Is Varṇāśrama Outdated?
The Śrutis, the Smṛtis, and Varṇāśrama
The Śrutis and Varṇāśrama
Agreement Between the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti
How Varṇāśrama Reduces Sexual Attraction
Varṇāśrama for the WorldScience, Society, and Kṛṣṇa Consciousness
Causality and Bias in Science
Correlation and Causation
Validity of Causal Theories in the Social Sciences
Varṇāśrama for ISKCON
ISKCON’s Commitment to Preventing Child Abuse
The CPO Explanation for Child Sexual Abuse
The Varṇāśrama Explanation for Child Sexual Abuse
Varṇāśrama succeeds where the Western approach fails
Conclusion and Recommendations
Within ISKCON for the past three decades there has been much discussion about varṇāśrama-dharma, but little has been achieved in terms of its actual implementation among the general population of devotees. This is understandable, since the emphasis of varṇāśrama thought and practice within ISKCON for a long time has been on farming and cow protection. Thus if a devotee is not going to live on a farm, varṇāśrama is generally not a part of his life. Other matters take priority. Varṇāśrama within ISKCON thus remains a niche interest that is disconnected in precept and practice from the lives of most of ISKCON’s devotees. Consequently, it is largely disconnected from ISKCON’s overall mission.ISKCON’s overall mission is the propagation of the saṅkīrtana movement to society at large. Although this particular purpose comes fourth in a list of purposes enumerated in ISKCON’s official charter, all the other purposes are subsumed by it. It makes ISKCON unique among Vaiṣṇnava societies, and ISKCON’s emphasis on it accounts for its unparalleled success.
But as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu demonstrated on numerous occasions, the saṅkīrtana movement also demands a pure way of life. Without it, spiritual progress is virtually impossible. Yet the regulative principles that comprise a sufficiently pure life are not spiritual in and of themselves. They are not causes for love of Kṛṣṇa to manifest in one’s heart, but they will prevent its development if transgressed. These regulative principles are fundamental to varṇāśrama-dharma, and some of them have proven difficult for ISKCON’s members to follow.
The difficulty devotees have had in following them is associated with varṇāśrama’s enduring disconnect from most of ISKCON. While this disconnect has several related causes, much of it arises from an overemphasis of certain aspects of varṇāśrama at the expense of others that should be given more importance. Another aspect of varṇāśrama that Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke about but which is no less important than the others is the male-female relationship, as regulated by the varṇāśrama system.In one lecture, Śrīla Prabhupāda highlights this aspect:So these regulative principles are there. So what is, what is the big plan behind these regulative principles? The big plan is: here is the attraction, puṁsaḥ striyā mithunī-bhāvam etaṁ to cut down this attraction between male and female. This is the big plan. Otherwise there is no need of the varṇāśrama.
According to Lord Ṛṣabhadeva, the attraction between male and female is the basic principle of material life (SB 5.5.8), and we see in this lecture that Śrīla Prabhupāda directly connects varṇāśrama with counteracting this principle.
Agriculture and cow protection also help ameliorate the problem of sex attraction, but only indirectly. If a society’s economy is based on agriculture instead of industry, then a consciousness of God arises automatically, for it brings one’s closer to the real source of life’s necessities, reinforcing awareness that these actually come from God. Agrarian occupations also curtail the production and consumption of unnecessary objects of sensual pleasure, and this leaves more time for self-realization.
Cow protection in particular reinforces the idea that man is dependent on God’s mercy. Since the cow produces milk, the “miracle food” for humans, this allows society at large to consume a non-violent diet and follow a non-violent way of life.
However, these important aspects of varṇāśrama alone are unable to reduce sex attraction to the point where it generally does not hinder self-realization. In the history of Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism, Sahajiyā culture—characterized by enthusiastic pursuit of illicit sex in the name of Kṛṣṇa consciousness—has been long-standing, wide-spread, and for some time even definitive Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism itself. Traditionally, not only is Sahajiyā society agrarian, and not only do its people venerate the cow, its people also have a lot of illicit sex.
The regulative principles governing the relations between male and female are therefore of direct importance to everyone. Indeed, these principles exist to help us overcome difficulties that are directly connected with spiritual life, regardless of whether we live on the farm or in the city. As noted by Śrī Arjuna and Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā, societies that do not follow these principles quickly become varṇasaṅkarapopulations—just like the secular societies of today, whose people can hardly be expected to make any kind of spiritual advancement. Because these principles universally and directly apply to all people, they must be given more emphasis than principles that will remain indirectly relevant to most people.
Connecting varṇāśrama with ISKCON’s overall mission therefore requires us to readjust our thinking about it. We need to place those aspects that are applicable to all devotees at the center of our varṇāśrama thought and practice. The most important of these is the regulation of the male-female relationship, since success or failure in this directly influences our ability to perform sadhana-bhakti. Such a reordering of priorities is necessary if varṇāśrama is to become relevant to ISKCON’s overall mission. Conversely, it will be very difficult for ISKCON’s overall mission to succeed without it.
Is Varṇāśrama Outdated?
bhagavan śrotum icchāmi nṛṇāṁ dharmaṁ sanātanam
varṇāśramācāra-yutaṁ yat pumān vindate param
Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira said: My dear lord, I wish to hear from you about the principles of religion by which one can attain the ultimate goal of life — devotional service. I wish to hear about the general occupational duties of human society and the system of social and spiritual advancement known as varṇāśrama-dharma (SB 7.11.2).
According to the Bhagavad-gītā, material nature is eternal. Since material nature is eternal, so are all our material problems. The same problems we have today are the same that all living beings have always struggled with. As per the above verse, varṇāśrama-dharma is also known as sanātana-dharma and therefore is also eternal (nṛṇāṁ dharmaṁ sanātanam). Its purpose is to mitigate as far as possible our material problems. Because the problems varṇāśrama-dharma mitigates are ever-existing, varṇāśrama is always relevant for every age. It is never out of date.
But why varṇāśrama? The answer is simple: it is Lord Kṛṣṇa’s social system—cātur varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ—and it must therefore be better than any other. If we accept that society can be arranged in such a way as to improve our chances of success in spiritual life, then we must select some social system that will help us achieve that goal. If one also accepts that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then one must necessarily accept His prescriptions for society. In Lord Kṛṣṇa’s God-centered, Vedic civilization, the idea behind varṇāśrama is how to live in the world with the objective of leaving it. Because Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself has prescribed the varṇāśrama system, no other social system is better for helping its members make spiritual advancement.
Even if people cannot accept varṇāśrama for no other reason than having been born into some other culture, their lives are still miserable without it. They do not always feel the consequences of behavior that is objectively against varṇāśrama principles. Nonetheless, negative consequences eventually arise.Sometimes, however, the consequences are immediate, or nearly so. For example, chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium that can seriously and permanently damage a woman’s reproductive system. In the United States alone, it infects millions of people each year. As reported by the U.S. Government’s Center for Disease Control, “In 2011, 1,412,791 cases of chlamydia were reported to CDC from 50 states and the District of Columbia, but an estimated 2.86 million infections occur annually.” And the reason the cases are underreported is that “most people with chlamydia do not have symptoms and do not seek testing.” What makes chlamydia so dangerous is the lack of symptoms until permanent damage has already been done. As per the CDC, it is common among young people, affecting “1 in 15 sexually active females aged 14 – 19.”
But why should so many unmarried young females be sexually active? (And why so many young, unmarried men?) American society is this way because its leaders believe that men and women should be allowed to intermingle freely. And because the general population follows their bad advice and bad example, common men and women cannot control themselves. Consequently, a completely preventable yet serious health problem has become widespread. A society organized according to varṇāśrama principles will not have this problem.
The sex urge is no less forceful today than in previous ages, thus following varṇāśrama is no less important to follow today than in previous ages. Even material happiness, satisfaction, and so forth will remain out of reach for those who fail to control the sexual urge. Varṇāśrama-dharma will be good both for devotee and non-devotee alike. Their lives will be happier with it and miserable without.
The Śrutis, the Smṛtis, and Varṇāśrama
On the one hand, the Bhāgavatam says that although one may perform one’s varṇāśrama duties perfectly, it is all considered useless labor if love for Kṛṣṇa does not awaken. But on the other hand, the Bhāgavatamitself prescribes varṇāśrama, as introduced by Maharāja Yudhiṣṭhira in Canto 7, Chapter 11. Indeed, most devotees in the Bhāgavatam and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta follow varṇāśrama. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself also wanted his spiritual descendants to follow varṇāśrama. How then do we understand that varṇāśrama is external to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and at the same time is given such importance in connection with becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious?
The answer is that following varṇāśrama-dharma itself does not cause love of Kṛṣṇa to manifest in one’s heart, but at the same time it is prescribed for devotees, because for most people it is usually necessary. They need it to sustain a mature commitment to pure devotional service. Yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ janānāṁ puṇya-karmaṇām . . ., “Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.”
Every authorized yoga system prescribes activities that are to be followed and avoided (yama, niyama); avoiding sinful activity is essential. Without this it will be impossible to acquire the determination to worship Kṛṣṇa, bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ. Varṇāśrama-dharma prescribes princples to be followed that are essential for success in sādhana-bhati.
The purpose of the varṇāśrama principles is to help one make progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Cātur-varṇyaḿ mayā sṛṣṭaḿ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ, “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 the purport, Śrīla Prabhupāda says, “Human society is similar to any other animal society, but to elevate men from the animal status, the above-mentioned divisions are created by the Lord for the systematic development of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” This is the utility of varṇāśrama-dharma. The principle of yukta-vairāgyam applies to varṇāśrama, since nearly anything can be used in Kṛṣṇa’s service. Indeed, yukta-vairāgyam applies to many things, not simply questionable activities, such as Arjuna’s killing one’s relatives on Kṛṣṇa’s direct order at Kurukṣetra.
The varṇāśrama principles are meant for helping us to always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget Him.smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit
sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ
“Kṛṣṇa is the origin of Lord Viṣṇu. He should always be remembered and never forgotten at any time. All the rules and prohibitions mentioned in the śāstras should be the servants of these two principles.”Sometimes this verse is taken to mean that one need not always follow the śāstra-vidhi if it does not help one remember Kṛṣṇa. But that is not at all implied, for scriptural injunctions are given by the Lord in order to help one remember Him. Conversely, not following the śāstras is associated with the mode of ignorance: aśāstra vihitaṁ gohram (BG 17.5), vidhi-hīnam asṛṣṭānnaṁ (BG 17.13), anapekṣya ca pauruṣam (BG 18.25), etc. Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhuṣana’s commentary on Gītā verse 18.7 makes it clear that giving up the nitya and naimittika karmas such as the pañca mahā yajñas is in the mode of ignorance, because such karmas are directly concerned with obtaining ātmā-jñana (self-realization) and also allow one to maintain his body. The mode of ignorance itself causes one to forget Kṛṣṇa.More importantly, this verse also means that one should not follow the śāstras in such a way as to cause one to not think of Kṛṣṇa or to end up forgetting Him. In the Bhagavad-gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa discusses what he calls the veda-vāda-ratāḥ, so-called knowers of the Vedas who follow the Vedic injunctions for the sake of elevation to the heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Following the Vedic rules in that way is prohibited by this verse from the Padma Purāṇa. It does not say that the rules do not have to be followed—they must be followed but in the correct way, such that they always help one remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget Him.
Otherwise, to consider any of the injunctions from authorized śāstras to be disconnected from this principle is itself a cause for social disturbance, spiritual disturbance—and namāparādha.śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi-pañcarātra-vidhiṁ vinā
aikāntikī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate
“Devotional service performed without reference to the Vedas, Purāṇas, Pañcarātras, etc., must be considered sentimentalism, and it causes nothing but disturbance to society.” (BRS 1.2.101, qtd. in CC Adi 7.102)
Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura in his Jaiva Dharma, chapter 3,further corroborates this close connection of the Vedas and dharma-śāstras with the project of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
The Manu-saṁhita and other dharma-śāstras written down by other great sages are smṛti-śāstras, corollaries written in pursuance of the original śruti-śāstras known as the Vedas, which are eternal transcendental sound directly manifested from the Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and are thus absolutely self-perfected and free of mundane defect. Being corollaries in pursuance of the directions of the Vedas, the dharma-śāstras are held in high esteem, just as the law books defining authorized and unauthorized actions in human society are similarly highly regarded throughout civilized society.Since the dharma-śāstras are considered corollaries of the Vedas, and since the ultimate aim of the Vedas is to bring people to the stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, varṇāśrama-dharma is closely connected with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Therefore the idea that varṇāśrama is wholly disconnected from Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a misconception
This misconceptionhas produced two classes of degraded religionists: one is the veda-vāda-rātaḥ (those who follow Vedic principles for material benefit) and the other is the prakṛta-sahājiya, who by disdain for so-called lower religious principles never rises above feigning love for Kṛṣṇa and becomes morally bankrupt. Both consider varṇāśrama-dharma to be something irrelevant to spiritual advancement, but one embraces it because he is interested in its material benefits whereas the other rejects it because he thinks it is unconnected with spiritual advancement. Both classes are wrong in their assessment of varṇāśrama, and both are fallen. It should not be thought that these tendencies do not operate within ISKCON. Otherwise there would be no reason for Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī to warn us about niyamāgrahaḥ.
The Śrutis and Varṇāśrama
brāhmaṇo ‘sya mukhamāsīt bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ
ūrū tadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṁ śūdro ajāyata
“The face of the Virāt Puruṣa became the Brahmin, His arms the Kṣatriya, His two thighs became the Vaiśya, from His feet sprang the Śūdras” (Ṛk Veda 10.90.12, from the Puruṣa-Sūkta),
Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself in His Bhagavad-gītā says that He Himself appears whenever there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion. Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata, abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaḿ sṛjāmy aham (Gītā 4.7). In the purport of this verse, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that “the Vedic principles push one towards complete surrender unto Him [Kṛṣṇa]; and whenever such principles are disturbed by the demoniac, the Lord appears.”
The Vedas are also known as the Śrutis, or that which is heard. They are considered eternal, not spoken by any mundane being. They are considered infallible, and they are heard by great sages, which is why they are called śruti. When one quotes from the Vedas in support of some opinion, one’s evidence is considered very strong.
Helping the conditioned souls become Kṛṣṇa conscious is the purpose of the Vedas.
māyā-mugdha jivera nahi svatah krishna-jnana
jivere kripaya kaila krishna veda-purana
“The conditioned soul cannot revive his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by his own effort. But out of causeless mercy, Lord Kṛṣṇa compiled the Vedic literature and its supplements, the Purāṇas” (CC Madhya 20.122).Lord Kṛṣṇa says, vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ, “By all the Vedas I am to be known” (BG 15.15). The Vedas themselves refer to the varṇāśrama-system, which is thus meant to help in the realization of Kṛṣṇa.Varṇāśrama-dharma followed for the sake of Kṛṣṇa realization is called daiva varṇāśrama-dharma.But varṇāśrama-dharma used for any other purpose is asura varṇāśrama, and it acts to cover one’s consciousness of Kṛṣṇa. That is why throughout the Gītā we find that Lord Kṛṣṇa himself makes this distinction between supposed knowers of the Vedas (veda-vāda-ratāḥ), who follow the Vedic principles for material gain, and actual yogis, who have given up the desire for sense gratification. yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁtaṁ vidhi pāṇḍava, na hy asannyasta-saṅkalpo yogī bhavati kaścana, “What is called sannyāsa (renunciation) you should know to be the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the supreme, O son of Pāṇḍu, for one can never be a yogī if he does not give up the desire for sense gratification” (BG 6.2). Varṇāśrama-dharma followed for the sake of material gain or for the destruction of others is asura varṇāśrama. Varṇāśrama followed to perfect one’s practice of yoga is daiva varṇāśrama. “Sacrifice, charity and penance purify even the great souls” (BG 8.5).
The Smṛtis In addition to the Vedas, the Smṛtis are one of our most important sources of guidance for the practice of daiva varṇāśrama-dharma. This is because the Smṛtis are easier to understand than the Vedas and also because they are comprehensive. The Smṛtis include the Purāṇas, Dharmaśāstras like Manu-smṛti and Yājñavalkya-smṛti, Itihasas like the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, the Pāñcarātras, and so forth.
In particular, the Smṛtis refer to the Dharmaśāstras. In Rupa Gosvāmī’s verse śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi-pañcarātra-vidhiḿ vinā. . . , smṛti as distinguished from purāṇa refers to the Dharmaśāstras. The Purāṇas describe the history of the world in relation to the pastimes of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His innumerable incarnations and associates. Through their narratives, the Purāṇas teach the principles of morality and religion, they implicitly teach how one may become perfectly self-realized, and they proclaim the glories of the Lord. As compared with the Purāṇas, the Dharmaśāstras focus on ethics, and they give codes of daily duties as well as conduct applicable to the members of each section of society. They also provide extensive codes for civil and criminal law.
As given in the Dharmaśāstras, the aim of ethics, religious duties, civil law, and criminal law is aimed at helping the members of a varṇāśrama society become self-realized. In Manu-smṛti (12.84 – 99), Manu deals with the question of which of the various actions recommended in the śāstras are the most efficacious for attaining ultimate happiness. The answer given is sarveṣām api caiteṣām ātma-jñānam param smṛtam, tad dhyagryam sarva-vidyānām prāpyate hyamṛtam tataḥ: “Knowledge of the soul is stated to be the most excellent among all of them; for that is the first of the sciences, because immortality is gained through that” (MS 12.85). In the same section of Manu-smṛti two different kinds of acts prescribed in the Vedas are discussed: one for pravṛtti (temporary, material benefit) and the other for nivṛtti (eternal benefit). Of these two, Manu declares the path of nivṛtti to be superior. Thus in the Dharmaśāstras, ethics, moral codes, civil law, criminal law, and quotidian religious duties, are all to be followed for the sake of self-realization.The authority for Manu-smṛti is derived from the Vedas themselves, and its authority is acknowledged by nearly all other dharmaśāstras. As stated in Manu-smṛti 2.7: yaḥ kaścit kasya cid dharmo manunā parikīrtitaḥ, sa sarvo ‘bhi hito vede sarva-jñānam ayo hi saḥ, “Whatever law has been ordained for anyone by Manu, that has been fully declared in the Veda: for that sage was omniscient.” Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam’sHand-Book of Hindu Religion (1982) comments on the authority of Manu-smṛti:
The traditional number of Smṛtis or law books is eighteen. They are (1) Manusmṛti, (2) Parāśarasmṛti, (3) Vasiṣṭasmṛti, (4) Sañkhasmṛti, (5) Likhitasmṛti, (6) Atrismṛti, (7) Viṣṇusmṛti, (8) Hārītasmṛti, (9) Yamasmṛti, (10) Aṅgirassmṛti, (11)Uśanassmṛti, (12) Saṁvartasmṛti, (13) Bṛhaspatismṛti, (14) Kātyāyanasmṛti, (15) Dakṣasmṛti, (16) Vyāsasmṛti, (17) Yājñavalkyasmṛti, (18) Śatatapasmṛti. All these Smṛtis are equally authoritative but the Manu-smṛti has commanded universal respect from the authors of all other Smṛtis and authors of the Itihāsas and Purāṇas because it is the most comprehensive and the most elucidative or clear. The Parāśarasmṛti is considered to be the standard work for this Kali age. It enumerates exhaustively the special rules for the Kali age. It is said in the Manusmṛti itself that Manu’s laws apply to the Kṛtayuga, Gautama’s laws to the Tretāyuga, the laws of Śaṇkha and Likhita to the Dvāparayuga and those of Parāśara to the Kaliyuga. Also in this connection, in the book Conceptualizations in the Manusmṛti (New Delhi: Manohar, 1996), Parnasabari Bhattacharya says:
Most of the Smṛtis do not pretend to be anything more than the compositions of ordinary mortals based on the teachings of the Vedas. But the Manusmṛti is regarded as an exception. It claims to have a divine origin and to be the epitome of all the Vedic knowledge and the upholder of Vedic tradition (93).He adds that Manu-smṛti is so unassailably steeped in Vedic authority that both Śaṅkara and Kumārila (as disparate as they were) both unquestioningly accepted it as such, and even praised it highly (93). Even the śrutiaffirms, (Taittirīya Upaniṣad, II.2.10.2): “Whatever Manu says is medicine.” This last śruti reference is accepted by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, who quotes it in his Govinda Bhāṣya, 188.8.131.52.Since Manu-smṛti has commanded such universal respect from the authors of the Śrutis, Smṛtis, Purāṇas, and Itihāsas, it is no wonder that Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to it more than any of the other Dharmaśāstraswhenever he has mentioned them.
Agreement Between the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti
The Śrutis (Vedas) are considered more authoritative than the Smṛtis because the former are considered eternal and heard directly by the great ṛṣis, or sages, whereas the Smṛtis are the recollections of the sages, or “that which is remembered.” As such, the Vedas themselves areconsidered infallible whereas the Smṛtis themselves are not. Sometimes they contain errors. Thus if there is some difference between the Śrutis and theSmṛtis, the Śrutis are to be followed. Similarly, in our own Vaiṣṇava tradition, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (amala purāṇam, the “spotless Purāṇa”) holds a position of authority above all other śāstras. If there is a difference between the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti, we follow the Bhāgavatam.
Nonetheless, with regard to varṇāśrama-dharma, there is close agreement between the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti on what is considered ethical and unethical behavior governing the relationships between men and women.
Maharāja Yayāti’s famous dictum about not sitting on the same seat with one’s own mother, sister, or daughter is found word-for-word in Bhāgavatam 9.19.17 and in Manu-smṛti 2.215:mātrā svasrā duhitrā vā nāviviktāsano bhavet
balavān indriya-grāmo vidvāḿsam api karṣati
“One should not allow oneself to sit on the same seat even with one’s own mother, sister or daughter, for the senses are so strong that even though one is very advanced in knowledge, he may be attracted by sex.”
In both śāstras, the contexts for this verse are similar; each deals with the principle of male-female attraction. In the Bhāgavatam, the verse appears in the midst of the parable Maharāja Yayāti narrates to Devayānī, which describes a he-goat who was ever-attracted but never satisfied by a she-goat. It shows why one should give up the desire for sexual pleasure.
In Manu-smṛti, this verse appears in the context of prescriptions for how a brahmacāri should behave with the young wife of one’s guru.
A pupil who is full twenty years old, and knows what is becoming and unbecoming, shall not salute a young wife of his teacher by clasping her feet. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason, the wise are never unguarded in the company of females. For women are able to lead astray in this world not only a fool, but even a learned man, and to make him a slave of desire and anger. One should not sit in a lonely place with one’s mother, sister, or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and master even a learned man. But at his pleasure a young student may prostrate himself on the ground before the young wife of a teacher, in accordance with the rule, and say, ‘I, N. N.’ (worship thee, O lady). On returning from a journey he must clasp the feet of his teacher’s wife and daily salute her in the manner just mentioned, remembering the duty of the virtuous.
We find elsewhere in the Bhāgavatam that it is similarly prohibited for a brahmacāri to allow himself to be cared for by the young wife of his guru. The rationale is also the same—men in the company of women are liable to be attracted by sex:
A brahmacāri, or one who has not accepted the gṛhāstha-āśrama [family life], must rigidly avoid talking with women or about women, for the senses are so powerful that they may agitate even the mind of a sannyasī, a member of the renounced order of life. If the wife of the spiritual master is young, a young brahmacāri should not allow her to care for his hair, massage his body with oil, or bathe him with affection like a mother. Woman is compared to fire, and man is compared to a butter pot. Therefore a man should avoid associating even with his own daughter in a secluded place. Similarly, he should also avoid association with other women. One should associate with women only for important business and not otherwise. As long as a living entity is not completely self-realized—as long as he is not independent of the misconception of identifying with his body, which is nothing but a reflection of the original body and senses—he cannot be relieved of the conception of duality, which is epitomized by the duality between man and woman. Thus there is every chance that he will fall down because his intelligence is bewildered.
The Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti agree that the conditioned souls have an innate tendency for illicit sex, meat-eating, and intoxication, and they also agree that the purpose of the Vedic ceremonies that regulate them is to help them give up these tendencies.
The Bhāgavatam (11.5.11) states:
loke vyavāyāmiṣa-madya-sevā nityā hi jantor na hi tatra codanā
vyavasthitis teṣu vivāha-yajña surā-grahair āsu nivṛttir iṣṭā
“In this material world the conditioned soul is always inclined to sex, meat-eating and intoxication. Therefore religious scriptures never actually encourage such activities. Although the scriptural injunctions provide for sex through sacred marriage, for meat-eating through sacrificial offerings and for intoxication through the acceptance of ritual cups of wine, such ceremonies are meant for the ultimate purpose of renunciation.”
And Manu-smṛti 5.56 states similarly:
na māḿsa-bhakṣaṇe doṣo na madye na ca maithune
pravṛttir eṣā bhūtānāḿ nivṛttis tu mahā-phalā
“It may be considered that meat-eating, intoxication and sex indulgence are natural propensities of the conditioned souls, and therefore such persons should not be condemned for these activities. But unless one gives up such sinful activities, there is no possibility of achieving the actual perfection of life.”The mention of meat here is notable in that agreement between the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti is not limited to the project of curbing the tendency for illicit sex. Both śāstras also condemn flesh-eating.With regard to Manu-smṛti (MS) 5.56, the discussion of eating meat first acknowledges that the Vedas prescribe certain sacrifices in which an animal is slaughtered, and it is considered that no sin has taken place in taking the life of the animal. That is because the sanction comes from the Vedas. However, Manu (5.48 – 49) then declares that the slaughter of animals is not only impious but despite limited Vedic sanction is still a ghastly act.
nākṛtvā prāṇināṁ hiṁsāṁ māṁsamut padyate kvacit
na ca prāṇivadhaḥ svargyas tasmān māṁsa vivarjayetsamutpattiṁ ca māṁsasya vadhavandhau ca dehinām
prasamīkṣya nivarteta sarva-māṁsasya bhakṣaṇāt
“Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat. Having well considered the disgusting origin and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.”
Two more verses condemning flesh-eating in this section of Manu-smṛti are very familiar to devotees.anumantā viśasitā nihantā krayavitrayī
saṁskartā copahartā ca khāda-kaśceti ghātakāḥ
“He who permits the slaughter of an animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it must all be considered as the slayers of the animal” (Manu-smṛti 5.51).
maṁ sa bhakṣayitā ‘mutra yasya māṁsam ihād myaham
etan māṁsasya māṁsatvam pravadanti manīṣiṇaḥ“He (māṁ + sah – literally “me he”) whose flesh I eat in this life will devour me in the next life; the wise declare this to be the real meaning of the word flesh (māṁsaḥ)” (Manu-smṛti 5.55).
Though Śrīla Prabhupāda himself rarely if ever cited the source for these verses, his references to them are unmistakable:
When animals are killed in a slaughterhouse, six people connected with the killing are responsible for the murder. The person who gives permission for the killing, the person who kills, the person who helps, the person who purchases the meat, the person who cooks the flesh and the person who eats it, all become entangled in the killing.
Generally, in order to attain the human form, a living entity has to pass through many species of life on the evolutionary scale, but if a goat is sacrificed to the goddess Kālī, he is immediately promoted to the human form. The mantra also says, “You have the right to kill this man who is sacrificing you.” The word māṁsa indicates that in his next birth, the goat will eat the flesh of the man who is presently sacrificing him.
These statements have been long-time, favorite sayings of devotee-preachers.
Not only does Manu-smṛti condemn illicit sex, flesh-eating and intoxication, it also proscribes gambling.nākṣaiḥ krīḍet-kadācittu svayaṁ nopānahau haret
śayanastho na bhuñjīta na pāṇisthaṁ na cāsane
“Let him [a brāhmaṇa] never play with dice, nor himself take off his shows; let him not eat, lying on a bed, nor what has been placed in his hand or on a seat” (MS 4.74).
pānam akṣāḥ striyaś caiva mṛgayā ca yathā kramam
etat akaṣṭamaṁ vidyāc catuṣkaṁ kāmaje gaṇe
“Drinking, dice, women, and hunting, these four which have been enumerated in success, he must know to be the most pernicious in the set [of vices] that springs from love of pleasure” (MS 7.50).
Manu-smṛti agrees with the Bhāgavatam on the sinful nature of gambling, intoxication, flesh-eating, and illicit sex. Both śāstras affirm that the path of renunciation (nivṛtti) is superior to the path of sense pleasure (pravṛtti), and they also affirm that all sacrifices and penances should be performed for the sake of renunciation and for the sake of ātma-jñāna, spiritual knowledge. Hence, both śāstras link ethics and moral behavior with self-realization; one cannot make progress in self-realization unless one is moral. Both śāstras affirm the superlative strength of the attraction between male and female, and consequently both śāstras recommend the disassociation of men and women as far as possible.
All these prescriptions and their stated purposes are at the heart of daiva varṇāśramadharma, particularly the recommendations in both śāstras for the strict separation of male and female. “The big plan is: here is the attraction, puṁsaḥ striyā mithunī-bhāvam etaṁ, to cut down this attraction between male and female,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda. “Otherwise there is no need of the varṇāśrama.”
How Varṇāśrama Reduces Sexual Attraction Human behavior has its basis in both upbringing and disposition—nurture and nature (saṁskāra and svabhāva)—and varṇāśrama-dharma employs both in helping men and women control the sexual urge. Learning how to apply the etiquette in the present context helps ensure that dealings between men and women are as sober as possible. Yet the same principles of etiquette work to keep men and women at a respectful distance from each other, so as not to be victimized by their own natures.Take for example Cāṇakya Paṇḍita’s dictum mātṛvat para-dāreṣu, “Oneshould consider a woman other than his wife to be his mother.” The intent of addressing other women as mother is clear. Generally, no man thinks of his own mother as a sex object. On the contrary, she is someone who is worthy of veneration. One who considers other women to be like his mother will be similarly disinclined to pursue a sexual liaison with them. And likewise, a woman is supposed to address men other than her husband as sons. When men or women are adored or venerated in this way, the relationships are sober.
Otherwise, when others are seen as objects for one’s own consumption, for one’s own personal enjoyment, that is when exploitation begins. For example, those dumping their sewage into the River Yamunā are the ones who see her as “it;” mere water for human use—not a shining goddess and vehicle of Divine grace. The same is true between men and women. Vedic etiquette governing the dealings between men and women is a formality whose aim is to prevent a sexually intimate relationship from arising.
But etiquette alone is insufficient to control the urge for sex. In order to adequately curb sexual desire between men and women while practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, there must be a minimum of contact—verbal and visual, what to speak of tactile. Thus to advance nicely in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, men and women must be careful to keep aloof from each other.
In this regard, Śrīla Prabhupāda comments:
Generally, of course, one is not sexually attracted to his mother, sister or daughter, but if one allows himself to sit very close to such a woman, one may be attracted. This is a psychological fact. It may be said that one is liable to be attracted if he is not very advanced in civilized life; however, as specifically mentioned here, vidvāṁsam api karṣati: even if one is highly advanced, materially or spiritually, he may be attracted by lusty desires. The object of attraction may even be one’s mother, sister or daughter.
Therefore, one should be extremely careful in dealings with women. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was most strict in such dealings, especially after He accepted the sannyāsa order. Indeed, no woman could come near Him to offer Him respect.
To control the sexual urge, the social and occupational roles prescribed by varṇāśrama-dharma for each member in society minimize interaction between men and women. Vedic civilization allows men and women to associate only when necessary.
With regard to curbing sexual attraction, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translation and purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.10.16 summarize the most important idea underlying the structure of a varṇāśrama society—the separation of men and women. The translation of the verse reads as follows:
“Out of a loving desire to see the Lord, the royal ladies of the Kurus got up on top of the palace, and smiling with affection and shyness, they showered flowers upon the Lord.” But it may be asked that if these are royal ladies, who could have stood next to the Lord had they insisted, why did they prefer to honor Him from a distance?
In explaining the ladies’ behavior, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes that shyness “is a particular extra-natural beauty of the fair sex, and it commands respect from the opposite sex.” The respect commanded by shyness means that men will not see a shy woman as a sex object. She instead becomes an object to be venerated and protected.
Furthermore, this exhibition of shyness on the part of the royal ladies is an eternal custom. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes that this incident from the Mahābhārata period “proves definitely that the ladies of the palace observed strict pardā (restricted association with men).” It is not an introduction of the Mohammedans, as some mistakenly say. Shyness nicely reflects varṇāśrama principles, and in this pastime it is exhibited by Lord Kṛṣṇa’s own personal associates. Therefore the customary shyness exhibited in this pastime is sanātana, eternal.
Continuing with his commentary in the same verse, Śrīla Prabhupāda discusses the purpose of society. “Human civilization, as conceived of by the sages of India, is to help one free himself from the clutches of illusion.” People are attracted to the body because of the presence of the spirit soul. Without the soul, the body, however beautiful, will not attract anyone. One should be attracted only by spirit, not matter. But because we still remain in “the darkness of ignorance,” Vedic civilization “allows very restricted mixing of woman and man.” Thus “shyness is a check to the unrestricted mixing,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda. “It is nature’s gift, and it must be utilized.” It helps us avoid being attracted by illusion.
As far as the women class are concerned, they are accepted as a power of inspiration for men. As such, women are more powerful than men. Mighty Julius Caesar was controlled by a Cleopatra. Such powerful women are controlled by shyness. Therefore, shyness is important for women. Once this control valve is loosened, women can create havoc in society by adultery. Adultery means production of unwanted children known as varṇa-saṅkara, who disturb the world.
(This question must be asked of ourselves: “How must feminine shyness be utilized in ISKCON?” Given the shortcomings of many of ISKCON’s members in avoiding illicit sex, this question should not be paid reverent lip service and then ignored.)
Without coming to the standard of Vedic civilization, people will remain in the darkness of ignorance, and it will be almost impossible for them to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As sex attraction is the basic principle of material life (SB 5.5.8), limiting sex attraction is necessary in order to allow the general populace to make spiritual advancement. This idea is fundamental to varṇāśrama-dharma, and it is realized in the occupational duties prescribed in the śāstras for men and women.
The January 1936 edition of the Harmonist advances this idea in an article titled “Sex.” The article observes that “there is no field of human labor into which she [a woman] is not entering on a footing of equal partnership with men.” But then it asserts that keeping the sexes segregated also requires that their respective spheres of activity also be segregated.
“Under the circumstances will it not be regarded as an extinguisher of the cherished hopes of the fair sex to advance the view that the sexes should be segregated from each other, which clearly requires also demarcation of the respective spheres of activity of the sexes? Shri Krishna Chaitanya condemns all association between the sexes for carnality in the most unsparing terms. Is this teaching of the Shastras to be regarded as obsolete and oriental in view of the immemorial practice of Western countries as well as the most modern tendencies all over the world that are rapidly sweeping away all barriers to unreserved association of the sexes? If women take over the work that is being performed by men all over the world, will not such change obliterate the last obstacles in the way of the fellowship of the sexes on a footing of perfect equality? Will it also lead to sexual intemperance and moral and eugenic disasters?”
The social emancipation of women as described here accurately portrays the fallen character of the industrialized Western countries, where women’s equality is a cardinal virtue. In the United States, for example, women have entered the workforce and all other areas of the public sphere. But 52% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, and 40% of all children in the U.S. are born outside of marriage. As explained in the above excerpt from the Harmonist, women’s comingling with men for the sake of equal occupational opportunity requires them to associate closely with men outside of their families, and this in turn leads to “sexual intemperance” and “moral and eugenic disasters” (or strīṣu duṣṭtāsu).
Many people, however, will correctly point out that there are many occupations that women excel in. They have both the interest and capability of taking up most occupations that men engage in today, except those that require exceptional strength and endurance. And even then, there are instances of women excelling in some of these exceptional occupations. Aside from bearing children, which negatively impacts women’s careers as compared with those of men, many if not most women today nevertheless find satisfaction in careers outside the home. So it appears to be a straight-forward, moral proposition to let women undertake any social or occupational role suited to their talents. Conversely, it appears to be very unfair to deny women the kinds of occupational opportunities they are interested in and capable of nicely pursuing. So, why not let women work outside the home?
The reason as to why women should not work outside the home and apart from their male family members is that the objective of Vedic civilization is spiritual advancement, not material advancement. Since spiritual advancement is the goal of Vedic civilization, it is more important to help the general public control their senses than to help them advance materially. “In all spiritual affairs, one’s first duty is to control his mind and senses,” writes Śrīla Prabhupāda in the preface to the Nectar of Instruction. “Unless one controls his mind and senses, one cannot make any advancement in spiritual life.” Sense control is more important than career opportunity. Indeed, when Śrīla Prabhupāda saw how much difficulty his disciples had in controlling their own minds and senses while practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he prescribed varṇāśrama in order to help them “walk the talk.” That is why women’s occupations in the varṇāśrama system are centered on the husband and home. In this way, sex attraction in society is minimized.
That a woman’s occupational engagements should be centered on home and husband, however, does not mean that the Vedic civilization does not produce very capable, very talented women. In the Vedic context there have been capable lady scholars, viduṣis, but their education was not obtained from public universities or at the kūla-guru’s āśrama along with brahmacaris. Their education was received in the home, from fathers, mothers, husbands, and even from sons. We see for example in the Bhāgavatam that Śrīmatī Devahūti received transcendental knowledge from her son, Lord Kapilādeva. Mother Śācī, the mother of Lord Caitanya, was herself also learned. In the pastime of the Lord’s eating dirt, the Lord asked her why eating dirt was wrong, and Śācī explained to him how difference is real and the Māyāvāda idea expressed by the Lord was false. Yet we do not find that Śācīdevī, who herself was from a family of brāhmaṇas, had received any education from elsewhere. In Vedic civilization, scholarly women receive their education from their families.
The same can be said of women from all the other castes. They were educated but did not receive their education from outside. Nor did they pursue outside occupations. In his purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.4.5, Śrīla Prabhupāda points out how the wives and daughters of the kṣatriyas were very capable but never took up positions of authority within society.
As we learn from the history of the Mahābhārata, or “Greater India,” the wives and daughters of the ruling class, the kṣatriyas, knew the political game, but we never find that a woman was given the post of chief executive. This is in accordance with the injunctions of Manu-saḿhitā, but unfortunately Manu-saḿhitā is now being insulted, and the Āryans, the members of Vedic society, cannot do anything. Such is the nature of Kali-yuga.
It is good to be educated and have career satisfaction, and it is good to control one’s senses. But if a conflict arises between the two, then priority should be given to sense control. That is Vedic civilization.Thus according to both the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti, a woman’s prescribed duties are centered on household and husband. The Bhāgavatam, Canto 7, Chapter 11, describes the occupational divisions (varṇas) of human society. Therein the characteristics and prescribed duties for brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, and śūdras are given. Next, the prescribed duties for women are given.
To render service to the husband, to be always favorably disposed toward the husband, to be equally well disposed toward the husband’s relatives and friends, and to follow the vows of the husband — these are the four principles to be followed by women described as chaste (SB 7.11.25). A chaste woman must dress nicely and decorate herself with golden ornaments for the pleasure of her husband. Always wearing clean and attractive garments, she should sweep and clean the household with water and other liquids so that the entire house is always pure and clean. She should collect the household paraphernalia and keep the house always aromatic with incense and flowers and must be ready to execute the desires of her husband. Being modest and truthful, controlling her senses, and speaking in sweet words, a chaste woman should engage in the service of her husband with love, according to time and circumstances (26-27). A chaste woman should not be greedy, but satisfied in all circumstances. She must be very expert in handling household affairs and should be fully conversant with religious principles. She should speak pleasingly and truthfully and should be very careful and always clean and pure. Thus a chaste woman should engage with affection in the service of a husband who is not fallen (28). The woman who engages in the service of her husband, following strictly in the footsteps of the goddess of fortune, surely returns home, back to Godhead, with her devotee husband, and lives very happily in the Vaikuṇṭha planets (29).
As given in the Bhāgavatam, the pastimes of Lord Rāma and Mother Sītā (SB 9.10.11) corroborate this conclusion (bolding added).
When Rāmacandra entered the forest and Lakṣmaṇa was also absent, the worst of the Rākṣasas, Rāvaṇa, kidnapped Sītādevī, the daughter of the King of Videha, just as a tiger seizes unprotected sheep when the shepherd is absent. Then Lord Rāmacandra wandered in the forest with His brother Lakṣmaṇa as if very much distressed due to separation from His wife. Thus He showed by His personal example the condition of a person attached to women.
In this verse the words strī-sańgināṁ gatim iti indicate that the condition of a person attached to women was shown by the Lord Himself. According to moral instructions, gṛhe nārīṁ vivarjayet: when one goes on a tour, one should not bring his wife. Formerly men used to travel without conveyances, but still, as far as possible, when one leaves home one should not take his wife with him, especially if one is in such a condition as Lord Rāmacandra when banished by the order of His father. Whether in the forest or at home, if one is attached to women this attachment is always troublesome, as shown by the Supreme Personality of Godhead by His personal example.. . .
A further understanding to be derived from this example is that a woman, however powerful she may be in the material world, must be given protection, for as soon as she is unprotected she will be exploited by Rākṣasas like Rāvaṇa. Here the words vaideha-rāja-duhitari indicate that before mother Sītā was married to Lord Rāmacandra she was protected by her father, Vaideha-rāja. And when she was married she was protected by her husband. Therefore the conclusion is that a woman should always be protected. According to the Vedic rule, there is no scope for a woman’s being independent (asamakṣam), for a woman cannot protect herself independently.
As shown here by the Bhāgavatam and as explained by Śrīla Prabhupāda, it is troublesome for women to travel—even with her husband—because of the greater opportunity for her to be exploited by other men. Hence, women are enjoined to remain at home, and even then while at home to remain under the protection of a father, husband, or sons. And if remaining at home is not possible, then she must remain under the protection of some male relative, as did great women like Sītā Devī, Kuntī, and Draupadī.As does the Bhāgavatam, Manu-smṛti similarly states that a woman’s duties are centered on her husband. She should not be independent, should manage her household nicely, and she should follow her husband in his vows, much as how the Bhāgavatam has prescribed.
bālayā vā yuvatyā vā vṛddhayā vāpi yoṣitā
na svātantryeṇa kartavyaṁ kiṁcit-kārya gṛheṣvapibālye piturvaśe tiṣṭhet pāṇigrāhasya yauvane
putrāṇāṁ bhartari prete na bhajetstrī svatantratampitrā bhartrā sutairvāpi necched-virahamātmanaḥ
eṣāṁ hi viraheṇa strī gahrye kuryād ubhe kulesadā prahṛṣṭayā bhāvyaṁ gṛhakāryeṣu dakṣayā
susaṁskṛtopaskarayā vyaye cāmuktahastayānāsti strīṇāṁ pṛthagyajño na vrataṁ nāpyupoṣaṇam
patiṁ śuśrūṣate yena tena svarge mahīyate
By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house (MS 5.147). In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent (148).She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both her own and her husband’s families contemptible (149).She must always be cheerful, clever in the management of her household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure (150).No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart from their husbands; if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven (155).
The varṇāśrama principles given by both the Bhāgavatam and Manu-smṛti leave no scope for a woman to be independent. The Bhāgavatam declares that a woman’s prescribed duties are that of a pativrata, one devoted to her husband. And Manu-smṛti directly states that women should not be given independence and must be protected by a male member of her household.
Furthermore, Manu-smṛti declares that the protection of women is the highest religious principle for all varṇas.
puruṣasya striyāś caiva dharma vartmani tiṣṭhatoḥ
saṁyoge viprayoge ca dharmān vakṣyāmi śaśvatānasvatantrāḥ striyaḥ kāryāḥ puruṣaiḥ svairdivāniśām
viṣyeṣu ca sajjantyaḥ saṁsthāpyā ātmano vasepita rakṣati kaumāre bhartā rakṣati yauvane
rakṣanti sthavire putrā na strī svātantryam arhatikale ‘dātā pita vācyo vācyaścānupayanpatiḥ
mṛte bhartari putrastu vācyo māturarakṣatisūkṣmebhyo ‘pi pṛsaṅgebhyaḥ striyo rakṣyā viśeṣataḥ
dvayor hi kulayoḥ śokam āvaheyur arakṣatāḥimaṁ hi sarvavarṇānāṁ paśyanto dharmamuttamam
yatante rakṣituṁ bhāryā bhartāro durbalā api
I will now propound the eternal laws for a husband and his wife who keep to the path of duty, whether they be united or separated (MS 9.1). Day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males of their families, and if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control (2). Her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, and her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence (3). Reprehensible is the father who gives not his daughter in marriage at the proper time; reprehensible is the husband who approaches not his wife in due season, and reprehensible is the son who does not protect his mother after her husband has died (4). Women must be particularly guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling they may appear; for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on two families (5). Considering that the highest duty of all castes, even weak husbands must strive to guard their wives (6).
The highest duty of all varṇas is declared here to be the protection of women—specifically of husbands to protect their wives. In verse 9.5, women are to be given special protection, rakṣyā viśeṣataḥ, from “evil inclinations,” which is an archaic way of describing the inclination for “sense gratification.” Women by nature are inclined to sensual pleasure. “Generally all women desire material enjoyment,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda in explaining Śrīmatī Devahūti’s lamentation on the departure of her husband, Kardama Muni, for the sannyāsa order of life. “They are called less intelligent because they are mostly prone to material enjoyment.”Women need protection, for if their enjoying spirit is not kept in check, they will create havoc in society through svātantrya, independence—intermingling with men in society at large.To protect one’s ability to make spiritual advancement and to protect that of others, the institution of varṇāśrama-dharma has given the duty of protecting women to their husbands and other male relatives. This duty is declared to be the highest duty of all the varṇas—dharmam-uttamam. That means all other duties associated with the varṇas are not as important.
Manu declares this the highest duty because sense control is the objective of the varṇāśrama system. Indeed, practitioners of all authorized systems of yoga follow principles of yama and niyama, prescribed activities and restrictions. “In all spiritual affairs, one’s first duty is to control his mind and senses, says Śrīla Prabhupāda in the Preface of the Nectar of Instruction, “Unless one controls his mind and senses, one cannot make any advancement in spiritual life.” And Manu-smṛti similarly indicates that the goal of life is not sense pleasure (pravṛtti) but instead is the attainment of ātma-jñāna by means of activities that cause cessation of material existence (nivṛtti). Since attraction between male and female is the basic principle of material existence, and since protection of women means minimizing the intermingling of men and women in society, following this social principle alone will do more to help the members of a varṇāśrama society control their senses than any other social principle.
Varṇāśrama-dharma is the only social system authorized in Vedic literature, and it is therefore the social system that can best curb sexual attraction. If this were untrue, Śrīla Prabhupāda would not have pushed his disciples so hard in his later years to implement varṇāśrama-dharma within ISKCON. Indeed, most of his instructions on varṇāśrama-dharma were aimed at his disciples.
Varṇāśrama for the World If a religion articulates a universal principle, then it should also have universal application. Varṇāśrama-dharma is universally applicable because Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself recommends it. And because it is something favorable for making spiritual advancement, ISKCON’s members are obliged to propagate it within society at large, beginning with themselves. Since example is better than precept, it is only a matter of time before intelligent readers outside of ISKCON question the clear difference between the society described in Prabhupāda’s books and the way in which ISKCON members actually live. In this respect, preaching depends onvarṇāśrama-dharma.
Accepting something favorable for one’s Kṛṣṇa consciousness is one of the six aṅgas, or limbs, of śaranāgati—surrender to Kṛṣṇa. Because varṇāśrama-dharma gives directions for personal and social life that are favorable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it is something we must teach to the rest of the world.ISKCON’s first purpose is
To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
The principles of varṇāśrama-dharma are the basis of some of the most fundamental techniques of spiritual life. For example, a devotee in ISKCON at his, or her, first initiation vows not to engage in illicit sex. But how is that accomplished? The varṇāśrama principles give ample guidance for this. The same is true of the other vows one makes at the time of initiation. Since sex itself is a social activity, a social system that regulates it is an essential part of what we teach.
Indeed, all social systems regulate sex, but the varṇāśrama system regulates it better than all others, for the sake of helping society make spiritual advancement. Thus we find that Śrīla Prabhupāda himself advocated the varṇāśrama system when the topic of discussion was about society. He believed that human progress begins with accepting it. In 1971 in Moscow, Śrīla Prabhupāda fearlessly preached the necessity ofvarṇāśrama-dharma to a Professor Grigoriy Kotovsky, an adherent of Soviet “classless” ideology. Indeed, their lengthy conversation is focused almost exclusively on varṇāśrama.
Śrīla Prabhupāda begins his conversation with Professor Kotovsky by telling him that “the Vedic concept of socialism or communism will much improve the idea of communism.” He gives examples of how the gṛhāsthais obligated to feed all persons who come to his home. He is even supposed to call out to others on the street to come if hungry and eat. Śrīla Prabhupāda also recommends that instead of the state being the proprietor of everything, God should be considered the proprietor of everything as per the Īśopaniṣad. The conversation moves quickly from great interest in the U.S.S.R. in ancient Vedic literature to Hinduism to varṇāśrama-dharma.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s point to Professor Kotovsky is that the system of varṇāśrama-dharma is timeless, ahistorical. “There is no need of tracing history; it is naturally existing from the day of creation.” Śrīla Prabhupāda also claims that Manu-smṛti is also timeless, ahistorical.
So Canakya Pandita was living in a cottage, but he was actually the prime minister. This brahminical culture and the brahminical brain is the standard of Vedic civilization. The Manu-smrti is an example of the standard of brahminical culture. You cannot trace out from history when the Manu-smrti was written, but it is considered so perfect that it is the Hindu law. There is no need for the legislature to pass a new law daily to adjust social order. The law given by Manu is so perfect that it can be applicable for all time. It is stated in Sanskrit to be tri-kaladau, which means “good for the past, present, and future.”The point of varṇāśrama-dharma being ahistorical, timeless, is that it is applicable in all times, “past, present, and future.” Śrīla Prabhupāda states that Manu-smṛti itself is also timeless, tri-kaladau, and is therefore suitable also for the present and future times.
At the very least, varṇāśrama-dharma’s purpose is to cut down four things, intoxication, gambling, flesh-eating and illicit sex. When these four things are not indulged in, life becomes simpler, easier for spiritual and even material progress.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: One’s whole life will change, because these four things–illicit sex life, intoxicants, meat-eating and gambling–are very great impediments to social improvement.
Prof. Kotovsky: That will automatically make life simpler, because a person who does not indulge in illicit sex, intoxicants, and such other things has to lead a comparatively simple life.
This shows that varṇāśrama at a basic level can be intuitively comprehended by persons of other cultures. There is at a minimum some visceral recognition in people everywhere that the activities varṇāśrama-dharmaaims to curb are indeed vices. It is therefore enough to know that because good people everywhere will recognize the value of varṇāśrama, we should preach it despite opposition to it that sometimes arises.
Although most of his instructions on varṇāśrama were aimed at ISKCON initiates, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s preaching this system demonstrates that it is also part of ISKCON’s mission to propagate the techniques of spiritual life in society at large. “This propaganda is meant for creating brāhmaṇas all over the world, because the brāhmaṇa element is lacking,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda in the same conversation with Professor Kotovsky. “One who seriously comes to us has to become a brāhmaṇa, so he should adopt the occupation of a brāhmaṇa and give up the occupation of a kṣatriya or śūdra.” That Prabhupada says this suggests that his intention was for ISKCON to act chiefly in a brahminical capacity. The need for ISKCON to propagate varṇāśrama-dharma both internally and then publicly reflects the fact that the dharma-śāstras generally only explicate the duties of brāhmaṇas, who are expected to convey the same to the rest of the society. Thus the propagation of the varṇāśrama-dharma system is an essential part of ISKCON’s preaching mission.
Science, Society, and Kṛṣṇa Consciousness
For many devotees, and especially for non-devotees, a doubt may arise as to the authority of the Vedic scriptures over the body of scientific evidence produced by the social sciences. Over the years, the hard sciences have produced many discoveries—powered flight, heart transplants, telephones, cars, computers, and so forth. In previous eras these would have been considered miraculous. For the social sciences, the expectation is held that if science is applied to the study of humanity similar miracles will be produced.
Some therefore feel that psychologists and sociologists could make discoveries that can be utilized in the service of Kṛṣṇa, much as how devotees use cars and phones. Problems like how to build a nuclear weapon, though difficult, are straightforward to solve, but problems like poverty or child abuse remain intractable. They always remain out of reach of a clear solution because the means of adequately understanding them solely by scientific observation and inference do not yet exist. Indeed, fields like sociology and psychology have yet to produce any kind of scientific breakthrough of the magnitude of those in the hard sciences. There is no sociological discovery equivalent to the splitting of the atom. The persistent lack of progress in the social sciences shows that human behavior is considerably more inaccessible to investigation than is inert matter.
This is where śāstra-pramāṇa matters. It can inform us of important dimensions of human nature that can never be discovered by empirical methods. And despite the best intentions, those who end up as professionals in the social sciences often promote or follow speculative theories that cause more harm than good. Research and social action guided by śāstra and bona fide representatives of the authorized guru-paramparā,however, does not have this problem.
Causality and Bias in Science
Science is about understanding causality. An effect is studied to discover its cause. For example, before Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) there were popular theories about what caused infectious diseases, but none were useful in preventing them. However, Pasteur’s scientific demonstration of the germ theory of disease revolutionized the medical field. Among many important uses, this theory’s application allowed for greater prevention and control of epidemics. Pasteurization, the method of heat-treating liquids to prevent them from spoiling, is perhaps the most well-known of his germ theory-related inventions. Pasteur correctly identified and demonstrated a cause for some effect, and as a consequence an effective means of controlling disease was discovered. If a cause can be identified, its effect can be utilized, manipulated, or prevented.
Science applied to human affairs through the social sciences also seeks to discover causality. “What causes people to commit crimes?” “What causes marriages to break?” “What causes depression?” These are some of the many questions researched in this field. Finding causes for these problems ostensibly will make people happier, because the discovery of a cause will automatically suggest solutions. All public policies, therapies, and treatment plans that come from the social sciences depend on some idea of the cause for a problem that needs to be treated. Whether in the natural sciences or the social sciences, the goal of all scientific research is to understand causality.
Correlation and Causation
In order to discover causal relationships, it is necessary to remove bias from one’s research. Bias means that there is some known or unknown influence on an experiment that affects the results, and researchers do their best to control the influences known to them. However, the field of science not only requires that known biases be accounted for and controlled, it requires that unknown biases also be accounted for and controlled as well. Otherwise, test results cannot conclusively establish a causal relationship between one thing and another.
Causation means that something directly influences something else and not some other unknown cause. If an experiment is properly designed, it is the random assignment of test subjects to different conditions that assures that it is the behavior being studied and not some other, unknown cause. Properly designed studies that randomly assign test subjects to treatments are the only kind of test that can demonstrate causality.
Otherwise, without randomization the most that can be achieved in a scientific study is the identification of a correlation between one thing and another. Correlation, sometimes called association, means that two or more characteristics are associated with each other, but their relationship is not necessarily causal.
It is often the case that studies which do not use randomization are misinterpreted as inferring a causal relationship when in fact they do not. This oversight is not uncommon, and it leads to erroneous conclusions about causality—even if there are many such studies and even if a firm consensus exists amongst them. This example from scientific literature illustrates the difference between correlation and causation as well as the ease with which a wrong idea about causality can be inferred from non-randomized studies:
In a widely studied example, numerous epidemiological studies showed that women who were taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also had a lower-than-average incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), leading doctors to propose that HRT was protective against CHD. But randomized controlled trials showed that HRT caused a small but statistically significant increase in risk of CHD. Re-analysis of the data from the epidemiological studies showed that women undertaking HRT were more likely to be from higher socio-economic groups (ABC1), with better-than-average diet and exercise regimens. The use of HRT and decreased incidence of coronary heart disease were coincident effects of a common cause (i.e. the benefits associated with a higher socioeconomic status), rather than cause and effect, as had been supposed.
The randomized trials demonstrated that there was some hidden variable (unknown factor) the researchers conducting the epidemiological studies had not considered. Once they reexamined their data in light of this discovery, they were able to identify important missing factors and bring their results in line with those of the randomized clinical trials.
Scientific studies that do not use randomization are unable to establish causality. Such studies, including epidemiological studies, are called observational studies. Modifying the test subjects and being able to randomly assign them to different conditions is outside of the researchers’ control. Observational studies can identify correlations (which can be useful in suggesting areas of further research), but they cannot identify causation because they cannot rule out the possibility of influences unknown to researchers.Sometimes observational studies have successfully demonstrated causality, but this has been rare. The studies that positively linked smoking to lung cancer provide a good example. It would have been unethical to have randomly assigned some people to chain smoke for years on end and others not in order to see which ones developed cancer. Some experiments did just that with animals. But animals are not people, so even those test results were not counted as sufficient to establish a causal link between smoking and cancer in humans. Thus observational studies were about the only kind of study that could be conducted.
The ethical concerns for testing smoking in humans limited the kinds of tests that could be conducted. That is why the effort to confirm the link between smoking and lung cancer took over 40 years and thousands of observational studies done on every dimension conceivably related to smoking. Because observational studies had to be used, researchers had the onerous task of demonstrating that no other, possible hidden variable could account for lung cancer except for smoking. Therefore a tremendous number of observational studies were conducted to account for every imaginable hidden variable. The magnitude of such an effort is exceptional, which is why it is found that observational studies are rarely used to establish causality.
Nonetheless, although observational studies are less reliable than randomized controlled studies, they are frequently undertaken because it would otherwise be impossible to conduct any other kind of study. Consequently, fields like the social sciences are almost exclusively limited to observational studies. Within the social sciences, the possibility of establishing causality with sufficient certainty by means of scientific observation and inference generally remains well out of reach.
Validity of Causal Theories in the Social Sciences
Because the social sciences are unable to produce within their problem domain a scientifically plausible demonstration of causality, researchers in these fields have necessarily had to borrow their notions of causality from the realm of philosophy, not science.
Some researchers have admitted that their key presuppositions about human consciousness and behavior are subjective, not scientific. The mid-20th century pioneers of what is today known as “client-centered therapy” (Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Abram Maslow, etc.) were unafraid to argue that “an a priori understanding of human nature, whether consciously stated or not, was essential in the making of any psychology.” Any therapy ultimately depends on notions of human nature that belong in part if not in full to the realm of philosophy, not science.
In this particular approach to psychology, which remains popular today, the influence of existentialist philosophy is difficult to understate. Carl Rogers “thought that Kierkegaard’s insights and convictions expressed views he himself had held but was unable to formulate.” They had a “loosening up effect” on him. In the book Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard argues that the aim of life is “to be that self which one truly is,” and Rogers understood this to mean that “one ought to allow one’s innermost nature to surface.” This idea was a cornerstone of Rogers’s thought on the self and on therapy.
Aside from the field of psychology, sociology has an even more colorful background in speculative thought. In his seminal work, The Sociological Imagination, renowned sociologist C. Wright Mills writes that “so very much of modern social science has been a frequently unacknowledged debate with the work of Marx, and a reflection as well of the challenge of socialist movements and communist parties.”One characteristic of such thought is fascination with equality. Socialists of all stripes believe in what is called “class conflict,” which is the idea that exploitation of others is caused by inequality. According to this theory, people with more power than others will naturally try to protect their privileges, and in so doing, they will exploit those under their control. Therefore when sociologists research some subject that involves human suffering, they often look for inequalities and “differences in power” between one class and another. They typically recommend that some dubious form of “equality” be introduced in society to alleviate the problem.
The heavy reliance of the social sciences on philosophy for their causal theories shows that the studies attached to their theories, which are mainly observational, only give their theories the appearance of validity. This means that causal explanations from the śāstras have no less validity than speculative causal theories from the social sciences, which lack actual scientific confirmation. Popular speculative theories about human behavior promoted as if they were scientific are instead a reflection of some group of influential people’s unsubstantiated opinions, their “religious beliefs.”
The question then is which “religious beliefs”—doctrines—about human nature should be followed? The answer is that they must be authorized. Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhuṣana in his Govinda-bhāṣya commentary on theVedānta-sūtras discusses this:
“When we refer to a particular scripture, it must be authorized, and for this authority it must strictly follow the Vedic injunctions. If someone presents an alternative doctrine he himself has manufactured, that doctrine will prove itself useless, for any doctrine that tries to prove that Vedic evidence is meaningless immediately proves itself meaningless. The followers of the Vedas unanimously accept the authority of Manu and Parāśara in the disciplic succession. . . .”
Solutions based on varṇāśrama-dharma will be superior to whatever is currently on offer from the modern humanistic sciences. The application of scientific investigation to human affairs is welcomed, but it must also be guided by the śāstra-vidhi. It should not be speculative.
Varṇāśrama for ISKCON Efforts in ISKCON to implement the varṇāśrama principle of restricting male-female association have traditionally been focused on the renunciate āśramas—especially the sannyāsa āśrama. However, statistics published by ISKCON’s Child Protection Office suggest that the gṛhāstha āśrama in ISKCON is in even more need of reform.
In looking at the facts about child sexual assault, a picture of who the most common offenders are begins to emerge. A national study conducted in the United States in 1981 found that in approximately 90 percent of child sexual assault cases the offenders were male and 90 percent of, victims female. Australian studies reinforce this finding.
These numbers have not changed appreciably in 20 years. A study published in 2011 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has noted that “26% of all cases involving male perpetrators were associated with sexual abuse compared to just 2% of cases involving female perpetrators.” An American study cited by the Australian study reports similar statistics.
Additionally, the American Psychological Association has stated on its website that “most mental health and child protection professionals agree that child sexual abuse is not uncommon and is a serious problem in the United States.” This is true in most places in the world today, which is why governments, professional health organizations, and non-profits have devoted tremendous resources and billions of dollars to dealing with the problem.
Available from the ISKCON Child Protection Office website is a brochure titled No Excuses.  It is published by the Government of New South Wales (Australia). The point driven home by the below table reproduced from the brochure is that not only is child sexual abuse overwhelmingly perpetrated by males, significant percentages of the perpetrators are family members.
Sydney Survey – 1984
Offender%Adelaide Survey – 1983
Offender%Father57.4Father42.3Uncle12.4Uncle11.5Brother10.3Brother8.4Stepfather6.8Stepfather5.7Grandfather5.6Grandfather6.6Male cousin1.8Other male relative*8.3Defacto male (live-in)1.5Male acquaintance*15.4Brother-in-law1.2Mother1.3Mother0.9Other female relative0.4Male legal guardian0.3Female acquaintance0.4Son0.3Multiple assailants4.3Mother’s boyfriend0.3Male stranger2.2Stepmother0.0Not available0.4Defacto female0.0 Sister-in-law0.0* “other male relative” includes defactos, foster fathers, siblings, stepbrothers, brothers-in-law and cousins. “Male acquaintance” includes friends of the child’s family, neighbours, mothers’ boyfriends and males acquainted with the family through employment.Female legal guardian0.0Grandmother0.0Female cousin0.0Other0.0
ISKCON’s Commitment to Preventing Child Abuse
Like much of the rest of the world, ISKCON considers child sexual abuse a serious problem. And likewise, ISKCON has devoted tremendous resources for its size to its prevention. In 1997 the GBC established the Task Force on Child Abuse in ISKCON, and from its recommendations the GBC in 1998 established the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection (CPO). As per the CPO website:
Since the office began in 1998 the CPO (Child Protection Office) has held nine Child Protection Judges Training seminars which has resulted in 104 devotees volunteering their services as judges. The CPO has also held Child Protection Information Trainings in various countries such as Great Britain, Italy, India, Hungary, Germany, Canada, South America, and North America, resulting in more than 500 devotees trained worldwide. The CPO also has sent out information packets to ISKCON centers and devotees worldwide, and has compiled reports on local Child Protection Teams.
For the past three years (2011 – 13), the ISKCON Child Protection Office has received over 10% of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission’s annual budget. Except for the GBC Strategic Planning Team, no other project listed in the GBC’s budget has received as much funding. As compared with any other ISKCON-sponsored program, the funds and resources devoted to the prevention of child abuse makes it one of ISKCON’s most important social programs.
The CPO Explanation for Child Sexual Abuse
In conducting its work, the CPO strives to utilize the best insights and best practices available from the fields of medicine, psychology, psychiatry and sociology. CPO staff and ISKCON educational personnel either have advanced education in these fields or have received field training through the CPO’s own outreach programs. However, CPO initiatives do not rely on any notion of the problem of child sexual abuse that is unique to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Nowhere in its published literature does the CPO offer a causal explanation derived from Vedic principles as first principles.
With regard to causal explanations, at the CPO website are two documents authored by experts in the field: one is by Kathleen Coulborn Faller titled Child Sexual Abuse: Intervention and Treatment Issues (1993), and the other is a pamphlet by the Government of New South Wales (Australia) titled No Excuses, and which cites the work of David Finkelhor for its causal explanation.
Finkelhor is perhaps one of the most renowned and influential researchers and theorists in the area of child sexual abuse. Although Faller puts forward a causal model for explaining child sexual abuse that “is somewhat different and more practice-focused” than Finkelhor’s (69), she does not claim hers is radically different. She observes that all current causal theories on child sexual abuse (including hers and Finkelhor’s) draw from a common history of research and theory. Since Finkelhor has been one of the most influential researchers in this area, the causal explanation offered in No Excuses is reviewed here.In the section “Examining the Causes” of No Excuses, this question is posed (bolding added):
Considering the facts about child sexual assault it is reasonable to ask what is it about society, or the way men are reared in our society, that makes child sexual assault largely a male crime?
The cause is presumed in the question: it is nurture more so than nature that accounts for male sexual aggression against (female) children. The implication is that if we change the way men are brought up, that will do more to curb sexual assault against children than any other remedy.To substantiate this line of thought, the booklet quotes and paraphrases Finkelhor:”Women learn earlier and more completely to distinguish between sexual and non-sexual forms of affection.”
He [Finkelhor] expands this by saying that women’s upbringing tends, from the beginning, to prepare them for motherhood and give them opportunities for caring for others and showing affection. Men’s upbringing, on the other hand, usually includes far fewer opportunities for caring for others and discourages men from showing their need for affection or support. Many men learn to express these needs only through sex. As a result, when they are feeling dependent or in need of support, they are much more likely to look for fulfillment in a sexual form – even with an inappropriate sexual partner such as a child.In addition to other factors quoted at length—all of them contrasting men’s socialization to that of women’s—the brochure summarizes Finkelhor’s conclusions on what should change in men’s socialization.- less emphasis on sex as part of a relationship- more emphasis on sex as the way to express affection and need- and the belief that an appropriate sexual partner should be younger and smallerFinkelhor’s focus on socialization is notable. The public policy measures suggested by his findings are that men have to be raised differently than they have been, or they must be retrained by corrective therapy. Following from this assessment, he recommends these social changes (bolding in original):- less emphasis on sexual success as proof of male adequacy- more emphasis on the need for men to share with women the task of nurturing their children- the need for men to “learn to enjoy sexual relationships based on equality”It is especially important to note here his emphasis of nurture over nature as the more important causal factor. If nurture rather than nature is the causal factor, then changing the way men are brought up and socialized will be effective in curbing the problem of child sexual abuse.
Finkelhor’s prescription for “equality” also suggests that his approach is grounded in “conflict theory”, which as described in the last section comes from the influence of Marxian thought on the development of the field of sociology itself. As Marx himself said about the relationship between society and consciousness, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Thus it is not surprising that Finkelhor, a sociologist, would conceive of the problem almost exclusively in terms of socialization, nurture.
The Varṇāśrama Explanation for Child Sexual Abuse
The varṇāśrama perspective on child sexual abuse is that nature is more influential than nurture. Balavān indriyā grāmo vidvāṁsam api karṣati, “The senses are so strong that even though one is very advanced in knowledge, he may be attracted by sex.” This Bhāgavatam verse demonstrates that nature is the more powerful causal factor. It is so powerful that even someone who is very educated in the principles of civilized behavior can fall victim to his own senses.
One implication of this is that every man is at significant risk of sexually assaulting children, even if the child happens to be one’s own daughter. Therefore duhitrā, or daughter is mentioned in this verse, along with mother and sister. Consequently, controlling child sexual abuse requires that society itself be restructured to minimize the contact between male and female—even within the family—and men and women be socialized to avoid each other’s close association. Such socialization conducted according to the śāstras will reintroduce brahminical culture.
For example, a devotee who was born into a family of Śrī Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas once related how during breakfast every morning in his house, his sister would prepare a glass of hot milk for her father and bring it to him. Then one morning, her father asked her how old she was. “Ten,” she answered. Then he told that henceforward only her mother would serve him. This family custom follows directly from the Bhāgavatam; its purpose is clear. It reduces the opportunities to be attracted by the illusory energy. Such culture will help the members of society at large become peaceful and make spiritual advancement.Unfortunately, our own society, ISKCON, lacks such culture. The CPO has handled allegations of devotee fathers molesting their own daughters, and some have been found guilty. But had these devotees instead been socialized according to brahminical standards, they and their families could have been spared the ignominy of such a reprehensible act.Brahminical social norms would also significantly reduce the frequency of divorce, as many divorces within ISKCON arise on account of infidelity.
Brahminical culture deters such behavior, because men and women meeting with each other and intermingling at joint functions, educational or otherwise, would not arise. At the very least, such intermingling would be frowned upon and give rise to public opprobrium. Prevention is always better than cure, and a varṇāśrama society is especially suited to preventing sexual intemperance, whether with a child or another adult. Given that Srila Prabhupada repeatedly urged his disciples to follow daiva varṇāśrama in ISKCON, the question now is: When will ISKCON begin to seriously prioritize that crucial need?Varṇāśrama succeeds where the Western approach failsOne reason the problem of child sexual abuse has been intractable within ISKCON and elsewhere is that Western approach adopted by the CPO is not holistic. It sees only “diseases and cures” much like allopathic medicine does. Similarly, managers steeped in social science paradigms can only posit “problems and solutions,” since that is as far as their paradigm considers.
For example, the approach adopted by the CPO does not presume that some of the kinds of restrictions it imposes on offenders should be generally followed in society. The IndianVaiṣṇava brāhmaṇa disallowing his young daughter to personally serve him is an example of a custom that should be followed in society generally—at least within a society of brāmaṇas, which ISKCON is supposed to be. This is a preventative approach to the problem. But the CPO only punishes such behavior after it has evolved into one or more egregious acts. The CPO’s approach is punitive, not preventative. Hence, CPO initiatives do little if anything to prevent child sexual abuse.
According to the varṇāśrama perspective on the problem, the fundamental cause is primarily one of nature—svabhāva. Because the current cultural norms within ISKCON tolerate or look indifferently upon the intermingling of men and women inside or outside the family, CPO initiatives do nothing to prevent otherwise good devotees from engaging in forbidden sexual acts with minors (or each other). This guarantees that there will be a steady stream of offenders and an ever-existing cause célèbre to perpetually justify the existence of an institution like the CPO, which meets the career needs of those involved more than the social needs Śrīla Prabhupāda advised.
Another problem with the CPO approach is that it treats the sexual exploitation of children as an issue separate from the sexual exploitation of adults when they are really the same issue. Victims of child sexual abuse are overwhelmingly female, and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Therefore the actual need is protection of women. Whether they are children or adults, women require protection from sexual exploitation. If the problem of exploiting females is solved—and the śāstras and ācāryas give sufficient direction as to how it can be solved—the problem of child sexual abuse goes away automatically.
Helping others avoid the false allure of the material energy is varṇāśrama-dharma’s main purpose. If followed properly, it will significantly limit sex attraction between males and females at all levels of society. Its chief virtue in the matter of preventing child sexual abuse is it minimizes the possibility of illicit sexual liaison. This is achieved through varṇāśrama’s very social structure and through the duties it prescribes for the members of each varṇa, each āśrama, and for women as a special class. This system naturally reduces the stream of offenders. The Kṛṣṇa conscious approach to dealing with child sexual abuse begins with the introduction of varṇāśrama-dharma.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Not only must the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement attract people to it, but it must also help sustain those who sincerely try to take up Kṛṣṇa consciousness and make steady advancement on the path of devotional service. In order to achieve this, the first business of devotees is to control their senses. As ISKCON’s history has shown, devotees have had the most difficulty following the vow to avoid illicit sex. This is unsurprising, since male-female attraction is the basic principle of material life. Varṇāśrama-dharma exists especially for reducing sex attraction. “Otherwise,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda, “there is no need of thevarṇāśrama.”
Reconnecting varṇāśrama-dharma with ISKCON’s overall mission involves thinking of varṇāśrama in terms of its purpose of reducing sexual attraction. This is not to say that its other social and economic objectives, such as agriculture and cow protection, are unimportant. They are also very important, and projects already dedicated to them should continue as they have been. Yet it should also be clear in the minds of devotees that all other socio-economic objectives of the varṇāśrama system are subordinate to the objective of reducing sexual attraction. Manu-smṛti itself declares that protecting women is the highest religious principle for all the varṇas: imaṁ hi sarvavarṇānāṁ paśyanto dharmamuttamam, yatante rakṣituṁ bhāryā bhartāro durbalā api, “Considering that the highest duty of all varṇas, even weak husbands must strive to guard their wives.” Our thinking about varṇāśrama and our priorities within it should be readjusted to reflect this understanding.
It should be emphasized that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own rationale for wanting to establish varṇāśrama within ISKCON was precisely to help his disciples struggling to avoid illicit sex. “If Vaiṣṇava, to become Vaiṣṇava is so easy, why so many fall down, fall down? It is not easy,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda. “The varṇāśrama-dharma should be established to become a Vaiṣṇava.”
In the same conversation Śrīla Prabhupāda also said that establishing it within ISKCON would be very difficult but that it must nevertheless be done. Although Śrīla Prabhupāda did not discuss at length the difficulties involved in establishing varṇāśrama, some are proffered here for further discussion:
1. Opprobrium from society at large outside of ISKCON for men and women following complementary social roles based on the principle of reducing sexual attraction.
2. ISKCON’s members’ persistent attachment to non-varṇāśrama culture, particularly to Western culture and its values of gender-equality and sexual liberation.
3. The authority of smṛti-śāstra in ISKCON—at least that of those referred to by Rūpa Gosvāmī and other ācāryas (i.e., Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.101).
4. Ideas from the sociological and psychological sciences opposed to Vedic principles that have become prominent in many areas of ISKCON.
Implementing varṇāśrama-dharma within ISKCON will mean overcoming these obstacles.Of these four, the most worrisome is the last one, as it poses a direct challenge to both Kṛṣṇa conscious ideals and siddhānta. In this regard, it is worth restating some of our ācāryas’ verdicts on the worth of speculative theories opposed to Vedic principles.
“If one tries to nullify the conclusions of the Vedas by accepting an unauthorized scripture or so-called scripture, it will be very hard for him to come to the right conclusion about the Absolute Truth. The system for adjusting two contradictory scriptures is to refer to the Vedas, for references from the Vedas are accepted as final judgments. When we refer to a particular scripture, it must be authorized, and for this authority it must strictly follow the Vedic injunctions. If someone presents an alternative doctrine he himself has manufactured, that doctrine will prove itself useless, for any doctrine that tries to prove that Vedic evidence is meaningless immediately proves itself meaningless. The followers of the Vedas unanimously accept the authority of Manu and Parāśara in the disciplic succession. . . .” 
Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhuṣana in his Govinda Bhāṣya commentary on Vedānta-sūtra
Vedic civilization takes advantage of the perfect knowledge presented in the Vedas and presented by great sages and brāhmaṇas for the benefit of human society. Vedic injunctions are known as śruti, and the additional supplementary presentations of these principles, as given by the great sages, are known as smṛti. They follow the principles of Vedic instruction. Human society should take advantage of the instructions from both śruti and smṛti. If one wants to advance in spiritual life, he must take these instructions and follow the principles. In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that if one poses himself as advanced in spiritual life but does not refer to the śrutis and smṛtis he is simply a disturbance in society. One should follow the principles laid down in śrutis and smṛtis not only in one’s spiritual life but in material life as well. As far as human society is concerned, it should follow the Manu-smṛti as well, for these laws are given by Manu, the father of mankind.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, SB 4.18.3 purport. yā vedabāhyāḥ smṛtayo yāśca kāśca kuṭṭaṣṭayaḥ
sarvāstā niṣphalāḥ pretya tamoniṣṭhā hi tāḥ smṛtāḥutpadyante cyavante ca yānyato ‘nyāni kānicit
tānyarvākkālikatayā niṣphalānyanṛtāni ca
All those traditions (smṛti) and all those despicable systems of philosophy, which are not based on the Vedas, produce no reward after death; for they are declared to be founded on Darkness. All those doctrines, differing from the Veda, which spring up and soon perish, are worthless and false, because they are of modern date.Manu-smṛti 12.95 – 96
The śāstra-vidhi and the ācāryas are clear about the value of doctrines not based on the Vedas (BG 17.15, purport): “Besides that, one should not talk nonsense. The process of speaking in spiritual circles is to say something upheld by the scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying.” Doctrines not based on the Vedas are products of the modes of passion and ignorance, and they produce no benefit in this life or the next.
However, as per Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā, acts of sacrifice charity and austerity are not to be given up. “Indeed, sacrifice, charity and austerity purify even the great souls” (BG 18.5). Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhuṣana’s incontrovertible commentary on the next verse (BG 18.6) makes it clear that the performance of such acts constitute worship of the Lord.
In this verse, the Lord speaks of how the sacrifices and other acts are purifying. Having given up the idea of being the agent (saṅgam) and giving up all the results (phalāni) which the actions are said to produce, such as going to pitṛloka, one should do the actions only with the thought that they are worship of the Lord. This is the highest conclusion (uttamam matam) discerned by Me (niścitam). This conclusion of the Lord about tyāga is the best because it includes additionally renunciation of being the doer.These acts themselves are part-and-parcel of varṇāśrama-dharma, hence accepting varṇāśrama as something favorable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness constitutes one of the six aṅgas (limbs) of śaranāgati (surrender). A surrendered soul—especially one on the intermediate stages of devotion, will gladly follow varṇāśrama-dharma for his, or her, own purification.
As noted herein, the varṇāśrama system will be good for the non-devotees, too, for their lives without it are troublesome. This is the context in which the famous verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.8.8 about varṇāśramawas spoken; Maharāja Sagara asked Aurva Muni what he could do to bring his citizens to the point of pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is also noted in the summary to Canto 9, chapter 8 of the Śrimad-Bhāgavatam that Maharāja Sagara “reformed many clans, including the Yavanas, Śakas, Haihayas and Barbaras”—races that had rejected Vedic culture or remained outside of it. The fact is that such fallen societies are the standard for today’s world order, and people who belong to those societies are factually harassed by their speculative methods to become happy. They are looking for relief from their own devices, and the varṇāśrama system can offer them some positive relief—at least as far as they can accept its principles.
Not only must we give others Kṛṣṇa consciousness but we must also give them irreproachable examples of a way of life that supports it, as per the tradition we have received from Srila Prabhupada. That way of life is to be found within varṇāśrama-dharma. Otherwise, life is perceptibly miserable.
In the Manu-smṛti it is stated that a woman should not be given independence, but should be given protection by her father, husband and elderly sons. In all circumstances a woman should remain dependent upon some guardian. Presently women are given full independence like men, but actually we can see that such independent women are no happier than those women who are placed under guardians. If people follow the injunctions given by the great sages, śrutis andsmṛtis, they can actually be happy in both this life and the next. Unfortunately rascals are manufacturing so many ways and means to be happy. Everyone is inventing so many methods. Consequently human society has lost the standard ways of life, both materially and spiritually, and as a result people are bewildered, and there is no peace or happiness in the world. Although they are trying to solve the problems of human society in the United Nations, they are still baffled. Because they do not follow the liberated instructions of the Vedas, they are unhappy (SB 4.18.3 purport).
Śrīla Prabhupāda says a similar thing in his own commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā, which continues to be one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s most widely distributed books to the public at large. This means that he also intended that ISKCON preachers present the varṇāśrama system to society at large. Srila Prabhupada wrote:
As for behavior, there are many rules and regulations guiding human behavior, such as the Manu-saṁhitā, which is the law of the human race. Even up to today, those who are Hindu follow the Manu-saṁhitā. Laws of inheritance and other legalities are derived from this book. Now, in the Manu-saṁhitā it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. Children are not given freedom, but that does not mean that they are kept as slaves. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life. She should be given protection by the father in her younger days, by the husband in her youth, and by the grownup sons in her old age. This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-saṁhitā. But modern education has artificially devised a puffed-up concept of womanly life, and therefore marriage is practically now an imagination in human society. Nor is the moral condition of woman very good now. The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable (BG 16.7 purport).
So the varṇāśrama system is something we must preach, because good people everywhere will welcome the introduction of such a society.
In summary, varṇāśrama-dharma is good for preaching as it will also benefit non-devotees, it is good for devotees because it “purifies even the great souls,” and it is good for the ISKCON society as well because it directly addresses current social problems costing ISKCON and its members untold hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
1. Reestablish a global varṇāśrama ministry at the GBC level.2. The global varṇāśrama ministry should provide guidance to all social programs and other social ministries within ISKCON.3. Promote serious and sustained research into topics of dharma generally.4. Current social programs pertaining to marriage, divorce, education, child-abuse, etc., should be reviewed for conformance to Vedic principles.5. ISKCON gurus, GBC members, and other leaders should discourage the use of modern psychological and sociological approaches to happiness that have proliferated within ISKCON and teach their followers to avoid them.6. Official ISKCON projects that rely on or lean heavily upon these speculative disciplines should be gradually weaned off of them or disbanded entirely.7. Current varṇāśrama initiatives such as cow protection and agricultural projects should continue and expand. (They naturally will, once the concept of dharma itself is clear.)8. Promote a serious discussion about how to restructure ISKCON society around varṇāśrama principles (especially that of keeping the sexes separate) and socialize devotees not initially acclimatized to it to accept it.a. This should also include a discussion about those devotees who will never accept varṇāśrama and what should be their appropriate social status.
 Śrīla Prabhupāda. Lecture, Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.8, Vrindavan Oct 30, 1976. See TQK Ch. 9, response of brāhmaṇa to Communists’ manufacturing of bread. See SB 1.10.17 purport. There are a number of important facets of the cow’s importance to human society and Kṛṣṇa consciousness that are beyond the scope of this paper. “Even in such a sacred place as Vṛndāvana, India, unintelligent men pass off this rectal and genital business as spiritual activity. Such people are called sahajiyā. According to their philosophy, through sexual indulgence one can elevate oneself to the spiritual platform” (SB 4.29.14 purport). BG 1.40, 3.24. U.S. Government, “Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Aug. 2013 <http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm>. BG 7.28. It is also notable that in the purport of this verse Śrīla Prabhupāda links sinful activities with the second half of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam verse 5.5.2, tamo-dvāraṁ yoṣitāṁ saṅgi-saṅgam—association with women or with persons attached to women is tamo-dvāraṁ, the gateway to hell. Yama, or prescribed action, involves associating with saintly people, and niyama, or restriction, involves avoiding the association of women and men who are fond of women’s association. The varṇāśrama system’s social structure is therefore based on this principle. BG 4.13. Padma Purāṇa, qtd. in CC Madhya 22.113. The pañca mahā yajñas are (1) offerings to brahman by chanting the Vedas, (2) offerings to the devas by arcana, (3) offerings to the pitṛs by tarpaṇa, (4) offerings to guests by food, and (5) offerings to animals by food. Nitya karmas are those prescribed for daily performance and naimittika are those prescribed periodically, such as monthly or yearly. This is also noted in places in the Bhagavad-gītā. For example, Kṛṣṇa notes that those who worship the demigods worship only Him, but in a wrong way—yajanty avidhi-pūrvakam (BG 9.23). The word avidhi, literally means “against the rules.” Śruti-śāstra-nindanam, blasphemy of the Vedic literatures or literature in pursuance of the Vedic version. Chapter 3, qtd. in Bhaktivedanta Vedabase (Folio), 2003.1, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. “O Brahmā, whatever appears to be of any value, if it is without relation to Me, has no reality. Know it as My illusory energy, that reflection which appears to be in darkness” (SB 2.9.34). sve sve ‘dhikāre yā niṣṭhā sa guṇaḥ parikīrtitaḥ
karmaṇāḿ jāty-aśuddhānām anena niyamaḥ kṛtaḥ
guṇa-doṣa-vidhānena sańgānāḿ tyājanecchayā“It is firmly declared that the steady adherence of transcendentalists to their respective spiritual positions constitutes real piety and that sin occurs when a transcendentalist neglects his prescribed duty. One who adopts this standard of piety and sin, sincerely desiring to give up all past association with sense gratification, is able to subdue materialistic activities, which are by nature impure” (SB 11.20.26). Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī in the second verse of his Upadeṣāmṛta warns that niyamāgrahaḥ—eagerness to accept the scriptural rules for some utilitarian purpose or eagerness to reject them—are causes for the destruction of bhakti. T.R. Rajagopala Aiyar, Puruṣa Sūktam (Tirupati: T.T.D, 1982) 28. This is reiterated in SB 3.6.30-34, and others. This important point is further studied and developed by an article: Bhattacharya, Parnasabari. Conceptualizations in the Manusmṛti. New Delhi: Manohar, 1996. (cf., pgs. 196-197, & Ch. IV, “Manu and Vedic Tradition,” pgs. 93-112) He also gives a satisfactory explanation of the potentially misunderstood yet key term, “ātma-santuṣṭi” in MS 2.6. He also notes Manu’s striking similarity with Bhagavad-gītā. Translation by G. Bühler. Ibid. Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams is a famous Śrī Vaiṣṇava institution. Page 50. G. Bühler, MS 2.212 – 2.217 (page 69). SB 7.12.7 – 10 trans. Trans qtd. in SB 11.5.11 purport. SB 4.25.8 purport. Path of Perfection 3. Śrīla Prabhupāda. Lecture, Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.8, Vrindavan Oct 30, 1976. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.19.17, purport. SB 1.9.27 purport. U.S. Govt, “FASTATS: Marriage and Divorce”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Aug. 2013 <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm>. U.S. Govt, “FASTATS: Unmarried Childbearing”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Aug. 2013 <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/unmarry.htm>. BG 1.40. Viduṣi is the feminine form of vidvān, a learned man, scholar. SB 3.23.54. See MS 12.82 – 99. SB 5.5.8. Some people counter that chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra while avoiding sinful activity is sufficient in and of itself to achieve this end. And they say that there is therefore no need to follow varṇāśrama. However, it should be noted that people who are at an intermediate stage of advancement cannot fix their minds upon Kṛṣṇa without deviation (Gītā 12.9, atha cittaṁ samādhātuṁ na śaknoṣi mayi sthiram). As such, people at this stage of advancement require the further support of varṇāśrama principles to help them keep sufficiently pure to make steady spiritual progress. “Seven Purposes of ISKCON”, Kṛṣṇa.com, 12 Aug. 2013 <http://www.krishna.com/seven-purposes-iskcon>. Fields like psychology and ethics never developed in India because they were obviated by the pervasive sense of dharma characteristic of traditional Indian society. Dharma subsumes these and much more. This was only in the 19th century. People in India have been drinking hot milk for millennia, if only because that is what has always been done. Many dharma-śāstra authors also commented on, or wrote their own Ayurvedic treatises. The striking consistency between medical literature and dharma-śāstra is so well known, that S.G. Moghe can say (pgs. 30-31): “It will be proper to conclude here that in some respects, Dharma-Sastra, Ayurveda and Niti-Sastra are inseparably connected with each other.” (”Relation of Indian Medical Science [Ayurveda] to Dharma-Sastra,” in Studies in the Dharmasastra, New Delhi: Ajanta, 1991.) Typical clinical drug trials randomly select participants into two groups, one with the drug being tested and the other without (the placebo group), because proof is needed that the new drug actually makes people better and not some other random or unaccounted for effect. Lawlor DA, Davey Smith G, Ebrahim S (June 2004). “Commentary: the hormone replacement-coronary heart disease conundrum: is this the death of observational epidemiology?”. Int J Epidemiol 33 (3): 464–7. doi:10.1093/ije/dyh124. PMID 15166201. Qtd. in “Correlation does not imply causation.” Wikipedia. 3 Sep. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation>. Pratyakṣa and anumān refer respectively to direct perception and logical inference. Roy José DeCarvalho, The Founders of Humanistic Psychology (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991) Questia, 21 Aug. 2013 < http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=14229715>. “The keynote in the revolt and establishment of humanistic psychology was the understanding of human nature. The view of the person as a being in the process of becoming permeated the founders’ critique of behaviorism and psychoanalysis and dictated their views on method and psychotherapy. An a priori understanding of human nature, whether consciously stated or not, was essential in the making of any psychology, they argued. For this reason most psychologists of the time, especially behaviorists, regarded humanistic psychology as a philosophy or poetic psychology” (DeCarvalho). DeCarvalho 62. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1959) p. 82. Qtd. in CC Adi-lila 6.14-15 purport. Govt. NSW, “Report of the NSW Child Sexual Assault Task Force to the Premier”, 1985, qtd. in Govt. of New South Wales, “No Excuses,” 1985, published at ISKCON Child Protection Offices, 17 Aug. 2013 <http://www.childprotectionoffice.org/resource.html>. Alister Lamont, “Who Abuses Children”, Feb. 2011, Australian Institute of Family Studies, 17 Aug. 2013 <http://www.aifs.gov.au/nch/pubs/sheets/rs7/rs7.html>. APA, “Child sexual abuse: What parents should know” 2013, American Psychological Association, 17 Aug. 2013 <http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx>. Govt. of NSW, “No Excuses,” 1985. The 2005 U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study cited by the 2011 Australian study gives a very different breakdown of the relationship of the perpetrator with the victim. For example, in the category “Sexual Abuse Only”, the U.S. study lists biological fathers as only 7% of all sexual assaults, whereas the 1984 Sydney survey lists biological fathers as the most frequent offender, at 57%. ISKCON GBC, “Resolutions,” 17 Aug. 2013 <http://gbc.iskcon.org/gbc-resolutions/>. Kathleen Faller’s 1993 paper is referred to as a resource on the CPO website at http://www.childprotectionoffice.org/support.html as of 17 Aug. 2013. However, the file available from the CPO website is corrupt and will not load into an Adobe Acrobat reader. A full, uncorrupted version of the document is available at Village Counseling Center > Resources> Child Sexual Abuse at <http://www.midfloridaadoptionsupportgroup.com/Child-Sexual-Abuse-Resources.html>. Causal models are discussed on page 68 of the document. K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, with some notes by R. Rojas. Qtd. in “Historical materialism,” Wikipedia, 5 Sep. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism>. Divorce itself is considered a contributing factor in cases of child abuse. cf. Bhagavad-gītā, 7.28. “In all spiritual affairs, one’s first duty is to control his mind and senses,” says Śrīla Prabhupāda in the Nectar of Instruction. “Unless one controls his mind and senses, one cannot make any advancement in spiritual life.” cf., Conversaton with Hari Sauri and Satsvarupa Maharaja, Mayapura, February 14, 1976. Manu-smṛti 9.6. Conversation, 14 Feb. 1977. Qtd. in CC Adi-lila 6.14-15 purport. Translation by Bhanu Swami. In fact, any controversy about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position—about, for example, the social role of women according to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam—provides all ISKCON members with the opportunity to preach his instructions convincingly, by personally combining mature practice with profound realization. It is far easier to evade such responsibility while rationalizing adoption of non-devotional principles instead. As Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “You can cheat, but it will not be effective.”