Can We Have The Cake And Eat It Too?
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam, the Sathya Sai Baba Ashram.
In recent centuries, humanity has experimented with three major socio-economic systems. They are: First the Capitalist System at one end and second the Communist System at the other extreme. In between is the third system namely, hybrid Socialistic System that India, for example, tried to operate for about forty years after its Independence. Each system has its passionate advocates and every system claims that it is the best option for Society, because it alone can provide good economic and social security besides keeping its citizens happy.
These are claims. If, however, one looks carefully at the scorecard, one would find that no system has emerged as the clear winner. The simple reason for this is that no modern socio-economic system is explicitly based on Morality. No doubt, implicit in every system is the idea that people would be honest, truthful and ethical in their behaviour. However, the enemies of man lurking inside are so powerful that they easily overcome the vague commitment to values that these systems demand. That is THE fundamental reason why all modern systems are doomed to fail; and the danger posed by such a failure can create grave crises in the future, if some core issues, hitherto swept under the rug are not frontally confronted.
Experts say that for any economic system to operate four major inputs are necessary: Trained human resource, financial capital, infrastructure and raw material. Where raw material is concerned, mankind draws from a ‘Bank’ called Nature. All the renewable as well as the non-renewable material resources that drive the engine called economy are drawn from Nature. For thousands of years, everyone laboured under the impression that Nature is a Bank with infinite resources and that one can draw as much as one wants, any time. Lately we have discovered that this assumption is not true, and therein lies a serious problem.
Planet earth is finite, and it simply cannot provide infinite resources, just because we want it to. Lately, this truth has begun to sink in, though only in a limited fashion. For example, many have realised that oil which is one of the principle movers in modern economy, can one day run out. One can go to town on this subject of finite resources but we will not . For the present it suffices to say that consumerism which is the engine of modern economy, is very wasteful and is placing on planet earth a burden it cannot carry for too long.
What is the alternative? Sathya Sai Baba has indicated this but before we discuss that, it is pertinent to call attention to a report published several decades ago, known popularly as the Club of Rome Report. In effect, it warns mankind as follows: ‘The present consumption pattern is UNSUSTAINABLE. Curtail consumption immediately and drastically; otherwise, one day, the Bank called Nature would go broke and you would not be able to draw from it.’ This is the warning given not by religious or spiritual leaders but by hard-nosed economists, based on cold reasoning, and pitiless statistics and all that.
What does Satya SaiBaba say? He of course has been telling us a long, long time to practice CEILING ON DESIRES, not from the point of view of the Club of Rome, but from much higher spiritual considerations. When we place a ceiling on desires, it means we stop buying things we really do not need – and let’s be honest, we can jolly well do without most of the gadgets of today. We get sucked into buying them because of heavy advertisement. OK, suppose we stop buying all sorts of video games, I-pods and so on; so what? Well, that would immediately decrease the demand for mercury, cadmium, copper-beryllium, lead etc., which go into all electronic gadgets. All these are deadly materials, when they get into the environment.
Take, for example, cell phones. There are nearly a billion of them; and the models change so often. What happens to old discarded phones? They end up in India, China, Vietnam and so on, where they are dismantled by unskilled people, in the process spreading a lot of pollution into the environment. There are so many of today’s evils that get automatically eliminated, once we cap our desires. Of course, the more important thing is that people who curb desires, develop detachment and get closer to God.
Sceptics would shake their heads and say, ‘This is stupid. Consumerism is the engine that drives the modern world. If we curb desires, markets would collapse, unemployment would shoot up, and there would be disaster everywhere. Ceiling on desires may be nice to be talk about but it will not work; in any case, we cannot give it up. In any event, what other alternative is there?’
We will not get into a debate here about the virtues of consumerism but focus instead on the alternative. To appreciate the significance of that alternative, we must realise that in a consumerist society, products are often created using mass-production technology. Superficially this might make sense but it leads to unemployment. In decades past, when the economy grew, it also meant increased employment. But these days, economists are talking of ‘jobless growth of economy’. In turn this leads to a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots, as is being seen today not only in China and India, but even in the United States. So what are we to do? We have to switch from mass production to production by the masses, and anchor social life to sharing and caring rather than competition and exploitation.
This is where an important teaching of Sathya Sai Baba comes into the picture. Sathya Sai Baba often says: ‘The proper study of mankind is man.’ This means that mankind must follow the same rules that Lord God has ordained for the human body. In the human body, there is no organ that is selfish. All organs perform their functions in a co-operative manner and in harmony with all the other organs rather than competing with each other and in being selfish. As Swami says, when a sweet is put in the mouth, the tongue tastes it but does not keep it to itself; it sends the sweet to the stomach. The stomach digests and send the digested matter to the intestines. The intestines allow the nutrition to leak to the blood vessels, which carry the nutrients to the muscles all over the body and so on. One can give any number of such illustrations.
So the main lesson that our body teaches us loud and clear is that individuals in society must care for and co-operate with each other instead of being ruthlessly competitive and selfish. Next, they must function in harmony for a common goal, the welfare of Society as a whole or mankind, even as the organs of the body function for the benefit of the body as a whole.
This is where the concept of Trusteeship comes into the picture. In essence, what it means is that individuals as well as groups function as Trustees of God. Both individuals and groups must take the following view: ‘Every skill and resource we have belongs really to God and has been given to us to be used judiciously for and on His behalf. In that sense, we are Trustees of God.’
And this is how the Trusteeship idea works. A doctor uses his medical knowledge to relieve suffering and NOT for making money. This does not mean he should not charge fees. He could and should, especially if he is engaged in private practice. However, he does not overcharge and treats for free, those who cannot afford. Whatever he does, he offers to God, as recognition of his role as a Trustee of God. Corporations too must operate in the same spirit. Thus, drug companies would focus on saving lives rather than maximizing profit as they do these days [with good PR to cover up the anti-social behaviour]. One can develop the idea in extenso, and we shall do so in Heart2Heart later.
One might ask: ‘But what happens to jobs?’ Presently, globalisation-driven economy tends to ‘improve’ the economy while decreasing the number of jobs at the same time. In the Trusteeship regime, mass production is replaced by production by the masses. Some might wonder: ‘Will this work?’ It does, and the Milk Revolution in Gujarat is proof of that. Here, thousands of dairy farmers joined together to form a successful milk co-operative. So successful has this co-operative movement been that India, which once used to import milk powder from Denmark has now become the largest producer of milk in the world; and the venture has given employment to thousands and thousands of people.
If we think carefully about it, mankind DOES have an alternative to the present consumerist way of life, which is wasteful and is leading us straight to disaster. That alternative of course demands the price of simple living and a spirit of cooperation, with people caring for each other and sharing with each other, exactly as the organs in a healthy body do.
Many dismiss such an idea with the comment: ‘All this is nice in theory but will not work.’ Well, it all depends on what people want. People go to great extent to make money, to take care of their children, to be successful in life and so on. That is because, they value the end objective. In every case, sacrifice is involved and success represents the triumph of will power, which is the key to discipline. If in the same way we attach great importance to the real purpose of human birth and life, then there should really be no difficulty in practicing a ceiling on desires and letting life be guided by the principle of Trusteeship. This principle calls for detachment and actually, in many things we do, we are detached without being aware of it. A cashier in a bank handles everyday, huge sums of money; yet he does not ever imagine it is his money. A taxi driver working for a cab company, does not think he owns the cab; and so on, there are many examples one could think of. With effort, one could extend this idea to things that one believes belongs to the person concerned. In the trusteeship regime, a rich man would regard the wealth he has as given to him by God for being used for Divine purposes.
People today might be very sceptical about such an attitude to life but you would be surprised to learn that when late Prof. Kasturi (Baba’s biographer) was born, his parents took the baby to the local Siva temple, placed the baby before the idol and prayed, ‘Oh Lord, You have given this child of Yours to us for looking after and bringing up. Please give us all that we need to do Your duty as best as we can.’
If we want, if we love God, if we want to avoid inflicting more wounds on Mother Earth, then we can and ought to be able to change our mindset. If we fail to do that, and want the present untenable life style then we must also get ready to pay the price for it. Scientists are very much concerned by the rapid melting of Arctic ice, and if the same happens with the ice in Antarctica also, then terrible things can happen, like half of Bangladesh getting swallowed by the sea. Experts say that even if humanity stops consuming oil today, it is not possible to stop global warming. The process started will stabilise at best; all that one can hope for is preventing of still further rises in the long term.
The bottom line is simply this: If we want to eat the cake, then it would disappear and we cannot have it! The options are clear and the time to decide is NOW. Tomorrow may be too late!
What do you think? Do you agree?
With Love and Regards,
Filed under: Ceiling On Desires, Issues Of Faith, philosophy, Prashanti Nilayam, Sai Baba, Sathya Sai, sathya sai baba, Social Security, Socio-Economic, Spirituality, Tough Times | Tagged: Capitalism, Consumerism, Economy, Employment, English, Faith, God, India, Love, News, philosophy, Religion, Unemployment, World |