I remembered the long veranda where I was giving a seminar then......
Little did I know that one day I would conduct a Holy Name Retreat here....
Krsna opens all kinds of opportunities for us in service to Him - according to our desires and sincere endeavors....
Around 70 devotees assembled here now for four days to deepen their relationship with the holy name. Some had come from a long distance - as far as Simferopol in Crimea, which has now become part of Russia. The devotees had to accept the austerity of sitting for twelve hours on the bus, crossing the border to Ukraine at midnight, waiting in long queues.
It almost seems that Srila Prabhupada makes contradictory statements in the Srimad Bhagavatam on this topic. Sometimes he says it is impossible to introduce it in the modern days of Kali Yuga - no need to even try. And other times he says that Varnashram is the very foundation to civilized human life. This has created a lot of confusion amongst devotees.
Let us remember that in former times the Varnashram system was practised with so many detailed rules and regulations, many of them being connected to all kinds of karma kanda rituals. In our modern days it is certainly impossible to re-introduce this kind of understanding of Varnashram, and there is also no need for it.
Nevertheless, the basic principles of Varnashram can be extracted and will always be very relevant for any civilized human society. These principles are simply part of Krsna's system in order to create stability and harmony in this world, and to support our spiritual practice.
Let us consider the importance and relevance of the ashrams. Most civilized human beings should very naturally go through at least three of the ashrams, according to the natural phases of life: the student life in celebacy, where we receive material and spiritual education, which will form the very foundation of our spiritual and material success in life. Then, most people will move on to householder life and establish themselves in this world, by finding the balance between their material and spiritual needs within family life. And for most civilized human beings there should be a final phase of detachment and renunciation dedicated to deepening one's spiritual life in order to ultimately prepare for the final challenge: death.
These are the most natural phases of civilized human life - nothing artificial. For each ashram Krsna prescribes purifying duties, and each ashram in return offers also protection. Thus it gives us the solid foundation in order to have the necessary peace of mind to chant the holy name deeply.
As long as we remain confused about our duties, we are unregulated and unsteady in our external activities, and we have to battle with all kinds of social problems of divorce, single motherhood, emotionally neglected children - how can we have the necessary stability to get on deeper levels of chanting the holy name? It is almost impossible. In order to move the chanting of the holy name into the very center of our life we require a steady, simple and regulated life style. And the ashrams create exactly this supportive system for stability and harmony.
Prabhupada explains in Nectar of Devotion the importance of developing our service attitude in regards to chanting the holy name. He explains, that these two things - chanting and service attitude go hand in hand. They are the two tracks on which we move forward, back to Godhead. As we develop our service attitude, we gain insights into chanting - Krsna reveals Himself to us in the form of His holy name.
Krsna also explains in BG how a devotee has to endeavor with great determination in his service - yatantas ca drdha vrata. And the main rule of all rules in Krsna consciousness is to always remember Krsna and never forget Him. Especially in the beginning stage of devotional life, it is therefore very helpful if we are engaged according to our nature. This will enable us to endeavor with heart and soul and develop a genuine and selfless service attitude. And it will help us to reach intense absorption in remembering Krsna at all times.
If we have to perform service which is against our very nature, it will be more difficult for us to apply ourselves whole-heartedly and be fully absorbed. As we make progress and become purified, it will become less important to be engaged according to our nature. Infact, in Nectar of Devotion the two angas are described of giving something up which is very dear to us, and which we would never give up. But for Krsna's pleasure we are willing to give it up. And the other one being to be willing to accept something, which we would usually never want to accept, but for Krsna's pleasure we are willing to accept it. So then we gradually reach the platform of bhakti.
So being engaged according to one's nature (varna) will help the neophyte sadhaka immensely in developing a selfless service attitude, where he is ready to sacrifice himself in service. It will greatly support his endeavors to be intensely absorbed in service. And thus Krsna will reveal insights into chanting the holy name, proportionally to his service attitude.
So the Varnashram system is Krsna's perfect support system to make spiritual progress - at all times, places and circumstances. It is definately not something which is not relevant for us any longer.
Our Holy Name Retreat was once again a sweet and deep experience. Some devotees described it as being life changing. In the past we have failed to teach our devotees with what mood within the heart we are meant to chant. We have mainly put emphasis on the number of rounds - that's all. And unless we bring the chanting to the level of the heart, it will remain external - a dry mechanical duty. And therefore we get zero result! No taste! And how long can people chant like this?! So many devotees have stopped chanting - out of these reasons....!
Before moving on to my next destination I conducted a morning program in the new preaching center in the city of Odessa. It was well attended by our practicing devotees, and I connected the SB verse with the topic of spiritual culture, which was very well received. I felt inspired to give one of the courses on spiritual culture here on my next year's visit to Odessa. I could clearly perceive that devotees are ready and keen for this knowledge....
On the 3rd of July I moved on to Kishiniev/Moldova....
Your servant, Devaki dd