A Place from Which to Grow
BY: DHANESVARA DAS
May 02, 2012 KAUNAS, LITHUANIA (SUN) Human life is meant for growth. Although physical growth stops before several decades, emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual growth can and should continue throughout every person's life. In order to grow properly however, we need a proper place. Place means not only a physical place such as household, but proper relationships with others and proper activity. All three of these are essential aspects for optimal growth. This paper addresses the question of people's place in modern society and contrasts it with place in the varnashrama culture and the different results in society and people's lives.
A potted plant offers a very good example of having a proper place. The pot is the physical place where the plant lives, but beyond the pot alone the plant also requires a proper environment in terms of soil conditions, atmosphere, temperature, water, and sunlight. When these conditions are minimally met the plant can live, but when they are optimal the plant can thrive.
Likewise we are meant to thrive, not just live. We need a properly clean
house and environment where we can care for and give rest to our body, along
with nourishing food. This alone will allow us to survive, but not thrive
for as it is said, man does not live by bread alone. More than mere survival
we all desire to have interesting and meaningful activity appropriate to our
nature. In the modern world we generally call this "work." Ideally that work
will be a bit challenging so that we may make use of our faculties of
understanding, ability, and reasoning. The challenge helps us to grow. If
the work is too easy we will be bored and unengaged, and if the work is
beyond our capacity or ability we will be overworked and stressed.
And we also need a place in relationship to others. These relationships must
be appropriate to our respective stages of life and theirs. Thus we will
have different relationships with those senior to us than we have with our
peers or with our juniors. Having a proper place according these criteria
will help us to be happy and balanced individuals. Like the potted plant
without water, or sunshine, if any of these aspects of life are meager or
missing, then life can run the gamut from drudgery to torture, conditions
under which growth of any kind is difficult or impossible.
Place is so important in society that the war at Kurukshetra was fought to
give the Pandavas a proper place. The war could have been avoided if
Duryodhana would have allowed the Pandavas one village each, but he denied
the Pandavas any land whatsoever, not enough for a single needle! The proper
dharma of a ksatriya requires them to provide a place to others in his
village or kingdom, and this is such a necessary and essential requirement
that a ksatriya is forbidden any other engagement, even in times of
emergency. The Supreme Lord Sri Krishna came to establish the principles of
religion (paritranaya sadhunam) and to this end He admonished Arjuna to
fight the battle to properly establish the .
Place in Ancient Cultures
Historically one's place in society was both fixed and rigid. In both
Western (Feudal society) and Eastern culture place was generally assigned
according to one's birth. Males generally did what their fathers did and
females naturally became mothers and caretakers. You would become an
aristocrat if your parents were aristocrats, and if they were peasants you
would remain a peasant. The world was fairly well fixed at those times and
there was no upward or even lateral mobility for the vast majority of
people. In one sense this was bad and in another it was good. Bad in that if
you had a different nature than your father you were unable to be fulfilled,
but it was good in that a strong social contract existed. Every person had a
definite place in society with well understood rules of behavior, knowing
what they could expect of others and the expectations of themselves. In this
sense nobody was alone in the world. Whatever their fate might have been,
they were joined together with others of their kind with whom they would
share their miseries and joys. For further insights into these types of
culture and the differences before and after the introduction of Western
influences read for example, Bhakti Vikasa Swami's "Glimpses of Traditional
Indian Life," or Helena Norberg-Hodge's "Ancient Futures: Learning from
Finding Our Place in Today's World
Modern society is just the opposite-we are not given a place in society-we
have to find it, beginning even in childhood. Parents, pressed for time,
find it much easier to do everything themselves rather than taking time to
teach their children and guide them in building their skills, so that many
have never washed a floor or even a dish by the time they leave home.
Children lack a place even within their family. They are told to "go play,"
or they entertain themselves with television and electronic games. Although
they do not have an active role in life they are somehow suddenly expected
to fit right into the adult world upon graduation from school. However they
often cannot and it is taking increasing years for them to find their place
in the adult world. Today most people do not marry until they are almost
thirty years of age, indicating that this is when they are able to find
their place in society; whereas just two generations back they would marry
and begin their family lives just after high school.
Going back to the years when society was more formally structured and there
was a subsistence economy children had a part in adult society and could
take responsibility at much younger ages. For example, David Farragut (later
Admiral Farragut) was a mere 12 years old during the War of 1812 when he was
given his first command. Those who have visited India have undoubtedly
witnessed children of very young ages taking responsibility to manage the
shop of their father, the care of their siblings and even carry on
entrepreneurial activities without any adult supervision. When I see such
things I try to imagine any American boy or girl of the same age doing
similar things. I cannot. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell also observed that
many young men have great difficulty finding their place in modern society,
to which he attributed the attraction of gang membership, and later
involvement in the mafia, whose "codes of honor" do provide a place along
with attendant duties and relationships. He suggested that until adult
society finds some way to provide a place for young men they will naturally
continue their involvement in gangs.
For most people their work provides their place and their orientation to the
world-a way to think of themselves and their relationships with others. It
provides the income with which they pay for their home, another aspect of
place. Work is therefore an essential element of finding one's place.
Although we now have the freedom to choose our work, to be and achieve
anything to the limit of our ability, this is a challenge that many people
struggle with. Despite the many books to help people find the right job or
occupation, despite the many career counselors and job placement companies,
some 80 percent of workers are still unsatisfied with the work they do. This
indicates that their work is not according to their nature, their guna and
karma. Being improperly situated they can make a mess of things, especially
in positions of leadership or management, and it is almost certain that in
such situations they cannot grow.
The Consequences of Loss of Place
The sense of place, the psychological support that comes from it, and the
result of losing it was studied by the pioneer sociologist, Emile Durkheim.
Observing the rapid changes in the social and economic conditions of society
during the industrialization of the late 19th century, he found that in
rapidly changing environments people became unsure of what was expected of
them, and what they could or should expect from others. These expectations,
known as social norms, are the basic rules of the culture. Durkheim observed
that without having a place where they know the norms to guide them, people
become dissatisfied, purposeless and alienated which leads to conflicts,
crime, suicide and other social deviancies. He called this condition anomie,
and wrote about it in his books "The Division of Labor in Society" and
One of the great tragedies of the modern era is the lack of place for the
hundreds of millions, even billions, of "unnecessary" and "unwanted"
people-the unemployed, the homeless, street urchins, and slum-dwellers.
Modern society affords them little if any place to give them even the simple
honor of living. Who gets a place in modern society? Increasingly only those
who can earn a profit for others, or provide money for others, that is,
those who have employable skills for which there is a market. However, the
need for employable people is diminishing with a diminishing economy. In
the1930s some 60 percent of Americans lived on farms and could provide for
themselves. Over the next 50 years 2,000 farms every week went under or were
sold, their occupants moving to the cities. Today those remaining on farms
number less than 5 percent of the population, and the other 95 percent
require jobs that produce money in order to get their food. Because of the
loss of manufacturing jobs to southeast Asia and service jobs to India and
elsewhere there are simply not enough jobs available. The official
unemployment figures are in double digits, but the real figure counting all
people who would like to work if they could is more than 20% in America.
That figure is similar throughout the world.
Worldwide more than 50 percent of the people now live in cities and the
prediction is that by the year 2020, 90 percent of the people in large
metropolitan areas will be slum-dwellers. This is almost half of the entire
global population! By definition slum dwellers do not have sufficient
earnings with which to properly maintain themselves. Either they are wage
slaves that are forced to work long hours at wages insufficient to live on,
or they have no regular job. In either case they have no place that allows
them to grow. Wage slaves generally have no money and no time for anything
else that might contribute to their growth. And no job means no place, no
place means anomie, which means increased theft, crime, drug use,
prostitution and suicide. This is what is meant by nirvishesha and
sunnyavadi, the voidism and impersonalism of the Kali-yuga. What can we
expect when half of humanity has no place? It is a house of horror. This is
seen as such a problem that there is serious discussion at high levels of
"culling" the human race to what is "needed," and eliminating the "useless
eaters." (This is actually not new. The ideas of Thomas Malthus and eugenics
have been around for several hundred years). These problems could and should
be fixed by society's leader but the policies of government only seem to
make them worse.
Finding One's Place in ISKCON
In the early days of Srila Prabhupada's movement it was easy to find one's
place in the society. Indeed, this was one of the features that made ISKCON
so attractive. Expansion was rapid and young people, or anybody actually,
could easily find a place to make their contribution, whatever that was.
Having a place and the opportunity to contribute to the effort gave the
devotees great joy that happiness was expressed on their faces in kirtan, on
harinam and in their service.
However, in ensuing years the social structure of the movement changed. As
the devotees married and began families there was no longer suitable
facility within the temples, and they were forced to live outside. To pay
for that, most, but not all, had to find their work outside the movement as
well. This generally resulted in not having close proximity to the temples,
which meant less association and less service. The result was
predictable-unable to maintain their active involvement in the movement
these devotees no longer had a place. They became the congregation:
attending the Sunday program, kirtan and taking prasadam, but that is not
enough to have a place and a feeling of contributing to the mission, and a
feeling of belonging. This trend continued through the 80s and ISKCON became
like any other church, with majority of devotees participating as the
congregation. In the process ISKCON ceased to be a counter-culture and had
gone mainstream where life was compartmentalized-work in this arena, social
life here, family life there, and spiritual life over there...
Today the vast majority of devotees have never lived in a temple, and never
had the opportunity to engage cent per cent in temple service, harinam and
book distribution. This means that many of them have never had the privilege
to experience what it means to find their place exclusively in Krishna
consciousness. It is my experience, having been both part of the
congregation and on the inside, that spiritual progress is much easier and
life is much happier on the inside. We also observe that the devotees who
are the steadiest and strongest in their devotional service are those who
have full-time devotional service that provides for their maintenance,
giving them a place in all respects: the sannyasis, the leaders, the temple
presidents, pujaris, cooks, those working with translation and book
production and distribution, brahmacaris, etc. And even among these only a
few are fortunate enough to have a place inside the movement their entire
lives. Unfortunately there is limited engagement in the temple activities
and many are forced to find a place in the dominant culture. For them
Krishna consciousness becomes another of several other aspects of their life
and may not be the most influential.
Place in Varnashrama Culture
The Vedic culture is created and arranged by what may be called "higher
authority." That is, the Supreme Lord has not only given us this world for
our activities, but has also given instruction how we can live here happily,
having meaningful work, and growing throughout our lives. Through the
hierarchy of this world He has given these principles of living in the Codes
of Dharma, or dharma shastra. The codes of dharma divide society into four
working classes called varnas, and four stages of life for spiritual
purposes called ashrama. Each of these has their specific obligations as
well as defined relationships with the other sections. This scientifically
arranged society is designed to provide everyone a place that will
facilitate lifelong growth in all spheres of life.
In the varnashrama culture occupation is not simply a means of obtaining as
much money as possible, nor is it merely a haphazard job taken simply for
survival. The entire concept of varna is that work must be appropriate to
one's nature, or guna and karma. Lord Krishna emphatically states in the
Bhagavad-gita that one must work according to their own nature and that it
is dangerous to do the work of others. (3.35, 18.47) Why dangerous? Because
by doing inappropriate work and being improperly situated we cannot fulfill
the purpose of human life, which is to grow.
There are four varnas-brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya and sudra, or the priests
and intellectuals, the political leaders, the organizers and producers and
the workers. All occupations in every human culture can be broadly
classified into one of these four. In the modern culture the relationship
between these four is determined by money almost exclusively, with
corresponding neglect of dharma, but in the varnashrama culture those
relationships are prescribed by the codes of dharma.
In regard to place the ksatriya has a very important role-he is tasked with
giving everyone a proper place in society-both in terms of housing and work.
For his exercise in caring for the citizens as if they were his own children
the ksatriya is considered the representative of the Lord. Not only is it
his duty to see that there is no unemployment in the varnashrama culture,
but everyone must also have work according to their nature. Hence besides no
unemployment there is not even any underemployment. In such a system job
dissatisfaction would approach zero percent.
Neither is there any homelessness in the varnashrama culture. Everyone has a
place to live, a place to work, and proper relationships with others. This
not only includes all human beings, but all species of life, especially
including the bulls and cows, domesticated animals who provide for the needs
of sustainable power and good nutrition.
Creating a Place for Everyone
We often repeat what one astrologer said of Srila Prabhupada, that he
created a house in which the whole world can live. This is another way of
saying that Srila Prabhupada arranged for everyone to have a place from
which they can grow. Everyone means not only the devotees of his Movement,
but all people of the world.
In his last days Srila Prabhupada spoke to Kuladri about this:
Kuladri das: "I was the temple president at New Vrindavan for so many
years, and Prabhupada had a vision for a pilgrimage site in North America
and a farm community. So he never emphasized book distribution to us. He
explained to me, especially at the end when I was with him in Bombay and in
Vrindavan just before he left, that the second half of his movement would be
dramatically different than the first half. The emergency tactics that he
used to distribute books and give young people sannyasa and open as many
temples as possible would end. He wanted places like New Vrindavan to
establish the culture of Krishna consciousness with colleges, grihastha
lifestyle, all of the things to demonstrate the philosophy that he was so
careful to present in his books. So he right up to the end he was telling me
that the farm communities were so important for the second half and the
vision would be very different than when his movement got started in the
In my way of understanding this statement, Srila Prabhupada was preparing us
to lead a great social movement based on his teachings to give a place to
the millions of people that modern society discards like so much rubbish.
This is where I see the varnashrama culture playing a significant role. If
the world's unfortunate people are to be saved it cannot be that we simply
help them find a place again in the same culture that spit them out. There
must be something different that will give them hope to have a meaningful
life, and a place from which to grow. That something different is the
sustainable village life where every person has a proper place to live,
proper engagement, and proper relationships.
On various occasions Srila Prabhupada instructed that the householders
should all live on the farms. Why? Because the village can provide a proper
place for everyone to live in the context of Krishna consciousness. This is
due to the fact that agriculture can provide an economic alternative to the
city job in an environment that supports Krishna consciousness, frees the
devotee from having to associate with non-devotees, and helps them to become
free from rajas and tamo-guna and established in goodness-an important step
to rising to suddha-sattva, the transcendental plane of existence. Moreover,
the village offers many different types of engagement and it is much easier
to find work that is according to one's guna and karma. Although this
instruction of Srila Prabhupada has been neglected, the advantages of the
village life remain. Devotees who are struggling in the cities both with
earning sufficient money and in their spiritual lives may find it helpful to
find a place in the village.
The Result of Giving the Bulls a Place
Not only does the village provide the devotee with the necessities of life,
but also provides the bull with much needed engagement. The bull also is
given a place in the spiritual culture, but he has also been rejected from
the atheistic, materialistic, dominant culture, and replaced by
oil-consuming machines that wreak havoc on the environment and our sanity.
At our Gitagrad community in Lithuania, New Gaudadesha, Bhakta Petras has
taken up the care and engagement of the bulls. I asked him what he had
learned while he was training them. His reply was profound, indicating that
all of human society will benefit greatly by again giving the bull a place
in society. Bhakta Petras replied that from the bull he has learned:
1.They do not learn quickly; one must go slow as they learn slowly
2. Therefore great patience is required. A local man told Petras early on
that he would have to be patient, but that man himself did not even know how
patient one must be. Researching Srila Prabhupada's book Petras found that
that patience is the most important quality and the mother of all other
3. As you are training them, they are also teaching you.
4. Because they are very regulated in their actions, they force you to be
regulated in yours.
5. The bull teaches you sattva; he is an animal of a sattva nature, and he
will not go to rajas-you cannot make him get passionate. Instead, you
yourself must come to sattva if you want to work with him-he will thus force
you to come to sattva.
6. Working with the bull may be compared to working with children or women,
in that, if you get angry with them they will refuse to cooperate with you.
If you are calm and reasonable they will work with you.
7. Rajo-guna (increasing speed) and tamo-guna (negative
reinforcement-hitting them) does not work with these animals.
8. Petras recently read from very old records how if a person had been
drinking and the bulls smell that they will refuse to work with the man.
Indeed, they will even try to gore him. They don't want to associate with
such people in the lower modes of nature.
9. The bulls and man are a team; they work together. Unlike driving a car or
tractor, where the driver simply controls the machine. With the bulls one
must learn to cooperate and work as a team.
10. There is mutual dependency between the bulls and the teamster; the bulls
depend on the man to feed and care for them, and the man depends on the
bulls to provide necessary power for accomplishing things.
Petras' comments gave me many realizations. The first is that Petras himself
is not just training the bulls, but they are also training him. By his
effort he is receiving valuable personal training in sattvic qualities,
conditioning him to sattva-guna. Such training is difficult to come by in a
world that is driven by passion and ignorance. Srila Prabhupada has taught
us that we must come to the platform of sattva before we can progress to
suddha-sattva, or the transcendental plane. How valuable are the cow and the
bull to help us stay fixed in sattva-guna.
I also realized how our dependence on the cow and the bull teaches the
entire human society sattva, and keeps them in sattva. Having abandoned the
bull we have lost our tether to sattva and are the entire human race is
drifting inexorably to rajas and tamo-guna, with the attendant terrible
consequences that we are now beginning to reap, economically, socially,
Next I realized that the reason that Petras has had so many wonderful
realizations because he made room for, and a commitment to Dharma (the
bulls) in his life. He gave the bulls a place in his world. Giving them a
place means giving them a duty, and that is the birth of yajna (yajna is
born of prescribed duties). Only interested in what they can take from
others, modern man does not realize what the cow and bull have to give to
us. Neither does modern man understand sattva-guna or the tremendous
benefits that accrue to society as a whole by giving these animals their
place in human society. Indeed, that is the case with all living beings in
this world since, Om purnam ada purnam idam, this world is perfectly
equipped as a complete whole and every thing and every living thing has its
Modern man instead thinks he can do better by killing the bull and
exploiting the cow for milk and the earth for oil. There is a very old bull
at New Gaudadesh, Nandi. The neighbors ask why we bother to keep an old
bull. They tell us we should kill him. Such an impoverished mentality of
selfishness denying this living entity his place does not allow them to
recognize the value of the bull, dharma, or reap the benefits of associating
with these wonderful animals.
We Are Missing Parts of the Social Machine
All devotees, but the brahmanas and ksatriyas in particular are meant to be
the leaders of society meaning that they are concerned with the welfare of
others, particularly those who are suffering:
sivaya lokasya bhavaya bhutaye ya uttama-sloka-parayana janah
jivanti natmartham asau parasrayam mumoca nirvidya kutah kalevaram
Those who are devoted to the cause of the Personality of Godhead live only
for the welfare, development and happiness of others. They do not live for
any selfish interest. (S.B. 1.4.12)
To this end Srila Prabhupada had wanted his followers, engaging what he
taught them, to correct the defects of modern civilization by establishing
daiva-varnashrama, or the divine culture of Krishna consciousness. This
daiva-varnashrama culture can give everyone a place to grow and so doing
cure all of the ills of today's society.
What is greatly needed now are men of ksatriya and vaisya natures to take
their proper place in the spiritual society, for they are essential to make
the whole scheme work. The ksatriyas and vaisyas must perform their dharma
as given by Sri Krishna in the Gita and dharma shastra. For the ksatriya
this means they must establish and take care of a village and provide a
place for the praja and insure that they have work according to their
nature. And the vaisyas are needed to organize the practical activity of
day-to-day life to see that people have food to eat, clothes to wear and the
other necessities of life. This is their dharma. Where are they? Why are
they not doing their duty? Unless and until these qualified men take up
their dharma this Krishna consciousness movement will not be able to show
the way out of the darkness of the modern materialistic way of living.
People today are becoming increasingly confused by the economic and
political changes and are looking for leadership. The needed concepts are
given in Srila Prabhupada's teachings, but unless we put them to practice
they remain nothing more than the study of an earlier grand culture that has
seen its day and remains lost in a bygone era, and this Krishna
Consciousness movement will have missed its calling of showing the way out
of the darkness of nescience in this time of great adversity.
I hope that this has helped you appreciate what place means in the life of
any person and the necessity of establishing the divine varnashrama culture
to once again provide a place for everyone. I encourage all devotees to
cooperate together to create healing communities for the benefit of all the
devotees, as well as all the people of this world.
2 May 2012