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Faith, Varnashrama… And Air-Borne Children

Sunday, 25 April 2010 / Published in Articles / 2,784 views

By Niscala Dasi

Varnashrama is often equated with self-sufficiency, yet it is much more than that, providing a paradigm wherein many of our current problems, plaguing us since our inception, find their solution. Currently being discussed on the internet is the problem of brahmacaris neglecting their future careers, and thereby entering the grhastha ashrama, unprepared. Coincidentally this is being discussed in two different forums- hence emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. It was observed that when brahmacaris neglect their careers, they often cannot afford child support when the marriage splits- which often happens because we also do not teach that love is so important in the family. Because they cannot afford child support payments, due to not having a decent career, the issue often ends up in the courts- which is really bad for our reputation, what to speak of not pleasing Srila Prabhupada.

The varnashrama paradigm is very different to our current situation… During brahmacarya, the student is observed very carefully, and his desires, talents and propensities are considered, and then he is advised to get training accordingly- in one of the four varnas.

Brahmana Varna
ISKCON can provide training for brahmanas provided that we teach the value of honesty, the most basic and essential brahminical principle. There is philosophical honesty, which has two parts- 1) theoretical philosophical honesty- which is to argue cogently, with reason, thus establishing the truth of an argument and 2) practical philosophical honesty- which is to use the philosophy in a way that allows people to be themselves, without fear of judgement and condemnation. If instead we model pretense, in Srila Prabhupada’s coinage “showbottle spirituality”, then our brahmanas might as well be trained in philosophy at a university- at least they will learn to argue cogently, and convince with reason.

Other Varnas
In these ways, ISKCON can provide training if the brahmacari is sure that he only wants to maintain a family the brahminical way- through teaching practical applications of the philosophy. As far as other varnas are concerned, brahmacaris can attend university or technical colleges, according to their propensities. In Canberra, Australia, they have Indian brahmacaris studying at university and living at the temple. They can either pay rent if they have time to work part-time, or they may prefer to do service.

Brahmacari Ashrama
We must remember that brahmacari does not mean sannyasi- he is renounced, but often not planning for permanent renunciation. Brahmacari also does not mean brahmana- he may be interested in the philosophy, but more suited to work that is not directly teaching it. Or he may be interested in the philosophy, but unable to follow all the brahminical principles. That situation includes most of those who join us- we should make facility for it, not pretend that we just chant Hare Krsna, and close our eyes and all problems will vanish like magic. Srila Prabhupada chanted Hare Krsna too, but he observed this problem- with open eyes- and recommended varnashrama. Let brahmacaris (and brahmacarinis) decide on their varna, and get trained in it. They can also distribute books to their friends at college, or during their holidays.

Faith and the Air-Borne Child
The temple presidents in our movement would probably not like such a situation, as they may think “if we encourage all brahmacaris to get training for their future careers, then less books will go out, and therefore there will be less money for the temple programs”…

My answer to them is as follows …

1) Srila Prabhupada set the example of doing what is right, and leaving the results in Krsna’s hands, having faith that He will always protect us if we take risks on His behalf. We cannot please Krsna while we neglect the instructions of His pure devotee…So we must ask ourselves “Do we have only a lip-service attitude to our faith in Srila Prabhupada- proclaiming it, but not really feeling it?” If we do have faith, then we cannot help but show it. Faith means a leap in the dark, a leap into the unknown. It’s like a child laughing when his parents throw him up in the air- his carefree attitude is because he has utmost faith that his parents will catch him!

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain
2) Letting devotees follow their propensity and getting training for it, means that they are naturally situated in whatever work they are best suited for; work that they are happy to engage in their whole lives. That means a vast reduction in the numbers of devotees leaving ISKCON to do other stuff- they can do their “other stuff” in ISKCON! What this translates to, in strictly financial terms, is instead of a few devotees giving out books full-time, and often getting stressed and burnt-out in the process, you have a huge number of devotees giving out books part-time and in natural spontaneous ways- sharing them with friends and associates. You also have, in financial terms, a devotee community that is capable of donating to the temple programs. This is already happening in the Indian congregation. They did not spend their student life in full-time book sales, but mainly in studying, and now they can not only donate to the temple, but also support book distribution is respectable ways, amongst colleagues…

Internal Rewards
So Srila Prabhupada’s recommendation is not even a “leap in the dark” but has already been shown to work much better than the current ISKCON model (how many of our Indian congregation “bloop”- never to be seen again?) It is natural, and therefore it uproots the anarthas of falsity and pretense, mentioned in Caitanya Caritamrita. Srimad Bhagavatam was spoken specifically for those who are “thoroughly honest”. Apart from greatly advanced avadhutas, many of the great souls mentioned in that literature, followed their duties in varnashrama- as well as the author! Only those who are beyond any influence of the modes of nature, need give up varnashrama, and even then they often do not, as it is a vehicle for service…

The Self-Sufficiency Insufficiency
Varnashrama, therefore, does not mean just self-sufficiency, as some think. It is not a synonym for life on a farm- it can happen anywhere there are people interested to become devotees. Of course, at a farm, the training is much simpler, as is the lifestyle. That does not mean that ksatriyas should not take advantage of management courses- currently much of what is considered “management” is the people-skills necessary for a ksatriya to be respected and appreciated. Devotees will willingly and joyfully serve a person who is always enquiring about their welfare, and doing everything to help them be happy, and grow in Krsna Consciousness.

From Care-Borne to Air-Borne
If in the community, love and honesty between the devotees is stressed, then naturally when two devotees join forces and become married, they will be loving and respectful, and the likelihood of divorce is much reduced. It is not enough to make child abuse unacceptable- one must foster that healthy dynamic which creates an atmosphere in which such exploitation cannot take place. If we respect the uniqueness of each person that joins us, working out how we can engage them so that they are most joyful by nurturing their natural talents – we will also respect the uniqueness of each devotee born into our movement.

If, on the other hand, we have a mood of exploitation, even for “Krsna’s service”, towards those innocent souls who are attracted to our movement, then our children will also be abused, as they are in the same category…It is the ksatriya’s responsibility, given in the sastra, to make sure that no one in his “kingdom” or precinct, suffers in any way, even mentally. He is that person who has the most people-skills- or willing to learn them!

Non-Judgmental Religion?
It is clear from the Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam, that varnashrama is a very loving and non-judgmental dynamic- in Dwaraka even the prostitutes were respected! When the religious become steeped in self-righteous condemnation of others, they do more to further the cause of atheism, than if they took to a full-time career of disproving God. We do not have prostitutes joining us, generally, but we do have couples and others who sometimes fail the “no illicit sex” principle strictly. If even a prostitute can be a respected devotee of the Lord, what to speak of a devoted couple, fully dedicated to the Lord’s service? What to speak of a fully devoted gay couple?

Varnashrama needs to be there, so that everyone can be a devotee of the Lord, who wants to be, be included in a community of devotees, be engaged in service that is pleasing and natural, be able to support their families- and the temple, and thrive in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation…despite their differences. Of course, it may be argued that all of the above can be cultivated without varnashrama, which is a circular argument, because all of the above means that there is the varnashrama dynamic in place, whether we call it that or not.

3 Responses to “Faith, Varnashrama… And Air-Borne Children”

  1. Haribol Niscala Prabhvi,

    I was just thinking, “I have not heard from Niscala in awhile.” Your welcome article showed up right on time.

    I apologize I never wrote a review of your book, “Varnasrama, The Eight Petaled Lotus”, which I appreciated very much.

    I was just reading today about the wives of the brahmanas, who when they heard that Balarama and Krishna had requested food for Their friends and Them, dropped everything they were doing and ran to bring them foodstuffs, in spite of being ordered by their husbands, brothers and sons not to go. When they saw Krishna beautifully dressed and decorated they drank Him up with their eyes and embraced Him within their hearts, and Krishna confirmed that they had achieved the perfection of life by abandoning all their so-called duties and coming to surrender to Him.

    But then, He told them to go back to their families and their household duties, where their services were required. This was not very palatable to them. They said, “No Krishna, this is not a very good instruction. You are being cruel to us. We have understood that the perfection of life is simply to serve You. Your promise is that devotees like us will get Your shelter.”

    “And moreover”, the brahmana’s wives continued, “now that we have defied our husbands and families and broken all the rules of society, we will be rejected, despised, not welcomed back. So You are our only shelter.”

    But do you know what Krishna told them? He said, the best way for them to increase their love for Him was to fix their minds on Him while doing their duties, by hearing and chanting and remembering Him, and worshiping His Deity form. Moreover, no one would reject them. Their families would understand. Even the demigods would approve of their behavior. Krishna’s devotees are naturally appreciated by everyone and they perform their duties nicely and have good manners that everyone likes.

    Sure enough, their husbands did not find fault with them and their families accepted them back and approved of their behavior. In fact, their husbands deeply regretted having not themselves gone. They lamented, “What is the point of our being Vedic brahmanas if we do not serve Krishna? By all the Vedas it is Krishna who should be known, and He is known by pure devotional service. Our wives are better than us.”

    Despite regretting in this way, the brahmanas did not go see Krishna out of fear of Kamsa. The illusory energy is so powerful.

    We should do our duties nicely…

  2. Like the brahmanas wives, few of us will be properly situated by neglecting all worldly duties and trying to constantly stay in the association of Krishna.

    Instead, we should apply ourselves nicely according to our various propensities, but make sure to chant and hear nicely and remember Krishna and see His Deity, and in this way develop love for Him.

    If we read Srila Prabhupada’s books and develop a taste for such reading, we will naturally be attracted to become “weekend warriors” and go out with the sankirtan party when the opportunity arises, and tell everyone about these wonderful books and their amazing qualities.

    The temple presidents need not worry. Book distribution and support for the temples will flourish when everyone in society appreciates how nice, talented and well-behaved the Hare Krishna devotees are. Devotees are naturally decorated with nice qualities like humility and tolerance and equanimity and self-control and knowledge and wisdom and being happy to see the good fortune of others. Therefore, everyone will like them and will want to learn about Srila Prabhupada’s books.

    On the other hand, if we artificially try to train devotees to stay economically dependent on temples, we had better be prepared to support them when they need it, and if they are not suited for such a life, the atmosphere and morale in the temple may suffer and they may leave the sankirtan party or other temple duties anyway.

    I guess the hard part will be to train really insightful guidance counselors who can help young devotees find careers and lifestyles they feel suited for while also making time for hearing and chanting and remembering and worshiping deities and being very happy with their decision to be committed devotees.

    Because let’s face it. Preaching, boiled down to its essence, is to show someone, “If you read this book, if you chant this mantra, if you take this prasadam and make friends with these devotees, you will become very happy, healthy, peaceful and satisfied.” It’s really true, but we have to be smart enough and expert enough to make it work.

    I am always sorry when I meet someone (as I sometimes do) who says, “I joined ISKCON but it did not work out for me, so now I have gone somewhere else to do something else, and I always criticize ISKCON.”

    We need to turn that around. Any good businessman, when the customer complains, must improve the products and services. We can’t just blame the customers and go on making mistakes.

  3. Some of the challenges when discussing “Varnasrama” are:

    (1) there are many followers of Vedic literature who have interpreted and applied the scriptures in what has become the Hindu caste system based on birthright, which is full of injustices; it could require some powerful knowledge backed by strong realization and great communication skills to defeat the smartas and their interpretations, and to point the way forward to the true Vaisnava conclusions supported by all enlightened acaryas.

    (2) modern notions of equality and meritocracy cause people to have an almost reflex repulsion against a system of ethics and manners and economic and social relations based on membership in well-defined social classes. This may be due to the long history of abuse of social rank and privilege in Kali yuga, and the persistence of an atmosphere in which those with social power might still be expected to abuse it.

    The two challenges listed above are related to each other.

    The pure Vedic scriptures discuss the harmonious hierarchical arrangements of a civilized society of bygone ages when people’s characters were pure enough to observe the rules and internalized social customs lovingly, without misusing their authority and rank to hurt others.

    In the absence of highly-qualified brahmanas and ksatriyas, Hindu society experienced injustices of a “vitiated” caste system when those being born in privileged families (dvija-bandhus) tried to exploit their rank of birthright without actually being capable of protecting dharma and properly caring for the common members and seeing to their spiritual and material welfare.

    Even outside of Hindu society, in Europe, China, Japan, and everywhere, unqualified persons have historically misused social privilege to the extent that the very notion of hierarchy and high status is now viewed with suspicion and contempt. Democracy and Communism are powerful ideologies that define themselves in terms of historic struggles against unjust social and economic hierarchies.

    Obedience, servitude, submission of one person to another outside of a very limited range of intimate family relations are hardly tolerated, and even among husband and wife or parent and child have now become suspect.

    How do we properly present something as authentic when it seems at odds with both modernity and with Hindu orthodoxy, and how can we learn to set a better example of how it really works within our own communities and families?

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