We Are Not Ready for Varna-ashrama Dharma Yet

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By Kesava Krsna Dasa

We are mostly theory driven when attempting to implement ancient social systems into a kali-yuga world. Now, any notion of “caste” divisions and keeping women confined to homes, will be seen as further adding to the repression of vulnerable sections of society. Is society ready for such “extreme” social engineering? In terms of preaching, a definite practical stance is required.

Srila Prabhupada was practical; otherwise, he might have focused more on setting up VAD divisions and so on. When he said that his unfinished work was the development of daivi-varnasrama, he knew it would come later. But for us, how much later… a few generations from now? Meanwhile, our womenfolk could have doubts about their “limited” roles in society.

And while we quote Sri Narada Muni, Manu Samhita and other authentications, our women observers will wonder about their “restricted” positions in our future scenario. For instance, the wearing of the burka and demurred womanly status in Islam, is a highly unpopular concept in Islam and the West. This does not bode well for societal integration of Muslims, and aids in alienation from mainstream society.

Is there a possibility that if we push similarly restrictive roles for women at this very early stage of our own barely new societal acceptance, that we’ll be alienated as intended “repressors?” Of course, we know the ideals, but they are still odd-box for heavily conditioned people in general. For many women who have studied and prospered, these “quaint” ancient traditions appear irrelevant and repressive.

While the momentum of varnasrama theory gathers pace, they can be set as blueprints for eventuality. If we persist with this prematurely, it is certain not to be attractive, accept for a few. The relevance of Srila Prabhupada’s practicality of spreading the holy name will be true for a while more yet. Besides, our hospitality and internal standards have to be relevant as well.

The easiest places to start attempting implementation would be our temples, communities and cities like Mayapura. Even so, there has to be a wholesale acceptance of its principles, and this is in doubt considering the progressive or traditionalist approaches to womanhood within Iskcon. With these diverse social anticipations, it is understandable why the practice of VAD is difficult. Before it is put into practice, it has to be relevant.

We know this is far from relevant within modern society now – as far as awareness goes. It is hardly relevant to us members of Iskcon too, except in theory. Then what are the chances of immediate implementation of VAD? For these reasons we still have to present a pragmatic, “modern” Iskcon that is attractive and meaningful.

We already have a history of uncertainty for our womenfolk, and it continues today. If women in general want real protection – and we know how theoretically to provide it – then our social remedies may cause more doubt than certainty, at face value. Can we envision our devotee parents whose daughters have spent years studying at great expense, to confine them to the required homely existence? If it works then…?

On a practical level it appears that, in principle, those devotees residing in ashramas learning to become brahmanas, or are conducting deity worship, and the sannyasis who travel, should be the theoretical brahmanas. But this is obviously not the full picture because householder brahmanas work for a living, and do deity worship at the temple or at home. By definition, a brahmanas is not supposed to be under the employ of lower status people… and so the complications arise.

Also by definition, the above theoretical brahmanas should abide by their dharma. They shouldn’t be allowed to fix temple cars and do laundry. But if they are vaisnavas then they can cross the varnas. Do we have a distinction between brahmana and vaisnava status? Once we can determine the true status of theoretical brahmanas, then the other orders would naturally apply to the rest of the congregation.

Among our theoretical brahmanas, not all of them will stay, or have the capacity to study Sastra as required. True brahmanas are quite rare. The question of lifelong commitment – as being born into parental varna – or adaptation through inclination will further complicate matters. This is why ideally, the merits of VAD have to be ingrained within the psyche, and this can take time.

Many brahmana devotees live outside of the temple and are obliged to earn a livelihood under lower conditions. Does this make them unbrahminical or below vaisnava status? With these expected complications, it opposes the simplicity of the Krishna consciousness many are familiar with. But it has to be done, but not yet.

There is a better chance of VAD being practiced in India, once the stigma of the caste system is overcome. Indian society is also convivial to progressive Western norms. If it is imposing in India, then even our farm communities in the West will present difficulties of acceptance. In any case, the female doubts will have to be allayed, and in the present climate, this is unlikely on a wide scale.

One could think that if we had a whole village, town or country to ourselves, we could begin something. But again, under present societal conditions, some attempts could be met with a violent backlash. Can we imagine telling certain communities to relocate to areas outside Varna boundaries because they won’t stop eating meat, and the activities associated with it? These potential problems can be dealt with if a government has VAD credentials in place, along with ksatriya law and order to apply.

When such people are seen to be adjusting to society against their will, then economic sanctions and other UN privileges could be withdrawn and so on. Such a VAD system might be given pariah status to be isolated internationally. “Oh well… now we can be become self-sufficient…” A mighty high-tech defence force will be needed to defend interests, otherwise look what happened to Tibet. Do we have blueprints for these eventualities?

Until such a time, it seems wise to continue as we have been, but in more refined ways. Shouldn’t all women be encouraged to continue their career plans, and wherever possible, use their expertise and influence to further our preaching without feeling inhibited by theories yet to work at the present? When there is eventually a general acceptance of VAD values, hopefully by which time, our womenfolk will see the merits of a women’s place in society, they will oblige happily.

VAD is a “radical” solution to the arrangement of modern society, and it should not create doubts. This requires a radical acceptance that could take generations to adjust, depending on our practical applications of it. Society has to be ready for it. While the theory is worked out, are we ready ourselves?

Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS

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1 Puskaraksa das

Hari Haribol

I would have personally preferred a title such as “Are we ready for Varnashrama yet ?”, rather than bringing in one’s personal definitive answer in the very title of the article…

Besides, there are two main different considerations, i.e., whether one may be personally ready to implement the Varnashrama system in one’s own life and whether we may collectively be ready to implement the Varnashrama system in our ISKCON society, and further more in society at large…

For instance, if one goes through the four ashramas, is it not already abiding by the Varnashrama system in one’s own life…?

Similarly, if one fits in one of the four varnas, according his guna, his qualities and rather than being an hypocrite, offers his service, his karma, according to his qualifications, under the guidance of Guru, to both Madhava, God and manava, mankind, is it not also following the Varnashrama system… keeping in mind that a Vaishnava may be acting as a sudra, and still be considered as Guru, if he knows Krishna tattva…?

Nevertheless, as far as I could see, there seem to be a duality in the mind of some devotees, for on one hand we have some fundamentalistic presentations which may not seem to take into account, time, place and circumstances, and on the other hand we have the opposite reactions of those who state that in the present day and age, it would neither be possible, nor productive to try and implement those fundamentalistic dogmas, the same way they might have been worded, centuries or thousands of years ago…

In my humble opinion, the middle path stands as the only feasible approach, as Srila PPrabhupada exemplified it !

While teaching us the essence of the scriptural message, he also made the necessary adjustments to fit our day and age and bring as many souls closer to Krishna as he could, which is the very essence of the role of the Spiritual Master, which transcribes on a higher platform as “nikunja yuno rati keli siddhyai…”.

For instance, he granted brahminical initiation to women and invited them to go on the altar to serve the Deities, which was not customary in India…

Therefore, if we stick to a fundamentalist view and can envision women only in their griha or in their kitchen, that would certainly not only be wrong, but also counterproductive, as we would turn away from God a great fraction of this half portion of humanity, not to speak of all the men who would rally their cause…!

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on July 23rd, 2011
2 Puskaraksa das

On the other hand, Kesava Krishna Prabhu rightfully rose the point of grihasta devotees and brahmanas having to work for karmis, in order to support their families…

I do personally agree that this is an issue, as the cause we contribute to, may be diverted from the service of the absolute cause of serving and promoting Krishna consciousness…

Therefore, I am in favor of promoting all types of businesses run by devotees (excluding, of course , those involving sinful activities), who may then be in a position to employ other devotees and therefore provide them simultaneously with a shelter, some spiritual association and a way to support their families, while engaging them according them, according to their qualifications and qualities (guna).

In this way, together with other devotees, from the boss, to the sales forces, the accounts department, the drivers, etc, everybody would be serving some common Krishna conscious goals, both directly or indirectly, by offering some of the profit of their company for the service of the Deities and the promotion of Krishna conscious projects…

In this context, education would still have a value, and both men and women could express their potential in the service of both Madhava and manava…

Hence, devotees could turn society at large into a Krishna conscious society, by fitting every role useful to their community, while being Krishna conscious and acting as perfect citizens and paca Vaishnavas.

Hence, people would all the more be inspired to join their lifestyle, as they could witness that it is both a practical and a joyful process, as Krishna expressed it in Bhagavad-gita, as susukam kartumm avyayam, and as Srila Prabhupada exemplified it in his own very life by running his own pharmacy business !

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was a judge, Rupa and Sanatana were ministers, the inhabitants of Navadvipa and Vrindavana had occupational duties.

Why then be so afraid of performing one’s duties, according to one’s varna and ashrama ?

If by doing so, one cultivates Krishna consciousness, this is daivi Varnashrama !

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur acted as a judge and to my knowledge never wore a brahminical cord… Nevertheless, he is one of our greatest acaryas and is a senior Guru in our line of Parampara

Was he not a Vaishnava ? “kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya, yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei guru haya”

Hoping this finds you all well and in a blissful mood of Krishna consciousness

Puskaraksa das GGS

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on July 23rd, 2011
3 Kesava Krsna dasa

I agree, Puskaraksha Prabhu, that the title is somewhat on the autocratic, “Can’t be wrong” side of reason.

As with many things in life - and especially where policies can be made – it is money that enables the implementation of ideas. Ask any politician or businessperson. We do need a devotee entrepreneurial base from which to establish an economic foundation for our communities. Is there a billionaire, or two, in the house?

I am sure that if such devotee resources were pooled together we could employ more desirably. I know that HH Bhakti Caru Swami disciples have similar initiatives already.

The challenge is, when starting businesses, that they match, or better the salaries on offer in the normal marketplace. Devotees who are employed as bank executives, lawyers, accountants and other professions, are not going to be attracted to work as sales assistants in a struggling start-up enterprise that sells goods for the devotees.

With this underdevelopment of vaisya livelihood, and the need to integrate all this with our farm know-how within a primarily city-based way of living, shows we have such a long way to go, what to speak of VAD in practice.

It is true to say that I am observing theoretically. This is not half as good as really walking the talk with the right amounts of money, or Laksmi, to make things happen. “Money Talks,” as they say.

Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

Comment posted by Kesava Krsna dasa on July 24th, 2011
4 pustakrishna

The issues of varnashrama dharma have been brought up repeatedly in recent days on the pages of Dandavats.com…first, as it relates to women, whether there is any relation to birthright or not, and whether it is practical in the Kali yuga or not. Srila Prabhupad’s teaching us about varnashrama dharma is important in several ways. First, the varnas are created by Krishna (chatur varnyam maya sristam…). So it is natural that people of different proclivities would work in different types of occupations. One is truly dependent upon the other. The example Srila Prabhupad gave is that the society is likened to a body. The legs carry the body(society) as the sudras. The stomach provides sustenance in the form of agriculture/commerce/banking (vaisyas). The arms protect and administrate (ksatriyas), and the head is giving guidance (brahmanas, teachers, priestly class). They are all dependent upon one another. The qualities of each jobclass are enumerated in the Bhagavad gita. It is not based on birth.
Ashramas are designed to become progressively spiritualized, preparing oneself and others for going Home, Back to Godhead. This is the hallmark of a progressive society.
Certainly, we have aberrations of the varnas and ashramas in the Kali Yuga, but the prinicples are the same. Srila Prabhupad hoped that ISKCON could provide an example of such Simple Living and High-thinking. But, the important thing to remember is that the Holy Names, Hare Nama-eva kevalam, are the only way to achieve the highest goal of life. These measures run parallel, but the most important thing is connection with Krishna consciousness (sarva dharman parityajya). One, however, does not have to give
up one’s ideals, ie teachings of Krishna how society should be organized, and accept one while abandoning the other. Still, culture without Krishna consciousness is useless according to the Srimad Bhagavatam (srama eva hi kevalam). Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on July 24th, 2011
5 Puskaraksa das

Thank you, Kesava Krishna Prabhu for picking up on my answer and all the more for elaborating on the practical aspect of things…

You are right. We have to become practical and provide alternatives to working for karmis and promoting their goals and ideals which can, for the most part, be summarized as selfish, as they are targeting at endless sense gratification and serve only preya, immediate benefit, rather than shreya, ultimate benefit…

The revolution in society will take place when materially capable Krishna conscious persons will agree to renounce some immediate benefit, be it social or financial, to put their brain together and join forces with one another, in order to create pools of devotees covering different trades and serving different needs of their fellowmen…

In this way, we could have Krishna conscious builders, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, teachers, designers, etc…

By doing so, they will generate new vibes and will get a chance to promote new patterns of development, while simultaneously practicing karma yoga, serving the higher cause of Guru and Krishna and generating lakshmi to be used in their service, acquired by Krishna conscious means, while working in good association…

To the contrary, what is the use of getting a good job in some materialistic companies and promote their materialistic goals, if it means taking birth over and over again, till we realize that we have to give up these material attachments…

Action having to be offered in sacrifice to Krishna, the question of having some billionaires around isn’t so relevant, even though there are some, for it has to become a collective effort where everyone finds a place where he or she can fit in, while engaging our natural qualities and talents in some Krishna conscious project. This would mean practical implementation of varnashrama, as far as the varna side of the matter is concerned…

I guess “when there is a will, there is a way…”.

So, we just have to start brainstorming locally and internationally about facilitating this kind of Krishna conscious entrepreneurial initiatives…

We have talents… Hence, rather than giving Krishna’s money to karmis, why not give it to devotees who in return will support Krishna conscious families and will donate part of their earnings for Krishna’s seva…?

It is really up to us, here and now…

So, let’s not just think about doing it, let’s do it…!

Yours in service
Puskaraksa das

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on July 27th, 2011
6 Unregistered

Kesava Krsna Prabhu, I have to agree with your title: We are not ready for varnasrama yet.

I spent about 15 years of my life studying Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on varnasrama and working on the BBT publication “Speaking about Varnasrama: Srila Prabhupada on Varnasrama and Farm Community Development.”

I naively felt that once devotees had Srila Prabhupada’s direct instructions in front of them they could understand better how to approach the subject of varnasrama, but such has not been the case at all.

For example, in the Varnasrama Walks in Vrndavana in March 1974, Srila Prabhupada very clearly states: “First of all Varna, and then Asrama. When Varna is perfectly in order, then Asrama.”

Yet, most leaders in ISKCON who speak of Varnasrama at all, automatically address Asrama first, and then Varna.

Hence the concern about what women will do. Thinking about what women will do is the incorrect subject to address first. That is what the ignorant Taliban did. It did not work out. Manu Samhita states that in that state where women are not happy, the state is doomed. That proved to be correct. Afganistan was bombed back to the stone age. We do not need to imitate their ignorant approach.

The first subject to address is varna: what will a *person* do according to his or her nature? How can you make your daily *work* your prayer to God? How can the spiritual master help you determine your best line of work in your endeavor for spiritual advancement? These are the proper questions to start with:

By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done.

By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.
Bg 18.45-46

Unfortunately, we are unwilling to start with the consideration of Varna, as instructed by Srila Prabhupada. Therefore, at this point, we are most certainly not ready for Varnasrama — as your title so aptly indicates.

your servant,

Hare Krsna dasi

Comment posted by Hare Krsna dasi on August 13th, 2011

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