By Çréman Sämba Däsa
Human behaviour is moulded by the ‘social norms’ that are prevalent in society. As modern man progresses along his increasingly hedonistic path, positive social norms can be seen to be degrading at an alarming rate. Criminal activity and general disrespect are growing to take their place in a modern display of ‘neo-tribal bravado’. Social norms are not something that can be easily adjusted. They are subtly inculcated in us from birth as we observe and are impacted by the behaviour of those around us. This explains why it can be difficult for people to understand cultures that are different from their own.
In the Vedic culture the brahminical class of men used to teach for free. Recognising this selfless service the people in the community would happily provide them with all life’s necessities, over and above their personal needs. Today, if it is heard that someone is giving something for nothing, the tendency is to take as much as we can and give nothing in return — why not, we think, after all it’s free!!!
Since the inception of ISKCON, western devotees have struggled with the concept of the ideal Vedic personality. Husbands would sometimes accuse wives of failing in this regard (or vice versa) resulting in many giving up the whole concept of Vedic life as an unrealisable dream. Can we expect people who have been raised in selfish materially driven cultures to be able to overturn their inbuilt unconscious attitudes in a few short years? Indeed we have seen that for some it is almost impossible.
Çréla Prabhupäda recognised this difficulty in his disciples after some time and being fully aware of the solution he methodically introduced the concept of daivé-varëäçrama dharma. The gurukula system was introduced and gradually he encouraged devotees to live simply on the land. In this way he began to develop an alternative culture with non commercial agricultural production as its economic base. He envisioned that if a few devotees could develop an ‘ideal unit’ of society gradually a new class of people would emerge for whom such a life would be second nature. The most natural setting for this to occur would be a village. This was something he had envisioned as early as 1949 with his Gétä-nagaré village concept.
Çréla Prabhupäda’s desire to implement varëäçrama is a further example of his exemplary dedication to his gurus’ order. Çréla Bhaktisiddänta Sarasvaté Goswämé Mahäräja, inspired by the teachings of his father, Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura, recognised that daivé-varëäçrama was the solution to the troubles of this modern age. This was demonstrated by his acceptance of the sannyäsa order, and his ongoing preaching in this regard.
If one carefully studies the footage taken of Çréla Prabhupäda recording his final Bhägavatam purports with those last breaths, one will observe the great care he took to choose each and every word. In that footage he instructed us of the dangers that lurk in the modes of passion and ignorance and implored us, more than once, to come to the mode of goodness by taking advantage of devotee association. He said: “Therefore varëäçrama dharma is so essential that people live in sattva-guëa.” The development of varëäçrama in our society would provide honest and spiritually conducive livelihoods that would allow devotees to constantly associate with each other and as a result lead to the ongoing cultivation of spiritual understanding on a daily basis. It is the best possible arrangement for progressive re-spiritualization of society in the present age.
Somehow there is not much awareness today of the need to continue this development of varëäçrama dharma under Çréla Prabhupäda’s order. There are a few persons who are making an attempt, such as His Holiness Bhakti Räghava Swami who has authored this book and inspired more than one fledgling community; His Holiness Bhakti Vidyä Pürëa Swami who has lectured extensively on the subject; His Grace Tejiyas Däsa who is a major contributor to the cause, along with a handful of others in our ISKCON world who are busy trying to do something to fulfil this much neglected order. The day is still young and there is much left to do.
*** Sämba Däsa joined ISKCON in London in 1976 at age sixteen. He worked to develop ISKCON farms, temples and restaurants in Ireland in the 80’s. He was involved with the Master plan development for Çré Mäyäpur Project in the 90’s and was later involved in developing a couple of small community projects in Mauritius and Spain. He now lives in Çrédhäma Mäyäpur with his wife Çacé-devé and their twelve-year old son Sudämä, engaged in editing, writing and researching.
ISKCON’s Four Movements
Çréla Prabhupäda’s vision for spreading the Saìkértana Mission of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu encompassed four principles, or four waves, which he coined as the “four-fold Gandhi movements” in his 1949 letter to the Honorable Sardar Dr. Vallavbhajee Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister to the Government of India in New Delhi. These same “four-fold Gandhi movements” were then again referred to in Çréla Prabhupäda’s “Essay on Gétä-nagaré” which appeared in the Back to Godhead magazine seven years later in 1956. Finally, if one closely looks at how Çréla Prabhupäda developed his International Society for Kåñëa Consciousness (ISKCON) established ten years later in 1966, these same four principles were introduced during the following eleven years of Çréla Prabhupäda’s physical presence.
Excerpts of the original texts that appeared in both the 1949 letter and in the Essay on Gétä-nagaré in 1956 are reprinted here below for easy reference.