A few years ago, while pursuing my postgraduate studies at USM in Penang, I happened to glance over the front page of the local newspaper to read the following headline in large capital letters: WANTED: LEADERS.
The statement was being made by the then Prime Ministry of Malaysia who was expressing his dismay at the lack of leadership within his country, especially in the context of educational institutions which seemingly were not able to produce highly qualified leaders. He was pointing to a leadership crisis within his own country, but if we analyze most countries and most organizations around the world, the lack of such qualified leaders is rampant in present day society, the consequences of which can be witnessed by the ever-increasing anomalies we find in all spheres and at all levels of modern day life.
More recently, a similar concern was expressed by the Minister of Education in India when he officially stated that 75% of students graduating from universities were ill-prepared and ill-suited to take up their designated career. Where today can we find qualified leaders? And where today can we find the training and education to bring individuals to proper standards of leadership?
Leadership and Dependence
Within the Vedic culture, anyone who had dependents was considered a leader. Therefore, not only the Kings or Heads of State (kshatriyas) were accepted as leaders, but those in the other varnas having dependents were also regarded as leaders. According to the Vedic social system of daiva-varnasrama, the majority of people (sudras) are meant, by nature and by disposition, to serve under the able guidance and care of either the brahmanas, ksatriyas or vaisyas.
Leadership and Governance
Within the context of setting up and coordinating communities in keeping with the principles of daiva-varnasrama, the main leadership falls upon the head of householder ksatriyas, either at the level of villages, states, countries (kingdoms) or the world. Governance is a vital principle within the Vedic society and is the specialized domain of the ksatriyas who are meant to rule their citizens as loving fathers. As we begin to consider implementing principles of daiva varnasrama, the themes of leadership and governance take on a more significant role.
Varnasrama Development and Governance
In analyzing the four-fold vision given by Srila Prabhupada (as outlined in his essay Conceptions of Gita Nagari) to help transform our present misdirected society towards a global Krishna conscious nation, it is only when we begin to closely consider the fourth division of "Varnasrama" that we begin to see the need of implementing a God conscious leadership within society at large.
There are certainly leadership elements in the first three divisions identified by Srila Prabhupada namely, 1) the Sankirtan Movement based on the holy names and book distribution, 2) the Temple Worship Movement and 3) the Spiritual Initiation Movement. However, these first three divisions remain largely confined to those having brahminical duties. All these three divisions are meant to be headed by brahmanas for it is the primary duty of brahmanas to 1) study the Vedic literatures and spread their glories through both the chanting of the holy names and the distribution of transcendental literatures [brhhat mrdanga], 2) to perform yajnas by installing deities and worshiping the arca-vigraha form of the Lord in temples and in homes of householders and 3) to encourage the involvement of various congregational members preparing them to become connected in guru parampara through training and educational programs. At present, to a large extent, all of these are intimately connected with our city temple preaching activities.
However, when we enter the larger realm of varnasrama development, not so much within our city temples but rather within the rural setting of village communities, we are confronted with concepts of leadership and governance at various levels and hence the need for effective training and education.
Standard Training and Education
Such type of leadership will only be possible if we implement the standard Vedic training and education, as recommended in our sastras, from an early age. When the varnasrama system was in order, generally young boys from both brahmana and ksatriya families would receive this specialized training in the educational system of gurukula. However, anyone who displayed the natural tendencies and qualities of a brahmana or ksatriya could also avail of this training and education. Keeping this vision in mind, Srila Prabhupada wanted his disciples to implement the Vedic educational institutions of both Gurukula for the younger boys and Varnasrama Colleges for the older ones.
Standard Qualities of Leaders
Our Vedic literatures give us clear and specific information about the qualities needed for a good leader. From the perennial teachings of the Bhagavad-gita we find the following seven qualities of an ideal leader outlined:
“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas.” (Bg. 18.43)
From the Srimad Bhagavatam, the following ten qualities are given:
“To be influential in battle, unconquerable, patient, challenging and charitable, to control the bodily necessities, to be forgiving, to be attached to the brahminical nature and to be always jolly and truthful—these are the symptoms of the kshatriya.”
We find another important instruction given in the Srimad Bhagavatam by the great King Rshabadava to his 100 sons headed by Bharat Maharaja:
"One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” (SB 5.5.18)
In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada explains:
“Ordinarily, the spiritual master, husband, father, mother or superior relative accepts worship from an inferior relative, but here Rshabhadeva forbids this. First the father, spiritual master or husband must be able to release the dependent from repeated birth and death. If he cannot do this, he plunges himself into the ocean of reproachment for his unlawful activities. Everyone should be very responsible and take charge of his dependents just as a spiritual master takes charge of his disciple or a father takes charge of his son. All these responsibilities cannot be discharged honestly unless one can save the dependent from repeated birth and death.”
Thus, leadership within the Vedic culture carries a heavy responsibility. We can therefore better understand why so much preparation would go into training both the young boys and the young girls before entering householder life. Similarly, anyone who would envision becoming either a brahmana or ksatriya would likewise have to undergo many years of training and education. To become a parent is a life-long responsibility, at least until the children are grown up and can start their own family life. Likewise, to become a leader for a much larger family, either a village, a state, a country or the world, is even more demanding and requires the highest of qualifications. Until these instructions given by Srila Prabhupada to establish both standard Gurukulas and Varnasrama Colleges are taken up more seriously, we can expect to continue witnessing a leadership crisis around the world.