by Visakha-priya devi dasi
The sublime philosophy of simultaneous oneness and difference expounded by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the only way to go in the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. We are in the right place at the right time. As Srila Prabhupada explained in his teachings, the cosmic manifestation, which lasts for only one breath of Maha-Visnu, consists of a vast cluster of universes, each one of which is as significant as a mustard seed in a bagful of mustard seeds. The cosmic creation exists as long as Maha-Visnu breathes out, and then, when He breathes in, the light goes off and the show is over. Again He breathes out, and again everything becomes manifest. Again He breathes in, and again everything disappears.
Within each universe are three planetary systems: lower, middle, and upper. Planet Earth is situated in the middle, and as such it undergoes periodical devastations whenever Four Headed Brahma, the secondary creator of our universe, retires for the night. One day of Brahma comprises twelve hours, and his night is of the same duration. But the time scale on his planet is not the same as on planet Earth. One hour of Brahma is worth four million three hundred and twenty thousand solar years. Srila Prabhupada has explained that “Brahma lives one hundred of such ‘years’ and then dies. These ‘hundred years’ by earth calculations total to 311 trillion and 40 billion earth years. By these calculations the life of Brahma seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity it is as brief as a lightning flash.” We are mentioning these facts as a humble reminder that we should not take ourselves and our own opinions too seriously.
In the sixth chapter of The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada writes:
“Srila Rupa Gosvami states that his elder brother (Sanatana Gosvami) has compiled Hari-bhakti-vilasa for the guidance of the Vaisnavas and therein has mentioned many rules and regulations to be followed by the Vaisnavas. Some of them are very important and prominent, and Srila Rupa Gosvami will now mention these very important items for our benefit. The purport of this statement is that Srila Rupa Gosvami proposes to mention only basic principles, not details. For example, a basic principle is that one has to accept a spiritual master. Exactly how one follows the instructions of his spiritual master is considered a detail. For example, if one is following the instruction of his spiritual master and that instruction is different from the instructions of another spiritual master, this is called detailed information. But the basic principle of acceptance of a spiritual master is good everywhere, although the details may be different. Srila Rupa Gosvami does not wish to enter into details here, but wants to place before us only the principles.”
His Grace Srutakirti Prabhu recalls asking Srila Prabhupada how to discriminate between principles and details. After a short pause, Srila Prabhupada replied, “That requires a little intelligence.” In the presentation that follows, we would like to establish, on the basis of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, what the principles are, as opposed to the details, in connection with the role of women in ISKCON. May the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord bless us with the ability to properly discriminate between principles and details for the pleasure of the parampara and the benefit of all concerned.
THE RARE HUMAN FORM
In human society all over the world, there are millions and billions of men and women, and almost all of them are less intelligent because they have very little knowledge of spirit soul. Almost all of them have a wrong conception of life, for they identify themselves with the gross and subtle material bodies, which they are not, in fact. They may be situated in different high and low positions in the estimation of human society, but one should know definitely that unless one inquires about his own self beyond the body and the mind, all his activities in human life are total failures. (SB 2.3.1 p)
The first principle taught by Srila Prabhupada is that we are not the bodies in which we dwell. Rather, we are eternal spirit souls, equal to God in quality—but not in quantity—eternally related to Him in the same way as fiery sparks are related to a bonfire or as molecules of sunshine are related to the sun globe. We cannot, even for one truti (8/13,500 second), be separated from the source of our existence, Sri Krsna. And because we are one with Him in quality, we potentially have—in minute quantity—up to seventy-eight percent of His qualities, which include independence. Being minute, however, our independence is limited to two choices: to serve Krsna or to imitate Krsna. And Krsna, being the loving father that He is, fulfills our desire to imitate Him by dreaming up this whole cosmic situation—the dream of Maha-Visnu. The dream feels real as long as we remain asleep. And we can sleep as long as we want. But because God is not—as Judeo-Christian traditions would have it—an angry God who casts the infidels in hell for eternity after giving them only ONE chance to rectify themselves, He dreams up the cosmic manifestation in such a way that at some point we are bound to realize that it is insubstantial and painful, a complete dead end. And when we reach that conclusion, Krsna sends us His representative to guide us out of our slumber, back to our original position.
So, the most important principle is that we are krsnera nitya dasa, the eternal servants of Krsna, and the only way out of this identification is to opt for the dream of Maha-Visnu. Those of us who have opted for the dream will have to learn the hard way—in this “school of hard knocks” called the material world—that the shadow can never replace the substance.
In a lecture on SB 3.2.21, Srila Prabhupada explained that “… the superior energy is dressed in two ways, as male and female. Because without male and female, there is no enjoyment. Therefore they [the conditioned souls] have been dressed falsely by the material nature as enjoyer. Here, either a woman or a man, everyone is trying to enjoy. Nobody is trying to become enjoyed. Everyone is trying to enjoy. But he cannot. . . . Everyone is she, but someone, some of them, are dressed like he. Because everyone is prakrti. . . . That is called maya. He cannot enjoy, but he is posing himself as enjoyer. That is the disease.
“Falsely, he [is] representing himself as purusa, as enjoyer. Therefore we have got trouble. … If a woman is dressed like a man, does it mean that he’s man, she is man, or she can enjoy like man? No. False dress. Similarly, here, in this material world, we are falsely dressed with this material body and imitating Krsna, enjoyer…. Somebody is dressed like a female, somebody is dressed like a male, but none of them are male. Both of them are originally female, prakrti. Prakrti means feminine gender.”
Srila Prabhupada’s point—that both men and women are female and that bodily identification is maya—is further reinforced in a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.1.64–65) given on September 1, 1975 in Vrindavan: “You do not think that only woman is woman. The man is also woman. Don’t think that the woman is condemned; man is not. Woman means enjoyed, and man means enjoyer. So this feeling, this feeling is condemned. If I see one woman for enjoyment, so I am man. And if woman also sees another man for enjoyment, she is also man. Woman means enjoyed and man means enjoyer. So anyone who has got feeling of enjoyment, he is considered to be man… Therefore he is purusa, artificially. Otherwise, originally, we are all prakrti, jiva, either woman or man. This is outward dress.”
Despite everything else Srila Prabhupada wrote or said about women according to time, place, and circumstances, it is clear from the abovementioned quotes that in essence, the whole of humanity is female. No other living creature within both material and spiritual creations qualifies as male besides the Supreme Lord Himself.
In the spiritual world, depending on the nature of our relationship with Krsna, we exhibit different forms and different moods, and all of them are specifically meant to please Krsna. The cowherd boys do not dress up to attract the girls. The girls do not cast sidelong glances at the boys. Everyone is completely fixed in his or her service to Krsna, and all their interactions are solely meant for the purpose of giving pleasure to Krsna. Because everything in the spiritual world is eternally fresh, nava yauvana, there is no birth and no death. No birth and no death means no sex life. The male and female designations are only costumes that devotees wear to take part in Krsna’s variegated pastimes.
In the material world, we find that women masquerading as men are generally condemned or ridiculed—although nowadays, gay marriages have raised their odd mentality to the level of normalcy. But actually, Srila Prabhupada’s teachings make it clear that living entities endowed with a male body are also women masquerading as purusa.
The conclusion is that the kind of costume we wear in our daily practice of pure devotional service is irrelevant. The material concept of male and female and their interactions is a device meant to keep us bound to this world. As Srila Prabhupada mentions in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.31.41),
A living entity who, as a result of attachment to a woman in his previous life, has been endowed with the form of a woman, foolishly looks upon maya in the form of a man, her husband, as the bestower of wealth, progeny, house and other material assets.
In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada comments that “from this verse it appears that a woman is also supposed to have been a man in his (her) previous life, and due to his attachment to his wife, he now has the body of a woman. . . . Similarly, if a woman thinks of her husband at the time of death, naturally she gets the body of a man in the next life. In the Hindu scriptures, therefore, woman’s chastity and devotion to man is greatly emphasized. A woman’s attachment to her husband may elevate her to the body of a man in her next life, but a man’s attachment to a woman will degrade him, and in his next life he will get the body of a woman. We should always remember, as it is stated in Bhagavad-gita, that both the gross and subtle material bodies are dresses; they are the shirt and coat of the living entity. To be either a woman or a man only involves one’s bodily dress.
It is interesting to note that Srila Prabhupada refers to “the Hindu scriptures,” because, as he himself said (SSR 3o), one will not find the word Hindu in the Bhagavad-gita. It seems that by using this term, Srila Prabhupada is de-emphasizing the importance of what these scriptures teach. This may appear to be my own interpretation, but it is supported by various statements Srila Prabhupada made in his books and lectures, including the purport quoted above to the effect that “both the gross and subtle material bodies are dresses; they are the shirt and coat of the living entity.” As such, they have no place in sanatana-dharma, wherein every living entity, being classified as energy, is prakrti, the enjoyed. Although, thanks to ISKCON, Hinduism is on the rise nowadays, Srila Prabhupada did not consider it on a par with sanatana-dharma. The idea is not to cultivate chastity and devotion to a man in order to get a man’s body in one’s next life but to give up material bodies altogether. Stri-dharma only perpetuates the misconception of who we are. Although we do not dispute the statement that there is less opportunity to get out of the material clutches in the body of a woman than in a man’s body, we can practically observe that men do not always take the opportunity given to them and come back in female bodies. Is someone driving a Mercedes Benz more spiritually advanced than someone riding in a Toyota? The person riding in the Mercedes Benz may go faster than the person riding in the Toyota, but the most important thing is where he or she is going, not how fast he or she goes. Just as Bharata Maharaja retained his spiritual consciousness in the body of a deer, a living entity in a woman’s body certainly retains whatever Krsna consciousness she achieved in her previous life. The story of Daksa’s head transplant also proves that the consciousness of the living entity has nothing to do with the brain or the size of one’s brain. And therefore, to gauge the spiritual level of a living entity according to its material body, either gross or subtle, is futile—and possibly offensive.
The next verse (SB 3.31.42) goes further to clarify our misconceptions:
A woman, therefore, should consider her husband, her house and her children to be the arrangement of the external energy of the Lord for her death, just as the sweet singing of the hunter is death for the deer.
In the purport that follows, Srila Prabhupada explains that “not only is woman the gateway to hell for man, but man is also the gateway to hell for woman. . . . As long as either is attached to the other for such material enjoyment, the woman is dangerous for the man, and the man is also dangerous for the woman. But if the attachment is transferred to Krsna, both of them become Krsna conscious, and then marriage is very nice.
In practice, however, Srila Prabhupada’s sublime instructions for householder life have been watered down. And therefore, toward the end of his manifest presence, he strongly advocated reestablishing varnasrama, even though, in the second canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.4.18) he states that “The system of caste, or varnasrama-dharma, is no longer regular even amongst the so-called followers of the system. Nor is it now possible to reestablish the institutional function in the present context of social, political and economic revolution. Without any reference to the particular custom of a country, one can be accepted to the Vaisnava cult spiritually, and there is no hindrance in the transcendental process.”
Srila Prabhupada’s desire that we should reestablish the varnasrama system is not incompatible with his purport to SB 2.4.18. But unless we change our present social, political, and economic context to the kind of context in which varnasrama can function, we are not going to go very far in our attempts to fulfill Prabhupada’s desire. We need to pay full attention to the principle of deSa-kala-patra with due regard to each and every devotee’s antecedents before recruiting them into the varnasrama system. We look forward to seeing five years old brahmacaris (born of parents mindful of the Vedic rituals for procreation) instead of twenty-five years old beginners burdened with past sinful samskaras bearing that title. We also look forward to seeing little girls learning how to churn butter and make cow dung patties to serve as fuel to cook the family’s homegrown prasadam meal. But to expect every so-called brahmacari or brahmacarini (if the latter have not become an extinct species by now) to conform to a model that blossomed in Treta-yuga is quite unreasonable. First, qualified parents need to produce qualified children in a “plain living, high thinking” environment. Varnasrama cannot flourish in a mechanized, polluted, and genetically modified environment. To force aspiring devotees to live on a farm, to force women to conform to a system they are not qualified for, to advocate polygamy, is not the way to reestablish varnasrama in this age. It will take time and maturity to recreate a sattvic environment in which the ideals of bygone ages can be somewhat emulated. No doubt, Srila Prabhupada preferred to see women married, but he also cautioned them that if they could not find suitable husbands it would be “better to remain a Brahmacarini all the life, even though it is little difficult.” (Letter to Satsvarupa, 8 August 1968). And although Srila Prabhupada spoke favorably about polygamy in the context of the Vedic system, he emphatically condemned it in three letters reproduced here below:
To Karandhar, on 10 February 1973
“I have received your letter of 1/24/73 concerning polygamy and feel that this policy must be strictly prohibited within our society. If it is not it shall only cause chaos, as what was possible under the system of pure Vedic Culture is impossible at the present time.”
To Satsvarupa, on 10 February 1973
“First let us understand that polygamy cannot be permitted in our society. Legally it is impossible and neither are there many of our devotees who are prepared to assume the responsibility for many wives. Therefore as I have suggested previously as they do in Christian religion they have so many convent where the women stay and they receive protection. The point is that the women must be protected and it is the duties of the leaders of our society to see that this is carried out.”
To Rupanuga, on 14 February 1973
“After conferring with my various GBC representatives I have concluded that polygamy must be strictly prohibited in our society. Although it is a Vedic institution still there are so many legal implications. Neither are many of our men fixed up enough to tend for more than one wife. Polygamy will simply increase the sex life and our philosophy is to gradually decrease the sex life till eventually there is no sex life. The policy should be that all the women are given the utmost protection. Women are looking for husbands because they feel unprotected so it is up to the senior members to give all protection to the women.”
It is sheer lunacy to expect women to behave like Kunti or Draupadi unless their husbands are of the same caliber as Arjuna or Yudhisthira. That will take time. In the meantime, the best thing to do is to try to purify our consciousness by serious, offenseless chanting of the great mantra for deliverance—hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare / hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare. After all, kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha. When we are sufficiently purified by at least nama-abhasa chanting and have developed equal vision, we may be qualified to establish varnasrama for the benefit of the sinful souls who are unable or unwilling to take up the process of devotional service. Our point is that in order to properly implement varnasrama, we need self-realized teachers, not struggling souls still hoping to fulfill their material desires in a legitimate way.
ISKCON is meant to be a spiritual society. Every society requires intelligence and organization in order to survive. But a spiritual society is not based on the bodily concept of life, and therefore Srila Prabhupada encouraged his female disciples to preach, go on sankirtan, lead kirtans, give classes in the temple, do Deity worship, and ultimately initiate disciples. Hereunder are a few quotes supporting what we just wrote:
“Concerning the woman’s duty, if she gets married, that does not necessarily mean that she must give up any of her service in the temple or on sankirtana, but she must also see to it that her household duties are not neglected.” (Letter to Sri Govinda, 6 February 1975)
“If she gets married” implies that she might not. In a letter to Rukmini dated 19 December 1968, Srila Prabhupada wrote: “In your letter you have written that you are desiring to remain as Brahmacarini for a few years longer and this idea is alright. In India the marriage between a boy and girl is arranged by the parents but in this country such arrangement is not possible so we never request our students to marry if they are not desiring to do this.”
To Silavati, on 14 June 1969, Srila Prabhupada wrote that “I already have practical experience that many of the American girls and boys are very intelligent and qualified to take up this sublime movement.”
Srila Prabhupada also stated that “Our girls can be engaged for teaching as well as temple worship.” (Letter to: Bhavananda, April 14, 1972)
And to Amsu das on 13 August 1974: “Regarding the worship of our Gaura Nitai by women pujaris, we worship Lord Chaitanya in His householder life when He was with His wife, and not as a sannyasi. So, it is alright for women to do this service. But, besides this, service is spiritual and there can be no material designation. In Bhagavad-gita it is stated by Lord Krsna: striyo vaisyas tatha sudras te’pi yanti param gatim. The principle is that everyone who is properly initiated and following the rules and regulations can worship. This activity cannot [be] on the material platform.
“According to the smarta vidhi, women cannot touch deity during menstrual period but the goswami viddhi allows. But it is better not to do it. One thing is that the seva can never be stopped for any reason. This also for the cooking.”
Regarding preaching, in a letter to Malati dated 25 December 1974, Srila Prabhupada wrote:
“Women in our movement can also preach very nicely. Actually, male and female bodies, these are just outward designations. Lord Chaitanya said that whether one is Brahmana or whatever he may be, if he knows the science of Krsna then he is to be accepted as guru.”
In a letter to Jayagovinda on 8 February 1968, Srila Prabhupada tells us that “Regarding lecturing by woman devotees: I have informed you that in the service of the Lord there is no distinction of caste or creed, color, or sex. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord especially mentions that even a woman who has taken seriously is also destined to reach Him. We require a person who is in the knowledge of Krsna, that is the only qualification of a person speaking. It doesn’t matter what he is. Materially a woman may be less intelligent than a man, but spiritually there is no such distinction. Because spiritually everyone is pure soul. In the absolute plane there is no such gradation of higher and lower. If a woman can lecture nicely and to the point, we should hear her carefully. That is our philosophy. But if a man can speak better than a woman, the man should be given first preference. But even though a woman is less intelligent, a sincere soul should be given proper chance to speak, because we want so many preachers, both men and women.”
“I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.” (Letter to: Hansadutta, Los Angeles, 3 January, 1969)
As late as June 1976, Srila Prabhupada again explained his position on guruship to three Canadian professors in Toronto:
Prof. O’Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnavadevi was Nityananda’s wife. She became. If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man OR woman, unless one has attained the perfection…. Yei Krsna-tattva-vetti sei guru haya [Cc. Madhya 8.128]. The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru. Yei Krsna-tattva-vetti, sei guru haya. [break] In our material world, is it any prohibition that woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified, she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru. (Interview with Professors O’Connell, Motilal and Shivaram, June 18, 1976, Toronto)
Sometimes we hear the objection that Jahnava-mata was not an ordinary person and that we cannot imitate her. Yet, Srila Prabhupada gave her as an example to emulate. Whether we like it or not, Srila Prabhupada wanted his female disciples to preach, as evidenced by his letter dated 20-12-1969 to Himavati devi dasi: “In India all the acaryas and their descendants later on acted only from the man’s side. Their wives were at home because that is the system from old times that women are not required to go out. But in Bhagavad-gita we find that women are also equally competent like the men in the matter of Krsna Consciousness Movement. Please therefore carry on these missionary activities, and prove it by practical example that there is no bar for anyone in the matter of preaching work for Krsna Consciousness.”
One very nice passage glorifying the preaching work of devotees in women’s bodies is found in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, 7.31-32. The verse tells about a trick Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu devised to drown reluctant Mayavadis in the inundation of love of Godhead. In the purport that follows, Srila Prabhupada makes the point that an acharya “cannot be expected to conform to a stereotype, for he must find the ways and means by which Krsna consciousness may be spread.” Jealous persons, he says, “criticize the Krsna consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticize the boys and girls in Krsna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community’s social customs. However, since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krsna consciousness. Therefore, to engage both boys and girls in fully transcendental activities is a policy intended to spread the Krsna consciousness movement…. Therefore, what we are doing is perfect by the grace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, for it is He who proposed to invent a way to capture those who strayed from Krsna consciousness.”
We sometimes hear that Srila Prabhupada saw things differently toward the end of his manifest presence—as if he meant to replace his previous teachings on pure devotional service with the varnasrama system. Well, what about the following statement, spoken on January 7, 1977?
If one becomes Krsna conscious, then he doesn’t require husband…. She knows that “Krsna is my protector. Why shall I artificially seek after father or…[husband]?” And what protection, for a few days, either the father or the son or the husband may give? Real protection is Krsna. This is temporary. But because we have got this material body we require some. (Room Conversation, Bombay)
Even though it is a fact that most women do want to get married, if even one percent of the women in ISKCON are inclined to follow the path of renunciation, it will still amount to a fair number of women. Why should they not be engaged according to their propensities, when guna and karma (acquired in previous lives), not janma, constitute the essence of varnasrama? How many times have we heard that a person is a brahmana by qualification, not by birth? And who are we to legislate devotees’ spiritual inclinations when Srila Prabhupada himself has given the go ahead.
Just so that women could be protected and make progress in Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada established “brahmacarini” ashrams all over the world. And he also suggested that we should follow the example of the Christians, who “have so many convent[s] where the women stay and they receive protection. The point is that the women must be protected and it is the duties of the leaders of our society to see that this is carried out.” (Letter to Satsvarupa, 10 February, 1973)
One of our members recalls that when she joined ISKCON in 1978, such ashrams gave full protection to women and that the devotees considered the temple president as their father and protector. As late as 1989, even after the demise of the zonal acharya system, many of us still had faith that the temple would maintain us, and one devotee remembers being shocked when one disciple of Srila Prabhupada from Australia advised her to start putting money aside for her old age. “Why should I do that?” she asked. “Well, you don’t expect the temple to take care of you after you stop collecting, do you?” “Of course I do! Why not? I have given my life to the Movement and collected so much money. Why shouldn’t they take care?” “Don’t be so sure. You really should start thinking about the future.” So, the devotee decided to ask her GBC about it, and he replied that “brahmanas do not stock money. They have full faith in Krsna and depend fully on His mercy.” And the fact is that in those days we were striving to become brahmanas, not just in name but in deed also.
Later, we built the Kirtan Ashram with the idea of giving protection to women. It didn’t quite serve the role we were hoping it would—a residential community of mature devotees (vanaprasthis) sharing their spiritual wealth with the younger women who come to Vrindavan for association—but as Srila Prabhupada said, “A blind uncle is better than no uncle.” The point is that it is not MAYA to not want to get married. It is not MAYA to want to live and serve in a temple as pujari, cook, teacher, or whatever. And it is not MAYA to live in a convent or an ashram without interference of so-called male devotees.
It is quite clear that Srila Prabhupada’s emphatic instruction that women must be protected doesn’t necessarily mean that they should receive protection in the traditional Vedic way. His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura himself was concerned that women be given all facilities to practice devotional service—as evidenced by the excerpt hereunder:
We now have mathas at many places, whereat numerous sannyasis, grhastha, and brahmacaris have facility to reside and receive training in sadacara, yet for a long time we have also been trying to provide the mothers similar opportunities for Hari-bhajana. Of course those mothers who have the opportunity for Hari-bhajana in their own homes do not need a separate residence. But we often hear that they get impeded in their Hari-bhajana due to bad association. It will be highly beneficial for them if we can build Sri Visnupriya-palli in Sridhama Mayapur, near the abode of Sriman Mahaprabhu, wherein they can live apart from their families and perform Hari-bhajana. They belong to the group of Sri Visnupriya-devi, so it is proper that they live in the house of Sriman Mahaprabhu and serve Him under the shelter of Sri Visnupriya-devi. There should not be any bad association or mundane male relationship for them. Only a few devotees who are like ISana [Mother Saci’s male servant in Caitanya-lila] should stay at a distance and take care of them. If the mothers do not quarrel, and live only for the sake of serving the Lord—by daily reciting Sastra and discussing devotional subjects, always chanting the holy name, taking care of the paraphernalia for Sriman Mahaprabhu’s service, giving up all luxury, living a model saintly life, and serving Mahaprabhu in all ways—then it is necessary to have such an ideal neighborhood. (Excerpt from a lecture given by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura on 21 September 1925)
At the beginning of our presentation, we quoted Srila Prabhupada’s statement that “In human society all over the world, there are millions and billions of men and women, and almost all of them are less intelligent because they have very little knowledge of spirit soul.” It is for them that our merciful acharyas were pushing for the reestablishment of the varnasrama system. And Srila Prabhupada also was pushing for it, especially in later years, when he realized that many, if not most of his students, were not on the platform he had hoped they could be. In our early years as still-aspiring devotees, we were told that when Srila Prabhupada was asked whether all of his disciples would go back to Godhead at the end of their life, he replied, “No. Only the most serious,” and that most of his disciples only wanted to go to the heavenly planets.
So the choice is ours: the staircase or the elevator. Surely, ISKCON is big enough to accommodate both. To become a pure devotee is not a cheap thing. But Srila Prabhupada always encouraged the devotees—at least some of them—to shoot for the rhinoceros. And who are we to discourage them? To quote Srila Prabhupada quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, “Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.” Yes, we need varnasrama. But we also need pure devotees to encourage those who want to shoot for the rhinoceros. As stated in the Preface of this presentation, our philosophy promotes simultaneous oneness and difference. Things are not black or white. They are both black and white and we need both varnasrama and pure devotional service. But we cannot forcibly bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator. Ultimately varnasrama is a means to an end. A noble means, but nevertheless just a means, to the ultimate goal: Krsna-prema.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare