By Janananda das
VANAPRASTHA chit chat
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
This letter is a request to its readers to be as kind as to reply to me on the following topics regarding the Vanaprastha ashram in ISKCON. This letter is more of a feeler. We would very much appreciate feedback from young and old.
PANCASORDHVAM VANAM VRAJET
“Vedic authority says that a householder must leave home after his fiftieth year. One must leave his family life and enter the forest after the age of fifty.”
How is this relevant in our present society?
PURPOSES OF THIS LETTER:
• To gain a deeper understanding of what vanaprastha ashram is
• To create awareness
• To understand the value of it in our society
• To facilitate the vanaprasthas both spiritually and materially
• To give guidelines to vanaprasthas
• To outline the purposes of vanaprastha ashram
HOW TO WORK TOWARDS THIS:
• More dialogue and communication in the form of newsletters and literature
• To open up a forum for dialogue
• To conduct seminars and discussions on the subject
• To establish a vanaprastha ashram(s) somewhere
• Produce a vanaprastha manual
• Keep a database of devotees in the vanaprastha order
• To create awareness
• Discuss with individuals within and without ISKCON
I would very much appreciate as much feedback as possible on this to help us to get a broader more sastrically correct and applicable presentation. Don’t forget this is an ashram for both men and women. Sometime they will be together sometimes they will be alone.
MAYAPUR INSTITUTE OF HIGHER EDUCATION (M.I.H.E) SEMINARS FEBRUARY 2007 “LIFE BEGINS AT FIFTY”
– conducted by Janananda das
This is the title of the seminar presentation planned for this coming Mayapur Festival from 16th till 19th February. There will be 4 sessions dealing with more or less the following topics:
DAY 1. General overview of the meanings of vanaprastha and its relevance in today’s society
DAY 2. Does everyone have to take vanaprastha and if so when?
DAY 3. What do vanaprasthas do? where do they live? Etc..
DAY 4. Practical details and help in making the transition. General follow up
Other topics. – economics, health, follow on, Prabhupada as a vanaprastha, traditional vanaprastha, the family, and lots more.
We will try to provide ramps for the wheel chairs.
Reaching 50 years of age my hair was going very grey.
I had lost most of my teeth. Wrinkles appeared here and there. This body was no more youthful and was losing its attraction. Not that it had any anyway.
I started to wonder about the statements in scripture which Prabhupada has mentioned many times like (pancasordhvam vanam vrajet) Vedic authority says that a householder must leave home after his fiftieth year. One must leave his family life and enter the forest after the age of fifty.
I compiled many of the statements which Srila Prabhupada made about Vanaprastha and tried to put them in some kind of practical form. The result was a preliminary manuscript on Vanaprastha. In the year 2000, I presented to the GBC the need to seriously discuss the vanaprastha ashram and its relevance to ISKCON. The GBC were into it but they left it to me to follow up on. Of the devotees I consulted with quite a few were interested and sympathetic but few were very serious. The GBC suggested we form a committee but it never got off the ground for various reasons. Rough manuscripts on vanaprastha were given or sent to several devotees but there was very little if any response.
In our busy life we may not have time for these things. I didn’t pursue the issue very much further except for the occasional seminar, lecture, and discussion here and there. Other angles, references and understandings cropped up over the years.
All said and done the reality still remains. Most devotees reach a certain age when they are faced with certain psychological and physical changes and we could probably as a society put more energy into this to formulate some guidelines for devotees reaching this stage.
Now the time has come to revive the vanaprastha discussions. I am proposing to start a website of blog for ongoing discussion and enlightenment – hopefully leading to something more solid and practical for devotees wishing to practice vanaprastha.
There are many references throughout Prabhupada’s writings and discussions – here are a few:
Srimad Bhagavatam 11.18.1 – Purport:
“Vanaprastha is intended as a gradual transition from materialistic family life to the stage of complete renunciation.
Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya 24.259:
“Narada Muni then advised the hunter, ‘Return home and distribute whatever riches you have to the pure brahmanas who know the Absolute Truth. After you have distributed all your riches to the brahmanas, you and your wife should leave home, each of you taking only one cloth to wear.’
This is the process of renunciation at the stage of vanaprastha. After enjoying householder life for some time, the husband and wife must leave home and distribute their riches to brahmanas and Vaisnavas. One can keep his wife as an assistant in the vanaprastha stage. The idea is that the wife will assist the husband in spiritual advancement. Therefore Narada Muni advised the hunter to adopt the vanaprastha stage and leave home. It is not that a grhastha should live at home until he dies.
Vanaprastha is preliminary to sannyasa. In the Krishna consciousness movement there are many young couples engaged in the Lord’s service. Eventually they are supposed to take vanaprastha, and after the vanaprastha stage the husband may take sannyasa in order to preach. The wife may then remain alone and serve the Deity or engage in other activities within the Krsna consciousness movement.
Srimad Bhagavatam 3.24.41 – Purport:
“Going to the forest is compulsory for everyone. It is not a mental excursion upon which one person goes and another does not. Everyone should go to the forest at least as a vanaprastha. Forest-going means to take one-hundred-percent shelter of the Supreme Lord, as explained by Prahlada Maharaja in his talks with his father.”
Janananda das – Janananda@yahoo.com