Varnashrama - A Vedic Society

Varnashrama - A Vedic Society

Upon coming to the United States Srila Prabhupada initially created a religious order and a missionary movement. Before he passed away in 1977 he expressed that he had left the second half of his mission unfinished - that was to create a multifaceted Hare Krishna society.

In this regard, Prabhupada had urged the devotees to develop varnashrama - a natural system of society expounded in Vedic culture. Varashrama is society centered around worship of God, and is based upon people pursuing areas of study and work according to their individual nature and propensities (this system of society should not to be confused with India's caste system which is based upon one's birth). Varashrama fits society into eight basic units. There are four units of livelihood consisting of a priestly or scholarly class, managerial class, mercantile and agricultural class, and also a worker and artisan class. Each person, according to their individual nature, will find their own niche. The other four units are student life, married life, retired life and renounced life. This was the type of society that Prabhupada was gradually moving toward.

Of course, in the early days of the ISKCON the lifestyle was communal and everyone lived very simply in a mood of renunciation. In its outset, New Vrindavan was a small 130 acre rural farm with a hand full of devotees, and for almost twenty years remained communal in nature. In the early days the community was financially supported by Hayagriva's (one of the founders of the community) wages as an professor of English at Ohio State University. In the mid 70's, the community was supported by an incense business it had developed. Toward the end of the decade the community developed a candle business. For many years private enterprise was discouraged.

Throughout the 1980's New Vrindavan sent out traveling fundraisers to solicit donations, especially at sporting events. During the 80's, individuals from the Hindu community also began to provide generous donations for the expansion of the community and maintenance of the temple. Some money also came in from tourism at the Palace.

1985 was a watershed year. Some devotees were aching to develop their own businesses and cottage industries. A few had already moved elsewhere to do so. Many devotees were still moving to New Vrindavan. That year work had began on the construction of apartments for families. At this point in time Kirtanananda could have changed priorities. The time was certainly ripe. Devotees had learned many crafts and skills. To keep these people in the community and help them develop stable livelihoods should have been the priority. Indeed, there were plans and discussions on how to implement varnashrama. But the plans were coming from the top down rather then allowing varashrama to emerge naturally. Cottage industries could have developed to both maintain the families and bring money into the community.

Kirtanananda, however, made a decision to continue to focus the New Vrindavan economy on traveling parties of fundraisers that cris-crossed the United States. This was his priority - to encourage the collectors to continue to raise money for the new temple and the community's ever expanding projects, and thus rely on collections of money from people who for the most part did not know exactly what they were donating to.

This proved to be detrimental. The devotees printed stickers using copyrighted materials such as football logos to increase their collections. This, along with other events and accusations, culminated in a FBI raid in January of 1987 and the community's expulsion from ISKCON later that year.

Within several years the population was down by almost half. In 1990 Kirtanananda finally gave his official edict to allow the devotees to develop livelihoods for themselves and their families. But it was too late. New Vrindavan's population had dropped off considerably.

The community had begun charging a nominal rent on apartments and started selling off property to it's members. In the 90's the main concern for families was to procure property and develop livelihoods. By the end of the decade the majority of community's families had purchased their own homes (mainly property sold by the temple) and began developing their own sources of livelihood which included truck driving, accounting, nursing, teaching, music, storytelling, candle making and other crafts.

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