Chakra Discussions

Conscientious Objection and Vaisnavism

by Madhava Gosh

Posted May 25, 2004

I believe that Varna Ashram Dharma (VAD) has two basic underlying principles - that the strong should protect the weak, and that there is a place for everyone and anyone from which they have the possibility to advance in Krsna Consciousness. Further, I believe that being a Vaisnava is transcendent to VAD and is not, as it seems to be commonly thought, some fifth Varna.

I will address issues of Conscientious Objection (CO) within the context of VAD. To address it from the perspective of Vaisnavism is to a degree irrelevant. Imagine a 2 dimensional line drawing, with social and maritalstatus as coordinates. That would be like VAD. Now, let's take some crayons and do some coloring. The coloring transcends the drawing. The color would be like Vaisnavism. It transcends VAD. VAD is like the setting for the jewel of Vaisnavism.

Lord Chaitanya says:

"I am not a brahmana, I am not a ksatriya, I am not a vaisya or a sudra. Nor am I a brahmacari, a householder, a vanaprastha or a sannyasi. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance. "
Chaitanya Caritamrta Madhya 13. 80

Sometimes it seems devotees use this verse as an excuse to ignore VAD, but that is missing the point. It is not about rejecting these distinctions but seeing beyond them. For instance, I play soccer (futbol). So I might say "I am not a goalie, I am not a defender, I am not a midfielder or an attacker. Nor am I a player, an official, a field keeper or a coach. I am an American. " This is not rejecting being a soccer player, but it means that I have a life that is broader than that acted out on the playing field. Neither does it mean that being an American is some position on the field other than the ones described. Everyone one regardless of position can be an American (or European or whatever). What I have done is describe in detail an aspect of my reality while putting it into perspective with my largerreality.

I believe if you look closely at the exchange between Krsna and Arjuna, ultimately he is encouraged to fight, not because his arguments are incorrect, but because as a ksatriya they don't apply to him.


It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one's nature are never affected by sinful reactions.


One's occupational duty is prescribed in Bhagavad-gita. As already discussedin previous verses, the duties of a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra are prescribed according to their particular modes of nature. One should not imitate another's duty. A man who is by nature attracted to the kind of work done by sudras should not artificially claim to be a brahmana, although he may have been born into a brahmana family. In this way one should work according to his own nature; no work is abominable, if performed in the service of the Supreme Lord. The occupational duty of a brahmana is certainly in the mode of goodness, but if a person is not by nature in the mode of goodness, he should not imitate the occupational duty of a brahmana.

Bhagavad Gita 18. 47


It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another's duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to followanother's path is dangerous.


One should therefore discharge his prescribed duties in full Krsna consciousness rather than those prescribed for others. Materially, prescribed duties are duties enjoined according to one's psychophysical condition, under the spell of the modes of material nature. Spiritual duties are as ordered by the spiritual master for the transcendental service of Krsna. But whether material or spiritual, one should stick to his prescribedduties even up to death, rather than imitate another's prescribed duties. Duties on the spiritual platform and duties on the material platform may be different, but the principle of following the authorized direction is always good for the performer. When one is under the spell of the modes of material nature, one should follow the prescribed rules for his particular situationand should not imitate others. For example, a brahmana, who is in the mode of goodness, is nonviolent, whereas a ksatriya, who is in the mode of passion, is allowed to be violent. As such, for a ksatriya it is better to be vanquished following the rules of violence than to imitate a brahmana who follows the principles of nonviolence.

Bhagavad Gita 3. 35

If it is said that Vaisnavas should be COs, or the opposite, that they can't be, both positions are wrong, IMHO. Arjuna brought forward arguments that were valid for a brahmana. Krsna rejected them, not absolutely, but relatively for Arjuna's circumstance. His duty was different. A Vaisnava can always be a Vaisnava in any circumstance, but a brahmana should act as a brahmana and a ksatriya as a ksatriya. Clearly, there is a tradition of CO in VAD, but this does not invalidate those who follow the military path. Not does the fact that some Vaisnavas take up arms invalidate some one else from following the path of a CO.

The politics of why there is a war is not the business of soldiers. They have to do their duty. Arjuna made political arguments why the war shouldn'tbe fought, but Krsna brushed them aside, and told him to do his duty. As citizens, we have a right, and perhaps even a duty, to become involved in politics to prevent unjust wars. A soldier after becoming again a citizenalso has that right, but while on active duty it is inappropriate for a soldier to take into consideration the politics of the war. It is also inappropriate for the citizens to not support those soldiers, both materially and from a morale perspective, while they are at war.

Ksatriyas protect from material danger, brahmanas protect from spiritual danger, both needed, both essential parts of the team, but both with different duties. Just as it would be inappropriate for a ksatriya to not fight in the military, it is also inappropriate for a brahmana to fight. As Vaisnavas, hopefully we can grasp this distinction. We may not be able to have the same expectation of the US government if it enacts a draft. We need to be thinking about protecting brahmanas from such a possible draft.

Which brings me back to my original (still unanswered) question: What is the history of ISKCON and its interaction with the draft boards? It would be much easier to build on a preexisting tradition of devotee COs than start from scratch. I have some vague memory that there was a book called The Handbook of Krsna Consciousness that was printed for the purpose of getting devotees deferments. Anyone who got a deferment on the basis of being a devotee or has knowledge of how the process worked for devotees could do some service by sharing.

Another service devotees could do would be to support our Vaisnava soldiers who are in the war zone. I took the liberty of emailing Jaya Govinda and got this response:

"i would appreciate it very much. receiving letters or packages from devotees would be a huge relief from the daily grind of life in iraq. pretty much anything is ok to send, as long as it's not perishable. i have tons of trail mix, so that's something i definitely don't need, but anything else is great"

My daughter-in-law just returned from Iraq and I know that even letters are greatly appreciated. Physical letters even more than e mails. Sending to an APO (Army Post Office) address costs the same as if it were mailed to an address in the USA. If you do decide to send a package, it is necessary to get a customs form from the Post Office and submit with the package (not needed for letters).

I have received a donation of a box of vegetarian jerky (from the devotee company named Primal Spirit in New Vrindaban that sells them) to send to him. Also some maha prasadam from Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Candra. Bear in mind that it can take 2 weeks or longer for a package to be delivered and it will arrive in hot weather.

I know there is an ISKCON prison ministry. Maybe someone could set up something similar for devotee soldiers to collect addresses and coordinateor solicit donations. Until then, individuals can send directly to Jaya Govinda.

SPC King, Justin B.
C Co. 29th SIG. BN.
Camp Anaconda
APO AE 09391

He has also given me the address of his godbrother in Iraq.

SSG Sonnenberg, Ari
630th MP Co.
759th MP BN.
APO AE 09390