(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 22 December 2014, Cape Town, South Africa, Srimad Bhagavatam 9.19.19)
Srila Prabhupada explains, in terms of going to the forest, that the best of all forests is Vrindavan. But in Vrindavan, one must purely pursue Krsna consciousness and one must not go there for engaging in lusty desires. In other words, one must not go to Vrindavan to be a pretender and in the name of spiritual life just secretly engage in illicit sex.
Sexuality is allowed in Krsna consciousness but one must take responsibility. Illicit sex is condemned and illicit sex will not help. Illicit sex will bind us into the lower species of life; it will bring us down. So, even a devotee, who is secretly engaging in illicit sex, is doomed and is facing a future full of difficulty, therefore one must take shelter! The process of varnasrama is designed in that way, it is meant to provide different kinds of shelter. Everyone needs shelter! We are all conditioned souls. The pushings of the senses are very strong. The ashram offers us a different facility of shelter and one may chose whichever shelter that may seem to be the easiest to follow. But, if out of false ego, one is going for a position that appears to be more prestigious and one is not honest with himself as well as others, then he brings fall-down upon himself, disgrace and with it, difficulty to continue to properly take the alternate shelter – the shelter of Krsna. Varnasrama is a material position from where samsiddhir hari-tosanam (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.13), from where we can take shelter of devotional service. So it is important that one is properly situated.
Of all the ashrams, there are three ashrams which are allowed for a lifetime – the brahmachari ashram, the vanaprashta ashram and the sannyasa ashram, but the grhasta ashram is not! One cannot stay there forever. It is an ashram that is time bound, pancasordhvam vanam vrajet (at age fifty to go to the forest). So scriptures are emphasizing vanaprashta.
Now the question may be raised, “Is this also applicable to devotees? Should devotees also, at the age of fifty, take vanaprashta?” Sometimes it is asked, “What if the marriage is favourable for preaching then do transcendental principles apply?”
One can argue in favour of that and say yes, the higher principle is anukulyasya sankalpah pratikulyasya varjanam (Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya 22.100), that whatever is favourable for spreading Krsna consciousness, we accept. So, the case can be made that we will not rigidly follow these rules of varnasrama. Of course, we understand, as Prabhupada said that after age fifty, there must be no sex life. That we shall do, but we shall stay together to preach. So, on the strength of anukulyasya sankalpah, or accepting that which is favourable, one can make a case for staying together.
On the other hand, it still may be very useful to go to the forest; after all we are not so transcendental. Even if externally we give up sex life, still internally, we may maintain some lust unnecessarily which may lead to another birth in the material world. Therefore, those who are very serious, even in our movement, may consider pancasordhvam vanam vrajet, at age fifty to go to the forest, as a shelter. Continuing to take shelter and not trusting one’s own mind, not trusting one’s own senses because the mind and senses, by nature, are treacherous. So how to trust the mind? So, pancasordhvam vanam vrajet, is not wrong, it is the approach towards safety.