Vedic injunctions are cast in stone but that stone was formed millions of years ago. These days nothing works. Even Hari-Bhakti-Vilāsa composed only five hundred years ago is absolutely useless. Yes, we can follow some rules in deity service and in personal hygiene but that’s about it.
Even hygiene and cleanliness rules can’t be applied anymore. Ever since invention of soap, shampoo, and toothpaste it’s unthinkable not to use them. Ditto for modern toilets.
It was not possible to follow Hari-Bhakti-Vilāsa even in India a hundred years ago when Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarswatī started a new Gaudīyā Maṭha movement. More than that, new rules had to be invented that were not in Hari-Bhakit-Vilāsa at all, like orange robes for brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs. The songs we sing during our arāti ceremonies did not even exist in Lord Caitanya times, they are all new.
We speak of tradition but our traditions are not even hundred years old, even if we consider our differences with Gaudīyā Maṭha practices insignificant.
What does it mean? It means that this kind of traditions is unimportant. We don’t compromise on our philosophy and that’s the only thing that matters. Everything else changes with times. It must, or we will die out.
Now the problem – our social behavior. It’s not in Hari-Bhakti-Vilāsa, it’s not in Gaudīyā Maṭha rulebook, it’s not even in our own books by Śrīla Prabhupāda. We say we want varṇāśrama but we are left to invent it ourselves. We can’t seriously take it from laws of Manu. Principles – yes, practical implementation – not unless we are out of our minds.
I mean we can quickly describe how ideal varṇāśrama should work in an ideal Vedic society but that’s not the world we live in.
Our brāhmaṇas will never be up to Vedic standards. Not in cleanliness, not in internal purity, not in power. Our kṣatriyas cannot act like Vedic ones because that would be against the law. Our vayśyas have the best shot but real cow dependent economy remains elusive, we are too plugged in into the modern civilization to pull it off, not to mention that it’s not very conducive to preaching, which should always take priority over farming.
We can all easily become śūdras becauseeveryone is born this way in Kali Yuga but serving modern masters will not bring us any spiritual benefits whatsoever, so that’s not a solution either.
Situation with our āśramas is not any better. We don’t have enough gurukulas to raise proper brahmacārīs and the ones we have are forced to comply with standards of secular education anyway. Our gṛhasthas are a disaster. We have not a clue what our vānaprsthas should look like. Should they live in forests, as the name implies? We have okay sannyāsīs but sannyāsa is prohibited in Kali Yuga so as a social order it shouldn’t even exist. Ours are perfect for preaching, that’s their single purpose.
When we talk about things we should do or things we should change we tend to take only one small issue and make it big, forgetting that in varṇāśrama all the parts must perfectly fit together. One isolated success will not change anything. I’m not sure about this point, though – we tend to think that to build varṇāśrama we need to start somewhere and then grow it slowly, step by step.
I think that it won’t work – perfect brāhmaṇas won’t survive without vaiśyas support, for example. They simply won’t. And vaiśyas won’t support brāhmaṇas unless they see them as perfect, or at least worthy giving them money, or unless kṣatriyas force them to. Kṣatriyas, in their turn, won’t survive without taxing vaiṣyas but no one would ever allow that legally. It’s a catch 22.
Maybe if we had proper vaiṣyas first it would be enough to build the rest of the system. That’s why I’m all for building farms but somehow or other it’s just not happening, not on the scale to influence the rest of our society. Prioritizing anything else in this area seems like a waste of time.
Socially, we are all of gṛhastha age and so that’s what we endlessly talk about. Role of the women, duties of men. Can women do this? Should women do that? Can we do these jobs? Can we enjoy our senses that way?
Gṛhasthas are obviously important as they support the rest of the society but that’s not our motivation, is it? We talk about their problems because of our conditioning, because it’s OUR problems, not for their hypothetical value in a hypothetical world. Example – female guru. Should not even come up, never was an issue in Vedic times, yet it demanded our attention for a long time and it’s not over yet.
Another such issue is divorce. There was no such thing in Vedic times, there are no varṇāśrama rules to regulate it, but it’s everywhere and practically everyone confronts it at some point in their lives. It’s obviously important for us but it’s also only a symptom of the underlying problem – we don’t live in ideal times where ideal Vedic rules would apply.
There’d be no divorce if we didn’t live in the wider society. There’d be no divorce if we had proper brahmacārī training (including whatever it is they do with girls). There’d be significantly fewer divorces if we all lived on farms and had all our needs taken care of.
Instead we have two parents working, assuming they become parents at all, because children is such a big commitment that many want to postpone having them until their lives are steadier.
Working wife, btw, is completely against Vedic institute of marriage. It’s as unheard of as divorce itself. It’s unthinkable that a wife would dress up nicely in the morning, go outside on her own and try to impress her bosses or clients. It’s prostitution.
She can only decorate herself for the pleasure of her husband, not for any other man, and if husband is not around, ie if she is at work, she should wear no make up at all and wear very simple, spartan clothes. The fact that she becomes financially independent doesn’t help marriage either.
We KNOW all those things, we know they are right, but we can’t avoid them because that’s how modern society functions. If we try to do it our own, Vedic way we run into a miryad unsolvable issues. Kids can’t be had without income, income can’t be had without work, and no one gets paid to support their families anymore. Two incomes is an absolute requirement.
What can we do? Adapt with times, obviously. Maintain principles but twist external rules in any way we can until they work. I’m afraid blindly sticking to ideal varṇāśrama is not going to work, not for all.
It won’t work nless we seriously start moving to farms, which we shouldn’t because then no one will be left to preach.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think. If we need wholesome, systemic approach it’s not on the cards yet. Our leadership is not yet ready to think on that scale even if they want to, and even if they realize the need there’s little they can actually do because ISKCON is too big to be dramatically altered.
That’s why we don’t seem to make any progress in these areas and that’s why it’s going to stay this way for the foreseeable future. It’s just the fact of life. What should we do in the meantime? Umm, the same things we do everyday minus delusional belief that our problems, opinions and solutions matter, that they are important. For one thing, it would lead to less life-sucking infighting. It would also prepare us to expand our horizons and look at the bigger picture. Then we can start talking again