ISKCON’s Four Movements
By Damodara dasa
Srila Prabhupada’s vision for spreading the Sankirtana Mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu encompassed four principles or four waves, which he coined as the “four-fold Gandhi movements” in his 1949 letter to the Honorable Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister to the Government of India in New Delhi. These same “four-fold Gandhi movements” were then again referred to in Srila Prabhupada’s “Essay on Gita-nagari” which appeared in the Back to Godhead magazine seven years later in 1956. Finally, if one closely looks at how Srila Prabhupada developed his International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) established ten years later in1966, these same four principles were introduced during the following eleven years of Srila Prabhupada’s physical presence.
Excerpts of the original texts which appeared in both the 1949 letter and in the Essay on Gita-nagari in 1956 are reprinted below for easy reference.
A- The Four-Fold Gandhi Movements Letter dated February 28th, 1949 To Hon. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Deputy Prime Minister, Government of India.
Funds are being collected to commemorate Mahatma Gandhiji in a fitting manner and I beg to suggest that the same may be done in the Gandhian way and not otherwise. Gandhiji’s whole life was dedicated to the service of humanity at large with special interest for raising the moral standard. His later activities showed that he was equal to every one and all the people of the world knew him more as the spiritual leader than a mere politician. Devotion to Godhead was his ultimate aim and when I say that his sacred memory should be perpetuated not in the ordinary way but in the Gandhian way, I mean that fitting respect to his memory will be done in the following manner…
1. Sankirtan Movement In the midst of his multifarious duties, Gandhiji never missed to attend to his rama-dhun kirtana meeting. This is one of the soundest method for the culture of devotion to God. In the opinion of Srimad-Bhagavatam, one who is imbibed with the devotion of Godhead is also endowed with all the good qualities of the gods. But one who is not a devotee of Godhead, has not any value for his good qualities because he utilizes his so called good qualities for ulterior purposes. As such the easy way to raise the moral standard of people in general, is to make this sankirtana movement more popular all over the world by philosophical discourses based on reasoning and moral and ethical codes. The Vaisnava acaryas especially Lord Caitanya and his six Gosvami disciples give us ample opportunity and scope for this work. Lord Caitanya first inaugurated the sankirtana or rama-dhun movement and the later Gosvamis supported it by scholarly philosophical synthesis. The six sandarbhas by Srila Jiva Goswami are marvelous in this respect.
2. Temple Worship Movement The second item is to take up the temple entry or temple worship movement. This is, in the real sense, a theistic cultural movement and the facility or opportunity shall be open to every one whatsoever he may be. All the past acaryas accepted everyone who desires to offer his respect to God inspired by transcendental love and devotion. We can support this movement of Gandhiji on the authority of sastras. There are thousands and lakhs of temples all over India but they are not always properly managed. Some of them have become the positive dens for undesirable activities and most of the owners or trustees of such temples do not know how to utilize these sacred buildings. Neither modernized gentlemen have any interest for these neglected theistic institutions. Originally the aim of these temples was to diffuse spiritual culture in every quarter. These temples or theistic institutions should therefore be reorganized as the centre of spiritual culture according to authentic principles as laid down in the scriptures like Bhagavad-gita.
3. Spiritual Initiation Movement The third item is to take up the harijana movement. This movement is, in the real sense, a spiritual initiation movement and this should be organized in such a manner that people all over the world may take interest in it. The harijana is a word which shall not be used neglectfully as it is done now but attempt should be made to make everybody a harijana. Harijana means the recognized man of Hari the Personality of Godhead and thus he (the harijana) is as important a man as the knight of the king. So harijana movement should be strengthened more scientifically to turn every person who is now mayajana into a harijana. The mayajana is a word which is applicable to a person who is ordinarily engaged in the service of materialistic pursuits, whereas the harijana is the person whose main business is to attain perfection of human life, as Mahatma Gandhi did, by spiritualistic realization. This movement should therefore be conducted under strict disciplinary methods as prescribed by the mahajana or the harijana of accredited merit. In such a movement we shall have full co-operation of the sadhu community in India.
4. Classless Society Movement The fourth item is to organize the much discussed caste system as a solution of natural division of the human beings all over the world. Nationalistic division of human races is artificial but scientific division of the caste system as envisaged in the Bhagavad-gita is natural. We shall have to pick up brahmanas and others not only from the Indian people but from the peoples of all over the world. The vitiated caste system of present India is never sanctioned by the scriptures. But the caste system is made by God according to quality and work of the subject and it was never designed for the benefit of accidental birth right. Thus whatever is made by God cannot be destroyed by man. Destruction of the caste system as contemplated by some exponents, is therefore out of question. By the modes of nature different persons are imbued with different qualities and the scientific way of division of human society, from the qualitative aspect, by the caste system is quite natural. But the basic principle of such caste system is to serve the plan of Godhead and by doing so the four orders of caste system make a headway by the co-operative method. When such spiritual progress is definitely made, the materialistic progress is automatically effected as a matter of course. That makes a real classless society. The above four-fold Gandhi movements, if done in an organized, scientific way supported by all the authentic scriptures of all religiosities, will bring in that tranquillity of peace respite of all harshness and bitterness of the present world, which we have longed for till now.
B- Essay on Gita-nagari [Excerpts]
Printed in Back to Godhead Magazine, 1956
Leaving aside all his (Gandhi’s) other activities in the political field, the four following principles which he adopted sincerely in his mature old age, are in essence derived from the teachings of Bhagavad-gita for practical application in the matter of social and spiritual upliftment of the present order of things. They are as follows:
1. Leaders and politicians may take lessons from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who was undoubtedly a great and busy politician, with respect to his daily evening prayer meeting and regular recitation of the text of Bhagavad-gita. He followed this principle of life most faithfully, even up to the last moment of his lamented life. People in general, and the leaders in particular, may follow the footprints of Mahatma Gandhi, if they at all want to do some good to their followers. Such regular habit of reciting the reading of the Bhagavad-gita makes one able to get rid of the demoniac way of life and gradually rise up to the plane of pure devotional life of the gods. When such devotional life is enriched by recitation of Bhagavad-gita, all the good qualities of the gods automatically overcome the reciter without any extraneous effort on his part. And a person, however qualified he may be in the mundane sense of the term, if he is devoid of the principles of devotional life as abovementioned, he shall surely hover in the mental plane of uncertainty and, as such, will always fail to enter into the noumenon existence of life. Those who have developed such noumenon existence of life, generally known as spiritual life, are called mahatmas in the language of Bhagavad-gita. The definition of real mahatmas is given in the book.
2. The temple entry movement of Mahatma Gandhi is another attempt to deliver people in general from spiritual degradation, and by such movement, the mass of people can be saved from gliding down to the lowest status of demoniac life. Even when he was at Noakhali during the dark hours of the partition days, he never hesitated to reinstall the deities of Radha and Krishna, and by such examples, he had done immense good for the people in general. Leaders and politicians may take lessons from this particular incidence of his life. It may be said in this connection that there are thousands and thousands of Vishnu temples all over India. And these temples were originally meant for enlightening the mass of people in spiritual values so that they can live in peace and harmony with higher aim of life. At the present moment in most cases, these spiritual educational centres have been rendered into rendezvous of demoniac dance for want of the culture of Bhagavad-gita. They have become on the contrary, so many plague spots for preaching atheism and advancement of demoniac principles, for want of regular propagation of spiritual education under able leadership. The mission of Gita-nagari must have its aim amongst others, to rectify the anomalies that have entered into the life of these centres of spiritual education and regenerate them to the sense of spiritual education through the exemplary life of devotees that may be created from the practical life of the members of the Gita-nagari. The Bhagavad-gita encourages us in such spiritual culture as follows: yanti deva-vrata devan pitriin yanti pitri-vratah bhutani yanti bhutejya yanti mad-yajino ‘pi mam “Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; and those who worship Me will live with Me. (Bg. 9.25)
3. Mahatma Gandhi started the Harijana movement in order to raise the status of the fallen people either by social injustice or otherwise. But such pious movement may not be restricted only amongst the Bhangis and Chamars who are proclaimed as such for their unclean habits or in some cases by social injustice, but such movement may be extended amongst those also who are passing in the society as brahmanas and kshatriyas etc., but in practice their mentality is more degraded than the lowest of the Bhangis and Chamars. Harijana means the associate of God Himself. Chamars and Bhangis, or for that matter, people who are of the mentality of Chamars and Bhangis both in habit and dealings can never be promoted to the position of Harijanas unless and until such persons are helped to go up to the place of the Harijanas by the approved method of rules made by actual Harijans such as Arjuna, Prahlada, Dhruva Maharaja, Yamaraja, Bhishma, Janaka, Narada, etc. There is no bar for any one to rise up to the position of Harijana, and this is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita. mam hi partha vyapasritya ye ‘pi syuh papa-yonayah striyo vaisyas tatha sudras te ‘pi yanti param gatim “O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas [merchants] and sudras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination.” [Bg.
4. Mahatma Gandhi did not approve of the system of birthright castes as prevailing in India, and there is ample support for this movement of casteless society in the Bhagavad-gita in its own way. Casteless society does not mean that there will be no section or subsection of social division. Without such division of social order no living society can be conceived but there may not be any such section or subsection simply for the matter of birth right accidence. A brahmana’s son has the right to become a brahmana provided he has the rightful qualifications of a brahmana otherwise he cannot be placed in the exalted position of a brahmana. That is the verdict of all revealed scriptures. There are three modes of Nature working all over the world and they are called the mode of goodness, the mode of passion, and the mode of ignorance. Every man or every animal is under the influence of either of the above modes of nature. As such, it is wrong to calculate that the modes of Nature are working only within the boundaries of India. On the contrary the fact is that nature is working all over the universe and therefore in other parts of the world also. In the human society undoubtedly there are men of different modes of nature as above mentioned. Persons who are under the influence of modes of goodness, may be classified as brahmanas, similarly those who are under the influence of the modes of passion may be called as the kshatriyas and so on as they are described in the approved sastras. The modes of ignorance as it goes down by degrees, produces men of such lower and lower qualities and they are designated as Yavanas, Mlecchas, Kiratas, Hunas, Andhras, Pulindas, Pulkasas, Aviras, Sumbhas, Khasadayas, etc., and there are four lakhs of men of different qualities all over the universe influenced by the above mentioned modes of nature. From the Gita-nagari this universal Truth must be propagated systematically, so that REAL HUMAN SOCIETY may be established for the benefit of all, dividing the categories of men according to natural modes of nature. Such social order on the basis of the Bhagavad-gita all over the world may be called the institution of natural caste system or the casteless society. In that institution of natural caste system all divisions of men will be engaged in one transcendental business of spiritual community with equal status of life and with equal importance of co-operative value as much as the different parts of the one whole body have different functions only but qualitatively they are one and the same. In that institution of spiritual social order every one will have equal right to promote himself to the higher status of life without any malicious competition and as such education and culture will be open door for all concerned as much as the varsity of all state is open for all with equal status of educational right. Casteless society will, of course, never allow to place on the same category of a high-court judge and the laborer unless such society will have gone in to madness of culture. On the contrary by establishment of such casteless society as it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita nobody will be grudging if any one is recognized as the qualified brahmana on the value of merit only and not on the basis of birthright claim. Such casteless society is reasonable and acceptable by one and all in the world.
C- ISKOCN’s Four Movements October 10, 1966, Srila Prabhupada started the first movement – Sankirtan movement, by performing kirtan in Tompkins square park. At that time there were no temples. But the devotees were there and they were doing congregational chanting of Mahamantra and distributing books among the mass of people. In this way Srila Prabhupada opened the first-fold of the four-folds of his mission, by introducing Sankirtan movement in the first phase of ISKCON’s development.
Then after some time Srila Prabhupada started establishing temples and installing Sri Sri Radha Krishna deities, all over the world to help everyone to worship the Lord without any difference of caste or creed. In this way Srila Prabhupada opened the second-fold of the four-folds by introduciong the temple entry movement. Meanwhile the most important sankirtan movement was not stopped by ISKCON’s entering into the second phase (Temple Entry), on the contrary it was further supported by the Temple entry movement.
Then Srila Prabhupada made the arrangement for systematic training of a person in the Science of Bhakti-yoga (devotional service) and thus qualifying him to become a duly initiated devotee connected with Guru-parampara, and be dedicate to the mission. This is training for purification. For this purpose ISKCON has many institutions like Bhaktivedanta Institute, IYF, BYS, New Bhakta Training Programs, Congregational Development, VIHE, MIHE, Bhaktivedanta College, etc. This is spiritual initiation movement. In this way, in the third phase of ISKCON’s development, Srila Prabhupada introduced the Spiritual Initiation movement, which further supported the other two movements (Sankirtan & Temple Entry) to expand.
Then Srila Prabhupada started introducing the fourth-fold (Classless society movement) by introducing the idea of establishing self-sufficient classless societies as per the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and tried to put this idea in practice. He established 40 farm communities (communities based on land & cows) all over the world during his physical presence and expressed intense desire to convert them into completely self-sufficient varnasrama villages. —
(NOTE: In varnasrama system, one completes his material needs in minimum possible time and thus engage his maximum time to achieve the only aim of Human life – Pure Krishna Consciousness).
Srila Prabhupada: “This is the next aspect of Krishna consciousness which I wish to push forward. If I am able to travel again, then I shall visit the farms and make them perfect. On these farms we can demonstrate the full varnasrama system. If these farms become successful then the whole world will be enveloped by Krishna consciousness. Letter to Hari-sauri from Tamal Krishna Goswami, August10, 1977
“Book Distribution and Farms : these are our solid programs. They can change the whole world. The whole foundation of animal civilization can be destroyed. If I have hope, for still living, I want to organize the farms, make it perfect. Simple living and high thinking”. Tamal Krishna Goswami’s Diary, August 9, 1977
Srila Prabhupada said: “I have only done fifty percent of what I want to do. The farms have to be done. If they are established, varnasrama will be established”. Tamal Krsna Goswami’s Diary – August 10, 1977 To understand the above statement, take one paper. Fold it in four-folds in a way that at each fold the paper becomes half visible then the previous fold (i. e. every time fold from middle). The four-folded paper is the picture of ISKCON before Srila Prabhupada went to USA. Now open first-fold, this is ISKCON when sankirtan movement was established. Then open second-fold, this is ISKCON’s picture after introducing Temple Entry movement. Open third-fold, this ISKCON’s picture after introducing Spiritual Initiation movement. Now fourth-fold is still left to be opened i. e. Classless society movement (establishing varnasrama). How much paper you are able to see at this moment? Its exactly half. Half the paper is still left to be opened to get the complete picture of the paper (ISKCON). Thus Srila Prabhupada said that 50% of my work is left. This full picture of ISKCON was termed by Srila Prabhupada as “Gita-nagari” in his Article – “How to broadcast the teachings of Bhagavad-gita” later taken under Gita-nagari Essay. Gita-nagari is a place from where all the teachings of Bhagavad-gita will be broadcast both in theory and practice. Somehow this fourth wave has not been taken up sufficiently within our ISKCON society, nor has it been properly understood, although some sincere efforts are being made at different places around the world. With the advent of modernization and globalization, which are fuelled by the advancement of science and technology, the pillars of a God centered society, where land, cows and brahmanas are protected and cared for, are being seriously shaken. Indeed, we are witnessing a rapid decay in the lives of individuals and society in general. There is thus a very urgent need to promote this fourth wave of varnasrama-dharma with its four natural social and spiritual divisions. As stated by Srila Prabhupada himself “without such division of social order no living society can be conceived” [Essay on Gita-nagari, Part-1].
Unless we take all the four movements or waves into consideration, we fall short from following the main instructions given to us by the great Acaryas like Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors. The principles of both sanatan-dharma (in the matter of devotional service and bhakti) and that of varnasrama-dharma (in the matter of four social and four spiritual divisions) are created by the Lord Himself: dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat-pranitam. [SB 6.3.19]. Being both standard and eternal, they cannot be neglected or rejected. If we do so, we go against the principles of dharma.
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