On July 1st, 2014, Radhanath Swami spoke at the Bhakti Center in New York City about the Govardhan Eco Village, a project he initiated on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. An excerpt of the talk is below. The entire talk may be downloaded here.

In the early 1970’s I heard a story about my beloved gurudev, Srila Prabhupada. He was in Mayapur, a very holy place in India where Lord Chaitanya appeared in this world. For many, many years, saintly people have gone there.

So Srila Prabhupada, after much struggle and challenge was able to purchase a plot of land in a kind of isolated place there. It was mainly rice paddies in the area, and he wanted to build a place of pilgrimage where people could come from all over India and from all around the world to a place of spiritual rejuvenation.

He hardly had any funds whatsoever. In fact, when he first started living there he lived within these rice paddies in a little hut made of straw. When monsoons came, cobras would make their residence in the roof of the hut to avoid the high waters. It was kind of like living in New York City with unpredictable neighbors (laughter).

One day Srila Prabhupada took some of the leaders of the project for a walk around the land, and he was discussing what he would like to be done with the land in different places. He became very excited and he pointed his cane towards one field and said, “Don’t you see?” and everyone was looking. They just saw the field and so didn’t say anything. But he again repeated, “Don’t you see?” They again looked at the field and at each other, thinking that maybe Srila Prabhupada was seeing Krishna there. Finally someone spoke up and asked what they were supposed to see. Srila Prabhupada walked into the field where there was a water faucet that was leaking and he turned it off and walked back. He said, Krishna consciousness means to honor what God has given us and not to waste anything.

This was an interesting story that had a tremendous impact on me. I never forgot that story. I only heard it once but it stayed with me – that respecting Mother Nature and utilizing her resources with compassion is an integral part of being God conscious. We know that radha-krishna-pranaya-vikritir hladini-shaktir asmad, that the Absolute Truth is one.  He has many names and comes in many times and places to establish many religions. So there is one God.

In each manifestation of sanatana dharma he is ultimately teaching us prema pumartho mahan – that the highest goal is to love God. What does it mean to love God? This one Absolute Truth has a feminine power, Sri Radha. The two together are the one God – Radha Krsna. In the Vedic literatures we find that Sri Radha is the embodiment of all compassion and forgiveness and the source of grace. That grace is the most powerful source in all existence. It is this grace alone that can make our hearts blossom and awaken the love that is within us. Love of God cannot be attained no matter how many lifetimes we fast, or how little sleep we get, or how much we chant names or meditate. Ultimately all these spiritual activities are to connect us with that grace, and it is that grace that opens our hearts and reveals that love that has been forgotten.

Sri Radha is the source of that grace, and when she manifests Herself in material creation she is Bhumi, or Mother Earth, and also Durga, the mother of material nature. Through the grace of Bhumi – Sri Radha’s expansion, God’s expansion – Mother Earth is providing everything to us. We are completely dependent upon her.

In many parts of the world we refer to “Mother Earth.” The Vedas have a very deep concept about how she is the actual eternal mother of our souls, who is coming into this world to be the mother of every aspect of our lives, through the sunshine, rain, foodgrains, soil, the air we breathe. Whether we are simple villagers or multi-millionaires, whether we are illiterate or have multi PhD’s, whoever we are, we are all like infant babies totally dependent upon her. We are like little babies. A two-day-old baby can’t say, “Forget you, I can take care of myself.” (laughter) They don’t even know how to talk. They are completely dependent on their mother. And actually, no matter who we are, we are always even more dependent upon Mother Earth.

So in bhakti, the concepts of being respectful and honoring the gifts of Mother Earth are inseparable with our nature of devotion for God, Krishna. So this idea of environmentalism and eco-friendly lifestyle is a very essential part of the devotional path, because we receive grace to the degree that we are grateful and willing to reciprocate with it. Otherwise, we can’t recognize it. This chanting of the holy names, these sacred mantras, they take us into this grace. And as we are chanting these beautiful names of God, if we live a spirit of seva, or service, then it has a very, very powerful effect of bringing total peace and love to our lives.

Every drop of water is like a diamond. It is so precious. We should be so eager to save it. It is like diamonds falling from the sky and we are just letting it go into the ground. So the idea of really recognizing Krishna is being grateful for what is given, and utilizing it with compassion. And in this same spirit, we understand that every living being is a child of Mother Earth and the Supreme. Ahaḿ bīja-pradaḥ pitā, Krishna says:  “I am the father and mother of all beings.”

When Srila Prabhupada turned off that water faucet, just one little activity like that, it was performed with such deep spiritual realization and compassion and love for God. When we had the concept of starting this eco-village that little story was my inspiration. That was the seed.

Srila Prabhupada explained the concept of simple living and high thinking – that we don’t need a lot of things to be happy. What will make us happy are our values and ultimately our understanding that we are eternal souls and that we have an eternal relationship with God, with Krishna. And in that relationship we have a relationship with all the resources of Krishna. Sarva loka mahesvaram. Everything in creation is God’s property. So as we see everything connected to Him, we respect it and honor it.

When I heard the story of Srila Prabhupada turning off that faucet I thought, “Yes, this is not just theory; it is something extremely practical. So let us get some land and try to make a model for the world to show how, when we have bhakti, devotion to Krishna, we will naturally have respect, compassion and love for everything connected with Krishna.” If we are compassionate to humans, it is contradictory if we do not treat the animals, trees, rivers, air and mountains nicely as well. Because everything is interdependent. That is the way creation is made.

Radhanath Swami