Birdy Bird’s life was not natural or normal. He was a pigeon. Pigeons always lay exactly two eggs, and if both eggs hatch, the parents both participate in rearing the two squeakers until they are able to fend for themselves, a process that takes about a month. Somehow or other, Birdy Bird’s parents committed a mathematical error and produced 3 eggs, hatching three chicks. His parents cared for the three chicks, vomiting into their squeaky throats several times a day to keep them nourished for about a week. Then, apparently, they got around to counting their brood and discovered the mistake.
I found Birdy Bird on the floor of the loft, almost dead due to being exposed to the chill of the early Autumn air. I picked him up and although he was hideously ugly being nearly naked and embryonic-looking, I felt pity for him and decided to try to raise him myself. My daughter had previously raised an orphan pigeon and had explained, in great detail, the nuances of baby pigeon raising and had even produced a youtube video demonstrating her techniques.
At first everything went well. I rigged up a heat lamp so that he could maintain body temperature until his feathers grew in. And I mixed up a gruel of grain flours that I syringed into his beak several times a day, filling the croup, a pouch in the chest of a bird that holds food that is waiting to be digested.
Then one day, when I went to fill the little bird’s croup, I noticed that it was still almost full, even though it had been hours since I last fed him. He also appeared listless, and I sadly concluded that he probably wasn’t going to make it. He hadn’t messed the paper towels, either. So I syringed in a little water, chanted Hare Krsna to him, and went about my other activities.
For several days, the little bird didn’t digest and appeared listless. I kept giving him some water, but I was waiting for him to leave his body. My husband and I hadn’t named him because we didn’t think he’d make it, but when we discussed him, we’d refer to him as “Birdy Bird”. Then suddenly, after about 5 days, I was surprised to see that there was poop all over the paper towels and that little Birdy Bird’s croup was empty. He eagerly accepted several syringes of gruel and made contented squeaky sounds when he was full. After that, he proceeded to grow and thrive.
Unfortunately when he was a month old, an age when he should have been fully grown and nicely feathered, poor Birdy Bird, appeared rumply and lop-sided. During the time he’d been ailing, I’d left him lying in a fixed position and apparently that caused his bone structure to grow unevenly. Additionally those 5 days were apparently crucial for primary feather growth and his long wing and tail feathers were inadequate for flying. I realized that we’d have to care for him until he molted his baby feathers and grew new ones. He ended up staying in our house in a makeshift cage all winter. In the spring, he molted and grew nice glossy feathers, iridescent around his neck, which covered up his lopsided bone structure and he appeared to be a handsome, if somewhat stunted young pigeon. I let him out and he expressed his glee at his freedom and his unexpected ability to soar over the trees.
But Birdy Bird didn’t join the other pigeons. He was not interested in socializing with them and didn’t join the group flights in which the flock circled the valley, flying as a cohesive unit. No, Birdy Bird pretty much stayed outside the house and waited for me to come out and then followed me wherever I went.
One morning I was out in the garden on my hands and knees, transplanting a flat of broccoli seedlings, when Birdy Bird started cooing and strutting right in front of me. He puffed up his iridescent purpley blue neck and began dipping his head towards me, obviously trying to herd me. I realized that he was doing a pigeon mating dance and trying to push me towards a nesting place where I could lay eggs. Poor Birdy Bird: his conditioning as a youngster led him to become a very dysfunctional adult.
Birdy Bird’s early conditioning condemned him to a life of frustration. Is it possible that the conditioning of our own upbringing also condemns us? My life and the lives of almost everyone I know is not natural or normal. We were not raised in a human environment, but rather our earliest conditioning and the basis for our deepest held beliefs is demonic. When Srila Prabhupada tells us that we come from a demonic civilization, most of us probably think he’s referring to the slaughter houses, illicit sex and intoxication that is prevalent, but what if what he’s referring to goes much, much deeper? What if our inner, unexamined desires are also as unnatural and unfulfillable as Birdy Bird’s desire to raise a brood of chicks with me.
These beliefs are so ingrained into our beings that we don’t even notice the assumptions we carry with us that affect every decision we make. Even devotees, when confronted with the reality that if they want to raise a family (or even just be comfortable), they’ll have to provide for the family by doing some sort of work. So devotees, like karmis, get jobs and many of them pursue higher education or start businesses so that they can get a better job with more compensation. The difference between a devotee and a karmi is that, according to Srila Prabhupada, if you work a job, you should spend 50% of your income for spreading Krsna consciousness. In reality, this is impossible for almost every devotee. Many devotees are able to make only enough money to pay for a sustenance living, and devotees who make more money than required for basic sustenance seem to forget that they were instructed to contribute half their income. So in terms of lifestyle, there is very little difference between devotees working within the demonic civilization constraints and karmis. Of course devotees try to follow the regulative principles, chant their rounds and read Srila Prabhupada’s books, but if they are disobeying the instructions of the Spiritual Master by not contributing 50% of their income, their progress is naturally seriously impeded.
Just as the solution for Birdy Bird to become happy would be for him to realize that he’s actually a pigeon, not a human; for devotees the solution for us to become happy is to realize that we are devotees, not demons. The demonic civilization conditions us to work really hard so that we can get the things that we need so that we’ll be able to keep working hard so that we can keep paying the rent/mortgage and buy food. Srila Prabhupada never intended for the majority of his disciples to continue to live within the demonic civilization’s clutches and told us that an ideal lifestyle for devotees is to live in communities where we produce our necessities, minimizing hard work and saving time to utilize for becoming conscious of Krsna. Implementing this lifestyle and establishing varnashrama, he said, was the second half of his mission.
Now that over 40 years have lapsed since Srila Prabhupada’s physical departure, the concept of simple living, high thinking is rarely broached within Srila Prabhupada’s institution, ISKCON. While there is a “Minister of Agriculture and Cow Protection,” if you visit their Facebook page, you realize that cow protection isn’t about engaging cows and bulls in a lifestyle, but rather about using them as commodities to get donations for “cow protection.” I didn’t see much about “agriculture” on their site either other than some packaged food designed to be sold in exchange for money or a remnant of a farm developing a CSA (community assisted agriculture—basically a business).
Prabhupada: If you open farm for financial help, then it will not be successful. You should take to farming for supporting yourself. That’s all. Grow your own food. Grow your own cloth. There is no need of financial help from outside. You get your food grains sufficiently, rice, dahl, wheat, vegetables, milk, sugar. Bas You get everything. From these five, six items you should be economically free. That you have to do, not for trade to get money. Then it will be failure. Conversation – March 14, 1974, Vrindavana . en it will be failure.
One so-called farm community in Sweden is even advertising for a “cowherd” position, a position that is compensated with a paycheck! Basically ISKCON is trying to make Srila Prabhupada’s instructions regarding lifestyle adapt to the preconceptions we have due to our demonic conditioning having been raised in a demonic environment. It is not unlike Birdy Bird thinking he’ll finally be happy if he can convince me to make a nest.
There are so many reasons why we cannot possibly live a simple living, high thinking lifestyle as Srila Prabhupada instructed: not having property (necessitating working a job to pay for any property acquired), not having a functional devotee community, not having the physical vitality, not having experience etc. These are all valid obstacles, but not valid excuses. We work for a very rich Person, and from my husband’s and my personal experience, this rich Person can easily remove obstacles if we just make a little effort.
Establishing the second half of Srila Prabhupada’s mission will happen because Srila Prabhupada wants it to happen to please Krsna. At this point in time, however, it seems like the only way it will occur will be for the grocery stores to permanently close their doors and for the demonic infrastructure to be reduced “to melted steel and rubble” (Prabhupada conversation, Amsterdam)
Here at New Nandagram, we are planning on hosting a Prabhupada Farm Festival this summer to showcase how satisfying a simple living, high thinking lifestyle can be. Please join us for the festival that will be open to all Prabhupada loyal devotees. For more information, call: 360-496-0058 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org