A Self-Sufficient Darshan with HH Sivarama Swami

“R: We have a lot of second-generation devotees that are vegans because they don’t want to see the cows slaughtered, and their parents are coming to us for milk, to get their children to have that milk product.

“HHSS: It just really highlights that point that we really neglected Prabhupada’s instructions and we’re painting ourselves in a corner in so many different ways because we have ignored such fundamental things. We are supporting a slaughterhouse industry. Talk about contaminated food and contaminated milk and all the karma that comes along with that.”

On the eve of the 2008 24 Hour Kirtan Festival here at New Vrindaban Dham, HH Sivarama Swami held an informal darshan to discuss the present state of Prabhupada’s vision of spiritual self-sufficieny in ISKCON. This discussion was geared to specifics regarding the success of the New Vraja Dham farm project in Hungary, and also to plans to restore Gita-Nagari as a functioning farm community.

We present to you the full transcript of the darshan, and we hope you find it enlightening, informative, inspiring, and even challenging. Click on Continue Reading. This darshan took place at New Vrindaban Dham on June 20, 2008, on the eve of the 2008 24-Hour Kirtan Festival. In attendance was HH Sivarama Swami, HH Varsana Swami, HH Romapada Swami, HG Adikarta Das, HG Rucira Devi Dasi, HG Tapahpunja Das, HG Balabhadra Das and guests. The topic was the aspects and nature of a successful farm community based on the vision of Srila Prabhupda, and how to apply it to such holy dhams as Gita Nagari.

HH Romapada Swami: Can we focus on Gita Nagari? (Maharaja requests recording for the wife of HG Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu) The thought is..by taking advantage of your presence..whichever direction you want to take it…you know a little of the history of Gita Nagari (cut)..he (Prabhupada) came to the West, and we have to help establish what he wanted with rural projects. You’ve done it, so there’s the land, there’s some cows, RadhaDamodar, the temple, some residential facility, and a wish to make forward. From your experience, we thought you could share some ideas of taking something like that and moving forward.

HH Sivarama Swami: What do you envision happening there?

HHRS: Well, I’m like a cheerleader. I have interest. I am a well-wisher. I’m really busy with a lot of other things but I’d like to see it happen. I’ve encouraged HH Devamrta Maharaja to spend some time there. He’s directed the devotees that may become president there. We just want to take what’s in his heart and mind and make it happen. What we envision happening depends on the personalities and the things they would like to see. We have Adi-Karta, who has a long-standing interest in making this happen. The topic, as I understand what you’ll be talking about, is the rural project portfolio of Prabhupada’s preaching mission, and where does it fit. We want this to go in the direction of what Prabhupada wanted our rural communities to be, and a lot of that depends on the persons and their specific vision.

There are some principles, like cows and bulls and land. For starters, I just spent three days with a devotee named SaciSuta, who used to live in GitaNagari for three years as an uninitiated brahmacari. He did all the agriculture there for three years. I asked him ‘you have interest in GitaNagari. You lived there. You have a real deep sense of the place. You love Mother Kulini. If you could do in GitaNagari whatever you wanted to do, what would you do? What do you think would be a place to start?’ And he very quickly had a clear idea. He said ‘I would give some money’…He has assets, and he would hire two people, on a by-the-hour, punch-the-clock thing, and they would first, for a month, just clean, because the place is trashed. And then by February, they would start preparing the land, and take 4-6 acres of land, and not try to have unlimited crops, but have something.

HHSS: He would do this by himself?

HHRS: This is his vision, and he would supply the funds..

Adi-Karta: To get rid of the trash…that would be very important.

HHRS: That would be a starting point. In the barn, around the barn, and all over the property. And then in February, prepare the land, and then 4-6 acres. The goal would be, at the end of the first season, from July until October, the farm wouldn’t have to go out and buy anything, vegetables and grains. That would be a first-year goal. Not have the goal of producing what’s going to maintain them, but just completing the agriculture. The motivation for the hired men is that if they don’t perform, they don’t get paid, and we need them to perform, so the basis is that they would be good workers. Rather than buying equipment, they would rent equipment, if they need something. And if the men are responsible, maybe they could buy something. That’s SaciSuta…what he would do, with two guys just to get started, with the goal of not buying vegetables and grains for the first year. That’s the first year goal.

HHSS: I think if you want to me to give my opinion, that’s what I would do. It is maybe something different that others would do. My experience is limited to what we have done in Hungary, and there one advantage we had is that we really started from scratch. There was nothing, so the first thing for me was what is the concept. I was committed to both developing a farm community that was the center of the yatra and I was committed to staying in Hungary to make it happen.

So, the first thing is sat down and wrote a six-page constitution…We have a new one that is not complete, and it runs over a hundred pages, and its in Hungarian, so whatever it is needs to be translated…That we can do…That was the first thing….to say, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and then, from my understanding of what Srila Prabhupada wanted…it’s a package. It comes under the title of varnasrama and self-sufficiency, which includes cow protection, agriculture, self-sufficiency, gurukula, an entire lifestyle, which means a social structure, and that social structure has to reflect varnasrama. These are all the things Prabhupada talked about. So I couldn’t approach GitaNagari as an agricultural project or taking care of the cows that are there in isolation of a whole overall picture. That overall vision must be there.

The vision is written down, and the people who buy into the vision actually say I’m here for life to make it happen. I’m talking about the leaders. And then anyone else who goes there, someone who buys into that vision, that way of life, that education, that way of living…there’s no television, trying to minimize artificial dependency. That’s the first thing I would do, which would require who is the person…certainly if I sat down I would come up with something different from someone else. Even if we are talking about the same thing, there doesn’t have to be a 100% correlation with what varnasrama is, or what self-sufficiency is, and I’m sure it’s much different in Europe than what you’ve got here.

That for me is the beginning point. Otherwise, for me, with the devotees here….what are their rights, what are their obligations? What are you interested in? Otherwise, the tendency is for people to be interested in what they think something should be, or what they heard it would be, and then what the reality actually is, unless its down on paper in black-and-white. The reality may be something entirely different.

Then there’s a lot of undue expectations. Then there will be disappointment, and we’ve already gone through that in so many ways. So that’s where I would start.

ADK: There are very important questions within that paradigm. Like for instance, here in communities like New Vrindaban and Prabhupada Village (in North Carolina), they actually sold the land. To me, private ownership is not an option. What do you think?

HHSS: We don’t have private ownership in New Vraja Dham.

ADK: Devotees own their houses?

HHSS: No. We started off like that (private ownership), but we came to realize it doesn’t work. That’s part of the ethic. How do you build the houses? You have two options. One is that you have a really wealthy yatra that’s able to fund it, or the other is when devotees have money of their own..it generally comes from parents…if they’re building a house, they’re not building a house. They’re giving a loan to the yatra. With that loan there is a legal contract signed, and with that money a house is built. They don’t own the house. They just give a loan to the project. And if circumstances warrant that they leave, then according to the terms of the contract, then they get back their money. It works, because it gives the assurity

ADK: They have private bank accounts?

HHSS: That’s getting into the membership of devotees…Grhastas may have.

ADK: Even if they’re living on the farm?

HHSS: Even if they’re living on the farm.

ADK: Can they work outside?

HHSS: No…otherwise if people work outside, we don’t have any common interests anymore.

ADK: What about the doctor in the community?

HHSS: She is full-time in the community…She is a doctor for the community.

ADK: What are the sizes of the houses?

HHSS: Well, if you build by what Prabhupada wanted in New Vrindaban…25 square meters (laughter) We built two, and the devotees said no way. In India you can do that. In a warm climate you can do that, but in a climate where you have to spend a lot of time indoors and you have kids running around in something that is half the size of this room…So when you are just living outside all year round…you can sleep inside or take the beds outside and sleep there. You can’t do that in sub-zero weather.

ADK: What about electricity?

HHSS: We don’t have it, and we don’t want to spend money to get it.

ADK: Do you think it’s important enough to have it?

HHSS: I think it’s important not to be dependent on it. We didn’t have any water either, We drew water from wells, and just because we had so many guests and tourists, we couldn’t supply enough water. So we ran in water-pipe, and since we did that we became dependent on the water that flows in the taps, and sometimes in the nearby village the water-pressure goes down, and therefore we don’t have any water, and then you can’t go back to the wells because you haven’t used them in a year or two, and therefore the water’s bad. Now we stopped it. All the new houses are just with wells.

ADK: The water is drinkable?

HHSS: Yes, they can drink it. We could do a little business just bottling water.

ADK: What are the sizes of the houses now?

HHSS: Right now, the size of the houses are about sixty square meters, which is about 600 square feet.

Tapahpunja: Maharaja, the drilling of the wells for the new houses…is that something that is subsidized and therefore owned by the community, or is the onus on the householders?

HHSS: For instance, these houses we are building..there is a well with the house. It’s just like a roof. If you build a roof on the house, you have to have a well. You can’t live in it without it. Some of these houses there now are subsidized by the yatra, and it’s sort of a national project, and there’s national funds that go into that. On a farm we cannot put devotees into a rented house. Otherwise there is some place to live or they can’t come. The money the devotees give is giving us a loan. Whatever that amount is. It may be part of the value of the house. It may be full value. If they leave, they get it back within a year at a very minimal inflation rate.

ADK: What about sadhana? What are the minimum requirements for the full-time devotees?

HHSS: It’s part of the constitution. You have to lay down who is your audience, who are the devotees. There is no question in mind of sadhana. You have to have it.

ADK: What if they don’t do it.

HHSS: That depends. There’s four principles, sixteen rounds, morning program, as much as possible. Devotees who work in the goshalla are not going to be there for the whole morning program. The morning program will be cows. When we have harvest days, or sowing in the spring, devotees are also going to be out, but that’s accepted. That’s what a farming community is about. But other than that, the established sadhana system is there. People go through ups and downs in Krsna Consciousness. We are a community. We work together. If its just a matter of a down in a relatively stable Krsna Conscious career, then you just ride it out, but if it becomes a long-standing habit and it becomes a not-acceptable example or if it disturbs the community, then it becomes a reason the devotee can’t stay.

Generally we have a manageable affair, but the standards should be very clear. People go through phases in their Krsna Consciousness. That’s natural.

It’s a communal lifestyle. It’s very similar to what our “Simple Temple” style is in the city temples. When you have individuals particularly not participating in the overall scheme of the project by working outside or working on something else, then you set-up two dynamics. One is that it instills seeds of doubt in other people’s minds. People will then live in a different lifestyle. Living in a temple means everyone lives a common lifestyle. If someone works outside, what happens if he goes to India once a year, twice a year, whereas your average devotee may go only once every eight years. Or that he has a 200 square-meter house as opposed to a sixty square-meter house. So you get varied standards, and with conditioned souls that tends to increase the desire ‘why not me? why not us?’ Our business is not making money. It’s simple living.

HHRS: Has a community grown around that works outside and has that other standard?

HHSS: There is a village nearby thats 2km away, but because of where the farm is…It’s like here. It doesn’t make any sense for them to make a living there. If they want to live like that, they should go to Budapest or the nearest city. So, not really.

ADK. I remember Prabhupada had one conversation with Ramesvar in which Prabhupada was saying just get them out into the country. It doesn’t matter what their standard is…

HHSS: It’s a question of how you develop your community. When you start developing a community, you really need like-minded people. If you have too many diverse-minded people, it’s too much of a challenge to pick up momentum. That comes into another part of the package in terms of what the membership is in defining different stages of devotees’ Krsna conscious lives and commitment, and their rights and obligations. We spent the last five years just working that out. We have some volunteers who are brahmacaris, brahmacarinis, or even grhastas who do volunteer service for a maximum of five years. And after that they have to decide whether they’re going to continue on being missionaries, which means they are dependent on the temple, but with a little more leeway as grhastas have. Limited maintenance. No such things as wages or salary. Or they continue on in the world, self-employed or working, or they may even be a kind of employee, which means we actually employ them. It’s a different thing than being a missionary.

Not everyone can do everything. You don’t employ people to worship the deities, to cook for the devotees, to do sankirtan, to preach. You employ people to things like bookkeeping. We won’t employ anyone to take care of the cows.

ADK: Do you employ anyone on the farm?

HHSS: Yes. Outside workers, and there are very few devotees who have gone from there to the village. If they’ve gone from the farm, they go back to the city. We”ll pay them properly as per the legal requirements. There are certain things we’ll pay them to do, what we need.

ADK: What about dress code?

HHSS: It’s all part of what is the ethics and what is the standard. You establish that and you have a common understanding with devotees. They agree because they want to live like that. Of course, on a farm you don’t always dress like this (traditional Vaisnava). Sometimes you dress like that (casual farm).

In other words, its the standard that’s accepted by…that’s accepted and established proactively.

Rucira: When you had the bakery and pottery, do you encourage businesses there for the devotees, and would a certain amount of money go to the project?

HHSS: We do the handicrafts, but the handicrafts are all in New Vraja Dham..It’s not that a devotee wants to start a business and he gets fifty percent and fifty percent comes to the temple. Then you get a pujari thinking ‘why don’t I get fifty percent’. Once again, the idea is to give everything to the deities. We have a clear minimum maintenance as to how much a family gets. They get an allowance. All their prasad needs are taken care of…

ADK: Do you all eat together?

HHSS: Yes and no.

ADK: People can cook in their own houses?

HHSS: Yes. They’ll get a certain minimum amount of lakshmi, and then they have their own gardens as well. They have their own flower gardens. and they bring flowers to the deities, and the deities have their own garden…flower garden and bhoga garden…Generally the midday meal all the devotees will eat together and the evening meal the grhastas will take at home.

R: You are growing grains and wheat and flour. Do the grhastas buy flour from the temple, or do they buy flour from outside?

HHSS: We actually have our own shop. The back part of the bakery we developed into a shop. That is the community shop, and you can buy everything from salt to toothpaste, clothes, dhotis, grains, vegetables. There is no one standing at the gate to see what someone has in their basket when they come on the property.

ADK: What about inheritances?

HHSS: We have a system where they can keep some of the money…Basically if you have devotees living a common lifestyle they have to live a common way. Either they give it to relatives to manage on their behalf or they freeze it in their bank accounts. Even though they inherit a million dollars they are still living simply.

R: They can also donate it to the project…

HHSS: Yes, but even that has some confines. They donate it, but later they want it back. At least there is a contractual arrangement. If you’re donating an amount, it’s clearly agreed upon. We think twice about how much of someone’s donation we are willing to accept.

They can’t manage it. They can’t use it.

T: What percentage of the community is engaged directly in agriculture? In the sense that they are integral to the planting, harvesting, storing..

HHSS: We have about a 120, 130 devotees, and if I say all-around, in terms of the deity gardens, the devotee gardens, and these are devotees, not people we take on to harvest and all that. Including working the bulls, who work their own fields…I would say about ten percent of that, not more. That would crossover with the people working with the cows and the bulls…There are 6 or 7 people working in the cow department…the maximum would be twenty percent. The pujaris also take care of the gardens for RadheShyam..All together it’s like that. They are the most difficult people to come by.

I can send anyone out on sankirtan, but I can’t send anyone to work out on the fields. What to speak to work with the cows and bulls. Anyone can distribute books but anyone can’t be a real vaisya.

T: Is there an effort to mold the economy of the community around agriculture, in the sense that you are producing for your own sustenance but also in making products available for sale, as compared to a tourist economy? Is there a deliberate balance you’re trying to strike, or is there a more deliberate approach over to the agrarian side?

HHSS: Our temple, or project president GauraShakti is fortunate in that he grew up on a farm. He grew up in a village, and until he went to university, he never lived in the city. So he knows what farm life is, and that is the ethos, which is to go more and more being dependent. At the present time we don’t sell anything. The maximum thing we are trying to do is to provide for the centers. I’ve convinced them to buy produce, which is obviously more dear than buying it at Cesco’s or Walmart.

ADK: So people who do buy farm…Are they doing it out of a sense of duty or do they actually like it?

HHSS: Both. Probably half-and-half. Some people are becoming real farmers, and the culture will catch on. All of these, with the exception of a few…most of them are all “city slickers”…Some of them have been doing it for ten years. Some do it because its in their blood. Some do it out of duty, but its going to take awhile to actually change the tradition until it gets in people’s blood. It requires a lot of momentum. I would say its really picking up. I’ve seen over the last 7-8 years that our vision for New Vraja Dham has become much clearer and that has made it much clearer to the devotees whether they are staying or going, and what their future is. They know what they are actually committing too.

Prior to that, my original constitution was a little more accommodating. It had scope for private ownership. We had to change that because that didn’t work. There was some disappointment that the focus wasn’t what we started on, so devotees were able to focus over a period of time on the understanding why it’s not going to work.

ADK: What about having children?

HHSS: They’re just…flowing, like a wave (laughter).

ADK: They are always free to have as many as they like.

HHSS: As many as they like, that is another thing. The thing is to see how much a community can actually hold. Can you maintain a family with seven-eight children? That’s also something that is under development or discussion. Generally I haven’t found that devotees want to have 5-6-7-8 children. So, 2-3 is sort of the maximum because you want to be able to see how much we can maintain. We have one devotee who is working and when you have a mother with three children, so that person has to really be producing, not only to maintain themselves but to contribute to the overall community. It works very well when you are completely sufficient, and people learn to live like that. When you’re really self-sufficient…In other words when you are not dependent on anything externally, more or less you can have as big a family as you want.

ADK: If you have enough land, because you don’t have as much land.

HHSS: We have more than 600 acres.

ADK: Do you have a number of residents that you’ve estimated can live on as much land as you have?

HHSS: What do you need so much land for?

R: Wood for heating, growing the grains, food…

HHSS: Food is minimal for using land…You just need a little garden to feed a family. We do 10 hectares out of which we get 30 tons. We usually only need about 10 of that a year for the devotees and animals. The size of the property is sufficient. The peak would be around 500 residents…That’s more or less what we have permission for at the present.

ADK: What about the number of cows?

Balabhadra: Right now you have about 30 to 35 cows. It would depend on the carrying capacity…the hay and grain you can provide for them. That would be the limiting factor.

HHSS: Also the devotees to provide and care for them. We have been very cautious building up.

R: Do you see down the road, like in Seventh Canto, where its described about varnasrama…do you see later on it becoming more like, as you were saying the pujaris might feel upset if someone was doing business and making some money and they are doing selfless service. Do you see it becoming like that…where a brahman just loves what they do and that’s what they do and they do it getting charity given to them, and someone else is a business person who gives in charity but they make some money but are still living simply.

HHSS: This is our model of varnasrama based on certain experience that we’ve had…When we talk about classical varnasrama the whole world is in varnasrama. That’s not happening. It’s not going to happen for a long, long time, if it happens. This mean we’re doing what Srila Prabhupada wanted, which is we’re showing how devotees live in varnasrama, which means we are isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. Isolating means that devotees see that there is this other way of living and there’s this way of living. In past times there was only one way of living. That’s all there was. Now, you just have gross materialism, and when we say we want to establish varnasrama then we are really doing it in an isolated way….In a way that pleases Krsna, and then make sure you have brahmacaris, grhastas, vanaprasthas, and sannyasis, and that you have Vaisnavas who are performing all these activities.

In that you have further restrictions. For instance, in varnasrama you have one legal system. Our varnasrama has zero legal system. We can have our own ecclesiastical rules, but we don’t have any rights to establish any laws here. We have to abide by the external legal system.

To make varnasrama work you have to have ksatriyas. We don’t have ksatriyas. Sometimes we have devotees who like beating people up and they think they are ksatriyas, but we don’t have anyone who can enforce anything easily. Prabhupada said that if the brahman doesn’t perform his duties, then the king can punish him. We can’t do that. We can’t take someone to court because they didn’t take care of the deities. The only way we can replace or have some kind of mechanism to fulfill the role of rules and regulations that keep everyone in order..particularly highly conditioned souls in Kali-Yuga..is to have some system of very strong ecclesiastical rules which fulfills the role of what ksatriyas did.

To put the authority in the hands of a temple president or GBC or temple council who have to play the role of a ksatriya, which they don’t really want to do. Therefore you have to start off with those rules. Unless you have those rules you can’t have varnasrama, because all the conditioned souls are going to do what they want to do.

So varnasrama means there has to be law and order. Within the framework of the law system in the world around us, we have to have very clear ecclesiastical rules and regulations that give us a certain degree of clout. That’s why you can’t have private ownership…You have to have a certain degree of clout in a community to maintain the integrity of what your standards are.

Devotee: There’s a theme that’s starting to emerge from what youre describing. Both of them are probing about proprietorship, and then there’s this idea of varnasrama. I have not it heard the way you described it. You can’t have varnasrama without ksatriyas, but we can’t have ksatriyas because we have no enforcement of authority, and so we have something other than varnasrama, an ecclesiastic varnasrama. The authority is that which they agree to agree to some rules, and the enforcement of the rules is like this and its part of the package and they buy into the package…

HHSS: And you have to have some clout where we say no or you must do this. Otherwise you have no sense of real authority. Devotee: So, in the model that you have…proprietorship spoils that ecclesiastic structure.

HHSS: It takes away the real clout.

Devotee: Your answer to his question about ownership of land and home…she is asking if you see it evolving too where propensity-based…

HHSS: I would say it’s not going to evolve to proprietorship. We’re planning to evolve in different directions of complete self-sufficiency, of feeding devotees all year-round, of being completely independent of public amenities, but we’re not..

HHRS: It takes propensity-driven dedication to the project or the vision, not to this propensity…’I am a vaisya…I like doing business, and part of my psychology is that I like having profit from that business.’ They have to transfer that profit propensity instead to grow the project.

HHSS: Or, if someone really wants to make money, then go to Budapest, make a lot of money, and support the project. Our farms are not made for becoming profit-centers. They are made for self-sufficiency. Prabhupada didnt even want us to sell our produce…The main thing is just feed what we have. Live simply. Don’t try to make a lot of profit. Devotee: The little pamphlet that you showed (of an alternative Christian farm community in Waco, Texas)…they do businesses, they do handicrafts. They make jams and things, and they sell those things. The money they get from selling those things goes to developing more homes or whatever their structures are. They have no authority of making laws.

R: Its a whole community that’s supporting families. There is 60 all together, on 550 acres of land. They have 21 businesses that are land-based, that they teach their children and apprentice them to learn the trades, and they sell outside and they also maintain their group of people. They keep some of the profit, and they have to pay some rent as the church is not allowed to let someone live on their land for free.

HHSS: As far as the community making businesses….If it doesn’t distract from the main principle that we are feeding ourselves and that we are taking care of all of our own needs, so if all of these businesses become means for getting money, and we become money-centered, then it defeats the whole purpose. So we don’t want to be dependent on money, but if there’s excess, and if some things can really engage and generate…We have sankirtana and tourists…If New Vraja Dham was solely meant to be agriculture, I don’t think there would be anyone there. They are all ex-sankirtan devotees, preachers, and they understand that…They need the interaction. Its not in their blood. That’s not enough for them, just to be working on the land. They need to see that something is really happening and that people are becoming very favorable to Krsna Consciousness.

ADK: Thats win-win, isn’t it?

HHSS: Yeah…The income is developing, but it more or less just covers all the expenses of seeing to the visitors. Something like here, 25000-30000 visitors a year….Its great PR for the country (Hungary). That’s what everyone knows us for. Everyone there knows the place.

B: When the term vaisya comes up…and even in this conversation Maharaja has used the term to equate to business. Where as Krsna states in the Bhagavad-Gita…go-raksya..agriculture and taking care of the animals..go-raksya, cow protection. In my understanding, in an agrarian society, that these would be the main vaisya activities. Not necessarily to make money, but the needs of the people would be satisfied.

HHSS: Yes.

B: So theres different paradigms of what is a vaisya. In the city it’s get a job, make a profit, as opposed to what I’ve seen in New Vraja Dham, that the activities…the devotees are trying to understand that everything belongs to RadheShyam, and that the activities they are doing is actually to please RadheShyam, and that is where there profit comes from. It’s not a monetary profit, but a spiritual bank account.

HHSS: It’s interesting, aside from the rules and regs…it’s an interesting phenomenon that half of the full-time devotees live on the farm and the others live in the city centers, and they are coming for the festivals, so there vision of New Vraja Dham is what is going on in the festival. There is this mindset..’oh, this is a very austere place to live..I could never live there. There’s no electricity, no washing machine. You have to draw your own water. You have to walk in the cold. There’s no cars. But for those devotees…when they’re not lifelong sankirtan devotees or there’s nothing else to do in the cities…they’re not doing sankirtan or preaching…they do one of two things. Either they live in the city, and when they try to live there, then all of a sudden it’s a whole different world …then it’s not such a big deal, taking care of the cows. It’s fun being in the garden. It’s not so austere drawing your own water, and after a while you forget there’s such a thing as electricity. You just get so used to using oil lamps and candles.

We’ve been trying to get every temple president (in the yatra) to spend two weeks a year on the farm, and now we’re trying to get all the devotees to spend two weeks a year. They do have a choice…Otherwise they don’t have a choice when their volunteer years are finished, if they’re not going to become lifelong preachers. Really, thats the only value of a devotee in the city. Either you distribute books, preach, or there’s room for a few pujaris. Otherwise we can’t make payment. Here you can maintain unlimited number of people if you’re living simply.

So it’s interesting that when they go, then their whole perception changes. There are testimonials from devotees…’I never thought it was like this..I never thought I could do it.,’ and just the experience of living in the country, living simply, living naturally…its such a wonderful thing. Either youre preaching or making a lot of money. Otherwise there is no business living in the city. It’s crazy…just suicidal.

ADK: What about computers? Are they allowed to have their own computers?

HHSS: No. We have an office with 3-4 computers and devotees use them there. No computers. No TV.

It’s interesting…we’re #4 or #5 of the largest churches in the country. The religion after us…#6… is a real fundamentalist born-again Christian who are imported from America who started at the same time as we do. They have a lot of followers. They built a stadium where they have a meeting of 20,000 people. We’re #5 in terms of support we get from the public. They are very very strict. They have a rule where you cannot have a TV in your house or you cant watch TV or you’re just not part of this religion. One of our temple presidents’ mother is one of the leaders, so he knows everything about them, and it’s just so amazing for me that these organizations have such strict rules and here we are…devotees..and we’re so afraid to have these standards. These people are so strict about so many things…’You do this, you’re out. You’re not a member of our church’.

T: In that regard…This is an observation that I’ve had that in making the effort to develop the actual lifestyle that Prabhupada wanted that connects simplicity to spirituality..My question is what is our problem in our understanding of Krsna Conscious philosophy by which we’re not connecting that issue for devotees to understand. There’s an actual connection between how you live simply and how you develop spiritually. Because I think the misconception is that farm life is drudgery, is hard work, you get dirty, it’s really not for brahmins. It’s for people who are philosophical dullards…and that’s really not the case…What is missing? What is the disconnect in our preaching that allows us to miss that point?

HHSS: It’s a phenomenon that I see that devotees don’t really understand the risks of city life. For many of them, Krsna Consciousness is something you put onto your lifestyle. My understanding is that you take your lifestyle, throw it out the window, and start from scratch with Krsna Conscious values. That’s what city life means…You add Krsna Consciousness on, which is alright as a preaching strategy to bring people to Krsna Consciousness, but ultimately you really need something to get away from what’s going on over there. Here is the only place where we can build from scratch. How we look, how we move, how we work, how we educate our children, where we can determine who our neighbors are. If you can’t determine who your neighbors are your child is going to have a real hard time being a devotee…They’re going to interact and you can’t just seal them off from that…You can’t be Krsna Conscious like that because you can’t control your environment.

Unless we are living in a controlled environment…Prabhupada lived in Calcutta…and Tamal Krsna Maharaja was saying that Prabhupada said that grhastas should have independence but not too much independence….Prabhupada said that they (Bhaktivinode Thakur) are liberated souls, so Prabhupada can live in Calcutta and Bhaktivinode Thakur can be a high-court judge and it didn’t affect their Krsna Consciousness. The only thing to actually shore up your Krsna Consciousness is getting a lot of mercy from Caitanya Mahaprabhu for preaching. Either you’re real gung-ho preaching like that in the cities, or it’s a real risk. Of course, preaching may also mean someone is supporting the preaching…real major donors…serious in the percentage of the money they are giving.

Particularly for those devotees who’ve lived in an ashram…they are the ones who actually do worse when they go back and start living in the cities. Our congregation members who never really join as full-time or sankirtan devotees, but they took on Krsna Consciousness and got initiated…they fare better in terms of treading water in the material world than for the devotees who gave everything, because its such a contrast. It’s a real difficult thing to digest….If you can’t walk to mangalarati, its a rare person whos gonna drive there. If you’ve got to be at work at 8:30 in the morning, youre not going to be at Bhagavatam class, greeting of the Deities…

HHRS: How strong and well-developed is your congregation….In America, the current phenomenon is largely congregation-based where people are having mangalarati in their homes. I spend a fair amount of time traveling in North America and they’re not coming to mangalarati at the temple…

HHSS: Yeah…we’re obviously encouraging people to do that (attend mangalarati)…

HHRS: Its not so well-developed?

HHSS: It’s developed….A larger percentage of devotees are congregation. But still the overall question that I ask…It’s one thing to preach…What is the actual benefit? When I see people who just make a living, and a lot of people just make a living…At the end of their lives they’ve got nothing..practically speaking. Maybe they have some investment in the house they’ve put into. When all they’re doing is making a living, then what is the point? If all you have is to eat and a have a roof over your head, then why do you have to live in the city to do that? What do you need a PHD to feed yourself? Forget about going to university, and live simply, and have your own garden. It’s a much simpler lifestyle with much less risk, and much less interaction with the outside world.

ADK: You have a knack for generating funds. Devotees who come to your farm can give up whatever money-making things they were doing and can be supplied with the basic necessities. In another situation where there wasn’t money coming in from sankirtan and big donations… is it gonna work? I guess its a question of faith or something.

HHSS: To build it up and maintain it has to float. I’m by no means painting a picture that New Vraja Dham is independent of external finances. All infrastructure is dependent on that. I was listening to a tape of Prabhupada in South Africa on the farm, and he said ‘just get the land, and we’ll get the money’.

The idea is that we need to develop the infrastructure..and I have no problem with devotees living in the city doing something substantial for Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We’re not forcing anyone to do anything, but they should be clear as to what it is that’s happening. I see it a lot…people in their 50s and 60s who’ve got a little apartment. They’ve lived all their lives in there, they get a pension, and that pension more or less keeps them on the poverty line.

ADK: You are talking about devotees?

HHSS: Now they are devotees…Just the idea of security itself is absurd, or that our social system gives security to people. Temporarily it appears to work, but it doesn’t work. People end up being poverty-stricken, unless they’ve generated some real amount of income themselves… They’re just poor people at the end of their lives. They’re lucky if they can afford to pay their medical bills.

If that’s what living in the city is all about, they why not do it out here?

ADK: Would you recommend devotees who may not be sure how it’s going to go financially to take a chance and go and live on the land and to do what Prabhupada wanted even if their income is not certain where it’s coming from?

HHSS: You can’t guarantee anything. We shouldn’t promise people false hopes. The world around us…It was on the BBC the other day that 2 or 3 years ago scientists determined that if earth warming continues on as its going at the present rate that by 2080 the North Pole will melt. Now they just re-assessed their estimate, and that at the present rate it will melt in five years, which means that the sea levels will rise by seven meters…

T: Actually its not only the rising sea levels and what that does to the coastal cities but it’s also that all that melting ice desalinates the ocean and the flow of the Gulf Stream changes and therefore the weather changes and what appears to be warming…this is one theory…clicks into an instant ice-age, because of the confluence of all those things happening.

HHSS: Whether it’s hot or cold, there’s no guarantee. The Earth is falling apart.

Guest: Maharaja, it sounds like your thing in Hungary…the success has been there because you’re the leader, you’re the guru, and everyone gathers around you and does what you say, and you’re obviously following what Srila Prabhupada wanted, and also you’ve learned by failures of other projects. To start something new or take up a project thats been going for many years and hasn’t been going very well…Don’t you think you need to establish an authority structure, so that people are on the same page…There’s a point person and everyone agrees to follow… You can have your suggestions but it doesn’t mean there gonna go…

HHSS: Its not quite like that…that I just wave the flag and everybody follows. I wish it was like that (laughter). The yatra has developed and there’s so many things going on in Krsna Valley that I cant even keep track of, so I’m not a micro-manager. The yatra is unified. It does have a unified vision. That fact that its small, that everybody grew up together, and that there’s good cohesion amongst the devotees. There is almost common vision. I say almost because no matter how much we discuss it, whatever someone is into, thats what they see. The city temples and the farm always have a different momentum and different priorities.

That naturally brings up a certain kind of tension. Its not an unfriendly tension, but theres a tension.

To take an existing project and a project that has many incarnations already…its much more difficult than starting from scratch…particularly with new devotees, if they have had stability there in their experience in Krsna Consciousness and that invokes more faith and commitment. In North America everything to be seen has been seen here…its a challenge. My answer in the form of a question would be is it a matter of leadership…to get a clear vision of what leadership wants, and then those people who want to be on board with that get on board with that. Otherwise, you may be communicating for a long, long time and not be able to get one clear picture, which BhaktiTirtha Maharaja once told me…it actually quite surprised me…because I’ve always had the vision that here is a person who always tries to embrace everyone and get everyone in and he said (to do with Gita Nagari) ‘ well no project can satisfy everyone and no project is necessarily for everyone.’

Some people will click with a certain project, and if not they need to find another project. To make the man fit the cloth, or to try and sew together a project to fit all people…you won’t end up with anything…So there should be a clear vision, which is why I say start at the very beginning with a very clear vision of what you want to do.

ADK: Does your original 8-page vision still fit with the current vision?

HHSS: Its changed. Proprietorship is one example.

R: It’s tightened up?

HHSS: We have one devotee…who is such a good devotee and his family is there. He has an incense business, and he donates…he gives fifty percent….we did make changes.

G: So you take on a project (Gita Nagari) that has private ownership now…

ADK: Not on the land. Next door there is 350 acres which is totally ISKCON-owned.

Rasikananda: The way the project in Africa (www.workingvillages.org) works is that people get ownership of the land and they can pass it on to their heirs, but they can’t sell the land to outside parties. It always belongs to the village, and if they go outside of the economic model of the village, the village retains ownership of the land. But for them to have impetus to keep working in that village, to grow their food, and to create commodities, they have trade within their village. They’re given an education, in that they’re given a skill, given the means of production, given their own workshop, given their own field, and their immediately ready to work after their education. They’re also given a house, which sets them up for a very quick start in their life. There’s no disparities with selling land and accumulating land. It keeps all the land safe in that there’s no threat to the land, but at the same time it gives them that sense of proprietorship which gives them further impetus to invest in that land.

HHSS: It would be interesting to add Krsna Consciousness to that. If we had African climate in Hungary, life would be different (laughter).

ADK: Do you think it helps having a cold climate?

HHSS: No. Housing would be a fraction of the cost. Then all you do is build a mud hut with a thatched roof. You don’t need windows….Then you have more than one growing season all year round. Thats where Prabhupada’s real vision of self-sufficiency, where you’re eating fresh produce all year round, that works in an Indian climate.

HHRS: The main component, just reflecting on what we’ve gone through. You’ve described having a vision of something that would manifest varnasrama, the social structure and self-sufficiency, those two things. The vision, from your reading and your experience and so on….From what I’ve noticed over the years, when Gita Nagari has flourished and when Gita Nagari had sunk. It flourished when there was a renounced visionary leader, and it went down when that visionary leader had left. They’ve been through three rises and falls. It seems that there has to be very strong spiritual support, and a shared plan in writing…in the beginning principal points and then details later.

HHSS: There should be a visionary, but the vision shouldn’t be up to the visionary. Varnasrama is an established fact and it wasn’t up to Yudhisthira Maharaja to reinvent it. You have the vision, and whoever comes has to adopt that vision, and manifest that, and encourage and inspire the devotees.

Devotee: So like you said…a core group of persons who are making a commitment for the long-term, and then they build the vision. One of the things I said to Devamrta Maharaja..something we could do, which I don’t like…is have a quilt. I’ll come do something, you’ll come do something, someone else will come do something, and you end up with this collage or quilt. Much better that there is a cohesive plan, and whatever happens matches the plan. The core committed persona keep moving the vision forward.

HHSS: Its not fair to the local devotees also. Some leader comes, some leader goes…And their lives go up and down, up and down. In other words, you come here. This is what it is. Its not up to the leader. They can’t change things here. These are the standards. You can trust what’s going to happen here. We’re putting it in writing.

ADK: Having renounced senior people is not the only answer. You gotta have the right vision, the right solid people there.

R: It can’t be based on a person, because that is when it does fall apart.

HHSS: It has to be the system itself. There has to be some momentum, and all the members become empowered to actually continue it on.

ADK: You are confident that New Vraja Dham will carry on when you pass away?

HHSS: I’m certainly working towards that.

Ras: The project in Africa works in that people don’t have to buy into the vision to benefit from the project. It’s so economically sound and superior to all the other competing economies that if you work within that economy, you’ll prosper. If you don’t work within that economy, you’re very limited, Of course there they have a stark contrast while here we have more an opulence outside of the village economy. They have so much more food, so much more facilities, so much more security that they can get people to invest in the project whole-heartedly and follow the rules, which are more or less in their economic interest.

Devotee: It seems that what is going on in the world demands a successful Krsna Conscious model. I was with a devotee from Puerto Rico during the NYC RathaYatra…he’s the president, he doesn’t grow anything on the temple property. He does sankirtan and he has his own little garden. He was saying that three months ago one plantain cost twenty cents. Now its 75 cents. Its getting to the point in Puerto Rico, in a tropical climate, that if you can’t grow your own food, your not gonna make it.

Globally, its our leadership’s duty to work on this.

HHSS: Yes, by all means Devotee: There are components of your success that will work elsewhere. and each place is going to have naturally something that matches the inspiration of the local people, provided it captures core principles. Those who can take up the responsibility will really need to take this forward.

HHSS: I put that on the GBC conference…because we didn’t take care of our children, we didn’t take care of our ladies, and we have other issues that have really caused us a lot of embarrassment. What happens if what Prabhupada did say happens and the whole world economy collapses? What are we going to tell devotees when they bring Prabhupada quotes and they’re all starving to death, asking ‘what did you guys do?’….What are you gonna say? We should be able to feed the devotees.

Devotee: Then that’s the sustainability.

T: Its not only the element of sustainability, but if Krsna Conscious culture means protecting women, children, the cows, the land…The development of growing your own food and the culture that engenders that is a feature of protection that has been completely ignored. The fact that the deities are being offered food that is completely contaminated from the planting of the seed to the handling of it to the poisoning of the soil, and our complete abuse of the yuktavairagya principle…persons in your leadership position have to address that philosophically and begin preaching to devotees why its better to offer things that are grown locally.

That culture has to develop based on philosophical understanding. That’s what missing. Its not just a techno-fix or throwing money at a project. The philosophical feature has to be there that it’s wrong to offer the deities things that are absolutely poisonous, and then excuse it on the basis of yuktavairagya.

HHSS: When Devamrta Maharaja was at the farm we had this discussion. He says ‘have you got a lot of vegans here in Hungary?’ I said no, hardly any. He says ‘well, I’ve got this problem, that there’s so many vegans in New Zealand and Australia…what do I do? They don’t want to come to the festivals and eat the curd and milk products…Then they ask us how we support this?’

We can’t support this philosophically. The only answer we have, which is not philosophical, is that these are our cows, which we protect, and take care of all of their lives. The milk comes from them. They’re not being abused. To participate in an industry which is really based on slaughter…we can’t support it. Prabhupada said 35 years ago that we aren’t fanatic, but he also told us what he wanted. He wanted that all of our centers get their milk and milk products from the farms.

We came to the conclusion for public festivals and programs that we shouldn’t impose if there is really such a majority. We should cook in a way that doesn’t actually insult their integrity. We can’t defend it.

ADK: In Florida, we have a cow, and we have tons of milk for sale, and devotees know about this, but they don’t even care.

R: We have a lot of second-generation devotees that are vegans because they don’t want to see the cows slaughtered, and their parents are coming to us for milk, to get their children to have that milk product.

HHSS: It just really highlights that point that we really neglected Prabhupada’s instructions and we’re painting ourselves in a corner in so many different ways because we have ignored such fundamental things. We are supporting a slaughterhouse industry. Talk about contaminated food and contaminated milk and all the karma that comes along with that.

Information and Links

Join the fray by commenting, tracking what others have to say, or linking to it from your blog.

Reader Comments

Yes. We should never neglect the instructions of Prabhupada, the perfect guru.