By: H.H. Radhanath Swami
Srila Prabhupada explains, on the basis of Vedic knowledge, that the varnasrama system represents the body of society. The body has different parts and each has to serve the whole. Conflict between one part and another creates a diseased body. The head serves the body by giving direction; the arms provide protection; the stomach does the service of nourishing every limb of the body; the legs serve the essential purpose of carrying the rest of the body. Thus all the parts of the body work in perfect harmony.
Similarly, Krishna is the complete whole and all segments of society are meant to harmonize with one another, performing their particular functions to serve Krishna. In the varna system the brahmanas are the head, they give direction; the ksatriyas are the arms, they give protection; the vaisyas are the stomach, they nourish and provide for the whole body; the sudras are the legs, they carry and support all other parts. In the asrama system the sannyasi is the head, he is supposed to be the guru of society, and the vanaprasthas are the arms. The grihasthas are the stomach-they are supposed to supply all the necessities-and the brahmacaris are the legs, they are simply meant to be humble servants. The glory of the varnasrama system is that everyone is serving Krishna together in harmony, according to their natural inclinations, according to their previous karma and the qualities they have adopted. Srila Prabhupada said: “You can show your love for me by how you cooperate with one another to spread this mission.” This cooperation is the very basis of being a Vaisnava, but in order to properly cooperate we have to understand what is our role, what are the roles of other devotees, and how we can all focus on the service of guru and Krishna.
Sometimes within our society there is competition, and competition is generally based on false ego. Everyone wants to think, “I am the best.” Actually this pervades the whole materialistic society, between nations, races and religions, between men and women, between young and old people. Because of ego, on every level there is conflict. What is the origin of this ego? The origin of the ego is when the spirit soul enters into this material existence; he wants to be God, he wants to be the enjoyer, he wants to be glorified. In whatever situation we are in, we have this ego and we want to be the best, the greatest, we want to be God. Despite whatever material adjustment we make, there will always be conflict. The only real principle of unity is:
jnatva mam santim rcchati
[Bhagavad-gita 5.29: “A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.”]
That everything is the property of Krishna; nothing is mine. We are all servants of Krishna, so let us unite to serve Krishna, who is the proprietor of the whole world and the master of everyone. This is the only way to have real peace, because it is based on truth.
Our duty in life is to please the Lord and what pleases the Lord most is that we work together in a spirit of humility. Therefore Srila Prabhupada said, “You can show your love for me by how you cooperate.” Krishna is most pleased by that spirit, and daivi-varnasrama is the system by which we can learn to cooperate as Vaisnavas and to respect one another, even within the variegatedness that may be among us.
Conflict Among the Asrams
Sometimes in our society brahmacaris are very arrogant. They think: “We are strict and advanced; grihasthas are in maya, they are fallen. Grihasthas have wives and children and houses, and all I have is my loincloth.” And then we have grihasthas who look at the brahmacaris and say: “Look at those useless fools. They are lazy; they are useless; they don’t do anything. If they want to do something practical in this world, they should get married and get a job; they are just eating and sleeping.” Then there are sannyasis who say that both brahmacaris and grihasthas are in maya because they are not carrying the stick of renunciation.
There is a lila of Ramanujacarya in this regard. In Sri Rangam there was a festival, a procession of the Deities through the streets. Ramanujacarya saw this young man who was really looking foolish: he was a big, strong wrestler and was holding an umbrella over a beautiful woman. His eyes were fixed on her. The Deities and the kirtan were passing by and he didn’t notice anything, he only looked at this woman. Ramanujacarya told one of his followers, “Please, tell that person to come here.” So, he went to him, “Sir, sir…” But he didn’t even notice that someone was talking to him; he was fixed in looking at that woman and making sure that the sun would not touch her beautiful body.
“What?” said the man in a distracted voice.
“Ramanujacarya wants to talk to you.”
“Ramanujacarya, the great acarya of the whole Sri Rangam, wants to talk to me?!”
So he went to Ramanujacarya, who said: “Don’t you know that you look like a fool? The procession is going, the Deities are here, and you are just looking at this lady?!” “I cannot help it,” he replied, “she’s so beautiful. Her eyes are as beautiful as lotus flowers. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this lady’s eyes in the whole creation. I cannot stop looking at her eyes.”
Ramanuja said: “If I show you something more beautiful than her eyes, would you still look at them?”
“Of course,” he said, “if you show me something more beautiful than her eyes, I would detach myself from her eyes. But there’s no such thing.”
“Oh, then you come to my asrama tonight.” Ramanuja said.
So the man went to the asrama and Ramanuja took him to the temple of Sri Ranganatha during the evening arati. The pujari waved the camphor lamp in front of the beautiful lotus eyes of Lord Visnu and the wrestler started crying, “I have now seen the most beautiful thing in the creation, the eyes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead! Now I will detach myself from that lady. I will surrender to Lord Visnu and I will surrender to you, because you brought me to Visnu.”
Ramanuja told him to preach to that lady and bring her also. She also became a great devotee and Ramanuja told them to get married. His name was Dhanur Das and he became a very dear associate of Ramanujacarya.
Who is more Renounced?
Ramanuja would spend so much time with Dhanur Das and let him do so much service. Brahmacaris were very disturbed to see this; they were thinking: “We are so detached, we are so austere and renounced; we have such a good sadhana and Dhanur Das is so attached to this woman. He is a fallen grihastha. Why Ramanujacarya, our Guru Maharaja, is spending so much time with him? He should spend time with us! We have surrendered our lives, what has he done?” In this way they were criticizing their guru. Ramanuja knew this, and one night, while all the brahmacaris were sleeping, he tore some of their kaupin in pieces-brahmacaris don’t have much except their kaupin, their loincloth. Then they woke up, took their bath, and saw that their kaupin were not right. They started accusing each other. One said, “Why you tore my kaupin?” Another said, “You stole my kaupin!” Another would say, “You have my kaupin!” “I don’t have your kaupin, why are you saying I have? You have my kaupin!” There was a big fight in the brahmacari asrama. Everyone was fighting over kaupin. Hare Krishna. These days the fights are always over such stupid little things, that make no difference at all, but we want to fight.
That evening Ramanujacarya called some of the brahmacaris and told them: “This Dhanur Das is too much attached to his material opulence and to the beauty of his wife. I want to prove how attached he is.” The brahmacaris felt very happy. They thought: “Ah, now Guru Maharaja is coming to higher knowledge.” “You should go to Dhanur Das” Ramanuja continued, ” and tell him that I want to see him in the middle of the night. And when his wife is sleeping, I want that you brahmacaris steal all the golden jewelry that is on her. And then, when Dhanur Das goes home, we will see how upset he is, for losing the jewels of his wife.” The brahmacaris said: “Yes, yes, we’ll do it.” They took this order as their life and soul.
That night Dhanur Das went to see Ramanujacarya and the brahmacaris very, very gently started taking the jewelry off the woman. They took everything from one side of her body. Then she started to turn on the other side, so they became afraid and ran away. They brought the jewels to the asrama and Ramanujacarya told Dhanur Das: “Thank you for coming, you can go home now.” Dhanur Das went home, and the brahmacaris were watching from a hidden place, eager to see what his reaction would be. Dhanur Das said to his wife: “Half of your jewelry is gone.” She said: “Well, the brahmacaris from the asrama came in the middle of the night and started taking it off me. I thought that maybe the asrama is in trouble and they need more money. Therefore I pretended to sleep, so that they could take everything. “Why then do you still have half?” Dhanur Das asked, “Why haven’t you given all?” “They took all from this half,” she said, “but I was sleeping on the other side. While pretending to sleep I tried to turn over, so that they could take everything from the other side too, bur they got scared and left.” Dhanur Das started to chastise his wife: “You have made a big mistake! You didn’t turn correctly; you should have made sure that they took everything! Now we are cheated, we have only given half. We should have given everything we have to the brahmacaris!”
The brahmacaris were very surprised and ashamed. They went back to Ramanujacarya, who said, “So, tell me what happened.” “He’s so detached,” they replied, “he was upset that we did not steal everything. He told his wife: ‘Everything belongs to the guru; you belong to our guru!'” Ramanujacarya said: “Aha, do you remember this morning? Some little pieces of your kaupin were gone, and you were ready to fight and beat each other. You are brahmacaris and he is a grihastha; you took his jewels and he was hoping that you would take more. Who is more renounced, you or him?” The brahmacaris were very ashamed. They said: “He’ is a better brahmacari, he is more renounced than us.”
Ramanujacarya wanted to establish respect among the asramas. Grihasthas have according to their duties, prescribed in the scriptures. They have their style of being renounced and brahmacaris have theirs. We must learn to honor and respect each other as Vaisnavas.
The Brahmachari Asram
As a service to all of you, I am offering a brief explanation of how we are attempting to serve the Vaisnavas at the Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir, in Mumbai. I will now speak about the brahmacari asrama. We already discussed in some detail how we have been trying to serve the grihastha community through various committees and through the counselor system, in which the grihasthas are comprehensively trained to live by the principles of their asrama.
When we first came to Mumbai, there was a tiny little temple, not even a temple: it was just a small, old room in an old building, and there were big rats everywhere. And the brahmacaris were worst than the rats, because the rats were coming out at night and crawled around, but the brahmacaris were always fighting. They would become so angry and would beat each other with their hands and legs. And they would not accept any authority. They were so proud that they were brahmacaris and they would just condemn all grihasthas. They would tell each other: “Never look at a grihastha, never touch a grihastha, they are fallen.” And some of the brahmacaris weren’t even following the regulative principles. I will not get into details. They were criticizing grihasthas so badly as being so attached and fallen, and the grihasthas were criticizing them as being lazy and fallen. They were about to have court cases against each other, and I was asked to oversee this temple. So, the first thing we decided was that all these brahmacaris had to go away, because they were not brahmacaris, they were kamacaris. Brahmacari means a student of Brahman and kamacari means a student of lust. They had no asrama.
Being a brahmacari doesn’t mean wearing a color, it means acting in a serving way. We thought: “What is the Vedic tradition?” The Vedic tradition is that the temple is supposed to be a place where the whole society wants to come to be inspired by the purity of the residents and to be educated by them. In India today, in most of the temples people just go to see the Deity, they bow down, they give a donation, they have some puja done, they get some caranamrita, they get some prasadam, and they leave. And they think, “Now I am pious.” But the great acaryas did not establish temples just for this, because unless you are trained in the science of devotion, you can’t even understand what the Deity is. Srila Prabhupada explains that in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness the purpose of opening temples is to give people the opportunity to associate with devotees, to learn the science of Krishna consciousness from them, from their words and example, to see how devotees live and interact with each other. Temples should be places for the most purified sadhus, for people willing to live by the highest standards of devotion. The most important qualities of a sadhu are humility and the desire to serve. The ordinary people should live outside and come to the temple to be inspired by the sadhus.
Therefore we decided that if we really want to make the congregation Krishna conscious, they have to be able to honor and respect the sadhus in the temple, then they will honor and respect Srila Prabhupada and his teachings. Gradually, somehow or other, we got rid of those brahmacaris, except one or two, who were actually sincere and willing to be taught. We started teaching the real principles of brahmacarya. According to the scriptures a brahmacari has no possessions. He just keeps whatever he needs for his service and nothing more, and he doesn’t even claim proprietorship over that; he considers it his guru’s property and just uses it. A brahmacari is satisfied with whatever food he is given and with whatever little floor space he finds to sleep on. A brahmacari can never say ‘no’ to anything except maya. If it is for the service of Krishna and he is asked to do it, he just does it. Brahmacaris should serve very humbly and they should be sadhus, they should be taught to be preachers. In our movement there are two important ways of preaching: one is to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books, and the other is to present the contents of the books in our words and through our example; therefore we must learn Srila Prabhupada’s books very carefully, scientifically and systematically.
Standards for Joining the Temple
Gradually we established certain standards. Before we consider if one can join the brahmacari asrama, that person has to chant sixteen rounds and follow the four regulative principles for one and a half years. And everyone is told beforehand: “If you live in this asrama, if you ever say ‘no’ to anything you are asked to do, that’s the day you must leave the asrama. Until you come to this standard, it’s better you stay in the congregation and just be a nice devotee.”
Each brahmacari has one little box and is allowed to keep only the possessions that fit in the box. And everyone sleeps on the floor; there are no separate rooms; there are no beds. Before joining the asrama, everyone is told: “If you ever criticize, do fault-finding or do politics, on that day you will have to leave.” When you have such standards only the very serious want to come. If you have low standards in the asrama, you will attract people who are not very sincere, who want something with low standards. High standards attract people who want something very high. We decided various principles: the brahmacaris have to wake up every day for mangala-arati; they have to stay in the temple for japa and not leave the temple room until the entire morning program is finished. Then, at 11 a.m., there is a special class, which all brahmacaris must attend, in which they deeply study Srila Prabhupada’s books and they are taught how to preach.
As a result of these standards we now have sixty-four brahmacaris, all highly educated and sincere. Some of them are coming from extremely wealthy backgrounds. For instance one was a lawyer and another was a manager in a big bank, but now they just sleep on the floor, they eat a little rice and they preach and distribute books. The brahmacaris are taught to respect the grihasthas very much and to serve them. As a result the grihasthas now honor, respect and worship the brahmacaris as sadhus. The main reason why hundreds and hundreds of the grihasthas living outside became so attracted to surrender to our temple is that when they came to the temple they got wonderful enlightenment and exemplary association from the brahmacaris.
The brahmacaris are also taught to honor and respect every woman. They don’t associate with them personally-except when it is absolutely needed for some service-but they greatly respect all ladies as Vaisnavis. Both unmarried and married women keep a respectful distance from the brahmacaris and they have so much respect and adoration for the sacrifice and the great service they are rendering. Now people come to the temple not just to see the Deities; they come to receive spiritual enlightenment from the devotees living there.
Just as we have the counselor system for the grihasthas, we also have a counselor system for the brahmacaris. The purpose is to make sure that each brahmacari is completely cared for and looked after in every way. Every brahmacari has a counselor-however many years he may have been in the temple-because everyone needs care and attention. The brahmacaris counselors are counselees of other brahmacaris. Senior brahmacaris have five devotees under them and every day of the week these counselors must speak for some time with each of their counselees to make sure that everything is all right.
College and Other Preaching
We give great emphasis on teaching the brahmacaris how to preach in colleges. We train them on how to give lectures, how to lead kirtana, and how to present Krishna consciousness. For eleven brahmacaris giving lectures in colleges is their full-time service. Because of this emphasis we have weekly programs in twenty-five universities and there are over five-hundred students who are being seriously cultivated. Among them, more than hundred-fifty are chanting sixteen rounds and following the four regulative principles, and the other three-hundred-fifty are completely convinced that they must chant sixteen rounds. Among the forty brahmacaris in the asrama, twenty-five have come through this college preaching. It is our policy in India to keep the students in the college preaching until they graduate; they are just like secret agents over there, making so many other students Krishna conscious.
Because there is a wonderful loving relationship between the congregation-the grihasthas-and the brahmacaris, they work together on almost every project. The congregation loves the brahmacaris and respect them so much as sadhus that they provide complete funding for all the programs. There are twenty neighborhoods that have weekly programs. The grihasthas in that neighborhood arrange the place, arrange all the prasadam, they fund the program, they advertise it, and they invite the brahmacaris to lead kirtanas and give lectures (sometimes the grihasthas themselves do that), just working together in such a way that hundreds of people are becoming Krishna conscious through these Nama-hatta centers. We have twelve full-time book distributors in our brahmacari asrama. One of the nice results of cooperation between brahmacaris and grihasthas is that in the December marathon, working together, in one month they distributed 62,000 hardbound Bhagavad-gitas.
We have twenty little boys from completely destitute, poverty-stricken conditions. Two brahmacaris take care of the orphanage and the whole congregation considers the orphan children like their own children. These little boys are wonderful; they have been trained to be devotees, they all rise for mangala-arati and dance so happily and they are so grateful that someone cares for them. And because they are grateful, they are so happy to accept Krishna consciousness. I find that these children are often much nicer devotees than our own children, because our children sometimes think that Krishna consciousness is something “I have to do,” but these children were suffering through poverty-some were living in the streets and some had widowed mothers who had no money for them-and here people are taking care of them, giving them love, giving them the holy name, giving them prasadam, giving them darsana of the Deities. They are so grateful, they just want to be devotees, and as they grow older they become more and more sincere. Some of them go out into the congregation, get married and get jobs, but they remain fixed as devotees. Others stay in the asrama; in fact the head-pujari of the Radha-Gopinatha temple is a graduate of the orphanage. Also the head-pujari of ISKCON Pune, near Bombay, is a graduate of our orphanage. It’s a very, very special way of preaching, and people in general also like it when devotees take care of orphans.
Deity worship is basically run by the brahmacaris, but the grihasthas perform so much puja also. On a regular basis we have special seminars for all brahmacaris and grihasthas where we deeply go into training in Deity worship and Vaisnava etiquette. We have high standards of Deity worship; before devotees are allowed to touch the Deities or do any seva on the altar they have to go through extensive training and they have to pass both written and practical exams. The idea is that devotees should take Deity worship very, very seriously.
In the temple we also have a special department just for greeting guests. At all times there is some devotee waiting for guests. When there are not many guests, only one devotee is there, otherwise more. Whoever comes in the door-whoever it may be-is greeted with folded hands and welcomed to the temple. Srila Prabhupada said that anyone who comes to the temple is personally sent by Krishna. With that understanding the devotees warmly and cordially say: “Oh, thank you for coming to Radha-Gopinatha temple, welcome!” and they give a brochure that explains the basic principles of our philosophy and who is Srila Prabhupada. The brochure also introduces all the Deities and gives a schedule of the events that take place in the temple. The devotees give the visitor caranamrita and prasadam, and they just become friends of the person and say “If you have any questions, please ask.” Almost all the guests become best friends with a devotee receptionist, and gradually, when they become more interested, they buy books and other things. After coming once people come again, not just to see the Deities, but because there is a friend of theirs in the temple and they want to see him. They tell their relatives and friends: “In that temple there is such a nice sadhu who is my friend, let’s go and meet him.” All the brahmacaris are trained in this art of hospitality, and the grihasthas also help a lot.
These are some of the ways we try to train the brahmacaris in living according to the principles of their asrama. We have explained some of our endeavors to train brahmacaris and grihasthas; what is practical in a particular temple may not be as practical in other temples, because different temples have different circumstances, different environments. According to kala-desha-patra-the time, the place, and the people-it may or it may not be practical to adopt all these ideas. To literally accept all that I presented may not be practical for you. What is most important is the spirit, that we teach our devotees to be proper Vaisnavas according to their varna and asrama; that we give them personal guidance and we oversee their spiritual lives with great care and attention; that we think of every possible way a devotee may need help; that we create services in which we can help each other. All devotees who have ever come with a sincere heart to participate in the Krishna consciousness movement should never feel neglected, but should feel that the other devotees love them and care for them and want to help them. They should feel that the temple is such a wonderful place to take shelter of. We should try with all our energy to make sure that each devotee is really experiencing happiness in the association of the Krishna consciousness movement. Srila Prabhupada personally put so much effort to try to make devotees happy within his society, and it is our duty to do the same. People cannot be happy in our society unless they are Krishna conscious, unless they are learning how to serve, learning how to chant, learning how to hear, learning how to interact with each other, and learning how to engage their propensities in Krishna’s service. If we have this spirit we will definitely be able to make a tremendous improvement to all of our services to the Vaisnavas. This very humble attempt to make a report may not be perfect-and not all of it may be practical for all places-but whatever we discussed is being done, and the result is that the devotees feel very, very happy and cared for, and they are united. And they’re really trying to imbibe the mood of
trnad api sunicena
taror api sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
[“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” Siksastaka 3]
Concluding Words: Priorities and Empowerment
In my opinion, if the leaders of any temple or project decide that training and caring for devotees is important, if the leaders decide, “We must do it,” they would definitely put emphasis on this, and the project will be of great success. It may be done this way, or it may be done in a different way, but Krishna will certainly empower us to serve the Vaisnavas if we really want to and we make it a priority. This is a secret ingredient of success. When devotees know that is important to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books they think of every possible way to distribute and Krishna empowers them with so many ideas and millions and millions of books are distributed. When devotees understand that it’s important to build a temple, even people who have no money and no skills build wonderful temples, because Krishna empowers their intelligence. Anything the leaders of our movement put emphasis on, Krishna empowers to be done. All our projects-our book-distribution, our temple building, our Food for Life-anything we have is completely depending on the enthusiasm of our devotees. I don’t believe that there is any greater priority then caring for and training our Vaisnavas. Everything else will flourish if the devotees are strong. But it cannot be done without social programs of organization by which devotees are trained and cared, it is not one man’s job to care for everyone. The leaders have to train the devotees to respect, honor and care for each other in a Krishna conscious way. We have to give every devotee the opportunity to be a first class Vaisnava. Many devotees wanted, but they were not given the opportunity. If we have this emphasis in our preaching and in our management, we will definitely be a great success. We have presented a particular form of a working model and hopefully it may be of some help to you. It’s a place to start, but my real purpose was to try to give you the conviction of the importance of making the care and the training of the Vaisnavas the first priority of our mission.
Hare Krishna. Thank you very much.