Varnasrama – Why Now!
By Nitai dasa
There is presently difficulty finding consensus on implementing Varnasrama Dharma within the devotee community according to time and place. There are different reasons for this but we won’t go into it in detail here. Instead, in the first part, we will look at why we need to start varnasrama immediately and in the second part, the practical ways to do so without letting the issues get in the way. We seriously need to introspect and consider what the present is now and try to see what the future will be in twenty or fifty years or more from now – and to act positively.
To look a little into the future, we have to actually realize how degraded the present generation is, and what it was like in the past. The present young generation of Western women far surpass men in unfavourable habits that once used to be considered mostly a man’s material privilege. In the United Kingdom, and from my experience with London, on any night of the week – with weekends being worse, one would see half naked women stumbling or crawling on the sidewalks, absolutely drunk, some of them unashamedly vomiting and urinating on the streets.
These are not isolated cases; it is a way of life now. There is no culture of marriage anymore; people instead prefer short term sexual relationships and it is rare to find people refer to someone as a husband or wife; instead the term “my partner” is common. Even worse, most relationships don’t last for even a year. People are afraid of long term marital commitments because it will get in the way of squeezing the maximum sense gratification from their bodies. Many people change partners every few months or even sooner, some every week – just like shopping for new clothing – at least clothes last longer. It is all about sex without the knots. Devotees may not have first hand experience; they only know what they read in the news. One has to live amongst the so called “normal people” to actually see this to know how society has degraded.
Due to the natural mothering nature of women, there is the desire to have a child at some stage in their lives. So when these women get a little older, they have a child without the bondage of marriage. Then there is varna-sankara, unwanted children. These unwanted children are kept as pet dogs – with minimum emotional attachment. Because these children get in the way of the parents sense gratification – they lavish them with money, the latest electronic gadgets or anything else they may need and encourage them to do as they wish, so long as they just leave the parents alone. If the parents cannot provide the latest gadgets or brand name clothing, they steal to get it. So these children become lost and alone without emotional family support and they take to the streets and join with other varna-sankara children.
These unwanted children are a menace to society. Presently in the UK, in the towns and suburbs, children aged ten onwards stand around street corners and bus shelters and cause disturbance to grown ups. People are afraid to leave their homes after it gets dark, for fear of what these youths will do. Pockets of some cities live in fear. These children are rough and most of the girls in these groups aged thirteen onwards are sexually active if not outright promiscuous. Their vocabulary is restricted to a few syllables, they do not care for society, and they turn to drugs, alcohol and crime. The government calls this “anti social behaviour.” These children cannot be chastised in schools or by their parents, because they have “rights”, human rights that is, applied the material way.
The reader may wonder why more emphasis is on women’s behaviour, rather than men. In Vedic culture, a chaste women stands for all that is sacred. Men have their bad habits, and because they don’t give protection to women anymore, they are also to blame. Actually, Bhagavad-Gita states that when the women have no protection, chastity is lost and there are unwanted children. So the initial problem started with men not giving protection to women, then women got a taste for material freedom and after the Second World War, women’s emancipation started. The feminist movement took off and the degradation of society accelerated. With this new found freedom, divorce and remarriage gradually became easy; women could stay single and do anything that a man could do, thinking this will bring more happiness than what they already experienced through serving family.
But this was not to be – instead of happiness, we see more anxiety, stress, mental disorders, quarrel and always a distressed condition. Unlike when there was the extended family, the mother’s happiness was in seeing her children and family happy, and to make them happy, she needed to serve them. Similarly, the husband needed to serve the family as well and seeing them happy made him happy. So loving relationships between extended families gave some sort of continuous material happiness which is not possible to even dream of in the present selfish ways people try to become happy – through maximizing ones personal bodily pleasure, primarily through sex with all its variants, and mind altering substances. The outcome of such a lifestyle is this most unbelievable sight of women urinating, crawling and vomiting on the sidewalks, wasted. Bewildered, they cannot understand how this type of bodily pleasure brings almost immediate misery only. At least extended family attachment brings more constant material happiness, and it also helps in instilling moral values, which is favourable for varnasrama. Therefore, our mothers need to make the sacrifice and play their part and be the homemakers, they need to give their men a chance to protect them. Devotee men also need to become qualified grhasthas with brahmana consciousness and know how to respect their women and not abuse them. And they need to know that one of the unique qualities of the “daivi varnasrama” of our acaryas is that women also have an equal right to practice devotional service and go back to Godhead – within their asrama. Harmony in grhastha life will make for successful varnasrama and happy Krsna consciousness.
One may wonder how the prediction that a golden age within this kali-yuga will take hold, considering the present degraded society. And atheism seems to be on the rise, because people want to enjoy their bodies and not fear reactions from a Superior Being. But is atheism as big as it sounds, or is it just media propaganda? There have been numerous surveys done in Western countries showing that the majority of people believe in something spiritual, actually most young people say they are more spiritual than religious. They know something is out there but don’t have faith in a particular religion and they don’t go to church. Many take to atheism just to avoid being accountable to someone – so they can enjoy their bodies to the maximum without fear. But are atheists really faithless? Once, Chandramauli Swami gave a class where he recounted how he was in a helicopter in Vietnam during that war, problems developed and the helicopter started falling from the sky. Maharaja was a staunch atheist then but when facing death, he started to call out to God. Where did this come from? Many people may find atheism temporarily attractive to suit their lifestyles, but deep within their hearts, they believe there is something paranormal out there.
Because most people have an inherent spiritual belief, and many, especially in the West, don’t really care about their inherited religion, the ground for preaching is always fertile. However, with the degraded situation the way it is in Western countries and with fanatical religious governments and their people who will not tolerate other spiritual ideas, not many will take to Krsna consciousness en masse. The most likely way the golden age will kick-start is through a cleansing process. With reference to the battle of Kuruksetra, Srila Prabhupada said that “if you want to grow paddy on the field, you have to destroy all the unwanted weeds. Then you grow the seeds and it will come out nicely”. He said “destruction is needed for construction.” In the sastras, it is predicated that in the coming years during this age of Kali, there will be wars, famine, pestilence, natural disasters and other disturbances. This is the most likely way the golden age will quickly take hold on a large scale; devotees need to plan for this eventuality. We should always hope that sankirtana will change the consciousness of our materialistic demonic leaders and their followers but there are no signs of this happening soon and sankirtana is not as big as it should be to have a major impact. We are not on the level of Queen Kunti who prayed for calamities to come again and again so that she could always have the shelter of Krsna. Naturally, as less advanced devotees, we fear wars and disasters but Krsna always protects His devotees. Calamities will be Krsna’s special mercy towards us, so we can surrender more. And for the demonic, He is death personified. Devotees hope for a peaceful transition to the golden age and anything is possible for Krsna but to not consider the very likely effect of some major calamity will be short-sightedness. By Krsna’s arrangement, the demonic leaders could destroy each other – just like in the battle of Kuruksetra, it was arranged by Krsna for the irreligious to kill each other.
This verse from Srimad Bhagavatam and Srila Prabhupada’s purport seems as if it is meant for now. “Although the demons who take possession of the government are dressed like men of government, they do not know the duty of the government. Consequently, by the arrangement of God, such demons, who possess great military strength, fight with one another, and thus the great burden of demons on the surface of the earth is reduced. The demons increase their military power by the will of the Supreme, so that their numbers will be diminished and the devotees will have a chance to advance in Krsna consciousness”. SB 9.24.59.
The verse and purport somehow seems to refer to the present phase in our history, a prediction meant for the next ten or twenty years from now. Srila Prabhupada did say that Krsna dictates what he writes. In his purport to the above verse, he says “Demons are very much interested in advancing a plan by which people will labour hard like cats, dogs and hogs, but Krsna’s devotees want to teach Krsna consciousness so that people will be satisfied with plain living and Krsna conscious advancement. Although demons have created many plans for industry and hard labour so that people will work day and night like animals, this is not the purpose of civilization”. In the same purport, he also says “Demons may falsely accuse the preachers of the Krsna consciousness movement, but Krsna will arrange a fight between the demons in which all their military power will be engaged and both parties of demons will be annihilated.” These days, superpowers have bunker busting bombs and in war, they target the leadership of other governments. If they don’t finish one another off, and in the aftermath of a devastating war, their rebellious citizens will.
Being conditioned, most of us don’t pay much attention to the influence of time as a reality. We only think about what happens now – without any future vision. Ten years in relation to one hundred years is minimal and in relation to ten thousand years, insignificant. Lots can happen in ten years, that won’t alter the time factor of ten thousand years much but will have a big influence in establishing the golden age within Kali-yuga. The global political relationship between countries is at a dangerous level of intolerance and with the economic problems and the distrust of people with their governments; wars, anarchy and rebellions are the likely outcome and the aftermath will create a favourable setting to bring in the golden age within this kali-yuga. The true soldiers then will not be those fighting for their countries but the devotees on the true battlefield, preaching to the masses of distressed (one of the four types of people that take to spiritual life) and helping to bring in the golden age. Presently, people are too attached to their televisions, phones, gadgets and bodies for maximum material pleasure. When they loose all this and are faced with famine, they will become very distressed. Preaching to the pious distressed will quickly convince them that Krsna consciousness is the only alternative – especially after losing trust and patience with everyone else and all other religions, since some of their distress would be caused by religious wars.
In relation to the time factor, just yesterday there were no television or other electronic gadgets, and tomorrow they will be gone. Srila Prabhupada said that Sanjaya was seeing within himself everything that was going on in the battle of Kuruksetra and giving Dhrtarastra real time updates so there was something higher than television then. We may be attached to television or computers and think this is so great but compared to the mystic potential of the living entity, these inventions are laughable. Communication technologies work through satellites and now countries have the capability to knock out each others satellites, and in a major war, and by Krsna’s arrangement, it could all be gone soon. Devotees need to consider all this and plan for the future of the golden age. Material inventions are just additional impediments to spiritual life, although according to time and place, we may use it in Krsna’s service. But without it, the situation for spiritual life and varnasrama will be more favourable. It is just a matter of the time factor, could be in ten, twenty, a hundred or two hundred years, it has to go.
Also, how quickly time goes by. A hundred years ago, people still believed in marriage and extended family. Fifty years ago, the nuclear family was becoming prominent and divorce and single parenting was becoming common but people still raised an eyebrow to immoral activities. Now, talk of marriage is rare in the West, but peoples talk about their latest sexual exploits and addiction to degraded reality shows are normal. There is still some culture in countries such as India but if you compare to what it was twenty years ago, it has degraded so much and so quickly. And in another ten years, due to television and Western influence, it will become just like most of the world, unless Krsna does something and we use our intelligence to see how He wants us to act. Many devotees are indifferent to varnasrama but the time is fast approaching when it will be the only solution to the problems to come. Devotees should act now!
In the coming golden age, all other religions will fall away. We can know that varnasrama and vedic influence will spread all over the world. In the twelfth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, there are predictions for the period after the golden age within this Kali-yuga, where it states how religion deteriorates, and there is mention about false brahmanas, and how towards the end of this age, varnasrama religious principles will be ruined and the vedas contaminated. So from these descriptions, we can see that in the latter part of this age of Kali, there will be remnants of a Vedic civilization and varnasrama system that existed all over the world, and these are not just predictions for within India. In the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, during a conversation with Mother Ganga, Lord Krsna said that there will be a golden age of ten thousand years within this Kali-yuga so this must come to pass. Krsna consciousness will be the predominant religion for ten thousand years.
In the beginning of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the West, he emphasized the four regulative principles and he had hoped that his disciples would follow sincerely and become advanced very quickly. But the culture in the West was different than in India. The simplicity of “just chant Hare Krsna and take prasadam” was actually more complex and did not work. So Srila Prabhupada, to fulfil the desires of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, always desired to introduce varnasrama as the only way for most devotees, but the time was not right. Now, it is up to us to fulfil their desire. A Varnasrama setting is just like living in a temple, it will encourage devotees to follow the four regulative principles attentively. When destruction happens, we should have some model alternative ready, so people, in a distressed state and suffering famine, which is a natural consequence of major wars and disasters, will reach out to learn how to become happy and produce their own food. This is how varnasrama communities could expand all around it. I am sure most devotees have seen pictures of people in famine ravaged countries, especially North Africa, with eyes pulled into their sockets, their skeletons visible through their skin and the only thing on their minds is food. If someone placed a bowl of rice together with the latest electronic gadget in front of such a person and gave them a choice, which do you think they will choose? We take our food supply for granted.
Please read part two, “Varnasrama – It’s Practical Application Now!”
It’s Practical Application Now!
Traditional Varnasrama could be best conceived by its very physical and visual characteristics – the land and the cows. Srila Prabhupada said that he personally considers living off the land to be the bija (seed) mantra of varnasrama. One vital ingredient not commonly mentioned for varnasrama to succeed is the Vaisya. The land, the cows and the vaisya could be considered the foundation for varnasrama to succeed. The biggest problem with implementing varnasrama now is not the women issue but that all devotees want to be brahmanas or ksatriyas and not anyone vaisyas, although the majority of devotees already live within the congregation and work to earn money in different ways to support their asrama. Srila Prabhupada said that most of us are vaisyas or sudras, there are practically no brahmanas. So presently, within the devotee community, most of us already live the life of vaisyas in the literal sense, that is we are devotees who earn money and understand spiritual values and the tradition. As vaisyas, we are passionate but also we have and understand goodness. We have devotee families but because of our conditioning, we are attached to them and try to provide the best for them, giving them all material comforts money can buy. We do not act as genuine brahmanas, who traditionally lived a very simple life in the mode of goodness, relying on Krsna.
Although as vaisyas, we do not earn money according to tradition, but we still earn money in different ways; as professionals, businessmen, artisans, and office workers, to provide these material comforts such as a nice home for our family – as traditional vaisyas used to do. The difference between devotees earning money and materialists earning money is that devotees use it in the mode of goodness and passion and materialists act more like sudras and use money in ignorance, to satisfy their bodily senses. So strictly speaking, devotees working on the outside are not sudras but vaisyas in consciousness. It may be argued that although some devotees are forced to work on the outside, many of them could be potential brahmanas. However, it is best for them to act as vaisyas and let spiritual evolution take place, thus a helping hand for varnasrama. One can advance in spiritual life in the asrama of a vaisya, and attain brahmana consciousness yet remain a vaisya.
Because we are mostly kanistha-adhikari devotees, it will be impossible to classify devotees into varnas. Who will accept if one kanistha adhikari says to another kanistha adhikari -” you belong to sudra” and “you are vaisya.” The best way to kick-start varnasrama would be to encourage groups of devotees to acquire land and let them act according to their conditioning. Let them earn money for their comforts, as they are presently doing; according to the modes of nature they are under. In this way, let the system of varnasrama evolve. An idea would be to encourage rich devotees to buy huge tracts of land, divide them into four acres or so each, and sell them to other devotees who want to get into sustainable farming. For devotees who cannot afford to pay for the land and do not have start-up capital, some arrangements should be made for them to pay as they earn. Some infrastructure will be needed. There can be a little village in the centre of the community, with basic shops, a gurukula, a temple and other facilities needed to run a small village. Roads can be laid down between farms and the village for easy access. Devotees working outside and in business who don’t want to get into farming can be encouraged to locate their offices or businesses within the village and deal with the outside from there. What can be more conducive to spiritual advancement than devotees living within their own communities? Imagine a little village accommodating shops and a temple and administrative offices, surrounded by one or two hundred little farms?
In a conversation with devotee’s on14 February 1977, Srila Prabhupada said that to become a vaisnava is not so easy and therefore varnasrama should be established. In reply to a question whether varnasrama is for the kanistha-adhikari, Srila Prabhupada said yes but he also said that kanistha-adhikari means he must be a qualified brahmana. And he gave an example of what a brahmana is: as a materialistic devotee gradually elevates himself from the material stage to the spiritual stage, during this actual process of spiritual advancement, one is a brahmana. So in daivi-varnasrama, all devotees could be considered brahmanas, as in this; all devotees, no matter what varna they are in, following the regulative principles within varnasrama, will act to elevate themselves gradually through their varnas. There is an equal chance for spiritual advancement for all. In a Bhagavad-Gita lecture, Srila Prabhupada said “Every description is there in the Vedic literatures. Therefore if we learn about Krsna, being situated in the daiva-varnasrama or having acquired the real qualities of brahmana, higher or transcendental qualities… Brahmana qualities means brahma janati iti brahmanah. That is nirakara, of course, but you have to transcend the position of brahmana and become a Vaisnava. Then you will understand the Krsna’s form, Krsna’s qualities, and Krsna’s pastimes.” The term “daivi” as a prefix to varnasrama” was used by our acaryas as a way to distinguish from the present caste system where anyone born in a brahmana family would automatically become a brahmana, without the qualities of a brahmana. “daivi” means divine or spiritual and it also refers to the followers of the Supreme Personality of Godhead exclusively, according to Srila Prabhupada.
One may question how we can prevent the caste system from being abused within our communities. It needs to be understood that in traditional varnasrama, and with proper rules, regulations and samskaras being followed, a child born of parents in a certain varna would take on the qualities of that varna. In this regard, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said, “Much disturbance is created, both individually and aggregately, on account of the non-acceptance of this inviolable scientific principle of natural predilection as observed and promulgated by our ancient sages of vast experience, and the wrong adoption of the seminal principle only, i.e., the principle of determining caste by birth alone. It is due to the fact that this principle of caste determination was at one time perfect and nice at all points in India, that even this day the Indians are able to stand erect with a challenging mood before the world on the glorious foundation of the past. Here, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says that caste by birth alone as wrongly followed presently is an idea conceived from a perfect system in times gone by, where this principle of caste by birth worked perfectly.
Presently, we do not follow any samskara rituals for conceiving a child and this is not necessary at the moment. Srila Prabhupada stated that our grhasthas should simply chant fifty rounds before conceiving. Grhasthas following this and practicing devotional service strictly will ensure that their children born to them take on their spiritual qualities. So as this system evolves, it is likely that a child with brahmana qualities will be born in a brahmana family, a child with ksatriya qualities will be born in a ksatriya family and so on. But the main point of this daivi-varnasrama which is specially designed for the coming golden age within this Kali-yuga is that all varnas share an equal chance of fast track spiritual advancement, despite their qualities of work. No matter what varna devotees are in, they can get perfection in one lifetime in this Kali-yuga; this advantage is not available in the other ages.
Srila Prabhupada says that by hearing and devotional service, we become brahmanas – irrespective of whether one is a sudra or vaisya. And when we become brahmanas, we are vaisnavas. So we can understand that in daivi varnasrama, although one may be brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya or sudra; in essence, and because of the meaning of “daivi” in varnasrama which is unique to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, we should all develop brahmana quality. He says below the brahmana, there is no question of vaisnava. So as Srila Prabhupada says, during the actual process of transcending from a materialist devotee, all within the stage of a kanista-adhikari, one will be in brahmana consciousness. So even a sudra engaged in his varna, could advance spiritually, as equally as a ksatriya or vaisya and also become brahmana and there is no reason for him to give up his varna activities. Ramananda Raya was a sudra by birth and a grhasta, but as a politician, he acted as a ksatriya but at the same time, he was top most in brahmana consciousness. The purpose of varnasrama is to create a favourable situation for all devotees, women included, to gradually transcend from the material stage to the spiritual stage. So in the “daivi varnasrama” of our acaryas, a brahmana is a brahmana, a ksatriyas is a brahmana, a vaisya is a brahmana and a sudra is a brahmana – in consciousness.
As the system evolves, some will naturally desire to act as administrators (ksatriyas) within the community, and others will be more inclined to take on the responsibility of brahmanas. A brahmana could also remain in householder life and be a farmer or trader as he advances in spiritual life. The key is to start this system at its initial stage – to get it off the ground and let it evolve. Most devotees, especially within India and other economically poorer countries would be more inclined to jump into this. Imagine Indian grhasta devotees having the opportunity to earn between two and three lakh Indian rupees a year as profit, this is a good middle income salary in India – they will really make it work. Devotees who know something about farming in India may not agree that one can earn approximately seventy thousand rupees per acre a year. This is because farmers in India presently get only a fraction of the amount of what the end consumer pays for produce. Devotees within a village community should have their own devotee agency serving the farmers directly, who could engage in direct marketing and look at other ways to maximize profit. Pesticides and fertilizers are the biggest expense in farming and organic or sustainable farmers don’t unnecessary use chemicals on their crops and fertilizers are made locally with waste and manure. Agricultural specialists even speak about the possibility of earning one lakh per acre. But the individual vaisya is needed to put in the effort and make it work – when someone works for themselves, there is naturally inspiration and success.
Just like in communism, people are not inspired to put their best effort in their jobs because they work for the state but if it were their own businesses, they will work day and night to make it a success. Varnasrama should have a vibrant, sustainable economy, based on solid economic principles of productivity and not speculation. Vaisyas are allowed to earn money and provide for their family and community comforts. According to their conditioning, they will make it a success and gradually make spiritual progress at the same time. Within the present model followed by most ISKCON farms, there is a central authority and devotees work for that authority, the vaisya spirit is not encouraged. Although Srila Prabhupada mentioned spiritual communism; this means that as a spiritual society we should be community based. We should have restrictions which encourages devotees to regulative their lives, there should be some conservative authority and not freedom to do as we please. A varnasrama community should be administered by a local community council – which should be made up of devotees with administrative and managerial skills or inclinations; this could be helpful to determine who the future ksatriyas of a community will be. Although many of us are administrative workers on the outside, these are just regular jobs to earn money and we may actually have more of the vaisya spirit. Visiting sannyasis and spiritual masters could advise in the role of brahmanas. The focus should be on getting devotees on their own land and to begin farming – the “bija mantra.” Let everything else around it just grow. The object of varnasrama, which is to assist devotees to go back to the spiritual world, should not be compromised. In daivi- varnasrama, farmers and traders work for themselves with the object of attaining Karma-yoga consciousness – that is to come to the consciousness of work done as an offering to Krsna and without attachment to the fruits.
Most devotees will not want to work as sudras, and in any case, there are not enough devotees around to do manual labour so local labourers for these farms can be hired. In countries such as India, where labour is in abundance and cheap and the way of life is still simple, this can really take off. There are possibilities also in countries such as South America, Africa and maybe Eastern Europe – the lifestyle is simple and labour is available locally. Labourers can be given accommodation on the farms and be preached to and encouraged to eat only vegetarian meals when within the community – thus filling in the sudra vacuum. Actually, even Western countries need to start these communities. If devotees want to sacrifice living in suburbs and cities, this will work. These varnasrama communities should not impose restrictions on general comforts such as comfortable houses on the farms and within the community, with electricity or a sewage system if required and other living conditions devotees are used to, living in suburbs. Renewable sources of energy can be introduced. Strong restrictions on comforts devotees are used to will be counterproductive and not encourage them to take the leap and make this work. If in future, wars, anarchy, pestilence or other symptoms of kali-yuga should manifest and for some reason there is shortage of electricity and some comforts have to be sacrificed, devotees will see this as an opportunity to take shelter of Krsna, and would be better off within their own communities producing their own food. They will adapt to new outside changes as it occurs, more easily. Let the system evolve with the changing times. This is the only way varnasrama will take off, now!
To get started, one needs to work within the framework of their respective government’s economic structures and laws. It will be an impediment to try to establish a communities own currency, economic model, defence etc, as some devotees envision with varnasrama – at the same time as getting devotees settled on their own pieces of land and to “just start farming”, which should be the priority. Let everything else evolve as the world changes. Off course, there should be some future planning, but the emphasis should be on just getting things done now! Srila Prabhupada said, “Instead of meetings, resolutions, dissolutions, revolutions and then no solutions, there should be chanting.” He must have been frustrated at times with meetings and resolutions but no solutions so he said to chant instead. Unnecessary meetings and resolutions without solutions could slow down the process of establishing varnasrama. If in every country of the world, little pockets of these communities spring up, then in the future, if major calamities strike or if there is mass distress, these communities will expand phenomenally all around them.
If devotees can earn a decent salary within their communities and have the same comforts as they are used to now, why should they choose to work on the outside? Srila Prabhupada says that daivi means devata and devata actually means those who accept the authority of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and unless one is not a vaisnava, he cannot be a devata. He cannot be a civilized man. Worshippers of other religious systems and arguably even demigod worshippers cannot be devata or included into daivi-varnasrama. This is the unique position of daivi-varnasrama – even a sudra is a brahmana.