It is so happened that I was born right before the 1st of September (the start of the school year), therefore the beginning of our sessions will coincide with the school year. We were discussing various aspects of relationships and their importance in our spiritual life. This year we will proceed to the next level and address a society.
Relationships are important elements in any society and if we ultimately learned how to establish relationships locally, with each individual in our surroundings, we are guaranteed to have a healthy society.
I wanted to elaborate on the definition of it and why it is important.
Just at this time, after launching Bhagavad Gita learning class within our program, we reached 16th Chapter going through Sanskrit verses. Tomorrow, we will have the very first graduates. In the 16th Chapter Krishna expands His teachings started in 15th Chapter. He used a metaphor in the 15th Chapter, which is probably the most striking in the entire Bhagavad Gita, by which He compares the entire world with the Ashvattha tree (a sacred fig tree).
The term Ashvattha means that which exists today but is gone tomorrow. Sva means “tomorrow”. Ashva means “it’s not there tomorrow”. It signifies a temporary place, upside down world, where the roots grow upwards and crown is pointed downwards. In summary, a number of negative things was mentioned about this tree, but at the same time Krishna says that this tree, being an image of samsara in this world, has secondary roots.
Despite of the main root being on the top of the tree and the rest growing down towards the ground, there are secondary roots, some of which grow downwards and some upwards. Those secondary roots are Vāsanā - the quality we acquire as a result of our activities in this life. We take birth with the nature which is already embedded in us. In the 16th Chapter Krishna explains those secondary fruits of the samsara tree. He says there are two fruits on this tree. One is a good fruit, the kind which is worth to be there for. Yet, there is another fruit, or another fruit category of the bad ones. The good fruits represent good qualities, those we are born with, provided we have them. If we don’t have them, another life is sure awaits us.
The 16th Chapter describes these two natures of individuals, they are called Vāsanās, which are deeply rooted samskaras that keep appearing because we repeat the same actions in our lives, again and again. The results of our bad actions lead us to more bad actions. In the same token, the results of our pious deeds, make us conduct more of the good actions.
Why am I getting at all of this? I wanted to say that in the first 3 verses Krishna very briefly describes the good fruits of the samsara tree. Often, we hear statements that this world has nothing good at all. Krishna though affirms that there is a good fruit of being in this world. This fruit is the qualities that we can develop here. As it was explained by our Acaryas in their commentaries to the first 3 verses of the 16th Chapter, these good qualities result from living in a healthy society.
In reality, we cannot develop any good qualities on our own. The only thing we can do by ourselves is to follow some propensities already established in us, which means to a greater or lesser extent, re-produce the nature that we already have. At the same time, being influenced by the lowest gunas of material nature, with which we come into contact anyway, we can slowly degrade. By definition, we cannot obtain any new good quality on our own. Note that new bad quality we can obtain at any time, material world gives plenty opportunities for us to do so.
To develop good qualities, we need a healthy society. Healthy society means it is built on the basis of dharma principles, outlined in scriptures. Healthy society does not mean the one where everyone loves and hugs each other. God forbid from that! Healthy society does not even mean that all vegetarians get together, it’s Ok they do but they assemble not because they became vegetarians or simply like vegetarian food, but because vegetarian food is prescribed in shastras. There is a big difference in how vegetarianism is perceived. One side is having one’s personal choice of becoming a vegetarian due to the nature made up by my past life karma. It’s not bad but is nothing significantly good either. We are not developing a new quality but following our existing nature. We simply reenact our previous work and chances are high that things could get worse. However, if we deliberately put ourselves under external discipline (by the way, the word “shastra” means disciplinary force, shas is a verb meaning to discipline - to direct, to manage or to put framework around, establish some laws). If society is created on the platform of following the principles of shastras and everyone respects them, only then such society can be considered sattvic, i.e., exhibits the qualities of sattva guna.
Sattva guna is not a festival of goodness or a form of advertising sattva. Sattva comes into being only when individual suppresses his natural raga and natural dvesha. As a result of previous karma, a person is born with a certain ratio of raga and dvesha. One is attached to something and despises something else. In commentaries we can find that if a person is driven by his raga or attachment, he becomes an Asura. Asur is usually translated as “demon” but literally it means “life lover”. Such person is very much attached to sense gratification by the means he likes. This is raja guna. On the other hand, if a person is driven by dictation of his dvesha or developed hatred and rejection, he becomes a Rakshasa. He develops evil qualities when he enjoys seeing suffering of others, he likes to see them and he can cause pain. Recently Hermine from Yerevan was talking about what’s going on there, basically another round of war. I read a little bit today about those events, absolutely horrible things are happening there. People abuse each other in the most brutal way possible. I am not even talking about the war in Ukraine, we are all well aware of cruelty there. The most devastating thought is that people are enjoying doing this. This is a result of being driven by dvesha which develops the nature of tamas and we now have to deal with Rakshasas. Sadly, we live in the world with plenty of Asuras and Rakshasas and a very few people of a divine nature. Again, the only way to obtain a divine nature, is to build our life based on principles of shastras and spread it to our micro society (ISKCON) in accordance with the same principles. The amazing outcome of this will be noted in the qualities described in the first three verses of the 16th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Staring from the word abhayam which means fearlessness. Let’s say fearlessness is the summit of spiritual development in the society.
When a person is not afraid of death, is always cognizant about the presence of God in his life, not afraid of speaking the truth, not afraid to be in difficult situations - these signifies Abhayam. Abhayam is the topmost nature that can manifest in a person as a result of surrendering to shastras instead of acting whimsically. At the conclusion of 16th Chapter Krishna says:
yaḥ śāstra-vidhim utsṛjya
na sa siddhim avāpnoti
na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim
He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.
Even if a person has a good sattvic nature from his past life, but still follows his own whims, he cannot reach any perfection, success will not be on his path and due to that he would not be satisfied. Ultimately, such person will be greatly disappointed being unable to reach higher level of consciousness.
Therefore, we have very serious reasons to think on one side about building our own life wisely based on principles of shastras. I am very much in hopes you already are doing so - getting up early before sunrise, unlike Asuras and Rakshasas who are waking up late in the evening, go to bed early as well, gave up intoxication of any kind and instead are being content with my lectures, as one Mataji said at recent retreat in Belorussia. These are already few good achievements. One more note, it is important to follow those vows with deep understanding that such is a will of Krishna. Naturally, Krishna wants it because He wants to see us utilize this valuable and meaningful life to come to the point of happiness. He does not want anything else from us. We must always understand that a discipline first comes to us externally until such time when it is merged with our inner nature. We need this outer disciplinary force at the beginning and naturally we will tune into it without any hardship sooner or later. We will be waking up early without effort, avoiding anything that might degrade our consciousness, etc.
When the society is built in a way to help us follow the discipline, it is easy to not deviate. We are after all social creatures. We tend to flock in defeating some so-to-speak external enemies and overcome obstacles together. Really, if a society is based on the principles of shastras and everyone follows them, it is so much easier to live in such a way. Why it is so hard for many people to follow high moral principles right now, while living in the ordinary society? Quite easy to answer this, because everyone likes the way they want and once they see the eccentric devotees doing something unusual, they show us the Cuckoo sign. We need this inner social support but at the same time we need to establish some rules in this society. The rules that are firm and indisputable. They will protect us from many problems. This is true when a person lives in stress-free or relaxed moral environment, provided occasionally demoniac mentality visits his mind. As before mentioned Hermine said “all bad comes from Satan and all good comes from God”. We agree, just need to understand who is this Satan, it is our own uncontrolled mind. It tempts us, continuously promises us incredible pleasures and unbelievable happiness, which does not exist. In this world we only have disease, decay, and death which result from our lives following Kama, our random whims. Alternatively, when we are following shastras, it can grant us inner cheerfulness and lightness. When we see such people, we notice immediately their confidence and lightness, their simplicity.
Therefore, 26 qualities mentioned in the first three verses of Bhagavad Gita’s 16th Chapter are the perfectly ripe fruits of the samsara tree, the fruits of being in the society built on the principles of shastras.
There are many gifts awaiting us, such as softness of the heart, simplicity, honesty, openness, apaisunam or reluctance to use profanities, or gossiping, strong desire to purify one’s consciousness (sattva samsuddhih). All these wonderful qualities, also modesty and shyness, many others. Baladeva Vidyabhushana says that this list in inexhaustible. Such beneficial fruits are plentiful. The most important though is Krishna’s comment from the next verse. He says that the main fruit of the nature that we can develop living in a healthy society and interacting with others is a liberation or realization of our highest spiritual nature.
Rejection of the lower nature brings freedom from its slavery. On the contrary, indulgence in lower qualities, driven by raga and dvesha, attraction and aversion, will lead one to ever increasing enslavement and loss of individual freedom.
We selected this topic for the next year discussion and in contrast to previous year I will be giving the lectures all by myself. I will try to structure this training material as much as possible. I was thinking at first that at times we may have some visitors for joint conversations but the main course will be delivered in a lecture format. This was determined by the administration of team SINDU (Systematic Study of the Instructions of the Spiritual Master) on one side and on another by understanding that when we talk about very precise subjects they need to be clearly articulated. In order to create our projected society, we need a transparent clarity for practicing the formation of it. In free style communication the clarity of the subject often gets lost. Structure cannot be easily maintained in improvised talks. Therefore, this year we will run more structured approaches related to this subject.
We may diversify structured approach by adding free talks regarding such topics as calamities and diseases of the modern society. It would benefit us to invite experts in those subjects from other communities. By contrasting the examples, we can better understand the meaning of the healthy society as based on shastras or sattvic principles. Srila Prabhupada gave a definition of Varnashrama society as the one where mode of goodness dominates, however it is not a sentimental goodness, it is a life of a highest degree led in accordance with shastras. Only in this case it is a true mode of goodness, otherwise it is a whim.
There is a big difference between a whim and a true goodness. Thus, we will be building a society based on the principles of a true goodness, which are derived from precise laws written in shastras. I will be using most of the time “Sri Chaitanya Shikshamrita” by Bhaktivinoda Thakur, undoubtedly some book references by Srila Prabhupada, Mahabharata, etc. where this topic is heavily described.
I am not sure if I am missing anything from the established plan. Let me see the main heading and questions.
Q1. Why this theme of a healthy society important?
A. Simply because if we don’t build it now, we will never be able to do it in the future. May be even now it seems too late, but it’s better late than never.
Q2. Why is it important right now?
A. Because we all would like to live in a healthy society. It’s obvious. Much better than to live surrounded by sick people. This sickness is transferred to the minds of all people. Unhealthy society leads to increasingly higher percentage of mentally ill people. Being surrounded by them, we cease to perceive the normal. We look at them and think that may be this is normal. It’s best to be outside of the mad house.
Q3. What am I expecting from my disciples this year?
A. I learned not to expect anything. This makes me happier. If you feel though that in your mini communities improvements are coming through, I hope that it happened as a result of our discussions related to the topic of relationships. I was very pleased to hear from Prema Dakri, Vishakti and others who spoke about their increasing desire for service, how they met and discovered the great qualities in each other.
What’s best about healthy society, as Srila Prabhupada commented to the first 3 verses of the BG 16th Chapter, that each of the qualities described there relates to either the social class (varna) or stages of life (ashram) but there is one that spreads across the entire society. This quality is called Arjavam. Simplicity, honesty or straightforwardness. The advantage of the healthy society is in our ability to be honest and open, where we have no reason to hide anything. The greatest gift of the healthy society built on the platform of shastras is in the feelings of its individuals who behave themselves truly as they are, expressing their potential to the fullest, without being judged (of course within the framework designated in such society), where everyone is happy when others act according to their nature.
In a modern society people are always very tense, they always hide something and are afraid to express themselves. They hide behind the etiquette. Discipline described in shastras does not mean we encourage replacing real life and true relationships with some etiquette. It’s not like that. Just the opposite, such discipline allows us to be simple, relaxed, pure and possess inner freedom. Those are again precious gifts of living in the healthy society. In environment like this we don’t feel as strangers. As it is said being in the shell of our ego is very bad but healthy society helps us to break the protective armor of our false ego and manifest true identity. Our true identity is friendly, happy, full of joy, open, and honest soul which intends to realize its highest nature.
If all these processes will take place (as we just heard they are beginning to materialize) and expand, if our sanga will bring more close connections, I will be endlessly happy. Once again, I don’t expect any miracles but I have deep hopes for it.
After all, my duty is to inspire my disciples to actively participate in building such healthy society. I have no idea what I need to do for it, except encourage them to raise their hands and chant Hare Krishna!!!
Comments from the Host: We are truly inspired. Thank you, Guru Maharaj.