NB. The footnotes for this article are linked to a separate footnote page.
In this article Krishna Dharma dasa stokes up the coals of that old 'varnasrama debate'. But rather than outline how the proposed varnasrama system will change the face of present society; or rather than plead with us all to get back to the land, he questions how our proposals will ever be taken seriously if we do not integrate the principles of varnasrama into the present ISKCON structure. For instance, without a definition of the roles of the varnas, beginning with those roles relating to our own society, it will be hard to avoid speculation and confusion on this issue and thus impossible for us to 'sing from the same song sheet' to those outside of ISKCON. Can we call a temple president a brahmin or a ksatriya, or both? (Hands up all those who want to be called sudras!). Krishna Dharma proposes an ISKCON constitution based on the principles of varnasrama which could serve as the first neo-vedic working model. �
In an earlier essay in this journal I examined the concept of 'Spiritual Solutions to Material Problems' 1. One particularly awkward material problem of today's times is that of societal organisation. We are witnessing severe difficulties in almost all societies, whether they be capitalist, socialist, communist, autocracies, democracies, theocracies or whatever. I don't think I need substantiate that statement with evidences; a glance at any serious daily newspaper should suffice. The virtual collapse of communism-the increasing unemployment, poverty and crime in Western consumer society-the oppression of the theocracies and autocracies-nothing seems to be working very well. Library shelves are filled with books offering numerous ideas, theories and examples of different kinds of social structures and systems. But I think it is fair to say that we have yet to see in practise anything even coming anywhere near to perfection.
So what 'spiritual solutions' has ISKCON got to offer? Can we show anything better? ISKCON is itself an organised institutional society, so what about its own organisation? Is it in any way distinct and different from what we see in greater society? Is it something we can demonstrate to the world as being ideal? Do we even want to have such organisation within ISKCON? Is it appropriate-or should we simply be an integral group of preachers and missionaries with as simple an organisational structure as possible? Sometimes we even encounter the argument that ISKCON is an organisation held together by a philosophical accord and 'love and trust'. That anyone who follows the instructions given by Srila Prabhupada is a 'member of ISKCON' and we do not require any bureaucratic and official structures to confirm that. In any case, how can we get involved with societal organisation on a broader scale, offering solutions to the problems mentioned above? These and other associated questions will be examined in this essay.
I would like first to examine ISKCON's own internal organisation. What is the present framework and is it what it should be? We find some specific direction about how to manage ISKCON given by Srila Prabhupada, although not so much in our main canon or literature's. It was in his discussions with ISKCON leaders and in his letters and finally in his will, that Srila Prabhupada spoke more directly about ISKCON management. Obviously the first consideration in organising society is its leadership and this was dealt with by Srila Prabhupada in his formation of the Governing Body Commission (GBC). This he established in pursuance of the order of his own spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, who had asked for such an entity to be formed within his own earlier organisation, the Gaudiya Math. I shall not trace the history of the Gaudiya Math here, but suffice it to say that they failed to form a GBC body and thereby the mission did not succeed in the way desired by Bhaktisiddhanta. At least, that is, as far as preaching was concerned. We find this stated by Srila Prabhupada as follows:
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, at the time of his departure, requested all his disciples to form a governing body and conduct missionary activities co-operatively. He did not instruct a particular man to become the next acarya. But just after his passing away, his leading secretaries made plans, without authority, to occupy the post of acarya, and they split in two factions over who the next acarya would be. Consequently, both factions were asara, or useless, because they had no authority, having disobeyed the order of the spiritual master. Despite the spiritual master's order to form a governing body and execute the missionary activities of the Gaudiya Matha, the two un-authorised factions began litigation that is still going on after forty years with no decision.2
Therefore, a GBC body was formed early in ISKCON's development. Even during his presence, Srila Prabhupada wanted to transfer the responsibility for managing ISKCON to the GBC. The precise function of this body was defined to some degree by Srila Prabhupada and since his departure the GBC itself has further refined that definition. Perhaps the nearest thing to a full definition was made in 1987 by a large group of Srila Prabhupada's disciples. At that time, perceiving that there may be a lack of confidence in its leadership, the GBC body empowered a 50 man committee, comprised of senior ISKCON devotees, to review, revise and even reform the GBC.
This committee published a short paper which detailed the requisite qualities and role of the GBC and its representatives. The paper was fully based upon extensive research into the instructions of Srila Prabhupada. In respect of the subject matter of this essay, the most significant item mentioned for the GBC body as a whole was the first one: 'To be the ultimate managing authority (in ISKCON)'3 This statement is actually found in the last will and testament of Srila Prabhupada. There followed a list of many other functions for the GBC, both collective and individual. One of those statements, which I would like to focus upon, and which I feel could ultimately contain all other definitions of functions and roles, is 'To formulate a constitution based upon Prabhupada's indications and to be held accountable to it'. 4
This I feel is a critical point. A constitution should be, as far as may be possible, a full definition of structure, organisation and managerial procedures within ISKCON. In fact there are already many various definitions of these latter things to be found throughout the resolutions of the GBC body. But these have yet to be correlated and compiled into a single working document, or constitution. It is therefore seen that ISKCON as a whole presently lacks a certain coherence and uniformity, at least structurally and managerial. Being aware of this fact, the GBC body have delegated a group of devotees to work on the formation of a constitution.
The Ultimate Authority
Where then should it begin? We know at least that the GBC body is the 'ultimate managerial authority'. But that alone is not a definition of a complete and complex society. We find a few other directions in the instructions of Srila Prabhupada regarding management of ISKCON. 'The management of our different centres is made by three officers, namely a president, secretary and a treasurer.'5 'So far the practical management is concerned, that is required, but not that we should become too much absorbed in fancy organisation....so whatever organisation needs to be done, the Presidents may handle and take advice and assistance from their GBC representative.'6 So a quite simple structure was defined and that has pretty much endured to the present day.
Srila Prabhupada also gave some directions as to how the GBC should function. 'To map out global preaching strategy for the world wide society, while leaving details of local preaching to the local management.'7 'To chalk out yearly plans and then execute without change'.8 'To ensure that current policies and regulations of the GBC Body are upheld in his zone'.9 'To supervise and advise, not dictate, in all the above'.10 The basic instruction is that the GBC should have the ultimate power in ISKCON, but should not wield that in a hands-on fashion to manage the society. Day to day management should be localised. Policies and standards, both managerially and spiritually, are set by the GBC, but their implementation is effected by local managers. The GBC simply acts as an overseer, although the power of veto must be held by them.
This raises an interesting point. For effective organisation within any structure, power should always be accompanied by accountability. Rights or privileges should always be commensurate with responsibility. Have you ever been in the awkward position of being responsible for a task, but without being handed, from your boss, sufficient authority to perform that task? Or perhaps as a leader you may have some experience of being the person where the 'buck stops', but you don't have any control. And, of course, we have all seen the havoc that can ensue when a leader runs amok, acting as a law unto himself. It should be obvious that to effect the kind of organisation we require in ISKCON, giving all ultimate power to the GBC, while freeing them of the responsibility for day to day management, and at the same time building in certain checks and balances, will require a carefully thought out and well defined structure. Especially as the society grows in size and complexity.
It is also of interest to note that the GBC body has the responsibility to 'appoint, suspend and expel GBC members'.11 In other words, the GBC itself is an oligarchic entity. It is not open to voting or election for membership, outside of its own members. This was how Srila Prabhupada defined them. They really are the final authority in ISKCON. The only way there can be accountability for oligarchic bodies is to have a constitution to which they are accountable. Of course, even that is no guarantee against serious abuses of power in such a structure. Short of revolutions, nothing can stop tyrannical and despotic leadership. But we would certainly not expect such things to occur within a spiritual society, where the top leadership is, after all, always likely to be the most spiritually mature individuals. A constitution would surely provide adequate controls and restraints.
Another point to consider in formulating our structure is the growing demand for democratic representation. As ISKCON increases in size and scope there are more and more distinct groups, beyond just the core full time membership, involved in its operation. Different levels of committed supporters form ISKCON's growing congregation and they, in return for their support, need a voice in deciding how ISKCON is run. Although the classic Vedic conception of society is one of autocracy -the all powerful monarch-Srila Prabhupada did at times indicate that democracy has a place in ISKCON. For example, in 1974 he instructed the devotees not to change the temple president at Bhaktivedanta Manor without a vote amongst all the devotees. In fact he even went so far as to say that even the GBC could not change the president without a local vote.12
What Do Prabhupada's Book's Say?
So what kind of structure can we devise for ISKCON which will take into consideration all the above points? Perhaps for guidance we should now turn to the ISKCON canon, our body of literature, rather than letters and conversations with Srila Prabhupada. After all, it can be said that instructions in the latter were always subject to considerations of time, place and circumstance. For example, the statement I quoted above that 'whatever organisation needs to be done the Temple Presidents can handle', was made in 1972. In that same letter it was also said that 'The formula for ISKCON organisation is very simple...The world is divided into twelve zones. For each zone there is one zonal secretary appointed by Srila Prabhupada.' Obviously we have moved on since then and these instructions are no longer appropriate. ISKCON is already larger and more complex, having many more than just twelve GBC zonal secretaries. Thus we need to consider such instructions carefully in terms of their current relevance. On the other hand, the instructions written in our scriptures are more enduring.
Our understanding is that the Vedas and Vedic knowledge are eternal. Srila Prabhupada's instructions in his purports to the Vedas are therefore applicable in all places and at all times. How to apply the instructions according to time and place needs to be considered, but the unchanging principles are given in the Vedic scriptures. So what instructions about the principles of societal organisation can we find in scripture?
In the Vedas, any discussion on how to organise and manage society generally centres on the varnashrama system; the four social and four spiritual orders. Before I look at that, I want to first address a very common misconception about the system of varnashrama dharma. From my experience in speaking on Hinduism in schools and colleges, I have found that whenever I discuss Vedic society I always need to begin by addressing the doubt that varnashrama dharma means something like the present caste system seen in India. In fact it does not. The caste system is a serious corruption of varnashrama dharma as it is described in the Vedas. Everyone knows about the Hindu caste system and its awful abuses of human rights. Although varnashrama may sound very similar, there is in fact a great difference.
There are many points of variance, but perhaps the most critical variation between casteism and varnashrama is that in the latter one's designation is based upon personal qualities, whereas in the former it depends solely upon birth. In Vedic varnashrama dharma, if you were born in a working class, or sudra, family, but had the quality of a scholar, or brahmana, then you would be considered a brahmana despite your birth. Or vice versa. This should be an obvious point, after all, will the son of a high court judge necessarily be himself a judge? Or the son of a doctor also become one? That much social mobility is there in varnashrama dharma, although in today's caste system that is, of course, not at all the case, and hence all the problems. So, in speaking about varnashrama dharma, I am speaking about something which is hardly seen today, even in India.
In the Vedas there are some quite strong statements about the necessity for varnashrama dharma. Consider, for example, the following:
'To maintain proper social order and help the citizens gradually progress toward the goal of life- namely spiritual understanding-the principles of varnasrama-dharma must be accepted...It is said that unless human society is regulated by varnasrama-dharma, it is no better than a bestial society of cats and dogs.'13
'Materialistic activities are regulated by the institution of varnasrama-dharma. Without varnasrama-dharma, materialistic activities constitute animal life.'14
Similar such statements are numerous throughout the instructions of Srila Prabhupada. Varnashrama dharma , is the only social system described in the Vedas although, having said that, it should be noted that varnashrama is a very broad style of organisation that incorporates many of the societal systems we see today. More about that later. However, according to Vedic direction, if any society is to be worthy of the being called 'organised' and indeed 'civilised', it must be arranged according to the divisions of varnashrama dharma. It is said to be a scientific system, perfectly arranged and balanced, which has the particular feature of leading society towards the goal of life, God realisation.
Within ISKCON society at present a semblance of varnashrama dharma is emerging. We already have the four ashramas, brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. We do not as yet have any clear definitions of the four varnas. In fact, there is still some uncertainty as to whether or not such definitions are even appropriate. There is a doubt that vaisnavas should not be designated as belonging to any particular caste. Indeed, there are various statements in the Vedas that vaisnavas are transcendental to varnashrama dharma. I will briefly discuss the spiritual technicalities of this argument shortly. For now I would like to continue the discussion of the organisational structure of society.
Whatever our views on the spiritual relevance of varnashrama dharma to vaisnavas and ISKCON, we must consider the fact that it is the only system of societal organisation recommended by the Vedas. From the Bhagavad Gita we learn that it is a system created by Krishna Himself and is therefore eternal.15 Thus its application is always relevant in any society. We could go so far as to say that any other system of organisation is temporary and will therefore fail, sooner or later. And, as we began by pointing out, looking at any society today we could well say q.e.d. to that.
Roles, Rights and Responsibilities
So what, you might ask, has this got to do with my first discussion of ISKCON's constitution? Well, varnashrama dharma provides a structure for society which clearly defines the rights and responsibilities of every individual. It describes how interaction between all classes of persons should take place. These are the very definitions and descriptions that are required in a constitution. We are presently trying to define our structure using terms such as 'GBC', 'Temple President', 'Secretary', 'Treasurer', 'Officer', 'Cook' etc. etc. But when we look through our ISKCON literature we do not find these terms mentioned.
However, there is much discussion about the roles and duties of individuals within varnashrama dharma. We can't discover from the Vedas how a temple president should act, but we can learn, for instance, that the duty of a brahmana is to be learned in scripture, to teach, to be simple, to guide the administrative leaders and so on. In return for that the brahmana is entitled to accept charity, or even to be maintained by the state. The duty of the ksatriya, the administrative head, is to protect the citizens and manage the affairs of state, and he is allowed to collect taxes from the people. The relationship between these two orders is also clearly defined, as well as those between them and all the other orders. In this way a definite framework for the organisation of society is described.
Indeed, within a properly functioning varnashrama society there is complete interdependence. The rights of one order are the responsibilities of another. The brahmanas are protected and supported by the ksatriyas, who in turn are guided and counselled by the brahmanas. The vaisyas are given, by the ksatriya leaders, the facilities for food production and in return they pay taxes. All the orders require the labour of the sudra or working class. In fact varnashrama dharma is analogised in the example of the social body. The brahmana is the head, the ksatriya is the arms, the vaisya is the belly and the sudra is the legs. All the parts are needed for the body to be healthy. Similarly, there are duties incumbent upon the various ashramas. The grhasthas, for example, are expected to earn wealth and support all the other ashramas. The brahmacaris should receive spiritual education and training. The sannyasis should act as the spiritual masters of all the other orders. In this way we can go through all the ashramas and again find interdependence.
Perhaps at this point I could address the question of democracy. It is another doubt regarding varnashrama, that it disallows democracy, and this point is quite relevant to the points made in the above paragraph. As I stated previously, it seems Srila Prabhupada was not averse to democracy, although the usual model of Vedic society is one of autocratic monarchy. Let's first ask the question: What is democracy? Essentially it is an attempt to give a voice and some power to the people in general. Everyone in any society should have certain rights and some recourse if those rights are abused. If we examine carefully varnashrama dharma, especially in regards to the points made in the paragraph above, we do see that the rights of the individual are a key feature in role definitions. The leaders themselves are expected to protect the people, even to the point of going personally out to tackle subversive elements in society, such as robbers. Or being at the head of the army which confronts hostile forces attacking the kingdom. There are innumerable examples of such leadership in the Vedas. If one does not fulfil the requirements of the role, then one cannot expect to remain situated in that role and enjoy the privileges thereof. In the case of the leader the check and balance comes from the brahmanas. Woe betide the monarch who, becoming carried away with his position and power, neglects their counsel. (See, for example, the story of King Vena in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 4, chapter 14).
The qualified brahmana counsellors, being entirely without any vested personal interests in the state, are always the well wishers of the whole populace. And if any brahmanas are not qualified then either other brahmanas will check that, or even the monarch himself, who has the responsibility of ensuring that everyone in society is properly performing their own duties. We see then that, due to the careful balance of individual rights within varnashrama society, the need for voting systems is largely obviated. It still does have some application, however, and I will return to that shortly.
Applying Varnasrama to ISKCON
At this point, without getting too deeply into a discussion of varnashrama dharma, I would like to tie it in a little more with the discussion about ISKCON's constitution. I feel that we need to look at the various roles within our society and relate them to their corresponding varnashrama position. For example, the GBC. What kind of role is this? The top, visionary, policy-making, leadership role seems to be very much in accord with that of the brahmana. Especially when we also take into account the fact that we do not want them to be hands-on managers. If we therefore say that the GBC are a brahminical body, then we need to consider what other responsibilities are incumbent upon them. What are the full duties of the brahmanas? Are they performing all those? And further, what are the privileges of the brahmanas in society. Do they have all those? Again, what is a temple president? Is he also a brahmana, or perhaps a ksatriya? In this way we can begin to examine various existing roles in ISKCON and see how they line up with the varnashrama system.
This is more than just an interesting exercise. As I have said, from the statements of the Vedas we know that varnashrama dharma is the only system of societal organisation recommended for human society. Unless we are able to define our own organisation in its-varnashrama-terms, we may well be speculating a different system with built in fatal flaws. For example, there is mention in the Vedas of paradharma. This means when a member of a particular order in society performs the duties of another order. In varnashramadharma this is generally considered anathema. The balance of social order is maintained by every one performing their own duties. As I already mentioned, in varnashrama dharma there is complete interdependence. The Vedic statements are quite strong on this point: 'To follow another's path is dangerous.' 16 'It is better to engage imperfectly in one's own occupation than perfectly in another's.'17
Again, I don't wish to presently enter into a deep discussion of varnashrama dharma, but the point is that one should know what is one's own duty and properly perform that rather than do anything else. If someone is working half as a brahmana and half as a ksatriya then there will be problems. Or if one is enjoying the status and privileges of a brahmana, then it will be quite anomalous if he accepts only the responsibilities incumbent upon a sudra or vaisya. If therefore, we have a post such as temple president and that is defined as a brahminical post, then it should be fully performed as such. The person performing that duty should be careful not to embrace the duties of another order. He should also ensure that he is properly observing the responsibilities incumbent upon a brahmana.
For example, one could not be a brahmana within the varnashrama system and be in the employ of someone else. Or be desirous of an opulent lifestyle. Or neglect the duty of studying and teaching scripture. These things may be appropriate or acceptable in other orders, but not for brahmanas. Or if we have a post which is identified as being a ksatriya type of engagement, then again other responsibilities are there. For example, unlike the brahmanas,ksatriyas cannot accept charity. But they can live a more opulent lifestyle. They can exact taxes, but they must be chivalrous and powerful. And so on. Paradharma is only one anomaly that may be present, there are numerous others, the presence of which will all cause the ultimate failure of societal order. The only way to root out these anomalies is to properly define, and then work within, a varnashrama structure based on scriptural direction.
Can There be Democracy?
Interestingly, we find many kinds of the societal systems seen today present within the whole varnashrama picture. For example, as I mentioned above, a certain amount of democracy is there. But it only has application amongst equals. There is a story in the Vedas of how, one day, the lions, traditionally the powerful leaders of the animal community, decide to become more democratic. The jackals approached them and asked if they could be involved in selecting the leader. The lions liberally agreed saying; 'We lions have always been running things amongst ourselves. Let's give these jackals a fair say in things. We shall all have a vote and thus decide who shall lead.' In this way, when the vote was called, the jackals, who far outnumbered the lions, selected the best jackal to be the leader of all the animals. And thus, having for its leader an unqualified and weak animal, there was chaos amongst the animal community. So democracy must be carefully applied in its proper context.
As varnashrama dharma is a system designed by and directed towards God, this raises one other point with regard to the flaws inherent in democracy. We see today that, because we have a complete democracy in society, the qualities of leadership are dictated by current public whims. The leaders try to determine what the people want and then simply offer that. But in varnashrama the leader is representing God and not the people. He represents God and protects the people (and the animals). Just as the father knows what may be in the best interests of the child, even though the child may desire something else, so God knows what is best for society. The parents will never allow the child to eat only sweets, or stop going to school, although this may be the child's wish, because they know what will be in the child's own best interests-what will make him happy. Similarly, the leader should lead according to the directions of the supreme father, God, and thus really benefit the people.
To provide liquor houses, gambling shops, pornography and so on, may be popular, but it does nothing conducive to the stability and happiness of society. We can see how the current type of democracy fails by witnessing how we are always changing the leaders. Although they are offering more and more economic and material gains, basically what most people believe will make them happy, because the directions of God are neglected, no one is happy and society is a mess. In varnashrama dharma, the leadership directs society towards the spiritual goal of life, which is an unchanging direction given by God, and which gives everyone complete happiness.
Another feature of today's society also found in varnashrama is capitalism. This is found amongst the vaisyas. But again, it cannot be taken out of its specific context and broadly applied to the whole of society. The brahmanas, for example, cannot be concerned with material acquisition and gain. They must remain materially aloof in order to retain their position of independence and spiritual power. Just see today the endless scandals involving corruption amongst the leaders, who so often have personal vested interests over and above those of the people they are supposed to be protecting. Again in varnashrama dharma, there is theocracy and autocracy, but, as already discussed, these are mutually self balancing.
As I stated, the whole varnashrama society is designed by God and is meant for His ultimate pleasure and satisfaction; which of course means the satisfaction of everyone, as everyone is a part of the supreme whole or God. In this sense there is even, within the whole of society, communism, as every individual works, with God at the centre, for the good of the whole. Everyone is a part of the whole and thus everyone benefits. Srila Prabhupada would often compare Vedic society with communism, saying that the only difference is that we have Krishna at the centre rather than the state. The moral instructions of the Vedas regarding societal organisation also require that everyone is always considerate of the welfare of others; the famous ahimsa, propounded by Mahatma Gandhi.
Understanding varnashrama dharma and its application is, I feel, the only way we can create an effective structure for ISKCON. One that will work and one that will endure. Although we need not abandon the use of terms such as GBC, Temple President etc., we need to understand them in terms of the varnashrama model. Then we will understand how our relationships should work. At least this could be the basis. By defining the various varnashrama roles we will have the basic framework onto which we could place all our other terms and definitions. Such a framework really would be a 'house in which the whole world can live.' Within that basic framework we could have other institutions.
For example, within varnashrama society we find separate and distinct communities for all the various orders of life, each having their own leadership and organisation. But their individual duties and inter-relationships are defined, integrating them all into a complete society. Perhaps, within varnashrama dharma, ISKCON will evolve as an organisation of brahmanas, or perhaps it may become the larger framework into which everything else fits. That is a difficult question to resolve at present, although I don't think it really matters.
Spiritual Questions and Solutions
Perhaps here I should, as promised, briefly examine some of the spiritual questions which my essay may have posed. Should vaisnavas accept designations within varnashrama dharma? Can they, being 'transcendental' to varnashrama dharma, just do anything at any time, according to the needs? To some this may sound foolish, but I do feel that this fundamental doubt exists and needs to be cleared up. First of all, I personally cannot see any problem with accepting the various varnashrama epithets. We are already accepting designations within ISKCON: 'GBC', 'Temple President', 'Training Officer', 'Cook', and so on. That does not mean that we are not vaisnavas. The designation is accepted purely to denote one's duty and to facilitate organisation. That is also the case with varnashrama designations. Besides which, we already do accept the ashrama designations, so why not varna as well?
'Although the Krsna consciousness movement is a movement of brahmanas and vaisnavas, it is trying to re-establish the divine varnasrama institution, for without this division of society there cannot be peace and prosperity anywhere.'18
'The grhasthas, vanaprasthas, brahmacaris and sannyasis should endeavour together with their total energy to become Krsna conscious. This type of civilisation is called daiva-varnasrama. One of the objectives of the Krsna consciousness movement is to establish this daiva-varnasrama, but not to encourage so-called varnasrama without scientifically organised endeavour by human society.'19
The notion that we can freely switch from one order to another is rather more worrying, I feel that it needs a more thorough analysis than is within the scope of this essay. I have addressed this issue in a separate study which may appear in a future issue of this Journal. I would personally argue strongly that, outside of emergencies and exceptional cases, this is entirely unacceptable. Obviously, if we have a society of such persons, who feel they owe no allegiance to any particular set of duties and can choose and change as they please, then we are going to find societal organisation very difficult indeed. It is a formula for chaos.
To conclude then, the answer to my first question should be clear. Our 'spiritual solution' to the problem of societal organisation is varnashrama dharma. As we are now seeing a growing need to properly define our own structure and organisation within ISKCON, I suggest that we need to look at defining varnashrama roles. By doing this we will not only begin to solve the difficult problem of organising ourselves, but we will also start showing a practical example of a spiritual solution to a real material problem.
I cannot see any other way that we will be able to sort out the problem of our internal organisation. Outside of varnashrama dharma, what could we possibly adopt as our system? And if we are not to adopt varnashrama dharma within ISKCON, then how shall we present it to society as a whole? For whom is it meant if not ourselves? This latter point is especially pertinent if we consider the fact that, according to the Vedic direction, varnashrama dharma only has application in a society where basic religious principles-such as those followed within ISKCON-are being observed. It has no scope in an irreligious society. This essay is hardly conclusive; I think I am just scratching at the surface of a deep and difficult subject matter. The application of varnashrama dharma in today's climate will not be at all easy. In ISKCON it is generally thought that varnashrama dharma means the establishing of self sufficient communities, as it is difficult to imagine how it could be introduced into wider society. What I am suggesting is that we need to reconsider this conception; that we should see varnashrama dharma as being the means to organise ourselves throughout our entire society and, ultimately, throughout the whole of human society. I would like to end with a nice passage from the Srimad Bhagavatam.
'As indicated here by the words sva-dharma-nirata varnasrama-gunan-vitah, the people were good citizens because they accepted the institution of varna and asrama, which arranges society in the varna divisions of brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra and the asrama divisions of brahmacarya, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. This is actual human civilisation. People must be trained according to the different varnasrama occupational duties. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (4.13), catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: the four varnas must be established according to varying qualities and work. The first principle for good government is that it must institute this varnasrama system. The purpose of varnasrama is to enable people to become God conscious. Varnasramacaravata purusena parah puman visnur aradhyate. The entire varnasrama scheme is intended to enable people to become vaisnavas.Visnur asya devata. When people worship Lord Vishnu as the Supreme Lord, they become vaisnavas. Thus people should be trained to become vaisnavas through the system of varna and asrama, as they were during the reign of Lord Ramacandra, when everyone was fully trained to follow the varnasrama principles.
Simply enforcing laws and ordinances cannot make the citizens obedient and lawful. That is impossible. Throughout the entire world there are so many states, legislative assemblies and parliaments, but still the citizens are rogues and thieves. Good citizenship, therefore, cannot be enforced; the citizens must be trained. As there are schools and colleges to train students to become chemical engineers, lawyers or specialists in many other departments of knowledge, there must be schools and colleges to train students to become brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, sudras, brahmacaris, grhasthas, vanaprasthas and sannyasis. This will provide the preliminary condition for good citizenship (varnasrama-gunan-vitah). Generally speaking, if the king or president is a rajarsi, the relationship between the citizens and the chief executive will be clear, and there will be no possibility of disruption in the state, because the number of thieves and rogues will decrease. In Kali-yuga, however, because the varnasrama system is neglected, people are generally thieves and rogues. In the system of democracy, such thieves and rogues naturally collect money from other thieves and rogues, and thus there is chaos in every government, and no one is happy. But here the example of good government is to be found in the reign of Lord Ramacandra. If people follow this example, there will be good government all over the world'.20