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A life of spiritual transition in ISKCON. Varnasrama, ISKCON, and the GBC - video

Part 5

Our regulative principles are slowly becoming eroded. Just imagine, in suburban living, we can fall prey to gambling as in stock market investments. Intoxications like tea and coffee are a temptation. Illicit sex within marriage is undoubtedly there. So, about the only regulative principle devotees follow strictly is no meat eating, including fish and eggs. Nityananda Prabhu’s idea for us to forget about varnasrama now because we can advance through these levels using his method is an illusion.

His approach is wrong; everyone is entitled to take the elevator. Even a child can understand how we are not these bodies, if explained as simply as Srila Prabhupada taught. How can we even chant properly living and working amongst non-devotees? Srila Prabhupada said that chanting gives us that quick lift. That’s the only way to boil that spiritual milk. And for that we need proper association constantly and that means a favourable environment. It’s really simple. Bridge preaching is the stairway.

Wouldn’t spiritual advancement be like taking the elevator if grhasthas with a need to work and earn money lived in self-sustainable farm communities? We could earn money for our basic needs within the community. The most important ingredient for boiling that spiritual milk, association, will always be there. In whatever direction you look, all neighbours are devotees. This is the most favourable setting to truly come to the stage of working for Krsna without desire for the fruits. Those dedicated brahmacaris and grhasthas completely engaged in temple activities can live and preach in towns and cities, using Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada’s traditional way of harinama sankirtana and book distribution. As time goes on, varnasrama can evolve from farm communities.

Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 19.09.2014 @ 04:58

Part 4

It’s impossible to become transcendental while still having material desires. We may rationalise that we are devotees, chanting sixteen rounds and trying to follow the four regulative principles but can we honestly say we are not working without attachment to the fruits. Even for many devotees, money is still the honey. Most devotees are grhasthas living outside the temples in suburbs, towns and cities. This comes with a whole material package.

There’s the slog of at least forty five hours a week to keep your head above water with no association. You need schools for your children and all the anxiety that goes with the slaughter house education system. It’s difficult to not have a television and get influenced by all that secular nonsense on it. Then there’s the internet and the addiction - social networks take up most of your spare time. What about smart-phones, most of the devotees have that now? And with our head’s stuck in it for the majority of our waking hours, with little or no association, how can we advance spiritually. Then there’s no time to go to the temple, except on Sundays, and when we do go, there’s the need to get away as quick as possible, to engage in our material activities.

In this state, the taste for more sense gratification such as illicit sex within marriage becomes uncontrollable. Then some taste for perhaps caffeinated soft drinks, then coffee, tea, gambling in the form of stock market investments or lottery with the desire to get quick money. And finally, there’s liberalism, the desire to modify our devotee rules and understanding of sastra to suit our lifestyles.

This is not imagination. I’ve seen devotees visiting Vrindavan drinking tea (chai) at the roadside tea stalls. I also know devotees who lost lots of money, even their houses, in bad investments on a tip off – hence, the desire to gamble to make quick profits. Many devotees are also into the latest electronic gizmos or gadgets. Even Nityananda Prabhu makes reference in his class to a television programme he watches and he admits he likes the gizmos. So he is not completely detached.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 19.09.2014 @ 04:58

Part 3

He refers to chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, where Krsna speaks about Karma-yoga; working for Him without attachment to the fruits. Just like Anuttama Das, he tries to give a different meaning to varnasrama, implying to just keep it the way it is, do whatever work you are already engaged in, but just do it for Krsna. He emphasises the “As It Is” aspect of the Bhagavad-Gita but he interprets it otherwise.

He says that most people, the non-devotees are into their ipods, iphones, Samsung Galaxies etc and I think he is trying to say that for them in the lower levels, those who are into their latest gadgets and sense gratification, direct preaching is not necessary but some form of bridge preaching is needed to bring them up to a level to be able to understand Chapter Three of Bhagavad-Gita.

He gives the analogy of different levels of education such as kindergarten, elementary school and so on and says how all are important and similarly, we need to bring non-devotes to the mode of goodness through his stages. He says for us, following chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, Srila Prabhupada gave us the activities of the transcendentalists such as association, chanting, and so on. So I think he interprets chapter three not as work done in a varnasrama setting but devotees going about their daily business working amongst non-devotees in this material world, trying to do their duty. It seems he also wants to take devotees through the stages of Brahmin and Paramatma realizations. This is really the stairway.

Actual Chapter Three “As It Is” speaks of activity for Krsna. Even as devotees, we are attached to the fruits of our work. We want a nice house etc, the full package that goes with the suburban lifestyle. We do not lay everything at Krsna’s feet. Devotees trying to sincerely advance through devotional practice are performing bhakti-yoga but jnana-yoga and naturally karma-yoga is included.

How many of us as devotees working outside can honestly say that we are working without desire to enjoy some fruits of our work. No! We want to enjoy many fruits, as much as possible. We want a nice house, car, the latest electronic gadgets and everything that goes with suburban living and that includes the misery and entanglement of having a mortgage, loans and living on plastic debt.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 19.09.2014 @ 04:57

Part 2

His idea is to bring the materialists to the mode of goodness, they have to go through the first four stages of his chart which are sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence, then they will become pious, intelligent and noble. After that, he says they will become spiritualists and their driving factor will be sacrifice, austerity and charity. He does not mention how they will perform these activities living in towns and cities. Then he says the next stage are transcendentalists from Soul, Brahmajyoti, Paramatma realization and finally, the devotees, who worship the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is Srila Prabhupada’s movement, Iskcon, which he coins as “Our Brand.”

His prediction is that in twenty years, devotees will be wealthier than karmis. His understanding is that “all the piety that is kicking in” – whilst going up through the levels, and especially the first four material levels, the non-devotees will build their pious, intelligent and noble credits. With these credits, he says, they will become so wealthy that bhukti (sense gratification) and mukti (liberation) will come falling on their hands to serve. Something like karma-kanda.

Is that what we are after? Some devotees may be wealthy but Krsna can take it all away very quickly. We don’t give much attention to false wealth, paper money (fiat currency) which can all become useless tomorrow. Our actual material wealth is in the land and the cows.

He emphasises that varnasrama is a material system not for devotees. According to him, its purpose is to lift people to the material level and when they come into the association of spiritualists, they will get the opportunity to meet devotees who will take them to the transcendental level. But Prabhupada said differently, that devotees are not up to the standard of vaisnava and varnasrama is for them. He says that in future, intelligent devotees going through his program and reaching transcendence will have intelligence to introduce varnasrama for the materialists.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 19.09.2014 @ 04:54

Part 1

While Anuttama Prabhu directly shows his aversion to varnasrama, Nityananda Prabhu, North American GBC and Dallas Temple President, is more nuanced in his approach. While he acknowledges that at some unspecified time in the future, intelligent devotees will introduce varnasrama, he makes a case to keep the status quo. He has a chart which he uses in leadership seminars for non-devotees, showing nine levels of people in general, and he classifies them into three groups. The first group from levels one to four fall under Sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence. The second group is the fifth level, consciousness. The third group are from levels six to nine, Soul, Brahman, Supersoul and Supreme Absolute Truth. He uses this chart to state his case. Key quotes by Nityananda Das, “as he said it,” are found at the end of this article.

He sort of speaks in circles, repeats without getting to a direct point about where devotees stand on this chart. But his idea is that the materialists are from levels one to four and upwards from that are devotees. His vision is to bring the consciousness of the materialists to the mode of goodness using modern techniques such as his leadership seminars to non-devotees.

I disagree with his view that because we engage in ninth level or transcendental activities, we are on the ninth level and transcendental, and therefore we do not need those traditional trappings such as that which would be found in varnasrama. So he pushes devotees right up there, not considering that most of us are still struggling with the senses and trying to control the mind.

According to his implication, we should bypass Srila Prabhupada’s express elevator process and take the slower stairway instead. He says we are promoting piety, intelligence and nobility to the lower level non-devotees. I though we were supposed to directly preach Krsna consciousness, teach chanting and bhakti yoga.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 19.09.2014 @ 04:53

Part 7

So in a farm community, with all neighbours as devotees and working around nature, we will learn to see clearly and appreciate how Krsna’s energies work and identify this with Him and remember Him in everything we do or see around us. In this way, we will become detached from the fruits of our work although we may still be attached to the work which will clearly be for Krsna.

Of course, devotees still need to preach in towns and cities but only the more “fixed up” and sincere ones. Those grhasthas living outside and devotees living in the temples that do not care about accumulating unnecessary wealth, who are engaged in direct service and living simply should go out and distribute books, go on harinama, preach the traditional way.

Honestly, bridge preaching in Iskcon is slowly replacing the direct and tested methods of book distribution and harinama sankirtana. During Srila Prabhupada’s years, we see how quickly this movement spread. The formula was mostly book distribution and harinama. Bridge preaching was limited, only for the scientist types and some people of influence. One may argue that a pure devotee is not physically present now and therefore the potency is not there to replicate the successes of the sixties and seventies. But Srila Prabhupada is always with us and we need to know how to tap into his pure potency to make this movement spread like wildfire. The only way is to follow his default method which includes his desire to have varnasrama. Purity is the force.

So Anuttama Prabhu says the ashram side of things is easy, just adjust, the essence is doing it for Krsna. His understanding of this is influenced by liberalism. Prabhupada did not say, “Allow it.” He was forced into a corner most of the time on these issues. What did we expect him to do, tell these devotees who got divorced or broke their sannyasa vows to leave Krsna. No! Naturally, he wanted them to advance in spiritual life, he came to deliver all the Jagai’s and Madhai’s on his spiritual masters order. He could see people were heavily conditioned in the West and therefore even during the last few days before leaving his body; he spoke of his desire for the devotees to establish varnasrama.

Note: Comments on Nityananda Prabhu’s part of the presentation will be sent in for posting shortly.

Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 14.09.2014 @ 15:13

Part 6

Instead of him calling Srila Prabhupada’s many references to varnasrama simple, perhaps he should consider that it is actually simple for the simple to understand. And Srila Prabhupada was the epitome of that simplicity. It gets complicated for us when we try to make changes to suit our lifestyle. He admits the application to the goal using his method is a little complicated because of our conditioning. Why then does he want to apply rules for how we should reach our goal instead of using the simple and default position, Srila Prabhupada?

Although he says “little complicated,” he says it also means that it is quite clear because we have the example of Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita. But he forgets that Arjuna was a ksatriya and Krsna was simply asking him to do his “varna” duty and fight and varnasrama was firmly in place then. He gives the example of Srila Prabhupada saying that a factory worker doing his job “thinking of Krsna” is pure devotional service. But surely the factory worker who thinks of Krsna constantly will be an advanced devotee. How many devotees slogging out there amongst the non-devotees think of Krsna every working minute?

He says, one should always remember Krsna and never forget Him, Nityananda Prabhu also mentions this. It is not so easy to remember Krsna twenty four hours a day, working and living amongst non-devotees. Srila Prabhupada says in Madhya 22.113 purport that to always remember Krsna is only possible when one chants the Hare Krsna Mantra twenty four hours a day.

Because this is not possible for devotees at present, Srila Prabhupada qualifies his statement in that same purport to add; that because of other duties under the order of the spiritual master, the disciple should first chant sixteen rounds which is most essential then go on book distribution or engage in other direct services where he will always be reminded of Krsna. This serves as an impetus to remember Krsna. Srila Prabhupada also says that the conclusion is one must engage in things that will always make him remember Krsna and refrain from doing things that make him forget Krsna.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 14.09.2014 @ 15:06

Part 5

First, he gives his personal example. He married after ten years as brahmacari. His wife had an eight year old son from a previous marriage and he had to learn new duties, perform new sacrifices like bowling and baseball. Although he hadn’t bowled since he was a boy, he took his eight year old son out bowling. He wasn’t particularly good at it but he had to bowl for Krsna just as Arjuna shot arrows for Krsna, he says. So he thought, okay, I’ll do it for Krsna and mediated on Krsna and he made his highest score ever in bowls. So he takes this as a sign that you can do anything mundane for Krsna. His says his realization from this is to know what it means – whatever you do, somehow, do it for Krsna.

He remembers a concert pianist from Denver who joined. They told him, do what every other new bhakta does, wash pots. He says they weren’t so broadminded in those days – there wasn’t a lot of vision for being a concert pianist for Krsna, he thinks these days it is much better. So again, this idea of dovetailing everything for Krsna, bowling, baseball, concert pianist and he also includes the reasonable ones like plumbing. But his whole idea is we don’t need varnasrama. Varnasrama for him means if you are a bowler, do it for Krsna.
So that’s his idea of adjusting within the ashram. But he says the problem starts on the varna side with the tendency to categorise people and this makes his blood boil. According to him, this is the historical problem, the modern problem and the philosophical problem.

He gives another ashram adjustment example, of Srila Prabhupada, who he says was making money as a grhastha, cutting vegetables and shopping and cleaning, when he first came to New York. So he asks, “is Srila Prabhupada a vaisya or sudra.
Or is he showing us the essence of vaisnava, clean for Krsna, preach for Krsna, make money for Krsna and bowl for Krsna with my kids if I have to. You know, we do it all for Krsna.”

Srila Prabhupada fits the description of Lord Caitanya’s much quoted line by Anuttama Prabhu, I ‘m not a brahmana, not a ksatriya etc. Srila Prabhupada does not need varnasrama, we do.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 14.09.2014 @ 15:05

Part 4

Even in the purport, Srila Prabhupada qualifies this level. He mentions the anyabhilasita-sunyam verse, completely free from mental speculation and furtive activities. He mentions the following; “The Lord is awakened in ones mind if one constantly thinks of Him” - “A pure devotee cannot remain a moment without being absorbed in thoughts of the Lord” - “Always engaging in the Lord’s service” - “Devotional service in Love and affection” - “This is the stage of becoming free from the contamination of the material world.”

But Anuttama Prabhu latches onto the last part of the purport where Lord Caitanya says He is not a brahmana etc, without fully understanding from the verse and complete purport the description of such an exalted devotee being described. Even the paragraph of the last part qualifying Lord Caitanya’s statement is clear in meaning of the devotee being described. “His engagement in material activities ceases completely. At that time, he attains the favour of the Lord and loses his faith in material civilization, which begins with varnasrama-dharma. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu speaks clearly of one’s becoming liberated from the varnasrama-dharma, the most exalted system of human civilization. At such a time one feels himself to be perpetually the servant of Lord Krsna, a position taken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself.”

Note how Srila Prabhupada refers to varnasrama-dharma as the most exalted system of human civilization. Western or variations of hippy culture mixed with this tradition does not even come close to the greatness of varnasrama. It is impossible to become a pure devotee living in towns and cities.

Anuttama Prabhu’s understanding of “Whatever you do, do it for Krsna”, is twisted. He implies that even mundane activities like sports should be done for Krsna. According to him, Srila Prabhupada adjusted things within the ashram, he introduced things like divorce. He says although divorce is strictly not allowed, people got divorced and because Srila Prabhupada allowed it, we should allow it – he gives the green light for divorce. He says, we have this as example of how to adjust within the ashram, but because we have no examples of Srila Prabhupada dealing with the varnas, we should not try to introduce it as varnas are a little complex and problematic. He gives the example of bowling and the concert pianist as ashram adjustments.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 14.09.2014 @ 15:04

Part 3

One devotee may say that with all other things we have going on, to chant minimum sixteen rounds is too much. So he may canvass to make it eight rounds. Someone may say that it is difficult to follow the no illicit sex rule even within marriage so let’s introduce contraception. I heard devotees who eat chocolates say it can also be offered to Krsna so where does this leave us with no intoxication. Then what about tea, someone may ask? There’s no harm there.

Acting on the level of our spiritual advancement, there could be many different variations of how far we should go in changing details – if we even understand properly the difference between a principle and a detail. This will further cause divisions as time goes on. To use the example of Anuttama Prabhu about devotional dress, and how Srila Prabhupada allowed book distributors to wear Western clothing – we now see devotees questioning the necessity of using it not just for regular temple visits but also for sitting on the vyasasana and Deity service. So how far should we go?

Do any of us have the vision of Srila Prabhupada to change even details? No! Our adjustments will be dictated by our conditioned senses. The only way to have peace and harmony is for all of us to have a “default” position. And that is Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. It could be argued that we not only have core principles but also core details, as those within our four regulative principles. And to these, Srila Prabhupada made the final adjustments.

Anuttama Prabhu refers many times to the verse and purport read by Nityananda Prabhu for this class, SB 4.29.46 - where Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu says I’m not a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya or sudra to indicate why varnasrama is not necessary. Just by looking at the verse alone; these lines, “fully engaged in devotional service” – “favoured by the Lord, who bestows His causeless mercy” – “awakened devotees gives up all material activities”, we can know a devotee of this description definitely transcends the system of varnasrama. Non of us as practicing devotees fit into this category.


Comment Posted By Nitai dasa On 14.09.2014 @ 15:02


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