Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!
During the 2014 North American GBC meetings, http://www.dandavats.com/?p=12906#more-12906, Anuttama Das and Nityananda Das shared a platform in a presentation; their topic was Varnasrama. They talked “down” varnasrama.
If a politician talks down the currency or economy of his country, even in a positive way, his career is practically finished. There will be no end of criticism and pressure for him to resign.
Varnasrama is like our currency. It is our true economy in all respects – true wealth as in the land and all that which goes with it, to always be in the association of devotees, and most of all, steady spiritual advancement is guaranteed.
Anuttama Prabhu starts by admitting he is looking at this issue from a different perspective, a communications perspective. He says this is the way that orients his thinking. Immediately, alarm bells go off. Prabhupada’s desire and thoughts on varnasrama takes a back seat in favour of his approach. Also, in his conclusion, he says that leaders in Iskcon who come from the West (pretty much most leaders in Iskcon), come out of some hippie culture and in twentieth century Iskcon, we have two cultures, hippie and Indian. These thoughts of his encapsulate his vision for Iskcon. The hippie culture in the modern world has evolved into polished liberalism (freedom of complete bodily sense gratification). And we can see how aspects of this freedom culture are being accepted as what should be seen as normal in Iskcon. An example is divorce, Anuttama Prabhu says divorce is not allowed but if you have to, then get divorced.
Although he acknowledges that Prabhupada speaks many verses where human life does not begin until you have varnasrama, he calls these statements “Simple Perhaps.” He also sounds dismissive of the statement by Srila Prabhupada where he says, “Half my work is not completed because varnasrama is not in place.” His tone on this is as if it can be just brushed aside. So from his perspective, he thinks Srila Prabhupada’s statements on varnasrama are not to be taken seriously and he has a different view which he proceeds to give.
He relates an experience he had, and concludes that everyone is confused about their varnas. This could be true. Many devotees are not in favourable settings to work out what they would naturally like to do. Instead of dismissing varnasrama completely and sticking to an urban lifestyle which entangles us more in this material world, why don’t we at least try to follow Srila Prabhupada some way and direct devotees into farm communities. Srila Prabhupada said that living off the land is like the bija-mantra (seed) of varnasrama. So with time, everything will fall into place and evolve. In this setting, and with guidance from our brahmanas, devotees will fall into their natural occupations.
Then he talks about Srila Prabhupada’s demonstration of time place and circumstance. How he adjusted some things to allow women to live in temples, the number of rounds we chant and Western dress for preaching. He states how Srila Prabhupada says his only qualification is his following his spiritual master and he didn’t change anything but he adjusted a lot of things according to time, place and circumstance.
So, our only qualification should be that we follow Srila Prabhupada and don’t change anything. Srila Prabhupada gives the difference between principles and details. A basic principle is that one has to accept a spiritual master. Exactly how one follows the instructions of his spiritual master is considered a detail. So it’s out of the question to change principles within our society but are we qualified to change details or do we even know or understand what details are?
Srila Prabhupada’s adjustments are very much detail adjustments and he was qualified to make changes. In Iskcon, there are many factions pulling in different directions. For example, Srila Prabhupada gives us the minimum in austerity; the four regulative principles and to chant sixteen rounds daily, which if followed strictly brings us to the mode of goodness. For us, to follow the four regulative principles and chant is undisputedly the most important “core principle” Srila Prabhupada left us. Can we change the details within this principle?
One devotee may say that with all other things we have going on, to chant minimum sixteen rounds is too much. So he may canvass to make it eight rounds. Someone may say that it is difficult to follow the no illicit sex rule even within marriage so let’s introduce contraception. I heard devotees who eat chocolates say it can also be offered to Krsna so where does this leave us with no intoxication. Then what about tea, someone may ask? There’s no harm there.
Acting on the level of our spiritual advancement, there could be many different variations of how far we should go in changing details – if we even understand properly the difference between a principle and a detail. This will further cause divisions as time goes on. To use the example of Anuttama Prabhu about devotional dress, and how Srila Prabhupada allowed book distributors to wear Western clothing – we now see devotees questioning the necessity of using it not just for regular temple visits but also for sitting on the vyasasana and Deity service. So how far should we go?
Do any of us have the vision of Srila Prabhupada to change even details? No! Our adjustments will be dictated by our conditioned senses. The only way to have peace and harmony is for all of us to have a “default” position. And that is Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. It could be argued that we not only have core principles but also core details, as those within our four regulative principles. And to these, Srila Prabhupada made the final adjustments.
Anuttama Prabhu refers many times to the verse and purport read by Nityananda Prabhu for this class, SB 4.29.46 – where Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu says I’m not a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya or sudra to indicate why varnasrama is not necessary. Just by looking at the verse alone; these lines, “fully engaged in devotional service” – “favoured by the Lord, who bestows His causeless mercy” – “awakened devotees gives up all material activities”, we can know a devotee of this description definitely transcends the system of varnasrama. Non of us as practicing devotees fit into this category.
Even in the purport, Srila Prabhupada qualifies this level. He mentions the anyabhilasita-sunyam verse, completely free from mental speculation and furtive activities. He mentions the following; “The Lord is awakened in ones mind if one constantly thinks of Him” – “A pure devotee cannot remain a moment without being absorbed in thoughts of the Lord” – “Always engaging in the Lord’s service” – “Devotional service in Love and affection” – “This is the stage of becoming free from the contamination of the material world.”
But Anuttama Prabhu latches onto the last part of the purport where Lord Caitanya says He is not a brahmana etc, without fully understanding from the verse and complete purport the description of such an exalted devotee being described. Even the paragraph of the last part qualifying Lord Caitanya’s statement is clear in meaning of the devotee being described. “His engagement in material activities ceases completely. At that time, he attains the favour of the Lord and loses his faith in material civilization, which begins with varnasrama-dharma. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu speaks clearly of one’s becoming liberated from the varnasrama-dharma, the most exalted system of human civilization. At such a time one feels himself to be perpetually the servant of Lord Krsna, a position taken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself.”
Note how Srila Prabhupada refers to varnasrama-dharma as the most exalted system of human civilization. Western or variations of hippy culture mixed with this tradition does not even come close to the greatness of varnasrama. It is impossible to become a pure devotee living in towns and cities.
Anuttama Prabhu’s understanding of “Whatever you do, do it for Krsna”, is twisted. He implies that even mundane activities like sports should be done for Krsna. According to him, Srila Prabhupada adjusted things within the ashram, he introduced things like divorce. He says although divorce is strictly not allowed, people got divorced and because Srila Prabhupada allowed it, we should allow it – he gives the green light for divorce. He says, we have this as example of how to adjust within the ashram, but because we have no examples of Srila Prabhupada dealing with the varnas, we should not try to introduce it as varnas are a little complex and problematic. He gives the example of bowling and the concert pianist as ashram adjustments.
First, he gives his personal example. He married after ten years as brahmacari. His wife had an eight year old son from a previous marriage and he had to learn new duties, perform new sacrifices like bowling and baseball. Although he hadn’t bowled since he was a boy, he took his eight year old son out bowling. He wasn’t particularly good at it but he had to bowl for Krsna just as Arjuna shot arrows for Krsna, he says. So he thought, okay, I’ll do it for Krsna and mediated on Krsna and he made his highest score ever in bowls. So he takes this as a sign that you can do anything mundane for Krsna. His says his realization from this is to know what it means – whatever you do, somehow, do it for Krsna.
He remembers a concert pianist from Denver who joined. They told him, do what every other new bhakta does, wash pots. He says they weren’t so broadminded in those days – there wasn’t a lot of vision for being a concert pianist for Krsna, he thinks these days it is much better. So again, this idea of dovetailing everything for Krsna, bowling, baseball, concert pianist and he also includes the reasonable ones like plumbing. But his whole idea is we don’t need varnasrama. Varnasrama for him means if you are a bowler, do it for Krsna.
So that’s his idea of adjusting within the ashram. But he says the problem starts on the varna side with the tendency to categorise people and this makes his blood boil. According to him, this is the historical problem, the modern problem and the philosophical problem.
He gives another ashram adjustment example, of Srila Prabhupada, who he says was making money as a grhastha, cutting vegetables and shopping and cleaning, when he first came to New York. So he asks, “is Srila Prabhupada a vaisya or sudra.
Or is he showing us the essence of vaisnava, clean for Krsna, preach for Krsna, make money for Krsna and bowl for Krsna with my kids if I have to. You know, we do it all for Krsna.”
Srila Prabhupada fits the description of Lord Caitanya’s much quoted line by Anuttama Prabhu, I ‘m not a brahmana, not a ksatriya etc. Srila Prabhupada does not need varnasrama, we do.
Instead of him calling Srila Prabhupada’s many references to varnasrama simple, perhaps he should consider that it is actually simple for the simple to understand. And Srila Prabhupada was the epitome of that simplicity. It gets complicated for us when we try to make changes to suit our lifestyle. He admits the application to the goal using his method is a little complicated because of our conditioning. Why then does he want to apply rules for how we should reach our goal instead of using the simple and default position, Srila Prabhupada?
Although he says “little complicated,” he says it also means that it is quite clear because we have the example of Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita. But he forgets that Arjuna was a ksatriya and Krsna was simply asking him to do his “varna” duty and fight and varnasrama was firmly in place then. He gives the example of Srila Prabhupada saying that a factory worker doing his job “thinking of Krsna” is pure devotional service. But surely the factory worker who thinks of Krsna constantly will be an advanced devotee. How many devotees slogging out there amongst the non-devotees think of Krsna every working minute?
He says, one should always remember Krsna and never forget Him, Nityananda Prabhu also mentions this. It is not so easy to remember Krsna twenty four hours a day, working and living amongst non-devotees. Srila Prabhupada says in Madhya 22.113 purport that to always remember Krsna is only possible when one chants the Hare Krsna Mantra twenty four hours a day.
Because this is not possible for devotees at present, Srila Prabhupada qualifies his statement in that same purport to add; that because of other duties under the order of the spiritual master, the disciple should first chant sixteen rounds which is most essential then go on book distribution or engage in other direct services where he will always be reminded of Krsna. This serves as an impetus to remember Krsna. Srila Prabhupada also says that the conclusion is one must engage in things that will always make him remember Krsna and refrain from doing things that make him forget Krsna.
So in a farm community, with all neighbours as devotees and working around nature, we will learn to see clearly and appreciate how Krsna’s energies work and identify this with Him and remember Him in everything we do or see around us. In this way, we will become detached from the fruits of our work although we may still be attached to the work which will clearly be for Krsna.
Of course, devotees still need to preach in towns and cities but only the more “fixed up” and sincere ones. Those grhasthas living outside and devotees living in the temples that do not care about accumulating unnecessary wealth, who are engaged in direct service and living simply should go out and distribute books, go on harinama, preach the traditional way.
Honestly, bridge preaching in Iskcon is slowly replacing the direct and tested methods of book distribution and harinama sankirtana. During Srila Prabhupada’s years, we see how quickly this movement spread. The formula was mostly book distribution and harinama. Bridge preaching was limited, only for the scientist types and some people of influence. One may argue that a pure devotee is not physically present now and therefore the potency is not there to replicate the successes of the sixties and seventies. But Srila Prabhupada is always with us and we need to know how to tap into his pure potency to make this movement spread like wildfire. The only way is to follow his default method which includes his desire to have varnasrama. Purity is the force.
So Anuttama Prabhu says the ashram side of things is easy, just adjust, the essence is doing it for Krsna. His understanding of this is influenced by liberalism. Prabhupada did not say, “Allow it.” He was forced into a corner most of the time on these issues. What did we expect him to do, tell these devotees who got divorced or broke their sannyasa vows to leave Krsna. No! Naturally, he wanted them to advance in spiritual life, he came to deliver all the Jagai’s and Madhai’s on his spiritual masters order. He could see people were heavily conditioned in the West and therefore even during the last few days before leaving his body; he spoke of his desire for the devotees to establish varnasrama.
Note: Comments on Nityananda Prabhu’s part of the presentation will be sent in for posting shortly.
While Anuttama Prabhu directly shows his aversion to varnasrama, Nityananda Prabhu, North American GBC and Dallas Temple President, is more nuanced in his approach. While he acknowledges that at some unspecified time in the future, intelligent devotees will introduce varnasrama, he makes a case to keep the status quo. He has a chart which he uses in leadership seminars for non-devotees, showing nine levels of people in general, and he classifies them into three groups. The first group from levels one to four fall under Sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence. The second group is the fifth level, consciousness. The third group are from levels six to nine, Soul, Brahman, Supersoul and Supreme Absolute Truth. He uses this chart to state his case. Key quotes by Nityananda Das, “as he said it,” are found at the end of this article.
He sort of speaks in circles, repeats without getting to a direct point about where devotees stand on this chart. But his idea is that the materialists are from levels one to four and upwards from that are devotees. His vision is to bring the consciousness of the materialists to the mode of goodness using modern techniques such as his leadership seminars to non-devotees.
I disagree with his view that because we engage in ninth level or transcendental activities, we are on the ninth level and transcendental, and therefore we do not need those traditional trappings such as that which would be found in varnasrama. So he pushes devotees right up there, not considering that most of us are still struggling with the senses and trying to control the mind.
According to his implication, we should bypass Srila Prabhupada’s express elevator process and take the slower stairway instead. He says we are promoting piety, intelligence and nobility to the lower level non-devotees. I though we were supposed to directly preach Krsna consciousness, teach chanting and bhakti yoga.
His idea is to bring the materialists to the mode of goodness, they have to go through the first four stages of his chart which are sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence, then they will become pious, intelligent and noble. After that, he says they will become spiritualists and their driving factor will be sacrifice, austerity and charity. He does not mention how they will perform these activities living in towns and cities. Then he says the next stage are transcendentalists from Soul, Brahmajyoti, Paramatma realization and finally, the devotees, who worship the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is Srila Prabhupada’s movement, Iskcon, which he coins as “Our Brand.”
His prediction is that in twenty years, devotees will be wealthier than karmis. His understanding is that “all the piety that is kicking in” – whilst going up through the levels, and especially the first four material levels, the non-devotees will build their pious, intelligent and noble credits. With these credits, he says, they will become so wealthy that bhukti (sense gratification) and mukti (liberation) will come falling on their hands to serve. Something like karma-kanda.
Is that what we are after? Some devotees may be wealthy but Krsna can take it all away very quickly. We don’t give much attention to false wealth, paper money (fiat currency) which can all become useless tomorrow. Our actual material wealth is in the land and the cows.
He emphasises that varnasrama is a material system not for devotees. According to him, its purpose is to lift people to the material level and when they come into the association of spiritualists, they will get the opportunity to meet devotees who will take them to the transcendental level. But Prabhupada said differently, that devotees are not up to the standard of vaisnava and varnasrama is for them. He says that in future, intelligent devotees going through his program and reaching transcendence will have intelligence to introduce varnasrama for the materialists.
He refers to chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, where Krsna speaks about Karma-yoga; working for Him without attachment to the fruits. Just like Anuttama Das, he tries to give a different meaning to varnasrama, implying to just keep it the way it is, do whatever work you are already engaged in, but just do it for Krsna. He emphasises the “As It Is” aspect of the Bhagavad-Gita but he interprets it otherwise.
He says that most people, the non-devotees are into their ipods, iphones, Samsung Galaxies etc and I think he is trying to say that for them in the lower levels, those who are into their latest gadgets and sense gratification, direct preaching is not necessary but some form of bridge preaching is needed to bring them up to a level to be able to understand Chapter Three of Bhagavad-Gita.
He gives the analogy of different levels of education such as kindergarten, elementary school and so on and says how all are important and similarly, we need to bring non-devotes to the mode of goodness through his stages. He says for us, following chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, Srila Prabhupada gave us the activities of the transcendentalists such as association, chanting, and so on. So I think he interprets chapter three not as work done in a varnasrama setting but devotees going about their daily business working amongst non-devotees in this material world, trying to do their duty. It seems he also wants to take devotees through the stages of Brahmin and Paramatma realizations. This is really the stairway.
Actual Chapter Three “As It Is” speaks of activity for Krsna. Even as devotees, we are attached to the fruits of our work. We want a nice house etc, the full package that goes with the suburban lifestyle. We do not lay everything at Krsna’s feet. Devotees trying to sincerely advance through devotional practice are performing bhakti-yoga but jnana-yoga and naturally karma-yoga is included.
How many of us as devotees working outside can honestly say that we are working without desire to enjoy some fruits of our work. No! We want to enjoy many fruits, as much as possible. We want a nice house, car, the latest electronic gadgets and everything that goes with suburban living and that includes the misery and entanglement of having a mortgage, loans and living on plastic debt.
It’s impossible to become transcendental while still having material desires. We may rationalise that we are devotees, chanting sixteen rounds and trying to follow the four regulative principles but can we honestly say we are not working without attachment to the fruits. Even for many devotees, money is still the honey. Most devotees are grhasthas living outside the temples in suburbs, towns and cities. This comes with a whole material package.
There’s the slog of at least forty five hours a week to keep your head above water with no association. You need schools for your children and all the anxiety that goes with the slaughter house education system. It’s difficult to not have a television and get influenced by all that secular nonsense on it. Then there’s the internet and the addiction – social networks take up most of your spare time. What about smart-phones, most of the devotees have that now? And with our head’s stuck in it for the majority of our waking hours, with little or no association, how can we advance spiritually. Then there’s no time to go to the temple, except on Sundays, and when we do go, there’s the need to get away as quick as possible, to engage in our material activities.
In this state, the taste for more sense gratification such as illicit sex within marriage becomes uncontrollable. Then some taste for perhaps caffeinated soft drinks, then coffee, tea, gambling in the form of stock market investments or lottery with the desire to get quick money. And finally, there’s liberalism, the desire to modify our devotee rules and understanding of sastra to suit our lifestyles.
This is not imagination. I’ve seen devotees visiting Vrindavan drinking tea (chai) at the roadside tea stalls. I also know devotees who lost lots of money, even their houses, in bad investments on a tip off – hence, the desire to gamble to make quick profits. Many devotees are also into the latest electronic gizmos or gadgets. Even Nityananda Prabhu makes reference in his class to a television programme he watches and he admits he likes the gizmos. So he is not completely detached.
Our regulative principles are slowly becoming eroded. Just imagine, in suburban living, we can fall prey to gambling as in stock market investments. Intoxications like tea and coffee are a temptation. Illicit sex within marriage is undoubtedly there. So, about the only regulative principle devotees follow strictly is no meat eating, including fish and eggs. Nityananda Prabhu’s idea for us to forget about varnasrama now because we can advance through these levels using his method is an illusion.
His approach is wrong; everyone is entitled to take the elevator. Even a child can understand how we are not these bodies, if explained as simply as Srila Prabhupada taught. How can we even chant properly living and working amongst non-devotees? Srila Prabhupada said that chanting gives us that quick lift. That’s the only way to boil that spiritual milk. And for that we need proper association constantly and that means a favourable environment. It’s really simple. Bridge preaching is the stairway.
Wouldn’t spiritual advancement be like taking the elevator if grhasthas with a need to work and earn money lived in self-sustainable farm communities? We could earn money for our basic needs within the community. The most important ingredient for boiling that spiritual milk, association, will always be there. In whatever direction you look, all neighbours are devotees. This is the most favourable setting to truly come to the stage of working for Krsna without desire for the fruits. Those dedicated brahmacaris and grhasthas completely engaged in temple activities can live and preach in towns and cities, using Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada’s traditional way of harinama sankirtana and book distribution. As time goes on, varnasrama can evolve from farm communities.
There was a time when all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples put aside whatever they thought they knew and accepted his instructions with great faith, and acted on them. By their faith they were able to accomplish wonderful deeds in assisting His Divine Grace in spreading Krishna consciousness all over the world. Alas, we see that this faith is now lacking, and significantly amongst the leaders! What we don’t hear presented by these two are Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama dharma, nor any reference to his desire that varnashrama college be established in every temple immediately, nor any plan to understand the concept, and not even any referral to the devotees in ISKCON who know quite a bit about varnashrama dharma.
Every organization has specialists and ISKCON also has its specialists. Why is it then that instead of referring to the those specialists who have devoted years to study and understanding of varnashrama dharma, these two, who admitedly know very little of the subject, say that we don’t know enough about it? Speak for yourself, please! Why does GBC Anuttama ignore the fact that on the SPT are devotees who are specifically focused on varnashrama dharma? Why has Annutama not asked His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami – who is the head of the ISKCON DAIVA VARNASRAMA MINISTRY to speak about varnashrama instead? Why have they not asked Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami to speak about varnashrama? Or even this humble servant? Any of us, and more, have studied this subject for a many years and are endeavoring to do what we can to establish the culture of varnashrama dharma, can say a great deal on the subject. Yes, it is an immense task, but we have already seen this partially accomplished in the establishment of ISKCON. We know by experience that it is thus not impossible, for those who are determined and seek the grace of Guru and Gauranga.
Rather than saying the task is too difficult and that we should therefore put it off for, what?, another 40 years, let’s work together and do the needful to fulfill the desires of jagatguru, Srila Prabhupada. There are many devotees who are working in this area. If the leadership is confused about varnashrama why don’t they consult Bhakti Raghava Maharaja, or his website: www.global-varnasrama-college.com? And/or my lectures on the subject here: https://www.mediafire.com/folder/kowwfn6m5ws1q/Varnashrama_Dharma
Remember: impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.
Dear Dhanesvara Prabhu,
You are absolutely right. These two persons may not know anything about Varna Ashrama as they have admitted but that doesn’t mean no one does. So they should have chosen experts in the field to speak on the topic. And while I have put in a lot of time an effort since 1998 studying Varna Ashrama dharma I still look to HH Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami as the expert on the subject. Back in 1998 when I was just starting he was already giving extremely learned and detailed seminars on Daiva Varnaashrama Dharma. He knows more about the subject and how to implement it than any one else in or out of ISKCON. Aside from my own study, research and realizations I have learned a lot from him.
As for the importance and need for implementing dVAD in ISKCON see http://www.dandavats.com/?p=11750
dasa dasa anu dasa
Dear Shyamasundara Prabhu,
Dandavats pranams. Yes, HH Bhakti Vidya Swami has given so much to understand about varnashrama dharma, and anyone interested should make it a point to listen to his lectures on the subject. I read your piece referenced and you present the history correctly. Even though Srila Prabhupada was speaking early and often about varnashrama dharma, in 1977 his addressing this topic went up an order of magnitude — and especially the points he was making that this would include his own devotees!
Why? Because the simple village life helps one to achieve and stay in sattva-guna, where the mind is peaceful and inclinations toward sinful life diminish. Somehow our devotees (and seemingly the leaders who encourage them) think that one can come to sattva, or even the transcendental platform while in the cities. Fine, where are the examples? Yes, those fortunate few who can live in an Iskcon temple are sufficiently sheltered from maya, but those who have a job, whose wives have a job, whose children go to the slaughterhouse schools — where is the shelter for them? And we see the predictable result everywhere – such devotees live more in the atheistic, materialistic culture than the Krishna culture, and they reflect that culture in their habits, attitudes, in their appearance, and in their demeanor. We need simply look and see those who are not at the temple, or who arrive at the temple in their “karmi” clothes.
Srila Prabhupada understood the score and therefore said: “all of them should go to the farm”. For some reason the leaders did not follow his instructions then, and continue to make excuses to this day. Let’s stop pretending we don’t know enough, and listen to those that do. Global social and economic conditions are forcing the issue however, and many forward-thinking people (known as “preppers”) create rural get-aways for shelter after society’s inevitable demise. What they don’t have is an ideology or social system that will sustain their retreat. That is our contribution to make.
But Srila Prabhupada’s and Shrila Bhaktivinode’s advocacy of village life was not just to escape an apocalyptic doom. Rather they advocated it as an important step in our march back to Godhead, for the simple reason that simple living offers the time and peace of mind from which to make steady progress. Those reasons haven’t changed in the 40 years since he admonished us to do so. Let’s take up the challenge now. Better late than never.
Here is a link to many classes and seminars on Varna Ashrama Dharma given by HH Bhaktividya Purana Swami for those who want to actually understand the subject.
And here is a link to the gurukula in Mayapura they may also have lectures on VAD I could not check because there was a problem conencting to it when I last tried. http://www.vidyapitha.com/
It is one think to understand something in theory, and quite different to put that theory to a good use, where it is applied in real life and generating good results. We all see many people who supposedly have the perfect cure for everything that is wrong with the world, the perfect solution for everything, but alas… they are merely just talking about it, so their ‘expertise’ is at best in an un-manifested form.
People would take devotees and their varnashrama message more seriously if they could actually see and experience some tangible practical examples of such communities, especially in the West. Until that happens, it is all just empty talk.
Hare Krsna. I found the tone of your comment to be very cynical and negative. Varna Ashrama is perfect because it is designed and created by Krsna, Bg 4.13.
In Srimad Bhagavatam 3.22.1-4 Kardama Muni explains that Varnashrama is possible by the cooperation between the Brahmanas (who are full of knowledge) and Kshatriyas (who have executive power) and who protect each other. The Brahmanas protect the Kshatriyas by giving them knowledge that the Kshatriyas then apply to the world in their capacity as the executive branch. And the Kshatriyas protect the Brahmanas physically as well as making sure they are provided for.
So in this case it has been pointed out that HH Bhaktividya Purna Swami is highly learned in the subject in question and can give guidance to the leaders of ISKCON (executive branch) on what Daiva Varnashrama is and how to apply it. What is the wrong in that? That is actually Varna Ashrama Dharma in practice, that Brahmanas like HH BVPS guide by his knowledge and expertise those who don’t have the knowledge.
The problem pointed out by others is that the NA GBCs in question don’t know the subject (and perhaps don’t want to know it) and are also unwilling to seek out those who do.
The Varna Ashrama society is made up of individuals who each play their part. As far as I can see HH Bhaktividya Purna Swami is a highly qualified vaisnava who is living the life of a 1st class brahmana – studying , teaching etc. And it is up to others to also take up their own roles. And the duty of the executive branch (ISKCON leaders) to make sure they are doing them properly.
But what can be done if some leaders themselves claim ignorance of the subject and do not seek out enlightenment from those who know? Is it then the fault of the brahmanas as you insinuate? No it is not.
Dear Srinjaya Prabhu,
Pranams. I am a kshatriya by nature, so I tend to be very practical and direct. Practicality sometimes sounds cynical to people with their heads stuck in the realms of pure theory. I have joined our movement in 1979 and have seen many attempts made at reconstituting the varnashrama system in ISKCON. They all failed, and not for the lack of trying, which means that the subject is far more complicated and far more difficult to implement then people thought. Over the years I have encountered many devotees who considered themselves experts in various theories, but very few who have actually put their theories to the test of practical implementation, and who achieved success at that.
It is a common misconception that brahminical knowledge is purely theoretical. Dronacharya was a brahmana who was not just a teacher of martial arts theory, but a great warrior and military commander, who proved his expertise in action. This is what we need: brahmanas who can actually implement in real life what they teach, not merely lecture others how to do it. That was my point.
Dear Kulapavana Prabhu,
You say you have a Kshatriya nature therefore this is the reason you sound cynical and speak harshly to others. But, according to the Mahabharata a Kshatriya’s words are soft.
“For a Brahmana’s heart is soft as new-churned butter, even though his words bear a sharp-edged razor. It is otherwise in respect of these with the Kshatriya. His words are soft as new-churned butter, but his heart is like a sharp-edged tool, such being the case, I am unable, because of the hardness of my heart, to neutralise my curse.”
The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Paushya Parva: Section III
“For a Brahmana’s heart is soft as new-churned butter, even though his words bear a sharp-edged razor. It is otherwise in respect of these with the Kshatriya. His words are soft as new-churned butter, but his heart is like a sharp-edged tool, such being the case, I am unable, because of the hardness of my heart, to neutralise my curse.”
The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Paushya Parva: Section III
That is because Kshatriyas need to be diplomatic politicians. A man’s varna is easily determined by how he earns his wealth. For example if a man get’s a paycheck then he is a sudra. A man from the higher three varnas would never accept such work but rather die.
In any case whatever varna you may be it doesn’t appear to be Kshatriya according to the aforementioned statement of Mahabharata as they are sweetly spoken and diplomatic, but having hard hearts. And, as pointed out by SB 3.22.1-4 Kshatriyas cooperate with the brahmanas by carrying out the instructions of the brahmanas and according to Manu by enforcing the rules of Daiva Varna ashrama dharma that they learned from the Brahmanas; rather than criticize brahmanas.
Being a warrior and teaching someone else martial arts is simple as it only relies on one person but Varna ashrama dharma is a whole social structure. Society is made of many parts. Lord Rama before taking up the Kingship of Ayodhya on His return first asked if all the citizens were following VAD because if not then He would not rule such a kingdom.
I agree with Srnjaya Prabhu and others that Bhakti Vidya Purna swami is actually doing a good job showing an example of how to be a brahmana by doing the duties of a brahmana. He set up a whole school and then turned it over to his students to continue. He can by his knowledge instruct others about their duties. But he cannot simultaneously perform everyone else duties because first of all that would be impossible and second of all Krsna doesn’t like it Bg 3.35 and 18.47.
Dear Pancajanya Prabhu,
I did not criticize Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami as I hardly know him at all. My comments were directed towards people who claim to be expert in various theories and who are unable or unwilling to put their theories to the rigors of real life practical application. Thus such theories and expertise is of little value – at least in my opinion.
Devotees featured in the video above have raised a number of rather important questions regarding varnashrama dharma. Perhaps the experts in this field or their followers would care to address these issues instead of criticizing the people ho asked the questions? That would at least be useful.
Looking at it from the historical perspective, the concept of daivi varnashrama society was introduced by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura to counteract the rigid caste system prevalent in India at that time. That system was keeping Vaishnavas not born in brahmana families from performing the social functions reserved for brahmanas, like preaching and accepting disciples. Whether that system can be transplanted in the West is still an open question, even among the devotees. Initially, Srila Prabhupada wanted all of his disciples to become brahmanas. With time it was rather clear that not all of his disciples were brahmanas so he started talking about introducing a VD system in Iskcon. So it was a working idea that was aiming at solving some very practical issues in our movement, mostly social and economical. And that is why it must remain a working idea that has very practical goals and real life applications. Otherwise it has very limited value.
I think a big on-going misconception is to equalize the establishment of the varnashrama system with rural communities, as if there were to be no cities anymore, or no other occupational activities but farming.
For instance, Srila Prabhupada when asked about “Paris” declared: “Paris means immense opportunity for preaching…!”
As it is, Srila Prabhupada started his ISKCON Movement and incorporated it in New York. He then went to San Francisco and Los Angeles, which are not exactly small villages, where he established ISKCON Western Headquarters.
Similarly, he first inaugurated the preaching in various countries through the capitals and the main cities, i.e. not exactly in the countryside. Similarly, Govinda restaurants are also located within the cities.
Rural communities came only later on for the most part. Yet, they were meant not to be too far from the cities, for their inhabitants to be able to visit and appreciate simple living and high thinking.
Besides, Daivi Varnashrama should aim at engaging all varnas and ashramas in seva and not just some or a limited number.
For example, we need Krishna conscious nurses, doctors and hospitals such as our Bhaktivedanta Hospital. Would it be feasible for them to be located in the countryside in the middle of nowhere…?
Similarly, when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur stated that we would be able to declare our preaching successful, when the judges in the high court would wear tilak on the forehead, does anyone think that in the mind of our revered Thakur, high courts had to be located in villages, away from the cities…?
So, I guess we have to open up and invite devotees with a broader vision and understanding, so as not to limit ourselves with the attempt to establish rural communities only, in our endeavor to establish a house in which the whole world can live.
I agree with you regarding the idea that Varna Ashrama is about farm development, that is only one feature. What is the good of having a nice farm if a bunch of people come and steal your cows and send them for slaughter. You need kshatriyas to protect that farm.
Until about 200 years ago the world was largely agrarian but we didn’t have Varansharama Dharma. VAD means brahminical culture not vaishya culture.
And we note that in the itihasa and puranas that there were large cities such as Ayodhya, Hastinapura, Indraprastha and Dvaraka where varna ashrama dharama were practiced.
Without Brahmanas who have the knowledge and the Kshatriyas to enforce the teachings you will not have VAD.
I think, prabhu, we should not underestimate the opportunities that rural areas provide for Krishna devotees. i live in a small village in South West of Ukraine together with some 25 devotees. we have not yet developed into a VAD community (although i hope that the children of our children will do that), but nevertheless today in times of environmental and economical crisis Srila Prabhupada`s words on simple life and high thinking are of tremendous importance for our movement, since:
– we can distribute quality organic prasadam packed in home-made pottery and organic clothing dyed in natural dyes extracted from local plants in the cities. All these things are very popular now among urban dwellers. And at least in post-Soviet countries there are few organic farms. This will make them friendly towards vaisnavas and i hope they will stop looking at us as at a marginal sect and will become more willing to buy and read Srila Prabhupada`s books that urban vaisnavas keep on distributing on the streets.
– as far as i know none of the environmentalist group who are now coming back to live in the countryside is seriously considering the role of cows and bullocks in human life so that Srila Prabhupada`s simple receipts of rural life are practically much more valuable for those who do understand that industrialization (and urban comfortable life) is a one way ticket to global catastrophe than any of the contemporary environmentalist books on organic farming or sustainable development.
– three weeks ago i spent a night in an urban hospital. one of the vanaprasthas that we are taking care of had an internal hemorrhage. Doctors pumped a bucket of blood out form Bhakta Vatsla`s stomach. This devotee had a difficult life and out of his 52 years 24 he dedicated to ISKCON. But Bhakta Vatsala prabhu never cared of his diet while living in different urban yatras and consequently has now serious health problems and urban devotees spend big sums of money to help him (these money could otherwise be spent for preaching). During that night i did realize that Krishna devotees are obliged to take care of their health and also should propose an ayurvedic alternative to modern chemical medicine. Rural areas are natural place for such ayurvedic centers as well as the only safe place for devotees and their children to live a healthy life. Audaryadhama prabhu (Dr. Torsunov), one of the most successful preachers in post-Soviet countries (more than a half of new comers join ISKCON after listening of his lectures on-line), actually lives in rural area somewhere in Russia, where he teaches his disciple ayurveda and treats his patients in a rural ayurvedic hospital.
– many young devotees now left jobless in the cities and many of the elderly devotees who spent the best years of their lives spreading Krishna consciousness in 90-ties in Ukraine are left uncared for. rural areas are the cheapest place for hospices and vanaprastha asrmas as well as a wonderful opportunity to buy a house with a 1 ha of field for 2 000 dollars and start a career of a young farmer. Of course for those devotees older than 35 who already have families and at least some job in the city it is a bit too late to become farmers (however one of my neighbor devotees left successful careers in the city when he was already 43 years and moved to the countryside with his wife and two kids). But any way grihastjas can come and stay with their children and wives in vaisnava villages and at least get a taste of simple life, safe products and ahimsa milk.
– last but not least. None in serious universities today will pay attention to a Krishna devotee coming to spread the glories of the Holy Name unless he or she will come on a bullock cart or at least will bring a photo of rural vaisnavas working with a pair oxen saying “look we do understand how acute the environmental and economical crisis has become in recent years and Srila Prabhupada, the founder of our movement proposes sound solutions to these problems which we are implementing in our own life and these are the books of Bhaktivedanta Institute where vaisnava scholars are showing how many discoveries of the contemporary sciences can be found in Srimad Bhagavatam. I am not sure whether these university fellows will buy Srimad Bhagavatam after that but at least they will be open to a dialogue, they will be friendly. After all European Commission acts friendly towards the Hungarian rural vaisnavas by acknowledging their community to be one of the most successful environmental project in the EU.
It is very wonderful that there are sanyasis in ISKCON who have dedicated their life to studying VAD. Alas here in Ukraine (and Russia as well) we do not have much information about that. What we do have are the same debates between devotees of what VAD should look like, is it possible to introduce VAD in cities or not, etc. and during which we simply lose time and energy which can be directed to creatively exploit the opportunities of the rural areas to the full extent to please our spiritual masters, Srila Prabhupada and fellow devotees.