needs your help. This project is maintained by donations, which have been reduced during the pandemic. Kindly consider supporting this very important service project. Click here to contribute.


Real Advancement Of Civilization

Srila Prabhupada: In your country there is a welfare department. The expenditure is increasing.

Disciple: Yes.

Srila Prabhupada: That means the social structure is very bad. Otherwise, the natural procedure is that everyone should be self-independent.…

Disciple: But what can the state do? Should the state just leave the people alone?

Srila Prabhupada: No. The state should make the citizens so nicely developed in their Krishna consciousness that they will be self-dependent, self- satisfied. That is the ideal of civilization.

Disciple: But America is very far from that.

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore it is not advanced, although they are very proud of their advancement. This is not a sign of advancement.…

Not very long ago, say about two hundred years, there was a big zamindar [landholder]. He was known as king in Krishnanagar. He was very charitably disposed, so he went to a brahmana—a greatly learned scholar—and asked him, “Can I help you in any way?” And the brahmana replied, “No, I don’t require your help. I am quite satisfied.”

The zamindar asked, “How are you satisfied?”

The brahmana said, “Oh, my students bring some rice, so my wife boils that. And I have got this tamarind tree. I take some leaves and prepare some juice out of it. That is sufficient.” You have perhaps heard of Canakya Pandita. He was the greatest politician. He was prime minister of India. But he was living in a cottage and just giving instructions. So that is India’s Vedic civilization. Everyone is satisfied, self-sufficient.

And now, in your country, to work you have to go to an office fifty miles away. And because you have to take this trouble, Krishna has provided you with cars. You are thinking, “I am advanced.” You don’t think, “Although I have got a car, I have to go fifty miles from my home.” This is illusion. You are thinking, “I am advanced. I am happy. I have got this car.” This is illusion.

Yes, [my disciple] Gaurasundara was going to work [to maintain a temple in Hawaii], and he was driving fifty miles to Honolulu. The poor fellow had to rise early in the morning, and he had to hurry greatly. Therefore I advised, “Gaurasundara, better you give up this job. Just depend on Krishna.” So he has given it up.

What is this? Going fifty miles by motorcycle or motor car—how tedious it is. But still they are satisfied: “We are advanced.” And because they have many cars, there is always that [imitates a traffic noise] wherever I go.

Disciple: And more problems come after that.

Srila Prabhupada: Wherever you go—[makes a traffic noise again]. Up in the sky [makes an airplane noise]. And then digging [makes a jackhammer noise]. Is it not so? Don’t you feel botheration? But they are thinking, “America is very much advanced in machines.” And when that garbage truck comes … [makes appropriate noise]. So many sounds are going on, always. Of course, you have got very nice cities, nice roads everywhere. But you have created so many troubles. In the news there was the story of a lady who became a patient. She became mad from all these sounds. And I think they are thinking very seriously how to stop all these sounds. Is that so?

Disciple: Especially the airplanes. They make such a tremendous sound that they break windows.

Srila Prabhupada: I am staying with Sambhu in Bombay. When an airplane comes over the top of the house, it is just like a thunderbolt.…

So this is called illusion. We are creating a civilization which is very painful, but we are thinking that we are advanced. This is illusion. We are simply creating problems, and still we are thinking that we are advanced.

But from another point of view, Srimad-Bhagavatam says there is no problem. Tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah. You simply try for Krishna consciousness. And how shall I live? The answer is: tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham. You don’t aspire for miseries, but they come upon you; they are forced upon you. Similarly, happiness will also be forced upon you, whatever you are destined to receive. So don’t try for getting happiness or avoiding distress. Happiness and distress will go on. You simply try for Krishna consciousness, which without your trying will never be achieved. You have to voluntarily try for Krishna consciousness, revive it.

Therefore Lord Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja [“Simply surrender unto Me”].… Krishna can force you to be-come Krishna conscious. But He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t interfere with your independence. He simply says, “Do it.” Therefore you have to try for Krishna consciousness, not for other things.

Other things are already there. For the birds and beasts there is no problem for eating. Why should you have a problem? A prisoner has no eating problem. The government supplies what he needs. He only has the problem that he should not be a criminal. That is his problem. He should try for that: “I shall never again become a criminal.” That is the real activity. It is not that in the prison he has to worry, “What shall I eat?” No, eating is already there. Even if you are a prisoner, the government has supplied food. Similarly, God has supplied everyone with eatables, even cats and dogs. Why not you? You have created your own problem. The real problem is how to develop Krishna consciousness.

Disciple: These problems will take care of themselves if people develop Krishna consciousness?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Structuring a Sane Society

W.H.O. member: There is one thing that I cannot reconcile. As an Indian, the question bothers me very, very often. I believe in a great many things that you said about returning to a simpler, more natural way of life. And about finding satisfaction in our spiritual dimension. There’s no question about that. I’m not what you would call a “Westernized Indian.”

But what I cannot reconcile is the fact that we who had this spiritual knowledge and all our cultural guidelines, which you have just now said are the solutions to all our problems—with all these guidelines, we have not been able to keep our society free from so many evils that have come about. I’m referring not only to the poverty but also to the unemployment and to the hunger and to so many other things.

Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not because of our cultural guidelines, but because of bad leaders who do not follow them. It is due to these bad leaders.

W.H.O. member: They are our own people. They—

Srila Prabhupada: They may be our own people. They may be our own father. Prahlada Maharaja was a devotee of the Lord, and yet his father was Hiranyakashipu, an utter demon. So what can be done? Most people are good, and yet so often we see that their leader is a godless demon.

W.H.O. member: Yes, Hiranyakashipu had to be destroyed.

Srila Prabhupada: So he was destroyed. By God’s grace he was destroyed. And every one of these modern demonic leaders—they will be destroyed. These demonic leaders will not stay. They’ll be destroyed. But everything takes time.

At the present moment, our leaders are not very good. Blind. They have no knowledge, and yet they are leading. Andha yathandhair upaniyamanas: the blind leading the blind—into the ditch. These leaders have killed the world’s original, spiritual culture, and they cannot give anything in its place.

W.H.O. member: So has your movement involved itself in social philosophy, then?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This movement is most practical. For instance, we are recommending no meat- eating. And the leaders do not like it. We are not very favorable to their propaganda. So the leaders don’t like us. After all, they have allowed slaughterhouses, and beef shops anywhere and everywhere, and we are saying, “No meat-eating.” So how will they like us? That is the difficulty. “It is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.” But still we are struggling.

And the alternative we are recommending is also practical. These God conscious farming villages have proved successful. The inhabitants are finding their life happy and abundant. Nature’s bounty supplies fruit and vegetables and grain. And the cows supply milk, from which you can get yogurt, cheese, butter, and cream. So with all these ingredients, you can make hundreds and thousands of delicious preparations. And you feel fully satisfied. That is the basic principle.

W.H.O. member: That is an example of a successful enterprise, but would you speak about something now that has not been tried before?

Srila Prabhupada: The “new thing” is that these people living in God conscious farming villages do not have to travel away for their daily bread. That is the new thing for modern society.

At present, most people have to travel some distance to the factory or office. I happened to be in Bombay when there was a railway strike—oh, people were suffering so much. You see? From five o’clock in the morning, they were standing in a queue for catching a train. Of course, during the strike hardly any trains were running. So people were in so much difficulty. And if one or two trains were running, so many people were trying to squeeze themselves into the cars. Smashing themselves in. They were even on top of the train.

Of course, in the more industrially advanced countries, the people go to the factory or office in cars—and risk being killed in highway crashes.

So the question is. Why should one be induced to go so many miles away from his home simply for earning his livelihood? This is a very bad civilization. One must obtain food locally. That is a good civilization.

W.H.O. member: I understand that your goal is to have everybody become self-sufficient in regard to food. But if all the people are engaged in the production of food, then who will be providing other things?

Srila Prabhupada: We don’t say everyone should be engaged in food production. According to the Bhagavad-gita, naturally you will have a section of men who will produce food, a section of men who will give spiritual direction, and a section of men who will manage as the government or king. And the rest of the people are laborers who help all the other sections.

Not that everyone will be a cultivator. No. There must also be a brain department, a management department, and a worker department. These groupings are natural within any society. And all of them should work together for spiritual cultivation.

The Virtues of Indian Culture

The Indian's faith in God, the soul, karma, and reincarnation is his greatest asset, an asset inherited from Vedic culture. When a person has deep faith that his happiness and distress stem directly from his pious or sinful acts of past lives or this life, he holds himself away from sin and embraces piety.

Such a person has faith that happiness will come unsought, just like distress. So he is not preoccupied with seeking material happiness, nor does he resort to unethical acts. A person nourished by Vedic culture is patient, knowing that happiness will come of its own accord.

The Vedic culture speaks strongly against the vices of meat- eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling. It points one instead towards virtues like mercy, austerity, purity, and truthfulness. And when vices are curbed and virtues encouraged, society flourishes.

Consider, in contrast, what happens in a materialistic culture. In America, where I live, even the government and many churches encourage or tacitly approve of meat-eating, drinking, smoking, illicit sex, and gambling. So the highly industrious Americans pay heavily, with broken families, crime, sickness, lost production, and mental and emotional distress.

Fortunately, despite heavy propaganda from industries peddling vices, many Americans are slowly learning the truth about what is good and bad about the way they live. More and more Americans are turning to vegetarianism. More and more corporations, universities, and cities are banning smoking in the workplace. More and more communities are imposing controls on industries that dump junk into the air, water, and land.

America is suffering reactions to vices, and these reactions should be a warning to those shaky about preserving India’s Vedic culture. A person nourished by Vedic culture doesn’t seek pleasure in the vices of meat- eating, intoxication, illicit sex, or gambling. He knows that within the body he is a spirit soul, and he knows that any pleasure that comes only from the body is flimsy and temporary. He is convinced that vices will hurt him instead of helping. True and lasting happiness will come by seeing more to the needs of the soul than those of the body.

The world will be heaven if we drive away vices and promote the virtues of austerity, purity, cleanliness, and truthfulness.

Vedic Society

PART I: The term Vedic society refers to a state that is organized according to directions given in the ancient Vedic literature. The Vedic social structure is not manmade but divinely inspired. And it is not an idealistic, imaginary system, but it existed in the past for thousands of years. The Hare Krishna movement is trying to revive an ideal society founded on the teachings of the Vedic literature. Although in the modern age it would be impossible to adopt all the aspects of the traditional Vedic society, the principles upon which the society ran are as appropriate today as they ever were.

The original Vedic society was different from India’s modern-day caste system. The Vedic society is called varnashrama, which refers to its four material divisions (varnas) and four spiritual divisions (ashramas). These divisions are not arbitrary; they are made according to natural differences in individuals. By organizing society into the divisions of atmarama, the state allows people to work according to their propensities and at the same time gradually elevate their consciousness. The ultimate goal of the atmarama system is self-realization, or Krishna consciousness.

The four varnas are:

  1. shudra (laborer class)
  2. vaishya (productive class)
  3. kshatriya (avdministrative class)
  4. brahmana (intellectual class)

If we analyze any society, we will find these divisions. Some people are inclined to crafts and manual work, some are inclined to business or agriculture, some to administration, and some to intellectual pursuits.

Modern secular, egalitarian society fails to recognize basic differences in individual propensities but adopts systems that use the individual as a commodity regardless of his nature or inclinations. Ultimately, no one benefits from such systems, because they are not natural. There cannot be equality on the physical platform. People obviously have different abilities and inclinations.

In the Bhagavad-gita (4.13). Lord Krishna says, “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me.” In other words, the four divisions of varna are determined by guna and karma, by one’s qualities and one’s work—not by birth.

Therefore, if the son of a shudra (laborer) exhibits the symptoms of a brahmana (intellectual), he must be accepted as a brahmana. And if the son of a brahmana either has the qualities of a shudra or does the work of a shudra, he is considered a shudra. The saint Narada Muni, one of the great authorities of Vedic culture, makes this same point in Srimad-Bhagavatam.

The failing of modern Hinduism is that its followers disregard this scriptural injunction. In Vedic culture there is a natural respect for the “higher” classes, especially the brahmanas. Today, however, the higher classes cling to their status even when they are unqualified. In order to maintain their false status, they have concocted the idea of caste by birthright This allows them to enjoy privileges, and it bars the members of the other castes from ever questioning their qualifications. The practice of recognizing caste by birthright has caused much resentment in modern Indian civilization.

The Vedic literature compares the four divisions of society to the human body. The legs represent the shudras, the belly the vaishyas, the arms the kshatriyas. and the head the brahmanas. All these parts work together for the benefit of the whole body. When one part of the body is sick, the whole body suffers. Similarly, when one part of society is not functioning properly, the whole system suffers. Therefore, each part is important.

Now let us discuss the functions of the four varnas:


The brahmanas are considered the head of society, and their duty is to teach and guide all other varnas. Bhagavad-gita (18.42) lists the qualifications by which they are recognized:

Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.

Formerly, brahmanas would study the Vedic scriptures and become expert in one or several fields of knowledge. They were teachers, doctors, priests, astrologers, political advisers, and so on. They never charged for teaching, but those who took advantage of their knowledge supplied them with their necessities of life. The brahmanas would not accept more than necessary for a simple, austere life, and if they owned more, they would give it away in charity.


The kshatriyas are the arms of society. They provide all levels of administrative service up to the king, and they are the soldiers and the police. Their qualifications are listed in Bhagavad-gita (18.43):

Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness. courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kshatriyas.

Vedic society was a monarchy. Unlike modern political leaders, the kshatriya kings were extremely powerful and would lead their men in battle. Civilians were never involved in warfare, and on the battlefield, fighting was only between equals.

The power of the king was not unlimited. Every king had an advisory staff of brahmanas, and he followed their advice, recognizing their wisdom. Thus a monarch would treat even a poor brahmana very respectfully as his superior.

A kshatriya king was responsible for the well-being of his citizens. He would never think of exploiting them, and he knew he had to accept karmic reaction for their sinful activities and for his own mismanagement.

The Vedic monarchs had to not only qualify as good administrators and military leaders but also exhibit the saintly qualities of a devotee of Krishna. The goal of their leadership was to enable all people to make progress on the path of spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, all activities detrimental to this goal were severely restricted. Vedic kshatriyas enforced injunctions against meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. According to Vedic science meat-eating destroys the quality of mercy, gambling destroys honesty, intoxication destroys austerity, and sexual promiscuity destroys physical and mental cleanliness.

There are instances in Vedic history of kings who deviated from their duties of protecting the citizens and encouraging them to follow religious principles. These deviant kings were removed from their post by the spiritual power of the brahmanas. But such cases were rare, since kings were not elected by the politically uneducated masses but were selected by the most enlightened members of society.

Kingdoms would flourish under the rule of saintly and powerful monarchs. There was justice for everyone, even for people without money. Unemployment was unknown, because society was basically agrarian. Vedic society encouraged individual ownership of land so that people could be self- sufficient without artificial dependence on machines, bank loans, and complicated marketing procedures.

Life under saintly monarchs centered on Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and because of regular sacrifices and spiritual practices, nature responded with ideal weather, abundant food, water, and other natural resources. The people were happy and satisfied, and they progressed toward the goal of life, self-realization.


The vaishyas represent the belly of society. Their responsibility in Vedic culture was farming, business, and cow protection. Nowadays wealth consists of paper that can lose its value at any time. People have left the land by the millions, trading a simple and natural life for hellish factories, polluted cities, and stressful jobs. Often their dreams of enjoyment are frustrated by unemployment poverty, crime, and other harsh urban realities.

In Vedic times, however, land, cows, grains, and gold were considered wealth. They represent natural wealth, and their value is much more consistent than that of stocks and bonds.

In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna states that the vaishyas have the specific duty to protect cows. The cow is the most useful animal. According to Vedic understanding, she is considered our mother because she gives us her milk. From milk a large variety of dairy products can be made: yogurt, cheese, butter, curd, buttermilk, ghee (clarified butter), various sweets, and so on. Ghee is an important ingredient in Vedic sacrifices, and therefore the cow is considered the mother of religion. Even after the cow dies a natural death, she leaves us her hide for many useful purposes. Therefore cow protection is essential for the vaishya community.

Although vaishyas engaged in business, in the Vedic society business and money-making were not regarded as the goal of life. Nor were people indoctrinated to work hard for an endless variety of products no one really needs. They were not constantly bombarded with advertisements designed to agitate their senses. Every morning people would go to the temple, and in the evenings they would assemble and listen to the scriptures.


The shudras are naturally inclined toward manual labor and service to others. They represent the legs of society. The shudras in Vedic society were not considered “untouchables.” Their services were seen as a valuable contribution to the smooth functioning of the Vedic society. Imagine a society without a work force to take care of construction, maintenance, cleaning, or general services. It obviously couldn’t exist.

The head, arms, belly, and legs all have to perform their part in order to be a complete body. These four varnas can cooperate peacefully for the benefit of society—but this is possible only if this system has a proper spiritual foundation. Without that, people become polluted by material qualities. In the next issue, we will discuss the spiritual divisions of Vedic culture.

What Do We Mean by Varnashrama?

To see the true value of the Vedic social system, we need to understand it in its original form.
Thinkers throughout history—from Plato to Locke to modern political theorists—have always discussed the ideal form of social organization. Vedic literature also addresses this question and presents as the ideal the social system known as varnashrama, which divides society into four varnas, or occupational groups, and four ashramas, or stages of life. The four varnas are brahmanas (priests and teachers), kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), vaishyas (farmers and merchants), and shudras (laborers and artisans). The four ashramas are brahmacharya (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (retired), and sannyasa (renounced).

When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada carried the wisdom of Vedic literature to the West, he was hoping for nothing short of a spiritual revolution. He knew that without Krishna consciousness, people cannot be happy. An important part of his strategy to spread Krishna consciousness around the world was the revival of varnashrama. For many years, his followers have pondered his instructions about varnashrama, but so far have made little progress in fulfilling his vision for it.

Part of the problem may be confusion caused by apparently contradictory things Srila Prabhupada said about varnashrama.For example, in the Bhagavad-gita (2.31), Prabhupada refers to varnashrama as “man’s steppingstone for spiritual understanding.” But in other places he implies that varnashrama can become simply a materialistic arrangement for one social group to dominate another, and by reinforcing identity based on bodily categories, it creates a stumbling block on the path to spiritual advancement. In some instances Srila Prabhupada says that because Lord Krishna created varnashrama, it exists in all societies at all times. But Prabhupada also sets forth the establishment of varnashrama as a central goal of the Krishna consciousness movement. So is varnashrama an aid for spiritual elevation, or an instrument for social oppression? Does it exist throughout human society, and has it existed throughout history, or is it yet to be established?

To clarify these issues, we must recognize that the word varnashrama conveys similar but significantly different meanings in different contexts. Here are three basic types of varnashrama:

  1. The original varnashrama is the division of society into four varnas and four ashramas that cooperate to satisfy the Supreme Lord. One’s varna is determined by one’s character, qualities, training, and work. The focus is spiritual advancement and spiritual satisfaction for each member of society.
  2. This kind of varnashrama is a spiritual institution, just as a temple or a church becomes spiritual when used to glorify the Supreme Lord. The original varnashrama is sometimes referred to as daiva, or “divine,” varnashrama.
  3. Materialistic varnashrama is the formal division of society into four varnas and four ashramas primarily to control society and increase the material well- being of certain groups. Typically, parentage and adherence to certain rituals determine varna, rather character and training. The hereditary caste system, a perversion of the original varnashrama, is in the category of materialistic varnashrama.
  4. Spontaneous varnashrama is a “default” society that results because by nature people tend to divide into classes (the four varnas). Spontaneous varnashrama is devoid of a connection with the Supreme Lord and does nothing to promote spiritual progress.
    To help us understand the kind of varnashrama Srila Prabhupada promoted, let’s look at these types of varnashramas more closely, beginning with the least spiritual type.

Spontaneous Varnashrama

In a June 1971 conversation with Professor Grigoriy Kotovsky in Moscow, Srila Prabhupada explained that because varnashrama is created by God, it exists in every society in every age:

In Bhagavad-gita [4.13] there is the statement catur-varnyam maya srishtam: this system was created by Vishnu [God]. So since varnashrama is a creation of the Supreme, it cannot be changed. It is prevalent everywhere. It is like the sun. The sun is a creation of the Supreme. The sunshine is there in America, in Russia, and in India—everywhere. Similarly, this varnashrama system is prevalent everywhere in some form or another. Take, for example, the brah-manas, the most intelligent class of men. They are the brains of the society. The kshatriyas are the administrative class; then the vaishyas are the productive class, and the shudras are the worker class. These four classes of men are prevalent everywhere under different names. Because it is created by the original creator, so it is prevalent everywhere, varnashrama-dharma. (Moscow, June 22, 1971)

Prabhupada is describing spontaneous varnashrama. People naturally tend to divide into the classes Prabhupada mentions, but there is no goal of using that social structure to serve the Lord.

Materialistic Varnashrama

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.8) Suta Gosvami criticizes what we would call materialistic varnashrama: “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” This verse applies to the caste system of modern India. Although the caste system has some basis in religious tradition, for most of its practitioners the primary motivation is respectable social standing and material enjoyment, either in this life or the next, rather than service to the Supreme Lord.

Original Varnashrama

The great sage Parashara tells us how human society can satisfy the Supreme Lord, even though He is already full in all opulences:

purushena parah puman
vishnur aradhyate pantha
nanyat tat-tosha-karanam

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varna and ashrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Lord.” (Vishnu Purana 3.8.9)

Parashara Muni is referring to the original varnashrama system. Its essential feature is the deliberate organization of society so that the members of each class perform activities that help members of other classes in their spiritual advancement.

It is interesting to note that in the Vishnu Purana verse, Srila Prabhupada translates the word tosha as “satisfy” rather than “please.” I take this to mean that even though Krishna is pleased by the service of individual devotees, He is satisfied when everyone serves Him, because He knows that by serving Him all living entities will gain the greatest benefit. In daiva varnashrama everyone can serve the Lord, whatever his level of spiritual advancement, by following the principles Krishna sets forth in the Bhagavad-gita. In the third chapter, Krishna offers a description of work according to the principles of karma- yoga for those at the beginning level of spiritual advancement. As Krishna further explains in the twelfth chapter, those most captivated by material enjoyment and least able to follow regulations can make spiritual advancement by working for Him, offering Him the fruits of their labor, or at least renouncing the fruits of their labor for some charitable cause. Krishna emphasizes dutiful working according to one’s nature, with detachment from the fruits of labor. Workers in daiva varnashrama can gain further advancement because they work in the association of devotees and serve them.

Furthermore, everyone—brah-mana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra—is eligible to advance to the topmost spiritual platform by offering not just the fruits of activity but the very activity itself to the Lord in full Krishna consciousness. In the eighteenth chapter (verses 45-46), Krishna tells Arjuna, “By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done. By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is allpervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.”

At this level, work is no longer counted as karma-yoga. Instead, it is considered bhakti-yoga, the highest stage of devotional service. Krishna informs Arjuna that if he acts on the platform of bhakti-yoga, he can “abandon all varieties of religion.” He has simply to perform his occupational duty as an offering of love to Krishna. He need not worry about all the injunctions contained in the “flowery words of the Vedas,” which concerned him in the opening pages of the Gita.

So only daiva varnashrama—the original system created by the Lord—can satisfy the Lord, because everyone can make spiritual progress. The more materially attached can learn to renounce the fruits of their labor. The more spiritually advanced can gain the highest spiritual ecstasy by offering their labor to the Lord in a spirit of loving devotion. The Lord is satisfied because He sees all His children advancing towards Him, each according to his highest capacity at the moment.

Those who have reached the top platform of pure devotional service, such as Arjuna [see sidebar: “Varnashrama and Karma”], are in fact transcendental to varnashrama, even though they still appear to be carrying out their varnashrama duties like anyone else. When engaged in pure devotional service by doing their work as bhakti-yoga, they are no longer on the material platform; they are in spiritual ecstasy.

Now that we have examined the three main types of varnashrama, let’s look at what we might call “Prabhupada’s varnashrama.”

Prabhupada’s Varnashrama

In the Ninth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.10.51), commenting on the varnashrama structure in Lord Ramacandra’s ideal kingdom, Srila Prabhupada writes: “Among the four yugas [ages]—Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali—Kali-yuga is the worst, but if the process of varnashrama-dharma is introduced, even in this age of Kali, the situation of Satya- yuga can be invoked. The Hare Krishna movement, or Krishna consciousness movement, is meant for this purpose.”

When Srila Prabhupada indicates that it is a mission of the Hare Krishna movement to establish varnashrama, he clearly does not mean the spontaneous varnashrama he told Professor Kotovsky was already existing all over the world. Nor does he mean the materialistic varnashrama of social prestige. Rather, Srila Prabhupada means the original varnashrama, the social organization that can satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, because it provides for the spiritual advancement of all types of people. Nevertheless, the varnashrama Srila Prabhupada presents for his followers has certain prominent features especially meant to make it an effective tool for spreading Krishna consciousness in the present age.

Not by birth. First of all, Prabhupada emphasizes that varna designations should be determined by character, training, and work, not by birth. He cites the injunctions of such sages as Narada Muni to back up his position. Srila Prabhupada indicates that rather than society’s using birth as the criteria, a devotee’s teachers and guru can help determine the varna best suited for his specific nature and guide him to appropriate training for that varna.

Living off the land. In previous ages there was no need to specify this, but for our age Srila Prabhupada constantly urged devotees to “get all your necessities from the land” and to “grow your own food, produce your own cloth.” A society based on simple living and high thinking would favor spiritual advancement.

The Varnashrama college. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.10.50), “As there are schools and colleges to train students to become chemical engineers, lawyers, or specialists in many other departments of knowledge, there must be schools and colleges to train students to become brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, brahmacharis, grihasthas, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis.”

In March 1974 in Vrindavana, Prabhupada first outlined his ideas for a varnashrama college. Unlike traditional Vedic schools in which vaishyas, for example, were taught only scriptural studies (getting their vocational training at home), the varnashrama college would be for them somewhat like an agricultural university, in that there would be plenty of hands-on instruction, including practical subjects such as cow protection and food-crop cultivation. Also unlike traditional Vedic schools, even shudras would be included, although, again, their subjects would be centered on hands-on learning rather than formal classroom instruction. By training students in all the subjects necessary for the smooth functioning of a self- sufficient village, such a college would provide the foundation for setting up varnashrama.

Small-scale subsistence farming. Economic historians say that large-scale market-oriented farm production was unknown up to a couple hundred years ago. Today modern agribusinesses maintain large farms by capital- intensive techniques that rely heavily on tractors and petroleum, large pools of migrant workers, debt-intensive financing practices such as mortgages, government loans, and futures speculation in the commodity markets. In the model of varnashrama Srila Prabhupada presents, farmers don’t go into debt, because their local government gives them small plots to farm. Because these plots cannot be resold, farmers do not risk the unemployment that results when all the land ends up in the hands of the slickest businessman.

Economy based on agriculture and cow protection. Again, there was no need to emphasize this approach in traditional Vedic times, but for our modern times, when factory production and the service industry drive the economy, Srila Prabhupada often stressed the importance of resting our self-sufficient economy on agriculture and cow protection, or “living as Krishna lived.”

In the ideal varnashrama community, applying the principles of cow protection would mean that plowing should be done with oxen rather than tractors. The farmer effectively owns his means of production in a non-competitive system, and production is focused on home use and charitable giving, with only the excess being sold. Economic development would be highly localized, and short-distance shipping by ox-cart would re-place long-distance shipping by trucks and trains.

Mutual respect between varnas. In a 1975 conversation with an Indian governor in Vrindavana, Srila Prabhupada emphasized the deadly hazard of promoting contempt and hatred between the classes: “The shudras were hated like anything, so they became Mohammedans… . Now the result is that you and Pakistan go on fighting forever.” In contrast, Prabhupada stresses that in varnashrama everyone’s position is to be respected and appreciated because everyone is serving the Lord.

Protection for laborers. Prabhupada’s varnashrama does not sanction harsh treatment of workers and the hope of placating them with the promise of rewards in the next life. The other classes should treat their dependent workers kindly and fairly. To provide the needs for any society takes hard work, but Prabhupada condemned the hellish working conditions and social exploitation of modern industry: “The productive energy of the laborer is misused when he is occupied by industrial enterprises. Industry of various types cannot produce the essential needs of man, namely rice, wheat, grains, milk, fruits, and vegetables. The production of machines and machine tools increases the artificial living of a class of vested interests and keeps thousands of men in starvation and unrest. This should not be the standard of civilization.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.26, Purport)

On one hand, industrial development subjects the laborer to ghastly working conditions; on the other hand, its machines threaten him with unemployment and misery. Prabhupada considered laboring-class unrest a clear symptom of poorly trained government leaders. The test of good government is whether it can make everyone happy (sarve sukhino bhavantu). In return for their labor, workers should be treated amicably and assured of food, shelter, the necessities of life, and protection for their families.

Using varnashrama as a preaching tool. Srila Prabhupada envisioned varnashrama as the only effective means of spreading Krishna consciousness to the world.

In big scale you cannot make all of them brahmanas or sannyasis. No. That is not possible. This is small scale. What percentage of people of the world are we attracting? Very insignificant. But if you want to make the whole human society perfect, then this Krishna consciousness movement should be introduced according to Krishna’s instructions—if you want to do it in a large scale for the benefit of the whole human society. Now we are picking up some of them, the best. That is one thing. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu said para-upakara. Why only a certain section should be picked up? Let the whole mass of people get the benefit of it. But then it is required to be systematic. Therefore, we have to introduce this varnashrama- dharma. It must be done perfectly. It is possible, and people will become happy.” (Mayapur, February 14, 1977)

The varnashrama model that Srila Prabhupada presents is specifically adapted to the present age and focused on attaining the highest level of love of Godhead for all. Even if we can’t come to Srila Prabhupada’s ideal standards at once, we can take steps toward varnashrama that will provide the momentum to reach the goal. Faced with the inevitable difficulties of the present age, many people will then have the chance to be attracted to self-sufficient varnashrama villages, centered on the worship of Lord Krishna.

Lord Chaitanya and the Caste System

Materialistic varnashrama was practiced at least as far back as five hundred years ago, when Lord Krishna appeared on earth as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The hereditary brahmanas of the day were anxious to protect their social standing and expected others to observe their social customs. Lord Chaitanya, however, saw that such customs promoted social prestige and not spiritual advancement, so He defied them again and again.

The caste brahmanas believed that a person working in a shudra’s occupation could not become a spiritual master. Since Ramananda Raya was a government employee, they considered him a shudra. The Lord discounted Ramananda Raya’s nominal social position and took spiritual instruction from him because Ramananda Raya was a devotee on the highest level of Krishna consciousness. The caste brahmanas also considered anyone from a Muslim family unfit to enter the temple at Puri and see the Deity form of Krishna as Lord Jagannatha. But Lord Chaitanya, who is actually the same as Jagannatha, visited the great devotee Haridasa Thakura every day, even though Haridasa came from a Muslim family.

The hereditary brahmanas of Lord Chaitanya’s day were obsessed with dozens of rules and strictures drawn from the idea that a brahmana would jeopardize his position by eating with or even touching anyone from outside the brahmana caste. Lord Chaitanya dismissed such materialistic conceptions, however, accepting invitations to eat with devotees in the lowest social position. He freely touched and embraced sincere worshipers of the Lord, challenging the degraded, materialistic system of varnashrama.

The Natural System for Civilized Life

Human society all over the world is divided into four castes and four orders of life. The four castes are the intelligent caste, the martial caste, the productive caste, and the laborer caste. These castes are classified in terms of one’s work and qualification and not by birth. Then again there are four orders of life, namely the student life, the householder’s life, the retired life, and the devotional life. In the best interest of human society there must be such divisions of life; otherwise no social institution can grow in a healthy state. And in each and every one of the above-mentioned divisions of life, the aim must be to please the supreme authority of the Personality of Godhead. This institutional function of human society is known as the system of varnashrama-dharma, which is quite natural for the civilized life.

The varnashrama institution is constructed to enable one to realize the Absolute Truth. It is not for artificial domination of one division over another. When the aim of life, a i.e., realization of the Absolute Truth, is missed by too much attachment for indriya-priti, or sense gratification, as already discussed hereinbefore, the institution of the varnashrama is utilized by selfish men to pose an artificial predominance over the weaker section. In the Kali-yuga, or in the age of quarrel, this artificial predominance is already current, but the saner section of the people know it well that the divisions of castes and orders of life are meant for smooth social intercourse and high-thinking self-realization and not for any other purpose.

Herein the statement of Bhagavatam is that the highest aim of life or the highest perfection of the institution of the varnashrama-dharma is to cooperate jointly for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. This is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13).—Srimad- Bhagavatam 1.2.13, Purport

Karma and VarnashramaVarnashrama Curriculum: A Sampler of Courses

Students of Krishna consciousness know that the ideal life is a fully spiritual one—a life of devotional service to Krishna. They know that activities such as hearing about Krishna, chanting Hare Krishna, and so on, are purely spiritual and therefore yield no material reaction, or karma. But what about the activities of varnashrama or, specifically, our varnas, or occupations? Aren’t they material and therefore karmic?

Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that whether a person’s work is spiritual or material depends mainly on his consciousness. Krishna also describes three kinds of action: karma, vikarma, and akarma. (Bhagavad-gita 4.17) Let’s examine these and related terms in light of the different kinds of varnashrama.

Karma can mean any activity—prescribed, sinful, or transcendental. But a more specific definition is work prescribed by scripture for one’s varna. Such work brings material rewards. The work of persons who follow the materialistic system of varnashrama is karma.

Vikarma means work against the laws of God, and it brings punishment. Much work under a spontaneous system of varnashrama falls into the category of vikarma.

Akarma means work as an offering to Krishna. Such work produces no material reward or punishment but leads to spiritual liberation. Akarma activities are the goal of the original, or daiva, varnashrama system.

Krishna recommends akarma (Bg. 3.9): “Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed; otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.”

Karma-kanda refers to acts performed under Vedic injunctions for promotion to higher material planets. Such acts are part of materialistic varnashrama.

Yoga is a cognate of the English word yoke. A yoke links two oxen, and yoga links the individual living being and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Within the framework of daivavarnashrama, different forms of yoga help people on the spiritual path.

Karma-yoga means offering the fruits of one’s activities to the Lord. Common in daiva varnashrama, karma-yoga marks the beginning of spiritual life.

Jnana-yoga means to offer the results of one’s intellectual activities to the Lord by trying to understand Him. It is a step in spiritual development and is part of daiva varnashrama.

Bhakti-yoga means to offer one’s activities to the Lord in complete love and devotion, free of desire for material benefit. Bhakti-yoga is the summit of all yogas because it is completely akarma, or without material results. The goal of daiva varnashrama is to gradually elevate all citizens to bhakti-yoga.

To understand the relationship between karma and varnashrama, we must understand that similar activities may be spiritually dissimilar. In Raja Vidya Srila Prabhupada writes, “On the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna engaged in fighting, and those on the side of Duryodhana engaged in fighting. We must understand how it is that Arjuna is free from reaction whereas Duryodhana is not. Externally we can see that both parties are engaged in fighting, but we should understand that Arjuna is not bound by reactions because he is fighting under the order of Krishna.”

Finally, we must understand that within daiva varnashrama our consciousness—not our varna or ashrama—determines our spiritual standing. Srila Prabhupada wrote to a disciple, “Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who surrenders unto Me, whether a woman, shudra, vaishya, etc., they all attain the highest perfection of bhakti-yoga—not that now I am grihastha, I am doing karma-yoga, or now I am vanaprastha, I am doing sankhya-yoga. This is all nonsense.”

In considering courses for each varna, I asked myself, What kind of knowledge is needed to build a self- sufficient spiritual community that can encourage and protect its citizens? I also looked at the qualities and duties of the different varnas as described in scripture and thought about what kind of training would best help each varna develop. Finally, I looked at Prabhupada’s descriptions of training for the different varnas.


  • Scriptural studies
  • Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama
  • Teacher training
  • Mental health and learning disabilities
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Herbal healing
  • Deity worship in the rural community
  • Kings in the Bhagavatam


  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Social order (Sociology)
  • Economics
  • Military arts
  • Ethics and morality
  • The sciences
  • Management
  • Devotional service

Some subjects require further consideration. For example, Prabhupada suggests training in the sciences for kshatriyas, but science is a broad field. Should kshatriyas learn nuclear physics and synthetic chemistry? Or would agronomy, ecology, sanitation, and dairy science be more valuable to the leader of a self-sufficient community?

Srila Prabhupada said that a varnashrama community would consist of just a few brahmanas and kshatriyas. Most citizens would work as vaishyas or shudras.


  • Fundamentals of ecology and permaculture
  • Agronomy
  • Developing a resource inventory
  • Basic farming practice
  • Fundamentals of animal health and reproduction
  • Krishna’s example of cow protection
  • Basic cow care
  • Working with oxen
  • The herd sire
  • Pasture management
  • Food grain production and processing
  • Fiber plant production and processing
  • Economics
  • Orchard skills
  • Forestry

Since those working in the shudravarna support the other members of society, their curriculum would need to be accordingly broad. Many courses would emphasize hands-on instruction to build expertise in practical skills.


  • Technical drawing
  • Implement design and construction
  • Woodworking and carpentry
  • Blacksmithing
  • Cart and wagon design and construction
  • Road building and excavating
  • Energy-efficient house construction
  • Papermaking
  • Shorthand
  • Water supply and sanitation
  • Energy forms: Potentials and pitfalls
  • Performance arts for preaching
  • Visual arts for preaching
  • Small-scale textile production
  • Vegetable dyes

As in any small college, students majoring in different varnas would have ample opportunity to interact with each other, and those interactions would foster a spirit of appreciation, cooperation, and community. Students in different varnas might study some of the same courses. For example, for a successful self-sufficient community both vaishyas and kshatriyas should have a basic understanding of soil science and soil conservation, taught in an agronomy course. As the teachers of the community, brahmanas would specialize in different areas of knowledge. So besides brahminical courses, brahmanas would study subjects primarily meant for kshatriyas, vaishyas, or shudras.

All students would take some core subjects, such as an elementary course in cow protection and a course on community development. Most important, to create a common goal and vision for a varnashrama community, all students would come together to study Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama and farm community development.

Steps We Can Take Now: Study and Discuss Srila Prabhupada’s InstructionsDevelop Training In Self-Sufficiency Skills

The more we can get together to study and discuss Prabhupada’s instructions on the pitfalls of the materialistic varnashrama systems and the benefits of the original system, the better our chances of avoiding mistakes so we can build a system that will help people in their spiritual lives. ISKCON centers can set up weekly classes to study Prabhupada’s instructions on varnashrama.

Even though ISKCON may not have a full-fledged varnashrama college, it can still offer training in some of the subjects needed to help self-sufficient communities develop. Prabhupada told devotees in Mauritius that others would be attracted by their “training power.” Classes in gardening, carpentry, and community relations, for example, can teach valuable skills while providing opportunities to tell others about Krishna conscious philosophy.

Support Cow Protection
Cow protection is an important duty of the vaishya class, of which businessmen are a part. Although properly caring for cows in a modern industrial city is impossible, men and women in business can fulfill their responsibility by supporting cow protection in ISKCON farm communities. They can also visit the farms to see how the needs of the cows are being met and the cowherds trained and maintained.

Support Krishna Conscious FarmersShow Appreciation For the Service of Others
“Anything grown in the garden is a hundred times more valuable than if it is purchased from the market,” Srila Prabhupada told disciples in France. What could be a more opulent offering to the Lord than fruits, vegetables, and grains grown by devotee farmers with love and devotion for Him—without the use of poisonous sprays or slaughterhouse by-products such as bloodmeal and bonemeal, popular with most other organic farmers? Devotee farmers who use a rototiller to grow tomatoes, beans, and squash for the market may not be quite up to the ideal of Prabhupada’s ox-powered subsistence grain farmer, but certainly to be working on the land for Krishna is a big step in the right direction. If such farmers are supported, their children might become inspired to take care of the cows and become Krishna conscious ox-power farmers.

One of the most dangerous aspects of any class system is the fostering of feelings of contempt between classes. This threatens social harmony and reinforces materialistic class identity, stunting spiritual growth. To move toward Prabhupada’s varnashrama system, we must practice showing our appreciation when others serve the Lord by their occupational duty, whether by dressing the Deity, managing the temple accounts, raising Krishna conscious children, acting as temple president, growing vegetables for the Lord, or putting in a new electrical system. If we look for the connection with Krishna, we lose our materialistic vision of others and reinforce their identity as devotees. Also, we can encourage them in their service by providing opportunities for additional training in their specialty.

Modern Civilization: A Deluxe Edition of Animal Life

The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a life member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness took place in August 1976 on an early-morning walk in Hyderabad, India.

Member: What is your view on birth control by contraception?

Srila Prabhupada: That is the most sinful activity. Birth control should be done by restraining sex.

Member: That is one way.

Srila Prabhupada: That is the only way approved in the shastra [scriptures]. All other ways are sinful.

Member: But people are committing sinful activities like contraception and abortion. What will happen to them?

Srila Prabhupada: They will suffer. Those who are killing children in the womb will themselves be killed. They will enter into a mother’s womb and be killed. They will be punished, tit for tat. But that they do not know. These rascals have no education about the laws of nature. They’re acting very independently, but Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita [3.27], ahankara- vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate: Those who think they can act independently of nature are vimudhas, rascals. They will be punished by the laws of nature, just like a thief who defies the laws of the government.

Member: What is the qualificationof someone fit to have children?

Srila Prabhupada: The husband and wife should not have a child unless they can take full responsibility for saving him from the repetition of birth and death. This is the shastric injunction—pita na sa syaj janani na sa syat … na mocayed yah samupeta- mrityum. In the material world everyone is rotating in the cycle of birth and death, transmigrating from one body to another (tatha dehantara-praptih). And after many millions of years, one gets the chance to become a human being. Now, in this life, one can stop birth and death. That is Vedic culture—learning how to conquer the process of repeated birth and death (punar-janma-jaya). But that is possible only in human life. So the parents’ duty is to train their children in such a way that their present birth is their last. And that training is Krishna consciousness.

Unfortunately, people are ignorant of this science. So both parents and children are staying in the cycle of birth and death and wasting the opportunity of having a human body. This is modern civilization. People do not know this science; they are kept in darkness. Their so-called education is useless, because they do not learn what the destination of life is (na te viduh svartha-gatim hi vishnum).

Practically speaking, there is no education. The modern so- called education teaches you how to eat nicely, how to sleep nicely, how to have sex nicely, and how to defend nicely. And that is the business of the animals. They know how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, and how to defend. So the extra intelligence of the human being is making a deluxe edition of eating, sleeping, sex, and defense. The modern civilization is a deluxe edition of animal life. That’s all.

Member: But many people would insist that the material progress of present-day society makes life worthwhile.

Srila Prabhupada: What will you do with your material progress at the time of death? Suppose you have a big bank balance, a nice house, good friends. At any moment death can come and kick you out. What can you do? Mrityuh sarva-harash caham: as death, Krishna will come one day and take everything you have. Finished. And He may make you a dog. Now bark. How can you stop it? You have practiced how to bark in the legislative assembly. Now become a dog and go on barking—yow, yow, yow! This is going on.

No one knows the purpose of life. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, asatyam apratishtham te jagad ahur anishvaram. People are claiming this world is false (asatyam), there is no cause (apratishtham), there is no God (anishvaram). So the modern civilization denies God, yet it is still trying to mitigate the miseries of life. But Bhagavad-gita proposes that first of all you should try to understand what your real misery is. Do you know what the real misery of your life is? What is the misery of your life?

Member: The misery of life is to live without divine knowledge.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The real misery of life is that while you are an eternal soul, with no birth or death, you are suffering repeated birth and death of the body. Therefore birth and death are your real miseries (janma- mrityu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarshanam). This is knowledge.

But people have no brain to understand these things. Krishna clearly says, na jayate mriyate va: “For the soul there is neither birth nor death.” But the rascals never think, “Why am I suffering birth? Why am I dying?” Where is their education? They are struggling to get free of misery, but they don’t know what their actual misery is. They foolishly engage in the struggle for existence and hope for the survival of the fittest.

Member: The theory of the survival of the fittest may be applicable in our case because fit means—

Srila Prabhupada: Fit means “not getting another material body.” That is being fit, because as soon as you get another material body you must suffer. People are mad, working day and night, but they are acting adversely to their own interest. You already have a body that is causing you suffering, and by your karma, your fruitive work, you are creating another body. And as soon as you get another material body, you’ll have to suffer, whether you become a king or a dog.

People have no brain to solve this problem, although there is a solution. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti: Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that if you understand Him in truth, you can get out of the cycle of birth and death and go back to Godhead—no more birth and death.

So you have become our life member. Try to broadcast the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita. That is the meaning of membership. Everything is there in Bhagavad-gita. Thoroughly study Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, apply it in your own life, and try to spread it among your friends.

On Abortion and “Rabbit Philosophy”

The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place on an early-morning walk in December 1973 at Venice Beach, California.

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes we argue that although the laws of nature are very powerful, we can overcome such things as disease and death if we surrender to Lord Krishna, since He is controlling nature. But skeptics say we can gradually come to control the laws of nature on our own, without God.

Srila Prabhupada: No, we are forced to accept the laws of nature. How can anyone say he has conquered the laws of nature?

Devotee: Well, the doctors and biologists have conquered so many diseases.

Srila Prabhupada: But people are still becoming diseased. How have the doctors stopped disease?

Devotee: In Africa and India, for instance, they are inoculating everyone against smallpox, and they’ve saved many thousands of children from dying.

Srila Prabhupada: But the children will grow up and get old and die eventually in any case. So death has not been stopped. And besides, why do they bother about these children? They don’t want overpopulation, so logically the doctors should let them die. But the doctors are illogical. On one side they want to check the death of children, and on the other side they recommend the use of contraceptives and kill the children in the womb by abortion. Why? Why are they killing? To check the increase in population. Then when children are dying in another part of the world, why are they anxious to save them?

Devotee: Once the child is born, they want to save him. But when the child is still in the womb they feel they can kill him. They say he is not yet a human being.

Srila Prabhupada: But the child is already born as soon as a woman becomes pregnant. Pregnancy means the child is already born. How can they say there is no child? What is this nonsense? When a woman is pregnant, why do we say she is “with child”? This means the child is already born. Therefore, I say this abortion business is simply rascaldom.

Devotee: Well, they’ve rationalized it.

Srila Prabhupada: How?

Devotee: Sometimes they say they’re just doing what they feel is best. And of course they deny that there’s any such thing as karma to punish them later. It seems like they have a kind of “rabbit philosophy.” When a rabbit closes his eyes so he doesn’t see the wolf bearing down on him, he may actually think he’s safe.

Srila Prabhupada: So, the abortionists believe in rabbit philosophy. It is not a man’s philosophy. It is rabbit’s philosophy, frog’s philosophy, ass’s philosophy. And they have been described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.19): shva-vid- varahoshtra-kharaih samstutah purushah pashuh. The leaders, who often support abortion, are rascals, and they are glorified by another set of rascals and fools—the people in general. Because the whole population is made up of rascals, they elect a rascal as their leader. Then, being dissatisfied, they throw the first rascal out of office and elect another rascal. This is called punah punash carvita-carvananam: chewing the chewed. The people do not know whom to elect. Therefore they have to be educated to choose a leader who is God conscious, who is actually fit to be a leader. Then they will be happy. Otherwise, they will go on electing one rascal and rejecting him, electing another rascal and rejecting him, and so on.

In America there is a slogan “In God we trust.” So, we don’t say, “Elect me president.” We simply say that the standard for a leader should be that he knows who God is and that he trusts in Him. And if people actually want to know who God is, they can read Bhagavad- gita. They should read it with intelligence and try to understand, and then for further progress they may study Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is not that we are theorizing. We are taking our information about God from authorized books.

Devotee: In our leaflet about politics, we list the qualifications of a leader. First we say he must follow the four regulative principles: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no indulging in intoxicants. And the one positive injunction we give is that the leader chant the holy name of the Lord. But someone might argue that these requirements violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Srila Prabhupada: If you believe in God, why should you have any objection to chanting the holy name of God? If you say, “In God we trust,” then you must know the name of God and the address of God. Then you can actually trust Him. And if you don’t know these things, then learn them from us. We are giving you God’s name, address, qualities—everything. And if you say there is no God, then what is the meaning of “In God we trust”?

Devotee: They have made propaganda to separate church and state, but they’ve also separated God and country.

Srila Prabhupada: Those who are making this propaganda do not understand what God is. God cannot be separated from anything, because everything is God (maya tatam idam sarvam). If they study the Bhagavad-gita they will understand that God is present everywhere. It is not possible to separate anything from Him. Just as your consciousness is present in every part of your body, so the supreme consciousness, God, is present everywhere in the universe. Krishna says, vedaham samatitani: “I know everything that has happened.” Unless He is everywhere, how can He know everything? What do you say?

Devotee: This is logical, Srila Prabhupada.

Srila Prabhupada: How can you separate God from the government? You may reject any so-called church, any so-called religion that agrees, “Yes, God and the state should be separate.” And that is God’s instruction—that we reject such so-called religions. Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Give up all kinds of so-called religion and simply surrender to Me,” Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita. People may say they believe in God, but you can know they are ignorant of what God is when they try to separate God from government.

The Anatomy of the Social Body

Throughout recorded history, in every society on the face of the earth, we find different classes of men or divisions of society. Despite all varieties of political, social, economic, and religious climates, classes exist. Even modern democratic and communistic ideals of equality have failed to abolish class divisions. Classes continue to exist, and we can therefore conclude that they are permanent. They are inherent in human society itself, just as our head, arms, stomach, and legs are inherent in our bodily structure.

The Vedic scriptures, the oldest scriptures known to man, describe four principal classes. These are (1) an intelligent class (brahmanas), (2)a martial or administrative class (kshatriyas), (3)a mercantile class (vaishyas), and (4) a laborer class (shudras). The qualities by which these different classes work and by which they can be recognized are given in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita:

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.

“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.

“Farming, cow protection, and trade are the qualities of work for the vaishyas, and for the shudras there is labor and service to others.” (Bg. 18.42- 44)

These different classes of men, recognized by their respective tendencies for work, are always present, and the system of social organization based on these divisions is called varnashrama. Varna indicates the four social divisions we have already listed, and ashrama indicates progressive spiritual stages. The ashramas are (1) student life, (2) married life, (3) retired life, and (4) renounced life, and they are meant to train each man to perform his duties for the satisfaction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.

These divisions exist in human society because human life is different from the life of animals. A human being has the ability to inquire about spiritual life: “Who am I? Why am I suffering? What is God? What is my relationship with Him?” These are questions that can be posed by human beings, and not by animals. Human life, therefore, offers us the unique opportunity to reestablish our lost relationship with the Supreme Person. The Vedas enjoin, athato brahma-jijnasa: “Now, in the human form of life, is the time to inquire into the Absolute Truth:” A human being who does not make this inquiry the central purpose of his life is loitering on the animal platform. Animals can eat, sleep, mate, and defend without caring for higher goals, but a human being who does so is wasting his valuable life. The value of a thing is judged by what one can attain with it. With five thousand dollars, for instance. you can purchase a nice car. But if someone convinces you to spend the same amount for an ordinary bicycle, then he is a cheater, and you have been tricked into wasting your money. Similarly, if we spend our human life properly, under the guidance of the ancient wisdom of the Vedas, we can attain an eternal, joyful life full of knowledge; and if we spend it for animal pleasures, we have been cheated.

The varnashrama institution, described in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, is a system of social organization designed solely for this purpose—to order society in such a way that every human being, no matter what his position, may peacefully cultivate God consciousness and by that spiritual education make a complete success of his life. By varnashrama we achieve the equality which is only advertised by other social systems. By being educated in the science of Krishna, God, everyone can have an equal opportunity to put an end to all the miseries of material life by ultimately returning to the kingdom of God.

In the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes the varnashrama system:

catur-varnyam maya srishtam
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable:” (Bg. 4.13)

Why do the four divisions exist? Krishna says, maya srishtam—“because they were created by Me.” We can understand that any organized structure, such as a house or a bridge, implies a creator. We look at a sturdy house and question, “Who has built this house?” Similarly, we must ask, “Who is the creator?” And Krishna says, “I am that creator.” It is because God created the divisions of society that they exist permanently. Social or political structures created by man and imposed upon human society do not last, because they are concocted and artificial. But these four divisions of human society—the intellectual, martial, mercantile, and laborer classes—were created by God when He created human society itself. The divisions are not imposed or artificial. They are inherent by the divine will. Rather than try to abolish them, we should learn how to use them as they were originally intended to be used by their creator.

The divisions in society are like the divisions in our body. Although the body has different parts, they all must cooperate for the body to survive. This is also true of the social body. The social body must have a head to direct it, arms to protect it, a stomach to feed it, and legs to support it. The intelligent class must give direction to society, based on the authority of the Vedas, so that every man may realize his eternal relationship with God. This is real intelligence. Next, the administrative class must protect society by upholding religious principles and thus putting the general population in a receptive mood toward the guidance of the brahmanas. The vaishyas, the mercantile class, are not meant to open factories to mass produce useless items and thus enslave millions of men for the profit of an elite few. As explained in the Bhagavad-gita, the vaishyas should produce abundant grains by farming and should protect cows. In this way, there will never be a scarcity of the two most essential foods for the human being—grains and milk. And the shudras, the laborer class, can render service to the other three classes of society and thus have all their necessities supplied to them. From the example of the social body, we can understand that no part of society is less important than any other part. Do we consider our legs less important than our arms? Would we want to neglect our stomach? Of course not. If you stub your toe, then immediately the attention of the head and the working power of the arms are focused on the injured area. Divisions of the social body are meant for cooperation—not for competition or exploitation. This is the purpose for which they were created.

After explaining that He is the creator of the divisions of society, Krishna explains how to identify these classes. This is explained in the words guna-karma-vibhagashah. Guna means quality, and karma means activity. According to Lord Krishna, the author of varnashrama, we must judge a man impartially by his qualifications and work. In other words, family heritage, nationality, race, color, and creed are not the criteria for the divisions of society. The actual varnashrama system cannot be accused of discrimination or of limiting the individual’s opportunity to follow his inclinations and aspirations. The caste system of India, although using the terminology of varnashrama (brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra), is not actually varnashrama, because it is based on heredity. The Indian caste system has deteriorated and failed for just this reason. Someone born into a family of brahmanas, the priestly or intellectual class, would claim to be a brahmana automatically, whether or not he had the qualifications, and even if his activities were most degenerate. This is not at all sensible, nor is it supported by the Gita. For example, the son of a high-court judge may receive the opportunity, by inspiration and instruction, to become a high-court judge himself. But he still requires training and education before he seeks an appointment to that post. He cannot claim to be qualified for such a position merely on the strength of his high parentage. Similarly, the son of a doctor may naturally desire to practice medicine and may take advantage of his father’s experience. But he, too, requires long years of training in medical school. So the argument that birth qualifies one for a certain post in society contradicts common sense and is not supported by the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita. Anyone is free to take any position in society, provided he develops the qualifications. Varnashrama cannot be accused of rigidity or of restricting social mobility. The actual varnashrama system trains and educates the individual in the duties and occupation for which he is already inclined. Lord Krishna gives directions for that training in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures. Any other system of training, whether caste, communist, or democratic, necessarily misguides society and spoils the mission of human life.

tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

Krishna next explains that although He created the varnashrama system, He is transcendental to it. Varnashrama serves to elevate the human being from the animal consciousness of eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing to the level of pure love of God. Without this there is no meaning to varnashrama. Since Krishna is Himself the Personality of Godhead, there is no need for Him to take part in varnashrama. When He appears in human society, however, He does participate in varnashrama just to set an example for human society. The principles of religion are His enacted laws, and He therefore takes care to see that they are maintained. When Krishna appeared in human society five thousand years ago, He followed all the prescribed duties for a kshatriya (warrior-prince) and family man. Although He is above all such requirements, He accepted them in order to set an example, just as a father behaves in an exemplary manner to teach his children. Krishna is like the governor of a state who visits the penitentiary to see that things run smoothly and that the prisoners make progress toward again becoming law-abiding citizens. The governor is not a prisoner, even while in the prison. He can come and go as he likes. His position is that of an overseer. Similarly, when Krishna descends to the material world, He does so to establish religious principles, and He is not subject to the laws of material nature. Simply by understanding this, we become qualified to return to the eternal spiritual world beyond the material sky—Krishna’s abode, the kingdom of God.

janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ’rjuna

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna. “ (Bg. 4.9)

Krishna is transcendental to varnashrama. Since each class and order of society engages a man in the service of God, each participant in varnashrama understands that his particular designation as a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, or shudra is temporary, and that his permanent position is that of a transcendental servant of Krishna. Thus, even if one remains in one class or occupation his entire life, there is no question of stigma or restriction, because everyone’s actual position is that he is a servant of God. Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krishna who appeared five hundred years ago in Bengal, taught this very principle:

naham vipro na ca nara-patir ...
gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor

“I am neither a brahmana, nor a kshatriya... The only designation that I wish to accept is that of a servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna.”

We are, first of all, servants of the Supreme Person, and the different divisions of society are meant to best engage our respective qualities in His service. When one becomes completely purified by that service, he no longer relies on any designation, but simply thinks himself a humble servant of God, Krishna. Lord Caitanya therefore taught that it is the prime duty of everyone to chant the holy names of God. Lord Caitanya especially recommended the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra simply means, “O my Lord, please engage me in Your loving service.”

The Failure of Liberation Movements

Modern history is full of liberation movements. Even the American revolution and the formation of the American nation can be seen as a type of liberation movement that signaled the eventual collapse of European colonialism. In America, modern liberation movements have sought to free blacks. Latinos, homosexuals, females, and so on from the social dominance and economic exploitation of so-called “normal” white Americans. Unfortunately, almost all these liberation movements seem to reinforce rather than transcend a materialistic view of personal identity and thus unwittingly contain within their ideology the seeds of prejudice, exploitation, and bondage—the very things they are fighting against. This can be explained as follows.

Modern scientists tend to define reality exclusively in terms of the laws that govern matter. Biologist John Maynard Smith of the University of Sussex declares, “The individual is simply a device constructed by the genes to insure the production of more genes like themselves.” According to Dr. Richard L. Thompson, a mathematician at the State University of New York at Binghamton, “This statement conveys in a nutshell what modern science has to say about the meaning of human life.” Unfortunately, modern liberation movements seem to accept this superficial definition of life. In the Unity Statement of the Women’s Pentagon Action, we find the following statement: “We are made of blood and bone, we are made of ... water.”

Obviously, we are not blood, bone, and water, since blood, bone, and water are unconscious material elements that would hardly march to the Pentagon to secure political and economic rights. We are consciousness, and therefore we are aware of, or conscious of, the blood, bone, water, and so on that make up our body. We conscious beings march to Washington to demand our rights. We, who are consciousness, form liberation movements because it is the nature of consciousness to seek freedom.

If we misidentify ourselves as molecular machines, then we fall into the bondage of gross ignorance, specifically that ignorance perpetrated by the worst type of men, those who would conceptually annihilate the soul and God and obliterate forever the only real basis of peaceful society—namely, mutual respect for the sacred status of all life forms and all living beings, based on their common quality of being emanations from God.

In other words, it is my strong contention that to irrationally assume that every living being is identical with the physio-chemical body renders meaningless in an ultimate sense any attempt to establish a moral, just, or liberated human society. Unfortunately, liberation movements tend to intensify the false egoistic identification with the material body and thus themselves contribute enormously to the conceptual and psychological basis of social exploitation and manipulation. This point can be analyzed as follows.

The material body desires sex, food, shelter, and defense, and the material mind desires prestige and the sense of superior status in society. A person dominated by the material body and mind must become an exploiter or manipulator of the material world, since such a person is driven to seek personal gratification either as an individual or through an egotistical collective identity.

The first stage of liberation is understanding that I am not a bag of molecules, I am not blood, bones, stool, bile, mucus, and so on: I am pure consciousness. The Bhagavad- gita teaches us to understand our spiritual identity and gives the following example: We once had a baby body, and then we had the body of a child, an adolescent, and finally an adult. Despite the fact that the body changes its biological elements every seven years, forming in this time span a new physical entity, we remain the same person. That continuous person is the self, or the soul.

If I free myself from the illusion of being a biological machine, the illusion that my existence as a conscious person is not ultimately real since it can be reduced to impersonal, unconscious entities, namely atoms and molecules—if I can thus free myself from the big lie of modern so-called scientists, then I can free myself from the exploitative, self- centered desires that plague the material body and mind. This is real liberation.

A liberated person can deal with any man or woman without trying mentally or physically to utilize that person as an instrument of personal gratification. A liberated person sees all the creatures of the earth, those appearing in human society, animal society, bird society, fish society, insect society, plant society, or even mineral society, as eternal spiritual entities temporarily encased in various material coverings.

Thus a liberated person sees that every living entity is equal to his or her self in a spiritual sense. In other words, the liberated person sees that every living entity is equal spiritually and is thus worthy of respect and concern. A liberated person cannot view any living entity as a mere object of heartless consumption or manipulation. A liberated person opposes the inexplicable brutality of the slaughterhouse. A liberated person opposes the cruelty of the hunters, who slaughter innocent creatures for sport, and he opposes the publishers who devastate millions of trees to produce paper on which they print their pornography, their trivia, and their materialism.

First we should free ourselves from the vicious illusion that we are material machines. Next we should free ourselves from the selfish desires that pollute the material body and mind. And finally we should free ourselves from the misunderstanding that we are meant to be lords of the earth. The earth does not belong to human beings, either individually or collectively. It belongs to God.

The experience of God is immediately available to any man, woman, or child who chants His holy name, and indeed billions of persons have taken advantage of this facility of God realization throughout the world. Since statistics prove that the vast majority of Americans believe in the existence of God, there is no need to waste time trying to prove His existence, but rather we immediately address ourselves to that vast majority who have at least sufficient sanity to understand that there is a Supreme God. (If you are not convinced or informed about the existence of God, then you should instantly address yourself to this primary concern.)

Systematic exploitation of the earth, the bodies of others, or even one’s own body ‘ constitutes grave irresponsibility and duplicity, since the actual proprietor of the body has not been conceptually established. Upon arriving in a particular country, our primary concern is to understand the laws that govern that place. Such laws are not merely the ordinary physical laws that govern material objects but also the acceptable and unacceptable modes of bodily and verbal behavior in a particular nation that are enacted and enforced by those who govern. Recognition or awareness of these laws is of primary and not secondary concern to a citizen.

Similarly, knowledge of the laws that govern the universe is of primary concern to every human being. To suggest that we put these questions aside reveals a bewildered sense of conceptual priority and procedure.

If we claim that we will first solve the immediate problems of the body, we are presupposing two things that are ludicrous to presume:

  1. We presuppose that the body, and not consciousness, or the soul, is the essential identity of the entity and therefore worthy of our first concern. We assume that we are bodies and that perhaps we have a soul, rather than that we are consciousness, or self, or soul, and that we have a body.
  2. We presuppose that if there is a God, He is not a participant in or a controller of the affairs of man and therefore satisfaction of such a God is irrelevant or unnecessary to the progressive amelioration of the human condition. Implicit in this gross misapprehension is the presumption that human beings potentially may control the affairs of the earth, and this implies human proprietorship of the planet, a concept that reeks of exploitative intentions.

In fact there is a God, and the universe is strictly governed by His laws. Violation of the laws of God threatens and disturbs all citizens, directly or indirectly. If a man commits a crime, his crime weakens the entire system of peaceful coexistence and is therefore socially undesirable for all citizens. Violation of the laws of God threatens to deviate society from the actual path of cultural evolution and weakens the entire basis of peaceful coexistence among humans and other creatures, which is the mutual recognition of the sanctity of all life forms.

If the body is not created by God, and if there is no soul, then control or manipulation of one person by another is merely a biophysical event without ultimate meaning. Morality and justice are then mere inventions of self-righteous entities, who are themselves expressing the propensities of their genes and whose anger and indignation at social injustice can be described through the symbols of mathematical expression as neurochemical brain states.

Thus the attempt by a people or social class to free itself from oppression or to achieve justice, in the materialistic concept, becomes a mere test of political strength for personal gratification and resembles the model of social Darwinism, which in itself is the model for unrestricted exploitation by the most vulgar means.

If we claim that God is useless because millions of innocent people suffer in the face of an all-powerful God, then we accept the primitive concept that the soul is created in the present life and therefore cannot be guilty for his suffering as an infant, child, or adult, since he has no activities previous to this birth. This concept of soul- creation, fostered by medieval thinkers, has bewildered the students of Western theology and led to the declaration of theistic mysteries, a sorry replacement for explanatory spiritual science.

If we reject God because we cannot accept the mysterious theology of the dark ages, and if we thereby ignore the great mystical traditions of India, which teach us that the soul is eternal and enjoys or suffers in this life the fruit of his or her past deeds, then our approach to the serious issues of life is sectarian and stunted.

We living beings dwell within our bodies as consciousness, and other living beings dwell without, perceiving our bodies from without. What is the absolute logic or moral imperative—without reference to God—that assigns the privilege of ownership to the internal and not the external entity? If we accept the principle that the body is to be exploited for selfish gratification and is not meant for the service of God, then how do we establish that the body should gratify the internal rather than the external controller of the body?

The real tyranny is the tyranny of illusion, which keeps us perpetually in the ignorance of material consciousness. Those who are exploited or oppressed should not struggle to become equal exploiters of the earth—to have a fair share of ignorance. Rather, they should take to Krishna consciousness to scientifically understand the soul and God, and thus achieve real liberation.

Real liberation entails extracting the conscious self from the cycle of birth, death, disease, and old age. The concept of liberation without reference to the supreme proprietor, the supreme benefactor, and the supreme controller and consciousness, is absurd and hopeless.

If we maintain a society of big exploiters or of many little exploiters, the result will be the same. If we try to adjust and integrate a planet full of billions of little gods, the result will be ludicrous, disastrous, and useless. The urge to exploit matter for bodily or mental gratification, and thereby to gratify one’s false ego, is like a germ. As long, as, a single cell of this deadly germ remains within one’s mind, it will continue to grow, and in its extreme manifestation it will produce a Hitler or a Stalin.

The rulers of society are ignorant men who falsely accept the material body as the self and man as the ruler of the earth. Like animals, such persons think that their native land is their property, that their families are their property, that their personal bodies are their property, and that one may enjoy or exploit in any obscene way, without consideration of the laws of God.

Unfortunately, many liberation movements accept these basic illusory principles but make the following demand: that the big exploiters of the earth be replaced by the many little exploiters—that exploitation be opened to all, on an equal basis. Many liberation movements directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, nullify the very basis of respect among all creatures, namely, recognition of the sanctity of all life forms. They do this by attempting to define immediate reality without reference to a transcendental source of existence, a supreme conscious entity with the authority to establish an irrefutable imperative of nonexploitative social intercourse.

The Myth of Overpopulation

“According to the Vedas, population experts are wrong in their crucial assumption that earth cannot supply the needs of a large population. If people are God conscious, there is virtually no limit to the population the earth can comfortably support.”
One of the myths most strongly entrenched in the modern mind is that birth control is necessary because of the threat of overpopulation. But His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has stated: “There is no scarcity for maintenance in the material world.” According to Srila Prabhupada, human society’s leadership “is disturbed about the food situation and, to cover up the real fact of administrative mismanagement, takes shelter in the plea that the population is excessively increasing” (Bhag. 3.5.5, purport).

The world is far from being overpopulated. A simple calculation shows that all five billion men, women, and children on earth could be placed within the 267,339 square miles of the state of Texas, with each person occupying about fifteen hundred square feet of space.

But what about food? A study by the University of California’s Division of Agricultural Science shows that by practicing the best agricultural methods now in use, the world’s farmers could raise enough food to provide an American style diet for ten times the present population. And if people would be satisfied with an equally nourishing but mostly vegetarian diet, we could feed thirty times the present population.

Studies of an African famine in the early 1970’srevealed that every country affected had within its borders the agricultural resources to feed its people. As Frances Moore Lappe points out in her well-researched book Food First, much of the best land was being misused for production of exportable cash crops.

Srila Prabhupada also noted this fact. During a visit to Mauritius in 1975, in a lecture attended by some of the nation’s leading citizens, he stated, “So I see in your Mauritius island you have got enough land to produce food grains.” He then challenged, “I understand that instead of growing food grains you are growing sugarcane for exporting. Why? You first of all grow your own eatables, and if there is time and if your population has sufficient food grains, then you can try to grow other fruits and vegetables for exporting.”

Srila Prabhupada went on to say, “I have traveled to Africa, Australia, and America, and everywhere there is so much land vacant. If we use it to produce food grains, then we can feed ten times as much population as at the present moment. There is no question of scarcity. The whole creation is so made by Krishna that everything is purnam, complete.”

Food resources are also wasted by improper diets. During his lecture in Mauritius, Srila Prabhupada said, “I have seen in the Western countries that they are growing food grains for the animals, and the food grains are eaten by the animals, and the animal is eaten by the man.... What are the statistics? The animals are eating food grains, but the same amount of food grains can be eaten by so many men.”

Such statistics do exist. Government figures show that about ninety percent of the edible grains harvested in the United States are fed to animals that are later killed for meat. But for every sixteen pounds of grain fed to beef cattle, only one pound of meat is produced.

Srila Prabhupada concluded, “If there were one government on the surface of the earth to handle the distribution of grain, there would be no question of scarcity, no necessity to open slaughterhouses, and no need to present false theories about overpopulation” (Bhag. 4.17.25, purport).

The first person to sound the overpopulation alarm was the English economist Malthus (1766-1834), who calculated that population tends to increase much faster than the earth’s limited food supply. New farmland, of which there is only so much, said Malthus, can be brought into production only slowly and with great labor and careful planning, whereas—because of the constant pressure of sex desire—people will have as many children as they are able, unless they are checked. Therefore the population is almost always pushing the limit of available food, and suffering results. Malthus summarized this with his maxim that food production increases arithmetically, while population increases geometrically.

“That population has this constant tendency to increase beyond the means of subsistence,” states Malthus “… will sufficiently appear from a review of the different states of society in which man has existed.” But according to the Vedic viewpoint, the earth can produce an almost unlimited amount of life’s necessities. Restriction occurs not from overpopulation but from some other cause, namely the self-destructive attitudes and actions of the planet’s population.

The science of ecology has awakened us to a greater appreciation of how different organisms and natural resources are linked in complex interdependency, and how easily this interdependency can be disturbed—as in the case of acid rain, for example. While doing research for NASA, scientist Jim Lovelock concluded that the “earth’s living matter, air, oceans, and land surface form a complex system which can be seen as a single organism and which has the capacity to keep our planet a fit place for life.” He calls his hypothesis the “Gaia principle,” after the Greek goddess of the earth.

Lovelock himself, adhering to the principles of materialistic science, does not believe in a personified earth deity. But he does point out, “The concept of Mother Earth, or, as the Greeks called her long ago, Gaia, has been widely held throughout history and has been the basis of a belief which still coexists with the great religions.” The Vedic scriptures clearly state that the earth is the visible form of the goddess Bhumi, who restricts or increases her production according to the population’s level of spiritual consciousness.

“Therefore,” states Srila Prabhupada, “although there may be a great increase in population on the surface of the earth, if the people are exactly in line with God consciousness and are not miscreants, such a burden on the earth is a source of pleasure for her” (Bhag. 3.3.14, purport).

So according to the Vedas, Malthus and later population experts are wrong in n their crucial assumption that earth cannot supply the needs of a large population. If people are God conscious, there is virtually no limit to the population the earth can comfortably support.

Nevertheless, Malthus did have some valuable points to make about population control. He believed that the best solution was voluntary restraint from marriage—without “vice,” by which he meant any kind. of illicit sex whatsoever. Malthus specifically opposed free sex, which relies on abortion and contraception for population control. “A promiscuous intercourse to such a degree as to prevent the birth of children,” he warned, “seems to lower, in the most marked manner, the dignity of human nature.... When a general corruption of morals, with regard to the sex, pervades all classes of society, its effects must necessarily be to poison the springs of domestic happiness, to weaken conjugal and parental affection, and to lessen the united exertions and ardour of parents in the care and education of their children.”

The dangers Malthus warned of have come to pass. Divorce, teenage suicide, child abuse, sex crimes—all are on the rise. Neglected children from broken homes fill the courts. In the face of the dangers from herpes, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases, many people—often out of fear for their lives—are limiting their promiscuity. In Africa, where in some countries promiscuity is rampant, far more people face death from AIDS than from starvation.

In his study of population in different parts of the world, Malthus took special note of India, where the process of moral restraint is recommended in the Vedic scriptures such as the Manu-samhita, the laws compiled by Manu, the forefather of mankind. Malthus noted, “In almost every part of the ordinances of Manu, sensuality of all kinds is strongly reprobated, and chastity inculcated as a religious duty.” Srila Prabhupada states, “We do not find in Vedic literatures that they ever used contraceptive methods.... The contraceptive method should be restraint in sex life.... If one is fortunate enough to have a good, conscientious wife, he can decide by mutual consultation that human life is meant for advancing in Krishna consciousness and not for begetting a large number of children” (Bhag. 4.27.6, purport).

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), a principal organizer of the modern birth control movement, once visited Gandhi in India and tried to persuade him to support a birth control program for his country. “He agreed,” wrote Sanger, “that no more than three or four children should be born to a family, but insisted that intercourse, therefore, should be restricted for the entire married life of the couple to three or four occasions.”

Sanger and her followers had more success with people of other religious backgrounds. The wives of some American Episcopal bishops once asked Sanger to convince their husbands about the necessity for legalized birth control. Sanger complied, and soon thereafter the bishops reversed their previous opposition. Although most Protestant and Jewish denominations approve birth control, the Catholic Church continues to oppose it. Despite much opposition from the laity—and some clergymen as well—the pope has maintained that sex other than for conception is sinful. Nevertheless, the Church still allows sex during the socalled safe period, as well as after menopause and for sterile persons. That contradiction is not present in the Krishna consciousness movement—non-procreative sex is against the Vedic principles.

Sanger had strong emotional reasons for her birth control crusade. She once saw a woman die in childbirth and resolved “to do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were as vast as the sky.” That is certainly a noble aspiration, but the means chosen by Sanger will not give the result she desired. They can only insure more suffering.

Sanger believed that “women should free themselves from biological slavery, which could best be accomplished through birth control.” The Vedas, however, reveal our actual enslavement: every one of us—male or female—is caught up in the endless cycle of birth and death. Our real identity is that we are eternal spirit souls, now encaged in temporary material bodies subject to various miseries and the destructive influence of time. We are transmigrating from one material body to another, lifetime after painful lifetime.

Is reincarnation just a belief? According to the Vedas, it is a fact each of us must face. Even Western science has turned up evidence (in research into out- of-body experiences and memories of past lives) that strongly suggests there is a conscious part of us that survives the death experience. We return, the Vedas explain, to suffer the reactions to the activities we performed in our previous life.

Srila Prabhupada therefore warns, “Illicit sex creates pregnancies, and these unwanted pregnancies lead to abortion. Those involved become implicated in these sins, so much so that they are punished in the same way the nextlife. Thus in the next life they also enter the womb of a mother and are killed in the same way” (Bhag. 5.4.9, purport).

Because the soul is eternal, the soul denied birth by contraception and abortion does not die; he simply enters into another womb. Birth control is thus a total failure because it doesn’t prevent birth. It only brings suffering for everyone involved. To protect ourselves from the harsh reactions to illicit sex, the Vedic literature proposes sexual restraint.

Margaret Sanger, and others who have followed her in the population control movement, believed that such voluntary restraint is impossible. In her autobiography Sanger quotes Baron Dawson of Penn, the court physician of Edward VII and George V, who in a speech at a congress of the Anglican Church answered the proposition by the Anglican bishops that sexual activity should be restricted to that necessary for procreation. “Imagine a young married couple in love with each other,” said Dawson, “being expected to occupy the same room and to abstain for two years. The thing is preposterous. You might as well put water by the side of a man suffering from thirst and tell him not to drink it.”

But what if, besides the waterpot, there were a pot of divine nectar? By drinking the nectar, the man could abstain from drinking the water and yet become relieved not only of his thirst but of all his suffering and experience a superior pleasure. In other words, if one experiences the superior pleasure of spiritual life, one can forego the lower pleasure of sex.

Commenting on a Srimad-Bhagavatam description of the spiritual world, Srila Prabhupada points out: “The men are so absorbed in Krishna consciousness that the beautiful bodies of the women cannot attract them. In other words, there is enjoyment of the association of the opposite sex, but there is no sexual relationship. The residents of Vaikuntha have a better standard of pleasure, so there is no need of sex pleasure” (Bhag. 3.15.20, purport).

Because people have generally not experienced such higher pleasure, they must be attached to sexual pleasure, especially since we live in a culture where everyone is exposed to intense sexual propaganda. The Vedic civilization, however, strongly emphasizes brahmacarya, or celibacy, and formerly every child was expected to spend the first twenty or so years of life as a celibate student of the spiritual science of God consciousness.

This celibacy was not, however, a denial of the individual’s innate desire for pleasure. Rather, giving up the lower pleasures of the sexual urge was merely a precondition for experiencing the higher, transcendental pleasures of the soul’s spiritual love for God, who is known as Krishna, the reservoir of all pleasure.

In an atmosphere of sexual license, pregnancy is often regarded as an unwanted by-product that greatly decreases the value of sexual pleasure. The remedy that Sanger and her followers favored was contraception, rather than abortion. Sanger felt that abortion is violent, whereas contraception is somehow different. But contraception is simply a less obvious act of violence. Most contraceptive methods work on the principle of making the womb uninhabitable, by physical or chemical means, for the fertilized egg. This is actually another type of murder, operating at an earlier stage than abortion, because even at this very early stage, according to the Vedas, the soul has already been introduced into the egg.

Other methods of contraception aim at stopping either the sperm or egg from reaching the point of conception. But whether the method involves obstruction or destruction, the result is the same. “Contraception deteriorates the womb so that it no longer is a good place for the soul,” warns Srila Prabhupada.

“That is against the order of God. By the order of God, a soul is sent to a particular womb, but by this contraceptive he is denied that womb and has to be placed in another. That is disobedience to the Supreme. For example, take a man who is supposed to live in a particular apartment. If the situation there is so disturbed that he cannot enter the apartment, then he is put at a great disadvantage. That is illegal interference and is punishable” (The Science of Self-Realization, pp. 49-50).

Such methods of birth control are now prominent all over the world. Reversing this situation is going to be a difficult battle, but important skirmishes are already being won. All around the world, thousands of married couples have adopted the Krishna conscious principle of voluntarily restraining from sex except for procreation, and many more thousands of single men and women have opted for total celibacy, either permanently or until they marry.

The Vedic system of birth control does not mean no sex and fewer people, but sex according to spiritual principles—and better people, be they few or many. In this regard, Malthus made a point worth noting: “I have never considered any possible increase of population as an evil, except as far as it might increase the proportion of vice and misery.” If the increasing population is of good character, there will naturally be a desirable decrease in vice and misery.

But how do we insure good population? According to the Vedas, the consciousness of the parents at the time of conception determines the quality of the child. Srila Prabhupada advises, “The birth of a human being is a great science, and therefore reformation of the act of impregnation according to the Vedic ritual called garbhadhana-samskara is very important for generating good population. The problem is not to check the growth of the population, but to generate good population.... So-called birth control is not only vicious but also useless” (Bhag. 3.5.19, purport).

Srila Prabhupada further states, “This material world is created to give the conditioned souls a chance ... for going back home, back to Godhead, and therefore generation of the living being is necessary, … and as such one can even serve the Lord in the act of such sexual pleasure. The service is counted when the children born of such sexual pleasure are properly trained in God consciousness” (Bhag. 2.10.26, purport).

If the people are good, then no matter how numerous they are, they will be able to cooperate peacefully and, with the blessings of God, receive ample resources from Mother Earth. On the other hand, even a very limited population of bad character can make the planet into a hell. Selfish sex, aided by abortion, pills, condoms, and so on, is not going to make this world a happier place for anyone. People will continue in the cycle of birth and death, and the world will be a chaos of greed, anger, envy, and violence.

Srila Prabhupada therefore advises, “Those who are sincere souls … should refrain from such child-killing and should atone for their sinful activities by taking to Krishna consciousness very seriously. If one chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra without offenses, all of one’s sinful actions are surely atoned for immediately, but one should not commit such deeds again…. (Bhag. 6.16.14, purport).