Life Comes from Life
Varnasrama Comes from Agriculture
The latest bromide on developing varnasrama has turned to the establishment of gurukula and stri-dharma, as foundational principles. But some wonder if these institutions deserve such a prominent role in developing varnashrama.
A Krishna-conscious community has many facets and no one wants to denigrate the importance of gurukula training, nor the vital role of women in society; however, Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that the development of varnasrama -- via the Varnashrama College -- commences upon the completion of gurukula. So, mustn’t there be something more to developing varnasrama which is beyond children’s education?
“Prabhupāda: Gurukula is only for the small children. Preliminary, primary. And when the children are grown up, they should be sent to the varṇāśrama school or college for further developed training...”
“…Hṛdayānanda: Is there a minimum age for beginning such a college?
Prabhupāda: Yes. Ten to twelve years.
Hṛdayānanda: They can start at ten to twelve?
Prabhupāda: Yes. From five to ten years, gurukula. And after ten years, they should go to the varṇāśrama college.” (March 14, 1974, Vrindavana)
Undeniably, training our youngsters is imperative for their spiritual and material growth, including their eventual participation in Daivi-varnasrama; however, the actual specialization of the social structure begins at a post-gurukula level and must encompass the teaching of practical skills.
Srila Prabhupada highlights that the college must provide education of the varnas, even as a higher priority to ashrama:
“Hṛdayānanda: ...So in this varṇāśrama college there would be two divisions, varṇa and āśr... Learning a materia...
Prabhupāda: First of all varṇa. And āśrama, then, when the varṇa is perfectly in order, then āśrama. Āśrama is specially meant for spiritual advancement, and varṇa is general division. It must be there in the human society, or they're only animals. If varṇa is not there, then this is a society of animal. And when the varṇa is working perfectly, then we give them āśrama. Varṇāśrama. That is later on.
Hṛdayānanda: First they should be taught a skill.
Prabhupāda: Yes. The first of all, the whole society must be divided into four varṇas. Otherwise, there will be chaotic condition. That is what is the position now. What is he, what he has to do, one does not know. And there are so many unemployment. But if you organize the society into varṇas, there will be no question of unemployment.”
(Morning Walk, "Varṇāśrama College" – March 14, 1974, Vṛndāvana)
The teaching of varnic skills has proven problematic to the movement’s social development, as our brahminical contingent has historically, and needfully, focused on preaching and philosophy. However, to embrace the fullness of Srila Prabhupada’s vision, the brahminical ethos must expand.
“Prabhupāda: Yes. Brāhmaṇa means intelligent, brain. So in intelligent brain one can learn anything and teach anything… (Morning Walk, "Varṇāśrama College" – March 14, 1974, Vṛndāvana)
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to tackle new challenges by those within the brahminical rank. The test is to transform the philosophical into a practical recourse, as a means of establishing a collateral lifestyle.
Notably, Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that vaisya activity must be soil-based:
“Our philosophy is that you produce your food anywhere. You stay, and keep cows, take milk, produce vegetable, food grains, and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. That's all. This is our philosophy. Make your life successful. By becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious, you become free from all these troubles of material condition…” (Morning Walk at Villa Borghese – May 25, 1974, Rome)
“Business means if you have got extra grains or extra foodstuff, you can sell where there is necessity, there is want. That is business. We are not going to open mills and factories and... No. We are not going to do that. That is śūdra business.… (Morning Walk, "Varṇāśrama College" – March 14, 1974, Vṛndāvana)
As such, Srila Prabhupada makes it clear that our society is to be agrarian-based and produce one’s own food. Otherwise, the requirement of the vaisya varna cannot be satisfied, and without an active Vaisya component, varnasrama falls flat on its face. It must be understood that the vaisya component is the engine of society, devotional or not.
Only an agrarian environment provides the necessary resources for the growth of all varnas. Wholesale dependence on purchasing food from the market, must not be considered an element of an autonomous Vedic society.
As well, rural communities provide important benefits unfound in an urban setting. “Agriculture and cow protection are the way to become sinless and thus be attracted to devotional service. Those who are sinful cannot be attracted by devotional service.” (SB 8.6.12, purport)
“Agriculture is the noblest profession. It makes society happy, wealthy, healthy, honest, and spiritually advanced for a better life after death.” (LoB verse 9)
Any suggestion promoting Vaisya activity in an urban ecosystem, lacking a connection to a rural land base, is counter-productive to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions.
Ultimately: “You should remain always sannyāsī within. Outwardly, for others' convenience, you may do something. Similarly, we are accepting this varṇāśrama. We are not varṇāśrama; we are above varṇāśrama. But to give others the facility to come to the stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, this program must be done. (Morning Walk, "Varṇāśrama College" – March 14, 1974, Vṛndāvana)
There is no inconsistency in applying the varnasrama standard to the Iskcon body, rather just the opposite. It provides a necessary component to the complexity of our devotional culture. Such an achievement will provide a level of practicality not yet experienced. This is important because:
“…Our Society will be ideal by practical application.” (Morning Walk – May 27, 1974, Rome)
Implementation must stretch beyond gurukula and stri-dharma due to their limited scope.
DVD will demand a broadening of horizons and to date, the movement’s leadership has proven itself anemic in this regard. However, things can change if a groundbreaking path, best aligned to the instructions of Srila Prabhupada, can be found.
A practical turn must be taken, one which begins with food self-reliance. This is the foundation from which all varnas can sprout. No one can go without food, and as such, it is the logical first step in fulfilling Srila Prabhuapda’s dream of an autonomous, Krishna-conscious society.
The development of varnasrama is a multi-faceted effort and by definition it is all-inclusive. However, locating rurally, with an initial focus on producing food, provides fertile ground encouraging all varnas to grow and integrate to their fullest potential.
“The question may arise that since the practice of varṇāśrama is a dilatory affair, what will one's duty be if a conflict arises with one's devotional practice? The answer is that if one does not maintain and nourish the healthy condition of the body, mind, society, and the pursuit of self-realization, how will it be possible to cultivate the higher endeavor, devotional service? If, abandoning the varṇāśram a institution, one acts independently, then the demands of the body and mind will cause one to become intoxicated with material desire and no sign of devotion will manifest itself.”
(First vṛṣṭi, sixth dhāra.) (Bhaktivinoda Thakura)
Both Srila Prabhupada and Bhaktivinoda Thakura emphasize the importance of varnasrama development as a building block to devotional service. It should not be thought of as being separate from service to the Supreme Lord; but rather, a required step towards the sublime.
And agriculture is the essential starting point. Until this is realized, varnasrama development will prove impossible.