Q &A: Activist research insitute founder comes to RU

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David Yarbrough
dyarbrough@radford.edu

Will Dada Maheshvarananda be remembered in the future for his role in trying to change the world? A self-described “revolutionary activist monk,” he has been all over the world inspiring and sharing his knowledge while also advocating a unique post-capitalist model known as Prout. In 2006 Dada founded the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela in Caracas where he currently serves as the director. He has given hundreds of workshops and seminars around the world as well as published numerous articles and books.
What follows is an editied transcript.
On the back cover of your book, After Capitalism, it says this is “inspired by P.R. Sarkar’s Progressive Utilization Theory or Prout.” Sarkar lived in India, a country very different from the United States. What is Prout; is it a relevant model for this country?
Dada Maheshvarananda: Prout is the acronym for Progressive Utilization Theory, a new socio-economic model based on self-reliance of each region, cooperatives, environmental balance and universal spiritual values. Prout supports local economies and the empowerment of people to make economic decisions that directly shape their lives and communities through locally-owned, small-scale private enterprises, worker-owned cooperatives, and publicly-managed utilities. It decentralizes decision-making and gives citizens the right to choose how their local economy should be run. Noam Chomsky said, “Prout’s cooperative model, based on sharing the planet’s resources for the welfare of everyone, deserves our serious consideration.”
How did your experience as an anti-Vietnam War activist affect your decision to go to India to become a monk?
The year 1971, when I started college, was a very confusing time for me. The government was waging a war in Vietnam in my name that I didn’t agree with and protested. First I applied to be a conscientious objector, and then I decided to burn my draft card and inform the Selective Service office that I had broken the law. I learned at that time that the war was merely one symptom of exploitation by multi-national corporations who are controlling the world. I hung a poster on my wall with these words by Che Guevara: “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be: a revolutionary, trying to change the world as fast as possible, and guided by love.’ But at the time, I wasn’t sure how to go about it.
Was there a specific event or time in your life that made you decide to dedicate your life to the greater good of humanity?
Three years later, in 1974, I learned yoga and meditation as a hobby. I started feeling more peace, love and happiness than I ever dreamed possible. I was told that the spiritual master of my meditation tradition in India was Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar. He was also a social revolutionary who had founded the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout). Here was a path that was both personally fulfilling to me while at the same time was revolutionary and based on love. So I went to India in 1978 at the age of 24 and became a monk, a revolutionary activist monk. I’ve spent the succeeding years in Southeast Asia, Brazil, Europe, and, since 2006, in Venezuela, where I direct the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela.
If you had to choose one individual who inspired you the most throughout life, who would it be and why?
First, I’d like to say that I have been inspired by many great women and men, in this country and around the world, who are totally committed to changing the world and who walk their talk. Still, I would say that Sarkar continues to be the greatest inspiration to me. I personally and met him regularly during the last 12 years of his life. Yet he’s a difficult person to describe. I think he was a genius, a renaissance man with revolutionary ideas in many fields. Because of his stand against corruption, the caste system, the exploitation of women and the exploitation by political parties, he was imprisoned for seven years in India. Yet he was a very humble man who had more unconditional love than anyone I’ve ever met. The scientific lessons of meditation that he taught empowered me; he made me feel that I was the most important person in the world to him; he inspired me to dedicate my life in service to humanity. I know many other people from around the world who felt the same way. Prout is based on unconditional love for all, that we are one universal human family; hence we can leave nobody behind.
Your book, After Capitalism, claims that global capitalism is “terminally ill” and doomed to collapse. Why do you think our country is in distress and what do you think we could do to avoid an economic depression?
Unlike what the corporate-owned media tells us, global capitalism will not last forever. It is terminally ill because it is based on profit, selfishness and greed. It works well for some people, but not for everyone, and nearly half the world’s population is living, suffering and dying in poverty. This poverty is completely unnecessary, because the planet has enough resources, if we share them, for everyone to have a high quality of life.
Global capitalism suffers from inherent contradictions that include growing inequity and concentration of wealth, addiction to speculation instead of production, and rising, unsustainable debt. Committed to growth at all costs, global capitalism has become a cancer, out of control and lethal to our planet’s life support systems. It cannot last.
The way to avoid an economic depression is by building strong local economies in every town and city. Local economies with sustainable agriculture that grows healthy food, renewable “green” industries and credit unions that offer loans to local people are all elements of a vibrant community.
As risk takers and opportunity seekers, entrepreneurs enrich society, sometimes benefiting millions with creative products, services and employment. Would you want to stop all their creativity and innovation?
Not at all. Yet most great innovations are done in teamwork.
Because the physical resources of the planet are limited, the hoarding wealth or using it for speculation rather than productive investment reduces the opportunities of other people and causes poverty. A fundamental principle of Prout is to limit the accumulation of wealth and create a maximum salary that is tied to the minimum wage.
In the United States, all government federal employees have a starting annual salary of US$17,803 (General Schedule grade 1). With education, experience and promotions, the highest pay scale for a president or general or judge is US$179,700 (Senior Executive Service), just ten times higher. Similar pay scales exist for all state and municipal government employees. In Norway, the gap is only 5.3 times, and that country has a very high standard of living.
We need an adequate “living wage” for every worker; all earnings in the private sector should also be capped at reasonable maximum levels. The difference between the minimum wage and the maximum salary helps to motivate people to be productive and contribute to society, but they should be fair and appropriate. Just as everyone thinks that government salaries are fair, I think that tying the maximum salary to the minimum in the general economy would also be fair.
What is your overall opinion of the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprang up in late 2011? What were some its strengths and weaknesses? What role did the corporate media play?
Inspired in part by Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests and the Spanish Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street movement began in New York City on September 17, 2011. However within a month it had multiplied into an international protest movement against social and economic inequality in 951 cities in 82 countries. This viral growth, and the public support of it, is testament to the tremendous dissatisfaction with the inequities and abuses of corporate capitalism. Their cry, “We are the 99 Percent!” is an accurate portrayal of the problem–political leaders are paid to represent the selfish interests of the richest one percent, not of the many. The dream that we can change the world filled the Occupy Movement, with its open general assemblies, participatory decision making, and community building.
Finally the police in every city evicted the people from every common space. Without physical locations, the momentum and enthusiasm naturally fell off. Yet the ideas and hope live on in all of us.
The corporate media first ignored the movement, then condemned it, then were forced to cover it when it became so popular, and now declare it is dead. The media also insists that you can’t change the world, yet as historian Howard Zinn pointed out, every progressive change came about not from the top, but from mass grassroots movements that eventually forced political leaders to change direction.
Why do you say cooperatives are the “businesses of the future”? Can they really provide decent jobs for everyone?
Not everyone is aware that more than one billion people, a sixth of our global population, are members of co-ops. And those cooperatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world, 20 percent more than multinational enterprises! Cooperatives are also more likely to succeed than privately-owned enterprises. In the United States, 60-80 percent of private companies fail in their first year, while only 10 percent of cooperatives fail during that period. After five years, only three to five percent of new U.S. corporations are still in business, while nearly 90 percent of co-ops remain viable. [World Council of Credit Unions, Statistical Data: United States Credit Union Statistics, 1939-2002.]. Cooperatives benefit communities by creating jobs, retaining wealth and increasing social connections among the people.
Why have you chosen to live in Venezuela for the last six years as director of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela? What was your opinion of the late President Hugo Chávez?
I have taught Prout and done social service work for 35 years in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Ten years ago, on June 1, 2003, I was invited to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on his weekly television show to present the Spanish edition of my first Prout book, which was published in Caracas. He said, “Dada Maheshvarananda has given us a book that we appreciate very much. Your visit has come at such an opportune moment…. Thank you very much, brother, and let’s continue with spirituality, spirit, good faith, morality, and the mystical force that moves the world. Dada Maheshvarananda and other citizens of the world are welcome to visit, especially those who come in good faith and offer their ideas, their spirit and their moral flame to the Bolivarian Revolution. This has attracted the attention of the whole world, especially those that struggle and dream of a better world, just as it says in After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World.”
His words inspired me. Many of the goals of Prout are the same as the goals of the Bolivarian Revolution, such as to guarantee the necessities of life to all, to be self-reliant in food, and for workers to manage their own enterprises. President Chávez called for a “socialism for the 21st Century,” but he admitted he did not know exactly what that meant. Sarkar has called Prout “progressive socialism”, and I believe this is the most logical and rational type of economic and social system that will benefit all Venezuelans.
Where can we see models of Prout or economic democracy in practice? Have any countries adopted Prout? Is this model really practical?
The Future Vision Ecological Park outside Sao Paulo, Brazil is a model of integrated rural development based on Sarkar’s vision. Founded in 1992 by Dr. Susan Andrews, the center teaches personal transformation through Biopsychology and community transformation through Prout to more than 9,000 course participants each year.
In the Philippines, nine major regional Prout movements are active, each with a different language and flag; together they have formed a Proutist coalition called Ang Kasama, which means “united companions” in Tagalog. With 5,000 activists and 200 Proutist leaders, they have adopted the slogan “Our culture is our strength!” They promote local languages and cultures, start cooperatives, promote solidarity among all Filipinos, and fight against pseudo-culture and psycho-economic exploitation.
In an extremely poor rural district of Chhattisgarh, India, Pradeep Sharma and 15 young Proutists have started more than 100 village agricultural cooperatives that are earning each woman the equivalent of about US$4 per day for the produce they grow; chronic malnutrition is disappearing, while the purchasing capacity and quality of life of the people is increasing. There are many more.
Although examples of Prout cooperatives and communities exist on every continent, the world has not yet seen how this model can enrich the living standard and quality of life of all in an entire state or country.
Personally, I believe that the Prout is the most complete and practical way to solve the problems of the world: to end hunger, poverty and war, to protect and restore the natural environment, and to bring a high quality of life to everyone. Prout is not a rigid mold to be imposed on any society. Rather, it comprises a holistic set of dynamic principles that can be applied appropriately to help any area prosper in an ecological way.

Dada will be coming to Radford University on Thursday, April 4th, to do a 2 part lecture series on his newest book After Capitalism, and “Activism and the Vision of World Transformation.” 3:30 p.m. in Reed 201 and 7:00 p.m. in Bonnie 249.