Varnasrama workshop at Iskcon New Talavana
[aka Dr. Lakshmi Dajak, Ph.D. Marriage & Family Therapy, USA;
By Sridevi dasi
M.D.; D.C.H. Pediatrics and Neonatology, INDIA].
His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami, originally from Canada, was here at New Talavana, MS, USA for the weekend of Sep 12-14th, 2008 to convey the urgency of implementing varnasrama dharma as envisioned by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Maharaja informed the assembled devotees that as far back as 1949 Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter to the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, the Hon. Sardar Dr. Vallabhai Patel, detailing his four-point program to establish a house in which all the people of the world can live in peacefully; he coined them as
(1) the “sankirtana movement” [the holy name and books],
(2) the “temple worship movement” [deity worship],
(3) the “spiritual initiation movement” [congregational development] and
(4) the “classless society movement” [daivi-varnasrama]. Srila Prabhupada, at the end of his pastimes on this earth, stated that 50% of his work was yet to be done, that of establishing Varnasrama dharma.
His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami has taken up the varnasrama mission as his life and soul. He is directly involved in establishing Vedic rural communities in Indonesia, Cambodia, Canada and India as well as giving guidance on varnasrama development to devotees in several other countries. His Holiness has written several books pertaining to the Varnasrama Mission such as Make Vrindavan Villages, Varnasrama Education and Implementing Varnasrama, thus educating and enthusing devotees all over the world to lead a spiritual and eco-friendly lifestyle in order to progress peacefully on the path back Home, back to Godhead.
In Indonesia, the project Gita Nagari Baru (GNB), a varsnasram based eco-village, manifested as a reality simply by the pioneering efforts of His Holiness who carefully cultivated the bhakti-lata beej of his adoring disciples who were students at the local university. Realizing that soon they would graduate from the university and would fly away in search of jobs, life partners and greener pastures, Maharaja offered all of that right where they were! The students responded very enthusiastically and thus was born GNB, the brain-child of Bhakti Raghava Swami. In this village community of more than 100 devotees, one can find teachers, skilled labourers, community leaders, farmers, cows, students, grhastha couples [many former university graduate students] who are all living a very exemplary life by daily attending the morning and evening temple program while learning to live the principles of simple living and high thinking. For details please visit www.glovesco.org.
One reason why Maharaja is visiting both the US and Canada is because so many farm communities once thought of as role models for show-casing ‘simple living and high thinking,’ have fallen into a slumber as deep as Kumbhakarna’s. Maharaja exclaims, “All these places, some over 1000 acres, are sleeping giants and have to be woken up. Somehow the feeling has come in North America that it cannot be done here.” Not so, says Maharaja. His mission is to encourage, enliven and enthuse devotees to take up the varnasrama mission very earnestly and stick to the principles and guidelines given to us by Srila Prabhupada. He explained that, “when we deviate and fail to apply Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and follow his orders, then we land in trouble and find it very difficult to proceed, often giving up in despair.”
One concerned devotee, Murali Priya devi dasi, who came with her husband, His Grace, Rama Vigraha dasa, all the way from Murari Sevaka farm in Tennessee, asked about the fear of being labeled as a sudra. His Holiness was emphatic about our need to understand that in daivi-varnasrama, which is the real classless society, no one is inferior or superior because all are working towards the same goal: to please Krishna. Maharaj said that we need to do away with the negative connotation that the word sudra has. He added that no one need fear being labeled because in the traditional Vedic society, every one has a God-given role, every one is valued and each one’s propensities are wisely used to please Krishna.
Another devotee was very concerned about how women would be treated when daivi varnasrama would be implemented explaining that cultural norms for India could not be imitated artificially in the West where women are used to freedom of speech and action. Maharaj explained that women need to be protected and quoted the Vedic scriptures wherein 6 classes of people- women, children, brahmanas, cows, the elderly, and the diseased are to be given special protection. He further explained how the principles of varnasrama dharma are the same in India and other countries since varnasrama dharma is a scientific, universal and standard lifestyle, simply we must gradually receive the proper training and education to appreciate it.
At this point, Loka Priya devi dasi, a young mother from Ivory Coast, expressed her confusion about how women were sent out with their kids on their backs to collect money for the temple and how could this be endorsed as Vedic when women were to be protected. Maharaj was very clear that women needed protection and that they could not or should not be exploited for any reason. Her Grace, Mahalaksmi Radha devi dasi, a senior devotee of over 25 years, expressed her view that, “Here, in the West, in many cases, we were self-motivated to do that. No one forced us to go out. We wanted to be out there with the guys and help Srila Prabhupada.” She went on to say that, the subject of women’s role is a very sensitive issue and opined that if the focus were more on the other aspects of the Vedic village such as working the land, taking care of cows and oxen, ensuring safe water supply and establishing viable vocations for all and less on “what women should do or should be,” it would better serve everyone. His Holiness agreed that as we move towards establishing such rural social environments all things would more naturally “fall into place” and there would be no need to target any one group for “reform.”
Another devotee asked about the subject of gays and lesbians and wondered where they would fit in. Maharaja replied that, “We take the viewpoint that all spirit souls are meant to progress towards Godhead and that no matter what one’s material situation, the most challenging and binding obstacle in this material world is the living entities’ perverted reflection of pure love, material sex desire, which all devotees have to work on.”
His Grace Candrabhanu das, asked if Maharaja’s vision of varnasrama dharma was only for devotees or the world at large. Maharaj replied that while varnasrama was needed for everyone, at this point in time, the land and facilities we were trying to develop were mainly for devotees. As devotees became more familiar and at ease in developing such communities, others could them be more easily involved.
The Temple President of New Talavana, His Grace Yogindra Vandana Dasa Adhikari, who was present when His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada came to New Talavana on August 1, 1975 said that he found the seminar very informative and was surprised to see how much work Maharaja had done in this regard. He added that he was very pleased to see the confirmation by Srila Prabhupada about the need for daivi varnasrama in his two letters, one to the Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1949 and the other in his ‘Essay on Gita Nagari’, published in 1956 in his Back to Godhead magazine.
Bhaktin Michelle, a newcomer to the New Talavana community who is working on a research paper about “simple living and high thinking” for her Christian Church organization said about the seminar that, “It was very educational and it was very gratifying to find a similarity of views that was cross-cultural. It was very timely for the times we live in, considering especially the state of the US economy.”
Maharaj then unveiled his 3-month Varnasrama College Course in South India beginning Jan 1, 2009 until April 15th, 2009 where selected candidates would be trained in all aspects of Vedic lifestyle, from cow protection, agriculture, to astanga Yoga, Ayurvedic medical care, Vastu shastra, pottery making, simple home building with local materials, basket weaving, cloth manufacture, including ahimsa silk manufacture, bamboo crafts, bullock cart transportation etc. Candidates will be selected on the basis of merit alone and in keeping with Vedic teaching, no fee will be charged.
All in all, we devotees at New Talavana were deeply gratified and to see that not only can it be done, it is being done, and that it must be done and we can do it if we all stick to the path and directions that His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada has given us to move into “the house that everyone can live in peacefully.”
Jai Prabhupada! Jai Gurudeva!