Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. What is the relevance of varnasrama dharma to contemporary western living? If varnasrama dharma is deemed not relevant to western living, how can the contemporary western Hindu seek to maintain dharma?

A. The essence of varnasrama dharma involves attaining balance in life between material well-being and spiritual pursuit. Unless one is properly situated in terms of one’s psychophysical reality, one will have difficulty cultivating spiritual life. This balance, regardless of the social status it mandates, is what we call sattva, the intelligible essence of all that is physical, which appears in the psychic realm as our ability to comprehend‹a state of clarity that gives rise to virtue and stability of character begetting peacefulness and goodness. This essence of the varnasrama system is also implied in Freud’s psychological world view. Freud teaches that the sublimation of Eros and Thanatos, which are roughly analogous to rajas and tamas of the varnasrama system, involves harnessing them, enabling a person to accomplish positive goals. This sublimation resembles the balance that sattva implies. In contrast to the Gita’s culture of sattva, Freud’s cultivation of sublimation does not result in the transcendence of passion, but it does result in deferred pleasure, which is a characteristic of sattva mentioned in chapter eighteen (Bg. 18.37). I cite the world view of Freud (others could be cited as well) only to illustrate the universality of this principle of sattva and its desirability.

While it may not be possible or relevant to establish the complete system of varnasrama dharma today, it is essential to understand its essence. It is possible to dynamically implement this essence for the benefit of all spiritual seekers. In this age, the chanting of Krishna nama is the most recommended form of spiritual practice, the essence of dharma. If with good guidance we can situate ourselves appropriately in consideration of our psychophysical reality and from that position sing the holy name of Krishna, dharma will be more than maintained. This is the teaching of the Bhagavata Purana, which is said to be the protector of dharma in this age following Krishna’s departure from the world. Indeed, Krishna himself returned as Sri Krishna Caitanya in this age as a devotee of himself to exemplify the teaching of this Purana. Sri Krishna Caitanya has made the teaching of the Bhagavata Purana available to all regardless of their social status, and to the extent that we develop divine faith in him and this teaching we become eligible to tread the path of bhakti and transcend varnasrama dharma altogether. Therefore, those of tender faith should be careful to seek the appropriate balance in life that will support the cultivation of faith. We call this daiva varnasrama, an adjusted form of varnasrama dharma tailored to serve the dharma of this age, Krishna nama sankirtana.

Q. I read an article stating that Bhagavad-gita was written in 200 B.C. and this conflicts with my understanding that the Mahabharata was written some 5,000 years ago. I do not know the truth of the matter so as a commentator on Bhagavad-gita can you enlighten me as to how old the holy book actually is, who wrote the book, and in which language it was first written?

A. The Bhagavad-gita was written in Sanskrit and appears within the Bhisma parva of the Mahabharata. Hindu spiritual traditions attribute its authorship to the legendary Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa (Vyasadeva). Most spiritual traditions date the text some 5,000 years ago, whereas academia cites earlier dates from 200 BCE to 200 CE. The text describes the sacred conversation between Sri Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra.

At the same time, such books/scripture are considered revealed knowledge with no origin in time, although their written form in the case of the Mahabharata and Gita as well as other texts includes historical accounts of significant events that convey spiritual insight. Scripture is thus an example of the union between time and eternity, a juncture at which the eternal assumes a temporal form even while guiding those in contact with it in the direction of eternity.

Q. I would like to know if it is necessary to recite the prayers for worshipping Krishna in Sanskrit. I am a Slovak and do not know this language. At this time I recite the prayer Krishnasraya by Sri Vallabhacarya in Sanskrit but if I could recite it in Slovak I could understand the meaning of the prayer directly. Also I could be more fully aware of the devotional aspect of it, but when I recite it in Sanskrit I must concentrate on Sanskrit words rather than the meaning.

A. It is important to know the meaning of the prayers one chants. Thus good translations of Sanskrit prayers are essential if spiritual traditions whose literary heritage is largely in Sanskrit are to take hold in Western countries. At the same time, if we are interested in a spiritual culture steeped in Sanskrit, it makes sense to learn at least something of this language. As limited as language (Sanskrit included) is in its capacity to convey spirituality, the extent that it does so in terms of theoretical knowledge is often considerable. Language is also more than just words. It conveys the feelings of the people who speak it. Thus knowing the language of another helps us to understand them. If our spiritual teachers have written extensively in Sanskrit, learning this language will better acquaint us with the teachers themselves. However, learning Sanskrit is a daunting task, and while beneficial, it is not absolutely essential for your spiritual progress.

Q. I live in Saudi Arabia and when we moved here I felt very lonely, sad, and reclusive, questioning why God brought us to a remote place away from our culture and family. But after reading books about Krishna I came to know what I am, and I also realized I read these books only because of my seclusion. Now by his blessings of knowledge through books and your emails I am again happy. I haven’t seen you directly but I am seeing you through your emails and I accept you as my guru and am trying to follow your advice. I look forward to being able to meet you in person. Do you have any special advice for me?

A. I am happy to know that my writing has been helpful to you. My advice is that you read my books and listen to my discourses that are available on CD. This will help you that much more, and although you have not seen me personally, by listening to my discourses you will hear my voice. Surely you will see me after that. You do not live in the most conducive place for Hindu dharma and yet your faith is strong. This is a testament to your sincerity. I pray that you will advance in spiritual life and make your human birth successful. Always chant Krishna nama and be kind to everyone.

Q. Could you tell me exactly what Hinduism’s view is on sexuality and things such as homosexuality and the concept of an Indian woman being covered from head to toe? I read that ancient India was sexually liberated as the Kama Sutra and the Khajuraho temple illustrate but modern Indian society is extremely conservative and any kind of sex talk is taboo. Being an Indian-American teenager, it’s very confusing to me. Could you explain what our religion says about these issues?

A. Hindu religious scripture clearly mandates that for sexual relationships to be spiritually progressive they must be tied to commitment, generally in the form of sacred vows of marriage. The spirit behind this policy is that the sexual urge, which animates the world, must be regulated if it is to be transcended.

Hindu scripture is largely silent on homosexuality, although it may be acknowledged in books such as the Kama-sutra, but not with regard to spiritual progress. Modern Hinduism for the most part condemns homosexuality yet misunderstands it to be an improper choice rather than psycho-physical reality that some people are born with, rendering them as attracted to the same sex as heterosexuals are attracted to the opposite sex. As modern society has come to better understand this phenomenon, it is also imperative that Hindu spiritual traditions do the same if they are to remain vital.

A dynamic approach in doing so might involve encouraging homosexuals to also establish committed relationships in an effort to help them transcend sexuality altogether, as is done in the case of heterosexuals. Of course, such relationships would not include raising children, which is a significant consequence, if not deterrent, to continued sexuality. However, committed homosexual relationships may provide other impetuses for spirituality such as more time for spiritual practice and seva to compensate for this.

Although my Guru Maharaja frowned on homosexuality in general, he was also very practical, flexible, and compassionate. One of his earliest disciples was a gay man who once related how he had ultimately discussed his sexual orientation with Srila Prabhupada. He said that at that point Srila Prabhupada said “Then just find a nice boy, stay with him and practice Krishna consciousness.”

I also had the experience of meeting a transexual who explained her sexual orientation and confusion to Srila Prabhupada before committing to an operation. She told me that Prabhupada told her. “Just pick one or the other [sex] and stick with it.” Those who knew him well would have expected him to say something like this in both of these incidences. Again he was very flexible and compassionate.

I believe that Hinduism originally held a much more broadminded view on sexuality than many of its expressions do today. Over the years Muslim and Victorian standards have had some influence on socioreligious aspects of Hinduism, examples of which are the covering of a women’s body from head to toe.

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