“Plain Living and High Thinking”: An English Lesson with Srila Prabhupada

The following is an excerpt from Ravindra Svarupa’s blog wherein New Vrindaban is mentioned:

Any student of Srila Prabhupada will at once recognize the phrase “plain living and high thinking.” It occurred frequently and memorably in his discourse. It functioned as kind of motto or slogan to epitomize Prabhupada’s vision of a natural spiritual culture, an alternative to our modern, “soul-killing” industrial civilization.

Prabhupada had made use of the phrase even before he journeyed to America in 1965. In an essay (published much later by the BBT as the second chapter of the booklet Message of Godhead), Prabhupada had written that people nowadays are interested only in

behavior like eating, sleeping, defending, and gratifying the senses. The material scientists—the modern quasi priests who invoke such material activities—invent many objects to gratify the material senses such as the eye, ear, nose, and tongue and ultimately the mind, and there results a field of unnecessary competition for enhancement of such material happiness, which leads the whole world into the whirlpool of uncalled-for clashes. The net result is scarcity all over the world, so much so that even the bare necessities of life, namely food and clothing, become objects of contention and control. And so arise all sorts of obstacles to the traditional, God-given life of plain living and high thinking.

After arriving in America, Prabhupada quickly made known his desire to established self-sufficient rural communities to demonstrate this “God-given” style of life in practice. For example, he wrote in a letter to his disciple Hayagriva dasa in June, 1968:

So, if you seriously want to convert this new spot [in West Virginia] as New Vrindaban, I shall advise you not to make it very much modernized. But as you are American boys, you must make it just suitable to your minimum needs. Not to make it too much luxurious as generally Europeans and Americans are accustomed. Better to live there without modern amenities. But to live a natural healthy life for executing Krishna Consciousness. It may be an ideal village where the residents will have plain living and high thinking. For plain living we must have sufficient land for raising crops and pasturing grounds for the cows. If there is sufficient grains and production of milk, then the whole economic problem is solved. You do not require any machines, cinema, hotels, slaughterhouses, brothels, nightclubs—all these modern amenities.

Hayagriva himself, a one-time college English instructor, recognized the phrase “plain living and high thinking,” and wrote in an April, 1967, issue of Back to Godhead, “Thoreau made Emerson’s injunction of ‘plain living and high thinking’ famous when he set out to live outside Boston on an isolated tract of Emerson’s land surrounding Walden Pond.”

Read the entire article here.

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