Chakra Discussions

Varnashrama and the exodus from ISKCON
Part One

by Shiva das

Posted April 30, 2004

Varnashrama and the exodus from ISKCON

Solutions for the lack of Prabhupadas desire being fullfilled within Iskcon.

Why have most people who join Iskcon leave ? When I first joined it was an average of 3 years before a person left and that was over 25 years ago I don't know what the average is today.

Money is often times the major consideration especially for those who desire to get married or who are married, also the 4 regulative principles become another major reason for people leaving, then there are the politics or personal problems within the community between individuals for an assorted variety of reasons.

These are the 3 broad categories for most people who have left although others have left for other reasons as well.

Srila Prabhupada wanted to set up self sufficient communties based on the varnashrama concept found in the ancient vedic civilization, He stressed this in His last days among us, my view is that He saw that Iskcon had grown into something much more then a typical religious organization of priests, temples, and congregations, the next step was to create a microcosm of vedic high civilization for the Vaishnava community that had grown up around His teachings.

The lack of this has led Iskcon to the present revolving door phenomena, it lacks the foundational structure and far seeing guidance to see it through to the next phase of the evolution of Sri Caitanya's 20th century movement.

What needs to be changed for this to take effect ?

First we need to change the culture of Iskcon's attitude towards the Vaishnava community at large, It is a given that to work within the Iskcon structure the requirements are there that one lead a renounced lifestyle of following the 4 regulative principles (or be seen to be doing such) and to renounce all or any kind of "sense gratification" such as entertainment from media including movies, television, theatre, concerts and the like.

This is a major stumbling block for the growth of the Iskcon varnashrama segueway.

While these are seen as a stigmatizing and illicit and intolerable field of activities within Iskcon today (at least that is the official view) the need for the growth and retention of a devoted following who will dedicate themselves to Iskcon varnashrama projects is hampered by these attitudes.

Room conversation in Mayapura, February 14, 1977

Satsvarupa: When Ramananda Raya brought Varnasrama up, Lord Caitanya said it was not possible in this age to introduce this.

Prabhupada: He did not say not possible. Iha bahya. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was interested only on the spiritual platform. He had no idea of material side. He rejected material side.

Satsvarupa: But don't we do that also?

Prabhupada: No. Our position is different. We are trying to implement Krsna consciousness in everything. Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally took sannyasa. He rejected completely material. Niskincana. But we are not going to be niskincana. We are trying to cement the troubled position of the world. That is also in the prescription of Bhagavad-gita. We are not rejecting the whole society. Our duty is that we shall arrange the external affairs also so nicely that one day they will come to the spiritual platform very easily, paving the way. We are preaching. Therefore we must pave the situation in such a way that gradually they will be promoted to the spiritual plane.

Hari-Sauri: But in Caitanya Mahaprabhu's practical preaching He only induced them to chant.

Prabhupada: Chanting will go on. That is not stopped. But at the same time the varnasrama-dharma must be established to make the way easy.

Satsvarupa: We tell them go on with your job but chant also.

Prabhupada: Yes. Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommended, sthane sthitah. Therefore varnasrama-dharma is required. Simply show-bottle will not do. So the varnasrama-dharma should be introduced all over the world, and...

Satsvarupa: Introduced starting with ISKCON community?

Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. Brahmana, ksatriyas. There must be regular education. So we are stressing on the point of education. You educate certain section as brahmana, certain section as ksatriya, certain section as vaisya. In that education we don't discriminate because he's coming of a sudra family. Take education. Be qualified.

Hari-Sauri: But in our community as it is, we are training up as Vaisnavas...

Prabhupada: Vaisnava is not so easy. The varnasrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaisnava. It is not so easy to become Vaisnava.

Hari-Sauri: No, it's not a cheap thing.

Prabhupada: Yes. Vaisnava, to become Vaisnava, is not so easy. If to become Vaisnava is so easy, why so many fall down? It is not easy.

Hari-Sauri: Varnasrama system is beneficial. Where will we introduce the varnasrama system, then?

Prabhupada: In our society, amongst our members.

Hari-Sauri: But then if everybody's being raised to the brahminical platform...

Prabhupada: Not everybody. Why you are misunderstanding? Varnasrama, not everybody should become brahmana.

Hari-Sauri: No, but in our society practically everyone is being raised to that platform. So then one might ask what is...

Prabhupada: Everybody is being raised, but they're falling down.

Hari-Sauri: So then we should make it more difficult to get brahminical initiation. After four or five years.

Prabhupada: Not necessary. You remain as a ksatriya. You'll be happy.

Hari-Sauri: No need for even any brahmana initiation, then...

Prabhupada: No, no.

Hari-Sauri: Unless one is particularly inclined.

Prabhupada: Not that a Sudra man is by force become a brahmana. You cannot improve. That is not possible. But even if he remains a sudra and does accordingly, he will get the same position as devotee. Sva-karmana tam abhyarcya sam... He'll get the perfection. At the present moment the idea is: if one remains a sudra, then he cannot get perfection. No. Even a sudra can get perfection provided he does the work of a sudra perfectly.

Hari-Sauri: For Krsna.

Prabhupada: Therefore why a sudra artificially should be a brahmana? Let him remain a sudra, and if he follows strictly the rules and regulation of sudra, he'll also be as good as a brahmana. The same example: Just like head is as important as my leg. It is not that because it is leg, it is less important than my head. And if you ask the head, "Do the work of a leg," it is impossible. And if you ask the leg to work as a brain, that is impossible. Let him remain brain, let him remain leg, and do your duty and you become perfect.

Satsvarupa: Today you've been saying that the Vaisnava is the highest, above the brahmana. But then we've also understood that everyone in ISKCON is a Vaisnava.

Prabhupada: Yes. Vaisnava everyone, even if he's not brahmana. Jivera svarupa haya nitya-krsna-dasa. But you have to gradually bring him to th at pure consciousness that "I am servant of Krsna." Here the bodily conception is going on, "I am American," "I am Indian," "I am this," "I am that."

Satsvarupa: If in our society we say, "Srila Prabhupada wants some to be sudra..."

Prabhupada: No, no, no. I don't want. I want everyone to become Vaisnava. But because he's a sudra, it is not possible to bring him immediately to the platform of brahmana, or Vaisnava. Therefore falling down. Therefore the system must be present. But even if he remains a sudra, he's a Vaisnava.

Hari-Sauri: So we'd have to completely revise the whole system that we have now.

Prabhupada: No. Whatever we have, that is all right. But we see by experience that they're falling down. Why falling down? Because he was not fit for the position, therefore he has fallen. Better remain in his position and become perfect. Why artificially bring them? There is no need. Krsna says. Bring that Bhagavad-gita. Sve sve karmany abhiratah?

Hari-Sauri: sve sve karmany ab hiratah samsiddhim labhate narah sva-karma-niratah siddhim yatha vindati tac chrnu By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done."

Prabhupada: Yes. He is sudra, clerk. As a sudra, he can get the perfection. Why he should artificially become a brahmana and sannyasi and fall down? This has to be checked.

Hari-Sauri: So in Mayapura here now we have that situation, that so many...

Prabhupada: Everywhere, wherever, Mayapura or anywhere. Question is that here it is clearly said, sve sve karmany abhiratah. Brahmana has his duty, ksatriya has his duty, vaisya has his duty, sudra has his duty. And if he performs his duty nicely, then he also becomes perfect. So why artificially he should be called a brahmana? Let them do, according to sastra, the work of sudra, or vaisya. He'll become perfect. Perfection is not checked. But why artificially he should be made a brahmana or he should be made a sannyasi and fall down and b ecome a ludicrous? That is the point. Better let him live in his position and become perfect. That's good. That looks very nice. And that is possible. That is possible. Lord Visnu can be worshiped if you perfectly follow the rules and regulation of four varnas and four asramas. Here it is also said, sve sve karmani. You work as a perfect brahmana or a perfect ksatriya, perfect sudra; you get perfection. The perfection is available in your natural life. Why should artificially you become unnatural and fall down and become ludicrous?

Hari-Sauri: At this time should we try to introduce it in our centers or not?

Prabhupada: Always we shall try. Human society will be always there. We have to serve them, para-upakara. We have to keep them in the right position.

Hari-Sauri: I just remember two or three years ago there was a thing... A pamphlet came out about introducing the varnasrama system in the society, but actually nothing came of it.

Prabhupada: Yes. That time was not right. Now yo u can do something. Every business is important. Brahmana business is important, ksatriya... Just like the body. Head is important; the arm is important; the belly is important. They must be kept in order. Just like I am in trouble because my belly is not working. Digesting power is not good. So in spite of brain, hand, and leg, I am diseased. If any part of the society remains diseased, the whole society will suffer. Therefore they must be maintained in correct order. You cannot say if there is some trouble in the leg, "Neglect the leg. Take care of the brain." No. Brain will be taxed due to the pain in the leg. This is nature. Therefore everyone should be kept in order. Then things will go on. That is varnasrama.

Hari-Sauri: So at least if we successfully introduce the varnasrama system in our own society, then when all the demons finish themselves...

Prabhupada: At least... At least... At least they will see, "This is the ideal." Ideal. We are giving the ideal. We are not going to be a sudra. But to show ... Just like you play in a drama. You are playing the part of a king. You are not a king.

Hari-Sauri: No.

Prabhupada: So similarly, just to give them idea, we have to play like that.

Hari-Sauri: Well, again, that's...

Prabhupada: Not necessarily that we are going to be sudra. So that is it. That is the thing. We are servant of Krsna. That's all. And as servant of Krsna, we have to execute the order of Krsna.

Satsvarupa: So we can ideally organize ourselves and then for the rest of the people all we can do is hope that they'll follow it.

Prabhupada: Yes. In order to serve the mass of people, to bring them to the ideal position, we should try to introduce this varnasrama, not that we are going to be candidates of varnasrama. It is not our business. But to teach them how the world will be in peaceful position we have to introduce.

So here we see Prabhupada telling us that now we should attempt to arrange the varnashram, yet almost 30 years later it has been a failure.

Prabhupada was making the point in the above that there is a difference between standards of brahman behavior and the rest and if we try to artifically impose the brhaman standard on the rest it will be a cause of falldown leading to stigmatizing and leaving and inhibiting more people from contributing.

So first off this is a major problem that needs to be dealt with in Iskcon by the leadership, You cannot continue to demand submission to the 4 regs and no "sense gratification" and it's resulting stigmatizing effect.

This is like telling people that they are joining the spiritual world on earth in Iskcon, while speaking boldly about vedic culture as the paradigm of tolerant peacefull and open hearted culture that Iskcon is bringing to the world they then see the reality of treating them like they are supposed to live life like mendicants or be objects of ridicule,stigmatizing,banishment and loss of home and wealth and worse.

As Prabhupada pointed out it will not work, in fact it not only fails but it creates the revolving door policy and seeking for association in other groups who do not demand or stigmatize.

This self defeating style of management is encourgaged by the myth that this is what Prabhupada wanted, as we can read above he was against this kind of institutionalized forced brahminical behavior, He makes it clear that the attitude he created was temporary and that the time had come to change.

Varnashrama communites is the next step, it can create jobs and wealth and attract and keep people from leaving, it will keep Iskcon from being the stagnant revolving door it has been for the last few decades, the fear that many in Iskcon upper management have is of the other organizations competing for followers and draining the ones they have away, they try and spin the problem as being a theological one based on subtle differences within the teachings of the acharyas within each institution. The real problem is not other acharyas they are the symptom not the disease, the real problem is of a narrow approach of what is tolerable and who is qualified to serve within the Iskcon community.

As long as the current mode of the enforcement of standards of personal "morality" and quantity of sadhana performed in order to qualify someone to be an acceptable member of the community and able to contribute and work for Iskcon remains the same, then Srila Prabhupadas stated vision in the above talk will not be realized, why shoot yourself in the foot if you need to run a race ?

Vedic culture is what Prabhupada wanted as the next phase of Iskcon, he wanted real vedic culture as opposed to the current temple lifestyle, real vedic culture is not oppressive or stigmatizing the way Iskcon tends to be resulting in the continuing revolving door.