Modern economic thought leans heavily on the extent of luxurious commodities that one uses while defining wealth and affluence. Sanātana-dharma, on the other hand, opines that one of the major indices of richness is the ‘judicious usage of resources.’ The great philosopher-seer Kauṭilya, author of the Arthaśāstra, while elucidating the principal focus of economics, stresses the need for disciplining both body and mind without giving in to inherent hedonistic appetites. He further condenses the aim of the whole of economics in a telegraphic line, “The crux of the subject matter is the victory over the self.” This proposition is likely to call into question the very fundamentals of economics whose life-breath is trade and trade-offs, which by implication invalidates the equivalence between the extent consumerism and financial status. This is not devoid of truth, but when we analyze the ‘desire to possess’—which ideally speaking should be propelled to complement the ‘deficiency of needs’—it becomes clear that controlled consumption is the true yardstick of wealth; one who is excessively seduced by desires is truly poor.
If we look closely into the production and the variety of the commodities available in the market, a keen eye will not miss the over-processing regardless of the need. A delicious orange fruit that used to find its place in a fruit shop, after having gone through an additional step of processing, makes itself available in the form of a sealed juice container. One may argue that the non-availability of oranges round the year justifies this ‘over-processing’ – it is inevitable. In spite of such arguments holding some water, if we consider the loss of the energy and the rise in the entropy involved in this over-processing, the scales get tipped the other way. In a more abstract backdrop, the availability of everything at all times—as utilitarian as it might be—destroys the natural freshness and the joy of anticipation.
If we consider the energy pyramid at the universal level in general and the magnified look into its geo-solar aspect in particular, the energy economics of the plant kingdom, whose growth depends heavily on the energy of sun and earth, rests at the higher echelons of the energy efficiency index. More the evolutionary superiority, lower will be the energy efficiency index is a fact not alien to the students of the Sanātana-dharma. The inescapable insignia of the good economics is ‘the optimization of the degree of self-reliance’ by exercising control over the use of consumable goods. The long and short of the whole idea propounded here is the necessity to cultivate a judicious and frugal lifestyle which is both economically advantageous and scientifically authenticated. The absence of such a lifestyle in the long run might precipitate serious concerns.
We must also understand that the analysis of the vices of over-processing carried out here is valid only in the realm of the material world. As far as the intellectual, emotional and its expressive aspects are concerned, more refinement is the hallmark of progress. The startling feature of all the great principles is that they can be expressed in a statement pregnant with beauty and brevity. If we were to summarize the crux of the whole essay in its laconic lucidity it would be “Simple Living and Sublime Thinking.”
This is a translation of a Kannada essay by Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh titled ಸರಳಜೀವನ-ಗಹನಚಿಂತನ from the anthology ಮಥನ-ಕಥನ. Reviewed by Shreesha Karantha and edited by Hari Ravikumar.