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Acaryadeva speaks here about the tension between social hierarchies and spiritual ideals and between formality and intimacy, about hyper piety and balanced self-control and about the difficulties to implement Varnasrama in a post-industrial society.


SB 9.4.45

yo mam atithim ayatam

atithyena nimantrya ca

adattva bhuktavams tasya

sadyas te darsaye phalam

Maharaja Ambarisa, you have invited me to eat as a guest, but instead of feeding me, you yourself have eaten first. Because of your misbehavior, I shall show you something to punish you.




In India the social status is measured by how much people are spending for big events like weddings. However, the real test of hospitality is when an unexpected guest comes. King Rantideva was tested in his dedication to his principles towards hospitality.
There is a tension between hierarchies which organize human society and the spiritual ideal that every creature is equal in the eyes of God. India is a spectacular example for this. While on one hand it is recognized that all souls have the same status, on the other hand India has one of the most repressive and suffocating hierarchies ever. This was not the case during the glorious time of Vedic cultures but over that last several thousand years.
Power corrupts. Where there is a steep social hierarchy along with the power there is corruption. There are many evidences: In India 40% of the children are physically or sexually abused. In Kali Yuga power corrupts very quickly. However, if one levels everything one looses all culture.
This tension between philosophical ideal that all creatures are equal and the ranking of people by external factors is also present in spiritual societies. Srimad Bhagavatam has many verses which warn against identifying with external ranking and social status.
The more religious a society is and the more it takes God seriously, the more ordinary behaviour is infested with divine significance. Political leaders are divine-right monarchs, household leaders are seen as representatives of God. There is even secular sacred significance (e.g. the Islamo-fascism in terms of war).
One point of the verse: It is a test of our brahma-bhuta realisation, whether we are we seeing God everywhere. Another point: Austerities lead to anger because they are frustrating.
If we experience something higher we can give up something lower, but if someone hasn’t naturally outgrown and given up the lower taste he becomes frustrated and then angry. The classical renunciate type is Durvasa Muni.
In the Krsna Consciousness movement there is also a tension between the need to be reverential and to be intimate. Formality can be a way of distancing oneself from someone or something, it creates distances .We can take shelter of the formality of bhakti yoga to keep our distance from Krsna. It can also just be a mechanism. In karma mimamsa there is a tendency which is in all of us to mechanise and formalize religion. If we understand the mechanism how something works we get control over it. We see that in people who seized political power: They began to manipulate the system and used a certain kind of language. We bring the same attitude to religion. Rupa Goswami warns us with the ambivalent word of niyamagraha, not following the rules or taking them to be the all in all. Just mastering the mechanism of bhakti yoga is external. Rather than actually becoming humble we can master the jargon of humility. Only Krsna knows what you are thinking if you go to the temple room. Therefore Rupa Goswami says that bhakti yoga cannot be reduced to external behaviour.
We find an example for this in what I call “hyper piety”. We find that tendency in religions in general and among our devotees to want to give all credit to God and to be not deserving. The language is what I call ecstatic language, a statement which is not literally true. When Srila Prabhupada says “I am the most fallen” it is not literally true. It shows a state of ecstasy. One of the things that is not literally true is to be completely undeserving. What about all the other undeserving people who go to hell? It is not true because Krsna is equal to all creatures. The term causeless mercy is what I can “emphatic redundancy”. Mercy already means beyond the principle of mere justice, it is causeless mercy. It assumes that Krsna gives everyone more than they deserve equally.
from Q & A
- regarding following the regulative principles:
In Bhakti yoga one has to find one’s highest possible “cruising altitude” of what one can maintain. Bhagavad Gita compares the senses with horses. There is an art to control them by given them a little freedom. It is a give and take with sincerity and attention. If we restrain the senses too much and become too fanatical & demanding we loose control or we become too self-indulgent in the name of being realistic. Balance means to find a sustainable level of Krsna Consciousness where we can gradually improve ourselves.
- regarding varnasrama:
The French revolution was a vaisya revolution, the Russian was a sudra revolution.
Varnasrama is based on an agrarian economy. The more complex the economy, the more complex the social system. If we study the system of monasticism, there is a cycle of reform and corruption. Also in spiritual societies there is this constant cycle of real devotion, social prestige and opulence coming from it, resulting corruption and another reform. So in varnasrama we have this hierarchy which is balanced by the sense that ultimately we are one and equal in the eyes of God. If we loose the original spiritual inspiration, the balancing half is lost and what is left is an impressive hierarchy.
There is no system which is corruption proof. India and the varnasrama became one of the most suppressive and oppressive systems on earth, also democracy. The world is almost heading towards nuclear confrontation among democracies. There is a constant struggle to maintain purity in an extremely corrupted world.
You can’t have a simple division of labor in a highly complex economy. The main impediment to implant catur-varnyama is that we live in a post-industrial world, and the varnasrama system assumes an agrarian economy and has a simply psychology like all pre-industrial societies which is reflected in their literature. So to implement such a simple system in an extremely complicated world is a real challenge. How many devotees can even say that they strictly live within a certain varna?
The asramas are distinct mainly in terms of sexuality. You can’t go out to the general world and instruct people about their sex-life, but if people come in these natural varnas then gradually you can organize and regulate these asramas. When you have a hierarchical labor system people in higher position have influence over people in lower positions: how they dress, who to vote for, economic control. If you have a vocational societal hierarchy you have a mechanism to redefine relationships, even sex.