Down With Affluenza? ECOV’s Got the Cure

ECOV Logo  Affluenza


Down With Affluenza? ECOV’s Got the Cure.

by Madhava Smullen

Contrary to what advertisers would have us believe, stuff doesn’t make us happy. In fact, it could be just the opposite.

According to a study of Commerce Department data cited in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. consumers are set to spend $1.2 trillion in 2011 on non-essential goods including pleasure boats, jewelry, booze, gambling and candy. Yet 121 million people around the world, and 18 million in the U.S., suffer from depression, and suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide in the last forty-five years.

Meanwhile, we are polluting the planet, causing climate change and loss of biodiversity, and leaving our children a toxic legacy. And despite our addiction to spending, even the economy is collapsing.

So what’s the alternative? Members of ECOV (Earth, Cows, Opportunity, and Villages), a cow protection organization set in the ISKCON Community of New Vrindaban, West Virginia, believe they have an effective one. It’s an agrarian lifestyle in harmony with nature, animals and the earth, that focuses on simple living and high thinking.

This approach is based on the Vedic culture of ancient India—in which the cow and bull were the very backbone of society, and treated as part of the family. In fact, the cow was deeply respected as the mother of mankind, and the bull as its father. For just as a child is fed with its mother’s milk, the cow feeds human society her milk; and just as the father earns for his children, the bull tills the ground to produce food grains.

These ideas were exemplified in India, yet practiced all over the world to some degree until modern times. Even in the U.S., as recently as the 1950s, a person’s flock and grains was his life.

ECOV Adviser Varshana Swami, who has dedicated much of his life to the pursuit of simple living and high thinking, recalls the exact time in his childhood when it all went wrong.

“As a kid in the late 1950s, I used to visit my grandfather’s farm in New York State regularly,” he says. “It was in such a backwoods town that the tractor hadn’t completely taken over yet, and they were still using animal power for agriculture. Then the tractor came to the village. First, it killed the social life by replacing all the villagers who would come together for the planting and the harvest. Then, its presence caused overproduction to the point that the government stepped in and started paying the farmers to stop growing crops. It literally put an end to agriculture.”

Of course, the tractor can have its uses and Varshana Swami doesn’t think it needs to be completely prohibited—as long as it doesn’t replace the ox. However for him, the tractor’s arrival is a symbol for modern humanity’s consumer addiction, which destroys the natural prosperity and spiritual advancement that past generations enjoyed.

Searching for a word to describe this affliction, he came across the term ‘affluenza’ in the dictionary. Its definition? “Extreme materialism which is the impetus for accumulating wealth and for over consumption of goods; also, feelings of guilt and isolation from the dysfunctional pursuit of wealth and goods.” The dictionary even adds that “its antidote is simple living.”

“Affluenza creates an unsustainable addiction to economic growth and plundering, which upsets the natural order of things,” explains Varshana Swami. “Let’s continue to use the tractor as an example. It’s born by plundering economies for iron ore, which is smelted in factories that pollute the environment. Then forests of sandalwood trees, which are traditionally used for sacrifices, are annihilated to plant rubber trees for the tires. Next, you need petroleum, the life blood of the earth, which spews polluting hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. Finally, the tractor is used to spread chemical fertilizers, which are made from the same ingredients as explosives, and which kill the soil.”

These fertilizers create vegetables and fruit that look big and lush, but lack taste and nutritional value. What to speak of so-called ‘organic fertilizer’—blood meal and bone meal made of crushed bones and blood from cow slaughterhouses that render even our ‘certified organic’ foods non-vegetarian.

Thus under the influence of affluenza and petroleum dependency, we kill our mother the cow and eliminate our father the ox from his place in the field. “If the father of society is unemployed, how can there be any question of prosperity in the family?” says Varshana Swami. “And so our modern disease of affluenza promises wealth but brings scarcity, exploitation, and plundering of the earth’s very life support systems.”

This is in stark contrast to the ancient system of agriculture—working with the cow, the ox, and the land in a simple way that fosters community, loving relationships, learning skills, and spiritual introspection. This natural order is a synergistic system of bounty, prosperity, and devotion.

“My guru, Srila Prabhupada, who encouraged his followers to establish farm communities based on these principles, defined true wealth as cows, land and grains,” Varshana Swami says. “And in ancient Vedic culture, the cow represents the earth, who in turn is also considered our revered mother. In fact, the ancient text Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that the earth is God’s consort, and an expansion of Radharani, the female aspect of Divinity.” On a practical level, the cow produces milk, the miracle substance which, the Srimad-Bhagavatam explains, is not only vastly versatile and nutritious but also the only food which develops the finer tissues of the human brain, enabling one to understand the subtleties of spiritual dynamics, relationships and truth.

Meanwhile the ox is an even more valuable creature. In Vedic culture, he represents Dharma, or the natural order of things, and since he pulls the plow, he is also the symbol for agriculture. Both his and the cow’s urine has medicinal and insecticidal properties, while their dung is the only way Varshana Swami knows of to revive soils which have been killed by chemical fertilizers.

Yet the prime reason why protecting the ox is more relevant now than ever before, is that as the tiller of the soil he’s our alternative to chemical and petroleum dependency—the lubricant that oils the consumer machine, and facilitates our addiction to non-essential stuff and our aversion to the simple life that will actually make us happy and content.

“The fragile industrial systems we’ve created for ourselves are going to fail,” concludes Varshana Swami. “We don’t know if it’s going to be sooner or later, sudden or gradual—but they are unsustainable, unnatural, and they will fail. That’s why I see reinstating the ox in his rightful position in our society as an extremely urgent mission.”

ECOV invites all to help it with this mission, either by supporting it financially or by lending help in working the land and taking care of its herd of cows and oxen. Experiencing this simple life is the only way to cure ourselves of affluenza and find true happiness—despite what advertisers would prefer us to believe.

Mission Statement: ECOV (Earth, Cows, Opportunities & Villages) is dedicated to cow protection, sustainable agriculture, self-sufficiency and simple living — all centered around loving service to Sri Krishna, as envisioned by the ISKCON New Vrindaban Founder-Acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

For more info, visit ECOV’s website.

For regular updates, we also invite you to “like” ECOV’s Facebook page.

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