The danger of spiritual militants
The tendency toward radicalism is growing inside our movement, which manifests itself in the form of personal attacks, intolerance, critical thinking and lack of cooperation, etc. Many strive to act correctly, but at the same time act in inappropriate ways, often leading to disastrous results. How to understand this trend and what to do about it?
(This article starts with some material talk about government systems, it is necessary in order to develop my analogy, that is explained later on)
The industrial revolution brought great suffering to most of the population. While the industrialists had the opportunity of amassing fabulous wealth, the workers were forced to work in very miserable conditions, receiving very small salaries.
This led to the appearance of the socialist philosophy, that promotes the idea that wealth should be shared and everyone should receive what he needs to live. Early socialist ideas includes the maintenance of private property, freedom of religion, equal rights (everyone is born equal, and have to excel based on his competence), etc. The idea is that the state would provide basic means of subsistence, education, healthcare, etc. to all, giving equal opportunities, but competent individuals could still ascend in the social structure, amassing wealth and higher social positions based on their merits and qualification.
Materially speaking, this kind of socialism looks like a perfect system, a kind of utopia (this early type of socialism is actually called “Utopian socialism” in academic circles). In fact, a few good ideas we can find implemented in contemporary western governments (like free education and free health care for the population) are actually based on what is called social democracy, a mixture of capitalism and socialist ideas.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that “There is no dharma other than vaishnava-dharma. All other dharmas that are or ever will be propagated in the world are either steps on the staircase of vaishnava-dharma, or else distortions of it.” On a material level, socialism has some ideas that are similar to our vaishnava-dharma, that’s what makes it sound like a better idea than most other modern forms of government.
The problem with socialism is that it demands that the population is properly educated. It's not possible to implement socialism in a society that is not enlightened. Otherwise, people will abuse the system in different ways, the ones that have privileges will work to maintain such privileges, and so on. People will want to take instead of share. This system also requires very honest leaders, something that is simply not available in Kali-yuga.
In fact, socialism was never successfully implemented in any part of the world. It's a nice idea, but no one was ever able to make it work anywhere. The core of the problem is that nobody was capable (if anyone ever tried at all) to execute all the steps that would be needed to successfully implement it, educating and elevating the moral and cultural level of the population to the levels required to sustain such a system.
Instead, what was implemented in some parts of the world was something called communism, that although similar on the surface, has many structural differences. While socialism is a little close to vaishnava-dharma, communism is opposed to it. Communism abolishes any form of religion and any kind of private property. The state replaces God and everyone is supposed to work for the benefit of the state. Worse still is that the comunist philosophy is based on the idea of a violent revolution (the workers rising up against the middle and upper classes). Utopian socialism has some vestiges of the mode of goodness, while communism is a system based on the mode of ignorance.
We can practically see that in countries where communism was implemented, five things happenned:
a) A violent revolution, that caused great destruction and the death of countless people.
b) The establishment of a totalitarian and authoritarian government.
c) Persecution of the opposition and of different groups (intellectuals, religious people, and different minorities), that lead to further misery and loss of life.
d) Economic stagnation (people didn't have impetus to work).
e) Corruption in all spheres of the government.
The same mode of ignorance that inspires the violent revolution leads to the other four factors. Once the system is put in motion, one thing leads to the next, and in the end nothing good is achieved. Radicals predominate over the moderates, an authoritarian leader emerges and the result is just chaos.
In many passages of his books, and also in classes and conversations, Srila Prabhupada speaks about “spiritual communism”, describing it in passages like: “That is spiritual communism. Whatever wealth is there within this universe, all belong to God, and we are, as sons of God, we have got right to take advantage of this wealth, but not more than what I require.” (Lecture on BG 1.15, July 15 1973). In other words, Srila Prabhupada was using the term “spiritual communism” as a synonym for “Krsna Consciousness”, pointing out that Krsna Consciousness is the perfection of both the comunist and socialist systems. He, however, was not endorsing the atheistic, demoniac comunist system that was being implemented in parts of the world. In fact, in many passages Srila Prabhupada explains how such communism is directly opposed to vaishnava ideals, where people try to replace God with the state, creating an artificial system of forced equality without fixing the human tendency to exploit others, a brutal system where opposition is persecuted and killed (Philosophy Discussions, Karl Marx).
Passion creates, goodness maintains, but ignorance just destroys. People that are influenced by the mode of ignorance are never going to create anything positive. In fact, they are only going to create destruction. That's why education (especially spiritual education) is so essential, since it is the antidote for the influence of the mode of ignorance.
As devotees, we have a perfect system that is the vaishnava-dharma. Such vaishnava-dharma has a material counterpart that is the varnasrama system, a social system tailored to the needs of a spiritual conducive society. If correctly implemented, varnasrama includes all the good ideas of the socialist system, and much more. It's the most perfect form of social organization.
However, varnasrama shares the same essential problem with socialism: it can be successfully implemented only in an enlightened society. It can only work if the brahmanas are qualified to guide the society spiritually, if the ksatriyas are competent to manage (without taking advantage of their posts, nor oppressing the lower classes), if the vaisyas properly take care of cow protection, agriculture and economy and if the sudras agree to support the other classes, working without envy. It is a system based on the cultivation of the mode of goodness, sustained by qualities like compassion, integrity, etc. It cannot work unless a majority of the population is properly guided to cultivate such qualities. That's actually our main duty as a movement: to educate ourselves and the society at large. That's why Srila Prabhupada wrote so many books. Quarreling and conflict propelled by the mode of ignorance will not help.
Similarly to what happened in some societies in the past, where groups of individuals influenced by the mode of ignorance ended up implementing communism through violent revolutions, we are seeing the same tendency for conflict and self-destruction starting inside of our own movement. Groups of individuals trying to do the right thing through the wrong means, trying to correct the society without first correcting themselves. Being influenced by the mode of ignorance instead of goodness.
To do good to others, we first have to do good for ourselves. Srila Prabhupada ordered us to gradually implement the varnasrama system, creating a society that could be a model for the rest of the world. To successfully implement varnasrama, first we have to understand what varnasrama is. It is not a simple system and it is not easy to implement.
The daiva-varnasrama system has in its core compassion and tolerance. Without such qualities, simply trying to implement the external aspects will not help. One that tries to implement it through coercion and conflict will end-up implementing (at best) some kind of asuric-varnasrama instead of the real thing.
The first step to implement varnasrama in our society is that each of us seriously study Srila Prabhupada’s books and try to understand his message (in a deep way, not just in superficial form). Implementing it first in our own lives and then in our families and communities.
First we should strive to become ideal human beings and ideal vaishnavas, and then try to help others. We can see that our movement already went a long way in that direction. We now have a much more compassionate attitude, there are much more mature devotees around. Our dealings and relationships as devotees are deeper. There are problems, but we are evolving in the right direction. We must continue to "boil the milk", evolving as vaishnavas and, at the same time, accommodate new people that are taking shelter of our movement, helping them, but at the same time respecting their individuality and allowing them to progress at their own pace.
Individuals influenced by the mode of goodness have the patience to do things in the right order and in the proper way, waiting for the results to appear. They have the patience to first build the foundation before starting to build the house. Individuals influenced by a mixture of passion and ignorance, on the other hand, don't have the patience to wait: they want immediate results, and therefore end trying to do things in a violent way, destroying what is in place instead of improving it. Inside of our society this tendency may manifest in the form of criticism to the leaders, quarreling, ad-hominem attacks and sectarian attitudes that just destroy devotees faith without offering anything positive in return. It may be effective for someone trying to get new members for a sect, but not for one trying to spread Krsna Consciousness. It becomes especially dangerous if such attitudes come from inexperienced devotees, that haven’t even read all Srila Prabhupada’s books. Just like in comunist revolutions, a mass of uneducated people creating conflict will not bring any positive results.
The muslims have some kind of distorted varnashrama system described in their scripture, that is good to a certain extent. However, we can see that the way they have tried to implement it in some parts of the world (which led to the creation of groups like the Taliban) through coercion and violence, instead of education and cultivation of spiritual qualities, was completely wrong. We must not commit the same mistake.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Caitanya Chandra dasa