This is rather radical – Krishna has already created the varnashrama, why do we have to go and reinvent it again? Certainly the modern society doesn’t look anything like varnashrama of the vedic times but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Perhaps we assume that when Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita 4.13 that he created varnashrama he meant the idyllic agriculture based society and nothing else. When I read our literature produced on the subject I see that none of what I personally think is revolutionary, but somehow everyone ends up with advocating the vedic version and discards everything else. I’m sure it’s because that was what Srila Prabhupada wanted – small scale, oxen-driven farming and all that follows. Impossible to argue with this but it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that at this time it’s hardly helping anybody, too.
Sure, in the future, when the world around us implodes under environmental and industrial pressure those farms will come very very handy and might actually form the basis of the ten thousand years of Golden Age in the middle of Kali Yuga but that is surely some decades away at the very least and not many people will live long enough to see it.
For now, however, it’s main importance is in preparing for that glorious future, not for the benefit of the seven billion people currently munching away at our planet with ever increasing speed. Maybe they can’t be saved and should be chalked up as losses – they have the books, they’ve heard of Hare Krishnas, they had been given a chance, too bad they didn’t take it. Still a bit cruel though, if you ask me, they need to be saved, too, and now.
So my starting point is that “proper” varnashrama at this point is useless, we need a different approach. First of all, the divisions of society in varnas and ashramas as created by Krishna exists at all times, we just need to see it better. The thinkers, the rulers and protectors, and business people and the servants are all there, they haven’t gone away. It is all mixed and degraded but it’s not like things were absolutely perfect before either. There always have been brahmanas making money of their trade and there always have been kshatriyas abusing their power, just not to the same degree.
Maybe we should pay more attention to the guna-karma part of the verse – “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them…” One meaning of this is that varsnashrama manifests according to the prevailing modes of the material nature, it’s just the symptom, we can’t treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause and we can’t change varnashrama according to our own will. If the codes of nature dictate an industry and service based society than there’s nothing we can do about that. Small scale farming will not reappear on its own, without underlying increase in the mode of goodness and that is not going to happen anytime soon.
I even suspect it’s not going to happen in Kali Yuga at all, it’s not the right age for increase in goodness. The Golden Age predicted due to the appearance of Lord Chaitanya might not come as a result of sudden increase of mode of goodness but rather as a result of people propagating His sankirtana movement that is transcendental to all the gunas, remember?
What we need to do is to add Krishna consciousness to whatever ugly and dysfunctional system is already there, not invent something entirely alien to the prevailing conditions.
At the present moment the world is controlled by the asuras, all the old vestiges of demigod power are being systematically dismantled and purged from the public consciousness. We don’t rely on gods to provide us with anything anymore, it’s all about realizing human potential and man made progress. Churches and religion in general are anachronisms and most of it was overrun but asuric attitudes already. We don’t pray for daily bread, we work for it, and we don’t rely on mystic powers, like Sanjaya of the Bhagavad Gita, to connect to the rest of the world. Our achievement in replicating vedic miracles might still be crude but we are getting there.
We have also successfully dismantled the institution of monarchy, our last physical connection to the Indra’s hierarchy. A few years ago I spent considerable time trying to defend the monarchy system of government but it’s just going against the grain, in principle it is always superior to anything else but at this point in time it just fails. Perhaps the reason is not deterioration in the quality of the present day monarchs but in Indra slacking off himself, his power just doesn’t trickle down in sufficient quantity even to those who try very hard.
Also, from the first days of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the west Krishna was the star attraction among the asuric beings – hippies, not among the church goers, and it hasn’t changed much since. ISKCON attracts people disillusioned with the old style, demigod based religions, and we are not putting those people back on track either, in fact we most brazenly ignore demigods existence, we jump over their heads and approach Krishna directly.
Our greatest enemies seem to be the ones coming from the entrenched religious traditions, from Christian anti-cultists to intolerable Islamic societies to caste Hindu brahmanas to Gaudiya gosai families to Radha Kund babajies.
We are, indeed, asuric rebels. It’s not that we don’t see the value of demigod tradition, we want to restore it ourselves, but we rebel against deterioration and trying to pass rotten tomatoes as the ripe fruit of vedic wisdom. We wouldn’t have the problem with aforementioned people if they actually did what they are supposed to do, we have a problem with their pretending to be holier than they really are, and in this regard the world is on our side, everybody and his dog is fed up with hypocrisy that is passed for religion nowadays.
Considering all this, why do we have to reject the existing, however perverted, varnashrama and try to force what our allies have developed natural aversion to? Why don’t we focus on undermining the current asuric varnashrama from within? Asuras can be devotees, too. Maybe in the next lives they get to be born as demigods as a reward but if that’s what it’s going to take then so be it. Do Prahlada Maharaj or Bali Maharah need to be reborn as demigods? I don’t think so but maybe we do, or maybe we are going to establish a new branch of asuras – deeply devoted to Krishna but dismissive of the demigods.
Maybe we should decouple ISKCON from “varnasrhama” altogether, it has been going on from the very beginning anyway – our sannyasis are nothing like traditional sannyasis, for example. Lord Chaitanya might have pulled it off but our sannyasis will never ever stand a chance of getting initiation in Shankara order. Their behavior and expectations are completely different, Shankarites want to renounce the world, ours want to embrace it and turn it to Krishna’s service.
In the last century it was all about printing books and flying around the world to meet preaching requirements, a big no no for “varnashrama” sannyasis, now we have television, movies and the internet, we just don’t have an acharya to show us how to best utilize those and if someone turns up we’ll embrace modern technology whole heartedly, just like we embrace selling books now.
So, what I mean by decoupling from varnashrama is to give up trying to live up to traditional expectations of what our sannyasis and brahmanas are supposed to do. In the outer world they might be doing the duties of kshatriays, vaishyas, shudras, and even brahmacharies and grihasthas but for us the only thing that matters is their dedication to service and detachment from the outer world. Obviously we are not going to give sannyasa to people living with their wives but if they engage in sexual relationships only for the procreation than they are as good as sannyasis anyway, we know that, we just can’t put sannyasi label on them.
Of course maintaining purity while operating in the material world full time is not an easy task and perhaps only few souls of the caliber of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada can manage it successfully but it doesn’t mean that we should stop trying and do something else. That won’t be following their footsteps, would it?
If we are born in an asuric society and are given asuric duties to perform why should we try to evade those in favor of some artificial constructions like ISKCON run farms? We should provide all help to those devotees who have natural affinity for farm life but we shouldn’t force it on those who don’t, meaning we shouldn’t point at our farms as the best thing people ever going to achieve if they join up. That’s just a turn off for billions of people who might be otherwise interested in offering selfless service to God. Hardly anyone can offer truly selfless service anyway, we are all conditioned by our birth.
We might also reconsider the gender roles in our society. In this day the physical appearance and the actual body functions do not always match. Sure, men can’t make babies but beyond that the bodies are pretty much interchangeable and the trend to unisex is undeniable and possibly irreversible. We might think twice before telling our women what to do because we know what women did in the past, what they are capable of now is dictated not by the demigod set examples of yore but by what they do on the asuric planets, which might as well be fighting, leading and decision making. We don’t know what modern day females are best suited for, we should carefully study them first. That’s an innate paternalist in me speaking.
Now we are still in the transitional period from traditional suric or future asuric societies so we have a mix of both in every individual and therefore it’s twice as difficult to manage them but it’s the skill we need to acquire. Actually the skill is in figuring out how to engage them in Krishna’s service as they already exist rather than in changing their nature. That change will happen on its own and it might not turn out as we normally expect – a replica of a genuine vedic society, but as long as it’s pleasing to Krishna and everyone is happy it will be as good as any Golden Age before.