Devotees’ Concern with and Approach to Social Issues

varnasrama dharma system

Devotees’ Concern with and Approach to Social Issues

Why should devotees be at all concerned with social issues? Shouldn’t we just speak about Kṛṣṇa and topics directly related to Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Certainly, devotional service is ultimately a purely spiritual process, yet within this world psychological and social factors undeniably influence persons who are trying to cultivate spiritual consciousness. The outlook and attitudes of an aspiring transcendentalist will necessarily be affected by his previous impressions and by how he lives and acts within society. In that regard, within the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Vedic social organization is discussed, along with the direct delineation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. For instance, the Seventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam features an extended section wherein Nārada, who is famous as a brahmacārī, explains the various duties of the four social orders,
and also the duties of women and related matters. And various śāstras (Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, Mahābhārata, Śiva Purāṇa) record graphic dialogs wherein Nārada inquires about and is instructed on the nature of women. Śrīla Prabhupāda also often discussed such subjects and gave many insights and directions pertaining to them.

Śrīla Prabhupāda made it clear that a major objective of ISKCON’s is to reform human society, so that the general populace may more easily take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. To achieve this stated goal of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s, the members of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement must be clear about the social vision that he gave us, so that we can methodically work to effect it within the overall society. As with all other endeavors undertaken for the sake of Kṛṣṇa, our approach toward reforming society must begin with our ācāryas’ vision, as they have explained it from the śāstras (authorized revealed scriptures). This means that our social vision is primarily realized from the verses of the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and especially the commentaries on them written by ISKCON’s founder-ācārya, Śrīla Prabhupāda. Our social vision should be based on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, because he ascribed the highest authority to them.

In the following quotation, based on the text of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Prabhupāda explained the importance of varṇāśrama-dharma:

“The effect of adhering to the institution of varṇāśrama is gradual elevation to the spiritual platform and liberation from material bondage. By following the principles of varṇāśrama-dharma, one gets the opportunity to associate with devotees. Such association gradually awakens one’s dormant propensity to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead and frees one from all the basic principles of sinful life. One then gets the opportunity to
offer unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Vāsudeva.”

Or, as Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura put it

“The main reason for the cultivation of varṇāśrama-dharma is to maintain the body, develop the mind, perform good works for society, and learn spiritual topics, all with the goal of developing pure devotional service. Who can deny the necessity of the varṇāśrama institution as long as the living being is bound up in the human body? If it is abandoned, and the above-mentioned four principles are lacking, the jīva will go astray and no good whatsoever will accrue to him. One should, therefore, strictly adhere to the rules governing varṇāśrama for the sake of the mind, society, and one’s advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But the observance of varṇāśrama-dharma is not the sole business of the jīva. Therefore, with the assistance of varṇāśrama-dharma, one must cultivate pure devotional service. The purpose of the varṇāśrama institution is to facilitate the practice of
devotional service.”

Śrīla Prabhupāda often emphasized the necessity and urgency of establishing varṇāśrama-dharma:

“There should be a thorough overhauling of the social system, and society should revert to the Vedic principles, that is, the four varṇas and the four āśramas. The whole world has now become hell. So the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is a very important movement. It is overhauling the whole human – social, political, religious. So those who are engaged in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement should be very, very responsible, sober, try to understand the situation, and take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, and everything will become very successful.”

Reproduced with permission from the book Women: Mothers and Masters by Bhakti Vikasa Swami.

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Bhakti Vikasa Swami
Bhakti Vikasa Swami
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Prabhupada disciple, ISKCON guru, Public Speaker, Spiritual Guide