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Varnasrama and Bhakti

Thursday, 20 December 2012 / Published in Articles / 4,379 views

By Bhakti Vikasa Swami

In ascertaining the relationship between varnasrama and bhakti, devotees often quote Lord Caitanya’s rejecting varnasrama as external to bhakti:

“Lord Caitanya indicated that the varnasrama-dharma was simply external (eho bahya). Lord Caitanya wanted to impress upon Ramananda Raya that simply by executing the duties of varnasrama-dharma one is not guaranteed liberation.” (SB 4.24.53 purport)

However, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states (in Sri Bhaktyaloka) that Lord Caitanya did not reject varnasrama as a means of social organization. Srila Bhaktivinoda quoted SB 1.2.8: “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.”

Srila Bhaktivinoda then commented: “From this one should not conclude that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has ordered us to discard varnasrama-dharma. If that had been the case, then He would not have instructed all living entities through His pastimes of completely following the orders of grhastha and sannyasa. As long as one has a material body the system of varnasrama-dharma must be followed, but it should remain under the full control and domination of bhakti. Varnasrama-dharma is like the foundation of one’s supreme occupational duty. When one’s supreme occupational duty is matured and one achieves his goal, then the process is gradually neglected. Again, it is also abandoned at the time of death.”

Even before he came to the West, Srila Prabhupada had written extensively about the importance of varnasrama-dharma. Yet when he started to stress the need to introduce it in ISKCON, some of his leading disciples offered objections based on the spiritual teachings that they had previously heard from Srila Prabhupada. An important conversation regarding this is partially reproduced below. I request devotees to kindly read this in full, as many devotees nowadays seem to be unaware of Srila Prabhupada’s varnasrama vision for ISKCON.

Satsvarupa: Lord Caitanya, when Ramananda Raya brought this up He said it was not possible in this age to introduce this.

Prabhupada: Yes. Not… He did not say possible. Eho bahya. [From Madhya 8.59: "The Lord replied, 'This is external. You had better tell Me of some other means.'"] Caitanya Mahaprabhu was interested only on the spiritual platform. He had no idea of material side. He rejected material side.

Satsvarupa: But don’t we do that also?

Prabhupada: No. Our position is different. We are trying to implement Krsna consciousness in everything. And Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally took sannyasa. He rejected completely material. Niskincana ["one who has nothing to do with this material world"]. But we are not going to be niskincana. We are trying to cement the troubled position of the… That is also in the prescription of Bhagavad-gita. We are not rejecting the whole society. Caitanya Mahaprabhu rejected everything, eho bahya. Rejected meaning, “I do not take much interest in this.” Bahya. “It is external.” He was simply interested in the internal, the spiritual.

But our duty is that we shall arrange the external affairs also so nicely that one day they will come to the spiritual platform very easily, paving the way. And Caitanya Mahaprabhu, personality like that, they have nothing to do with this material world. But we are preaching. We are preaching. Therefore we must pave the situation in such a way that gradually they will be promoted to the spiritual plane, which is not required.

Satsvarupa: Varnasrama is not required.

Prabhupada: Not required. Caitanya Mahaprabhu denied, “I am not brahmana, I am not ksatriya, I am not this, I am not this.” He rejected. But in the Bhagavad-gita, the catur-varnyam maya srstam. [ [Bg. 4.13]: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me…”] So we are Krsna…, preaching Krsna consciousness. It must be done.

Hari-sauri: But in Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s practical preaching He only induced them to chant.

Prabhupada: That is not possible for ordinary man.

Hari-sauri: What, to simply induce people to chant?

Prabhupada: Hm?

Hari-sauri: He only introduced just the chanting.

Prabhupada: But who will chant? Who’ll chant?

Satsvarupa: But if they won’t chant, then neither will they train up in the varnasrama. That’s the easiest.

Prabhupada: The chanting will be there, but you cannot expect that people will chant like Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They cannot even chant sixteen rounds. (And) these rascals are going to be Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

Satsvarupa: No. But if they at least will chant and take some prasada…

Prabhupada: Chanting will go on. That is not stopped. But at the same time the varnasrama-dharma must be established to make the way easy.

Hari-sauri: Well, at least my own understanding was that the chanting was introduced in the age of Kali because varnasrama is not possible.

Prabhupada: Because it will cleanse the mind. Chanting will not stop.

Hari-sauri: So therefore the chanting was introduced to replace all of the systems of varnasrama and like that.

Prabhupada: Yes, it can replace, but who is going to replace it? The… People are not so advanced. If you imitate Haridasa Thakura to chant, it is not possible.

Satsvarupa: We tell them go on with your job but chant also.

Prabhupada: Yes. Thakaha apanara kaje, Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Apanara kaja ki. Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommended, sthane sthitah. And if they do not remain in the sthana, then the sahajiya’s chanting will come. Just like the sahajiyas also have got the beads and…, but they have got three dozen women. This kind of chanting will go on. Just like our (name withheld). He was not fit for sannyasa but he was given sannyasa. And five women he was attached, and he disclosed. Therefore varnasrama-dharma is required. Simply show-bottle will not do. So the varnasrama-dharma should be introduced all over the world, and…

Satsvarupa: Introduced starting with ISKCON community?

Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. Brahmana, ksatriyas. There must be regular education.

Hari-sauri: But in our community, if the…, being as we’re training up as Vaisnavas…

Prabhupada: Yes.

Hari-sauri: …then how will we be able to make divisions in our society?

Prabhupada: Vaisnava is not so easy. The varnasrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaisnava. It is not so easy to become Vaisnava.

Hari-sauri: No, it’s not a cheap thing.

Prabhupada: Yes. Therefore this should be made. Vaisnava, to become Vaisnava, is not so easy. If Vaisnava, to become Vaisnava is so easy, why so many fall down, fall down? It is not easy. (Conversation, 14 February 1977)

Although Srila Prabhupada sometimes stated that varnasrama was not possible in the modern age, he also stated that “The Krsna consciousness movement, is being propagated all over the world to reestablish the varnasrama-dharma system and thus save human society from gliding down to hellish life.” (SB 5.19.19 Purport)

The harmonization of these two apparently contradictory statements is found in the following, that varnasrama should be introduced “as far as possible.”

modern civilization is not strictly following the Vedic injunction. Therefore, especially I have seen in the Western countries, there is no home practically. There is no homely happiness, because women are allowed to mix freely and there is no protection. They are not married, there is no husband. The father also does not take care. As soon as the girl becomes fifteen, sixteen years, she goes away. Therefore I have practically seen there is no home, there is no peace in the Western countries. These are very important things, that soft-hearted woman, vama-svabhava, they should be given protection. They should be trained up how to become faithful wife, affectionate mother. Then the home will be very happy, and without happiness we cannot make any spiritual progress. We must be peaceful. This is the preliminary condition. Therefore, as far as possible, the Vedic injunction is there should be division in the society, varnasrama. (Lecture, October 3, 1976)

There are literally dozens of quotes wherein Srila Prabhupada states the necessity and possibility of establishing varnasrama, and of the need of the Krsna consciousness to do so. Here is just one more:

Once the populace is situated in the varnasrama-dharma, there is every possibility of real life and prosperity both in this world and in the next. (SB 4.14.19, Purport)

49 Responses to “Varnasrama and Bhakti”

  1. Even though most followers of Srila Prabhupada know and understand that he wanted us to follow and propagate varnasrama-dharma as a beneficial, practical, just, efficient, philosophically superior, and God-ordained method of social, political and economic organization, success has been elusive.

    It has proven difficult building consensus among the devotees — and even among our leadership! — about how to incorporate Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about varnasrama-dharma in our own lives and families, in our organization of ISKCON and of specific ISKCON projects, and in preaching our public message to the world. For some reason this topic is like an electric third rail which can cause conflagrations of arguments and bad feelings within our community.

    To simply avoid talking about it is not a solution. We need to find ways to talk about it in such a way as to enlighten one another and build consensus, confidence, trust and understanding.

    I find it a fascinating subject. Krishna is not only the greatest lover but the greatest philosopher. The philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam is not disjointed and compartmentalized as we find in modern culture, but is a giant, seamless structure that explains everything, not just about spirit and matter, bondage and liberation, karma and vikarma (and akarma), right and wrong, the meaning of life and the creation of the world (and the reasons therefore), but about beauty, justice, psychology, society, politics and economics, all as part of a unified and coherent vision. We would expect no less from an all-knowing, benevolent God.

    To make varnasrama-dharma a successful ideology, we not only have to know and be able to explain the theory in an accurate and convincing way, but to demonstrate how it can be put into practice to produce beneficial results in our own lives and times.

    It is a challenge. Maybe our discussion needs to focus on some of the good qualities we should expect to see in a successful model of varnasram-dharma, and some of the challenges we face in making it relevant and successful in the modern world.

    One of the biggest challenges is that people are always very sensitive and distrustful when it comes to questions of power and authority and who gets to wield them. That is understandable. In ISKCON we have submitted ourselves to spiritual authorities, but we are still cautious about giving the wrong people too much say over our lives. That is natural.

  2. Balakrsna das says :

    Thank you for this text Maharaja it is much appreciated.

    Regarding devotees rejecting VAD based on that conversation with Ramananda Raya, if one were to carefully read it and see all the other things that Lord Caitanya rejected as external then one would not be so quick to just pick on VAD. For example when Ramananda Raya quoted Gita 18.66 sarvadharma parityajna … Lord Caitanya said that was also external! This puts a whole new perspective on what “external” means. It means the processes required for someone (all of us) who are located outside (external) of the spiritual realm and trying to return back to Godhead. Lord Caitanya was inquiring from Ramananda about the mood of those who are already in the internal realm and not trapped in material bodies.

    What may be external for someone on the stature of Lord Caitanya (Lord Krsna in the mood of Radharani Who is definitely not to be imitated) is essential for us foolish souls lost in this material world. Why? Because we have material bodies and we are stuck in material consciouness and we need those processes to bring us into the correct position. But if one is already perfectly spiritually situated they are not necessary but should still be followed to show others the correct process.

    Again thank you for reminding us that Srila Prabhupada was concerned that ISKCON establish VAD as a practical way to make spiritual advancement and thus avoid sahajiyaism. The majority of sannyasis would not have fallen down if they had followed VAD culture in regards to how sannyasis behave vis a viz women, and of course the rest of the societies duty is to also protect the sannyasis by following the same culture. Only in ISKCON (among legitimate sampradayas) do you hear of sannyasis with female secretaries, cooks, masseuse etc. It is not an accident that they fell it is inevitable because this is completely at odds with Vedic norms for sannyasis. Much more could be said on this topic.

  3. Part One:

    This article concludes with: “Once the populace is situated in the varnasrama-dharma, there is every possibility of real life and prosperity both in this world and in the next.” (SB 4.14.19, Purport)

    Agreed. But considering how VAD is a lower or easier external means to help raise people to the Vaisnava level – “Chanting will go on. That is not stopped. But at the same time the varnasrama-dharma must be established to make the way easy…” – we need to ask, how easy? Why?

    Because it appears that the ‘conservative’ way of implementing VAD will be ‘easier’ done on Iskcon farms as experiments, or in comparatively ‘traditional’ India, but less so in Western influenced societies. This shows that there is limited scope for implementation.

    Srila Prabhupada said, “We are not rejecting the whole society.” He is saying that the same ‘lower’ or ‘easier’ way must be tried in “the whole society.” He also said, (repeat) “Chanting will go on. That is not stopped. But at the same time the varnasrama-dharma must be established to make the way easy.”

    In the meantime, he stressed, “So we are Krsna…, preaching Krsna consciousness. It must be done.” In many Western situations there are different forms of preaching outreach going on, which seem to adapt to the ‘lower’ or ‘easier’ way, usually accompanied by the holy name, and yet these attempts are criticised by ‘conservative’ minded devotees.

    If VAD is a compassionate from of ‘lower’ or ‘easier’ engagement aimed to raise people up to Krishna consciousness, or Vaisnava standard, then why should devotees be criticised for also using ‘lower’ or ‘easier’ methods of outreach to help people raise up to the Vaisanava level? It seems that ‘conservative’ minded devotees will also have to delve ‘lower’ and ‘easier’ in order to establish VAD.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  4. Part Two:

    Still, the strictures of VAD that are alien to Western minds will appear as ‘lower’ and ‘easier’ in patriarchal dominance terms, or medieval oppression to the uninformed. Such cultural sensitivities have to be noted. It is not that we can just simply say, “VAD is what is required… now every devotee must accept…” Again, it is theory. Are there any concrete and practical steps on how to implement?

    “The varnasrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaisnava…” said Srila Prabhupada. In the absence of viable VAD working solutions, many sincere devotees preach differently to also make Vaisnavas gradually, and they should be encouraged and supported. VAD may be the answer, but give other forms of preaching a chance.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  5. When we see in Delhi how six males gang-raped a female on a bus, causing much outrage and protest, we can imagine an outright answer to this: “Well, if VAD were in place and our women and girls protected, this would not have happened…”

    This is easy to say in the absence of workable VAD in practice. Kali-yuga economics is forcing females to study and be able to earn a living for survival. Sometimes-such income helps support entire families. The days of male breadwinners are almost gone.

    An opportunity arose for those six males to exhibit natural protection for that female. Unfortunately, they did not, and so let the male species down. When males find it difficult to earn trust from females, can we blame females for this? If untrusted males are given patriarchal dominance of the type promoted by VAD advocates in its strict form, we should understand the apprehension.

    Whereas VAD means to harness already existing but disorganised natural human divisions, Krishna consciousness and the holy name has no such restrictions that VAD has. Although VAD is intended to gradually raise the populace to Vaisnavism, the immediate impact of the holy name has no competition. Just as the holy name dramatically changes hearts, there also has to be a changing of social hearts to enable VAD a chance.

    Some argue that Srila Prabhupada wanted VAD because his followers were not able to live up to “rare” Vaisnava standards, while others argue that 50% of his intentions remain unfulfilled. Scriptural strength and previous acarya backing add to this necessity.

    As Kali-yuga economics, force families apart and causes multi-national companies to disperse business interests in different parts of the world, VAD implementation will be hard. Families and communities are required. The term “Global Village” is a misnomer – it is actually “Global Dispersement.” Along with such dispersement comes dispersement of human values.

    When human values are reduced and diffused, polarised people and societies will hardly accept social engineering. Are we any different as diverse members of Iskcon?

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  6. pustakrishna says :

    On the one hand, we understand that the four varnas are created by Krishna Himself (catur varnyam maya srstam), yet on the other hand we understand that everyone in the Kali yuga has shudra quality by birth. Therefore, Srila Prabhupad is giving direction to society to become up-lifted in their qualities in order to create communities where work with dignity can take place. That is Krishna’s desire and arrangement, and the pure devotee echoes this. The key to success in this arrangement is the brahmanas. Srila Prabhupad often compared the work of society to a body. The legs are shudra, the belly is vaishya, the arms are kshatriya, and the head is brahmana. The head must give direction to the body what to do, where to go, how to discriminate properly. Simply to work without direction is outside of the varnashrama fold. Hence, we see people overcome by lust, anger, and greed. Even big political leaders, even big businessmen, from top to bottom, become victims of lust, anger, and greed. And yes, it is not so easy a thing to be a vaishnava…no doubt.

    In Srila Prabhupad’s words above, it is clear that “preaching” means giving direction. Not that one takes the position of a spiritualist babaji, that Krishna is everywhere and what will be must take place by Krishna’s arrangement. No, it is the compassionate side of a “preacher” that he wants to elevate others and society. Like Prahlad Maharaj, paradukha dukhi, feeling unhappy for the suffering of others. That is the platform of preaching, with compassion. This is why Srila Prabhupad is Jagat-Guru, the universal teacher.

    External and internal, all of this is Krishna’s energy, whether apara- or para-prakriti. It is all the creation and property of Krishna. As bhakti yoga means offering all in the service of Krishna, with one’s senses(body) and work, then Krishna consciousness can prevail.

    Today is December 22, 2012. So much energy was expended on the worry that the world would come to an end on December 21, 2012, because the Mayan calendar hinted at this. We may be relieved that this was not the case, but still, our lives will surely come to an end, the the urgent need to surrender to God, Krishna, remains the same. Pusta Krishna das

  7. Very nicely put, Pusta Krishna Prabhu!

    For some reason discussions of varnasrama dharma on various devotee blogs seem to produce friction and disagreements. We need to tease out some of the concepts patiently to make sure we can make progress in communication about the subject.

    “…we can imagine an outright answer to this: ‘Well, if VAD were in place and our women and girls protected, this would not have happened…'”

    That made me laugh, Kesava Krsna Prabhu. The whole concept of putting varnasrama dharma “in place”, as if Congress or Parliament could just pass some varnasrama law to fix everything, seems like a gross misconception. “Dharma” can be translated as “righteousness.” Talking about “if VAD were in place” is like talking about “If justice, righteousness, wisdom and enlightenment were in place”. In other words, it is a nice, idealistic notion, but tells us nothing about how we get from here to there.

    It reminds me of a passage I read in one of the volumes of Arthur Koestler’s memoirs. He was looking back with some embarrassment to when he was a Communist organizer in Berlin in the 1920s. At some meeting he spoke of how in a communist society nothing would be amiss, and some novice asked him about a child who was hit by a truck. He replied that under capitalism the greed motive made businesses hire truck drivers without proper training, driving long hours, too quickly, etc., but under communism there would be no traffic accidents! The point is, when speaking in ideals and generalities, it is easy to construct a utopia in our minds. Any theory may look good on paper. The test is if we can make it work in practice.

    Another way to look at it is, we have some knowledge of relationship, sambandha (Krishna is God and I am His servant), and an idea of the goal, prayojana (we should love Krishna as shown by Lord Caitanya, considering a moment in His absence as 12 years, etc.), but we need more knowledge and skill at abhideya, the process of getting from here to there. As one devotee recently told me, “Sure, I am not this body, but how am I supposed to behave while I am *in* this body?”

    We have to be practical. Our political and social ideology is varnasrama dharma, but if we are going to convince rational, thoughtful people that it has merit, we have to explain how it will work in the real world to produce good results. We can’t just be “God’s angry men” who go around saying people must accept our authority.

  8. pustakrishna says :

    The aspiring devotee who asked the question of Akruranath Prabhu is precisely who the brahmanas must give direction to. We have come to define ourselves by our work, but we are not “our work” That is merely the field of activities, but the soul is the knower of the field, even though not doing anything on this mundane plane. Hence, curious people and seekers are fertile ground for cultivating Krishna consciousness. Externally, they may be doing so many things, but internally always thinking about Krishna….like the ideal of the Gopis that we are worshipping. Even Krishna sent Uddhava to witness the intense love that the Gopis have for Krishna. They are always immersed in thoughts of Him. They love Krishna.

    When I was in New York during my fellowship training, my next door neighbor was a very nice Hassidic Jewish man. We would sit across our porches and share religious and spiritual ideas. He accepted that we are not the body…and he too said, “so what am I supposed to do?” His answer was to follow the many rules and regulations of the Talmud scripture. In other words, Vaidhi bhakti. So if one does not have either the tendency for spontaneious devotional service and remembrance of Krishna, then we too have our formulas for activity given to us by Sanatan Goswami through Srila Prabhupad. Regulated devotional service to train the body, mind and senses to make Krishna the Center of our thinking, feeling, and willing. Ultimately, by His grace, spontaneous devotion will arise and captivate our lives.

    Nice discussion. Not everyone will have the capacity for every type of work, but we can all have the opportunity to become Krishna conscious, live a moral life, and go back to Home, back to Godhead.

    Pusta Krishna das

  9. Kulapavana says :

    One could say that VAD is simply a well organized human society: those who are competent teachers teach others, those who are competent administrators manage the affairs of society and protect others from abuse, those who are competent in business and production of goods engage in making sure the society is well fed and clothed, and all others help by engaging their labor in the above mentioned pursuits.
    On the individual level VAD begins by asking a question: “What is my varna?” and then by acting accordingly. It requires honesty, humility, and sincerity. And sometimes it takes a mercy of another devotee who tells us: “Prabhu, brahmana you are not”. When in doubt, ask those whom you truly respect. If you act in accordance with your natural varna, the results will be positive and useful, making you happy and satisfied. It all starts with us being properly engaged.
    Just like there should be no ambiguity regarding your ashrama, there should be no ambiguity regarding your varna. Be honest with yourself and others. Do not try to be someone you are not. If you are a kshatriya, your management will be good and people will naturally follow. If your management produces disasters and failures – you are definitely not a kshatriya. Judge by the result. Varnashrama system is 100% pragmatic.

  10. krishna-kirti says :

    The concept of paradharma, or the performance of another’s duties, shows that varnasrama system is not meant for the optimization of the work force. In Gita 18.47, it is said sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah para-dharma svansuthitat, svabhava niyatam karma kurvan na apnoti kilbisam, “It is better to perform one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are neer affected by sinful reactions.” This shows that if varnasrama is fundamentally about matching the most capable person to a particular occupation, then there could be no such thing as paradharma. Varnasrama-dharma has a different purpose.

  11. >>This shows that if varnasrama is fundamentally about matching the most capable person to a particular occupation, then there could be no such thing as paradharma. Varnasrama-dharma has a different purpose.

  12. Krishna-kirti has raised a very good point, and we should drill down deep into this question about what Krishna means by saying (twice, having said it first in 3.35, and reprised it in the concluding chapter, in 18.47), that it is better to engage in one’s own duties (in accordance with one’s “svabhava” or specific natural propensities), even faultily, than to perform some other duty (paradharma, another’s occupation), even if one can do that perfectly.

    But does it really mean that varnasrama-dharma is not pragmatic, or worse still, not even practical? I do not think it really means this.

    For example, those who subscribe to the “varna by birthright” ideology might interpret Krishna to be enforcing a hierarchical social order based on the families in which citizens are born. You might be a better brahmana, but because your father was not a brahmana you cannot perform those duties.

    We of course know this theory to be false. [It may be that in a well-functioning society, for example in a previous age, people with the right svabhavas tended to be born in the right families, especially when all the samskaras were being properly observed. But we know that in this age people claiming the privileges of upper castes without having the noble qualities that are supposed to go along with such privileges (and duties) have created havoc and grave injustice.]

    There may be reasons why family inheritance makes things more stable. For example, successor monarchs being selected from among the heirs of the King’s body creates a kind of legitimacy and stability: a pretender who does not have the proper family lineage will not be followed, and we won’t have a free-for-all (as occurred, for example in certain phases of Roman history), where emperors were being murdered every year or two by usurpers.

    The problem is, if Kings cannot produce qualified heirs, bad kings with bad policies may ensue.

    I do not think Krishna’s statements that one should do own duty even imperfectly rather than doing paradharma perfectly should be taken to contradict the common notion that varnsrama-dharma incorporates the ideal of each of the limbs and organs of the social body acting in harmonious coordination to carry out the goals of society.

    Society’s goal should be to properly serve and glorify Sri Krishna, but in the process each member should obtain his or her quota and live a fulfilling life of spiritual progress, without injustice or mistreatment.

  13. The idea that all parts of society have to cooperate in harmony is also mentioned in Plato’s Replublic and has a long and venerable history in European as well as Indian culture. It is only natural that, if we think of society as a giant body that has some task to do, it will be important that the different types of members or actors within society have to play their own roles nicely in harmonious coordination.

    The modern world — or at least my part of it — is still dominated by European culture and history. It might be helpful to us in preaching, at least to western audiences, to locate our discussions of varnasrama dharma favorably within the context of European social and political philosophy.

    [I once attended a lecture by the grand old comparative religions scholar Huston Smith, for what its worth, in which he said that European culture and religion focused on pragmatic issues in the material world, Indian thought was more focused internally on the psychological world, and Chinese and far-eastern religion (e.g., Confucius) focused more on the social, the ethics of human interpersonal behavior.]

    In western political and social philosophy, the idea of a harmonious social body with each type of person playing his or her proper role was very much in vogue in the Renaissance. In her book “Sexual Personae” (a great read for devotees interested in such subjects, BTW — and while it is Freudian and non-theistic in outlook I found many of its views on the psychology of gender very much in line with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings), Prof. Camille Paglia devotes a chapter or two to Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedies, “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It”, in which the heroines Viola and Rosalind disguise themselves as males leading to conflicts which are happily resolved when they resume their place as females and order is restored.

    Shakespeare played fruitfully with possibilities raised by stepping out of assigned social roles (in a time when religious conflict and changing technology was reshaping English culture and language), but his basic common sense belief seemed to be that everyone should remain within his or her assigned place. Whatever he thought about God, he understood that nature orders human society, and each man and woman has a role to play in accordance with age, occupation and social position.

    Marxians had the materialist insight that as technology changed peoples occupations and modes of life, their culture changed.

  14. Kulapavana says :

    Verse 18.47 is directed to Arjuna who wants to abandon his kshatriya duties because they involve violence against his superiors and seem to lead towards destruction of the social fabric. Arjuna is thinking about giving them up and take a life of renunciation instead. Lord Krsna then says: ““It is better to perform one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are neer affected by sinful reactions.”
    The ‘imperfect’ performance of Arjuna’s occupation does not mean poor fighting or poor governance. It means that as a result of Arjuna’s execution of duties there will be some unpleasant consequences. The general instruction for all of us seems to be that we have to surrender to our position in the social order created by Krsna so that His will is ultimately carried out.

  15. In the 18th Chapter, Krishna describes the five factors of action and says every good or bad deed one commits is caused by these factors. He describes the three impetuses of action (knowledge, knower and known) and the three constituents of action (instruments/senses, actor and deed). He elaborates on knowledge, actor and deed in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. He says that no being exists on earth or among the demigods who are free from these modes.

    He is not simply describing how people behave within a particular time or place or in accordance with a particular custom or religion or culture. He is giving a universal theory that embraces all human thoughts, deeds and actions. When He says later that everyone is seated as if on a machine made of material energy and is being directed by the Supreme Lord who sits in everyone’s heart (the fifth and ultimate factor of action), He means everyone, everywhere, in all times, cultures and places.

    When He tells Arjuna that if, taking shelter of false ego, he refuses to fight and disobeys Krishna’s instructions, he will be falsely directed but will be compelled to act in accordance with his nature all the same, He is referring to the idea that all beings have their own, inescapable natures or dispositions (sva-bhava) and associated modes of acting.

    Dharma means acting properly under superior guidance and regulation (niyatam) to do the tasks assigned to us according to our own natures (sva-bhava). Our prescribed karmas are “svabhava-jam”, born of our particular natural dispositions. These deeds sho0uld be done as a sacrifice for Vishnu, and each of us is meant to play a proper role in the larger acts of sacrifice performed by the entire social body (sankirtan, temple worship, big Vedic sacrifices which are no longer practical, dhyana yoga, etc.)

    The 18th Chapter is a conclusion that sums up the previous chapters. Krishna explains that some sages prescribe giving up all activity as faulty (think, for example, of Jains, Buddhists and Advaitins), but His conclusion is that acts of sacrifice, charity and austerity purify even great souls and should never be renounced. Renunciation of regulated duties out of illusion is in the mode of ignorance and out of fear of bodily discomfort is in passion, but in the mode of goodness, one performs prescribed duties, renouncing the mentality of “I and mine”, playing one’s proper role (according to one’s nature) in the larger sacrifice.

  16. krishna-kirti says :

    It is also interesting to note that one’s varnashram status is based on guna and karma. Daksha, or expertise, is not a prerequisite. You may be a mediocre brahmana, but if you have the nature of a brahmana and you preform the activities of a brahmana, then you are a brahmana. However, if you perform the activities of a brahmana perfectly yet do not have the nature of a brahmana, then you are still not a brahmana.

  17. Nataraja dasa says :

    Akruranatha prabhu said:
    It has proven difficult building consensus among the devotees — and even among our leadership! — about how to incorporate Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about varnasrama-dharma in our own lives and families, in our organization of ISKCON and of specific ISKCON projects, and in preaching our public message to the world. For some reason this topic is like an electric third rail which can cause conflagrations of arguments and bad feelings within our community.

    First of all I would like to mention that ISKCON is multicultural society. And we should count DVANDVA. What is good for one, is bad for someone else. For example – in India, preaching with accent to brahmacari lifestile, preaching for “not to much falling in family” and so on – this can be very productive, if we look at overpopulation and allready strong/close family culture.
    But the same preaching strategy in western world, as wee see from the history – is devastating. Family institute is allmost nonexistant, and society is builded by unwanted population. DESA, KALA, PATRA. Therefore – for western devotees Varnasrama should start with simple, basic things – no divorce, loved kids, serving to husband, hard work. But for devotees from other cultures it can start with different things.
    Therefore, if, after 50 years intensive preaching, temples are empty, and there are no one, who comes to Gaura Arati – this is result of neglecting Varnasrama…
    In the west, there are discussions about – that there are no anymore Brahmacaries… But in reality – this is because of that there are no anymore Grihasthas. Just to live together “for service to Krishna” – why one should marry? Marriage means hard work, heavy responsibilities, care about kids. And then you will get brahmacaries who are brahmacaries not because they hate family life and kids (who are obstacles in “spiritual life”), but because they love theyr parents, brothers and sisters, and they feel great responsibility towards them and neccessity to help them with strictly following rules and regulations, and keeping mission high.

    ys
    Nataraja dasa

  18. krishna-kirti says :

    Kulapavana at comment #14 wrote:

    Verse 18.47 is directed to Arjuna who wants to abandon his kshatriya duties because they involve violence against his superiors and seem to lead towards destruction of the social fabric. Arjuna is thinking about giving them up and take a life of renunciation instead.

    Yes. By abandoning his duty and taking up some others, Arjuna would be performing paradharma.

    The ‘imperfect’ performance of Arjuna’s occupation does not mean poor fighting or poor governance.

    Certainly it is not a rationale for mediocrity. But it does serve to show that if there is a conflict between acting according to one’s nature with a mediocre result and acting against one’s nature with a better result, the former course of action is to be considered the better than the latter course.

    It means that as a result of Arjuna’s execution of duties there will be some unpleasant consequences.

    To generalize this beyond Arjuna, the consequences may be good or bad, but the outcome depends on the five factors of action, as mentioned by Akruranatha Ji. It can be further understood that we have little control over these factors, where we have any control at all. One thing we have control over is the decision to perform our prescribed duties.

    The general instruction for all of us seems to be that we have to surrender to our position in the social order created by Krsna so that His will is ultimately carried out.

    Yes. Therefore the connection of varnashrama with the bhakti process is to be considered on the level of yukta-vairagya, or utility in the service of the Lord. In other words, this is sharanagati, or surrender. According to Sanatana Goswami, sharanagati has six facets: 1) accept whatever is favorable for executing Krishna consciousness, 2) rejecting what is unfavorable, 3) to be fully confident of the Lord’s mercy, 4) to consinder one’s self fully dependent on the Lord, 5) to have no interest separate from that of the Lord, and 6) to always be meek and humble. Accepting varnashrama means to accept a favorable condition for the execution of bhakti, and it also means abandoning other social conventions that are unfavorable.

  19. pustakrishna says :

    It came to my mind in the discussion above about Krishna’s recommendations to follow one’s own nature rather than adopt the nature of another. First, this implies that we come programmed with certain qualities that are manifest in our lives. It is not necessarily due to birth in one or another varna. But, those qualities make us more likely to feel comfortable in that work. If one, for example out of envy, tries to follow another’s occupation instead of one’s own, it will create mental disturbances to that person, and may likely not bring about a peaceful state that would make spiritual life easier to adopt. Pusta Krishna das

  20. Kulapavana says :

    Krishna-kirti Prabhu… I doubt very much that someone who does not have a proper brahminical nature can perfectly perform the duties of a brahmana for a prolonged period of time. That just does not happen in real life. We have all seen people who attempted to act like brahmanas only to fall back to their true lower nature in due course of time. But I agree with you that expertise is not a prerequisite for a particular varna. Expertise only comes from proper training and practice. Still, you need to have a proper nature in order to develop expertise.

  21. Nataraja dasa says :

    Krishna kirti prabhu says:
    “Accepting varnashrama means to accept a favorable condition for the execution of bhakti, and it also means abandoning other social conventions that are unfavorable”.

    The point is – everyone within this material world is engrossed in the modes of passion and ignorance. One must promote himself to the platform of goodness, sattva-guna, by following the instructions of Rupa Gosvami. Promote. Gradually.

    Srila Prabhupada acted in emergency – no doubt. But ISKCON should not become elephant movement. The elephant may get a very nice bath in the river, but as soon as it comes onto the bank, it throws dirt all over its body. What, then, is the value of its bathing? Similarly, many spiritual practitioners chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and then commit many forbidden things. Should we think that such chanting will counteract offenses in anyway?

    Accepting varnasrama means to learn to tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals. But what for? To make disciples all ower the world? Really? Not really. Such person is qualified to make disciples all over the world – and its dosnt matter, is he sudra, women, westerner or brahmana, but because He is bhakta, vaishnava.

    Bhakti didnt belong to brahmanas or sannyasies. Bhakti didnt belong to Gurus or brahmacaries only… And to be bhakta – its not a cheap thing. To be an elephant or elephantine, who all the time abandone other social conventions which looks to him like they ar unfavorable for immediate execution of “Bhakti” (Spiritual Carrier) – thats not a problem. But to be a simple bhakta, who fullfills Hes varna and asrama mundaine duties and gradually promote himself to the platform of goodness – thats the real challange.

    ys
    Natarja dasa

  22. Hippies perceived the meaninglessness and futility of mundane work, “Organization Man” in a grey-flannel suit. They wanted a life of more authenticity, beauty, adventure, higher purpose.

    Many found such meaning, beauty and fulfillment in Krishna consciousness. They could finally perceive the goal of life, love of Krishna, and a lifestyle that thrilled them at every moment with activities in service to Krishna.

    However, there was something artificial about our little separate ISKCON society, cut off from our nondevotee families and peers. We did have to cut off our association with asat people and activities, but many of us did not have the adhikara to remain as full-time brahmacaris living in temples.

    [Also, there were additional austerities involved in living in temples. Sometimes the authorities in the temples were overbearing or unwise, and if we did not have faith in them we had to chart our own course, even though it was difficult. For example, in the name of 'varnasrama dharma' the authorities at my stepson's devotee-run school decided that since he was fidgety in class, did not like japa period much, but loved to help milk the cows, he should become a sudra and should not learn reading and math and other school subjects, but should just be taught to labor in the fields. My wife could not accept such an approach. I believe she showed great courage and strength to stand up to big authorities like Ramesvar and Jagadish and eventually leave the temple and try to support three boys on her own.]

    I joined ISKCON when I was 17. By the time I was 19 or 20 I realized I was just not cut out for lifelong celibacy, but also that it was too much of an austerity for me not to go to college. My father’s house had been full of books when I was a child, books I had always expected I would eventually become familiar with. I felt I could not be true to myself while remaining ignorant of history, philosophy, western literature. My TP and GBC asked about if a wanted to get married, and I said “I know no trade or profession. How could I support a family?” Bahudak (my TP) agreed, but there was no path in ISKCON in those days for remaining a devotee and going to school. Gurukula was only for children of converts, not for young converts themselves, and there was no higher education. I had to “bloop.”

    Later, Bir Krishna Swami and Trivikrama Swami encouraged that I could still go to college and be a devotee. That was in 1980-1981.

  23. pustakrishna says :

    Truly, it is far better spiritually if people chant the Holy Names than to try to fit into some social organization without chanting the Holy Names. Lord Chaitanya’s Sri Sikshastakam glorifies the Holy Names and evolving feelings for Krishna. Surely, we must understand that the emphasis on Varnashrama Dharma is meant for the greater society at large who are largely leading a life of mad sense gratification without any cognizance of the repurcussions of the animal propensities. Other religious societies have developed austere principles in daily actions. It is true of practically every religious philosophy that one live a moral life. I have observed this in Vedic dharma, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. What is the difficulty in grasping that?

    Temple life never meant to become a non-thinking zombie! We are always to analyze and at the same time serve with humility. We would sometimes think in black and white terms, maya or Krishna in the early days of Krishna consciousness in the west. We have seen that this may have alienated many, many new bhaktas who wanted to remain affiliated and practitioners, but who could not tolerate the ashram lifestyle. We must rather give encouragement to newcomers, realizing that they may take a step back to re-evaluate their decision to become vaishnavas. If temple authorities are either desperate or brash, that person will feel justified in going away and not returning. So, representatives of Sri Sri Guru Gauranga must give encouragement, and allow someone to retreat from time to time. That will show genuine compassion and affection for the souls who are troubled. Remember that encouragement to take shelter of the Holy Names, and encouragement to understand the science of surrender, can make one very dear to Sri Krishna. Pusta Krishna das

  24. krishna-kirti says :

    People nowadays do not follow the garbhadan samskara, nor do they follow varnashrama rules regarding marriage. Consequently no one can tell a member of one caste from another because everyone is varnasankara. Therefore society at large is engaged in paradharma on a massive scale. Just look around you and you will see so many people who are expert in one profession or another who have the wrong nature for being in that profession.

  25. It is a little remarkable, really, that Srila Prabhupada spent so little time emphasizing mundane morality. Normally churches and spiritual leaders make a point to instruct, “Be a good person, be kind to strangers, earn an honest living, be a good provider for your family, be charitable to those less fortunate, always tell the truth, be a mensch, have the courage to do the right thing even when it is difficult, etc.”

    Getting back to the premise of the original post, I have to say that it does seem that Srila Prabhupada in his 12 years of establishing ISKCON spent less time on mundane morality and “good character” kind of instructions than we would expect from a more typical spiritual leader. It does seem he had stronger than usual faith that if he could just make us into lovers of Krishna, all the good qualities of the suras would display themselves in our characters, and if we did not become bhaktas we would have no good qualities, no matter how much of a veneer of goodness we might be able to acquire.

    And yet, in this famous varnasrama conversation Srila Prabhupada is starting to emphasize that we have to show an example of a proper ethical, human social organization, beginning with understanding that there are four basic social groups based on different types of occupations and the qualities associated with them.

    Varnasram dharma is not primarily about combatting the forces of egalitarianism, the “Rights of Man”, government deriving its authority from the consent of the governed, the ideals of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). It is not primarily a political reactionary movement (such as the Francoists in 1930s Spain, or the segregationists in the 1950s U.S. South), seeking to restore authority to formerly powerful social, military and economic interests of a bygone era.

    It is primarily about goodness and kindness, about people having good character and knowing how to behave well and ethically according to their station and role in the human drama or the gigantic social body. It recognizes different classes, but without mistreatment or exploitation. No work is abominable and each person can achieve real perfection by worship of the Lord through his or her own regulated work in accordance with prescribed duties. Society can only function in that way when there is sufficient population of truly saintly, wise and noble brahmanas and ksatriyas.

  26. Paramananda das says :

    In ISKCON it is very simple all varnas and asramas duty is to preach pure KC, if this is done ,Harinama, bookdistribution and prasadam distribution ,college preaching etc then all duties of the Varna asrama is performed as Krsna is pleased ..if everything is done in the mood of preaching pure KC not sensegratification …..

  27. Part One:

    While it is pleasing to see how devotees discuss the merits of ‘guna’ and ‘karma’ aspects of VAD implementation, we still need to address the reasons why some devotees worry about the spectre of VAD looming large in their lives.

    Of course, there is no reason to fear VAD because it is natural. But our sadhaka or male interpretations of it can produce worry. Srila Prabhupada gave us guidelines to live and practice humane Krishna consciousness. How did we fare in implementing his desires?

    Our macho sense of renunciation and celibacy often caused division. Male dominance unfortunately led to abuse in Gurukulas and so on. What makes us so certain that essentially male dominated VAD will be any different from previous forms of social order control? Memories of former times still haunt many of our seniors.

    Added to this is a perceived brahmacari/sannyasa agenda behind this push for VAD. Perceptions are heightened when it appears that mostly celibates and renunciates do the promoting. There is little surprise then, when the ‘women-at-home’ push can be equated with an “out of sight, out of mind” relief normally reserved for mischievous children. How convenient this would be for some sannyasis and celibates?

    Women would be worried about their sevice capacity. The potential for abuse exists in social dealings , and VAD is social engineering of an enlightened type. Because VAD is subordinate to the holy name and cultivation of it, there is more reason to be aware of human failings within subordinate schemes. How are worried devotees going to be assured?

    We often see an obsession with morality and celibacy, which again is no surprise since this comes usually from ‘celibates.’ Isn’t there is danger of turning Iskcon into a mundane morality and gender segregation cause?

    Some world economies thrive on a pragmatic, mixed economy – part private and part governmental intervention. There is no reason to doubt our ability to mix modernity and traditional, and make a success out of Iskcon progress.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  28. Part Two:

    What is interesting to see, is that many of our brahmacari celibates who are avid sponsors of VAD are presently young. Iskcon history has revealed how most brahmacaris get married and eventually mellow out into wise moderation. History does tend to repeat itself. Time is the great leveller, as well as marriage – for some.

    These observations have escaped discussion. They are important because the sooner the backers of VAD earn widespread and implicit trust, such motivation will remain optimistic ideology at most. Already in this discussion, guna and karma aspects of VAD are exchanged as if we are in a position to galvanise materialistic society with social engineering when, in fact, this concept has to meet with general acceptance among ourselves. The closest thing we have to be able to experiment on a reasonable scale is Mayapur. Other than that…

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  29. pustakrishna says :

    In response to Akruranath Prabhu’s comments (#25), I would beg to differ. While Srila Prabhupad never made it a goal to teach that morality was an endpoint, he more or less daily taught that one should refrain from eating of flesh, gambling, illicit sex-life, and intoxication. He would say that one cannot be considered a gentle-person without such regulation or restraints.
    While we have heard that persons who become God-conscious develop all the good qualities of the demigods without separate endeavor, this implies that one sees everything as Krishna’s property designed for His pleasure, that Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer and Friend of all. Srila Prabhupad did not think that merely living in a temple constituted that one is a high vaishnava. Srila Prabhupad tried to create an oasis where Krishna consciousness could be nourished. Still, even for those who do not live in the ashrams, he encouraged restraint from the sins of meat-eating, gambling, illicit sex-life, and intoxication. The mode of goodness is conducive to acquiring knowledge as stated in the Bhagavad Gita. Self-interest is a strong motivator. If people can appreciate that it is in their best self-interest to live a moral God conscious life, then they might be more inclined to try. It is the unfortunate souls, indeed, who are satisfied with a life of sinful exploitation. While the popular culture may glorify such extreme misuse of independence, the theistic people of the world know better, because their deep purpose is to please God. So, the alternative to a self-centered God-less life of sense exploitation is a moral life of God consciousness. Krishna consciousness movement must be one such example for society at large, but the purpose is not merely to be an example but rather to be practitioners of Krishna consciousness for our own spiritual sakes, both present and future. Pusta Krishna das

  30. pustakrishna says :

    There has been much discussion on Dandavats lately about Varnashrama Dharma. As is typical of the human intellect to try to sort out and come to conclusions about important things, I have tried to similarly do the same regarding this topic.
    First: Varanashrama is divinely created by Krishna (catur varnyam maya srstam) and therefore is the ideal way to organize human society. This is the basis for Srila Prabhupad emphasizing the establishment of this form or organization for society, both within ISKCON (as the example) and outside of ISKCON as the perfect way of organizing human work for the good of all, and hopefully for the ideal of work for the satisfaction of God.

    Second: We tend to resist this format because of the fear of exploitation by ill-motivated people or groups of people. We have seen the degradation of culture in the Kali-yuga, and we have seen the exploitation of children, women, workers, and even disciples. We are wary of any formulation that makes one vulnerable. We would hope for the enlightened guardianship of a noble kshatriya, philosopher-king, but our experience is that the immediate gratification impulse by Kali-yugas’ representatives makes for people to become more protective. The movement toward democracy in various parts of the world acts like a check and balance on despotism, but it has not solved the dilemma of having unqualified leaders assume positions of power again and again.

    Three: Bhakti yoga is an internal process of the consciousness, that can manifest externally with cooperation. A society based on love and trust is the ideal of the Sankirtan Movement. Self-sacrifice brings more happiness than selfishness. Giving brings more joy than receiving. The urgent necessity for bhakti supercedes the hope for a revolution in society that will create the framework for bhakti to develop in nearly all. Our Srila Prabhupad and others discovered this when they first met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupad. Being followers of Gandhi and with a hope to drive the British out of India, Srila Prabhupad Saraswati Thakur enlightened them in the immediate necessity of Bhakti and all else. This convinced great souls to follow him, and the rest is Gaudiya Vaishnava history.

    Four: the best we can hope for is to continue to teach the principles of Varnashrama Dharma as the most intelligent design for human society, being God given, and to try to apply this without envy in ISKCON.
    Pusta Krishna das

  31. Another angle of discussion can evolve around how Srila Prabhupada very frequently advised individuals and audiences on how not to leave one’s job or occupation, or to leave everything to become a Hare Krishna, but to simply add Krishna to one’s life – as simple as that.

    This appears to be a practical way of implementing VAD in the public section of society. Srila Prabhupada seemed to be accepting that people are already occupied, although in a disorganised way. Once Krishna is added then everything becomes perfect.

    This seems to be the effective method for introducing VAD outside of Iskcon borders. Still, strictly speaking, VAD has nothing whatsoever to do with Bhakti. Bhakti is totally independent of varnashrama or any other societal or pious activity. For proof, the hunter named Mrgari did not belong to any of the four varnas, but rather, outside of it. Yet Sri Narada Muni made him into a Vaisnava, higher than any of the four varnas.

    This shows how anybody from any situation outside of VAD can become a Vaisnava. If we become enmeshed in the mechanisms of VAD and try to make it our all in all, this could well lead us to think that VAD is possibly equal to or greater than Bhakti, which would be an offence against the holy name.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  32. pustakrishna says :

    Regarding comment #31 by Keshava Krishna Prabhu, although it is true that Srila Prabhupad would openly tell aspiring practitioners of Bhakti that it is unnecessary to leave one’s place in society to become a bhakta, His Divine Grace did also tell disciples that when one comes to Krishna consciousness, they have no more any obligation to society, family, friends, etc. The Krishna consciousness movement could never have flourished without dedicated disciples to expand the Sankirtan Movement. Even though some may have been “casualties” on the battlefield of the early development of the movement, these devotees were vanguards and Srila Prabhupad always credited that his Guru Maharaj and Lord Chaitanya had sent them to assist in the Sankirtan Movement. So, we can be gentle with those attached to family, etc, and say that they should live a proper God-centric life, and that is bonafide and correct, without any doubt, but for one who wants to immerse themselves in Krishna consciousness, they must also be given encouragement for development of sense control and full dedication to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. There is no discouragement of either proposition. Remember that four classes of individuals come to take shelter of Krishna: those who are distressed/afflicted, those seeking economic security, those who are curious, and those who are seekers of the Truth. We know that desire to lovingly serve Krishna is a state that can, hopefully, unfold with the passage of time and service to Guru and Vaishnava. Looking forward to hearing more interesting ideas and ideals from our vaishnava community on this topic. Pusta Krishna das

  33. To further expand on comment 31: If we follow in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps in encouraging all people who are not yet ready to renounce all for the Lord, by asking them to simply add Krishna to their lives, whatever their occupation or status, this creates a field of service opportunity for full-time brahminically inclined devotees.

    If full-time Iskcon devotees are meant primarily to become brahmanas as Srila Prabhupada desired, then a pastoral and guidance role for all those Krishna-centric none-full-time situations exist. If anything, the pastors and other leaders of flocks of different faiths play a similar brahminical role in society.

    If our brahmanas help the greater community or congregation this way, it is VAD in action. We may not realise it, but the essential brahmana-like roles of leaders of other faiths tending to congregations are also Christian, Muslim, Jewish forms of VAD couched in diverse cultural and linguistic interpretations.

    If however, we try implementing VAD among versatile Vaisnavas – present and former full-time devotees – we will inevitably run into difficulties, not to speak of placing Vaisnavas into guna and karma categories. Ideally, all such Vaisnavas should play this pastoral or brahminical role for the greater good.

    It will be smaller scale in the West compared with the vast field of India, but at least there are some feasible and practical ways of immediate VAD action, without having to work out mass engineering minus the capacity or resources. At least there are starting points…

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  34. Nataraja dasa says :

    Hare Krishna!
    I really appreciate Pusta Krishna prabhus words:
    “So, we can be gentle with those attached to family, etc, and say that they should live a proper God-centric life, and that is bonafide and correct, without any doubt, but for one who wants to immerse themselves in Krishna consciousness, they must also be given encouragement for development of sense control and full dedication to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. There is no discouragement of either proposition.”

    You know – because here starts varnasrama. Especially, for one who wants to immerse themselves in Krishna consciousness. Its interesting, that there are still discussions: did Srila Prabhupada wanted varnasrama or not. Somehow – we forget that brahmacari asrams, sannyasi ashrams are established… Somehow – we forget, that there are brahmana threads, rules and regulations… Somehow – we forget many other things.
    Somehow, we continue to discriminate and separate family life from devotional service.
    Somehow we forget, that if there a preaching, must be following.

    And may be I start to understand – why Kesava Krsna prabhu is so worry.
    “That implementing of VAD can lead us to think that VAD is possibly equal to or greater than Bhakti, which would be an offence against the holy name.”
    But at the same time – all Bhagavad Gita is Sri Krishnas encouragment to Arjuna for performing svadharma duties for the sake of performing svadharma duties, becaus Sri Krishna wanted that.

    There are two kinds of sva-dharmas, specific duties. As long as one is not liberated, one has to perform the duties of his particular body in accordance with religious principles in order to achieve liberation. When one is liberated, one’s sva-dharma — specific duty — becomes spiritual and is not in the material bodily concept. In the bodily conception of life there are specific duties for the brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas respectively, and such duties are unavoidable. Sva-dharma is ordained by the Lord, as it is clarified in the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad Gita. On the bodily plane Sva-dharma is called varnasrama-dharma, or man’s steppingstone for spiritual understanding. Human civilization begins from the stage of varnasrama-dharma, or specific duties in terms of the specific modes of nature of the body obtained. Discharging one’s specific duty in any field of action in accordance with the orders of higher authorities serves to elevate one to a higher status of life.

    ys
    Nataraja dasa

  35. rasarajdas says :

    Good discussion. Being relatively new, I have had problems with subjective analysis. I do not know if an objective discussion can be had either. For e.g. What are some things that can be done in a rural environment and in an urban environment (if at all) to implement VAD. Let us say support for the brahmacarys or elderly Grihastha couples who are leaning towards Vanaprastha, who have shown dedication to the mission and are willing and ready to serve as preachers and advisors. According to VAD (my understanding), the grihasthas have to support them.

    So lets do so… We see over and over again that senior preachers (and I mean devotees who have shown that they are capable preachers) are now working in Gas stations and selling paintings and driving trucks etc to make ends meet. Lets put our money where our mouths are. 30% of all contributions into our society to support the brahmacarys and vanaprasthys (I exclude sanyasis, since at this time I believe they are supported properly).

    Seems fanatical? Then give me other examples on what can be implemented? Brahmanas are not supposed to get laxmi for service. So are we supporting that? 20% to the Brahmanas.. the good ones atleast!

    Our administrators, the TPs and teams also are not supported, but VAD requires to tax the grihasthas to support them. 30% for them.

    So are we willing to put in the 70-80%? Are the devotees on this discussion willing to take that step? Support 1 brahmacary or Vanaprasthy for life per 5 grihasthas. Does that sound feasible?

    We have not even started the discussion on Cow utilization, proper agriculture, creating proper engagement for the Vaishya and Sudras within our society..

    Apologize, but I want specifics more than philosophies and a committment to follow those.

  36. One thing that makes discussion of varnas in ISKCON a little confusing (to me at least) is that the descriptions of the occupational duties found in our scriptures seem to refer to a different kind of economy and society than the modern one we live in.

    Srila Prabhupada would frequently bridge that gap by remarking that any civilized society still has four basic groups (society’s heads, arms, stomach and legs). But exactly how we are supposed to train devotees to act as sudras, vaisyas, and ksatriyas is unclear. Is it that we should just see our jobs in the mainstream, modern economy in terms of these four categories? Or are we supposed to train people to do such jobs differently, or even to do different jobs?

    I guess in some cases, like that of vaisyas who protect cows, there are some clear indications: we must protect cows throughout their lives; we must try to convince people to pay the extra cost of ahimsa dairy products as a moral duty.

    But in other cases is it less cleat to me. What of someone who is naturally attracted to the work of a ksatriya? Do we send them to military academy? Police academy? Have them study public policy and economics and history in college? Or law? Alongside their study of Srila Prabhupada’s books, of course.

    Srila Prabhupada spoke of “varnasrama colleges”, but was his vision to create Ksatriyas and Vaisyas in a separate ISKCON society (more like Amish, who distinguish themselves from the non-Amish “heathens” though they may do business with them, and do not work alongside them in offices, factories, the armed forces, or run for political office)?

    Or was his vision more like that of certain Christian colleges who aspire for their graduates to get good jobs and successful, senior positions in mainstream business, government and the professions?

    Can our Vaisyas be successful retailers, bankers, industrialists? Do those who make the transition, within modern corporations, from lower positions in accounting, engineering or legal departments into top executive positions see themselves as changing varna?

    What is the relevance to me, in my actual real life occupation as an attorney with a solo litigation practice, if I understand my varna to be that of a sudra, vaisya or ksatriya? Or is knowing one’s varna more important as a kind of guidance device to help young devotees decide on a career?

    Where does theory from India of a bygone age meet the practice of the 21st century world we live in?

  37. pustakrishna says :

    Struggling with the external activities of Varnashram versus the internal life of Bhakta, we know that the internal life is the key! Again, we are reminded of the example of the Vrajavasis in Krishna lila, they are not brahmanas (mostly they are Vaishyas), but they are all supremely in love with Krishna, Krishna conscious. To go about the activities of life is an essential part of this world, but the consciousness that we cultivate or purify, is the key element to a successful life. We have seen Krishna’s pleasure in Krishna lila, and Mahaprabhu’s mood in His lila. What Mahaprabhu values is humility and dedication to the service of the Holy Names. But, His mercy is often unexpected as He played with the vendors that He teased as a youth.

    So, for my dear Godbrother Keshava Krishna das, who is always adept at writing articles to stimulate much good Krishna conscious discussion, I agree with him fully that one should take a “pastoral” approach to a congregation. To encourage aspiring bhaktas to meditate internally on the Nama,Rupa,Guna,Lila of Krishna while going about one’s occupation is definitely needed, but also to keep one’s antennae out for the extraordinarily rare soul that is directed toward a full-fledged life of sadhana (even for a brief time in their lives) in the ashrama. Both are necessary, and perhaps the changing nature of our Krishna conscious communities can make one forget that there are those rare souls who will become fully engaged bhaktas.

    Pusta Krishna das

  38. Kulapavana says :

    Dear Rasaraja Prabhu…. pranams.
    Please share your thoughts on how exactly should modern day grihasthas support brahmacaris and vanaprasthas in the context of VAD? What is the practical role of these two ashramas in our current society? What exactly do they do? In the traditional sense brahmacaris received training from a guru while living in his asrama in exchange for service, real physical work. They tended cows, gardens, and collected alms on behalf of their guru. They did not for example require expensive airline tickets to fly half way across the world to see holy places in India. Vanaprasthas lived on the edge of the village meeting their needs with their own labor and sometimes with the help of their children. It was a simple and efficient program. How do you see that translated into modern day reality? I raised 3 children. They were the brahmacaris I helped throughout my life. When I retire I expect to continue rendering service to society in some way, living in a modest house I paid for myself, growing a lot of my own food, and be self supporting thanks to a pension program system most developed countries have.
    I very much share your interest is specifics and your view that esoteric philosophy is not nearly enough to accomplish anything in this world. We have been talking about VAD and building our own working society for 5 decades now without having too much to show for it. It would be nice if we could do better.

  39. Pusta Krishna Prabhu wrote:

    “In response to Akruranath Prabhu’s comments (#25), I would beg to differ. While Srila Prabhupad never made it a goal to teach that morality was an endpoint, he more or less daily taught that one should refrain from eating of flesh, gambling, illicit sex-life, and intoxication. He would say that one cannot be considered a gentle-person without such regulation or restraints.”

    Yes. It is true that Srila Prabhupada taught the four rules as the basis of a much larger ethical instruction. Satyaraja Prabhu has written a book about how the four rules are the basis of a moral life. The rule against illicit sex means that the sex impulse, if used at all, must be used for creating a good generation of progeny, with all the responsibility and family affection that entails. The rule against meat-eating is not just a diet for keeping a wholesome, healthy and clean body, but involves seeing all living beings as children of God who belong to kind of proper biological hierarchy or great chain of being and must be treated properly.

    The entire ethical outlook is presented very explicitly in Srila Prabhupada’s books like Sri Isopanisad and Srimad Bhagavatam, with due attention paid to how pure bhakti is a law unto itself that transcends and supersedes ordinary varnasrama morality. Even among the demigods there is tension between advocates of pravrtti marga or the path of righteous material progress and that of nivrtti marga or liberation from material activity altogether. We see this tension at the beginning of the universe in the confrontation between Lord Brahma and his saintly sons the Four Kumaras, and in confrontations between Daksha and Narada Muni. In the Fifth Canto story of Priyavrata Maharaja we see how a liberated person can also be engaged in material righteousness out of respect for superior direction. These themes are also prominent in Bhagavad-gita, which prescribes action in full surrender as opposed to false renunciation of action.

    But somehow in early ISKCON we over-emphasized the superiority of bhakti over mundane morality, to the point where some of us were in danger of being mithyacaris and false renouncers (pretending to be better than brahmanas while either subtly or grossly breaking the rules.) So in this 2/14/77 conversation Srila Prabhupada told us to follow our varnas. There is no need to initiate someone as brahmana who is not inclined to brahmana’s karma.

  40. There is a kind of learning by rote memorization and rule-orientation which is necessary and valuable, but a higher education requires deeper understanding, including becoming conversant with the reasons behind the rules, and perfect discretion to recognize and apply exceptions.

    “And earthly power dost then show likest God’s when mercy tempers justice.”

    To understand the varnasrama system of ethics is to understand not merely a set of dos and don’ts, but to fully perceive the situation of souls conditioned in different kinds of bodies under the influence of the three modes of nature.

    The past few hundred or so years of history has involved struggle by lower and weaker social groups or classes against injustices wrought by unqualified but socially-privileged groups. Srila Prabhupada frequently pointed out that the Marxist ideal of “classless society” was a myth, that civilized society has different classes but that they work together with justice and harmony to perform the proper functions of the entire society, as a coordinated body displays the harmonious functioning of all the limbs under the direction of the head.

    The head of a wholesome social body should be qualified brahmanas, fully conversant with the science of spirit and matter, of how the soul is bound by material conditioning and how it can be liberated through yoga practice. The entire society should take direction from the bona-fide professors of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.

    This philosophy should not put Hare Krishna at odds with those who by their own culture and training and intuition have come to cherish ideals of equality, freedom from tyranny, distrust of oligarchs, bogus aristocracies and corrupt priests or fake sadhus. It is not that we have to take sides in the ongoing struggles between different classes of blind materialists.

    We have to present a yoga-centered and Bhagavatam-centered sociology and anthropology and political economics that is beneficial for all. We reject the Marxian idea of irreconcilable class interests: each man, woman, child, bird, insect and plant has a proper, wholesome and natural place in the righteous and harmonious, God-centered Universe. That is the “isavasyam” conception.

    It seems we have not yet been successful in properly articulating this ideology, even in our own Vaisnava society. We do not really have four varnas, and women seem to bear the brunt of a rule-oriented and inflexible orthodoxy.

  41. I am not pessimistic. I have confidence that with continued study of Srila Prabhupada’s books and practice of chanting hare Krishna and worship of the Deities, eventually our varnasram ideology will become a highly respected and universally accepted reunion of social science and ethical philosophy.

    Our “varnasrama colleges” will not be the higher educational institutions of an obscure fundamentalist sect, like many American, Protestant Bible colleges, but should become the Harvards and Oxfords and Sorbonnes of a future international Vaisnava society.

    But how will we get from here to there? It may take generations of faithful followers and the leadership of inspired visionary devotees.

    However it will happen, one thing seems clear to me:

    Unless we can explain varnasrama dharma in a way that is relevant and practical, that tangibly improves our own lives and the way things work collectively, we will not be able to convince even our own faithful members who are committed to chanting 16 rounds and following four regs and studying and distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, let alone a skeptical mainstream world that still tends to view ISKCON as an odd cult or sect, if they even bother to think about ISKCON at all.

  42. pustakrishna says :

    This is a very good discussion, and to hear the devotees struggle with the methodology to apply Krishna’s teachings to the world both personally and collectively are things we used to often talk about with Srila Prabhupad. One way to see things is on the ultimate level: Everything that leads to Krishna consciousness is valuable, and anything which does not is…”srama eva hi kevalam”, a waste of time. That is the ultimate judgement. Then, how are we to look at activities in the world, the world of Varnashrama dharma, they are meant to be done as a duty or service to society. Arjuna was asked by Krishna to follow his own nature of that as a Kshatriya, warrior and protector. It was most natural for Arjuna. Through knowledge we can see that the activities are not meant for our own enjoyment (yat karosi…) but rather for the pleasure of God, as an offering. Thus, knowledge and devotion can transform mere activity of the world into bhakti. Without such knowledge and devotion, it is true that the activities by themselves do not produce the great boon of human life, bhakti, but they at least do not create too much of a disturbance in the “prison house”. N’est pas? Devotees are full of compassion as they try to wrestle with these ideas and ideals. Hare Krishna.

    Pusta Krishna das

  43. Lord Caitanya asked Ramananda Raya to recite a verse from the revealed scriptures concerning the ultimate goal of life. What did Lord Caitanya really mean when he rejected Ramananda Raya’s first responses with the phrase, “eho bahya”, “this is external”?

    It seems that the first quotations offered by Ramananda Raya involved material activities of the body and mind. Even if mixed with devotional service, activities in the category of karma and jnana are not really the activities of spirit soul proper. Only pure devotional service is the ultimate goal of life.

    And yet, a pure devotee still appears to act in some way. He or she may appear to be acting as a householder or a renunciate, acting in accordance with socially accepted norms or violating them. Whatever such a pure devotee does is perfect, because it is conducted by Krishna’s internal energy.

    There is a big difference between talking about and beginning to understand that platform and quality of pure devotional service and actually acting on that platform. In the Krishna consciousness movement we are working together to gradually elevate ourselves and our fellow devotees to that unalloyed platform of devotional service. We know that it is foolish to simply try to imitate the activities of the topmost liberated devotees while we are still materially conditioned souls. We have to act in accordance with appropriate viddhis, suited to our own level of purity and realization, so that we may gradually be elevated to the perfectional stage.

    In Srimad Bhagavatam class yesterday we were discussing the words “ritual” and “rite”, and we looked them up in the dictionary and the definition talked about “prescribed” activities. We had also been talking about niyama-agraha and niyama-aagraha, and I started thinking about this word “niyama” and its various forms like niyamya and niyata, translated most often as “regulated” or “prescribed”. In Brahma-Samhita we had read that the Goddess of Fortune, the Lord’s cit potency, Ramaa-devi, is described as “niyati”, or the supreme “regulatrix” (female regulator) of all entities. The idea is that we should all be regulated in our conduct through performing activities that are prescribed by superior authority of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His internal potency. In this way, even our very means of livelihood can be like a ritual or a part of yoga practice, a means of controlling our mind and senses by conforming them to prescribed rules.

  44. An example of how difficult it will be to implement VAD among Vaisnava devotees is in how our devotees are occupied in various jobs and workplaces. It is generally accepted that a brahmana should not work as an employee for another master or firm/company. Lord Krishna tells Uddhava:

    SB 11.17.47 — If a brāhmaṇa cannot support himself through his regular duties and is thus suffering, he may adopt the occupation of a merchant and overcome his destitute condition by buying and selling material things. If he continues to suffer extreme poverty even as a merchant, then he may adopt the occupation of a kṣatriya, taking sword in hand. But he cannot in any circumstances become like a dog, accepting an ordinary master.

    Presently, we have many former full-time devotees working for masters, which is unfit for second initiated devotees. But we would be foolish to consider such devotees as being “dog-like” as the above verse states. Because such devotees were transformed into Vaisnavas by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, and continue to chant Hare Krishna as Vaisnavas do, we cannot ascribe any occupation or job description on to the character of such devotees.

    Such devotees may appear to be office workers, doctors, lawyers or whatever, but their past training in Krishna consciousness and combined mature experiences qualifies them to be Vaisnava/Brahmana leaders or ‘Pastors’ of a younger devotee congregation and full-time temple residents.

    This Kali-yuga reality does not fit in to pristine VAD concepts. Spiritual leaders of society are already working and living among the people that they should lead. This is further evidence that VAD classification should apply to people in general, and not to Vaisnavas. And people in general are already occupied.

    It is for us to adapt workable VAD models to present social realities. So far as this discussion goes and some of the participants, Vaisnavas such as Pusta Krishna Prabhu, Kulapavana Prabhu and Akruranantha Prabhu do not belong to any VAD label, though they appear to work in different fields. First and foremost, they are Vaisnavas, and have training and experience behind them to lead people in general. This is workable VAD.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  45. Kulapavana says :

    There is danger in overly complicating things by introducing too many external elements in VAD. The unity needs to be stressed, not the divisions. Without unity and mutual respect there is no society. Given that we have on record some very critical quotes regarding sudras, who will want to be classified as such? That is probably the most misunderstood varna among the devotees, yet without it there is no scope for establishing a working society. Today, a scientist working for a big company is potentially a brahminical material, and should not be seen to be “like a dog, accepting an ordinary master. Similarly, a person managing a large group of people within a big company can be seen as a kshatriya material, not merely sudra working for a master. The social realities have changed, but the 4 varnas created by Krsna are still there.
    The utility needs to be stressed and strived for, not merely following some ancient system for the sake of being ‘compliant with the guru’s order. It is about creating society that actually produces the goods and services it needs. It is about creating environment where our children can – and want to – live and work among the devotees. They have to see that there is future for them in our movement. That is a measure of sustainability. We have probably burned through more converts than any other religious group I can think of. These people left mainly because they did not see a future for themselves in our projects. That is a tragic loss for our movement. We have to be practical in every respect in order to build a real alternative society, and not merely sustain yet another church.

  46. Regarding comments #44 and #45, this does seem to be a challenge Srila Prabhupada left for us to rise to. He did ask us to divide ourselves — within ISKCON — into different varnas. But what does it mean? How are we supposed to think and feel about externally being a sudra or vaisya? Can we change over time, or even have occupations which fall into two or three varnas?

    I agree with what I take to be a common mood of Kesava Krishna and Kulapavana that we cannot let such external categories divide us or become a breeding ground for ahankara and quarrel. We know we are all really spirit souls.

    The one common denominator of all occupational duties is service. Actually being a servant is the svarup, or eternal, constitutional position of the soul. Therefore, sudras are in a special, favorable, safe position of being able to practice how to be a servant nicely, how to make others happy with our work.

    No work is abominable. Among left-wing Europeans in the 1920s and 1930s, intellectuals or scions of wealthy families would be embarrassed and try to present themselves as honest laborers, adopting the dress and speech patterns of working class people. Novelist B. Traven was actually some kind of German Junker or something by birth, but you would not know it from his books.

    I dimly remember seeing a movie about a Chinese ballet dancer who defected to the West. Communist officials checked out his family background before allowing the boy into a prestigious school for only the most talented children. His parents, who were poor peasants, proudly assured the officials that all of their ancestors on both sides of the family had been simple peasants. It was like a badge of honor.

    A brahmana may be forbidden to accept a position as a servant and dependent. That may be an austerity performed by one who has that svabhava: one may have to suffer poverty rather than being a sycophant or even accepting a humble job as a waiter, housekeeper or driver. In Western culture we find a stereotype of poor scholars and tutors, and struggling bohemians who must burn their poetry to heat their cheap, freezing garrets.

    A pure Vaisnava may accept any position for the service of the Lord (not just to fill his belly). It seems Srila Prabhupada did not want us to think of ourselves as exalted Vaisnavas, but to keep that ideal as a very lofty and rarely attained state. But what are we, and how does it affect what kind of jobs we may take?

  47. A common theme we all accept is that it does not so much matter what we do (we should not do something sinful like butcher, pornographer, saloon keeper, thief), but the important thing is to learn how to do it for Krishna.

    “[Krsna] does not advise Arjuna to simply remember Him and give up his occupation. No, the Lord never suggests anything impractical. In the material world, in order to maintain the body one has to work. Human society is divided, according to work, into four division of social order — brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra. The brahmana class or intelligent class is working in one way, the ksatriya or administrative class is working another way, and the mercantile class and the laborers are all tending to their specific duties. In human society, whether one is a laborer, merchant, administrator or farmer, or even if one belongs to the highest class and is a literary man, a scientist or a theologian, he has to work in order to maintain his existence. The Lord therefore tells Arjuna that he need not give up his occupation, but while he is engaged in his occupation he should remember Krsna (mam anusmara). If he doesn’t practice remembering Krsna while he is struggling for existence, then it will not be possible for him to remember Krsna at the time of death.”

    –Introduction to Bhagavad-gita

    But if it does not matter all that much, if all varnas and races and genders should be properly respected with equal dignity as children of God who are just engaged in different functions within one unified, harmonious social body, then why did Srila Prabhupada ask us to introduce these four categories within our society?

    One explanation is found within the February 14, 1977 conversation quoted in the OP. To be an actual Vaisnava is not an easy thing. We say, “This is the easy path: just chant and dance and take prasadam. No need to go off alone with no possessions to sit down all day long fasting and meditating.” But even this easy path is not really so easy for the people of our times. Not many people are steady at chanting sixteen rounds, which only takes a couple hours a day, and following four regs, which is supposed to be basic moral requirement for civilized humans.

    So we should not think “I am pure Vaisnava, better than brahmana.” That is not the mood of a humble Vaisnava. Haridas Thakur and Rupa-Sanatan considered themselves unfit to enter the temple (but the Lord personally visited them!)

  48. Regarding brahmanas not being permitted to serve lower-class masters (of course they must serve their gurus and Deities), I am reminded of the arrangements made in some modern occupations to preserve the independence of brahminical types of workers from influence of interested bosses.

    We have traditions of offering tenure to college professors, and of offering lifetime appointments to certain judges (in the U.S., all Federal judges serve as lifetime appointees and do not stand for election, although many State court judges do).

    Nowadays it is very hard to know who to trust. Oil companies and tobacco companies create research institutes whose scientists come up with findings that contradict those of more independent researchers on issues of concern to them (like climate change or the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke). Industry lobbies are said to “capture” government regulatory agencies. U.S. politicians are afraid to stand up to the gun lobby which has become dominated by businesses that make and sell weapons. Political influence peddling and graft are facts of life.

    Dogs are remarkable creatures. Their natural psychology is to run in packs and worship the alpha male leader. Domesticated dogs are very loyal to their human masters and are patient and tolerant and humble and servile by nature. I seem to recall that the dog was one of the many gurus of the avadhuta brahmana.

    We should be dogs of our spiritual master, and we sometimes refer to our neck beads as our dog collar or dog tags, marking us as servants of Guru and Krishna.

    In the operation of a mundane business, government, army or other enterprise we also need people who can be loyal servants and carry out orders as directed and not talk back and have all those good, dogly qualities.

    I do not feel insulted to be considered a sudra or a servant of someone else. I am happy as a solo practitioner, but I was also happy working as an associate in a big law firm where I did legwork for lead counsel. Of course, I knew that my service to bosses in the law firm was external, and that the real master of my heart is Srila Prabhupada.

    But there is no shame in having the occupation of a sudra. It is good training to acquire the godly qualities of humility, tolerance, loyalty, devotion. Blessed are the meek.

  49. Kanai Krsna dasa (HHBRS) says :

    Hare Krishna !

    This discussion was so enliven !

    Please continue.

    your aspiring servant
    Kanai Krsna Dasa

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