Civilization and Science

In the book Jaiva-Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur a interesting discussion takes place between Advaita Das and Digambara, who where friends from early childhood but now meet after a long time. Digambara became a follower of the Goddess Durga and tries to explain his superior status.

Advaita Das asked a question: “Please explain one idea to me. What is civilization, and what is material science?”

Digambara: Civilization means to speak courteously in a cultured society, to dress oneself in a respectable and pleasing manner, and to eat and to conduct oneself in a way that is not repugnant to others. You do none of these things.

Advaita: Why do you say that?

Digambara: You are distinctly unsociable, for you do not mingle with others. The Vaishnavas have never learned what it means to please others with sweet words. As soon as they lay eyes on anyone, they command him to chant HariNama. Why, is there no other civilized discussion?

Anyone who sees your dress will not be in clined to let you sit in an assembly. You wear a loincloth, a peculiar tuft of hair on the top of your head, and a garland of beads around your neck. What kind of an outfit is this? And you eat only potatoes and roots. You are not at all civilized.

Advaita Das determined that if he were to start a quarrel and Digambara went away angered, it would be a great relief. So he said, “Does your type of civilized living give you the opportunity to attain a higher destination in the next life?”

Digambara: Culture does not in itself grant one a higher destination in the next life, but how can society be elevated without culture? If society is elevated, then one can endeavor for progress in other planets.

Advaita: Brother, I may say something, if you will not become angry.

Digambara: You are my childhood friend; I would give up my life for you. How can I not tolerate whatever you have to say? I am fond of courtesy; even if I become angry, my words remain sweet. The more a man can conceal his inner feelings, the more cultured he is considered to be.

Advaita: Human life is very short, and there are many disturbances. In this brief span of life, the only duty of humanity is to worship Shri Hari with simplicity. Studying the ways of material civilization and culture is simply deceiving the soul. I have understood that the word sabhyata (civilization) is simply another name for civil deception. A human being remains simple as long as he adheres to the path of truth. When he adopts the path of dishonesty, he desires to appear civilized and to please others by sweet words, but internally he remains addicted to deception and wicked deeds.

What you describe as civilization has no good qualities, because truthfulness and simplicity are really the only good qualities. In modern times, civilization has come to mean keeping one’s depravity concealed within. The word sabhyata literally means fitness to participate in a sabha, or a virtuous assembly. In reality, civilization that is free from sin and deception is only found among Vaishnavas. Non-Vaishavas very much appreciate civilization that is saturated with sin. The civilization that you speak of is not related to the nitya-dharma of the Jihva.

If civilization means to adorn oneself in stylish clothes to appeal to others, then prostitutes are more civilized than you are. The only requirement for clothing is that it should cover the body and be clean and free from unpleasant odor. Food is faultless when it is pure and nutritious, but you only care whether it tastes good; you don’t even consider whether it is pure or not. Wine and meat are naturally impure, and a civilization based upon the consumption of such things is simply a society dedicated to sin. What passes as civilization at present is the culture of Kali-yuga.

Digambara: Have you forgotten the civilization of the Muslim emperors? Just consider the manners with which people sit in the court of a Muslim emperor, how politely they speak, and with such proper etiquette.

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