I wish I was but I am not. The other day, when I was reading Varnashrama piece on Dandavats, I got distracted by all the little things I thought were not up to my high standards and I missed the big picture – is varnashrama really necessary?
Not in this age, it’s impossible in Kali yuga, there are no brahmanas or kshatriyas or even vaishyas, everybody is born shudra and that’s already giving modern people too much credit. At some point Srila Prabhupada was pretty clear about this – it’s impossible to reinstitute varnashrama in the present ugra-karmic society. The reason is obvious, if you look at how our society is organized now, it simply doesn’t have space for cow protection or agriculture based life, or any kind of sustainable development.
Long time ago one little factoid got stuck in my memory – the US, with the 4% of world population, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. The numbers have probably changed in the past decade due to the rise of China and the growth in the developing world but this was the starting point for the current dynamics. Everybody wants to have a good life like in America but the numbers will never balance – they live well by taking stuff from others, the others do not have anybody to take stuff from, it’s a Ponzy pyramid in a closed system, it will never work.
Convincing Chinese not to live like Americans is impossible, too. If they had some sort of religion to reason with them it would have been easier but they don’t, they put all their faith in greed and vanity, it is only a matter of time before the whole thing crashes like a house of cards.
So, there’s no place for varnashrama in the modern world, it is filled with factories and stock exchanges instead and it’s not going to give up its pursuits voluntarily.
At other times, however, Srila Prabhupada wanted varnashrama badly enough for some people to argue that he said his work only fifty percent done, that the other fifty percent was meant to be building a perfect society. That maybe so, turns out that there was discussion on Dandavats back in August when only a part of the varnashrama conversation was posted and some have raised doubts whether Prabhupada actually meant that, but one thing is certain – he wanted varnashrama at least in a limited form. Some say it was supposed to be example communities to show the world that there are alternative ways of living, some think he had much grander plans.
Here we run into a little problem – did Prabhupada actually have any concrete plans? If he did it means our job is only to understand and implement them properly, if he didn’t then our jobs are much less clearly defined. Is it correct for us to assume that Prabhupada had absolute vision of the material world, absolute knowledge of the past, present and future or was he poking in the dark and throwing things at the wall, hoping some would stick?
Personally, I don’t think he knew it all, I think Krishna revealed him only what was necessary, sort of on the “need to know” basis. I believe we don’t need to know everything in order to serve Krishna with love and devotion, if we assume that love and devotion means having full knowledge of the workings of the material world than our motives are clearly wrong.
Or look at it this way – when Prabhupada was composing his famous poems on the board of Jaladuta he openly admitted that he had no idea what was going to happen yet now we assume that a few years later he suddenly became an all knowing oracle with perfect knowledge and complete plans. Look at his attitude to marriages, too. At first he tried to match people up the “vedic” way but two years later he was buried under the mountain of complaints and marital problems that everybody dumped on him, thinking that “His Divine Grace” was meant to magically fix this kind of things. it wasn’t and he washed his hands off the whole idea.
Therefore I’m not convinced that Prabhupada’s last thoughts on varnashrama development are our final blueprints, he would have no problem changing them if he had more time and more feedback. He was just trying to find out Lord Chaitanya’s plans for spreading His mission and he wasn’t attached to any discoveries he made on the way. Some of them worked, like book distribution, others were not so successful, like trying to convince the academia to abandon their materialism.
We sometimes assume that Prabhupada had magical ability to succeed in absolutely every endeavor but that is just not true. He succeeded in endearing himself to Krishna, that was his goal, but when we think of success we assume it’s numbers of published books or opened temples.
I once heard that an average millionaire has to live through eighteen failures before he strikes big and Prabhupada’s life was not an exception to this principle. He tried to establish a League of Devotees, he tried publishing Back to Godhead, he worked very hard and for no rewards for a very long time before he finally succeeded with ISKCON.
Anyway, my point is that we shouldn’t be dogmatically fixated on what he said or didn’t say about varnashrama some fifty years ago, we should rather concentrate on how to make varnashrama helpful in raising our Krishna consciousness. We shouldn’t be attached to stubbornly pushing for farming communities, goshalas and gurukulas. Those things are nice but they are not for everyone, they might not work out very well in the long term even for those who live there.
There are also all kinds of Amish and other cult communities trying to do exactly the same thing – build isolated bubbles to protect themselves from the influence of Kali yuga, even if they don’t use the same terms. The fact is, they are not taking the world by storm, this is not how the majority of people want to live at this point. Maybe a hundred years later it will be all the rage and so we shouldn’t give it up but the rest of the world clearly needs something else now.
I don’t know what exactly the world needs, apart from more Krishna consciousness, there are people who dig up some old books and present different models of varshnashrama in hope of finding the correct recipe. I don’t think it will work either. Neither vedic sages nor Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote their models for application in our 21-st century. The principles are the same, the goals are the same but the application must be totally different. We should find how varnashrama principles could fit with nine to five jobs, for example.
Traditionally, seeking employment like that would have been the domain of the shudras, no brahmana, kshatriya or vaishya would have accepted it but I wonder if the same criteria could still be applied today. And who should we call brahmanas? We have plenty of definitions but translating them into 21-st century language is a bit problematic. Traditionally brahmanas lived only on donations and it wasn’t difficult but soliciting donations now is a big business that is kind of hard to break into. It’s all done on corporate levels where you have to sell your charitable causes and I have no idea what any of that has to do with brahmanism as implied by varnashrama. Teachers are supposed to be brahmanas and there are great many of them who would generally qualify but they all live on salaries nowadays.
Anyway, I don’t know what the world needs exactly, I know what I need – I need protection from maya. I need to be given some tasks that would absorb by time and energy and bring some sort of spiritual benefit to the world. I don’t think I can take responsibility for my own life in this regard, so I am a shudra seeking protection.
Actually I am not, I’m too proud to follow orders, even if I were put in a perfect position for a shudra I would not be happy, I have an inclination to think that I know everything better than anybody else. I would not be happy in a brahmana position either as I don’t trust the donations rule.
Actually I am a mleccha seeking position in a system that I don’t belong. Well, maybe I’m seeking a system that would suit me and I think I am not alone here. Perhaps I want all those people trying to implement varnashrama to pause and think whether they should build high walled farming communities or find solutions that would work for the majority of the population.
Bottom line – I want to have means of livelihood that would make it easier for me to think of Krishna. I suspect I find myself in my current unemployed state precisely because my last job sucked in that regard. Well, at least Krishna is doing something about it, I will just try not to undermine his efforts.