For some ISKCON devotees, the notion that two distinct halves make-up Srila Prabhupada’s complete mission may be revelatory. What “second half?” Aren’t we struggling enough to maintain our “first half” responsibilities like book distribution and harināma saṅkīrtana?
Srila Prabhupada’s expressed desire for farm community development is often viewed as an “additional” project, something we’ll get to in the future. According to Abhirama Dasa, Srila Prabhupada’s on-site nurse in Prabhupada’s final days, this back-burner approach is not what Srila Prabhupada wanted. “When he said, ‘50% of my work is incomplete,'” says Abhirama, ‘”It means half of his entire work is unfinished and not a different project.”
Here is Abhirāma’s direct encounter:
I was personally present on two occasions when Srila Prabhupada spoke about how important establishing varṇāśrama was to him. Both times were in the summer of 1977, in Prabhupada’s room in Vrindavan, before he left to go to London. At the time, Tamal Krishna Goswami was Srila Prabhupada’s personal secretary, and I his assistant. I was also Prabhupada’s nurse.
The first time, several devotees were there with Srila Prabhupada. We knew that his health was getting weaker. He was talking to the devotees about his imminent departure. “I have no lamentation,” Prabhupada said. He paused for a few seconds, and then he said, “No, I have one lamentation.” A devotee asked, “Because you have not finished translating the Srīmad Bhāgavatam?” Prabhupada replied, “No, that I have not established varṇāśrama.”
On the next occasion, some time later, I was with Srila Prabhupada in his room when he made the statement, “Fifty percent of my work is not complete because I have not established varṇāśrama.”
I remember one more quote from that summer. Prabhupada stated, “I want to establish varṇāśrama.” A devotee asked, “How will you do that, Srila Prabhupada?” and he replied, “I will go to Gīta Nāgari, I will sit down, and I will teach you to live off the land.” I personally consider that to be the bīja mantra [seed mantra] of varṇāśrama.
– Excerpt from Srila Prabhupada on Varnasrama (1999)
Spiritual mathematics and peanut butter
The “second half” controversy is a sticky, and often, contentious issue which, to be honest, is critical to the future of ISKCON in North America. If we continue to promote only half of Prabhupada’s vision, we get half, or less, of the result. Excuse the crude analogy, but you can’t call a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” a “genuine peanut butter and jelly sandwich” without the jelly. Likewise, if we dismiss Srila Prabhupada’s lament about his undeveloped second half initiative, we damage the first half initiative as well.
You might inquire, “Didn’t Srila Prabhupada suggest that varṇāśrama is a waste of time in Kali-yuga?” Yes, Prabhupada did utter those words in ISKCON’s infancy, the late 1960s and early 70s. By 1977, however, as chronicled by Sureśvara Prabhu in his Srila Prabhupada, Our Founder-Acharya lecture seminar, Prabhupada was stressing the immediacy of farm community development as imperative for energizing Krishna consciousness in the West.
And that, dear readers, is why we publish the second-half.org website: to highlight Srila Prabhupada’s complete vision. Farming is preaching by example. When our first half philosophy is complimented by example based living, we immediately invoke the blessing and empowerment of Srila Prabhupada.
Let’s ask ourselves this question: Are we intelligent enough to inspire a worldwide movement by our own modifications of Prabhupada’s vision? We all know the answer. Does this mean abandoning the city temples? No. but it does mean validating the rural projects as varnashram incubators and integral moving parts to the sankirtan machine.
Most devotees are city creatures, removed from the harsh realities of rural life by at least three generations. Connection to the land, animal husbandry and simple living has been bred out of our DNA by compulsory public school education, the monstrous march of industrialization and our own addictions to a life of suburban convenience.
Romanticizing about “plain living and high thinking” and wrapping our minds around the order to “Farm, farm, farm, farm” (Vrindaban morning walk May 27th, 1977) is a daunting juxtaposition of lifestyle and consciousness. It’s not an easy transition and not something that will happen overnight. On that same morning walk, Srila Prabhupada said, “This is not my program,” …this is Krishna’s program.
Learn more about The Second Half.