Found in Sanga, Sanga 2000.

Q. I admire your work but when I first heard you were writing your own Bhagavad-gita commentary, I thought you had really gone off the deep end. Didn’t Prabhupada mention something about not surpassing one’s spiritual master?

A. There is something to be said for the value of fresh insight gained from surrendering to one’s Guru. This is the heart of the guru parampara. The guru speaks for all time. But at the same time the relevance of his words is also determined to a large extent by the time and circumstances in which he speaks them. New times and new circumstances require new words, new books, and new editions of previous books. If the new edition sounds better than the previous one, it is largely because the same truth from the previous edition is being given again in consideration of the present time and circumstances. In writing such a book, there is no question of surpassing one’s guru. It involves re-presenting him in new circumstances.

The real question is whether or not the disciple has really understood the teachings of his guru. We can never surpass our guru, yet our guru does not want to suppress us either. He wants to liberate us. He wants us to be all that we can be in the service of Krishna. He wants gurus, not disciples.

In the name of not surpassing one’s guru should Prabhupada have stopped short of opening more than 64 temples? Should he have written less books? Should Narottama Thakura not have made more than one disciple, because his guru made only one? Should Visvanatha Cakravarti not have written a commentary on Ujjvala-nilamani because Jiva Goswami had already done so? Was he wrong to explain more about parakiya than Sri Jiva did in that commentary? Should he have stuck to the overtly svakiya presentation of Jiva Goswami and not tried to relegate it to the realm of tattva?

Otherwise, for the record, I have gone off the deep end, and its deeper than I thought it was. I’m not coming up. There is life beneath the surface.

Q. I have heard it described that the heart and mind are synonymous. Can you explain?

A. The heart is reflected in the mind. Citta is sometimes considered the aspect of the mind that corresponds with the heart. Citta is, however, contaminated consciousness. The heart may also be analogous to the soul itself, which is said for the sake of conceptualization to be situated in the heart. When we meditate we exercise the soul, not the mind. Chanting is a heart or soul exercise, in which the mind is quieted.

Q. On one of your CD lectures you seem to indicate that varnasrama dharma is not spiritually important. I thought Srila Prabhupada wanted very much to re-establish varnasrama dharma in the world.

A. Regarding varnasrama, the idea is that it is external. It deals with ethics and morality, which have little to do with spiritual life proper. Thus engaging in varnasrama is not the goal of life. When we are concerned with ascertaining this goal, many things will be rejected, even though they may have some utility in realizing the goal. The utility of varnasrama is that it invites the influence of sattva. When one understands his psychosomatic reality, he is better equipped to lead a well balanced life and pursue the spiritual ideal. To this extent varnasrama, or better, the spirit and essence of this system, has value in relation to the goal of life.

In the terminology of the Gita, a psychologically well-adjusted person is one who is aware of the particular influence the gunas exert on his psyche and thus acts in consideration of these influences. Regardless of which gunas one is predominantly influenced by, this basic awareness is itself the influence of sattva, which subtly governs the Gita’s varnasrama social system. In the Gita’s vision, the essential first step of goodness is to be situated in one’s prescribed duty, a duty that corresponds with one’s psychology. By being properly placed, one finds a sense of harmony with one’s materially conditioned self that makes the cultivation of other aspects of goodness possible.

One whose actions are not determined in consideration of his psychology will be out of balance and will thus more easily fall prey to the influences of passion and ignorance. At the same time sattva itself must also be transcended because it keeps us from ultimate freedom in loving union with God. Under its influence one often remains a prisoner to spiritual tradition, rather than realizing the tradition’s essential message.

Those whose psyche is predominated by sattva can to that extent directly and naturally pursue transcendental life, whereas those dominated by rajas and tamas will find this course more difficult. For such people, although they may progress in an absolute sense, relative problems such as psychological dysfunctions may arise and create some impediments.

This notion of the gunas and their relation to spiritual culture and psychological wellbeing fits well with transpersonal psychology. In this model, the necessity of developing into a psychologically well-adjusted person is considered a prerequisite to, or parallel discipline intended to complement spiritual culture proper.

Personally, I think that in the interest of “establishing varnasrama” we should take into consideration the extent to which modern society is gravitating towards a kind of social integration rather than the social segregation involved in varnasrama. Take an essential look at this modern tendency, find the value in it and go with that, advocating something that does not go radically against the current of our times yet fulfills the essence of varnasrama.

Humanity seems to be gravitating towards the common ground of our species as humans, rather than perceived differences of race, sex, creed, etc. This has value, yet equality and fulfillment, properly understood, are not attainable within the realm of morals. Humanism and morality can never fulfill the soul. Nor can morality realize its own ideal of a perfect human society and remain vital because morality itself is dependent upon having a society in need of morals. A perfect society is not in need of morality. Spiritual life transcends varnasrama.

Equality of opportunity and representation, the heart of democracy, belong to the realm of the soul. The common spiritual practice for all to realize this equality is chanting the names of God. In order to do so peacefully and progressively, it will be helpful to develop in terms of being well-adjusted individuals (sattva guna). Although this may happen through the direct culture of spiritual life (ceto darpana marjanam), practically we find that many people after years of chanting have not developed this clean heart which is representative of the influence of sattva.

Thus the need is for daiva varnasrama, varnasrama for devotees. The very heart of varnasrama is about facilitating the development of this well-adjusted, integrated human being, which develops from being aware of one’s psychosomatic reality. This in turn facilitates spiritual culture.

What I am saying is that the principle of varnasrama, based as it is on consideration of the gunas, is universal. It need not be limited to a literal expression of this universality relative to times gone by. After all, it is material. It concerns the realm of relativity—morality and ethics. Its value ultimately lies in its advocacy of an absolute reality that transcends it. Moksa renders it altogether meaningless, whereas prema, in doing the same, superficially employs it in lila.

If you do not think of it in this light, there is little hope I believe of “establishing varnasrama” today – even in the society of devotees, much less in human society.

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