Friday, February 5, 2016

varnAshrama dharma of Hinduism from traditional viewpoint

|| Hari OM ||

|| ShrI guru sharaNam ||

Note: This article is an extraction of longer article, 'Hindu Dharma - Traditional Overview'. The aim is to provide basic information on sanAtana dharma also known as Hinduism. The below title is the 14th article. To maintain similarity, here too we are starting the article with number 14 and not 1. The links of full article are:

Not all links are updated to latest version. Editable Doc is the main article which is updated.

NOTE: This article attempts to present Traditional Overview of varNa vyavasthA and Ashrama dharma collectively known as 'varNAshrama dharma' in sanAtana dharma.

14. varnAshrama dharma

varNa is often translated and used interchangeably with the word ‘Caste’. Caste is not the word of Indian Origin, but of Portuguese origin. Caste is not varNa. Caste is translated as ‘jAtI’ (jātī) which is a subset of varNa. There are four varNa-s – 
  • brAhmaNa (Brahmin, also written as brAhmin), 
  • kshatriya (xatriya), 
  • vaishya, 
  • SUdra (shUdra, śūdra). 

Within brAhmin varNa, there are many jAtI-s.

varNAshrama dharma is made up of two words varNa [dharma] and Ashrama [dharma].

14.1. varNa dharma

Opinion of traditional vaidika āchārya-s like Sankarāchārya, Rāmānujāchārya, Madhvāchārya, etc is that ‘varNa is by guNa but guNa is by birth because we take past lives into account’. It is a misconception that varNa is purely based on guNa-s only. This is explained later in an article Traditional view of varṇa dharma.   

Let's understand four varṇa-s in brief.

14.2. Brāhmaṇa-s

Veda-s are of utmost importance. They have to be protected. Veda-s are not short texts that can be easily memorized. Further the mantras (verses) contained in them have their own potency when they are pronounced properly. To ensure this, a full proof system was developed by great rishi-s (Seer) so that not even a bit of information gets corrupted while orally passing from one person to another. Each verse in veda called as shruti vacan (commandment of shruti) has
- a rishi (seer to whom this verse was revealed),
- a devatā (God / Demigod to whom this verse is attributed or dedicated) and
- chandas or meter in which a verse has to be sung or chanted.

14.2.1. Veda-s can only be preserved by oral tradition

Veda-s cannot be preserved in written form even with svara-s (musical annotations) as they are insufficient to describe pitch, length and the depth of a particular character in a particular word. This can only be known by listening it from an accomplished master. Mantra is sound. Sound is nothing but a kind of energy and vibration. We are all affected by vibrations and energy. When a vedic mantra is properly pronounced, it produces divine positive vibrations. Anyone who hears them or is present in vicinity receives these vibrations and his subtle body, mind and nADI-s are cleansed and purified. Each vibration has it's own frequency. Hence to generate a particular frequency, one needs to pronounce a word in a definite way to produce desired effect. This is the reason why veda-s cannot be preserved in books. They must be chanted.

To master one veda, it takes around 10 years. Hence to master 4 vedas, it would take 40 years of dedication. Further the works mentioned in vedas are to be carried out faithfully to ensure universal well being and for personal spiritual development. This is a Herculean  task. For this purpose, an entire class was created, who was entrusted with this responsibility. They came to be known as brAhmin-s. Their foremost duty is to learn, recite, practice and teach veda-s. brAhmin-s also carry other duties like being a pujArI (priest), performing various rites and rituals like marriage ceremony, after-death ceremony, etc. They also teach various arts like warfare, economics, etc.

14.3. Kshatriya-s

Society needs to be safe guarded against any foreign attack and needs to be governed properly to function effectively. Duty of protection and administration is entrusted to kshatriya-s.

14.4. Vaishya-s

Agriculture and trading are the heart of any community for its sustenance. These duties are entrusted to vaishya-s. They are the business community. While the modern education has special courses for management and in doing business, SD already has a special varNa in whom art of doing business is in their blood. There is a popular saying that mARvArI-s (a mArvArI speaking business community practising either Hinduism or Jainism) and Jains learn art of doing business in their mother’s womb. They don't need to enroll in a 2 year course on Business management.

14.5. Śūdra-s

Śūdra-s (shudra-s) are helping and trading class. They are essential for running of society. Without them society would collapse. They do not need to learn veda-s. Ensuring their spiritual progress is the duty of brAhmin. If he stops chanting vedas, it is shudra who has to suffer, as he is entrusted with different vocation. If a shudra starves, it is vaishya community which has to be blamed. If shudra feels insecurity, Kshatriya has to protect them. Kanchi Paramacharya says that there are some portions of veda-s which Sudra-s are supposed to chant. However, he has not pinpointed verses or sections to be chanted by Sudra-s.

The common perception is that Sudra-s do not enjoy the same status as that of other three varṇa-s. However, brahmins and other varṇa-s have restrictions on diet, behaviour and freedom. brAhmin-s are supposed to follow restrictions strictly than other varNa-s. Sudra-s enjoy liberty in restrictions. According to KarpAtrI svAmI, a highly revered saint and most preferred and deserving sanyAsin to hold title of SankarAchArya (of jyotirmath), a sudra gets purified and gains same merits by simply looking at the temple doom as a brAhmin priest gets from performing pUjA.

Kanchi Paramacharya says:

We must note that they (Sudra-s) are comparatively free from the discipline and rituals to which the rest are tied down. In the past, they knew more contentment than the other castes, living as they did by the side of the lord. Vyasa himself says: "Kalih saduh, Sudrah saduh" (The age of Kali is no way inferior to other ages nor the sudras inferior to other castes. Kali is indeed elevated and Sudras exalted. ) In other yugas or ages Bhagawan is attained to with difficulty by meditation, austerities and puja, but in Kali he is reached by the mere singing of his names. The Brahmin, the Kshatriya and the Vaisya are likely to have self pride, so they cannot attain Atmic liberation easily. The Brahmin is likely to be in vain about his intellectual superiority, the Kshatriya about his power as a ruler and the Vaisya about his wealth. So these three varnas will tend to stray from the path of dharma. A member of the fourth varna, on the contrary is humble. (source)

Mahatma Gandhi says,

"Varnasrama is, in my opinion, inherent in human nature, and Hinduism has simply reduced it to a science. It does attach to birth … The divisions define duties, they confer no privileges. It is, I hold, against the genius of HInduism to arrogate to oneself a higher status or to assign to another a lower ... Varnasrama is self-restraint and conservation and economy of energy ...

" I have often shown the distinction between varnasrama and untouchability. I have defended the one as a rational, scientific, fact and condemned the other as an excrescence and unmitigated evil ... I do regard varnasrama as healthy division of work based on birth ... Varnasrama, in my opinion, was not conceived in any narrow spirit. On the contrary, it gave the labourer, the Sudra, the same status as the thinker, the Brahmin. It provided for the accentuation of merit and elimination of demerit, and it transformed human ambition from the general worldly sphere to the permanent and the spiritual. The aim of the Brahmin and Sudra was common -moksa of Self-realisation, not realisation of fame, riches and power. " (source)

14.5.1. What a sudra can do

bhagavAn in uddhava gItA says that all four varNa-s are devoted to me. Hence a sudra can be as devoted to Ishvara as a brAhmin. There is no reason for not being so. However, like women, a sudra is relieved from the burden of protection veda-s which is a full time job. Topic of status of women in sanAtana dharma is discussed later. Except learning and chanting veda-s, a sudra can do pretty much everything  that other varNa-s can do, learn sanskrit, learn Agama shAstra-s, practice yoga and tantra, learn any arts like dancing, singing, etc. sudra can do all things that he is capable of and if financially his parents can afford to educate him. Like vaishya, a sudra also has natural advantage to learn trading and other occupation of their parents from childhood. If family is fairly rich, they can educate their son or daughter and a sudra can very well become an engineer or a doctor. There is no question about his intelligence or about his abilities.

14.5.2. Why a sudra cannot touch a brAhmin?

In kayuga, it is said that a man incurs sin only by his wrong deeds and not by touching a sudra. In other yuga-s, there was so much of purity that certain rules were established, which cannot be applied in today’s life. Alternatively, purANa-s and itihAsa have predicted decline of varNa dharma and that a sudra will sit next to a brahmin indicating that the older custom of sudra-s being forbidden to touch a brAhmin has melted away. Still, we will try to understand the reason why sudra-s cannot physically touch a brAhmin. There is a belief that it pollutes brAhmin. How is this possible? Lets try to understand the reason behind this belief.

Any restriction, be it of untouchability or performing post-death ceremonies or women not being allowed to worship when menstrual cycle is active has it's own reasons. As per sanātana dharma, we do not just have one body, we have five bodies. 

Five bodies are - 
1. annamaya kośa (physical gross body), 
2. prāṇamaya kośa (energy body or aura or bioplasmic body), 
3. manomaya kośa (mental body, body of thoughts and emotions - sometimes split into astral and mental body by new-age philosophies), 
4. vijñānamaya kośa (causal body where the ego lies) and 
5. ānandamaya kośa (body of bliss, body of ignorance, body of intuition). 

Any objection must be taken after taking into account the ways and working of all five bodies. 

On practical basis, we conclude that when a śudra touches a brāhmin, nothing happens. This is correct when only physical gross body is taken into account. However we do not study how other bodies react when they come in contact with each other i.e. we have not studied the reaction of prāṇamaya kośa of brāhmin and śudra, manomaya kośa of śudra and brāhmin. Modern reformers do not study and know the functioning of four subtle bodies. Sanātana dharma was created by keeping in mind functioning of all five bodies and not just one. It is very unfair to come to a conclusion and criticize any restriction without having proper understanding of all five bodies. If at all there is a misconception, and it is proved that nothing happens to all five bodies when they interact with other person's bodies, then one can claim that when a śudra touches a Brāhmin, Brāhmin does not become impure. However, we must also understand that when we say a Brāhmin, he must be inwardly pure and dedicated to his vocation by birth, which is protection of veda-s and or doing priestly work. A brāhmin must be purer then a śudra. As a universal rule, energy or prāṇa, like water flows from higher level to lower level. That is why Vyāsa pīṭa (teacher's seat) is always at a higher level then disciples. When prāṇamaya kośa of a inwardly pure brāhmin comes in contact with prāṇamaya kośa of a śudra, then energy exchange takes place. prāṇa of śudra enters into prāṇamaya kośa of a Brāhmin and vice versa. Since śudra is impure from POV of energy level, his energy or prāṇa lowers the vibrations of Brāhmin's prāṇa and so the purity of brāhmin's prāṇa decreases. Taking bath along with mantra chanting removes less pure prāṇa from the naḍī's or psychic nerve system of a Brāhmin. When we touch right toe of a siddha or a saint who is highly purified his four subtle bodies, then prāṇa from saint's right toe through yaśaṣvī nāḍī passes into the devotee. This prāṇa is so strong that it purifies subtle bodies. Saint is strong enough to resist or discard the less pure prāṇa of devotee. His constant communion with divine prāṇa and constant flow of divine energy through him helps him to throw all negative or less purified prāṇa-s out of his system immediately without himself getting contaminated. 

We have explained this from POV of prāṇamaya kośa. Similarly is manokaya kośa also exchanges thoughts and emotions with thoughts and emotions of manomaya kośa of person it's comes in contact. Other higher bodies like vijñānamaya and ānadamaya kośa are not very developed in ordinary person and hence knowledge of their way of working is given only to a select few. These higher bodies do not die or are not destroyed until one attains moksha. They contain vāsanā-s and saṃskāra-s (desires and impressions of past lives) within them. Modern medical science is yet to accept their existence. Hence it is very unfair to simply reject any rule or restriction based upon the knowledge of just one body.
On practical ground, in order to understand the reason behind restriction, we must also take into account the other side of circumstances that a (financially) poor sudra-s live in. This should not be taken as a racial discrimination nor is an insult to them. It may sound politically incorrect, but we are just presenting the other side of coin. Generally, poor people are more concerned about their livelihood. If we see the life of a hawker or a road side tea vendor, they have strive daily to earn money just sufficient to fulfill their daily basic needs. In other words if they do not work the next day, they are going to starve. Hence the whole focus of their life is to earn money. Labourers, unlike middle class, are on daily wages even today. We can understand that the entire focus, the whole energy, their thinking, etc is on ‘how to earn and fulfill basic needs’. For them money is very important, important than middle class or a higher middle class. All this is due to their circumstances. Hence their consciousness is strongly embedded in physical body. Due to the condition in which they live, they have little time to devote to Īśvara, as after a full day of hard work, they need to get rest and take adequate sleep. Life of a brāhmin is completely opposite. A brāhmin is not allowed to work no matter if he is born in a (financially) poor family. He has to depend upon donations received from society.

Devotion to Īśvara raises one’s consciousness to such a level that the devotee is able to detach himself from his mind, body and intellect. For this constant efforts for many years is needed. The words like ‘mudha’, or ‘impure’ or ‘polluted’ does not mean that the physical body of any person is polluted or is infected with some disease. These words are connected with the evolution of consciousness, and inner purity, i.e. purity of mind. Again, there is no connection between mind and intellect. An intelligent person can be short tempered and arrogant while an average person can be very humble. Again, the nature of mind or deeds does not indicate the evolution of consciousness. A noble person, who is a great social worker and having down to earth personality does not indicate that he has detached himself from his physical body. Noble character is not a benchmark of evolution of consciousness, though it definitely helps in spiritual progress.

Let's understand the words mudha, ignorant fool, impure, and polluted. Adi Śankarāchārya jī in his famous composition moha mudgara, also known as bhaja govindam, has said, ‘ bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam, govindam bhaja mudha madhe’. This spontaneous composition was composed when the great saint saw an old man parroting śāstra-s but his inner eye was not opened. He had not progressed spiritually instead of practicing and reading scriptures since many years. He knew that the path of renunciation is difficult, hence he advised old man to sing glories of the Lord as his consciousness was still strongly embedded in physical body. Upanishads say that we are not the body, the jīva, which as per Ādi Śankara, is not different from Brahman, the supreme reality.

So here mudha which is often translated as ‘ignorant fool’ or simply ‘fool’ means a person whose consciousness is strongly embedded in physical body. This means that though you read a thousand times that ‘I am not body’, still mind does not detach from body, but continues to believe and experience itself as physical body. In such a person, the vibrations are not much spiritual. They do not help others to excel in spirituality. Vibrations of subtle body and mind definitely affect environment and nearby persons. On the other hand, a brāhmin is walking on a devout path to raise his consciousness. He is chanting veda-s and upanishads that teach us to raise our consciousness from physical body know the true nature. A life of brāhmin near to that of is that of a sanyAsin in terms of purity. Hence vibrations of his subtle body and mind are purer than that of a śudra who constantly thinks of taking care of his body and how to fulfill his basic necessities. Though, in general, consciousness of all is embedded in physical body, in case of (financially) poor śudra, there is little or no effort to raise it to higher plane. Hence a brāhmin is not supposed to interact with a śudra physically. We must understand that such a person can be highly intelligent, may be of gōd nature and may do noble work.

The author again request readers to take this explanation in right spirit. As said earlier, now with changing time, situation is changing and hence there is downfall in the life of brāhmins as few are interested in carrying out their vocation by birth and Government is encouraging lower varṇa-s to study Government gives many grants and benefits to lower varṇa-s so that they can take admission in schools and colleges.

14.6. Dalits, Mahadalits, Outcasts, BCs, OBCs, SCs, STs and vanavAsi-s (AdivAsi-s)

Dalit or a mahadalit is not a varNa created by Lord brahmA jI. It is a man-made jAtI (and not varNa). Outcasts became outcasts because maybe their ancestors were excommunicated due to some or other reason. They are simply the lower jAtI-s.

SC and ST are Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes. These are the people living in forests. Hence they are called as vanavAsi-s. vana means ‘forest’ and vAsa means ‘to live’. However, Britishers, for political reasons coined the word ‘AdivAsi’ meaning the first or original inhabitants. Adi means ‘First’. In other words they called them as aboriginals, the original forest and cave men, the oldest inhabitants of India. They created this word ‘AdivAsi’ so that they can make us believe that like their ancestors, Indian ancestors too lived a primitive life and were forest dwellers and cave men. They want us to believe that we have progressed from stone age and Britishers have evolved into superior race and has invented many things. They did not want us to believe in our glorious past, in the life of rAma and kRShNa. For them rAma and kRShNa are imaginary creations. SC, ST and vanavAsi-s are still living in forests and living a primitive life. They are less connected with modern society, though they may earn their living by selling their work in nearby village. Like sudra-s they too, in general, do not make any efforts to raise consciousness to higher plane.

BC means Backward Class and OBC means Other Backward Class. Both are collective terms used to lower financially poor castes. OBCs are in a better financial position than BCs and can sustain on themselves, while BC which covers SC, ST and dalits have to depend upon others for earning and survival.  some OBCs are rich, and some are super rich. One of OBCs caste (jAtI) is ‘Patels’. Patels are generally farmers or traders. After earning money, the educate their children and the business expands. Next generation is born in rich family and so adheres to the customs and etiquette of ‘rich’ Class. Such people are accepted by other varNa-s and often mix with them. Still they do respect brAhmin-s as they are needed for priestly work on an occasion.

SC, ST and vanavAsI-s have their own customs. They believe in Ishvara and worship him in their own way and follow their own customs.

We must understand that Ishvara will always give us birth in a family, varNa, jAtI and environment that helps us progress spiritually and fulfill our dis-satisfied desires (vAsanA-s) with which we have taken birth in this human body.

We must also acknowledge that bhArata has produced many great Dalit saints and leaders from lower jAtI-s. Great men are born in all traditions, all varNa-s, all jAtI-s and in all societies.

Let's understand why varNa vyavasthA was created.

14.7. The ultimate purpose of varṇa dharma

Today, the functions of Kshatriya-s, Vaisya-s and Sudra-s have changed and become mixed. Even so the work of the government goes on somehow. Defence, manufacture of various articles, trade, labour - all these go on somehow. But, unlike in the past, there is jealousy as well as rivalry in all fields. Even so, the duties of the three castes are carried out despite the fact that varna dharma has broken up. They are a practical necessity for day-to-day life as well as for the functioning of the government. So they are performed, albeit unsatisfactorily.

The ultimate purpose of varṇa dharma is to rise above varṇa and āshram dharma and achieve moksha.

14.8. beyond varṇa-s

While the standard practice is to stick to dharma of your varNa, after one receives initiation into any mantra, guru grace is on his disciple. No matter if the disciple is of any varNa, if s/he practises meditation and mantra chanting diligently as per guru-s instructions, then one day s/he might become inwardly pure sufficiently to become a sanyAsI. Traditionally, in vedAntic system, sanyAsa is not given to women, but her spiritual progress is not hampered. In recent years many saints have given sanyAsa dikshA to women also.

After one becomes a sanyAsI, one is above varNa. There is no varNa sub-division within sanyAsa. Monastic life is the best suitable for spiritual upliftment, as one does not have to worry about anyone else. It’s just you and God. The world of sanyAsI is himself, God and guru, nothing more. shAstra-s teach us to detach us from physical body, mind and intellect. varNa is linked to mind. It is the mind and intellect that makes distinctions. After detaching the ‘I’ from physical body, mind and intellect, one realises that this ‘I’ is not anyone of them but is something very different. It is pure consciousness. In soul-consciousness or in God-consciousness there are no thoughts, there is no distinction, there is no activity inside soul. A soul is a witness. Soul does not have any gender, nor does it have any varNa. Hence an advanced sAdhaka (meditator) rises his consciousness and by being a witness, it does not have to adhere to the dharma of mind or intellect. Such a person will see the in each person, in each living being, there abides the same divinity. This experience produces the bhAva (feeling) of samadarshana. ‘sama-darshana’ means to know by direct experience that there is same divinity in each one of us. Naturally such a blessed soul (pavitra jīva) has already transcended the boundaries of varNa dharma and gender.

shAstra-s teach us to be ‘sama-darshina’ and not sama-vartina’ meaning to see or to experience same divinity within all, but not to behave in same way with all. One cannot behave in a same way with mother, wife, sister and daughter. One cannot deal with boss, subordinate, colleague and a stranger in same ay. One cannot give grass to cow, dog, elephant, tiger, pigeon, and a man though each one of us has same divinity. Cow can eat grass, but not dog. Dog can eat chapati or some veg and non-veg food too, but elephant cannot each non-veg food. Tiger cannot eat veg food.    
However, in practice, while dealing with society, such a blessed soul will still maintain different relations with different people as per their age, experience and their post.

But to rise or ascend to such blissful state, one has to adhere to some rules, some guidelines, and should not cross certain boundaries. These rules are created by those great rishi-s who have mastered the act of being a witness, and have merged their individual consciousness into supreme consciousness. varNa vyavasthA is one such rule. Our dharma, including varNa dharma is a systematic structured arrangement for everyone to progress spiritually and finally rise above varNa dharma into the realm of equality. The ultimate aim of vedAnta is renunciation of all worldly attachments, be it possession of worldly objects, property, family, friends, money, or even attachment towards one varNa and jAtI.

It is foolishness to break this arrangement while our consciousness is strongly embedded in our physical body. Physical body is a cage, as it has caged infinite consciousness into a limited shape and space. As one detaches oneself from this case by dis-associating with it, one becomes free. In other words, one is freed from the cage.  Similarly, by dis-associating with mind, intellect and ego, one is freed from them and no more suffers the deeds of mind, is not affected with decisions that intellect makes and the ego that binds us to physical body and takes everything upon itself by clinging onto the fruits of results. One becomes free of suffering. Where there is no suffering, there is happiness. But this happiness is different. It does not arise as a result of achieving any object, on the contrary, it manifested by itself when the desire for achieving object with renounced. Since this happiness does not depend upon any external object, it stays for a long time, has a lasting effect and does not fade away no matter in whatever condition you are. It’s impact is very deep. This happines, born out of dispassion gives a sense of deep peace and a feeling of completeness. The intensity and sweetness of this bliss and deep peace is far more than that we have ever experienced by gaining material objects. It is incomparable. But this dispassion must be born out of proper understanding.

The real sanyAsa is absence of desires (in mind). Hence, even if one has not taken sanyAsa, while living within society, one can live a detached life like that of sanyAsI and staying immersed in Ishvara while doing work. One may think how is this possible? The simple answer is that our mind is divided into two parts. One part keeps thinking and other takes control of physical activity. Classic example driving or riding bike. We change gears, apply brakes, raise throttle, do everything and still we keep thinking about something. If one has doubts that only those who have good concentration can progress, the answer is, it is not true. Any person, be it an average Joe, who just manages a passing grade in exams, can also practise spirituality. How? Let’s understand with an example. When we are watching TV and suddenly story takes turn and becomes interesting, we are so engrossed in TV that we forget the surroundings, we forget our body, we forget the position in which our body is, even if we are not sitting in comfortable position, we still stay in that position until the climax is over. Even body pain is not experienced. What matters is where your mind is, where your heart is and not physical body. A lover constantly thinks of his / her ‘love of life’ even while doing work. If this is possible, then why can’t a devotee who with immense faith in the Lord surrenders and then does all the work can’t remember him? If one can remember loved ones, why can’t one remember the great Lord who is the creator of this entire world, the substratum of entire universe.

varNa-s are there not to keep us shackled in them. They are there to raise us beyond them, but in a proper and a systematic way. We must trust our ancestors, our rishi-s who worked selflessly for all mankind without any want of reward under the divine intuitive guidance of Īshvara, the all powerful, all merciful, all compassionate, full of unconditional love and bliss, unborn supreme reality.

Always remember - no rule is permanent. Every rule has it’s advantages and limitations. Advantage is that it will make sure that we progress until we are do not rise above it. Rules help one keep a check one oneself and do not cross boundary. Limitation is that rule itself or any kind of discipline cannot, by itself, raise us beyond it. It just guides us through a path that ultimately raises us above it. One rule cannot be applied throughout the whole life. It is applicable only upto a certain point, until one attains certain level of inner purity. The difference between a laymen and an advanced sAdhaka is that the later has purified his mind to a great extend.

We all long for freedom. Moksha is absolute freedom. This means, freedom from adherence to rules too.  Rules are for disciplining and training mind. But are we mind? No, then whom to discipline? It is our association with mind, i.e. association of ‘I’ with mind, that binds us, i.e. binds ‘I’ to mind, and hence we have to adhere to the dharma of mind, but not otherwise. We will have to train our mind, discipline it, keep a check on it. Once the attachment is destroyed, there are no rules to follow as the purpose of following the rules is fulfilled. In other words, as a result of ripening of fruits of disciplining mind, one transcends the very mind.

Though a detached soul is free not to adhere to varNa and Ashram dharma, it is a personal choice. Some saints continue to do their work even after they transcend mind, body and intellect. Hence a weaver like Sant Kabir didn’t quit his profession even after getting enlightenment. sanyAsa is a state of mind and not a way of living.

As said earlier, attachment to anything is what matters. Proper way to transcend varNa and Ashrama dharma is to detach from mind, body and intellect. We must have this broader picture and accept varNa dharma and any kind of discipline positively.

We will now continue to discuss more on varNa dharma and why it is by birth.

14.9. Why varNa by Birth?

No varNa is higher or lower. It is just division of vocation by birth. In bhagavad gItA BG 4.13 and 18.41-48, Adi Sankara and other prominent vaidika AcArya-s explain us that varNa is based upon guNa (qualities), but guNa is inherited by birth because we count fruits of action of past lives into account. So getting birth in a family of brAhmin (brAhmaNa) is considered as a result of living an ethical, moral and spiritual past life or lives. However, today brAhmin-s and other varNa-s do not carry their prescribed duty, hence the natural advantage of being born in a particular varNa is lost. A materialist or an atheist Brahmin is Brahmin for name sake only, he is more or less like a Sudra. So a spiritual soul might be born in a pious and religious vaiSya family then materialistic Brahmin family, as his / her purpose to excel in spirituality may not be fulfilled by living in such Brahmin family as s/he does not get opportunity and encouragement to walk on spiritual path since childhood.

14.10. Jātī, Kula and Gotra

Jātī is a subset of varṇa. It is further subdivision of a varṇa on the basis of occupation. Jātī-s are not created by God, but are manmade.

Kula is a subset of Jātī. It is about our family and extended family. We all have heard words like ‘Yādava kula’. It represents a particular clan.

Gotra means a family clan, where the descendants are in an unbroken male line from a common male rishi. Person belonging to same gotra is considered as close relative having common male ancestor.

14.10.1. Marriages with First cousin banned in Hindu Dharma smriti-s

First cousins are said to belong to the same gotra. Marriage within same gotra is banned in dharma shāshtra-s. Recent study suggests that children whose parents are first cousins doubles risk of birth defects. Child may suffer a severe problem, such as a congenital malformation or learning disabilities. Our ancestors may have well understood this problem have must have banned marriages. Study also suggests that children born through parents who have married second cousin also have high risk of congenital disability.

An interesting article explaining validity of discouraging marriage within same gotra with scientific basis is published here.
Note: The article is well researched and well written. Though the author has done some research to pen this article, since the author has not traced the original source of his/her extracts, we cannot give 100 % legitimacy to the claims made by author on scientific background, however the effort of the author is much appreciated and we personally believe the information to be true.

We will now understand Āshram dharma.

14.11. Āshrama dharma

We have already seen what is varṇa dharma. Like varṇa dharma, Ashrama dharma is also divided into four parts –
brahmacharya, grihastha, vānaprastha and sanyāsa āshram.

Average life expectancy is taken to be 100 years. Time duration for practicing one āshram is 25 years. One is expected to stay in one Ashram for 25 years. Though this period is not strictly followed, this is said to be the maximum time one can stay in one āshram. For first 25 years of life brahmacharya is to be observed, then for next 25 years comes grihasta i.e. to lead a family life. Next 25 years, one has to live in forest with or without wife and contemplate on inner meaning of scriptures. Finally in last 25 years, one renounces the society and becomes a monk in search of highest truth, brahman, after knowing brahman, nothing more needs to be known. The purpose of human birth is fulfilled.

Learning of veda-s and by hearting verses might take around 25 years. After that up to 50 years one has to carry the burden of family and social relations.  Grihastha is the most important āshrama in the sense that it is the only Ashram in which money can be earned. Hence a grihastha nourishes and supports other three āshram-s. Not much is said about vānaprastha Ashrama. vānaprastha āshrama is described in manu smriti Chapter 6, verses 1-28. It is said in Nirnaya Sindhu, one influential dharmashastra, that vAnaprastha Ashrama is ‘kālivarjya’ i.e. inoperative in the kālī yuga (Kali Yuga / Kalyug). Today, only grihastha and sanyāsa Ashrama are being followed. It is said in dharma smriti-s like manu smriti that even after attaining sufficient inner purity, if a mimAmsaka i.e. the one who is actively engaged in vedic rites and rituals, does not renounce the society and become a monk, but continues practising karma kāṇḍa with no selfish motive until death, then such a person after death ascends to brahmaloka where Bhagavān Brāhmā jī himself initiates him into brahmajṅāna and the jīva at the end of kalpa (eon) will finally merge into brahman without any pain. Such a jīva will get liberated at the time of destruction of world. All jīva-s residing in brahmaloka are capable of experiencing brahmajṅāna and never suffer from pleasure and pain but experience intense bliss, as brahmaloka is the highest amongst all loka-s says Kanchi Paramacharya. It is believed that for such a soul, there is no return back to earth.

The idea of Ashram dharma is to purify the mind. When one becomes inwardly pure, then it is time to leave the society and contemplate on the inner meaning of vedānta and meditate on the highest truth, the Brahman. If a person attains inner purity in childhood, then such a person is considered worthy of skipping grihastha and vAnaprastha Ashram and enter into sanyAsa Ashram. After taking sanyāsa, one stops associating oneself with his varNa one's varNa and views all people with an equal eye. All sanyāsin-s strive for only one goal in life – moksha i.e. liberation from the cycle of birth and death by realizing and abiding in natural state, our true nature which is Brahman.

14.12. Advantage of Vocations by Birth

When vocations are practiced by birth, there is a guarantee for everyone to get employment. A person has natural advantage as he learns his vocation by birth from his childhood. Today, when this arrangement is broken, everyone wants to do the best work. Sadly, best today means, the work which gives 'good money'. Hence there is competition for becoming a doctor or an engineer, which was absent in earlier times. Not giving freedom is not bad. The ultimate purpose of Religion is to up-root ego.

14.13. Advantages of varNa dharma by Birth - Explanation from Yogic POV

mantra is a sound created to resonate in a particular frequency. We all know that sound has vibrations and these vibrations influence the speaker as well as audience and all those who are in speaker’s vicinity. vedic mantra-s are specially formulated in a way that when they are pronounced correctly, they produce vibrations that cleanse our psychic nerves (nADI-s), chakra-s and our subtle bodies. They cleanse environment. In addition to vibrations, mantra-s have a definite meaning. Chanting them keeping the meaning in mind creates divine thoughts that float and influence all those in its vicinity. Regular chanting of mantra-s has a purifying effect not only on the one who chants them, but also on the nearby environment. We experience these divine vibrations as bliss or peace of mind or natural focus or attraction to a deity when we enter into any temple.

As one chants vedic mantra-s, their nADI-s, chakra-s and subtle bodies purify and expand in size. Their house is also purified and vibrates with divine energy that helps one uplift spiritually. Children subconsciously absorb these thoughts and vibrations. Hence kids (both boys and girls) grow up in a spiritual environment and get in tune with mantra-s on subconscious level. It is said that the child in the womb also absorbs all kinds of thoughts and vibrations that it can catch without discriminating them as good or bad. Hence a vedic couple and their children have natural tendency and better understanding to carry on the tradition of protecting veda-s by continuing oral tradition. People of other varNa-s do not have this advantage. It is the foremost duty of a brahmin to protect veda-s. His wish of protecting veda-s, spiritual vibrations, thoughts all gets transferred to his family members, especially his children and grandchildren. His successors pass these vibrations and thoughts to the next generation and so on. In this way, knowledge and subtle spiritual vibrations are passed on from generation to generation. It is due to this reason that varNa by birth was practised in ancient days.

Here an argument can be made that an AchArya can grace his disciple and bestow spiritual vibrations on him. Hence even if the disciple is not a Brahmin, he can still purify himself inwardly and can progress spiritually. While this argument is true, a Non-Brahmin disciple has to constantly stay in guru’s company, and the inner transformation happens later after his initiation and with intense practice. While in case of Brahmin by birth, he enjoys natural inner purification without making any efforts, as the vibrations of his father and grandfather keeps purifying him. A Brahmin kid has a natural tuning for learning karma kANDa. Hence a Brahmin is the most suitable choice for carrying on vedic tradition.

Alternatively, God gives us birth in an environment that helps us fulfil our dis-satisfied desires and progress spiritually. In this case too, a vedic brahmin family is a better choice as brahmins are expected to live a pure life similar to an ascetic, but living in society.

However when the family tradition has collapsed, there is little advantage to stick to varNa by birth. Still, the advantage is not completely lost. Just like a bicycle keeps moving even after paddling is stopped, similarly, the ‘spiritual push’ given by our ancestors since ages keeps us moving. Brahmins still have spiritual energy to take up our their vocation by birth. With the passing of each generation, this push gets slower and slower and may one day fade away if vedic karma kANDa is not practised. We must not let this happen. We must make efforts to restore varNa dharma and encourage Brahmins to take up their vocation entrusted to them. Once Brahmins show interest in taking up their vocation by birth, Brahmins can educate other varNa-s  the importance of following vocation by birth.

14.13.1. Solution to end discrimination based on caste

While we get a proper understanding of importance of varNa and Ashram dharma, we cannot shy away from the practice of discrimination against any varNa or jAtI. A problem cannot be solved by shying away from them and keep defending it with a blind eye without seeing what is going around in our society. Practical implementation is what matters and not just theory. A good or an ideal theory is of no use unless it is successfully implemented in our daily life. We must also make sure to remove the weeds of non-vedic elements that has creeped into society. Though it is the nature of mind to keep creating difference and ego to induce superiority and inferiority complex in our mind, consistent efforts are to be made so that discrimination against any varNa is dropped from our mind for ever.   

Let us assume that varNa dharma is completely eradicated. In this case, ‘caste conflict’ will cease to exist, but it’s place will be taken by ‘Class Conflict’. Rich, powerful, influential people with political backing will always exploit and subdue poor and ordinary citizens.  The solution does not lie in removing varNa dharma altogether, but to train our mind as such that it’s stops creating differences based on varNa.

Is chopping off head a solution for curing headache?

Our efforts should be in the direction that purifies our mind and brings us closer to God. As one progresses spiritual, his / her antakaraNa gets purified and lower animal emotions (pashu vritti) fades away. Heart purifies, divine emotions like compassion for all (dayA and karuNA), bhakti, peace, nonviolence, patience, obedience, guilelessness, being in harmony with nature, and other qualities begin to cultivate and blossom.

In order to uproot discrimination, two types of efforts are necessary to be practised simultaneously. First is to practice spiritual discipline and increase Ishvara bhakti and another is to renounce any lower emotion.  If spiritual discipline is not practised, then mind cannot be trained to renounce. The quality of discrimination will still remain in our mind. Mind cannot stay without thinking and creating differences. It needs something to which it can hold onto. Hence when one thing is renounced, mind holds onto another object. For example, a person quits smoking, but starts taking tobacco. In order to fly, two wings are needed, both efforts are to be simultaneously practised so when with one hand discrimination against varNa is renounced and on other hand, it is substituted with Ishvara bhakti.   
varNa and Ashram dharma has been the backbone of sanAtana dharma and the very reason for the sustenance of our dharma since thousands of years. They need to be properly understood and implemented in a fair way for universal well being and harmony.

After understanding advantages of vocation by birth from vedic POV, lets under understand it with another angle.

14.14. More on varNa dharma and Ashrama dharma

varNa dharma, which is the unique feature of SD has often come under criticism. The very reason why our dharma is sustained since time immemorial is being criticized by revisionists and social reformers, without understanding the importance of varNa and Ashrama dharma in maintaining communal harmony, peace and universal well-being, for peaceful and harmonious running of society. The misunderstanding and evil practices that have creeped into our society is not because of faulty SD, but due to our faulty understanding. Our dharma smriti-s are the most flexible one in the world up to the extent of removing absolute laws and creating new laws, as said in parASara smriti which is most suited in kali yuga. parAshara smriti is quoted in later section ‘Hindu dharma has the most flexible civil laws‘. Discarding varNa dharma is like offering a solution of chopping off head if one is having a headache. Can this be a solution? Cure the headache and not decapitate the head. Tossing up vedas and upanishads in wild for free may look ethically and morally great specially by the revisionists advocating equality of all, but it gives rise to a great danger of misunderstanding them. An unclean mind, a destructive mind reading upanishads by himself / herself is like a disaster waiting to happen. If it was possible that anyone can correctly understand upanishads and veda-s by themselves, Guru-Sishya paramparA would not have existed and there would be no need to live a life of monk.

However, vocations by birth may be overridden, if an individual has attained inner purity early than expected or have attained purity by birth due to merits of his past life. In such a case, a disciple can be initiated into vedAnta, which expounds the highest truth. Still, in order to maintain discipline and avoid chaos and excessive competition, certain restrictions have to be imposed for the good of all. Not being authorized to learn veda-s does not mean that one does not have right to chant God's name, learn Agama shastra-s practice yoga, read itihAsa and purANa-s and even know the essence of upanishads in simple words. Only authentic chanting is forbidden for Sudra-s as it is a full time job.  Women are forbidden for taking sanyAsa, but they are not forbidden to gain knowledge of vedAnta, realise their true nature and be eternally free from cycle of birth and death.

We have understood why varNa is by guNa but guNa is inherited by birth. We will now understand why varNa cannot be purely based on guNa-s.

14.15. Why not varNa purely based on guNa-s?

This question is often asked by so-called advocates of equal rights for all. However, not all purposefully try to denigrate and break our social culture. There are many people who genuinely believe in equal rights for all. They should not be blamed just for having a non-traditional view.

Before trying to understand why varNa cannot be purely based on guNa-s, we acknowledge that even in past such efforts to grant equal status to all were made by saints.

14.15.1. Resistance to varNa dharma

In medieval past and in around 9th century AD there were some saints who strongly opposed varNa dharma to an extent that they discarded veda-s and  established a new independent sect. Great examples are Lord Buddha and mahAtmA basavaNNa also reverentially called as maharshi baSeSvara (Basheshwara) who created a casteless vIra Saiva (Veera Shaiva) or lingAyat sect. lingAyat-s worship Siva linga and wear Siva linga as a locket. Siva linga represents formless aspect of Sankara bhagavAn and has trinity and all the deva-s inside it. So worshipping Siva linga is worshipping the whole brahmANDa (universe), trinity and all the devI-devatA-s. nAtha yogi-s, the followers of great yogi-s, the mahAsiddha guru gorakshanAtha, the disciple of guru macchindernAtha (matsyendarnAtha) also teach yoga to all those who deserve irrespective of caste or gender. They practice laya yoga, which is to merge (laya) in brahman via  sound which is heard in the right ear like sound of damaru or a flute, etc. It is like arriving at ocean shore by following the sound of waves of ocean. Though one does not know where the ocean is, by following the sound of waves, one can reach ocean shore. tantra was developed for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex.

14.15.2. Difference between modern and medieval reformers

Medieval reformers did oppose tradition Varṇa dharma, however their approach was different than modern reformers. We will take examples of Maharṣhi Basavaṇṇa, Lord Buddha and the Nātha lineage.

Maharṣhi Basavaṇṇa revolted against varṇa dharma and the vedas. He rejected both. But on the other hand, he gave Śiva bhakti. He founded a new sect from the same āgama shāstra-s that Hindus use and considered them as authentic and revere them just like vaidika-s revere vedas.  It is interesting to note that he did not burn copies of either dharma smriti-s like Manu Smriti or burn vedas, but he founded a new parallel philosophical school which does not believe in varṇa dharma. Unlike modern saints like Sriram Sharma Acharya and Dayananda Sarasvati, Basavaṇṇa didnt began preaching ‘vedas are for all’. He didn't initiated people from all varṇa-s to perform vedic rituals. Same was the case with Lord Buddha. Infact Buddhists and Jains are said to learn and master vedas and gain positive information from them. Both Takshashilā and Nālandā taught all kinds of scriptures of various faiths prevailing at that time. One needs to learn philosophies of rival sampradāya-s in order to find faults and refute them.

Lord Buddha is said to oppose vedas. By vedas we mean pūrva mimāmsā, the karma kaṇḍa part, which has rites and rituals. Brāhmins during his time might have got corrupted and would be threatening laymen to face the consequences and incur sin if they do not perform a particular vedic yajna. Hence Lord Buddha must have opposed vedas not to defame or denigrate them, but the wrong unlawful use of vedas in order to extract money by instilling fear in hearts of laymen. Brāhmins could only earn from donations. Ours is a demanding mind. Demands keeps increasing day-by-day. Another point was to maintain their superiority or rather take advantage of their superior position over other varṇa-s. Hence Lord Buddha must have rejected the then prevalent implementation of veda-s. In other words Lord Buddha, in my opinion, didnt reject veda-s themselves, but their corrupted implementation. We know that saints often revere scriptures of rival sampradAya-s. An example is that of a great nArayAra saint GYAna sambandha. He won a debate against Jain sAdhu-s. Feeling humiliated, they began burning their scriptures, GYAna sambandhara stopped them from doing so, hold their hands and explained them that it is not that there is problems with scriptures, but with our own understanding about them.

Lord Buddha began to taught laymen in their daily used language Pālī and not in sanskrit, as it’s use was reduced only to the elites. Lord Buddha didn't broke the entire varṇa dharma or disturbed the vedic injunctions, but he insisted on living a moral and ethical life than to use vedas to extract money by instilling fear in heart of men and women.  In one hand Lord Buddha took away the vedas from us but in return he did gave his own doctrine of nonviolence, faith, moderation and eight golden rules.

The rejection was more of nonviolent type i.e. non-acceptance of scriptures. Unlike modern reformists, who are busy finding faults in a system or scripture and keep denigrating them, these saints didn’t took away bhakti and the path to salvation. They didn't make one atheist or materialist. Though the present teachings of Mādhyamika school of Lord Buddha founded by Srī Nāgārjuna looks like an atheist philosophy, as it says sUNya avasthA (zero state, state of nothingness is the final state), many Hindus believe that original teachings of Lord Buddha are not the same. Lord Buddha remained silent on a question about God’s existence. His silence, from vedic perspective, is the perfect answer to the questioner as the final state of Self Realisation cannot be described. It can only be expressed by staying silence as silence (maun) is the only expression that describes it. Even the practical answer such as ‘no matter I had said Yes or No would further confuse the questioner’ does not sound atheist.

Nātha Yogī-s like Mahāyogī-s Gorakhnātha and Matsyendranātha didn’t object to varṇa dharma nor they spoke against veda-s. They preached an old spiritual system based on mantra chanting. They wrote their own texts which was divinely revealed to them. They also adapted works from tantra-s. Since tantras are for everyone, there is no restriction to learn them. The only caution to be taken is to test and cross check the spiritual maturity and nature of disciple before passing him subtle knowledge that results in piṇḍa-siddhi i.e. mastery over five bodies.

These saints were men of lofty character and influenced men and women by their noble character more than engaging in polemical debates (shAstrArtha). They showed men and women the path of salvation and instilled Self Respect in hearts of all varNa-s. Modern reformers and social activists, on the other hand just keep bashing our religion and quote isolated verses without understanding the context.

14.15.3. The traditional view of varNa dharma

The topic of varNa-vibhAjana (division on the basis of varNa) and varNa dharma (duty of varNa) is debated extensively since ages. Should varNa be on the basis of guNa-s or on basis of birth? Examples supporting both claims are quoted extensively. We will try to give the traditional POV. Various examples in purANa-s and mahAbhArata and in rAmAyaNa can be found which support both theories of varNa by birth and by guNa-s. Dharma smriti-s are however clear on this matter that varNa is by birth. Veda-s do not clarify its stand in varNa either. We should note that only 5 % of veda-s remain rest is not extant anymore.

Had there been no Adi Sankara bhagavadpAda, God knows what would have left for us to practice. According to Adi Sankara, varNa is by guNa, but guNa is inherited by birth. Similar is the opinion of other traditional AcArya-s. Hence this is the traditional view of all vaidika AchArya-s. References in support of this claim can be found in their commentaries on gItA verses related varNa dharma i.e. BG 4.13, BG18-41-48.

However, lets for time being consider that varNa is purely based on guNa-s and try to reach a conclusion.

We all have three guNa-s - sattva, rajasa and tamasa. In the night, tamasa is predominant, in brahma-muhurata (3:30 am to 5:30 am) sattva is prevalent and during day time, it's rajasa. Hence each person is a brAhmaNa in early morning and sudra in night. This does not sound correct. Again, even during daytime, our mood is not the same, sometimes, the effect of sattva is predominant for few minutes or hours. Another moment one can get angry and have rajasa. Cursing others and pledging to take revenge makes one tAmasika. So a person within 5 minutes has changed from brAhmin to kshatriya to sudra. How is this possible? It does not make any sense.

Now let's imagine that if a person though born in lower varNa is promoted to higher varNa say brAhmaNa. Now suppose that s/he commits a mistake. Now has that person downgraded himself / herself to a kshatriya or vaishya or Sudra? Again after regretting his actions, performing some rituals and penance, one purifies and can again become a brAhmaNa. But as soon as one makes mistake or carries out a sinful act, one is no more a brAhmaNa, as any karma based on rAjasika or tAmasika guNa like murder, beating others, robbery, stealing of credits, killing animals, etc, is not of brAhmanical nature. Hence such a person looes his brAhmanical status and so loses his right to perform vedic rites and rituals even for the sake of repentance. In other words, if varNa is strictly based on guNa or say brAhmaNa is a ‘quality’, then in this case, brAhmaNa is not allowed to make any mistakes as making mistakes downgrades him or her. Does this make any sense? We are all humans and we all make any mistakes. What is important is to realise our mistake and make strong sincere effort to correct ourselves and not repeat our mistakes.

Now suppose a Sudra claims to a pure at heart, is intelligent and wants to learn veda-s or become a priest. A bigger question is who is going to judge whether a person has a particular guNa. Qualities and desires are invisible. Hence to understand the desires (vAsanA-s), we will have to judge the actions, as actions are grossest form of vAsanA and vAsanA is subtlest form of action. Without trial and error what is the other choice? Are there any saints who can look into mind and declare predominant quality of a person. If there are, how many saints genuinely do have this ability? What if a person after spending some time realizes that he is not suited to become a priest or loses interest in it or that Guru finds him / her incompetent? Answers to these questions are not easy. We have a practical problem if everyone is given a free run to let their mind loose and choose whatever they want to do and live the way they want to live. We would not say this is anarchy, but it's definitely a mess and there will be many souls who would have lost direction and clarity and on their goal of life. Hence it is better to stick to our own varNa. BhagavAn in gItA (BG 3.35) also says the same that svadharma is better than para-dharma even though paradharma looks better.

Today, not many brAhmin-s practice vocation prescribed by great saints. brAhmin-s have chosen to earn money by trading of shares or do job or business. If this is the case that the highest of varNa do not stick to their vocation, why would other varNa-s? The answer is not easy. There are two reasons for sticking to our varNa dharma.

  1. No one denies that a Sudra can be an intelligent and probably even intelligent than brAhmin. But chanting veda-s is not only dependent upon intellect. It requires a pure and spiritually matured mind which is possible only after accumulating merits of many of many past lives. Today's education system does not consider 'nature' and 'mental makeup' of any person. It only depends upon recitation, retention power and intelligence. Suppose if ‘A’ get 95 % in HSC exam (12th grade) but is of destructive mindset and ‘B’ gets 90 % but his mind is constructive, who will get admission first? Again, if you do not get admission in your field of choice, students select another branch and later they get job in a field that is not related to their study nor do they like work they are doing. This produces stress in mind as there is no 'liking' for the work, which after certain years manifests as incurable disease, one keeps cursing his fate and life goes on in negative direction. Had the person working in the field of his liking, there would not have been too much stress. Nature, mental makeup and purity of mind are important factors which should not be neglected. Not every person is fit for any kind of job.
  2. Practicing vocation by birth is a choice. It is the choice of brAhmin-s to dedicate their lives for veda-s or to live for earning. This does not mean that those who are doing Job do not deserve to chant veda-s. Being born in brAhmin family gives one a great opportunity which is not possible if one is born in a family of a poor Sudra where both parents and even children have to work for their livelihood else they die of starvation.

14.16. Future Prediction of deterioration of varNa dharma and it’s solution

itihAsa (mahAbhArata) and purANa-s have predicted that in kalyuga, as time passes, the dark effect of kalyuga will increase which will lead to deterioration of varNa dharma, the backbone of SD, and varNa-s will mix with each other. sUdra will sit next to brAhmin (brahmANa), sudra-s will become a leader of all (minister), etc. and vedic dharma will decline. In such case, varNa-Sankara prajA will be created i.e. inter-caste marriage will increase for e.g. a brAhmin will wed a vaiSya. They children are not considered as brAhmin. They are called as varNa-Sankara and they cannot perform what a pure brAhmin can do.

Since the traditional path of vedic karma kANDa and other vocations related to varNa will get deteriorated (but not become extinct), and the path of GYAna (advaita) is not for all, a simple cross-varNa solution for spiritual progress was recommended. It is the path of bhakti. Chanting of mahA mantra hare rAma, hare rAma, rAmA hare hare, hare krShNa, hare krShNa, krShNa krShNa hare hare was given. Chanting of any mantra except OM, is recommended like OM namaH SivAya, OM namo bhagavate vAsudevAya, etc.

There is no restriction based on caste, creed or gender, nor there is any strict ritual and discipline needs to be observed for chanting mahA mantra. Anyone can chant any the mantra for any period of time, either in group, or individually. One can chant loudly (sing in group) or chant it silently with or without rosary bead (japa mAlA). It is a simple approach to progress spiritually. Reading purANA-s, itihAsa and singing glories of the Lord, chanting his names is the most effective method for Self Realization. As one progresses, mind becomes introvert and does not demand and material objects. Attachment with loved ones decreases and attachment with a form of God increases. Gradually, the conditional surrender to the Lord changes to unconditional surrender. bhakti (devotion) increases with constant chanting of Lord’s name. Then God himself will show his / her true nature and give his beloved devotee what best suits him / her. Unlike advaita, bhakti has a capacity of being a mass-movement. As per Sri Ramakrishna, bhakti is the best that suits us in this age.

14.17. The present scenario and practical approach of brAhmin-s

In our shAstra-s it is said that there are two types of dharma. First is dharma to be followed in normal situation and second is dharma to be followed in any kind of emergency. This second type of dharma is called as ApAta dharma. In situation is like floods and similar natural calamities or when country is under foreign invasion, one has to act accordingly. Similarly, when there is decline of dharma, then too one can and should take steps that are necessary for the protection of shAstra-s and dharma in general, as it is said that dharma protects one who protects dharma.

The present scenario is that only 5 % of veda-s are extant. Out of them only 1 % is said to be properly preserved with all svara-s. 6-7 shAkhA-s or max 12-13 shAkhA-s are said to be alive. brAhmin-s have themselves abandoned vedic chanting and karma kANDa. Ours is a demanding mind. Once which was a luxury is now a necessity. brAhmin-s can no longer sustain their family and raise their kids and give them good quality education with the alms and gifts received during any religious ceremony. Instead of giving a panDita what he needs, a rigid custom is prevailing to give brAhmin-s similar things in donation like plain cloth, little food, along with little money. In a month, they may have more than 15 pairs of plain cloths which they are not going to use. Repetitive Gifts keep piling month by month without being used. On the other hand, the elite class has always been under attack from Mughals and Muslim rulers for 800 years. Then britishers in 200 years destroyed entire gurukul system, corrupted some scriptures like grihya sUtra-s and gave convoluted interpretations. Hence more and more brAhmin-s are leaving their vocation by birth and doing job or business for their survival in today's world. 1000 years of foreign rule which made every attempt to break our culture and spirituality has also made big impact on the minds of Hindus. It is becoming difficult to find good brAhmin-s for religious ceremony like housewarming (griha pravesha), marriage or death ceremonies. This extraordinary situation which resulted in decline in living vedic way of life made many brAhmin groups to open the gates of vedic learning and karma kANDa to all including shudra-s. This shows the practical approach of Hindu society.  

14.18. Problems with new converts and possible solution

Hindu way of life and it’s contemplative nature has attracted many westerners and other non-hindus. While they happily accept SD, they find it difficult to adjust into the SD. The main problems are
  • Will traditional Hindus accept us and let us enter into their temples and let us perform vedic rites?
  • Which varNa should I adhere too?

The answer cannot be given in one word i.e. Yes or No. The answer depends upon the local community, priests, temple authorities and saints preaching philosophy that new converts follow.

There are two types of converts, one who were originally Hindus but before some years or centuries have converted to other religion. Another ones are those who claim that their ancestors were not Hindus.

For the first ones, if they know their varNa, the problem is solved. For second type, there are various ways to be a Hindu. Most westerners are not interested in varNa dharma or in becoming vedic or temple priests. They are more inclined towards philosophical, contemplative part of SD. The best way would be to adhere to any philosophical school like gauDiya vaiShNava, Saiva SiddhAnta, Kashmir Saivism or trikA, nAtha yoga, Kriya Yoga, Sri upAsanA, gaNapatya or an advaitin. All these philosophical schools and other vaiShNava sects like visiSTAdvaita, dvaita, dvaita-advaita, puShTi mArga of vallabhAchArya require that in order to practice siddhAnta, they must be initiated by a guru. Apart from smArta, visiShTAdvaita, dvaita, bheda-abheda and Suddhadvaita (puSTi mArga), other schools do not require one to know their varNa. However, priestly duties are reserved only for brAhmins, unless in exceptional circumstances when a recent convert is entrusted with priestly duty. We have excluded gauDiya vaiShNava (GV) as it’s preacher Prabhupada and his successors do not believe in varNa is by birth. Recently, ISKCON has also initiated non-hindus to become temple priests on their belief that varNa is by guNa only. This may not be accepted by GVs. Srila Prabhupada who brought Krishna bhakti as a mass movement to the west and hence he has gained a lots of followers.  

varNa dharma has been opposed by some medieval saints like maharShi basavaNNa. nAtha yogI-s do not adhere to varNa dharma. They initiated anyone interested. Similarly, modern reformer saints like Sriram Sharma Acharya of Gayatri Parivar has also condemned varNa dharma and initiated all those interested to chant Gayatri mantra. They teach veda-s to women and women independently perform vedic rituals. Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati of Arya Samaj also held similar view.  He was an advaitin at heart and opposed varNa dharma. All these saints were respected for their contribution and knowledge. They are not rejected like in other religions. Hindu Society is very tolerant society and accommodates all.

These days, sanyAsa is given to all those who show commitment. Once you become a monk, you are above varNa. Few foreigners have managed to get honorific title of ‘mahAmaNDaleshvara’ (Mahamandaleshwar). Only the title of SankarAchArya is above mahAmaNDaleshvara. There are many popular ashrams based on advaita like Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, Chinmaya Mission and Divine Life Society of Swami Shivananda. Other notable saints are Swami Sukhbodhananda, Swami Ramsukhdas ji of Gita Press Gorakhpur, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Many Yogi-s like Paramhansa Yogananda, Paramhansa Hariharananda, Paramhansa Prajanananda and other saints of Kriya Yoga lineage of Mahavtar Babaji have spread yoga in the west. There is also lingAyat sect known for Siva bhakti. These saints have influenced many intellectuals through their writings, teachings and discourses. These saints have not stressed on varNa dharma, but emphasized on spreading GYAna, bhakti and yoga.

Alternatively, if anyone who wishes to practise SD after reading bhagavad gItA, upanishads, purANa-s, listening to discourses and books written on Hinduism, they too can start practising. Start going to temple, start reading gItA, listen to discourses and start to chant God’s name.

If anyone asks you what is your varNa, you may simply reply - ‘I am a gauDiya vaiShNava’, ‘I am a vaiShNava’, ‘I am a Saiva’, ‘I am a Veera Saiva or LingAyat’, ‘I am a nAtha yogI’, ‘I am a Kriya yogI’, ‘I follow teachings and principles of Arya Samaj’, ‘I am a member of Gayatri Parivar’,  and so on. If you do not have any varNa, don’t panic. There is no need to become upset. Our doors are always open.

South India has rigidly hold on to traditional SD. They do not allow even Hindu Males including Brahmins to enter into temple without traditional dress of dhoti or dhoti and angavastra. Women cannot enter without wearing sarees. For that we cannot do anything. In some places, separate temples for Sudra-s and dalits are made and they have priests and even sanyAsins initiated to take care of them and answer doubts regarding religion or customs. Do not worry too much, in most places in India and in Abroad, temples are open to all irrespective of their varNa, even to non-hindus. You will not be rejected. All are welcome to practice Hinduism. If you do not have a varNa, your work (actions and behaviour) and your nature will reflect your varNa. Ultimately we have to purify ourselves inwardly. Your positive vibrations will change the mindsets of Hindus and you will make a place in their hearts.  

Sri rAmAnujAchArya jI, Sri caitanya mahAprabhu jI, Sri vallabhAchArya jI, Sri GYAnasambandhar (a Nayanar) and other Acharya-s have converted many Muslims and Jains. Many Gujarati Jains were converted by Sri vallabhAchArya jI. They call themselves as puShTi margi-s. There are many vaiShNava-s who do not adhere to any sampradAya and prefer to call themselves simply as ‘vaiShNava-s’.  

We do not cheat people by spreading false information on our dharma i.e. in the introductory discourses we teach something else and later on you realise that the actual Hinduism is completely different. Of Course there are and will be different opinions, sects and philosophies, but we do not draw our swords against each others though at times there will be verbal duels, but that's between two pandits and traditional scholars of respective sampradAya-s. We didn’t kill basavaNNa and Lord Buddha for rejecting veda. Another atheist philosophy is chArvAka, we do not kill them as they do not believe in veda-s or in reincarnation. We do not fight with Jains. Maharshi Dayananda and Sriram Sharma Acharya may have some critics, but they did not face life threats as there are no Hindu Extremists. Extremism is not our culture. Ours is a journey of evolution of consciousness.

14.19. dharma cannot be rigid, discipline is not rigidity

dharma cannot be rigid, as rigidity makes one narrow minded and stubborn.  Ultimate goal and our dharma and our birthright is moksha, eternal freedom. As one progress on spiritual path, all kinds of superstitions, rigidity, narrow mindedness, pride about our varNa, kula, family, business etc and other attachment towards material objects and person drops. Ishvara is not jaDa (gross matter), Ishvara is chaitanya (subtle), in fact subtle of the subtlest. In front of Isvara everything is jaDa. Meditation on that which is subtlest will not make on jaDa, rigid.

dharma allows our mind to think, discriminate, choose and act accordingly. We cannot simply shut down our mind and blindly act in the name of dharma. Wayward thinking does not help, hence when it comes to dharma, we are taught to think in a way that helps us increase our faith in God without getting superstitious or compromising our intellect. dharma does not asks to brainwash ourselves and others in it’s name. Mere parroting does not help. An ounce of practice is thousand times better than tons of theory.

14.20. Why are some Atheists better than Theists?

This is a very genuine question from the practical observation. Atheism means ‘Lack of Belief in God’. An atheist will read, understand, analyse scriptures rationally and then reject it as s/he is not convinced by the answers or solutions given in scriptures. An atheist will not believe in Īśvara (Ishvara). Hence s/he will be ready to face the situation. An advanced theist will also accept any situation as it comes and face it calmly. But in case of most theists, the problem is that we are all God fearing people and not God loving people. Let’s understand why people believe in God.

In Bhagavad Gītā, Bhagavān says that there are four types of devotees (bhakta) - ārtho, arthārthī, jijnāsu and jnānī (GYAnI).
  • Ārtho bhakta is the one who remembers Īshvara or worships him only when in time of trouble.
  • Arthārthī bhakta is the one who worships Īshvara only for the sake of money.
  • Jijnāsu bhakta is the one who is interested in Divine vision of Īshvara and in moksha. Such a devotee worships Īshvara for the sack of Īshvara and not for any personal benefits. Most of the sādhaka-s (seekers of truth, spiritual aspirants, renunciates) fall in this category.
  • Jnānī bhakt is the one who is always one with Īshavara and so is in constant communion with him while still living in physical body.  Such a devotee is the best amongst four and is the dearest to Īshvara.

These days, 99.9 % do not want moksha. Only one in lakh (lac) walks on spiritual path. Hence majority of devotees fall in first two category. They worship Īshvara out of fear so that Īshvara keeps them safe and gives less trouble. Such people, admittedly, have a weak mind. Instead of facing situation, unable to accept with smile, they can’t bear the consequences and blame Īshvara and their fate for all the mess in their life.

14.20.1. The power and working of Subconscious Mind

There is a saying that, ‘It’s all in the mind’. Another popular saying is, ‘You become what you think’. This is absolutely true. Spirituality is not about getting some supernatural power by worshipping Īshvara. Spirituality is direct dealing with your own mind. Intention behind action is more important than the action itself. Similarly, intention behind worship is important. We get what we demand. Results or rewards of fruits of actions is in accordance with our ‘demand’. Outcome of results and spiritual progress is directly proportional to the intensity of faith, surrender and dedication. The outcome is also dependent upon the conviction with which one prays to Īshvara, clarity of thoughts, and no presence of contradictory thoughts or emotions. This means that if you pray for getting job, but in the background you have fear of not getting selected, then you yourself are contradicting your own wish. Both hope (of getting job) and fear (of not getting / losing job) are the creation of our own mind. What matters is which thought is stronger, how much consistently you keep thinking about it, are you positive about outcome and leave it to Īshvara to grant your wish in his own way and not by the way you wish it to happen. Indeed Īshvara has his own ways of getting things done. What matters is which thought enters your subconscious mind. Conscious mind has 10 % power while subconscious mind has 90 % power. Conscious mind thinks rationally, while subconscious mind does not discriminate, but accepts thoughts as they are. Once a thought reaches subconscious mind and gets strong, subconscious mind will make it sure that this thoughts gets manifested, be it success or failure, be it positive or negative. In this way, we ourselves are the creator of our destiny. What you keep thinking, becomes your habit and then your habit takes control over you once it enters into subconscious mind. No thought can influence you. But the moment you start to contemplate on any thought or incident, it becomes your thought. After that, whatever you think is entirely your own creation and for that you and only you are responsible. Keep thinking and get what you want.

14.20.2. Destructive thoughts are harmful to you, stops your progress

Subconscious mind is linked with infinite wisdom, infinite grace. It’s nature is to be in harmony with nature. If you keep cursing your destiny or Īshvara or if you envy anyone, are jealous and does not want to him/her to get success, get promotion or get recognized, or you feel that you are left behind in race and though you deserve, you do not get promotion, but less performing colleagues get promotion, it produces unrest in mind. You keep thinking negative about yourself and others. This though is your entirely your own. Constant thinking about one topic sink into subconscious mind, which does not think rationally and so does not recognize whether a thought is positive or destructive. It will make sure that your ‘wish’ whatever it may be comes to a pass. If thoughts are destructive, subconscious mind, whose tendency is lifewards and to stay in harmony with nature will manifest your wish as some disease or as a failure. You yourself are blocking the infinite power of subconscious mind which is linked with cosmic mind, the mind of Īshvara. Your subconscious mind has created your physical body. So it knows perfectly how to heal it, but only if you pray to Īshvara through it. If you keep thinking negatively, you block your progress and connection with the infinite. Subconscious has many ways to communicate, in dreams, in meditation, appear in lucid dreams as any person that you respect or you revere or you are comfortable with, it can manifest as thoughts that whisper in your ears, or by projecting an image in a dream. Many scientists had experiences this phenomenon and many successful people used power of their subconscious mind to get a solution write a novel, do something creative, or invent something.

So it does not matter whether you are a theist or an atheist, what matters is how you tackle your situation and which thoughts sink into subconscious mind.

In order to communicate with subconscious mind, one has to be calm with no thoughts in background to weaken our thoughts i.e. what we intentionally think presently i.e. rational thinking. An average mind is not peaceful, as it as demands that it wants to fulfill. Average mind is not calm and stable. Hence it takes help of someone else, builds hopes, believes in something or someone, fears of not achieving desires or losing what is achieved. It clings to a higher power, fear induces superstition in us.

Since human birth is given to us in order to fulfil our dis-satisfied desires and to progress spiritually, we cannot complain to people who demand specific thing to Īshvara. After demand is fulfilled, it will calm mind and instil faith in Īshvara Mind now accepts that is a higher authority much powerful than us. With calm mind, which is necessary for spiritual progress, one can chose to walk on spiritual path. Success ratio of calm and stable mind is very high for spiritual progress. Inner purity and not sharp intellect is the main requirement for spiritual progress. An advanced sādhaka has stronger mind than atheist, but not many have unconditionally surrendered to Īshvara.

As said earlier, we all fear for failure. Fear is our driving force to do things that we do. Let's discuss the ‘Fear factor’.

14.20.3. Fear - The driving force of worship

A weak mind no matter whether s/he is an atheist or a theist will not be able to face tough situation. A weak mind will be ready to do anything in order to escape from the situation or get rid of sorrow. Most worship is due to fear of losing or for ‘avoiding sorrow (dukkha)’ or to ‘ward off possible dangers’. It is more of a psychology that works than faith in Īshvara. It is this fear that generates superstitions within our mind. Spirituality asks us to remove fear. Spirituality asks us to dive deep within and find the reason or cause of fear. Devotions asks us to surrender all the fear and leave everything to Īshvara and accept things as they come and accept all people ‘as it is’ with positive and negative qualities. No one except Īshvara is perfect, not even saints. They too are human, but society expects very high moral standards of living from them.

As said earlier, an atheist, having strong mind, is ready to face fear. Hence an atheist can overpower ‘fear’ with ‘courage’. With ability of overcoming fear with courage, an atheist, who does not believe in havan-s and karma kāṇḍa, will not fall in trap of getting fearful if a havan or yajna is not performed properly. Due to courage, an atheist will not feel compelled by the force of fear to quickly come out of tough or hostile situation (pratikula paristhiti) by performing a havan.  

On the other hand, a weak minded theist will want to perform a havan to get rid of obstacles. If fear is background while doing a havan or yajṅa, chances of materialisation of havan is little. When everything happens in the way we want then we say that situation is favourable (anukula paristhiti). When everything is fine, we are too busy to remember Īshvara. Only in hostile situation (pratikula paristhiti), in order to make things happen in their way, and get the work done, theists take refuge in Īshvara. If things do not happen in ‘my way’ and this continues for a long time, then a person, be it a theist or an atheist, s/he will sooner or later take extreme step. Either one will become very aggressive or one will develop inferiority complex and sink into depression. In rare case, either one kills another person or one commits suicide.

It is easy to induce fear than to remove fear. Mind is easily influenced by negative qualities than positive qualities. In other words, negative emotions and thoughts have more impact on us than positive ones.

Theist do not worship Īshvara for the sake of Īshvara or just because s/he likes to worship Īshvara, but for his own vested interested. In other words, it is not interested in spiritual progress or is s/he interested in Īshvara. Īshvara bhakti and Īshvara himself is a tool to get their work done. They may worship any form of Īshvara that can help them fulfill their demand.

When it comes to mental stability and ability to facing situation, it is of little importance whether a person is a theist or an atheist. What is more important is how one sees life, how one tackles situation, ‘adjust, adapt and improvise’, ‘readiness or willingness to compromise’, remain calm in hostile situation.  

A weak mind will remain weak and not remain steady in hostile situation. Such a person cannot excel in any field.

An atheist can be a good person with a big heart and strong mind.

14.20.4. Can Atheist progress Spiritually?

Yes, an atheist can progress spiritually, if an atheist is a thinker (tatva-chintak). Even if atheist does not believe in Īshvara s/he can be a good human being and of helpful nature. S/he can be an influential social worker. Good (or bad) karma i.e. deeds will never go waste. We must bear their fruits. Person doing good karma will be rewarded good fruits. A noble men can ascend in heaven. But that's as far as an atheist can go - in heaven. Sooner or later after the merits of good deeds are exhausted, a noble soul will again fall back on earth and take human form.

Spirituality takes us one step further. It asks us to remove the ‘I’-ness, the attachment towards the world, its objects and people. Shāstra-s asks us to renounce the very desire that makes us do what we do. When there is no desire, there is no fear of losing what we have achieved nor there is fear of failure. Desires produces attachment with objects mentally. Desires either induce rAga (liking) or devasha (dislike) in mind for objects or persons. If one does not achieve what we want, then comes anger. In either case, whether one gets desired result or not, ego increases. Shāstra-s teach us to renounce ego, renounce desire and melt individual identity (consciousness) into Brahman (God Consciousness). This is done by detaching ourselves from our mind, thoughts and actions by being a witness (sākshi) to all of them. Detachment and state of being a witness happens by the grace of Guru and God.

Since atheist does not believe in Īshvara, nor in subtle bodies nor in existence of jīva as separate from physical body, atheist cannot detach himself from his ego, physical and subtle bodies and desires as detachment is not possible without surrendering to a higher authority. Hence s/he cannot get moksha. Noble atheist can at best ascend to higher worlds in the strength of his good deeds. Maybe in next life, by the grace of Īshvara, s/he may develop faith in Īshvara and develops a longing for him. There may be a deep sense in him that tells him that life is not just what we see or hear. Life is not limited to five senses and his heart longs for searching beyond five senses. Such a soul searches for the real purpose of life and keeps contemplating on the unseen force that is pulling him like a magnet. All this can be credited to the ripening of good deeds in past lives.

Lets now start a new topic. sanAtana dharma is different that abrahamic religions.  

14.21. sanAtana dharma is not about DOs and DONTs - No extreme view

sanatAna dharma is different from other religions. It does not believe in strict DOs and DONTs. Life is all about evolution. It is about gradual progress of soul, Ascension of consciousness to higher planes, to higher levels of reality. Holding onto extreme view is harmful. SD does not believe in ‘All or none theory’ as far as evolution of consciousness is concerned. dharma helps increase thinking capacity, dive deep into any subject, analyze logically and then take a decision. Certain concepts and instructions are not easy to comprehend. Hence help of AchArya is necessary. Later on after practising certain instruction for some time, one can understand the reason behind certain rules and regulations. One understands that they are created for our own spiritual benefit and are not to be looked with suspicious eye.

It is wise to build up our capacity step by step. It is like training someone to become a heavyweight builder. One the first day, he is not asked to lift 100 kgs of weight. The increase in weight is gradual. But from the first day, he has to follow certain rules and regulations like sticking to certain diet, adopting certain breathing exercise, etc which he will understand their importance later on.

An example of gradual increase in mental capacity is fasting method called chandrAyana. Initially the quantity of food intake is reduced, then one is asked to stick to fruit diet, later on shift to only living on water and lastly only on air. The renunciation of food is connected with the phases of moon. The fasting might start with new moon and end up on full moon or vice versa. 

|| Hari OM ||

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