BY: DHARMAPAD DAS
Feb 22, 2011 — BRAZIL (SUN) —
Grandfather Bhishma frankly explained to the Pandavas that in spite of Shakuni’s cheating at the dice game and in spite of the offense against the honor of Draupadi, he couldn’t help the Pandavas because Duryodhana had lent him so much money that he felt it wouldn’t be right for him to lend his support to anyone else except for Duryodhana. Of course, Bhishmadev forgot to mention to the Pandavas that, in the first place, the money that Duryodhana had lent him was money that had been stolen and usurped from them, the Pandavas.
Apparently, Bhishmadev rationalized that this was beside the point; but this is exactly what happens to any higher-caste position that loses its autonomy. This can happen when, for example, the higher caste person becomes beholden or in some way indebted to others, or when the person becomes subject to an organization or bureaucracy. Brahmans, kshatriyas and vaishyas are supposed to be autonomous and not subject to others, only to the advice of peer review. (Unless, of course, someone thinks they’re better than Bhishmadev.)
In the twelfth chapter of the first canto, text fourteen of the Bhagavat Purana, a perfect example of the offering of charity is given. The English translation by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada, reads thusly: “Upon the birth of a son, the King [Yudhishtir], who knew how, where and when charity should be given, gave gold, land, villages, elephants, horses and good food grains to the Brahmans.” Specifically, upon the birth of Parikshit, his horoscope was read and this is what brought on the charity for the jataka vipras.
Nowadays it’s not like this. Brahmans who live on charity in the Kaliyuga are generally quite poor!
But back to the text; Bhaktivedanta Swami commented on it by saying “Only Brahmans and sannyasis are authorized to accept charity from the householders … because the Brahmans give the highest quality of service to in regard to the prime necessity of humankind.
The charity was substantial, in the shape of gold, land, villages, horses, elephants, food grains … The Brahmans were not, therefore, poor in the actual sense of the term. On the contrary, because the possessed gold, land, villages, horses elephants, and sufficient food grains, they had nothing to earn for themselves. They would simply devote themselves to the well-being of the entire society.”
And this makes sense.
There is not a restriction against the Brahmans living a comfortable life and having no financial worries. Generally, they are poor because they live on charity, but we see in this very ancient literature that in Vedic times, there were examples of Brahmans that had very comfortable lives so that “they would simply devote themselves to the spiritual well-being of the entire society.” (from the same commentary as above)
But Brahmans never served any other man, they never lost their autonomy or became subject to others, nor can they be subject to a hierarchy from whence comes their maintenance, and there’s the rub!
In the eleventh canto, seventeenth chapter of Bhagavat Purana, it is established that the acceptance of charity is the specific duty of a Brahman, but that a Brahman under difficult circumstances may adopt the profession of a vaishya by buying and selling merchandise. The Bhagavat admonishes, however, that the profession of a shudra may never be engaged in by a Brahman, and this refers to carrying out some service under payment.
When a Brahman offers services, astrological services, for example, with payment as a stipulation, then he becomes a Brahma bandu; he becomes a shudra himself. Even the jyotish literature makes comments to the effects that one should approach a Brahman offering charity such as fruits and flowers, and that Brahmans should accept such charity and offer charity in return in the form of astrological advice, or that Brahmans receive from the king and offer free advice. But a Brahman’s activities may never have payment as a condition or stipulation.
There is a certain quality to the relationship between a Brahman and society which defines whether or not one is a Brahman. A Brahman is not just one who is moral and cooperative, and who follows scripture. There is more to it.
A Brahman is an advisor, teacher and instructor, and there is a certain dynamic to be incorporated into the advisor and recipient-of-advice relationship, and a certain pitfall to be avoided.
The dynamic is one of autonomous advice-giving. A Brahman’s word has to be autonomous, the Brahman cannot owe anything to the recipient of his advice or be beholden to that person, nor can he owe anything to a source of maintenance. It has to be that the Brahman has nothing to gain and nothing to lose by his advice. It is only in this circumstance that his advice may be unadulterated.
For example, an astrologer Brahman who stipulates payment as a condition for advice might sugar coat something that he says or omit some comment. As long as one is hoping for a client to return, or make good recommendations, or buy some astrological gems, then one’s advice tends to become slanted towards these purposes. And a so-called Brahman who is dependent on an administrative hierarchy will also tend to mix administrative agendas and slant his advice in that way.
Imagine a situation in an Indian village in times past. Let’s say that the kshatriya of that village has allied himself with a neighboring kshatriya to invade the kingdom of yet a third kshatriya in order to plunder this third one’s wealth and take away his daughters.
But in order to carry out the invasion, the kshatriyas need to clear a road over hilly terrain so that they may reach the third kshatriya’s kingdom, which sits high on a plateau. So they round up all the shudras within their domains and make the shudras march before them, clearing the way with machetes and such.
Well, the vaishyas of the region would not be able to protest much because their business survival would be subject to the aegis and blessings of none other than the kshatriyas, who wouldn’t take kindly to any meddling in their machinations. And the shudras wouldn’t be able to say much because shudras are subject to their employers and don’t have an autonomous platform in life.
The mouth that wouldn’t stop jabbering, though, would be that of the Brahman. The Brahman community would complain that the kshatriyas were guilty of a breach of trust, that they were taking advantage of the faith placed in them and the obedience given to them, to engage in unnecessary and exaggerated self-aggrandizement, while disturbing and endangering the lives of the helpless shudras.
So, what could the kshatriyas do against the Brahmans? Take away their property and/or kill them? Such heinous activity would make them lose the faith and cooperation of the people; taking away the property of a Brahman was simply not permitted according to shastra. The kshatriyas couldn’t practice financial coercion against them because the Brahmans had no economic activity in the first place, they lived on charity and, after all, could hunker down on their own private property where they had a right to do so.
If those that gave in charity to the Brahmans were intimidated, the eleventh canto, seventeenth chapter of the Bhagavata instructs Brahmans to collect the grains and cereals in the fields that were leftover after harvest. Having an autonomous position, the Brahman community could speak the truth and not be intimidated.
ISKCON, (nor any of the subsequent Hare Krishna movements), doesn’t emphasize or support any type of autonomy on the part of its members. It hasn’t even historically encouraged its members to read “too” much, which is a definite brahminical activity, because reading interferes with practical service. The movement prefers to have designated people explain the scriptures to the followers, and for the followers to keep busy and productive by engaging in service.
What we have to honestly conclude is that Hare Krishna movements don’t concentrate much on producing devotees of brahminical caliber. Rather, devotees who are cooperative followers are encouraged. The movement seems to have been set up that way. What would help us to orient our thinking would be to look at the context of the formative period of the Hare Krishna movement.
After Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur, last notable Gaudiya lighthouse coming in line straight from Sri Chaitanya, Chaitanya Vaishnavism was overwhelmed and rather snuffed out by Sahajiya. It spent 200 years floundering until Bhaktivinoda Thakur resurrected it. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, organized it within an administrative framework, but it became dysfunctional to a large degree because of infighting.
Thus, 450 years after Mahaprabhu, all was in ruins. Due to the urgency of the situation, what A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami did was turn even those that had brahminical tendencies into foot soldiers and workers, and had them distribute books to regenerate the preaching and bring in new blood.
The western Brahmans had to roll up their sleeves and head out the door to fight the life of their dharma. In order to marshal the troops and organize all this, the Prabhupada Brahmans had to lend themselves to being followers, servants and laborers of the organization within the administrative scheme.
The argument could be made that this situation should not have been a permanent one. Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta Swami certainly left too soon to make corrections.
But now that we are beyond the hit-the-beach phase, somebody has to right the ship. Forty years later, the scheme of worker-follower-Brahmans within a bureaucratic organisation who maintain it by panhandling should perhaps be tinkered with, if not wholly overhauled!
It might be argued that in spite of a lack of autonomy, traditional brahminical activities are encouraged and are even the norm, such that Hare Krishna movement devotees are Brahmans for the most part. But the type of psychology that develops within the organization is visibly shudra.
Shudra-Brahmans within the organization are in the humiliating position of having to seek the understanding of their superiors within a bureaucratic management scheme, they often become frustrated, demoralized and humiliated, and end up lamenting; these are typical and traditional qualities of the shudra caste.
Keep in mind that it is not just the brahminical dharma which makes the Brahman; the defining characteristic is the autonomy. Autonomy is the mark of the upper castes. I can recall being with Hindu shopkeepers on more than one occasion and hearing things like “I serve no other man, I work for myself” as they thumped their chests. Ramananda Roy was a military man, a field commander, a general. He defeated a Muslim army in battle.
And in a purport to the Caitanya-caritamrita, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada, informs us that his caste was shudra because he was a governor, a servant of the king. Ramananda Roy was one of the three most confidential associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the only three with whom Sri Chaitanya would discuss conjugal rasa, and his caste was shudra.
Because he did not have the autonomy of a kshatriya, because he was subject to being dismissed, and was maintained by another, his caste was shudra, even though he had military qualities and military success.
In the same way, just having the traditional mode of goodness qualities, such as being humble, clean, forgiving, et cetera, doesn’t define one as a Brahman because many shudras are also clean, religious, and endowed with good qualities.
Again, the mark of the upper castes is autonomy. it was because Grandfather Bhishma became dependent on Duryodhana’s financial status that he lost his autonomy and upper caste status.
It’s as if someone needed to tap all the ISKCON Brahmans on the shoulder and say “The Emperor has no clothes and guess who the Emperor is? You!” This, of course, would cause a shock and an adjustment problem, but the truth is, Hare Krishna movement Brahmans are not really Brahmans, the Hindus know that they’re not, the Hare Krishna movement is trying to forge a relationship with them, and the issue should be dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction sooner or later.
On the opposite side of the coin, there is a lot to be said for the individual-balls-of-light concept and empowerment of the individual, granted, but can ISKCON afford to encourage tradition brahminical and upper caste autonomy? The movement’s socialistic meddling in the personal lives of its devotees is flawed and drastically counter-productive over the long run, but it is not so easy to just loosen the reins.
What we have seen over the last couple of decades is a mass exodus from ISKCON (a while back, they were saying “IS-GONE) over to the Narayana Maharaja movement and in Latin America, to Paramadwaiti’s Vrinda Mission. This means that the majority rank and file was unable to distinguish between a straightforward presentation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and presentations rather tinged with emotionalism-cum-sahajiya.
Not only could they not distinguish, but they couldn’t recognize the urgency of the post-Prabhupada situation, nor did they have an idea of how to react, nor had they any maturity or experience for dealing with the situation. After all that Bhaktivedanta Swami had done for them, they went over to the side of those who would minimize him and put others on his level under the pretext of some weak arguments to the effect that they were serving Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada, in a different way, through a different medium. (and good-bye to his books forever?)
Realistically speaking, then, could we expect ISKCON leaders to refashion the movement in such a way that the average devotee has complete autonomy to contradict and stymie administrative orientation? Going from one extreme to the other doesn’t seem to provide a solution because, frankly, the devotees in general have shown that they don’t merit such autonomy and that they can become confused enough to give away the whole store, right down to the kitchen sink.
Perhaps the solution lies in snapping out of this mindset that we have to be Brahmans in the first place, that we should be Brahmans, or that it means doodley squat to be Brahmans compared to simply emphasizing the fact that we want to be Krishna bhaktas. If we can achieve something meaningful by working together in an organization and cooperating and taking orders, then so be it.
The alternative might see a so-called brahman climb the highest mountaintop to announce to the sky and the stars and the Moon that he is a brahman because he never bowed his head, took orders or served another man, and never had to subject himself to bureaucratic jockeying and wrangling. The reason the so-called brahman might have to climb to the highest mountaintop and announce it to the sky and the stars and the Moon is because it is not likely that anyone else will even care. In the context of living in the West in the Kaliyuga, there are more important things to be considered and dealt with.
Perhaps ISKCON shouldn’t stress being a brahman because if those who have brahminical initiation had brahminical autonomy, the mark of the upper castes, then it would be the end of ISKCON and the end of pure transmission of Chaitanya Vaishnavism; sahajiya would find it’s way to the fore.
Granted that an elite fellowship, subject to peer authority, is certainly needed to maintain the purity of philosophical interpretation; and the authority of this elite fellowship needs the goodwill obedience of the devotees in general. In this regard the GBC needs and deserves its autocratic status.
But otherwise, Hare Krishna movement leadership tends to employ management techniques that don’t allow for brahminical dealings, such as being open, straightforward, and never telling a lie or concealing the truth. So why should it be incumbent upon movement managers to carry around brahminical status?
Does it become a piano on their backs? How can they act as movement managers if they have to be humble, truthful, forgiving, et cetera. And again, how can the devotee followers work within the movement’s bureaucratic framework and be cooperative brahmans if they are supposed to be autonomous brahmans?
Westerners don’t care if you define yourself as a brahman, they don’t even know what it is. The Hindus don’t really accept you as a brahman, and all the brahmans from traditional families are working as engineers and servants of companies anyway, such that they have to obey and satisfy superiors in order to receive their pay, so if even the brahmans aren’t brahmans anymore, what is ISKCON trying to prove? To whom? Imposing brahminical status just seems to make things harder all around.
Recently, I have written a couple of articles along the lines of ISKCON Bureaucracy. I’ve tried to point out adjustments that need to be made in order to make the relationship between Hare Krishna movement management and its members more functional.
This issue of whether or not we are really acting in the role of brahmans may not be an urgent issue, certainly not at this time, but it is one which concerns the Hare Krishna movement from top to bottom; both management and membership have to understand what their roles are and what is expected of them, as well as how they are seen by others, such as the Hindus, vis-à-vis how they imagine that they are seen.
By Dharmapad das / Dean Dominic De Lucia
Dharmapad’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Books by Dharmapad: www.HiddenMysteries.com