Should Devotees Follow Varṇāśrama? Doesn’t Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa Contain Everything?
Flood in Māyāpura, photo by Vṛndāvan Līla dd, courtesy of

His Holiness Bhaktividyā Pūrṇa Mahārāja: Varṇāśrama, we have to understand, is the relationships, natural human relationships of a human being in this world that emulate the culture and practices of those in the spiritual world who are already perfect. Varṇāśrama is the culture that one follows to become perfect like those on the spiritual platform who are already following it. But there it is the purest form of Daivī-varṇāśrama, you are not dealing with conditioned nature, you are dealing with constitutional nature. In other words, Daivī-varṇāśrama applied on constitutional nature, while here we have Daivī-varṇāśrama on conditioned nature. That's why there are aspects or points on which we give up certain things, because we are switching from conditional nature following Varṇāśrama to constitutional nature following Varṇāśrama. Someone on the platform of bhāva doesn't have to follow Varṇāśrama here in this world, because they are following it there. Bhāva means you are in your spiritual form rendering service on that platform. So they are following the culture there.

You think they are going to be there, they are going to end up as a resident of Vṛndāvana, and then someone is going to say, 'Well, here in Vraja we do this," and then they say, 'Oh, I don't care, we don't care for Varṇāśrama.' [Laughter] Are they going to say that? 'Nanda Bābā is the King.' 'Oh, what do we care? What is his authority?' That's Varṇāśrama. You know what I am saying? So much of everything goes on because of that. Does that make sense?

So we always have to remember that Varṇāśrama's central sole purpose is to elevate you from the conditioned platform to the transcendental platform, and it does it by engaging your senses in the same activities that those on the transcendental platform would engage their senses. The difference is, they always remember Kṛṣṇa, we don't, therefore they do it naturally, we have to do it according to a rule. So that's the whole idea. So, in other words, Varṇāśrama is spiritual culture in practice. Does that make sense?

Prabhu (1): Somebody may say, 'That is good, but prominent is chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, that contains everything.'

HH BVPS Mahārāja: That contains everything, and then the person saying this is married? Or the person saying this is living in Beverly Hills, in their mother's house?

Prabhu(1): No, they...

HH BVPS Maharaja: You know what I am saying? They are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, go sit under a tree! We don't need political correctness, we don't need bureaucracy, we don't need all these different things. Sit under a tree and do like the gosvāmīs do, and run the whole movement from there! Because you are only interested in spiritual life, spiritual everything! You couldn't care less, you spit on political correctness, you spit on modern diplomacy, and you only care for devotional service! And you only care about devotees, and you don't want to see anyone go away, and you won't drive anyone away! Because all there is is devotional service, all there is is chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa! I see that, then that's honest to say that, if they are not, then I say they are cheating. They are simply using it for their own managerial and economic purposes. Bas!

There is only chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, then what about taking prasāda? Why are you eating? Why are you washing after you go to the toilet? Ṛṣabhadeva did NOT wash after He went to the toilet! In fact, He rolled around in it! So why don't you do that and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa? You know, so I am really annoyed with the conditioned soul, in his full conditioned glory saying there is only Hare Kṛṣṇa and then considering so many facets of his conditioned nature. 'We only chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.' But then we wear, we dress casuals? If we only chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, we would be going around in kaupīnas or naked! Haridāsa Ṭhākura wears what? He only chants Hare Kṛṣṇa. You know what I am saying? That's my point. He doesn't care about anything, like that. He is chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, a prostitute comes and sits next to him, then he just keeps chanting, she'll get purified.

So we have to understand how to apply 'we just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.' It is true, we just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, but what does that mean? How do we apply that as a conditioned soul? That we have to understand. Does that make sense? We are not strong with you, we are strong with the propounders of this. We do chant, that is our main focus, yes. When it comes to any other mantra, it is the main mantra, when it comes to any other process, it is the main process. But since we are not satisfied with that, therefore there are other processes. If you just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, you don't have to brush your teeth, you know. You don't have to shave, comb your hair, wash, do anything! But are those propounders of 'we just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa' just doing that? No! They are getting up in the morning, taking their shower, shaving. Why? Because the śāstra says? No! Because as a mleccha and yāvana they used to do that. And if they don't their wife won't like them. That's why they are doing it, they are shaving their face because their wife doesn't like when he touches her with their bristly face. That's why he is shaving, not because that's the śāstra.

So someone who accepts the śāstra, lock, stock and barrel, can say, 'We only chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.' Because then they will be able to balance it and see that the śāstra only talks about it. Manu says that the highest duty of a brāhmana is to chant japa. It says, if he does that, then all other duties are accomplished. I don't hear them saying that, I don't even see them practicing that. Only chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and go out and shake a bucket and collect coins! If we just chant, we sit down and chant, so where does this collection come from? That's economics. Where did that come from? 'Oh, we have to eat.' No. Haridāsa Ṭhākura just chants. Someone brings him something, he eats, someone doesn't bring him something, he doesn't eat. That's just chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.

Prabhu (2): The argument is also that by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and serving the Vaiṣṇavas...

HH BVPS Mahārāja: Serving the Vaiṣṇavas? Okay...

Prabhu (2): Yes, this culture aspect comes automatically.

HH BVPS Mahārāja: It comes automatically, yes, it does, if a mleccha is aware of it. But criticizing devotees also comes pretty naturally. Associating with devotees, what does that mean? How do you associate with devotees? How? What would you serve a devotee as a food? How would you serve it, what's the environment in which you would serve that food to that Vaiṣṇava? What is guhyam ākhyāti pṛchhati? A devotee comes to you and says, 'I am having this problem in my devotional service.' And then the next day it's on the internet? Is that guhyam ākhyāti pṛchhati? So I don't see this that the people are talking about. Where is it?

I can go over to the temple, I can go to any temple in the world, I will not see one standard prasāda, because they don't know how to cook, neither will I see standard prasāda service, neither do they know the environment in which to serve prasāda, nothing! So what culture are they following? The natural culture that they were born with. But the whole point is, human life means, you are trained in what is human. You are born an animal, you are trained to be a human. So the whole point is is, notice, that it's only on points of Vedic culture and practices that all this 'Oh, we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa,' all the fighting is about. No one is fighting about the Western culture, nothing, zip! Why? Because they came from mlecchas, they still follow the mleccha culture. Or mlecchas, meat eater, so they have gotten rid of that, but they oppose the Vedic principles, so technically then that's called yāvana culture. Yāvanas means, they are against Vedic culture. Mleccha means, they are meat eaters. Generally yāvanas are meat eaters, so they are kind-of synonymous. But you could be a mleccha and be favorable. Does that make sense?

So the whole point is, I don't see them throwing out the modern stuff. That's 'Oh, we are just being practical, yukta-vairāgya.' But if it's yukta-vairāgya, you can also use the Vedic. The modern is just as irrelevant as the Vedic, because where is modern? Any fashion in the modern world disappears after how many months? And that's in general, six months, but if you are in a particular group, it can disappear within a week. So basically anything that one would be doing would be irrelevant, by modern definition. Modern means what's happening right now, so if you are doing what happened yesterday, you are irrelevant, that means you are not modern. So technically you can never be modern, because you can never do just the thing now, unless you are setting the trend, and if you are setting the trend, where is the need of political correctness? Because what you do is what everybody else follows, or fitting in you would be the one to set the standards. So the whole thing is very, very inconsistent, very inconsistent.

Vedic is eternal, it always applies, you just have to have the brains to be able to apply it. If you can't apply it, just say, 'I don't know how to apply it,' but don't get on, don't puff yourself up and say, 'It's not possible to use,' especially if you've never tried. Does that make sense? Prabhupāda wanted every devotee to spend a year in India to get that experience. Prabhupada, he had 108 temples around the world. He would spend 6 months in India and 6 months to the rest of the world. What does that say? When he came to India in the beginning there was no facilities, they would go around, stay in these very cultured people's houses, and he would tell the devotees, they should learn from them about the culture. When Subhāga Mahārāja joined, Prabhupāda told him, because he is from a very high grade aristocratic Bengali family in Kolkata. He told him, 'Don't forget what your parents have taught you, you add Kṛṣṇa consciousness.' Very different from what these people are saying, 'Just throw it all out.' But when they throw it out, what's left? Their own middle-class Americal lifestyle, that's what's left. Some of them, upper class American lifestyle. And some of them lower middle class. You know what I am saying? But it's just average Americal lifestyle, that's what's left. But that's fine, 'Oh, that's yukta-vairāgya, that's being practical, that's this, that's that,' bla-bla-bla-bla. Because they don't have enough brains to understand the Vedic, it's over their head. Like someone who can't swim, throw them in the deep end of the pool, they don't know what's going on. But they are so proud, they can't acknowledge that, just so proud.

The Vedic culture is so refined, why does Kṛṣṇa follow? Why does He come to establish it? Yadā yadā hi dharmasya... He comes to establish what? The Vedic culture. And if they can't see the Vedic culture, get some glasses! Someone who knows Vedic culture can see it every day in India. And these people can't see it at all. And just like Max Muller, he never stepped foot in India. So just like him, all these academics follow him and they are blind men falling into the ditch. Blind leading the blind, why do you think that example is there? We are not saying they are stupid, we are saying they are blind.

So I am saying, it's very very annoying that Śrīla... We didn't know about Vedic before Prabhupāda came along. And then now we are going to throw it out? We are the big paramahaṁsas? Prabhupāda only taught us Vedic... Why are they wearing dhotis on 26 2nd Avenue? Devotees thought, "Well, they wear them in India, can we wear them, Prabhupāda?" "Well, I don't know, you know, it's kind-of... But I guess, if you have that sentiment..." Who introduced dhotis? Who introduced shaved heads? Śikhās? Brāhmana underwear, brāhmana threads, neckbeads? Who introduced all this stuff? And now these people are going to throw it out? Who are they? Who are these people? Who do they think they are? That they can just write off what Śrīla Prabhupāda did, because they can't do it? They can't figure out how to apply it? They are so foolish! They are so uninformed! They lack the practice! They lack the sādhana! They lack the discipline! And then they are going to say they have the right to throw it out? Nonsense! Non-sense. It makes no sense how they can think like this.

They have their own taste, they have their own comfort, fine! What does it matter? Prabhupāda couldn't care less that the temple president - where was it at the time? I think it was in LA, or San Francisco, can't remember, one of those temples. The guy had a beard. Prabhupada didn't care. He did his service. So what do we care if they want to wear modern clothes and be modern and eat modern? What do we care? But if you make a philosophy out of it - then we are going to come after you. If you are just, 'This is the way I am, I am comfortable like this, I like moving in these social circles, I am comfortable to preach in these areas,' great. That's how we are going to make the world Kṛṣṇa conscious. But they want to be the world AND be the ācārya at the same time. It doesn't work like that. You can't behave and act and talk like a common man and then claim that you are the leader of everything, you can't do that. So the devotee, he lives outside, so many devotees, they live outside, they live their own lifestyle that they would be practically living anyway if they weren't a devotee. They were hippies, they would be vegetarian, they would be organic and natural, they would be trying to live some kind of alternative lifestyle and use alternative medicine and alternative this and that and some reiki and throw whatever it is you like in there. They would be doing some meditation, some kind of sādhana, they would be reading some kind of spiritual book, they would have been doing that anyway. You know what I am saying? And then they are going to comment about the eternal principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness? They can't follow them, doesn't mean others can't. They don't like to follow them, doesn't mean others don't. They can't see the reason for them, doesn't mean others don't.

So that's the whole thing, live and let live. They want to live like that, fine. But why do they have to be in the face of those who are trying? Like the principle we see in the pastime of Damayantī, the caravan was traveling with tamed elephants to carry all the goods, the merchandise. Going through the jungle then they come across, they bump into a herd of wild elephants. One thing wild elephants can't tolerate is tamed elephants. You know tamed? Tamed means domesticated. You catch an elephant and train them up, like we have here, tamed elephant. Temple elephant is a tamed elephant. So wild elephants don't like that, why are they submissive to these humans? So they'll come in and make a mess. So in the same way untrained humans don't like that the people try to follow human culture. Do you understand? Because that means then they are an animal. You know what I am saying? If Vedic culture can be applied today effectively, that means those who don't want to follow it, then they are obliged to follow because Prabhupāda said. Now, if we can prove that it doesn't apply today, you can't use it, no one can do it, then everybody is confident. Therefore those who are attempting to follow Vedic culture make those who are not uncomfortable. Of course, it would do well to those who are following the culture to stick to themselves also and don't bother those who don't want to follow. That way then everybody is comfortable. Don't disturb the minds of the ignorant. We are not saying ignorant of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we are saying ignorant of culture. Or, let's say, at least ignorant of Vedic culture.

And they can't discriminate between the principles of the Vedic culture and people's sādhana in trying to effect it. So if anybody does anything wrong, you throw it out. But if you are going to do this, we should have banned marriage a long time ago in ISKCON. You know what I am saying? So what would be left? There have been people who have eaten and gotten sick. So we should ban that also. So we have to be able to try and we have to be able to make that attempt to move forward.

You see, it's a big point, you notice up to this point everything goes smoothly. Rasa, it's a little touch-and-go, but, hey, we can get by with it if it's not getting too technical. But as soon as we hit Varṇāśrama, the trouble starts. Why? Because devotees accept the philosophy, not the culture. What did Prabhupada say? Philosophy without religion is mental speculation. So what is the position of re-initiation? What is the standard? Ask one hundred senior men, get one hundred answers. Okay? Who is God, what is the process in this age? Right? Ask one hundred senior men, get one answer. Philosophy they know. Culture - they wouldn't have a clue of that. Do you understand? Individuals may understand and be very good at it. But the Western mind has no culture, can't relate to culture, doesn't like culture. Why? 'Because there may be a restriction in my sense gratification. I want to be independent, I want to do whatever I want, I don't want anybody controlling me and telling me what to do. But everybody else should follow rules, so that they don't bother me.' Doesn't make any sense, but that's the point. It's mental speculation.

Then on the other side the Hindus, they have religion without philosophy, so then it's just sentiment. So the idea is, we don't throw out the philosophy, we don't throw out the religion, they are supposed to be combined. So that's the idea, the combination of these two, the philosophy and the culture, that's human life. And remember, the Bhāgavatam makes a very strong point, that by studying this Bhāgavatam it will create a cultural revolution in people's lives. It didn't say 'philosophical.' It said 'cultural', right? Because it is culture of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That means, in the spiritual world there is an attitude on how to interact with devotees. So they are saying, "Oh, the association of devotees,' but define that association! That's where you start running into problem. Because that you associate with devotees, that's philosophy, how to associate, that's the culture. Does that make sense? So we always have to be careful here is that the philosophy is the main point, it's the eyes. But that whole form in that, of it, that's your culture. Otherwise, what does it mean 'surrender to Krishna'? Okay, so how do I surrender? What does it look like a surrendered devotee? What are our examples? Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja, surrendered devotee, what culture did he follow? Arjuna, surrendered devotee, what culture did he follow? Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, surrendered devotees, what culture did they follow? Śrīla Prabhupāda, surrendered devotee, what culture did he follow? Are we seeing a pattern here?

So that's the idea, all this stuff, means, all it is is, means that they don't know it, they don't want to take the time to figure it out, because they think it's so big, so complicated, just rules and regulations, but that itself is a misunderstanding. Varṇāśrama is a method of relationship. And how many self-help books do they read? For the purpose of what? Relationships. Efficiency in the material world. Attitude. The Varṇāśrama explains all that perfectly. But they are unable to see it, unable to appreciate it. We understand, that can happen. But don't make a philosophy out of it. Does that make sense?

'We just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.' Nice. Then why do we just have 'Harināma Week'? That's one out of 52. What happened to the other 51 weeks of Harināma Week? You know what I am saying? So where is this 'We just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa'? That's my point. Otherwise we would just depend on... Someone does something wrong, what would we do? Make sure that they are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. But no, we have all kinds of mundane ideas how to 'purify' somebody that don't work, that are not supported by śāstra, they are somebody's mental speculations.

Excerpt from lecture series on Philosophical Definitions, part 7, Bhaktivedanta Academy, Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. This passage starting at 19min 20s
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