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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
I came across an old issue of BACK TO GODHEAD with an article in it about how people were saying that ISKCON was “brainwashing” people. I would like to add my opinion about this issue.
I was raised an orthodox Jew. Throughout my life, I have searched to find the truth. I have a master’s degree in theology. I’ve tried Judaism and Born-Again Christianity. But the only thing I found that was true was Krsna consciousness. I have found an inner peace that I have not found anywhere else. And nobody can say that I have been “brainwashed.” Nobody talked to me about Krsna consciousness. I read a few books and magazines, then checked out the meetings the devotees held here twice a week, and I was convinced.
Mark A. Devenney
El Reno, Oklahoma
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I have just read Mandalesvara dasa’s nice article, “A Question of Authority” (19/ 2-3), and I would like to offer my views.
Actually, the article was quite good, except that the majority of the youths today are not as rebellious as we were in our college days. The “punk” movement is relatively quite small, and “hippies” are a thing of the past. Now young people are opting to stick to the status quo. Formerly, if a young man or woman was interested in making money and “getting ahead” in life, he or she was considered to be out of it. But now the trend is just the opposite. Now the overwhelming majority are very concerned about securing for themselves a stable material situation. The whole mood has radically changed.
I think this, therefore, has made the article, which was good in and of itself, a little belaboring of a point not exactly relevant to today’s youth.
Furthermore, not everyone who reads BACK TO GODHEAD is a youth. Here in New York, for example, we send BTG to a lot of people who are older. So I think this should be kept in mind.
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I have a question about the caste system as described in “Encounter at Kuruksetra” (19/1). This article said that on the basis of inherent tendencies, a child is intensively educated to assume his role in society or fill his caste. At what age is this done? I don’t see how you can determine in childhood what a person shall be as an adult. Are the children in ISKCON raised this way? It seems to me this would hinder their growth and possibilities a great deal.
Do all castes have equal opportunities for spiritual advancement, or are they favored by the way they are ranked? This seems to me to be a way to pigeonhole society the way America makes divisions on the basis of race and gender. I realize that up to a point society would on its own accord group itself into divisions like the caste system, but does this become a system of better and worse—one-upmanship?
Our reply: The authentic Vedic system of social division, called varnasrama-dharma, should not be confused with the hereditary Indian caste system, which is a later corruption of the original institution. The Bhagavad-gita clearly states that a person belongs to one of the four social divisions or varnas on the basis of his natural qualities and aptitudes. He does not inherit a position merely by birthright.
The system of varnas is natural, for no society can function without the specialized functions of intellectuals and teachers (brahmanas), political and military leaders (ksatriyas), farmers and merchants (vaisyas), and laborers and artisans (sudras). Indeed, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that this system was created by Him. And every human being is natively endowed with a constellation of physical and mental characteristics that predispose him to function in one of these four positions.
A person belongs to one group or another by his own natural inclinations, characteristics, and aptitudes, which are present even in childhood. “The child,” after all, “is father to the man.” Thus a sensitive and perceptive teacher, knowing what to look for, can discern the latent tendencies of a child by careful observation. This is a skill that can be developed and refined by practice. Thus, by virtue of Vedic guidance and practical skill, it is possible to see the disposition of a child toward one varna or another. The point is that the vocation of a child is not imposed upon him from without; rather, it arises naturally from within the child himself, and the job of a teacher is to be sensitively aware of what the child reveals by his own behavior and then to encourage and to guide the child in the direction that the child himself has pointed to. The age at which the disposition of a child becomes clear naturally varies according to the individual, but it is usually quite evident by early adolescence, if not sooner.
The practical advantages are immense. Because modern societies have misapplied the ideas of equality, they try to educate all children in exactly the same way. As a result, children are forced to endure endless schooling that has nothing to do with their talents and vocations; quite understandably, the students become restive, bored, and empty of all motivation, and they waste years learning nothing. But the Vedic system of education, built on respect for the individuality of the student, tailors education to the student’s own aptitudes and abilities. Consequently, the students become enlivened and enthusiastic, fully engaged in mind and body, and they work and study hard to develop their own potential. Far from “hindering the children’s growth and possibilities,” the Vedic system fosters their growth and helps them fulfill their possibilities in the most conscientious and natural manner.
The Vedic system of education can wholeheartedly acknowledge the material differences between people because it just as wholeheartedly acknowledges their spiritual equality. Every person is a spiritual soul and, as such, equal to all others. The function of a soul is to serve Krsna, and, as Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita, “By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done. By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work” (Bg. 18.45-46). Krsna is saying that every person—king or laborer, priest or farmer—has the same opportunity for spiritual advancement as any other. Spiritual advancement means that one has an increasingly intense consciousness that “I am a servant of Krsna.” In that consciousness, one does not exploit other people for one’s own sense gratification. Rather, one serves Krsna and helps others to serve Him. Thus, the Vedic social system is free from the “one-upmanship,” from the perpetual strife and envy, the relentless civil war that makes material society so hellish.
By educating people differently for their social service on the basis of the body, and identically for their service to God on the basis of the soul, the Vedic educational system promotes a society that is both materially and spiritually sound. ISKCON practices what it preaches, and so we are attempting to create such an ideal society in the midst of contemporary turmoil and strife. We can only ask you to examine for yourself what we are accomplishing.