Better to experiment and examine Varna ashrama within oneself before broadcasting to others

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By Jaganmohini devi dasi

A recent article by H.G. Kesava Krishna Dasa on Varna ashrama has rightly brought the point that theory is one thing and practice is another thing.

I wish to supplement the article with some of our thoughts.

I would like to corroborate that under the current scenario India will be the most difficult state to observe Varna-Ashrama. Thanks to M. Gandhi. Although Gandhiji favored Varna-Ashrama and tried his best to implement them in India, at a later stage, he not only failed in his mission but also rejected Varna-Ashrama, accepting it as a caste system. As he never took appropriate guidance on daivi-Varna-ashrama, his approach of presenting Varna-Ashrama got backfired.

Also our recent experience in participating in several educational conferences is that Varna-Ashrama is understood as division of castes. Remaining conscious from our side, we never even attempted to speak about Varna-Ashrama within Vedic education at such conferences.

Even today the demography of India is such that the Northern and some of the Western states and eastern states strongly observe caste systems unlike southern states. Literacy and secular religions/spiritual groups has done nothing to do away with caste systems, as can be seen from the facts that several educated religious group including scholarly level observe caste systems in the Northern belt.

Apart from this, within our society, if we observe carefully, through our devotional practices we time and again try to improve our servitorship attitude and not ashram status, indicating that ‘seva’ mood is above the divisions. Nonetheless many keep speaking of varnashram in discourses. Although at surface level it might appear as a paradox for few, but at deeper level I suppose we can try to reconcile within.

If the ‘seva’ we perform is focused on ‘inner growth exclusively’ and within this we can accept our ashram consciousness for external functioning. That is, at individual level we can follow an ashram in proportion to our inner growth or state of consciousness affected by three modes for a particular period and examine for ourselves how simple or complex it is. For example it is true that many Brahmanical devotees are serving different level of employers outside or superiors inside society. But what matters is the material mode we are infected while doing the job and if one has genuinely developed appropriate Brahmanical consciousness, he will definitely not be part of any corrupt system, even for Lord Krishna’s sake. Several times many justify wrong deeds saying it is for Lord Krishna, but can we use plastic cups for Krishna, when it is going to harm His eternal consort(Pure Devotee) Bhumi devi or can any Brahmachari who has taken vow to control senses, fall prey to lust or greed in the pretext of preaching for Krishna?

Therefore the external stamps or levels of ladder like first initiation or second initiation or a Brahmachari needn’t always reflect our real ashram which is strongly influenced by three modes at different period and our actions based on karma-guna.

Here we need to understand that if the seva we engage is not as per our karma-guna then our inner growth would be slow, because we know what happens when we fix round peg in a square hole.

Broadly this happens when a practitioner has not undergone proper training and practice before he or she takes up a responsibility suited to his/her skills and inner growth.

Generally it is observed that if somebody is academically qualified, it is assumed he/she will be good in intellectual preaching and they are elevated faster in external ladder. But sometimes they fail miserably because of lack of spiritual practice, maturity and having another interest other than engagement allotted to them. While technology might give instant results, devotional science will always remain a process, like it was in past.

Besides there are also situations where a facilitator or trainer might not have the capacity to engage his/her subordinates as per latter’s karma/guna, and this again can inhibit the growth of the sevak. Here the trainer forgets the fact that his/her inner development need not always be higher than his/her subordinates and that what the latter is looking for in KC or in God might be different than what a trainer is forcing upon his/her subordinates. That is why we have several sevaks not engaged in appropriate sevas.

If a sevak is engaged as per his/her karma guna, then it promotes sustainability of oneself and the organization, but when our inner growth is inhibited due to inappropriate engagement or environment, then we fail to nurture divine values and this has adverse impact on sustainability.

Knowledge of technology or tall academic qualifications or acquiring different levels of spiritual/responsible ladder within society cannot make devotees; it is ultimately voluntarily nurtured divine human qualities that can save mankind from his degradations.

Sustained training and practice and appropriate engagement all count towards developing voluntary commitment/tapasya towards one’s life. Inner conviction about the process and practice are important for one’s sustainability and convincing others about this education. It is a process and hence no room for shortcut. This is true even for female sevaks. Although thrust by and large has been laid on spiritual growth based on external parameters, especially reaching upto level of initiation, but ‘Thoughtfulness’ is very important aspect to be inculcated at every level of training. Srila Prabhupada remarked “Krishna Consciousness is to make a person independently thoughtful and act accordingly”, this my gurumaharaj repeated several times.

All these factors need to be considered before applying daivi varnashrama.

What I learnt from my guru, is Srila Prabhupada never discriminated female and male disciples with regard to appropriate engagement and relevant interactions. The lesson that every one has go beyond ashram has been echoed several times by my gurumaharaj and he never ever gave us a feeling that we are women and hence we are of lower strata. He directly interacted with some of his female disciples whenever it was required without using the channel of prabhujis also(husbands of Female disciples). Once I also heard him saying, that in Manipur the women are stronger than men and he would laugh. He had high respect for women community and wanted the female children of his disciples to develop good character and become great scientists and scholars and shine in the society.

So this Varnashrama or social structure can be applied from broader perception at individual level. It is like undertaking a voyage for personal growth based on introspection. Ultimately the result we need to see for ourselves within, in order to guide us to grow towards higher ashram and best seva mood and that should be fine, rather than making the whole world follow this ashram system and getting a tag of an ‘extremist’.

Hare Krishna

Jaganmohini devi dasi (BSDS)

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1 Sita Rama 108

Mother Jaganmohini,
Please continue to explain the extremely important points you have raised in this article.
Ys
Sita Rama dasa

Comment posted by Sita Rama 108 on July 28th, 2011
2 kavicandra swami

During the final period of Srila Prabhupada’s manifested presence he often spoke of varnasrama. Finally devotees asked him what he meant by varnaasrama.
He said, ” I will go ot GIta Nagari and teach them to live off the land>’

So Barn ashram

Comment posted by kavicandra swami on July 28th, 2011
3 Puskaraksa das

Dear Mataji

I agree with the concept of trying to implement daivi varnashrama within our own lives as devotees and within ISKCON as a spiritual society…

If we manage to do both properly, then we will have a valid model to showcase to the rest of the society…

But, you are certainly right to state that the concept of varnas, may often be misunderstood in India, but also in the rest of the world, with the concept of caste. However, we know it is a mistake, for one belongs to a caste from birth and one belongs to a varna, according to his karma (activities)… which hopefully, in the best cases match his guna (qualities).

However, in our case, there is a distinction, for we act under the order of the spiritual master…

In that respect, Srila Prabhupada taught us: ” Do the needful…”.

Hence, despite the fact that we may not have been desirous to perform such or such activity, we may have to do so, for the pleasure of our Spiritual Master, which ultimately means, for the pleasure of Sri-Sri
Radha-Krishna…

By pleasing the Spiritual Master one gets the mercy of Guru, i.e. the mercy of Krishna. By displeasing Sri Guru one never gets the mercy of Krishna and never attains the ultimate goal of life…

Hence, daivi varnashrama may differ in that sense from regular varnashrama system…

In daivi varnashrama, everything is centered around the service and pleasure of Guru and Krishna…

Sri Guru may give us some service we may not like to perform (especially in the beginning as per the happiness in the mode of goodness, which in the beginning tastes like poison, but in the end, tastes like nectar) but we understand we our higher intelligence, that this service which has been granted to us by Sri Guru is a benediction, for it not only contributes to our own purification but it is also meant to serve the welfare of others and ultimately bring pleasure to Krishna, which means watering the tree at the root…

On the other side, within the regular varnashrama system, one learns to act within a certain frame and accomplish one’s duties… These restrictions are like the banks of the river, which contain the flow and avoid the river to turn the fields into a swamp, or in other words, to turn one’s own life into a mess…

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on July 30th, 2011
4 Puskaraksa das

The spirit behind varnashrama is to control the mind and senses, both for our own sake and for the welfare of society…

If our instincts are not channelized and our propensity to enjoy is not dovetailed, then we may neither be in a position to progress spiritually, nor to bring any valuable contribution for the welfare of our fellowmen…

Within the varnashrama system, one learns to be a servant, serving one’s family and/or society, according to one’s capacities and one’s personal status (married, unmarried, etc).

So, learning to act as a servant and to follow some rules, is already a great achievement both in terms of the preservation of one’s own dignity, as a part and parcel of God, and as a contributor to the well-being of others and society at large, via the service one renders through one’s activities, while abiding by a specific code of ethics, amongst which the preservation of Mother Bhumi is one to be put forward…

Hence, in both cases varnashrama, and daivi varnashrama have, as a goal, to control our mind and senses and restrict our capacity to go both against our own interest, and against the interest of others…

Besides, the varnshrama system is not rigid, in its genuine form, as one may go from one ashrama to another and from one varna to another, as he or she progresses both in terms of skills and spiritual advancement…

Therefore, if presented properly and adequately, according to time, place and circumstances, I believe that there is a chance that people may understand some of the positive aspects of this system established by God…

catur-varnyam maya srstam
guna-karma-vibhagasah
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable. Bg 4-13

Hence, one should not campaign against varnashrama, but rather bring one’s valuable contribution to the debate, as you are doing Mataji, and as others are doing, such as Bhakti Raghava Swami, Kesava Krishna Prabhu, etc (there are too many to name them all).

So, let us chant Hare Krishna and be happy, while contributing to performing this task Srila Prabhupada has left for the future generations of devotees to accomplish, i.e. establishing the daivi varnashrama system…

Yours in service

Das dasanudasa
Puskaraksa das

Comment posted by Puskaraksa das on July 30th, 2011
5 Akruranatha

Materialistic kali yuga people often seem too eager to forget that the nature of a genuine Vaisnava is to be humble and tolerant and put no one in difficulty, to be a kind friend to all.

We therefore may not be ready for the idea of a social hierarchy based on status, which only works when those of higher status are genuinely self-controlled and kind and concerned for the welfare of all, and do not use their positions of power to abuse underlings.

When there is too much abuse from those in socially privileged positions, there will naturally be revolutions from below, and the ideologies of leveling and democracy and classless society or workers’ state will gain prominence, along with a feminism of equal rights and independence for women, both socially and economically.

To establish varnasrama dharma in the modern world entails training up those with higher qualities to behave in such a way that others will naturally respect and follow and obey them. It cannot be imposed by force from above like some conquering army of foreign occupation. Then the natural, affectionate reciprocal feelings of love and trust will not develop.

The whole question is not one of authority by power, wielded through wealth and military might, but one of power by force of authority, wielded through personal excellence of character and spiritual wisdom: purity is the force.

When those occupying the position of brahmanas and ksatriyas and vaisyas in society all develop the qualities of sudras or less, then the whole natural social order falls apart. But if we can actually train some real brahmanas and ksatriyas, the genuine emotional feelings that spontaneously guide humans to observe varnasrama social relations will naturally arise.

In the mean time, we can study about how such relationships existed in other times and places and how this system worked to make people very happy and emotionally and materially satisfied while making spiritual progress under the guidance of genuine spiritual scientists.

We do not have to try to impose rules on people who are unwilling to observe them. That will not work, especially if we appear to just be another group vying for a position of power and authority (”everyone should obey us and bow down to us”.) But if we can really show ideal character and give the genuine spiritual knowledge that improves people’s lives, they will naturally want to do as we say, seeing that it will truly be where their highest best interests lie.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 3rd, 2011
6 Akruranatha

Also, no one has to change his or her position.

Hopefully the most intelligent scientists and professors can also become the real brahmanas, the leading soldiers and statesmen can become the rajarsis and noble ksatriyas, and the plantation owners and business magnates can become the generous, pious vaisyas.

If that happens then ordinary workers and peasants will find they are living in a paradise and will never agitate for more political power and money to spend on useless and sinful entertainments.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on August 3rd, 2011

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