While preparing for a recent visit to Boston, I spoke on the telephone with the president of our Krsna consciousness temple there. He ambitiously advertises the temple’s Sunday lectures, and since I was scheduled to speak, he asked me to give a title for my talk. I tried to find a catchy title and came up with “Boston Brahmanas.”
When Sunday came, however, and I found myself sitting in the Boston temple room before a hundred people, I realized that my “Boston Brahmana” theme was based on a misnomer.
The first written reference to Boston brahmanas was made by Oliver Wendell Holmes. In an essay published in 1860 Holmes wrote of the “brahmin cast of New England … the harmless and innocent, untitled aristocracy.” For more than a century the phrase “Boston brahmins” was used to refer to the more cultured elements of New England society.
But when people think of brahminism today, they probably think of it as part of the so-called caste system of Indian society, that infamous, ungainly descendant of the most highly evolved of all social systems, the ancient Vedic system of varnasrama (Please see “Baseball, Caste, and the Whole-Hog Syndrome,” p. 8.).
According to the Bhagavad-gita, the thoughts, actions, and propensities of everyone may be analyzed according to three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. To the degree that people are affected by the different modes, their qualities and attributes naturally place them in one of the four social categories.
Those who are mostly influenced by the mode of goodness are brahmanas. The brahmana isspiritually aware and devoted to God, guru, and the Vedic injunctions. Intellectually and philosophically inclined, he leads a life of renunciation, morality, study, and worship. He is qualified to lead others.
Those who are mostly influenced by, the mode of passion are the ksatriyas, or society’s protectors and administrators.
Those who are impelled by a mixture of passion and ignorance are the vaisyas, the merchants and farmers of society. And those who are influenced by the mode of ignorance are sudras. The sudras are not qualified with the higher characteristics but work as helpful servants to bring about the overall goals of society.
The overall goals of an ideally ordered society would not be simply to raise the standard of living—which is what today’s materialistic societies are mostly about—but, most importantly, to awaken spiritual consciousness. Elevation to the spiritual platform should be the goal of all social activity.
The Krsna consciousness movement is not attempting to immediately change the topsy-turvy condition of society by introducing the authentic model of the four Vedic orders. This is not possible in the present age. The Vedic literature explains that in Kali-yuga (the present Age of Quarrel) people are so disqualified and disturbed that they are not able to follow the religious practices prescribed for other ages. Therefore, Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, manifested Himself as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to introduce the chanting of the names of God. This simple process, known as sankirtana (the congregational chanting of God’s holy names), is a special dispensation for this unfortunate age.
The varnasrama system of social division allows the members of society to gradually elevate themselves to the spiritual platform under the direction of the brahmanas. But Lord Caitanya offers anyone from any social position immediate access to the spiritual platform. The process is the same for everyone: chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By chanting the holy names, by distributing spiritual food, by participating in spiritual festivals, and by worshiping the Deity of Krsna, every sincere person can attain the highest platform of love of God.
This is the special system of bhakti-yoga His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought to the West. Srila Prabhupada did not teach that people had to first follow the rules and regulations of the four social orders as prescribed in the varnasrama system before they could be helped; rather, he began publicly chanting the holy names in New York City, In this way he elevated even the lowest and most degraded of people to live as or pure devotees of the Lord.
Although Lord Caitanya’s method provides a shortcut, the varnasrama system of social divisions need notbe abandoned. Today there is a great need for brahmanas. Even if society as a whole does not property respect and use the brahmanas, if even a fewpersons qualify themselves as brahmanas, they will be benefited, and they will be able to greatly benefit others. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna describes the qualities of a brahmana. “Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness-these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work” (Bg. 18.42). These qualities are all conducive to self-knowledge and spiritual life. Only those who possess these qualities can help others. Those who cannot develop these qualities can receive guidance from those who have developed them. The Krsna consciousness movement, both by introducing varnasrama and by propagating the chanting of Hare Krsna; aims to respiritualize materialistic society.
A Krsna conscious person who follows the principles of bhakti-yoga can become transcendental even to a brahmana: The varnasrama social divisions belong to this material world, but the qualities of the soul belong to the spiritual world and are eternal. One may be a brahmana in this lifetime, but unless one develops pure love of God, one will have to take birth again in the material world. Only the Lord’s devotees are transcendental. And by Lord Caitanya’s grace, everyone can become such a devotee and transcend altogether the modes of nature. The laborer, the businessman, and the administrator can each become a pure transcendentalist. The priestly and the pious can also advance from their preliminary concepts of religion to unalloyed love of God. Such are the transformations that can take place by the practice of Krsna consciousness.
The catchy title I chose for my Sunday lecture in Boston wasn’t exactly a misnomer. Srila Prabhupada has created true brahmanas in Boston. And even today, whoever regularly chants the Hare Krsna mantra and follows the four regulative principles of Krsna consciousness—no meat-eating; no gambling, no illicit sex, and no intoxication—can receive initiation, become a brahmana, and work to spread Krsna consciousness throughout the world. Such people are performing the highest welfare work of all and are the real brahmanas—whether of Boston or any other’ place—and the world should recognize them for their contribution to humanity. We need not wait for the wholesale reintroduction of the Vedic social system, which isn’t possible anyway in this fallen age. We can become brahmanas and more by taking up the practices of Krsna consciousness.—SDG