Simple Living

“Simple living”—as it applies to the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness—can mean many things, such as freedom from greed and extravagance, straightforwardness in social dealings, exclusive service to the Supreme Person, honest work in harmony with natural laws, and dependence on God’s mercy.


“Simple living”—as it applies to the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness—can mean many things, such as freedom from greed and extravagance, straightforwardness in social dealings, exclusive service to the Supreme Person, honest work in harmony with natural laws, and dependence on God’s mercy.

The English poet William Wordsworth wrote,

Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely* beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.

Srila Prabhupada may have had this poem in mind when he frequently used the term “simple living and high thinking” to describe the ideal way of life for people in general and devotees of Krishna specifically. “Simple living” is rooted in the idea that an intelligent person should spend as much time as possible cultivating spiritual awareness and not get carried away by material circumstances or desires.

Simple living requires minimizing bodily needs and accepting whatever comes by the arrangement of Providence. To this end, Srila Prabhupada always spoke in favor of local self-sustaining agrarian economies to meet life’s needs without the hard labor needed to acquire extraneous amenities.

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In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes the ideal social system for simple living—varnashrama-dharma. In that model, people work according to their nature, for the common good, with the consciousness that everything belongs to the Supreme Person and life is meant for serving Him.

Most of us don’t live an agrarian life, and varnashrama-dharma is not the current world model for civilization. It is therefore our responsibility to apply varnashrama principles in our own lives by seeking guidance from scripture and spiritually advanced persons. The process is indeed simple, but the application is likely to keep us fully and prayerfully busy during this lifetime.

Simple living essentially means living to please God. Individual applications of this principle may differ, but basically we’re recommended to accept whatever’s favorable for our spiritual progress and to reject whatever’s unfavorable. Perhaps it’s not so simple to live simply in this day and age, but if it weren’t possible at all, it wouldn’t be so highly recommended.

*In this context, the word “homely” means “unsophisticated and unpretentious,” qualities even more rare now than in 1802, when Wordsworth wrote it.