn into a disastrous mess that people will be paying horrific prices for. Civilizations will go under if things keep moving at the rate that they’re moving. The only alternative is for people to begin to live differently.
As my spiritual master used to say and I mentioned, simple living and high thinking. Now it’s kind of the other way around. It’s high thinking and simple—I’m sorry: high living and simple thinking. I mean simple as in simpleton, not actually looking at things with clarity, being so naive and childish in—Pfoow! Social media! Some of these influ—it’s just like my God these people are so plastic. They’re so fake and so empty, what are you doing watching them? Really? Reality TV!
This directive towards—us directing our life towards temperance, to living more modestly and with restraint, there are two other verses in the Bhagavad-gita that deal with this. In speaking about how to become an actual yogi, Krishna, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:
“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.”
So this is a formula, and it’s based on the principle that if you are constantly agitating your mind and senses, continuously just feeding them, feeding them and feeding them you will not find peace. You will suffer from depressions, and anxieties, and feeling everything is so purposeless—that one needs to dial it back big time. We need to find another way forward, and it has to do with finding real meaning and purpose in life, a higher meaning and purpose, a spiritual meaning and purpose that deals with me, the spiritual being.
I mean it was just a couple of weeks ago we talked about the bird in the cage, where everybody’s polishing and decorating the cage and not feeding the bird. I mean this is what we’re talking about here. It’s the same principle. The need to live a more temperate lifestyle is of critical importance.
They have a word in the Vedic teachings and all of the yogic texts. It’s called atmarama. This word atma, it means the self, and it speaks to the spirit soul, this spiritual being within the body. And rama means to take pleasure in, or to enjoy. So a self satisfied person is an atmarama. They are satisfied within. They are engaging in a life that is fulfilling and satisfying, and because of that they’re not feeling any agitation to just consume and consume in order to keep economy afloat. So people were encouraged, in the Vedas, to become atmaramas.
But of course, an atmarama would be like [laughs] the destroyer of the economy, at least the current economy, because if everybody started consuming less, what would happen? There would be a need to completely refocus manufacturing and distribution. Everything would change radically, would radically change. So this idea of promoting self-satisfaction where a person is spiritually fulfilled and satisfied, and they’re not feeling the need to be on this consumption rampage all the time, such person really would be considered the antithesis of the modern good citizen who is, first and foremost, a consumer.
The reason that somebody could come to that position, it had to do with the re-establishment of this lost relationship between me, the individual soul, and the Supreme Soul, and the awakening of my natural tendency towards love, and to express love in a mood of loving service, and experiencing the amazing transcendental happiness, the spiritual and ecstatic blissfulness that arises from this condition, to feel I have no other real want, that I have no pressing need. I eat, I dress only for the sake of maintaining the body. I support a family whom I encourage to also adopt a higher reason for living, a higher purpose than just to become a greedy and envious consumer who’s just constantly trying to fill up the emptiness of their heart by endless consumption.
In the Bhagavata Purana there is a beautiful verse that describes how, even when one becomes transcendentally situated, meaning they become realized of their spiritual nature, and they are very much absorbed in that and living in that consciousness, how even in that state these self-satisfied individuals still become attracted to the positive and extraordinary happiness that comes from the re-establishment of this relationship with the Supreme Soul. And I will just read that verse:
“All different varieties of atmaramas [or those who take pleasure in the atma, or the spirit self] especially those established on the path of self-realization though freed from all kinds of material bondage desire to render unalloyed loving service, or bhakti, unto the Personality of Godhead Sri Hari. This means that the Supreme Soul possesses transcendentally attractive qualities and therefore can attract everyone including the liberated souls.”
Now that is a big picture. That is a significant goal. That is something that goes way beyond the limited time that I will spend in this body and what will happen when that experience comes to an end. I have to make my life more meaningful. We can do so much for ourselves and for others and for the planet just by even partially adopting, even to a small degree, this idea of living a more temperate life, a life of modesty and restraint, of not being avaricious and greedy and just constantly on this consuming drive that only leads to people’s unhappiness, the lack of peace, the lack of fulfillment.
So I will leave that one with you and ask that you kindly consider this. And if you feel moved within your heart by the idea that perhaps there is something of significance and importance, there is a message or some part of a message that’s resonating and calling to you, then please consider what you can do to begin a spiritual journey or to increase the determination of a spiritual journey that you may be on. On my website and on Meditation New Zealand website there’s lots of resources about things that you can adopt and take on board in your life to begin to live a more spiritual life.
Now I’ve read some verses from the Bhagavad-gita. I’m currently working on a study of the Bhagavad-gita it’s called the Bhagavad-gita Chalisa. This is taking 40 verses from the Bhagavad-gita, essential verses that deliver the important message of this Bhagavad-gita, and that is accessible on my website acharyadas.com. And I encourage you to utilize these resources. Don’t be a passive consumer of the resources. Become active. Adopt a personal practice that will bring this change to your life, that will awaken your desire and urge for this spiritual experience, enlightenment, the awakening of spiritual love.
Of course, the foundational practice in all spiritual undertaking is this process of chanting, chanting these sacred sounds, these transcendental sounds, these holy names. So I invite you to join with me now and to engage in chanting. I’ll use the harmonium again, and I will chant the mahamantra, or the Hare Krishna mantra. Thank you very much for your time.