By Shyama Darshani dasi
In a recent interview with the GBC Strategic Planning Team, Sesa Prabhu, my father, spoke about ksatriya training. I found the letter that was referred to in the interview which he wrote to Jagadish Maharaj on the topic in 1983. Being an educator myself, I found this a relevant subject to today’s world in ISKCON and want to put it forth for publication on Dandavats.
Attached is a picture of my father in uniform during his time at West Point Military Academy. I thought the photo was a good pair for the letter :)
October 5, 1983
Dear Jagadisha Maharaj,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Thank you for your letter requesting my ideas on Ksatriya training. I have always been interested in this field, as well as education in general, and I hope my thoughts will be of some value to you. I apologize for not responding sooner but the press of my duties here and the time I needed to think deeply about the program brings us to this date. I think you know that I had the opportunity to experience many of the aspects of military education which I will discuss here while attending West Point. I feel very strongly that for those boys who have ksatriya tendencies this type of training is essential. The maturation that comes with growing older has for me served to increase my understanding of the different aspects of such a program, and having practiced Krsna consciousness has proven to me the absolute necessity of ksatriya training inside and outside of ISKCON.
Character development is the goal of the training program which is comprised of three main principles: academic studies, physical development, and leadership training. I think the best way to explain how these objectives will be achieved will be to examine them in light of the Bhagavad Gita verse which describes the qualities of a ksatriya.
“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas.” BG 18:43
Although it is not directly stated in this verse, I think the quality of being an elite group is inspiring in military circles. A program which is highly regarded is open to only the most qualified, and therefore aspirants automatically strive to achieve entrance to and the goals of such a program. Without overdoing it, if the competitive spirit is kindled right from the beginning, good results will be achieved immediately.
Bali Maharaj has always been a hero for me primarily because throughout everything he would not renege on his promise. He was a man of principles. In the Krsna consciousness movement we have the most noble principles anywhere; they are spiritual principles meant for our advancement, as well as rules for functioning with honesty and integrity in this material world. Our leaders must be instilled with this strength of character. Therefore, the spiritual practices given to us by Srila Prabhupada are essential. In a controlled atmosphere, which strict adherence to these principles by both faculty and student is required and deviation is met with corrective measures, such heroism can develop. I am sure you have experienced in our temples how a slack attitude sometimes creeps in. Just what can be done about such a lackadaisical attitude in the general assembly of devotees is debatable, but in this training program respect for authority must be taught. A good leader must follow authority. Thus the trainees must have a strong desire to be a part of the program and be prepared to accept responsibility for their actions. Of course, ultimately Krsna consciousness cannot be forced on an individual, but an arrangement which fosters adherence can be created. The results will be self-discipline and self-respect.
Power and determination, based on self-discipline, are qualities which are used to achieve goals. I mentioned earlier how the eliteness of a program enhances the desire for the goal. A good training program also sets intermediate goals which help to challenge the trainees and motivate them with rewards and incentives. We don’t want to become fruitive but a ksatriya, more than a brahmana, responds to this type of impetus. So many problems arise when we attempt to spread Krsna consciousness and our response is often to give up, but if one knows how to set reasonable goals and work toward them he will never be discouraged.
Academic and physical training give one the resources he needs to achieve results. A resourceful person can 1) organize his time and effort effectively, 2) perform efficiently under stress, 3) think and react quickly with good judgment. My experience at West Point was that we were always overloaded with duties (both academic and military) to perform. You were expected to produce. Maybe at first you couldn’t produce, but the pressure which was intelligently applied didn’t let up. Eventually you learned to produce. A sort of trial by fire. One learns to set priorities. If a training program gives one the facility to learn, then in spite of being an overload, it can be successful.
Academics centered on mathematics and engineering, which teach problem solving; history and politics, which relate previous experiences, and military training emphasizing etiquette, bearing and appearance, are at the core of the program. It is necessary to instruct young people how to study, how to think, and how to communicate.
The benefits of physical training are skill, confidence, teamwork, endurance, agility, competitive spirit and the capacity to train and instruct others. An individual possessing these qualities is certainly courageous in battle. I feel that many of our older boys lack physical confidence in themselves and therefore they utilize their energies in corrupt ways. That energy should be channeled in some organized physical activity. Personally, I never felt so overcome by the urges of youth because I always engaged in sports activity. If it is organized, sports give a chance for the boys themselves to practice leadership while at the same time preventing it from becoming frivolous. Physical activity often takes a competitive format which serves to motivate trainees, while meeting the challenges of competition with teamwork builds loyalty.
All the above-mentioned qualities are factors of leadership. Everyone in ISKCON will agree that we need more good leaders and that is the goal of this ksatriya training program – to provide loyal, dutiful leaders for ISKCON. The military structure of the program gives the trainees practical experience in leadership and management – the responsibility for the actions of others. A good leader must understand the dynamics of human relations and this too is achieved by living, working, studying, and training together in a military atmosphere.
As one progresses in his ability to take responsibility, work in an unselfish way, and maturely respond to the needs and feelings of others, he is accordingly rewarded with positions of authority amongst his peers. Such trained leaders will be an inspiration for our entire society. Actually, that is the challenge of duty. The trainee must accept upon entering the program – how to prepare themselves for leadership roles in ISKCON.
Now, it might be said that the principles outlined here need not necessarily be restricted to a ksatriya program; others would also benefit by these educational principles. That is undoubtedly true, but I want to emphasize that military tradition, discipline, and organization work exceptionally well with these principles to produce good leaders. Uniforms, rank, inspections, drill, combat training, etc. are all considered necessary elements of the program.
It is also my opinion that all the trainees should understand they will be married at some point in the future, and that upon completion of the program they will be given positions or assignments somewhere in ISKCON.
So, these are some of my thoughts on ksatriya training. The basic idea is to produce statesmen not karate experts. Of course details of academic curriculum and military training to fill out this outline would take more research and thought, but I think you get the general picture. I hope this is of some value to you. I will be coming to Vrindavan during kartik this year and perhaps we can talk more about these topics then.