CAN WE HAVE THE CAKE AND EAT IT TOO?
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.
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? Swami 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
What does Swami 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 Swami comes into the picture. Swami
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
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
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,