While Anuttama Prabhu directly shows his aversion to varnasrama, Nityananda Prabhu, North American GBC and Dallas Temple President, is more nuanced in his approach. While he acknowledges that at some unspecified time in the future, intelligent devotees will introduce varnasrama, he makes a case to keep the status quo. He has a chart which he uses in leadership seminars for non-devotees, showing nine levels of people in general, and he classifies them into three groups. The first group from levels one to four fall under Sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence. The second group is the fifth level, consciousness. The third group are from levels six to nine, Soul, Brahman, Supersoul and Supreme Absolute Truth. He uses this chart to state his case. Key quotes by Nityananda Das, “as he said it,” are found at the end of this article.
He sort of speaks in circles, repeats without getting to a direct point about where devotees stand on this chart. But his idea is that the materialists are from levels one to four and upwards from that are devotees. His vision is to bring the consciousness of the materialists to the mode of goodness using modern techniques such as his leadership seminars to non-devotees.
I disagree with his view that because we engage in ninth level or transcendental activities, we are on the ninth level and transcendental, and therefore we do not need those traditional trappings such as that which would be found in varnasrama. So he pushes devotees right up there, not considering that most of us are still struggling with the senses and trying to control the mind.
According to his implication, we should bypass Srila Prabhupada’s express elevator process and take the slower stairway instead. He says we are promoting piety, intelligence and nobility to the lower level non-devotees. I though we were supposed to directly preach Krsna consciousness, teach chanting and bhakti yoga.
His idea is to bring the materialists to the mode of goodness, they have to go through the first four stages of his chart which are sense objects, senses, mind and intelligence, then they will become pious, intelligent and noble. After that, he says they will become spiritualists and their driving factor will be sacrifice, austerity and charity. He does not mention how they will perform these activities living in towns and cities. Then he says the next stage are transcendentalists from Soul, Brahmajyoti, Paramatma realization and finally, the devotees, who worship the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is Srila Prabhupada’s movement, Iskcon, which he coins as “Our Brand.”
His prediction is that in twenty years, devotees will be wealthier than karmis. His understanding is that “all the piety that is kicking in” – whilst going up through the levels, and especially the first four material levels, the non-devotees will build their pious, intelligent and noble credits. With these credits, he says, they will become so wealthy that bhukti (sense gratification) and mukti (liberation) will come falling on their hands to serve. Something like karma-kanda.
Is that what we are after? Some devotees may be wealthy but Krsna can take it all away very quickly. We don’t give much attention to false wealth, paper money (fiat currency) which can all become useless tomorrow. Our actual material wealth is in the land and the cows.
He emphasises that varnasrama is a material system not for devotees. According to him, its purpose is to lift people to the material level and when they come into the association of spiritualists, they will get the opportunity to meet devotees who will take them to the transcendental level. But Prabhupada said differently, that devotees are not up to the standard of vaisnava and varnasrama is for them.He says that in future, intelligent devotees going through his program and reaching transcendence will have intelligence to introduce varnasrama for the materialists.
He refers to chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, where Krsna speaks about Karma-yoga; working for Him without attachment to the fruits. Just like Anuttama Das, he tries to give a different meaning to varnasrama, implying to just keep it the way it is, do whatever work you are already engaged in, but just do it for Krsna. He emphasises the “As It Is” aspect of the Bhagavad-Gita but he interprets it otherwise.
He says that most people, the non-devotees are into their ipods, iphones, Samsung Galaxies etc and I think he is trying to say that for them in the lower levels, those who are into their latest gadgets and sense gratification, direct preaching is not necessary but some form of bridge preaching is needed to bring them up to a level to be able to understand Chapter Three of Bhagavad-Gita.
He gives the analogy of different levels of education such as kindergarten, elementary school and so on and says how all are important and similarly, we need to bring non-devotes to the mode of goodness through his stages. He says for us, following chapter three of Bhagavad-Gita, Srila Prabhupada gave us the activities of the transcendentalists such as association, chanting, and so on. So I think he interprets chapter three not as work done in a varnasrama setting but devotees going about their daily business working amongst non-devotees in this material world, trying to do their duty. It seems he also wants to take devotees through the stages of Brahmin and Paramatma realizations. This is really the stairway.
Actual Chapter Three “As It Is” speaks of activity for Krsna. Even as devotees, we are attached to the fruits of our work. We want a nice house etc, the full package that goes with the suburban lifestyle. We do not lay everything at Krsna’s feet. Devotees trying to sincerely advance through devotional practice are performing bhakti-yoga but jnana-yoga and naturally karma-yoga is included.
How many of us as devotees working outside can honestly say that we are working without desire to enjoy some fruits of our work. No! We want to enjoy many fruits, as much as possible. We want a nice house, car, the latest electronic gadgets and everything that goes with suburban living and that includes the misery and entanglement of having a mortgage, loans and living on plastic debt. It’s impossible to become transcendental while still having material desires. We may rationalise that we are devotees, chanting sixteen rounds and trying to follow the four regulative principles but can we honestly say we are not working without attachment to the fruits. Even for many devotees, money is still the honey. Most devotees are grhasthas living outside the temples in suburbs, towns and cities. This comes with a whole material package.
There’s the slog of at least forty five hours a week to keep your head above water with no association. You need schools for your children and all the anxiety that goes with the slaughter house education system. It’s difficult to not have a television and get influenced by all that secular nonsense on it. Then there’s the internet and the addiction – social networks take up most of your spare time. What about smart-phones, most of the devotees have that now? And with our head’s stuck in it for the majority of our waking hours, with little or no association, how can we advance spiritually. Then there’s no time to go to the temple, except on Sundays, and when we do go, there’s the need to get away as quick as possible, to engage in our material activities.
In this state, the taste for more sense gratification such as illicit sex within marriage becomes uncontrollable. Then some taste for perhaps caffeinated soft drinks, then coffee, tea, gambling in the form of stock market investments or lottery with the desire to get quick money. And finally, there’s liberalism, the desire to modify our devotee rules and understanding of sastra to suit our lifestyles.
This is not imagination. I’ve seen devotees visiting Vrindavan drinking tea (chai) at the roadside tea stalls. I also know devotees who lost lots of money, even their houses, in bad investments on a tip off – hence, the desire to gamble to make quick profits. Many devotees are also into the latest electronic gizmos or gadgets. Even Nityananda Prabhu makes reference in his class to a television programme he watches and he admits he likes the gizmos. So he is not completely detached.
Our regulative principles are slowly becoming eroded. Just imagine, in suburban living, we can fall prey to gambling as in stock market investments. Intoxications like tea and coffee are a temptation. Illicit sex within marriage is undoubtedly there. So, about the only regulative principle devotees follow strictly is no meat eating, including fish and eggs. Nityananda Prabhu’s idea for us to forget about varnasrama now because we can advance through these levels using his method is an illusion.
His approach is wrong; everyone is entitled to take the elevator. Even a child can understand how we are not these bodies, if explained as simply as Srila Prabhupada taught. How can we even chant properly living and working amongst non-devotees? Srila Prabhupada said that chanting gives us that quick lift. That’s the only way to boil that spiritual milk. And for that we need proper association constantly and that means a favourable environment. It’s really simple. Bridge preaching is the stairway.
Wouldn’t spiritual advancement be like taking the elevator if grhasthas with a need to work and earn money lived in self-sustainable farm communities? We could earn money for our basic needs within the community. The most important ingredient for boiling that spiritual milk, association, will always be there. In whatever direction you look, all neighbours are devotees. This is the most favourable setting to truly come to the stage of working for Krsna without desire for the fruits. Those dedicated brahmacaris and grhasthas completely engaged in temple activities can live and preach in towns and cities, using Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada’s traditional way of harinama sankirtana and book distribution. As time goes on, varnasrama can evolve from farm communities.
Key quotes from Nityananda Das
“And we see that over a time as Srila Prabhupada was preaching he came to a conclusion that some of his disciples and pretty much most of the public would not be able to rise to these standards so easily. So he spoke about introducing varnasrama so that people can rise through the levels of consciousness and that was the chart that I was hoping that we would have up here.”
“Now, I am going to tell you about this chart anyway and has it comes up it will become clearer because when you see it, it becomes a lot clearer. This chart I use when I speak about leadership because I do (not clear) leadership seminars particularly for non devotees because that is my way of introducing Krsna consciousness to them because we have to bring them up in their consciousness.”
“ In the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna gives this advice, that when we preach; the first thing is to bring people to the mode of goodness. Because when you bring them to the mode of goodness, now they will be able to understand topics of self realization and when they understand topics of self realization, we can bring them to the full esoteric truth of Krsna consciousness. So its like a step by step process so basically consciousness rises through nine different levels starting from the sense objects number two the senses then higher than that to number three which is the mind then higher than that to the intelligence. And these four are all material levels.”
“Then it rises to its own level, the consciousness which is like the transfer level and then it goes to the transcendental level above that which start with the soul, consciousness, the level of the soul and then to the three origins, Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan, the Supreme absolute truth, the ninth level, the highest level of consciousness. So when the chart comes up, you will see that basically the first four levels deals with material life and in material life, the key aspects of material life are piety, intelligence and nobility, Prabhupada describes this.”
“Now if some of you are looking for references to my statements, I do have the references, I actually have a whole ware of paper that has the references and everything, I can give that to you and you can look up the writings there and go further into the references but Prabhupada speaks about this that for material life, if you really want to become a great materialist these are the three things that you would be into – piety, intelligence and nobility. That will drive material life to its fullest extent.”
“Then there are people who are going to become interested in spiritual life. To become interested in spiritual life, they are going to be into the intelligence, they will be into consciousness itself, they will be into the soul in terms of atma-jnana and they will also have some understanding of Brahmin – of brahminical knowledge. And these persons are called spiritualists, they are into spiritual life. For them, three things will be very important, for them sacrifice, austerity and charity will be very important. These three things will become their driving factors.”
“Then comes the transcendentalists and that is Prabhupada’s movement. This movement is meant to be a transcendental movement. For the transcendentalists, the four things they are into is the soul, the all pervasive energy of the Lord meaning the effulgence emanating for the body of the Lord, Paramatma and then for us in Hare Krsna, for Iskcon, it is about the Supreme Absolute Truth. So we are a particular brand even amongst the transcendentalists.”
“And I’ve sort of like added a little bit in there, which is that for us, because we are a preaching movement we encourage others to do the same five things, A,B,C,D and E. A standing for association, B for books, C for chanting, D for Deities, devotional diet, dancing and E for the environment that we’re in or encouraging others to do the same. So these are the activities of the transcendentalists. In our brand, there’s a particular way of doing these five things. So this was what Srila Prabhupada came to introduce, and so for us, Varnasrama really means to follow the instructions of the Spiritual master.”
“That the spiritual master will know the nature of the disciple and train the disciple to become a spiritual master according to the nature of the disciple which is chapter three of the Bhagavad-Gita by the way, it is the “As It Is” chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita that explains from what position are we supposed to find Krsna, how we supposed to see things as they are or as it is. And actually from that point, we springboard into this arrangement that Srila Prabhupada made that we can actually practice Krsna consciousness and spread Krsna consciousness and preach it to others in a particular way.”
“They are not unimportant, people do rise through these levels of consciousness so we do know that most people are going to be in the first four levels of consciousness, they are going to be about sense objects, their ipad, iphone, Samsung Galaxy note 3 and note 4, and you know all the things that are the gizmos of theirs world.”
“But anyway what little intelligence they have, that’s what they’re into. No, for them, the varnasrama system lifts them to the level of spirituality. Actually the varnasrama system is a material system, Prabhupada very clearly describes it is a material programme. Its purpose is actually to lift people to the material level and then when they come into association with spiritualists, they can actually come to meet the devotees of Gauranga Mahaprabhu, the devotees of Krsna who can lift them to the transcendental level so they bring them through these levels like that.”
“Okay, and that one thing, the point is that you can’t ignore, you can’t say we are not interested in our children because they are into kindergarten and elementary school and high school. No, we are most interested in them, we are most interested in the materialists, why we are most interested, is because they are going, its Krsna’s instruction, it is His instruction that we should raise them to the level of spiritual life and raise them to the level of transcendental life and you cannot raise them without understanding their nature.”
“So here we can see that the brackets, the first four levels, the middle is the spiritual level which comes from intelligence to Brahmin and then the transcendental level that goes from the soul up to the Supreme absolute truth. (refers to chart) Now, it’s actually much more complicated than that when I do it, I actually call this the pordal. If any of you have seen Stargate on (indistinct …tel) on TV, you will know about this thing about the pordal, which is you go pass the pordal, the life on the other side is very different from life on this side so in the same way, life before we transcend, to have to go to the ninth level of consciousness is very different from once you’ve passed the ninth level of consciousness when you’re reached the ninth level of consciousness. Life is very different and that’s why as devotees most of us will never become non-devotees again.”
“So the idea is: One (as in number) – We should understand that those lower levels are important and there we are promoting piety, intelligence and nobility but based on Krsna consciousness. Link it to the ninth level, link it to the Supreme because that’s our brand, our brand is at the ninth level by the way. Because the transcendental level starts from level six to nine but our brand is at the ninth level. It’s totally into everything about Krsna, always think of Krsna, never forget Krsna, always try to please Krsna, never displease Krsna. Its like Krsna, Krsna, Krsna, Krsna, Krsna – that Gauranga Mahaprabhu actually gave us. So we at the ninth level and so that’s one thing that we should actually do to bring them.”
“The second is that the ninth level at each level actually contains in it the levels below it. So the ninth has all the levels below it. So when you do ninth level activities, automatically the fist section which is the material section become enhanced and what do we see now, we see that devotees are becoming so wealthy – my personal predication is that in 20 years, the devotees will be wealthier than the karmi’s. Actually the devotee community will be wealthier because what will happen is that all their piety that is kicking in with this great Krsna conscious activity automatically bhukti and mukti will be there falling on their hands and saying may we serve you.”
“So our understanding – we know that the ninth level can help all these levels so really for us, varnasrama, even though at some time in the future varnasrama will be introduced, how it is a material system, you will see that Iskcon will introduce it. Why will it introduce it – because so many devotees will become so intelligent they’ll know how to introduce it so that it’s totally linked to the ninth level, it’s connected and that is the process of yoga. Yoga means to connect all these levels of consciousness to the ninth level.”
“For us, that is bhakti yoga that is Gaudya Vaisnava yoga. To do that is our yoga.
So we will know how to do that but at the present time we don’t know how to do it and we don’t want to introduce a material system that will distract us from the ninth level activities.”
“Because if we stick with the basics, the core activities of chanting, feasting, dancing, distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, worshipping the Deity, associating with the devotees, living in holy places meaning the sanga of devotees, these will transport us to the ninth level and that will give us the intelligence of how to introduce varnasrama so that the first four level personalities who are going to be the majority of this world can now come to spiritual life and ultimately transcendental life and ultimately full on Krsna consciousness as Srila Prabhupada wanted us to have. This way, well connect everybody properly.”