Untested Simplicity of the Villages

by Ram Dass

Is the vision of simple living provided by this village in the East the answer?  Is this an example of a primitive simplicity of the past or of an enlightened simplicity of the future?

Gradually I have to come to sense that this is not the kind of simplicity that the future holds.  For despite its ancient character, the simplicity of the village is still in its “infancy”.

Occasionally people show me their new babies and ask me if that peaceful innocence is not just like that of the Buddha.  Probably not, I tell them, for within that baby reside all the latent seeds of worldly desire, just waiting to sprout as the opportunity arises.  On the other hand, the expression on the face of the Buddha, who had seen through the impermanence and suffering associated with such desires, reflects the invulnerability of true freedom.

So it is with the village.  Its ecological and peaceful way of living is unconsciously won and thus is vulnerable to the winds of change that fan the latent desires of its people.  Even now there is a familiar but jarring note in this sylvan village scene.  The sound of static and that impersonal professional voice of another civilization — the radio announcer — cut through the harmony of sounds as a young man of the village holding a portable radio to his ear comes around a bend.  On his arm there is a silver wrist watch, which sparkles in the sun.  He looks at me proudly as he passes.  And a wave of understanding passes through me.  Just behind that radio and wristwatch comes an army of desires that for centuries have gone untested and untasted.  As material growth and technological change activate these yearnings, they will transform the heart, minds, work and daily life of this village within a generation or two.

Gradually I see that the simplicity of the village has not been consciously chosen as much as it has been unconsciously derived as the product of centuries of unchanging custom and tradition.  The [villages] have yet to fully encounter the impact of technological change and material growth.  When the [villages] have encountered the latent desires within its people, and the cravings for material goods and social position begin to wear away at the fabric of traditional culture, then it can begin to choose its simplicity consciously.  Then the simplicity of the [villages] will be consciously won — voluntarily chosen.

–Ram Dass, in Voluntary Simplicity.

Here’s an introduction to Baba Ram Dass from the wiki.

Ram Dass 1931-2019 (born Richard Alpert), also known as Baba Ram Dass, was an American spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author. His widely known book, Be Here Now (1971), has been described as “seminal”, and helped popularize Eastern spirituality and yoga with the baby boomer generation in the West. He authored or co-authored twelve more books on spirituality over the next four decades.

Dass was personally and professionally associated with Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s. Then known as Richard Alpert, he conducted research with Leary on the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs. In addition, Alpert assisted Harvard Divinity School graduate student Walter Pahnke in his 1962 “Good Friday Experiment” with theology students, the first controlled, double-blind study of drugs and the mystical experience. While not illegal at the time, their research was controversial and led to Leary’s and Alpert’s dismissal from Harvard in 1963.

In 1967, Alpert traveled to India and became a disciple of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba who gave him the name Ram Dass, meaning “Servant of Ram”. In the coming years, he founded the charitable organizations Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation. He traveled extensively giving talks and retreats and holding fundraisers for charitable causes in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. In 1997, he had a stroke which left him with paralysis and expressive aphasia. He eventually grew to interpret this event as an act of grace, learning to speak again and continuing to teach and author books. After becoming seriously ill during a trip to India in 2004, he gave up traveling and moved to Maui, Hawaii, where he hosted annual retreats with other spiritual teachers until his death.

Since Ram Dass was associated with Timothy Leary, the song that best goes with this post is “Legend of a Mind” by the always excellent The Moody Blues.

One thought on “Untested Simplicity of the Villages

  1. Prabhu Desai Monday August 2, 2021 / 1:43 am

    Very perceptive. Growing up in a beautiful village, I was so used to city folks coming to our house and admiring our “beautiful/peaceful” life. In my mind I would have happily traded my relatively large house for a small apartment in city.

    I am reminded of a Milton Friedman talk where someone says “America’s need to grow”. Friedman interjects and says that American society has not need to grow. They have desire to grow and these two things are different. If American people somehow collectively give up creating wealth voluntarily that would be perfectly good outcome too.

    After reading this piece I am reminded of a Sanskrit saying : “Vruddha nari pativrutta”. An old woman is always loyal to her husband. Only the man who has earned a lot of money and than has completely given it away has the right to boast about how cool poverty is. Neither an always poor or a rich man has a right to boast about it.

    India’s villages could have been a great example of human society where people don’t really take pleasure in being productive provided that they had a choice.

    Liked by 1 person

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