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Ideal Locations for Varnashrama Communities

I'd like to discuss what kind of location is most suitable for establishing a Krishna conscious village community in America.. Srila Prabhupada has given us the fundamentals for making the right choices regarding the type of land that's best for this purpose. He always encouraged his disciples to use their best intelligence and common sense for practical choices. In spite of good intentions, capital and expertise, location can make or break an attempt to develop a working farm community. According to the Vedas, time, place and people influence the success or failure of all human endeavors. Kala, desha, patra are very important.

In Hawaii in early 1975 I was enamored with the beauty of our first ISKCON farm there, where I was Temple President. One GBC man had hatched a plan to sell the farm out from under us, supposedly to pay off debts to the BBT incurred by the Honolulu temple. He and other GBC men were trying to get Srila Prabhupada to go along with this idea. On the advise of a sannyasi, we wrote Prabhupada a letter, explaining our gardening, Deities, bhaktas, goshala and the natural opulence of our land and location.

After hearing this handwritten letter, Srila Prabhupada overruled the GBC's decision to sell the farm and decided to come to the farm immediately. He said he was considering residing there permanently for the purpose of entering nirbhajana, to finish Srimad-Bhagavatam. After arriving from Japan, he bypassed Honolulu, where all the “big leader” devotees had gathered to meet him. He instead caught another plane and came straight to the our farm on the Big Island, without any of his usual entourage and tag-alongs. That's another story, but this anecdote illustrates how eager Srila Prabhupada was to encourage farm projects, even by retiring from world travel to teach young men how to live simply on the land.. (Again, in 1977, Srila Prabhupada expressed a similar desire -- to retire to Gita Nagari farm to teach the varnashrama program.)

When Srila Prabhupada arrived at our mountain retreat, I could see that he was appreciative of the special beauty there but not at all enamored by it, they way I and the other brahmacaris were. His first questions to me were, “Do you have any flat land? and “What is your water source?” I saw his disappointment when he heard my answers, and he saw mine in seeing his. He even tried to cheer me up later and explained that our place was nice for Gaura-Nitai, the cows and the brahmacaris. He spoke approvingly of our temple program and goshala. He was very relaxed and at home, and he even napped on my mat and wool blanket.. He commented several times on the breakfast we served him, even after he had returned to Oahu. He said he had had milk that good only twice in his life. Nonetheless, after talking to Prabhupada about our Hawaii ISKCON farm, I understood it could never be a full scale varnashrama community or even a varnashrama college, as our big sign out front announced. (Srila Prabhupada had noted the presumptuous sign with amusement.)

We had very little flat land, and we relied on rain catchment for water supply. I explained to Srila Prabhupada that in this area of Hawaii no irrigation was needed, but he immediately replied, “What about water for washing and bathing?” I said, “We have rain catchment tanks and ponds.” Obviously not satisfied with this answer, he asked, “What about getting wells.” I answered, “That's highly unlikely, because in this part of Hawaii, well depths usually must be down to sea level, and we are at 2,200 feet here.” Srila Prabhupada did not reply but was obviously not enthused by this information.

A village with even the most basic varnashrama structure needs hundreds of acres of flat or gently rolling land that can be easily irrigated and cultivated, such as at Gita Nagari and the Hyderabad farm. Srila Prabhupada was pleased with both these locations. He didn't appreciate the farm potential at New Vrindaban because it was hilly and full of muddy clay. But NV at least had good water sources from wells, springs and streams on the land. If the water source is not on the land itself, it should come from a mountain stream and forest where no one lives. Ideally, all water should come from the community land itself, from springs, spring-fed ponds, or wells. Wells, unless artesian or near artesian, require big energy to pump. Spring-fed ponds on a hillside, on the other hand, can provide gravity-flow irrigation for both flood and sprinkler irrigation on level land below.

Srila Prabhupada clearly showed us that flat, or relatively level land, with a good water source, was the main needed asset for developing a successful farm community. This was one reason he wanted to go to Gita Nagari rather than New Vrindaban to establish the first varnashrama village. This is why he liked the 600-acre Hyderabad farm that seemed so featureless, flat, hot, dry, and remote and which was implicated in legalities with its previous owners. In spite of the obstacles and risk, Srila Prabhupada saw the potential here for engaging devotees in growing grains on large scale. He liked the dry weather and quiet atmosphere. (Dry weather is great for grains if irrigation is good.) He spent many days here, made many plans and provided money for developing this farm. Srila Prabhupada obviously placed great importance on preaching in India. Yet in 1977, while very ill, Srila Prabhupada again left Vrindaban for the purpose of returning to America.. He wanted to personally teach us how to establish the first varnashrama community. He wanted to do this in America

If we can survive the coming tribulations as a group, there will be opportunities later for increased preaching along the lines of varnashrama dharma. It may be too late, however, to create a full working village with agriculture, cows, temple, ashram and homes prior to that time, but if we cooperate now we can at least create a basic infrastructure.

Our primary objectives now, I feel, should be to establish a workable location to store and grow food, save Srila Prabhupada's original books and recordings, save a few A2 or ancient breed cows, save a few intelligent devotees, learn to use oxen, and go on trying to preach cooperatively. Unless we get serious about cooperating on this level right away, nothing substantial can be done before the time when “all will be in oblivion” and “the cities are closed.” We need to create a village tirtha that is self-sustaining. . From that, varnashrama villages can expand in every direction, within walking or bull cart ride apart, like Mathura and Gokula and Varsana. All resources are insufficient unless we can get devotees on board who are eager to establish the temple program, cow protection and food production..

What we need first is a training center and the ability to survive when all modern systems of social order are finished. If any of Prabhupada's disciples can set up the infrastructure for a village with its own economy based on food production, I will immediately sign up to be a sudra and/or a sadhu there. I don't want to be a chief at this stage of my life. I just want to attend a full morning and evening program and clean the cow barn daily.

Devotees are longing for a genuine holy place of pilgrimage in America -- a place where Srila Prabhupada's disciples can serve His mission in good association. We need a place were pilgrim devotees can visit for a few days for intensive sadhana, training and revival. Without such a common tirtha, the efforts of most devotees to serve the preaching mission will become increasingly weak and almost futile, as we have all seen. Good association and a clear mission of service are essential for our quick advancement in Krishna consciousness.

Kala, desha, patra means time, place and persons. We know clearly the following two facts: the time for varnashrama is now and the people to reestablish varnashrama are Srila Prabhupada and his disciples in the Krishna consciousness movement. The place is still in question. We need to pray for the ideal place (desha) to make it successful. Even the mighty Pandavas, the greatest devotees, said they needed at least one village to do their service as ksyatriyas. They needed their own place. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada's disciples need their own tirtha in the West -- before the next impending cataclysm. Unlike the Kuruksetra War, however, this cataclysm won't be contained at one location. Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes, atom bomb...all the demons will be finished.” Sri Sanjaya predicted the Pandavas' victory based in part on the fact that the war would be at Kuruksetra, or Dharmaksetra, a holy place. Thus, it can be safely concluded that the place, desha, is an important consideration in our attempts to revive the varnashrama way of life.

Although ultimately everything depends of guru-krsna-prasada, Srila Prabhupada has quoted and thus confirmed the truth of the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”

[In 1974 a gang of thugs attacked the New Vrindaban community, where I was residing as a brahmacari. When Srila Prabhupada heard about the assault he was surprised that the leadership of NV were defenseless and totally unable to protect the Deities and devotees. He commented that if they wanted to practice total nonviolence, he would come there to personally defend the devotees and Deities. In other words, when it comes to defending Deities and devotees, we should feel some obligation rather than expecting Lord Krishna to do our whole duty for us.] 

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