As we know, materialistic culture is based on the mottos of materialistic life, namely sense gratification being the goal of life. Out of all sense gratification sex life is seen to be the topmost enjoyment. Materialistic culture is based on the bodily concept of life - gross and also subtle. It reinforces our identifiation not only with our gross body, but also with our subtle body of mind, intelligence and false ego. Infact, it is centered around blowing up and feeding the subtle body, mainly the false ego: "I am so special, I am so unique, let everyone recognise my greatness." This is the very essence of materialistic life and its culture. Another important aspect is the understanding that there is only one life, and therefore no purifying duties. These are the underlying worldviews of materialistic culture.
Already now we can see that these two cultures are based on very different underlying principles, and they are also feeding these worldviews back and strongly propagate them. This is what culture does. Once we clearly understand these points, it becomes obvious that these two cultures are incompatible - they are actually like day and night. In Bhagavad-Gita 2.69. Krishna explains this: "What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage." We can visualize a broad spectrum with the day of the materialist being on one end, and the day of the spiritualist being on the opposite end; in between is a broad spectrum of all kinds of shades, grades and mixtures.
I would like to share one little example which makes it very clear how these two cultures are indeed like day and night, even within our ISKCON society. Some twelve years ago when travelling in Bangladesh I caught typhoid fever and had to be admitted to a hospital. This happened in the yatra of Sylhet.
The doctors who treated me and the President of Sylhet temple, a very senior brahmacari, insisted that he would stay with me in the same room in the hospital. This would very well be a huge scandal anywhere else in the world, but in Bangladesh where spiritual culture is still so prominent up to this very day - there it was right. But in other countries where spiritual culture is not much present any longer, this would be wrong. In spiritual culture, the principle of protection of a woman is indeed the highest principle - far superior to the principle of brahmacari life. This is meant to serve as a little example in order to illustrate how these two cultures are indeed like day and night. Whatever is day and right in one part of the world may be completely wrong and night in another.
In this world we can observe that there are many places where spiritual culture is still prominent; in other places it has been completely pushed aside by a materialistic way of life. It is very much connected with the standard of life: the higher the standard of life is, the more easily sense gratification becomes the goal in life. As materialistic culture sets in, spiritual culture is pushed aside. In countries like India, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe or even Southern Europe we can still find remnants of spiritual culture, whereas in other countries it is almost lost and forgotten.
We know the famous letter which Srila Prabhupada wrote to Hamsaduta in 1972:
"Now we have got so many students and so many temples, but I am fearful that if we expand too much in this way that we shall become weekened and gradually the whole thing will become lost. Just like milk. We may thin it more and more with water for cheating the customers, but in the end it will cease to be any longer milk. Better to boil the milk now very vigorously and make it thick and sweet, that is the best process. So let us concentrate on training our devotees very thoroughly in the knowledge of Krsna consciousness from our books, from tapes, by discussing always, and in so many ways instruct them in the right proposition."
The very fact how much we are struggling in understanding and accepting spiritual culture actually shows that we are not quite there yet in living our philosophy. As long as spiritual culture is so foreign to us, we are still hanging on to the materialistic worldviews, and we have not quite made this transformation yet. To conclude I would like to share a little quote from a lecture in Los Angeles, 16th of December 1968: "Srila Prabhupada didn't want us to adopt American ways of life. After a Bhagavad-gita lecture Srila Prabhupada was asked if he was in this world. He replied, "Just like I am in America. It is very easy to understand. I am not adopting any ways of life as the Americans. So I am not in America. Not only myself, all my disciples who are following me, they are also not Americans. They're different from American behavior, American ways of life. In that sense I'm not in America. I am in Vrndavana because wherever I go, in my apartment or in my temple, I live with Krishna and Krishna consciousness. I don't accept any consciousness of America. And I teach my disciples also to take to that consciousness. So one who takes to that consciousness, he is also not in America, not in this world."
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