In this work, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the foremost Vedic scholar and teacher of the modern age, and author of than sixty volumes of authoritative annotated translations and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India, presents a vision of a spiritual society. Criticizing a mode society based on industrialism, materialism, and a callous disregard for the workers who support it, Srila Prabhupada calls for a spiritualized•social structure. Citing Bhagavad-gita, he advocates varnasrama, dharma, a social institution in which people gain spiritual satis faction and spiritual advancement by doing their daily work as an offering to God.
Though his vision is based on Vedic scriptures of India, Prabhupada faults the modern caste system as a perversion of scriptural injunction. But India is not alone, he states, for materialistic social structures around the world impede spiritual progress. Thus, in the forty conversations, lectures, and interviews in this volume, we hear him present a society where occupations are determined by character and training, not by birth and wealth; a society based on opportunity and maximizing human potential rather than on stagnancy and oppression; one based on mutual appreciation and cooperation between classes rather suspicion and disdain. We hear about a society which is inclusive rather than exclusive, a society based on simple living and high thinking rather than on wealth and greed. Above all, van, uarnasrama society Prabhupada describes is consciously organized to bring each kind of person closer to the actual goal human life, attaining a loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna.
In December 1992, ISKCON's Governing Body Commission established Correspondence Resolution Number 9, creating a Farm Research Committee to research Srila Prabhupada's instructions on farming and rural community development. The committee realized that to research instructions on com-munity development meant to research Prabhupada's instructions on social development. To research instructions on social development meant, in turn, to research Prabhupada's instructions on varnasrama-dharma. Thus the cur- rent work was assembled.
The committee's goal in creating this work has been to provide a sys-tematically organized reference and resource for devotees in the Hare Krsna movement, from temple presidents and rural project leaders, to farmers, rural community members, and gurukula and upper level teachers and their students, and especially to provide guidance for the leaders of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as they seek to carry out the instructions of ISKCON's founder-acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his mission of helping create a society dedicated to the loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna.
In addition, we want to provide an authoritative source for scholars, who in the near future, are sure to become increasingly interested in Srila Prabhupada's teachings on how to organize a peaceful, productive God-cen-tered society. Such researchers should know that the Krsna consciousness movement is founded on the scriptural principle, propagated in the recent age by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, that the Lord in His full potency is present in His names, such as Allah, J ehovah, Govinda, and many other transcendental names, of which the names Krsna and Rama are prominent. The potency of the name of God is recognized in all religions around the world. According to India's ancient Vedic scriptures such as the Agni Purana. and Brhan-naradiya Purana (38.126), the most potent means of deliverance from illusion and material misery in the current age is to chant the names of God. The Hare Krsna maha-mantra is specifically mentioned in many places, such as the Kali-san- tarana Upanisad, for example, which states:
hare krsna hare krsna
krsna krsna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam
"After searching through all the Vedic literature one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krsna.
Even though this method of spiritual advancement appears easy to adopt, it was Srila Prabhupada's realization that most people are so caught up in the illusory activities of the modern world that they are not able to directly avail themselves of the opportunity. Therefore, following in the footsteps of his spiritual predecessors in the Madhva-Gaucdiya-sampradaya, line of disciplic succession, he presented the system of varnasrama dharma, also known as daiva-varnasrama, to pave the way for spiritual progress by creating an environment in which chanting Hare Krsna and engaging in devotional service to the Lord would become easy and satisfying for everyone, even those coming from the lowest and least spiritually inclined segments of the population.
The present volume is intended to be the first of a series presenting Srila Prabhupada's instructions on varnasrama and rural community development. The series is planned to be organized as follows: volume one, conversations and lectures; volume two, varnasrama fundamentals, brahmanas and ksatriyas (including discussion of occupational training, land distribution, and taxation); volume three, vaisyas and sudras (including discussion of farming, cow protection, economics); volume four, brahmacaris and grhasthas (including discussion of the role of women and children); volume five, vanaprasthas and sannyasis. (Volume five will also include a glossary and comprehensive index.)
The editors of this series encourage devotees who may have had personal exchanges and letters from Srila Prabhupada related to these topics to contact us so that we may include that information in our presentation. We want to stess that this volume has been edited to maintain focus on the subject of the book. Scholars doing research may wish to contact The Bhaktivedanta Archives for original sources. (See: Conventions Used in this Volume.)
Many devotees and friends of the devotees have helped bring this presentation of Srila Prabhupada's varnasrama message to fruition. They have provided funding, encouragement, and leads to valuable information in letters, discussions, e-mail messages and phone conversations. We want to express our thanks to all who have done so much to help us in our work, with special thanks to the following individuals: Ambarisa dasa has magnanimously provided principle funding for the project. Other benefactors include Bhakti-tirtha Swami, Advaita Candra dasa, Vraja-Vadhu-devi dasi, Hare Krsna dasi's parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Traub, Linda Laracuente, Wallace Dorian, Douglas Bahnuik, and the late Karenlee Campbell. Credit also goes to Naveen Krsna dasa for helping us with funding matters.
We are greatly indebted to all those devotees who have invested so much hard work and love to develop ISKCON's many farm communities over the years. Their dedication is an important inspiration for the present work. The help of several of those devotees deserves special mention. Lagudi dasa, the lead ox-man from Australia's New Govardhana Farm, collaborated on much of the preliminary research of Prabhupada's books. ISKCON's Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture, Balabhadra dasa and his wife Chaya-devi dasi have been constant and enthusiastic supporters of the project. Vyapaka dasa, the co-editor of Hare Krsna Rural Life provided encouragement and leads to important quotes. Our neighbors, Bhakta Bob Swett and his wife Bhaktin Velma, have inspired us with their efforts to develop Krsna conscious farming in Maine. We also thank the ISKCON Commission for Social Development.
Other devotees and friends have helped give us the perspective that helped us notice important points that Srila Prabhupada makes in his writings and talks. As well as friendship and intellectual critique, Jaya Lalita-devi dasi and Visakha-devi dasi gave us many insights on Prabhupada's economic and social thought. June and David Vail provided constant encouragement for this project, as did Paul Sarvis and Gwyneth Jones. Hare Krsna dasi's professors at Bowdoin College were supportive of her explorative comparisons of Prabhupada's socio-economic perspective with other modern thinkers: special thanks go to John Fitzgerald, Daniel Rossides, Robert Mclntyre, John Holt and Jonathan Goldstein for their kindness in this regard.
We want to thank the staff at Back to Godhead magazine for their support and for acting as a proving ground for much of this research over the past few years. In particular, our thanks go to Jayadvaita Swami, Nagaraja dasa, and Yamaraja dasa for their support and guidance.
Our publishers, The Bhaktivedanta Archives, provided endless patience and assistance in all the technical matters of producing the book, as well as good-humored hospitality-and tasty prasadam. In particular, we want to thank Ranajit dasa, Dulal Candra dasa and Ekanatha dasa for their good cheer and valuable support. We have an unrepayable debt to all the devotees who worked to transcribe all Srila Prabhupada's works for the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. We also thank all the devotees of Prabhupada Village in Sandy Ridge, North Carolina, for their kindness and support for the project, with a special thanks to Harakanta-devi dasi and her family for their generous hospitality to Hare Krsna dasi during the book's editing sessions.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to Paramananda dasa, ISKCON's first Minister of Agriculture, for the original inspiration to research Prabhupada's instructions on farming and varnasrama. We first heard excerpts from many of the conversations in this volume in his Srimad-Bhagavatam classes. We want to thank Suresvara dasa's wife Katyayani-devi dasi and their daughter Radhika Candra-devi dasi for their support and encouragement, and we also thank Hare Krsna dasi's husband Stephen Petroff and their children, Maharani-devi dasi and Astottara-sata dasa for years of indispensable patience and sacrifice, loving assistance, and enthusiasm for our work in presenting Prabhupada's message.
Before concluding this abbreviated list of those we are indebted to, in the spirit of varnasrama appreciation we want to take the opportunity to thank all the engineers and assembly workers of Grundig, Uher and Sony companies who worked to create the tape recorders used to record Srila Prabhupada's priceless books and his lectures and conversations, making them all available to us. Without this unknowing devotional service on their part, the world would be much, much poorer. Certainly this is an example of what we mean by varnasrama cooperation: Even those who have a very humble occupation can serve the Lord because they provide indispensable help to those who have spiritual knowledge that can benefit the whole human society.
Finally, our greatest debt is to our founder-acarya and spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada himself, for his great compassion in working to pave the way to make it easy for all of us to go back home, back to Godhead.
Five thousand years ago, in the forest of Naimisaranya, Suta Gosvami addressed an assembly of sages and informed them, "The occupational activities a man performs according to his position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead." Our work is meaningless if it does not lead to love of God. There is no point in doing it. But the average person must spend most of his or her life working, just to secure a livelihood. In such a circumstance, what hope is there for spiritual advancement?
That question lies at the core of the Bhagavad-gita, where we see Arjuna proposing to give up his position as a great warrior to adopt the renounced life of a beggar. "Don't do it," advises Krsna, "Spiritual perfection lies not in renouncing work, but in performing your work as an offering to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Do the work which is suitable to your nature, and perform it as an offering unto Me. That is the way to spiritual perfection. If you do your work as an offering of love for Me, then surely you will come to Me at the end of life."
Varnasrama is meant to provide the framework in which people of all different personality types and at different phases of life, can perform their work as an offering to the Lord. Sometimes we think that varnasrama means a brahmana.a studying scriptures, a ksatriya fighting battles, a vaisya maintaining a shop, and a sudra practicing carpentry. The brahmacari attends classes, the grhastha maintains a household, the vanaprastha visits holy places, and the sannyasi lives simply in a hut and preaches. But, varnasrama is more than that. It is a system which guides the relationships between the different varnas. and asramas so that the different groups work cooperatively for the spiritual advancement of the whole society. Just because we have four varnas and four asramas does not mean we have varnasrama. The key to varnasrama is the relationships of mutual support between the different groups.
We can make a comparison between varnasrama and marriage. The marriage unit consists of a man and woman, but simply the fact that we have a man and a woman does not mean we have a marriage. There must be a socially recognized relationship between the man and woman, and each partner should perform activities in support of the other to create a cooperative, mutually supportive relationship. This is what a marriage is meant to be. Similarly, in varnasrama, the members of each varna and asrama have specific roles to play to support the other groups in society, and to promote a cooperative, mutually supportive relationship. Each group must help the other groups, not only to provide the practical necessities of life and a wholesome sense of community, but, even more importantly, to facilitate the whole society's worship of the Supreme Lord.
Now, we know that not all marriages are loving, supportive relationships. In some marriages the partners may be hateful and abusive. But that does not mean that marriage is meant to promote hatred and abuse. Not all class systems are cooperative, mutually supportive social structures. At this point in history, in fact, we do not see any prominent examples of such social structure. But that does not mean that social structure is meant to promote exploitation and abuse. Social structure-as originally designed by the Supreme Lord-is meant to provide material welfare and spiritual progress for all members of society. It is this original social structure, varnasrama dharma, sometimes known as daiva varnasrama, that Srila Prabhupada wanted his followers to establish for the benefit of people all over the world.
In this volume we'll see that Srila Prabhupada's approach to varnasrama focuses on the development of farm communities to show the example of ideal Vaisnava social structure. Through his secretary Prabhupada sends a letter of encouragement to Hari-sauri dasa at the New Govardhana farm in Australia, "On these farms we can demonstrate the full varnasrama system. If these farms become successful then the whole world will be enveloped by Krsna consciousness." Farm communities offer the possibility of self-sufficiency, and, for Prabhupada, self-sufficiency is central to varnasrama. Thus, he advocates simple living and high thinking. "Produce your own food. Produce your own cloth," we hear him exhort followers, even in his last days in Vrndavana. Farms also provide the opportunity to engage in cow protection, which-along with brahminical culture-Prabhupada calls one of the two "pillars of spiritual advancement."
Village organization is an important means of reviving our Krsna consciousness, he tells devotees at Gita-nagari farm. "Krsna, in His natural life, is a village boy in Vrndavana. He is satisfied in that life. So those who are Krsna conscious, they should be satisfied with simple life in the village." A simple lifestyle of taking care of the cows, living as Krsna taught by His personal example will help us remember Krsna. But what about the cities? "That does not mean that we shall avoid city life or town life, no," Prabhupada explains, "Everything, every place is Krsna's place. Everywhere there should be Krsna consciousness."
In Vrndavana and Allahabad, we'll see Prabhupada explain the role of city temples as staging grounds for organizing varnasrama communities. In the first phase, devotees should go into the cities and attract the people by establishing temples and distributing Krsna conscious literature. Second, as people become devotees, they can be brought to farm communities where they can live the Krsna conscious lifestyle described in the books, and remain fixed up in devotional practice without the temptations and material allurements the cities. According to Srila Prabhupada's vision, the modern industrial cities provide an environment which crushes spiritual development: "This town life, industrial life, factory life, is asuric [demoniac] life. It is killing human ambition. It is killing civilization," he tells devotees. The city temples can provide a way out of that environment by training devotees and directing them to Krsna conscious farm communities, where they can find wholesome occupations, favorable to spiritual development.
But Prabhupada also realizes that people living in the modern world may have become so far out of contact with the natural lifestyle demonstrated by Krsna that they are afraid to move to a simpler way of life. He notes that even the farmer's sons have left farming. Therefore, in Vrndavana he proposes a varnasrama college that will teach not only spiritual knowledge, but also practical skills such as "how to give protection to the cows, how to till the field and grow food." Leaders will be taught how to properly protect their citizens and provide them with training, land and appropriate occupations.
Prabhupada also points out the dangers of an oppressive social system, condemning the modern caste system-which designates people by their birth rather than by their natural abilities-as a perversion of Krsna's originl varnasrama system. Even in his earliest lectures, he emphasizes the importance of mutual respect among members of different varnas. If the work is done for Krsna, he tells devotees in Montreal, a potter's work is just as important as a brahmana’s.a's. Varnasrama means appreciating the work of others, no matter what their occupation, because it is devotional service to Krsna. In this volume we will see Prabhupada address these and many other concerns about varnasrama, ranging from sociology to government and economics, and we hear him explain how all aspects can be developed in a way that encourages spiritual progress.
One may ask why, nearly thirty years after Prabhupada proposed the establishment of varnasrama, there are no examples of developed varnasrama communities. Part of the reason is that the mundane social structures in which the first generation of Western devotees were brought up did not promote spiritual progress. Sometimes they did little even to promote material well being for their citizens. With this kind of experience in our childhood and youth, many of us are puzzled at how to succeed in such an endeavor, and therefore hesitant to proceed. That reservation is reasonable. It is difficult for a child of an abusive marriage to make his own marriage successful. Yet, if he is propel instructed and given supportive counseling, his marriage may be as wholesome and productive as his parents’ marriage was quarrelsome and miserable.
Similarly, with good instruction and supportive counseling, we will be able to create a productive, spiritually focused social structure, even though the ones in which we were brought up failed in so many ways.
That good instruction and supportive counseling have been kindly provided by our founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada. The. present research, Prabhupada on Varnasrama and Farm Community Development, is an effort to bring together all of Srila Prabhupada's instructions on varnasrama dharma and the farm communities which he saw as the building blocks of varnasrama social structure. Now we have a chance to hear from Srila Prabhupada himself, the answers to our questions and concerns regarding the topic of varnasrama social organization.
This first volume, Speaking about Varnasrama, focuses on Srila Prabhupada's actual spoken conversations and lectures about varnasrama "Why focus on spoken words?" one may ask. "Isn't everything we need to know in Prabhupada's books?" In fact, the fundamental message of Prabhupada's books and his conversations or lectures is the same: Dedicate your human form of life to serving Krsna. But the details and the emphasis that Prabhupada gives when in direct conversation with his disciples is sometimes different. Disciples are able to bring their specific questions to Prabhupada's attention, especially as they relate to current-day affairs and practical matters. In turn, Srila Prabhupada, inspired by the devotees' interest, offers spontaneous response to their inquiry which gives a fresh understanding of the topics at hand. Thus, there is special value in these spoken passages, and since they are generally harder to access in written form, it is worth gathering them together in one volume for study and reference. Himavati dasi recounts a 1975 exchange between an ISKCON Governing Body Commission officer and Srila Prabhupada at a Mayapur reunion. The GBC officer complained, "There are so many 'Prabhupada said's.' Better only to accept what is in the books and tapes." Srila Prabhupada replied, "No, what I say in my talks, also. Many things I say are not in my books."
Hearing his conversations and lectures in chronological order gives us the chance to examine the evolution of Srila Prabhupada's varnasrama presentation over time. During the earliest days he presents varnasrama as an ideal social structure, but one which is probably not possible for the present age. Nevertheless, even in that early period, he is intent on creating brahmanas-devotees who would provide a "head" for society, giving it sound spiritual guidance. During the middle period, he proposes that ISKCON's brahmanas. provide the leadership to create a model of varnasram.asrama in which the rest of the world can also be included. In the final phase, he presents varnasrama as an important preaching tool and a structure to be implemented initially "within our ISKCON society," with devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement participating at every level.
Right from the beginning of his preaching, Prabhupada believed that an important strategy for spreading Krsna consciousness was to create a body of brahmanas, devotees who were willing to follow strict standards of spiritual discipline and who would devote their lives to studying and conveying the message of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam to others. The Vedic institution of hereditary brahmanas could not be maintained in the modern age, he explained to disciples at a 1969 Gayatri mantra initiation in Boston. Everyone, even in India, had to be considered a sudra due to the absence of the garbhadhana-samskara ritual sanctifying the conception of a child. But even though it was not possible to rely on the Vedic vidhi in the current age, legitimate brahmanas could still be created by following the pancaratrika-vidhi or devotional regulations established by the ancient sage Narada Muni and endorsed by the medieval Vaisnava saint Sanatana Goswami in his Hari-bhakti-vilasa (2.12, 10.127), which is accepted Vaisnava smrti, or authorized Vaisnava scripture.
In offering brahmana initiation to disciples following the pancaratrika-vidhi method, Prabhupada was continuing the example set by his own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami who had revived the Pancaratrika-vidhi process, even in the face of strong protests by India'a hereditary brahmanas. These smarta-brahmanas had objected when sudras were offered brahminical initiation by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, and they became more upset later on, when Srila Prabhupada began to offer brahminical initiation to Westerners-who, according to their standards, were not even up to the level of sudras. But Prabhupada staunchly defended the initiations, citing his spiritual master and Sanatana Goswami. Furthermore, it was Prabhupada's conviction that women could be included within the parameters of Sanatana Goswami's instructions for brahminical initiation, and thus he extended the offer of brahminical initiation to them as well.
Prabhupada's convictions were validated by tangible results Everyone-from Indian government leaders to Western scholars and police chiefs-was impressed that Prabhupada could take Westerners from a culture saturated with illicit sex, drugs and meat-eating, and convert them to exemplary followers of Vaisnava culture. Prabhupada was proud of his disciples. In a commentary in the Fourth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam he states, "Preachers in the Krsna consciousness movement have actually experienced that even the yavanas and mlecchas have taken to spiritual life on the strength of Narada Muni's pancaratrika-vidhi."
But, success was not unmitigated. On one hand, Prabhupada's move to create brahmanas. had produced a core group of devotees who could follow rigid standards of temple living and act as knowledgeable preachers of Krsna conscious philosophy. But on the other hand, a large percentage of those initiated gradually faded out of active participation in Krsna consciousness. They were not able to maintain rigorous brahminical standards required for living in a temple. For some, temple life was almost like a boot camp in the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a test of endurance. If the Marine Corps slogan was: "Are you good enough to get in?" ISKCON's slogan seemed to be: "Are you good enough to stay in?"
Prabhupada realized that such a strict approach would inhibit most people from adopting Krsna consciousness. By March 1974, we hear him outlining his plans for the creation of a varnasrama college to provide the cornerstone for the development of a Krsna conscious society which includes positions for the full range of human beings, not just those who could become satisfied as meticulous, austere brahmanas. Reading the conversations that are part of those historic "Varnasrama Walks," we can tell that this is a new approach for the devotees listening to Prabhupada. They are surprised by the idea that Krsna consciousness is not only for brahmanasa This was the beginning of Prabhupada's deliberate move to establish a total varnasrama structure and not simply to create a group of brahmanas.
Three years later in Mayapura, in Srila Prabhupada's culminating presentation on varnasrama, he emphatically reiterates his conviction that varnasrama is a critical tool for spreading Krsna consciousness. "In big scale you cannot make all of them brahmanas or sannyasis," he explains to disciples. "No. That is not possible. This is small scale. What percentage of people of the world are we attracting? Very insignificant. But if you want to make the whole human society perfect, then this Krsna consciousness movement should be introduced according to Krsna's instructions-if you want to do it in a large scale for the benefit of the whole human society. Now we are picking up some of them, the best. That is one thing. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu said paraupakara. Why only a certain section should be picked up? Let the whole mass of people get the benefit of it. But then it is required to be systematic. Therefore, we have to introduce this varnasrama-dharma. It must be done perfectly. It is possible, and people will become happy."
But surely devotees within ISKCON are transcendental, his followers suggest. They are Vaisnavas, so they are above varnasrama, Surely they will not be expected to take up different roles, such as ksatriya, vaisya or sudra. But Prabhupada disagrees, "To become Vaisnava is not so easy. If to become a Vaisnava is so easy, why do so many fall down?" Even though he is proud of his disciples' achievements, that pride doesn't blind him to the fact that the one hundred-percent-brdhmana approach to making devotees has led to a high drop-out rate. "Why should a sudra artificially be made a brahmana?" he challenges them. "Let him remain a sudra, and if he follows strictly the rules and regulations of a sudra, he'll be as good as a brahmana... Even if he remains a sudra, he's a Vaisnava... As a sudra, he can get perfection."
If the philosophy for phase one of spreading Krsna consciousness seemed like the Marine Corps slogan, "Are you good enough to get in?" the final phase was: more like the Army slogan, "Be all that you can be." "Be all that you can be-in varnasrama!" Even if you can't be a brahmana, you can still be a Vaisnava-no matter what your occupation is. You can still get spiritual perfection, and you can still go back to Godhead. Just learn how to serve the Supreme Lord by doing your occupational duty. Then you will gain full spiritual knowledge and full satisfaction. Because of its magnanimous spirit and the date it was delivered-February 14, 1977-this culminating presentation on varnasrama is sometimes called Prabhupada's "Mayapura Valentine." Here then, is real love, to establish a social system that can bring everyone-from most pious to most materialistic-back home, back to Godhead.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend