Hare Krishna! We are launching a course dedicated to studying the principles of a healthy society. What does it mean to have a healthy society? How do we create such society and which rules we must follow in our individual life as well as in our interactions with one another? This topic is quite important today and is becoming increasingly relevant as the time goes on.
We all observe how the present society in which we live surrounds us with its ever wide-spreading ailments. Social adversities overburden people in general and significantly influence our rather small Vaishnava community.
Srila Prabhupada once said that future historians will definitely note that ISKCON saved the humanity at its gravest times.
It appears that this gloomy period, which was discussed in Vaishnava communities for quite some time, following Prabhupada’s comment, finally has arrived. We can see with bare naked eye that situation in the world with its modern societies is worsening with a catastrophic speed, or shall we say, exponentially.
Even few decades earlier, degrading in the society was not as obvious and as such we could pretend not to notice it. However, currently it’s so protruding which makes it simply impossible to look the other way.
We are now well aware that something is fundamentally wrong here. In order to save the humanity, thus fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s prediction or prophecy without portraying him as being some speculative idealist, we must first of all establish healthy society within ISKCON. We are obligated to create an effective pattern of it.
Even the most perfect theory can’t impress anyone nowadays. People simply lost faith in sugar coated reasoning. Unfortunately, to be honest, we have nothing to boast about, ourselves.
For the most part we cannot demonstrate to others truly robust wholesome society based on the principles of love and cooperation, the one where our devotees could solve their material problems utilizing spiritual methods. Those include their personal as well our community problems.
Sadly, we notice that coming into our small Vaishnava community, some devotees bring along many large-scale external public problems. For instance, they are dishonest with each other, use lying and deceit, they cannot build and maintain wholesome families, etc. the list goes on and on. Therefore, we cannot yet be a pattern to others.
Thus, in this particular course we will not just discuss what constitutes a truly robust society pretending that our verbal expressions will suddenly turn the society healthy. We will rather establish some healthy principles and implement them in real life, acknowledging though that in this material world the ideal society is near impossible to build and the best we can accomplish is to make solid steps forward, towards the ideal.
Ultimately, we will try to evaluate by some measurable criteria how close we approached the ideal expected from us by Srila Prabhupada and other great Acharyas of our Sampradaya.
Speaking of the healthy society we first and foremost refer to the Varnashrama society which was a prominent message of Srila Prabhupada’s organizational structure which was transferred to him through his Spiritual Master, Bhaktisiddhantha Saraswati Thakur, who in turn inherited it from Bhaktivinoda Thakur.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur was the very first Gaudiya Vaishnava who put his stakes into such important topic emphasizing extreme necessity to reestablish this structure in modern society. At the first glance, the statement regarding restoration of Varnashrama, which was transferred within our parampara initially to Bhaktisiddhantha Saraswati and later to Srila Prabhupada, appears contradictory to the spirit of Vaishnavism; mainly due to the fact that Vaishnavism is based on an important principle that Bhakti is never dependent on any external environment, or conditions of our activities.
Bhakti is self-sufficient and can solve all problems by itself. Moreover, the pioneers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, starting from Srila Rupa Goswami, including Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, were known to overthrow the idea of Varnashrama, stating that fundamental characteristics of such society go against Bhakti.
As an example, one of the characteristics of Varnashrama society, during the time of Lord Chaitanya’s presence on the planet, was respect given to an individual based on his birth. Another characteristic is rooted in the attempts to acquire material wealth by worshiping various demigods. The third contradictory characteristic is conducting sacrificial ceremonies which involved animal killing therefore being entirely opposite to all moral principles of Bhakti.
In “Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu”, Srila Rupa Goswami writes quite strong but clear statement that:
saṃmataṃ bhakti-vijñānāṃ bhakty-aṅgatvaṃ na karmaṇām ||1.2.246||
“The consensus of those knowledgeable in bhakti is that karma (varṇāśrama duties) is not an aṅga of bhakti.”
For those who understand the value and meaning of Bhakti, having experienced Bhakti (bhakti vijnanam), karma (here understood as principles of Varnashrama society) or Varnashrama itself are not considered angas (or the limbs) of Bhakti. This means it is not part of Vaishnava practices. Bhakti is something that stands alone and to reach a success in Bhakti there is no need to be involved in Varnashrama or follow some of its regulations.
Another problem regarding Varnashrama is trying to follow it to the letter, which is practically impossible today due to extreme busyness of people who has no time left for anything extra, they cannot even perform minimum sadhana Bhakti. This sadhana requires to dedicate significant amount of time to practice. So, the rules of Varnashrama demand extensive efforts and time to follow them. There are many rituals to observe, two fire sacrifices per day (morning and evening), though they are not elaborate but nonetheless not easy administered in our time. And many other activities.
Naturally, comes the question why in Vishnu Purana Parashara Muni emphasizes that worshiping the Lord Vishnu is possible only by the means of Varnashrama. How does this statement go along the conclusion of Gaudiya Vaishnavas? Srila Prabhupada cited this verse from “Vishnu Purana” (3.8.9) quite often:
purusena parah puman
visnur aradhyate pantha
"One can worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Viṣṇu, by proper discharge of the principles of varna and asrama. There is no alternative to pacifying the Lord by execution of the principles of the varnasrama system."
This is eventually the method of worshiping Vishnu. In his comments to the verse above Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakur says that in the same Vishnu Purana there are other claims such as nothing is needed for worshiping but chanting the holy names of the Supreme Lord and remembering Him. Therefore, this verse according to our Parampara within Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition is mentioned in Vishnu Purana for those who lack qualifications of pure Bhakti. If we have a faith in the process of pure Bhakti, Varnashrama, as stated by our Acharyas, is not mandatory.
Why then we are rocking the boat altogether? Why Bhaktivinoda Thakur made this into important task and submitted it for execution to Bhaktisiddhantha Saraswati? On one hand, he wanted to preach Pure Bhakti and on the other to reestablish Varnashrama principles. Why Srila Prabhupada paid so much attention to it as well, lamenting at the end of his life that only half of his mission was fulfilled and the other half of revoking Varnashrama was left unfinished?
Bhaktivinoda Thakur goes over this subject in his “Chaitanya Sikshamrita” explaining in greater detail relations between Varnashrama and Bhakti. Primarily, he gives a precise definition of Varnashrama. We need to understand it well. “Varnashrama is the society where individual can preserve his physical, mental strength and health, reside in comfortable social community which is not affected by vices and mere presence of an individual within such community provides one basic opportunities for advancement in spiritual knowledge”.
Considering such definition of Varnashrama society we can conclude that in essence, despite some contradictions between practice of Bhakti, namely Vaidhi Sadhana Bhakti, and Varnashrama, the latter does not conflict with the essence of Bhakti.
We all know from personal examples that it is difficult to practice Bhakti when our body has illness. It is even more difficult to practice Bhakti if our mind is not well and has become a collection of negative emotions. It is hard to practice Bhakti in antagonistic society which itself is preoccupied in trying to resolve myriad of its own problems. Without having basic spiritual knowledge, it is also impossible to practice Bhakti, the elements of which were absorbed in Varnashrama society literally with mother’s milk. Individuals born and raised in such environment did not question the fact of reincarnation. It was obvious to them just as well as other fundamentals of spiritual knowledge.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur says that when individuals are immersed in degrading social norms forcing them to constantly be in the state of a battle with negative tendencies, they waste precious time, which otherwise would have been used for the greater good.
This in turn leads to diseases of body and mind. It’s hard to concentrate on Bhakti and yet more difficult to achieve success in the practice. That is why it is utterly important to have a healthy society. Obviously, Bhakti can be practiced by anyone anywhere, under any circumstances, despite the surroundings. However, practicing Bhakti in hostile environment requires enormous amount of energy and willpower, which may even shorten the life of an individual. Bhaktas do not live long in such societies. Bhaktivinoda Thakur gives examples of cruelty towards Saint Paul from Christian tradition, Jesus himself, and Haridas Thakur who was beaten and dragged through 22 marketplaces.
Not going too far back in time, we have examples of our own recent history of prosecution of devotees in Russia where they were thrown into jails for practicing Bhakti. Some had to leave their body due to the severity of punishment. Such was the society with barbarian rules they lived in.
Bhaktivinoda Thakur noted that when Varnashrama encounters the culture of Bhakti all the shortcomings of Varnashrama society get eliminated and it becomes a supporting force for further cultivation of Bhakti up to the point of its success. He also says that in the beginning, one gradually uses the healthy habits of moral theistic society centralized around God while practicing Bhakti at the same time.
As the Bhakti progresses, it becomes dominant and other practices move behind the scenes, yet the ones assisting in practicing Bhakti still remain useful in the life of a devotee. One way or another, Bhaktivinoda Thakur thoroughly proves that healthy society based on Varnashrama principles continues to be useful auxiliary instrument for practicing Bhakti so one can focus his consciousness onto the holy name without external distractions. We may look deeper someday into the chapters of “Chaitanya Sikshamrita” where Bhaktivinoda Thakur gives detailed explanation of these interactions.
We will try to understand what is Varnashrama society and as much as possible, without oversimplifying the subject, its organization that has become obsolete. Quite often, when devotees discuss Varnashrama topics, there is a perception of it being rather strange and archaic, therefore, attempts to restore it are not relevant in the modern day. It appears that such organization is so remote from current environment thus understood as some sort of utopia disconnected from realities of today.
We have volumes of literature to cover this topic, primarily historical as Varnashrama structure was discussed quite extensively. Also, Srila Prabhupada in his books outlined in detail how to organize such society. The same applies to books by Bhaktivinoda Thakur. There are also vivid examples of Varnashrama communities on the small scale existing during present times. Despite of Kali Yuga, those communities function rather successfully.
Varnashrama drastically differs from multiple utopian society proposals where their advocates build up an elaborate scheme of principles for such societies yet in reality none of them had proven functional, more over results totally opposed their predicted outcomes.
One of such examples was an attempt to build communism in the Soviet Union. The attempt that was way too costly to the population of this multinational country. Millions of lives were lost for individuals who were hindering the advancement of the new regime marching towards bright communist future. We still have not come to our senses trying to recover from those troubled times. This so called communism planted cynicism in people’s hearts, kindled envy and greed. Now we can see how two demons, envy and greed, after being suppressed for some time by communist ideology one day violently broke through crashing the remnants of the restricted society in Russia and former USSR republics in 1900ies. We can still observe some unresolved conflicts that were deeply rooted during Soviet times.
What are the main differences between these utopian schemes and Varnashrama society? People are tired of endless social experiments and even some devotees exhibit skepticism regarding establishment of some close to ideal society organization. One major advantage of Varnashrama organization is the fact that it is real. Lenin once stated that the theory of Karl Marx was powerful because it was right. Turns out it was weak and thus definitely wrong. Because it was based on a primitive philosophical concept that once the capital assets are socialized and planned economy is established everything will automatically change for the better. According to Marx philosophy, social being invariably defines consciousness, therefore changing the way of being will lead to changes in consciousness. Assets were expropriated and socialized but consciousness as we know remained the same, full of troubles and vices. Thus, the slogan of Marx theory “being right” sounds like a bad joke today.
In order for us to create something reasonably healthy within any society we need to lay in its ground a good foundational concept and carefully verify it. We know that all Vedic culture is based on important philosophical provision that all living beings in this world represent dual unity to a first approximation and ultimately trinity. Dual unity is a coexistence of matter and spirit and human being is a symbiosis of those.
Krishna states in BG 13.27
yavat sanjayate kincit
tad viddhi bharatarsabha
“O chief of the Bharatas, whatever you see in existence, both moving and unmoving, is only the combination of the field of activities and the knower of the field”.
Kshetra means body and kshetrajna is consciousness. Spirit or consciousness has entirely different nature than matter. This concept is reversed in Marx and Engels philosophy therefore lead to erroneous conclusions. They made a mistake in the very first calculation, therefore causing final equation to fail.
Again, we have to verify our foundational principle clearly and precisely to avoid errors in the first step. If we look further, we find that kshetra or the matter (Prakriti) in turn splits into gross physical body and subtle body of our mind. Therefore, we come to realize three essential elements: our spirit or soul, subtle body, and gross body.
Our subtle body is made up of two components, to say precisely it’s 4 components, but again we will review that to a first approximation. First are our emotions, being part of our subtle body, they are residing in our emotional mind, manas. Second is intellect or conscious intelligence, which gives understanding of how everything is arranged around us.
If we want to analyze what is a healthy society, we must first talk about what this society must grant. First, it needs to provide physical health, then emotional health, i.e., to be built on principles that elevate healthy emotions. It also has to guide humans giving them correct intellectual concepts which will help to wisely interact with this world. It must provide the nourishment for intellectual development. And finally, a healthy society is the one that serves the goals of spiritual progress for individuals.
This must have an underlying understanding that emotional mind and intellect are only needed for achieving spiritual progress. Therefore, bringing individuals close to God. This is just mere basic definition of a healthy society which we will use to further development of this concept.
So, what is a healthy society? It provides physical development or helps to maintain physical health. It supports emotional health. It assists in intellectual progress. Ultimately, it is the society that aims to allow for each individual’s spiritual progress.
Also, one important statement about what makes the society healthy is the fact that no single individual in such society is used as the means for achieving some purposes of other people or organizations. An individual there must be viewed as self-worth.
Often some people who are driven by good ideas and desires to make everyone happy do it by eliminating some parts of society. In this way such society becomes monstrous and suppress people living in it. An individual shall never be the means.
Srila Prabhupada accentuated numerous times that human life is valuable in itself. Human body is the most precious instrument we obtain after lengthy evolution, transmigrating through 8,400,000 species of life and the only one that allows us to approach God, and develop loving relationship with Him. Everything else, such as all the institutions in the society (including our ISKCON), must subordinate to this higher goal. Not vice versa. It’s not a person that has to serve the society, but the society must serve each person by means of all its institutions, bringing each individual closer to God.
We can give many other characteristics of a healthy society such as it is the environment where people appreciate each other and always ready to help whoever is in need. This is the type of society where people live with dignity and honesty, they have a very high moral and ethical stamina, assisting everyone around them in their spiritual progress. In such society, nobody is trying to subdue others to their interests. In unhealthy society we can see proliferating rumors and indecent gossip which causes people without inner strength become acutely dependent on the opinion of others regarding themselves.
In few minutes we will talk about the obvious signs of unhealthy society which will make significant portion of our conversation. But first, I would like each one of you paint the image of the healthy society in your mind. Imagine this God-centric society where relations with God remain the most precious for all and everyone in our surrounding cares about each individual progress towards God, in becoming purer, rounded human beings, where all institutions directed just as much towards the same goal.
We can easily see from the description above that modern society is inevitably diseased. It is struck with many vices to the very subtle depth.
Srila Prabhupada spoke about this as he was able to estimate the poor condition of modern society in the West, primarily in the United States. While staying in New York, he was often forced to roll away drunkards blocking his apartment entryway. He had to tolerate his audience being under influence of drugs, coming for kirtans with dirty unkept clothes covering their filthy body. These are the signs of unhealthy society which Srila Prabhupada sharply criticized. The same tendency can be noticed in Indian society today which acquired many problems and sores. Every country of the world now is heading the same direction towards unmanageable problems. Crime, drug abuse, and other negative trends are on the rise.
Talking about unhealthy society we first of all refer to the mental state of its citizens. The society today is the most prominent symptom of the social illness which brings about neurotics, people prone to depression, the ones living in the constant state of stress, ultimately people with the highest degree of dissatisfaction.
In such unstable state here and there individuals, communities, and even countries explode with quarrel, arguments with or without any reason, and unsubstantiated wars. Anger is most common emotion today pouring like hot lava out of the active volcano.
We can continue on and on with those signs of dissatisfaction. They are plentiful.
Recently I read the article about how the modern society created new type of humans, the ones having an abundance of wealth yet highly unsatisfied. Such is the paradox of the latest decade in many societies which apparently reached high external prosperity overloaded with variety of merchandise yet people buying enormous amounts of those goods remained unhappy.
All this is yet another proof of mental decline in modern humans. Needless to say, that humans became physically sick as well. Diseases that attacked people in their 60-ies or 70-ies now target much younger generation of 30-49 years old.
The society is ruled by deviated moral compass, where sky high profits and accumulation of excessive wealth have most desirable values.
Naturally this type of society has almost nonexistent spiritual orientation. Even in the countries considering themselves somewhat religious, the spiritual development is not their first priority.
Largest part of the world population is openly preaching atheism claiming God does not exist.
By all these 4 criteria from emotional, physical, and intellectual levels people are driven by false ideals. Not to mention spiritual aspect of our being is simply at the very bottom.
As we acknowledge all these social disturbances, I wanted to give some tasks to each course participant. I would like you to think about and list exact social problems you are observing in general society and in ISKCON particularly.
One of them is accelerated destruction of families when couples cannot stay together for a long time. As sociologists say, the time came for serial monogamy. This means we change partners one after another, while claiming that we remain monogamous.
Again, summarizing all unhealthy social symptoms, we shall carefully analyze this situation and see how they manifest themselves. This can help us to visualize in what type of society we would like to live in and how can we build such society.
Now we will jump to the most important part of our conversation. We will try to highlight the fundamental principles the Varnashrama society is based upon. This is not an ordinary task as there are many different descriptions of those. This type of society is very complex consisting of many elements, inputs and outputs, therefore it’s hard to find from which end we need to unravel this tangle.
On one hand, we must form all applicable principles without forgetting anything of importance. On the other hand, we must not to pass some secondary principles as important, often they are simply details.
People have tendency to get too caught up in pretty details that do not have anything to do with the subject of Varnashrama. On the contrary, others can miss some important principles which form the basis of wholesome Varnashrama.
I would like to offer you some structural approach to help us set forth these principles. We need to make sure, at least to some degree, that we did not miss anything and all major principles are accounted for.
I purposely will focus today on Varnashrama principles relevant to our mental health, i.e., the health of our subtle body. Of course, other Varnashrama principles are not of the lesser importance, such as those supporting physical health. We will turn to them a bit later as it is quite important constituent of the society where such principles allow individual to maintain their physical health. We will not discuss any spiritual topics as they are subject matter of the most our daily lectures. I am hoping that the basics of spiritual knowledge have already engraved into us.
Let’s talk about 4 aspects of our subtle body and Varnashrama principles that assist us in improving those aspects.
I mentioned before two main aspects of the subtle body (antah karana) emotional and intellectual, however we know that there are additional two which are città (our subconsciousness, memory, or our heart) and our false ego (ahankara).
Again, healthy society is the one that promotes physical and mental health. It also facilitates us in reviving our spirit, leading to evolution of the soul.
Let’s take this single aspect, our subtle body, divide it into 4 pieces and try to analyze which Varnashrama laws or rules promote rehabilitation of our mental health. Consequently, since our subtle body is an adapter or a medium between our soul and gross body, once its own health is restored, it brings benefits to physical body and helps the soul in her spiritual progress. Thus, the soul gets more and more chances to break out of the karmic nets, the layers of subtle and gross body.
The scene that I propose will help us easily remember the fundamental principles of Varnashrama, which are plentiful.
If we take Laws of Manu (Manu samhita), it is a voluminous treatise where all kinds of laws are prescribed for human society. It is easy to get confused in all that information. There is also chance to miss the important and focus on scattered details. We will try to limit ourselves with some reasonable baseline in order to make the system easy to memorize, absorb, and make practically applicable.
Let’s start with buddhi, the intellect or our conscious intelligence, and try to understand which Varnashrama mechanisms or laws promote our intellect.
Intellect helps us to live in and adapt to this world and have a sense of stability. It also defines our activities. We are going to start from healing our intellect, because two of the most critical and fundamental Varnashrama principles are connected to it, thus defining an individual’s status in the society. These are Varna and Ashram. First Varna, then Ashram. These are two fundamental principles defining one’s ability to acquire healthy intellect.
Before this, we must mention another principle that rises above these two which is an important contributor to the intellectual health of an individual. It is the fact that God is placed in the very center. Thus, we have three essential principles that can help to recuperate the intellect.
What is an intellect? It is part of our intelligence, namely the faculty of reasoning and objective understanding. It creates various concepts, trying to understand wholesome view of the world.
Below are 4 subdivisions:
1. God-centric view of the world. Understanding that God is here. He is not just Transcendental image that resides beyond our perception, totally inconceivable as some agnostics or other philosophers define Him. God is a true power that stands behind all the phenomena of this world. He defines and directs our lives. And this is the most important principle. Healthy society places God in the center with all others trying to serve Him one way or another.
We will discuss on a separate occasion what does each principle mean and how to apply it. This shall be obvious but nonetheless we will touch this topic, there is something there to talk about.
Most importantly this is the first statement that heals our intellect. If our intellect realizes that there is God, the highest spiritual principle that unites everything and everyone and we are inseparable from Him, such concept alone contains outstanding healing power. This relieves one from committing dishonest or immoral actions with excuse of surviving here.
2. Varna principle or affined activity principle. A person has to understand very well on the level of his intellect that he is not supposed to perform activities meant for others. Even if it is valued higher in the society, it is more prestigious, and the reimbursement is significantly better. We must understand that the only way we can be happy is when our intellect is satisfied by fulfilling our own duties, benefiting others around us. The intellectual satisfaction in this case comes from the ability to reach perfection in our own realm of activity.
This is important principle which can be extensively reviewed but in brief the principle of affined activity is an activity performed according to one’s own psychophysical nature. Healthy society is the one where we emphasize to better engage in our own business, without getting into unknown territory, just because we think it will bring some benefits or profits. It’s clear that in the modern society this principle is totally ignored therefore it will be difficult to consistently implement. However, in our small Vaishnava society we can realistically maintain this principle supporting those who engage in their natural activity and discourage those who do not. We can also help people to discover their nature.
3. The Third principle which is also a characteristic of Varnashrama society and should become a hallmark of Vaishnava community is establishment of clear and precise laws. When we have no guidance in life it leads to myriad of problems. Our intellect is seeking some framework of laws as it creates a feeling of comfort. It functions better in the society where everything is crystal clear. This means that there are some restrictions or prohibitions which allow individual to develop intellectually. The laws cannot be of a loose structure otherwise they tend to be misinterpreted. For example, if we state that in our Vaishnava community, we do not encourage divorce, surely, we will notice its decrease. Simply because the degrees of freedom in regulated society are limited. Members of such community will understand that if they want to be part of this healthy and happy organization, they must fit into established criteria of what they can and cannot do. Often this is called “The System of hidden threats”. The members of such community are expected to know that overstepping their mark will push them outside of the organization. And healthy society is different from unhealthy solely by this moral clarity.
4. Ashram. It also nourishes and improves our intellect. Understanding how the Ashram works is being aware of psychophysical nature given to us at birth, which is near impossible to change in this life and it is accounted for in the concepts of Varna. This nature means to be developed and polished while progressing from one Ashram to another following their specific regulations. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in his Sikshamrita says that essentially there are three major ashrams. We know well that by definition there are 4 of them but the 4th is simply more advanced stage of the 3rd ashram. They are student ashram (brahmachari), the householder ashram (grihastha), and renounced order ashram (vanaprastha). These ashrams must be practiced in sequence by every human being and which rules to follow within each must be well understood.
Varna and Ashram are two axis of our existence and at each particular time in life we must understand our position within the coordinate plane formed by them. This defines the specific principles to follow. If one’s svabhava is being a brahmana, there is a specific set of rules to follow. Then, depending on the ashram one follows (brahmachari, grihastha, or vanaprastha - the brahman who steps away from social responsibilities and submerges into spiritual practice), respectively, some adjustments will be necessary to apply.
Such are 4 principles related to improving the intellect.
Three remaining primary functions of our subtle body will also split into 4 subordinate categories so the parallel is easy to memorize. I will talk about it in the next lecture.
I wanted to warn you that I don’t claim this information to come from some engraved palmyra leaf manuscripts. It is simply the approach to review of what a healthy society means and how to establish it.
Now we need to turn back to the definition of manas, our emotional mind. It is bipolar, having raga and dvesha on opposite sides. Raga is attachment, sort of love of some kind. Dvesha is rejection, or sort of hatred. Therefore, rejuvenation of our subtle body, or our emotions, is finding beneficial curves in both raga and dvesha. We must develop healthy attachments and healthy rejections. This means if we do not accept anything inauspicious and are attached to positive, auspicious activities, our mind would be emotionally healthy and stable. The mind that has too many attachments or too many rejections is very much unbalanced and unhealthy. In Varnashrama society there are few rules that can help us to balance raga and dvesha.
1. Raga being the side of attachment usually means accumulation of material possessions and ultimately translates into greed. To counteract this tendency, which each human being has, and cure such mental disease, Vedic society suggests to engage in philanthropy. Each person must donate part of his earnings to the good cause. Srila Prabhupada clearly emphasized this necessity. If a person does not engage in any charitable work, he cannot be a member of a healthy community. One of the qualities of healthy society is also generosity, people share their excessive incomes, possessions, and physically help each other. This is the first raga rejuvenating principle.
2. The second one is hospitality. Healthy society is where people visit each other and their doors are always open for any guests, whoever knocks on the door. We must always be ready to accept guests and treat them nicely, offering them foods we have. These are two similar principles (two to offset each raga and dvesha).
3. To counteract dvesha we must practice respect to other people. We spoke about this previously as I had a seminar about the culture of being respectful. This is important characteristic of healthy society. Respect is given according to one’s status or a true dignity (as opposed to the formal position, though this shall be somewhat considered and we will talk separately about it).
We all know that it is pleasant to live in a society where we are entitled to receive respect for the contributions we make. And vice versa, in a society which is smitten with envy or mutual animosity, it is near impossible to live comfortably, therefore people experience a strong desire to run away from there.
Let’s look at some healthy communities such as Protestants or Baptists amongst Christian communities. They are all built based on these three simple principles.
Charity or mutual help, hospitality, and respect. We can respect an individual just for being a human, or Vaishnava in our case, not to mention any other good qualities that person may have.
4. And the fourth principle related to manas, which allows to minimize our intellectual defects (flaws of our mind) is respect of Brahmanical values. Very interesting to note that in a Varnashrama society not everyone is a brahmana. Obviously, there are shudras, vaishyas, and kshatriyas. Though, when Srila Prabhupada mentioned that the society was based on Brahmanical values or it was dominated by sattva guna, he meant that brahmanas were given ultimate respect by everyone. The Brahmanical values are material detachment, renounced order, scholarship, sincere desire to worship God, commitments to higher goals. Brahmanas have many outstanding qualities listed in 18th chapter of Bhagavad Gita. Even if each member of the society could not follow those Brahmanical principles, and truly majority could not, at least they respected them. People respected knowledge of shastras, wisdom, renounced status of brahmanas, etc.
If we live according to some other values, for example those of vaishyas, which in modern times are aggressively imposed onto everyone (everyone must be wealthy, drive fancy cars, have a house - cup of plenty, even though not everyone needs all of this) then people will waste their valuable time and acquire many negative emotions earning to support the values they don’t need.
When Brahmanical values are dominating in a society, people have a chance to correct their life according to those values. They understand if they cannot be Brahmanas themselves they can at least respect the values carried out by true Brahmanas whose life become exemplary for others. Naturally, by showing such respect, others will receive advice and protection from Brahmanas.
When all members of the society accept the protection of Brahmanas, such society generally is influenced by sattva guna. Raga and dvesha are none other but description of the system of values by which people live and in sattvic society they become healthier making their mind more enlightened and positively tuned.
Now we shall review the next set of principles of the healthy society meant for purifying of our Ego (ahankara).
1. One of the most essential laws of Varnashrama society is detachment from the fruits or results of our actions. Our false ego has two aspects “I” and “mine”, I am the best, looking down on everyone else, I must prove to others my superiority. The way “I” exhibits the superiority is when I acquire a lot of “mine” or accumulate excessive material possessions. This makes me attached to the fruits of my labor, be it some gross achievements or very subtle. I cultivate desire for honors, fame, etc. All these are manifestations of our ahankara. Therefore, the first sign of the healthy society is a law that does not allow us to get attached to the results of our labor, or obsessively position ourselves in the center, as well as not to emphasize our achievements. The healthiest society is the one that values modest people, those who don’t brag about their uniqueness. It is also the society where donations are administered anonymously and the credit for doing good deeds is not taken upon the doer. This was the first principle related to ahankara.
Three others are pretty clear to understand.
2. Principle of cooperation and ability for human interchange. Healthy society values these qualities as essential. In healthy society it is not a shame for one to depend on another. Srila Prabhupada said the real happiness is exactly in the fact that we depend on each other. One contributes what he can and others contribute what they can and together we are part of the whole. Realization of each being part of the whole, and never independent is a vital sign of the social prosperity.
3. However, Srila Prabhupada stated the necessity of reasonable competition. In the 7th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam he talks about Vaikuntha competition when people compete for a common goal and with that, they don’t develop envy. Our false ego forces us to compete and it is based on envy. Healthy false ego, or purified ahankara, is inclined to compete, which is its natural tendency, but rather for a greater good and thus experiencing joy of someone else’s success.
This healthy competition happens within the same circle of individuals desiring to reach perfection in the same sphere of activity. There is nothing prohibitive in competition between students of the same class trying to better learn a particular subject. Such endeavor helps each one of them to reach a perfection. Therefore, healthy competition with the motto of reaching perfection in a certain field becomes an important distinguishing feature of a virtuous society. It’s not the type where everyone settles for some mediocre results. As we can see from examples, the Vedic society have been giving rise to geniuses, those individuals achieving perfection in all branches of Vedic knowledge. This was also an indicator of a healthy society; therefore Srila Prabhupada was laying the spirit of competition within ISKCON.
4. In order for our ahankara to function correctly we must humbly accept a natural hierarchy. At present, in about every society any hierarchy is completely denied. Everyone is equal. No doubt we are all equal in the eyes of God, on the level of Bhakti this is true. Even though there are different levels of Bhakti as well, someone is higher than others. Someone is closer to God and love Him more where others are few steps behind. Instead of sweeping denial of hierarchy if we observe a natural respect for it, we will bring healthy elements to the society. It is clear that someone is always going to be above each one of us. If we value this fact without trying to bring our superiors down to our level or express unreasonable envy about their position, we implement another good law of a healthy society. The wise understand there are people who are above me, equal to me, and below me and it is my responsibility to learn interacting with them accordingly. I must respect and be joyful to the ones who above me, happily enter into creative relationships with my equals and act with care and protection towards those who are below me.
Finally, we will review 4 principles in the realm of our citta or the heart.
Citta is the most subtle covering of our consciousness and naturally Varnashrama culture takes into account or rather includes everything that is necessary in order for our heart to function correctly. It (V. culture) is concerned about purification of the heart allowing the image of God appear there, which is the main purpose of citta.
Citta, being beneficial sattvic covering of our consciousness, gives us an opportunity to feel the inner presence of God.
Now, 4 principles related to regeneration of citta are the following:
1. Fairly simple one, principle of evolution based on spiritual practice. Evolution is roughly a purification of consciousness via spiritual practice. Any healthy society accentuate spiritual practice. We value people who sincerely engage in spiritual activities and we understand that this is the only way to purify the consciousness. In healthy society spiritual practice becomes an integral part, holds high value for individuals and everyone understands how important is our sadhana. Sadhana is the sphere of activity where the most amazing events of our life occur. Sadhana leads to evolution. It is a prominent feature in society, where everyone in his own way or form is engaged in it, striving to purify his consciousness.
2. Second principle, in a way related to the first, is an attempt to avoid the influence of lower gunas of material nature. Society will always have a number of people under the influence of either tama or raja guna. Nonetheless, we understand that even upon sustenance of such psychophysical environment, essential part of which is tamas or rajas, we can withstand it by maintaining a sattvic lifestyle. We must counteract lower gunas with sattvic excess. Despite of our origin and past life package we can build our life following sattvic laws. Therefore, the society overall can be sattvic yet have individuals of various types. Sattvic laws are common to all, such as truthfulness. In Srimad Bhagavatam 7th Canto, 11 chapter there is a listing of 30 signs or responsibilities of a civilized man starting from Satya (truthfulness). Others are austerity, cleanliness, all 4 regulative principles we follow in ISKCON. All those are sattvic principles. Srila Prabhupada said we are all Vaishnavas which means we live by principles of sattva guna. People of a healthy society are well aware of how to bring more sattva into their life no matter what nature they currently exhibit.
3. A principle of simplicity and honesty. Srila Prabhupada often exclaimed “simple living and high thinking”. This principle is an endeavor to make one’s life as simple as possible without overinflated artificial needs in order to find peace and contentment. It does not mean we acquire this state by doing activities in many various spheres but mainly accepting what we have without investing significant efforts. It takes practice to achieve such state. I can program myself to accept all that I have as the best and not desire anything else. What came to me naturally makes me happy and I don’t need to blow my demands out of proportion by artificial means. This was very essential characteristic of a Varnashrama society.
4. Finally, the last principle is a quality which Bhaktisiddhantha Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada defined as the most vital for a Vaishnava. It is called saralata. It means uprightness somewhat related term to a simplicity and sincerity, absence of pretense, honesty, truthfulness. This is a quality in which we present ourselves as we are without trying to appear as somebody else. We can try to improve our life but having inner confidence and strength in what we have today, we can bring something good to the society and individuals in our surroundings anyway. Most importantly we can serve Vaishnavas one way or another within the smaller community of ISKCON.
These are the 4 principles of our heart purification which must become the laws of a healthy society.
I need to mention that it’s one thing when we talk about individual practice, but it’s another when we turn more towards collective practice of a society which has a set of social laws or mechanisms to affirm all these values. This will help to avoid temptations or remove any stimuli to break the values and principles.
Sadly, in a regular society, all established social mechanisms are meant for the opposite effect, forcing one to break the principles or ignore the values.
One example is an addiction to social media, which makes one depend on the opinion of others. A person develops propensity to play some false roles trying to get and acceptance from others. On the other hand, Vaishnava community is the entity based on the higher moral principles, therefore it has quite different social mechanisms. We will discuss and analyze this in the near future while taking this learning course and try to use it in our daily life.
In summary, each one of those 16 principles I outlined becomes an important
component of the overall social health. Though for each principle to activate or work well, specific mechanisms must be set to assert them within the society. We will try to create those mechanisms together.
I hope the result will show how gradually our small communities will become increasingly attractive places where each individual feels welcome, needed, valued, free of exploitation by others, where everyone’s only concern is to help others becoming good and pure and be able to approach God and achieve the love of God. Such is the high ideal of Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
This is the essence of our program. When we can actually do it, and create such communities, we can consider achieving something very significant. I am recording this webinar in the United States and yesterday one of the senior devotees who immigrated here 6 years ago from Russia noted that once he had encountered nice Baptist communities, his perception of our society was that we have a long way to go to reach their level.
Though their philosophy is rather impersonalism, in real daily life they carry out quite well their spiritual ideals. We have great philosophical talks but often minimal specific examples or activities.
This is my introduction into the subject and I think this information is more than enough to launch some initial processes. Please analyze what is healthy and diseased society and how healthy society regenerate our mental plane, our subtle body. The rest of the related topics such as healthy physical body and our soul we will discuss later. What we have said today is a good start.
Thank you. Srila Prabhupada Ki Jaya!!!