In our movement we have embraced the idea that we should implement varnashrama system so it’s not politically correct to pitch it against preaching, sankirtana, yet we can’t avoid some basic compatibility problems either. Without acknowledging the conflicts we won’t be able to move forward either of two missions successfully, they both have to be dovetailed first.
What is the problem anyway? Well, varnashrama is taken as a way to organize our lives in the material world as perfectly as possible, sankirtana is the way to abandon all that kind of hope and surrender exclusively to Krishna.
A person asking a “varnashrama devotee” would get a lot of very useful advice on how to be happy, the same person asking a “sankirtana devotee” would get a straight away answer – don’t bother, it’s not possible, surrender to Krishna instead.
It’s like joining two completely different movements.
And on this basis it goes on and on – sankirtana devotees being abhorred by varnashrama devotees’ “materialism” and varnashrama devotees practically deride the naivety of “surrender to Krishna” message.
They both have very good points – sankirtana devotees naturally don’t want to sit and listen to how to solve your marital problems and varnashrama devotees can very legitimately say that sankirtana devotees tried preaching renunciation and ended up as being married as anyone else and suffering the very same things varnashrama is supposed to protect them from.
Sankirtana devotees naturally claim being above the rules and demanding special treatment, ie whatever they do does not accrue any karma. Varnashrama devotees can’t help but notice that this doesn’t work as expected.
So, how do we move both missions forward?
First, sankirtana is superior to varnashrama, there are no two opinions about this.
Second, in the spiritual world varnashrama doesn’t cause any problems for sankirtana and vice versa, so the solution is there, in Vaikuntha, but not yet here on Earth.
Right off the bat we should say that any hope that varnashrama is meant to make people happy here is erroneous one. Varnashrama’s goal is to make Krishna happy, not pander to our material senses. It’s not a concession for our enjoyment.
This is a very important point – marriage is not a concession to enjoy sex life, it’s a concession to engage sex life in service of Krishna. If we think even for a moment that now I’m married and I can let my hair down, so to speak, and legitimately partake in some carnal pleasures, then we stop being devotees right away, we become enjoyers.
The fact that for most of us it’s a necessary and unavoidable step doesn’t meant that it can be classified as Krishna’s service.
Same thing with varnashrama – it might be necessary to structure our lives in a certain way so that it’s relatively easy to remember the Lord but that structure should not be used for our enjoyment, if we do that we cease to be devotees.
On sankirtana side – it is true that there are no rules and regulations in the preaching mission and so dedicated sankirtana devotees are above varnashrama but I don’t think it means that the bodies of sankirtana devotees are beyond the laws of material nature.
When karma comes it comes for the bodies, a dedicated sankirtana devotee shouldn’t see it relating to his spiritual position as a servant of his guru and Krishna.
Sankirtana devotees shouldn’t also be proud of their position – that would actually be a sign of failure. They should humbly accept all the criticism and “I told you so”s and feel themselves the most fallen, most unworthy creatures on the face of the planet.
It is very easy to preach when Krishna gives you all the facilities and power to command people but a real sankirtana devotee would never stop trying even when Krishna makes him look worthless and a subject of ridicule. Mercy might come or it might not, our service must be unconditional.
If some devotees talk about varnashrama sankirtana devotees shouldn’t argue with them but rather encourage them to implement this system in order to remember Krishna at all times. If they sense some material desires in others they should not condemn them but rather fill their lives with thoughts of Krishna that would automatically push material desires out.
It’s like one devotee came to see Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji to get blessings for his marriage. “Marriage?”, Srila Gaurakishora pondered, “Oh, very good. This is very good. Daily he can cook an offering for Lord Visnu with his own hands. After he prepares the offering for Lord Visnu’s satisfaction, then he may accept it as maha-prasadam along with his religious wife. Instead of an exploitative mentality he must always consider his wife a servant of Lord Krsna and a representative of his guru. If this is done, then everything will become very auspicious for him.”
Needless to say this is not the mentality we approach our marriages with, maybe for a brief moment in the beginning.
If we do not follow this advice, however, then we have absolutely nothing to be proud of and nothing to teach others about marriage either.
Same with varnashrama – if we don’t do it right, we are not devotees, and to do it right is so difficult, there are so many temptations, that one day we might think that distributing books is actually a breeze. And, in fact, it is.
Sankirtana devotees do not offer people happiness in this world and they have no material happiness of their own to show either, and what’s worse, while remaining in this world they are subjected to all kinds of mistreatment and punishments to make them respect and surrender to the laws of this world, but they should not flinch and they should always value their dedication to the mission of sankirtana far above any material sufferings.
They should think “yes, to stay healthy I should have not done that, and I should have eaten this, and so many other things, but I don’t care if I stay healthy, my only concern is pushing the mission of Lord Chaitanya”. One might say – if you do things right you can serve that mission of yours for far longer, with a healthy body and without stress of being poor and not knowing where your next meal would come from.
To this we can give example of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who had never taken any medicine as a matter of principle, always leaving his personal well being in the hands of Krishna. We are certainly not on that level but we should stick to the same principle – Krishna knows best how to take care of us, if we see His provisions we must accept them as Lord’s prasadam, and if we make mistakes and ignore His provisions He has the power to remind us anyway.
Staying faithful to our mission is more important than staying healthy, we should have firm faith that simply by serving our mission we will achieve all necessary help to move that mission forward, we don’t need to seek help elsewhere and make any separate efforts.
All in all, I think sankirtana devotees are in a better position here because even if they did something wrong, their goal was to exclusively please guru and Krishna and if they get punished for it they see it Krishna’s mercy.
Varnashrama devotees, on the other hand, must find a way to keep their hearts clean while contemplating all the ways varnashrama can be implemented. And how to keep you heart clean? By doing sankirtana.
Sometimes I wonder – why do we even bother with anything else? Maybe we should treat varnashrama the same way as we treat temple programs – they are nice in the morning but then you have to go out and preach, if you don’t preach then all that singing and dancing is a giant waste of life.
Perhaps seeing varnashrama as a tool to keep our temples going is all that sankirtana devotees need to know about it, just as they don’t worry where electricity and gas come from.
Similarly, varnashrama devotees should see their service as supplementary to sankirtana, as having no intrinsic value on its own, just as devotees who are engaged in temple maintenance.
Enough for today already.