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Varnasrama
Vedic Literature Says Caste By Birth is Unjust
by Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)
Posted April 2, 2011

When it comes to the sensitive topic of Varnashrama, or what many people call the caste system of India, we have seen so many talks over this issue, both pro and con, back and forth, this way and that. We all know that the Vedic system of Varnashrama has been mentioned in the Vedic literature in many places. But it seems that many people still don’t understand how it was meant to be implemented. It is not because of Varnashrama, but because of this misunderstanding of what it really is that has caused so many of India’s social problems. This article contains many quotes from Vedic shastra to clarify what the Varnashrama or caste system is actually supposed to be.

This article is for those more familiar with the topic, but for those who are not we can explain briefly that there are four basic social divisions, namely the Brahmanas (those who are priests, or interested in the study, teaching and practice of spiritual knowledge and intellectual pursuits), Kshatriyas (those who are soldiers, in the military, or police, politicians, managers, etc.), Vaishyas (merchants, businessmen, bankers, farmers, tradesmen, etc.), and Shudras (those who would rather engage in simple labor or employment, or technicians, artists, poets, writers, musicians, etc.). Outcastes are those who are outside these four. There are also the four ashramas of life, which include Brahmacharis (student life, generally celibates), Grihastas (householders), Vanaprasthas (those who are retired from family life), and Sannyasa (the renounced monks, some of whom travel the world to teach). This is the Vedic system of Varnashrama.

The modern caste system is seen to usually dictate one’s varna or caste merely by one’s birth family, as if one automatically inherits the caste of one’s father, which is why there is a growing dislike for it. This is not the traditional Vedic system of Varnashrama. This is the difference and the problem. The traditional Vedic system calculated one’s occupational class by recognizing one’s natural talents, interests, tendencies, and abilities. It was similar to the modern system of having high school counselors adjust a student’s academic courses by discussing with the students their interests in conjunction with the results of their IQ tests. Thus, such counselors see what occupational direction is best suited for the students so they can achieve a fitting career that is of interest to them and helps them be a contributor to society at the same time. And the four basic divisions of society, as outlined in the Vedic system, are natural classifications and found everywhere, in every society, call it what you want. Plus, the traditional Vedic Varnashrama system was never so inflexible that one could not change from one occupation or class to another. The rigidity of the present-day caste system, based on jati or one’s birth family, is actually leading us away from the flexibility, and the common sense, of the Vedic varna system.

For this reason, you could say that the modern caste system that we find today is opposed to the Vedic system of varna. The Vedic process was a matter of bringing experience and wisdom of the ages to assist and direct a person’s life in what would be the most productive and satisfying occupation that would fit the mentality, interests, talents, and level of consciousness of an individual. It was never meant to dominate, stifle, hold down, or demean anyone. Therefore, the modern caste system as we find it today should be thrown out, and the natural system of the Vedic Varnashrama should be properly understood as it was meant to be.

So, to show what I’m talking about, here in the shastric quotes that follow I try to provide a clear description of how the varna system was never meant to be based merely on one’s family birth, but by one’s talents, natural interests, proclivities, expertise, and activities. These quotes are from the Bhrama Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana (abbreviated as BP), and no matter how much or how little credit you give to this Purana, you still cannot deny the logic with which this information is presented. The verses cited herein from the Brahma Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana is known to be relatively free of corruptions and its antiquity is vouchsafed as well. The same verses are also repeated verbatim in the Skanda Purana (north Indian versions) and a few verses of similar purport are also found in the beginning of the Shukranatisara. Some scholars say that the last is a 19th century forgery, but no less than Swami Dayanand Sarasvati acknowledged it as an ancient text, and most scholars date it between 300-1200AD. So at a minimum, these verses do represent an alternative opinion in the Vedic society about the varna-jaati systems.

There are many other points about the caste system that could be discussed, such as untouchability, etc., but please note, this article is not taking those up, but merely following the outline as brought up in the following shastric quotes. In this portion of the Bhavishya Purana that follows, the answers to the questions are spoken by Sumantu, the disciple of Srila Vyasadeva, to King Shatanika. This was at the suggestion of Srila Vyasadeva [VedaVyasa] who was sitting nearby in the assembly of sages, all of whom were listening to the discussion. (Bhavishya Purana, Bhrama Parva, Chapter 1.28-35)

HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE ONE’S VARNA?

First of all, how do we recognize one’s varna is an ancient question, even asked by the sages of the distant past to Lord Brahma. What is it that really makes the difference between one person and the next? “The sages asked: O Lord Brahma, in the beginning of creation, how was one recognized as a Brahmana? Was it because of his birth in a particular family, his knowledge of the Vedas, the characteristics of his body, his accomplishment of self-realization, his quality of behavior, or the prescribed duties he carried out? Is it the mind, speech, activities, body, or the qualities that determine one’s social status? Surely one’s birth in a certain caste [or family] is not sufficient for one to be recognized as a Brahmana. One’s qualities and work must also play an important part in determining a person’s position in society. The Vedic literature supports this view.” (BP, 38.8-11)

“Different social orders, such as the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas (and others) are directly seen, but simply being born in a particular family does not automatically grant one his social status. An intelligent person can easily recognize a horse in the midst of many cows. Similarly, among many who are born in a particular social status, those who are actually qualified in terms of character and activities can be easily recognized. (BP, 38.19-20)

“Some people say that all of humanity is the topmost caste, and there is nothing more to be said than this. They fail to understand that the various purificatory processes, such as the sacred thread ceremony [initiation into the twice-born status], make a person distinct from those who do not undergo such rituals.” (BP, 38.21)

Such customs certainly help one progress and is recommended, but the fact remains that in spite of such purificatory rites, we are all still very much the same, as described next.

WE ARE ALL QUITE ALIKE

“How can all the living entities who take birth, grow old, become diseased, and then die, who suffer the threefold miseries of material existence, who take birth in innumerable species, such as human beings, birds, Shudras, dogs, pigs, dog-eaters, insects, and tortoises, who are all placed into very awkward conditions of life, fraught with danger, illness, lamentation, and distress, and who are constantly being drowned by the burden of their grave sinful reactions, be accepted as qualified Brahmanas?” (BP, 38.23-25)

Therefore, there must be some additional means that can help identify one’s mental makeup and high or low level of intellect and consciousness.

IT IS ONLY OUR ACTIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS

THAT DIFFERENTIATE US

“Just as one can differentiate between a soldier, an elephant, a horse, a cow, a goat, a camel, and an ass by seeing their colors and forms [as distinguished because of their birth], all living entities have different characteristics and duties that distinguish them from one another.” (BP, 38.30)

“[However] the question, ‘Who is a Brahmana?’ cannot be answered so easily. Actually, there is no question of a person being qualified as a Brahmana simply because he was born in a family of Brahmanas. When a person is designated as belonging to one of the four divisions of the social order [whether it be Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras or Brahmanas]—that [designation] is not eternal. There is no physical characteristic that enables one to determine who is a Brahmana. A fair or dark complexion, which, after all, is temporary, is no real indication of a person’s varna.” (BP, 38.31)

In Goswami Tulsidas's Shri Ramcharitmanas there are many instances when this issue is also addressed. In the 'Sabri episode', Lord Rama speaks to Sabri about the importance of action (Chapter III, Aranya Kand, Verse 34, Line 4,5,6). It is clearly stated that "Bhakti (devotion and unification with the supreme), does not consider caste, religion, etc., rather it is determined by the character and qualities of an individual."

A CASTE SYSTEM BASED ON BIRTH IS UNJUST

“Therefore, the conception of a caste system based solely on birth is artificial and temporary. It may seem to be reality, but that is only due to the influence of the practice of a particular period. A businessman and doctor are both human beings, but their profession is different. Their work is according to their nature and qualities, and not because of the family they were born into.” (BP, 38.32)

“Can a person, thus, claim to be a Brahmana if he does not act according to the codes of good conduct? Can a man claim to be a Kshatriya if he does not protect the citizens? Can a person claim to be a Vaishya if he gives up performing his prescribed duties [in business, trade or farming]? Can a person claim to be a Shudra if he abandons service to the higher three classes?

“There is no physical difference between human beings as there is between cows and horses. Actually, all living beings should be treated with respect, knowing that they are one in quality as spirit souls, although they may temporarily have different varieties of forms and activities.” (BP, 38.33-34)

“Therefore, the caste system in human society that is based solely upon birth should be understood as superficial, because it is not prescribed in the scriptures. Unfortunately, those in ignorance cannot understand that it is a man-made concoction that can be easily refuted by a person in knowledge.” (BP, 38.35)

“If a person considers himself to be a Brahmana by birth but engages in [such things as] taking care of cows, buffalos, goats, horses, camels, or sheep, or acts as a messenger, tax collector, businessman, painter [artist], or dancer, he should be considered as not a real Brahmana, even though he may be very expert or powerful.” (BP, 38.36-37)

“Brahmanas who have deviated from the path of righteousness as propagated by the scriptures are to be considered fallen [from their social status], even though they may belong to a very aristocratic family, and have performed all the required purificatory rituals, and carefully studied the Vedas. No amount of accomplishments gives one the right to justify sinful behavior.” (BP, 38.42-43)

“Thus, it can be understood how a Brahmana can become a Shudra, a Shudra can become a Brahmana, a Kshatriya can become a Brahmana or a Vaishya, and so on.” (BP, 38.47)

Herein we can understand that a Brahmana is no Brahmana if he is not endowed with purity and good character, or if he leads a life of frivolity and immorality. However, a Shudra is a Brahmana if he leads a virtuous and pious life. Varna or caste is a question of character. Varna is not the color of the skin, but the color of one’s character and quality. Conduct and character is what matters and not lineage alone. If one is Brahmana by birth and, at the same time, if he possesses the virtues of a Brahmana, that it is extremely good, because it is only certain virtuous qualifications that determine if one is a Brahmana, just as certain qualities distinguish one as a Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. But if a Brahmana does not have the necessary traits, then he cannot call himself a Brahmana.

“Brahma said: If study of the Vedas is an important criteria for being recognized as a Brahmana, then many Kshatriyas and Vaisyas also deserve to be called Brahmanas, just as Ravana became known as a demon [by qualities and actions]. Similarly, there are many dog-eaters, laborers, hunters, fishermen, sailors, and other people [outside the higher classes] who study the Vedas… Therefore, mere study of the Vedas cannot be the criteria for determining a person’s social position.” (BP, 39.1-2, 6)

The point is that “One who is twice-born and has thoroughly studied the Vedas, along with its six branches, cannot claim to be a purified soul if he does not observe the codes of good conduct. It is the occupational duty of one who is twice-born to study the Vedas, and this is one of the symptoms of a genuine Brahmana. If a person does not perform his prescribed duties after studying the four Vedas, he is like a eunuch who cannot take advantage of having a wife.” (BP, 39.8-9)

Here again we see that the proper classification of an individual is not the status of one’s birth family, but the qualities that he shows in life. Otherwise, even someone who considers himself to be a sophisticated Brahmana may indeed be something far less. As it is further explained: “Just like a Brahmana, a Shudra can have a shikha, chant Om, worship the deities every morning and evening, wear a sacred [Brhamana’s] thread, carry a staff, and wear a deerskin [like a forest sage]. Even Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are incapable of preventing people from becoming Shudras, and so what to speak of human beings. Therefore, wearing a sacred thread, keeping a shikha, and dressing a particular way are not really indications of a person’s position within the Varnashrama society. Who can stop a person’s Shudra mentality, even though he may be well-versed in the Vedic mantras and tantras, and is a very good speaker on these subjects?” (BP, 39.10-13)

“[Generally it can be recognized that] All classes of men are seen to be capable of performing austerities, speaking the truth, worshiping the demigods, and chanting mantras. All classes of men generally avoid and [in some cases] even deceive those who speak harshly. Considering this, it is not possible to actually differentiate between a Brahmana and a Shudra. The power to curse and the exhibition of compassion can also be found in Shudras. One cannot ascertain from a person’s external appearance whether he is a thief, a cheater, or a prince. Just as a Shudra is incapable of relieving himself of his miseries and protecting his family, it is the same for a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.14-17)

THE DAMAGE OF UNQUALIFIED BRAHMANAS

“It is better if there are no Brahmanas at all than to have sinful and unqualified Brahmanas in the kingdom [who thus mislead society by what they say and do], especially in Kali-yuga, because in previous ages such Brahmanas would have been censored.” (BP, 39.18)

Furthermore, it is especially difficult in these days to find anyone who is eligible to be considered a member of the higher classes or varnas of society, for it seems that everyone is materially motivated.

“According to some opinion, the power to curse others, a compassionate nature, and an inclination toward spiritual life are the characteristics of a Brahmana. In spite of that, it is seen that practically everyone is attached to worldly activities, having fallen into the darkness of ignorance, and because of that they are helplessly rushing towards hell, just like flies rush towards a fire.” (BP, 39.19-20)

SO WHO IS A REAL BRAHMANA?

We have now seen by the logic presented in the Bhavishya Purana how the jati or birth of an individual does not justify anyone’s social classification. But also how many of those who take pride in considering themselves of a higher caste or varna are actually not qualified in such a way at all. And yet, even a low-class person, meaning having taken birth from a lower social class, can indeed rise up to be a Brahmama. It all depends on one’s level of consciousness, which generally depends on one’s training and then mental disposition towards a spiritual life, and his natural inclination to follow a code of good conduct.

“Only those who have been PROPERLY trained and who have studied the Vedas [are seen to generally] adhere to a life of piety, whereas those without training [in at least general moral standards], who have not studied the Vedas [nor their spiritual conclusion] must engage in sinful activities. Because study of the Vedas is the primary duty of a Brahmana [or one who is seriously on the path to spiritual progress, thus showing Brahminical qualities], one who does not study the Vedas cannot be considered a genuine Brahmana.” (BP, 39.25-26)

This is interesting because how many times have we met people who feel they have duly studied the Vedic conclusions but have yet to know how to apply them, nor have they continued to follow them, giving any number of excuses for their present activities. The above verses make it clear that one has to continue to follow the standards, and if he cannot, then he is no longer to be accepted as a person of a higher social class. And this can go for anyone and anywhere. If they have little respect for others, engage in materialistic pursuits without higher moral standards, then that person is someone with a low consciousness, or low varna.

A BRAHMANA CAN EASILY FALL DOWN,

WHILE A SHUDRA CAN EASILY RISE UP

“A Brahmana can easily be diverted from his brahminical qualities and codes of good conduct if he becomes bewildered by desires for material enjoyment and blinded by pride, just like an ordinary materialistic person. Of course, anyone becomes degraded and goes to hell if he has a sinful nature, even after undergoing the samskaras. On the other hand, those who observe proper etiquette, even though they might not have undergone the samskaras, should be considered as Brahmanas.

“It is a fact that even someone who chants various mantras and has undergone all the purificatory rituals may fall down into illusion and thereby become bereft of brahminical qualifications due to his sinful mentality. People who engage in abominable activities, and who are blinded by pride in their ability, fall down from their position and lose all brahminical qualities.” (BP, 40.15-18)

Here again I am reminded of what I have always said, that the present caste system based on one’s jati or birth is unjust. It is meant to depend on the person’s natural talents, abilities, tendencies, and mentality, which varies from person to person regardless of family, social class, culture, regional jurisdiction, etc. Each person has to be considered individually regardless of family background.

“The caste system based simply on birth does not actually divide people according to their development of consciousness. It is one’s envy and hatred that allows us to place a person in a higher or lower category. If it is not helpful to divide people according to their bodily characteristics, [then why do so]? In the past, many great sages, such as Srila Vyasadeva, observed proper etiquette and became great souls, although they did not undergo the samskaras, such as the garbhadhana.” (BP, 40.19-20)

For example, “Vyasadeva was the son of a fisherman’s daughter, his father Parashara was born from a woman who was a dog-eater. Shukadeva was born from a female parrot, Vashishtha was the son of a prostitute…” and others sages like Kanada, Shringi,. Mandapala, and Mandavya all had questionable births, and yet all were highly qualified Brahmanas, and recognized as such.

“Indeed, it is imperative that one strictly follow the instructions of these highly qualified sages, who all possess a spotless character, if one hopes to achieve success in life.

“O King, undergoing the various samskaras certainly plays an important part in raising one to the platform of a qualified Brahmana, but there are many other important considerations. For example, the great sage Shringi achieved the status of a Brahmana on the strength of his austerities. It must be concluded that undergoing samskaras is a principal criteria for becoming a Brahmana. Still, on the strength of their penance and austerity, Vyasadeva, Parashara, Kanada, Vashishtha, and Mandapala became qualified Brahmanas, despite their taking birth from the womb of a fisherwomen, female dog-eater, or prostitute, etc.

“[Therefore] undergoing the various samskaras is not sufficient to qualify one as a Brahmana. Those who are expert in performing the Vedic and tantrik samskaras require the attainment of transcendental knowledge and the performance of penance to support their claim of being qualified Brahmanas. Without such qualifications, one will certainly indulge in sinful activities and thus fall from his high position as a Brahmana. One who is a Brahmana in name only is not really a Brahmana.” (BP, 40.22-32)

Here in these quotations we can see that many great Rishis were born in lower varnas, such as Vashishta was the son of a prostitute; Vyasa was born of a fisher woman; Parashara’s mother was a chandala; Nammalwar was a Shudra. Similarly, Valmiki, Viswamitra, Agastya were Brahmanas in spite of their non-Brahmana origin. In more recent times, for example, Swami Vivekananda, one of the most revered Hindus worldwide, and was a non-Brahmana. All this proves that birth is not a major player in attaining the status of Brahmana. It is the intellectual and spiritual level that differentiates people.

In the same way, spiritual realization is not dependent on birth or book-learning, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the lives of saints, from the very earliest times to our own day. So, then who is a real rishi? It is the person who has attained through proper means the direct realization of Dharma. That is the one who can be a rishi even if he is a non-Brahmana or mleccha by birth.

The basis of varna is guna or the mode of nature in which a person is situated, and not birth. Therefore, one is a Brahmana not because of one’s birth or caste or heredity or color or profession or acquisition of worldly knowledge, or mere observation of social and moral codes, but because of his spiritual knowledge and insight, and his abidance in the Supreme Reality, his state of self-realization. This is the conclusion of all Vedas, Shrutis, Puranas, Itihasas, and of all great men of India.

Therefore, casteism, meaning judging a person by one’s birth family, is a misguided social custom and not part of any spiritual tradition, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste.

WHEN A BRAHMANA BECOMES LOWER THAN A SHUDRA

“According to Svayambhuva Manu, the principal characteristic of a Brahmana is that he possesses spiritual knowledge, is enriched with the power of penance, and maintains a state of purity. According to this understanding, anyone, whether he belongs to an upper, middle, or lower caste, if he never indulges in sinful activities, he must be considered a Brahmana. It is said that an honest and well-behaved Shudra is better than an arrogant Brahmana, and a Brahmana who disregards the prescribed codes of good conduct is inferior to a Shudra. A Shudra that does not keep wine in his shop or in his house is called an honest Shudra.” (BP, 42.29-32)

HOW EVERYONE CAN ADVANCE

The proper observance of the Vedic system of Varnashrama-dharma is to help one’s growth and self-evolution. The great sages have explained that this system of division into varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, providing a means so one can rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. Such is our ideal for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of the great ideal of being a spiritual man, who is calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God-realization.

The additional aim of Varnashrama-dharma is to promote the development of the universal, eternal Sanatana-dharma, the balanced state of being in which you perceive and live according to your genuine spiritual identity. Thus, as the saying goes, “if you take care of Dharma, Dharma will take care of you.” If you destroy it, society will become bereft of balance. Therefore, we should never destroy our Dharma. This principle holds true of the individual as much as of the nation. It is Dharma alone which keeps a nation alive and moving forward. Dharma is the very soul of man. Dharma is the very soul of a nation also, even the world. So how can we all move forward together on the sure path of progress? Here it is explained as follows:

“Brahminical prowess progressively increases in pious persons who cultivate godly qualities such as forgiveness, control of the senses, compassion, charity, truthfulness, purity, meditation, respect for others, simplicity, satisfaction, freedom from false ego, austerity, self-control, knowledge, freedom from the propensity to blaspheme others, celibacy, cultivation of knowledge, freedom from envy, faithfulness, freedom from hatred, detachment, renunciation of the thirst for material enjoyment, service to the spiritual master, and control of the body, mind, and speech.” (BP, 42.12-15)

“Many persons in the past became highly advanced and powerful by cultivating these qualities and practicing behavior befitting a saintly person. It is a fact that by such a practice, the heart becomes purified, freeing one from the influence of the modes of passion [raja-guna] and ignorance [tamo-guna].” (BP, 42.16)

“According to learned authorities, those who possess these godly qualities are actually scholars of the Vedas and Puranas, and understand the confidential purport of the Bhagavad-gita. By faithfully following the principles of varna and ashrama, people in all four yugas have attained the perfection of life.” (BP, 42.17-18)

CLASSIFICATIONS BASED ON THE BODY ARE COMPLETELY FALSE

By now we should be able to see that even a person who has taken birth from a family who has been considered of a low varna can raise him or herself up to a higher classification by having proper training and showing appropriate codes of conduct and lifestyle.

“When a Shudra has become advanced by undergoing the [Vedic] samskaras, he can no longer be considered a Shudra. The conclusion is that a person’s external dress or appearance cannot be the criterion for his being accepted as a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.29)

However, the samskaras or rituals and training in themselves cannot be the sole means of determining one’s social position. This certainly helps, but there must be more than that, which, as already explained.

“If the undergoing of samskaras is the main criteria for being accepted as a Brahmana, then all those who have undergone samskaras are certainly Brahmanas. If that be the case, how can they be compared with personalities like Srila Vyasadeva, who did not undergo the samskaras. If we consider this, we see that there is no support for the theory of different castes. Although different castes are recognized in society, this is just an artificial conception of materialistic people. The material body is composed of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and sky. These elements cannot be the cause for one being accepted as a Brahmana [or anything else], because they combine for some time and then merge back into their source. Indeed, the body of an atheist, mleccha, or a yavana is made of the same material elements. [Thus, such designations based on the body are completely false].” (BP, 39.30-33)

“Religiosity as described in the Vedas can also be found in people who are sinful, violent, of bad character, and cruel. Therefore the determination of one’s social status does not depend on undergoing [purificatory] samskaras.” (BP, 39.34)

“Therefore, [from the conclusions that have been presented so far] there is no difference between a Brahmana and a Shudra in terms of bodily features, mentality, experience of happiness and distress, opulence, prowess, tendency toward gambling, shrewdness in business, ability to earn wealth, steadiness, restlessness, intelligence, detachment, virtue, accomplishment of the three objectives of life [dharma, artha and kama], cleverness, beauty, complexion, sexual capacity, stool, bones, holes of the body, manifestations of love, height, weight, and bodily hair. Therefore, even if the demigods were to try very hard to find distinctions between Brahmanas and Shudras [and everyone in between] in this way, they would not be able to do so.” (BP, 39.35-39)

“One should not think that all Brahmanas are white like moon rays, that all Kshatriyas have a complexion like the color of a kimsuka flower, that all Vaishyas have a golden complexion like the color of an orpiment fruit, and that all Shudras are black like half-burnt coal. How can there be four classes of human beings when their walking, complexion, hair, happiness, distress, blood, skin, flesh, bone marrow, and fluids are totally identical? There is nothing special about anyone’s complexion, height, weight, figure, period of stay within the womb, speech, wisdom, working senses, life-air, strength, illnesses, objectives of life, and methods for curing diseases.” (BP, 39.41-43)

“A father may have four sons and it is assumed that all of them belong to the same caste as their father. Similarly, all living entities are produced by the one Supreme Father and so, how can His children be divided into different castes? Just as the color, texture, structure, feel, and juice of different portions of a fig are the same, so are the human beings that are emanating from one source, and so it is improper to differentiate between them. The brothers, children, daughters-in-law, births, marriages, beauty, complexion, and artistic ability must be the same for the member of the lineages [or gotras] coming from Kaushika, Gautama, Kaumdinya, Mandavya, Vashishtha, Atreya, Kautsa, Angirasa, Maudgalya, Katyayana, and Bhargava.

“Although some learned scholars accept the material body as being a Brahmana [or something else], this indicates that they are in the bodily concept of life [without spiritual perception], which exists in a condition of dense ignorance. This is like a blind person desiring to treat others’ eyes by applying a black ointment. Both are ludicrous. Because the material body has a beginning, it also has an end. After death, the elements of the body merge into the totality of material elements once again. Therefore, the body [alone] cannot be accepted as a Brahmana [or any other varna].” (BP, 39.45-51)

In conclusion, therefore, “Only ignorant people accept this material body as being a Brahmana. According to their understanding, the position of being a Brahmana cannot be achieved simply by undergoing the various purificatory processes.” (BP, 39.54)

ONE MISSES GOAL OF LIFE WHEN PREOCCUPIED BY CASTE

“If after attaining the human form of life, which enables one to possess things like attractive bodily features, abundant wealth, great power and prestige, one does not live according to the prescribed religious principles, it cannot be predicted what species of life he will thereafter be forced to accept on various planets. This is the fate of one who is so proud that he dares to challenge the supremacy of God. Being intoxicated by pride, thinking that their caste, race, beauty, social status, and education are very wonderful, people do not bother to understand their actual self-interest, and because of that in their next life they will suffer like eunuchs.

“Material existence can be compared to a huge pit in which thousands of millions of living entities are drowning. Knowing this perfectly well, which intelligent person would be very proud of his caste?

“There are many human beings who are presumed to be fully satisfied, having been born in aristocratic families, and yet because of their own misdeeds, after death they will be forced to take birth in this world in some lower species of life. In this world, no one can remain permanently in some situation.” (BP, 39.3-6)

If this does not make it clear regarding the impermanent nature of the living being, and that even one’s high, intermediate or low birth is temporary, then I do not know what can. Yet, we see that so many people are going through life, completely asleep in regard to the real purpose of this existence. Thus, they may think their present position is so grand, not knowing that if they do not use this life properly for real spiritual progress, after death their next life may not be very great at all. But how many times must we go through this before we learn our lessons about the real truth of the matter, that our real position is as a spiritual being, beyond the body and its superficial designations, and everything else is temporary and secondary?

THE DIFFERENCE OF PROPER CONSCIOUSNESS AND INTENT,

OR MERELY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

In the next few verses it is pointed out that a person must also have the proper concentration and focus, along with the proper intentions in their actions if they are expected to be qualified in their positions. Otherwise, it is seen that anyone can chant mantras and do rituals, but merely going through the motions, especially for adoration, profit and distinction, is not what is needed to suitably accept or be qualified for a higher status in one’s social classification.

“Generally, those who are twice-born—the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas—undergo all the Vedic samskaras. For this reason, they are certainly to be considered as superior to the Shudras who engage in all kinds of frivolous activities.

“In spite of undergoing the samskaras, if those who are twice-born engage in violent and sinful activities, such as killing a Brahmana [or worse], having sexual intercourse with the wife of the spiritual master, stealing, killing a cow, drinking wine, cheating, speaking lies, exhibiting great pride, speaking atheistic philosophy, blaspheming the Vedas, denying the authority of the Vedas, plundering the wealth of others, acting whimsically, earning money by dancing or cheating, eating all types of abominable food, and performing any other prohibited activity with the body, mind, and speech, they can never be considered purified, even if they perform thousands of sacrifices [rituals].

“Therefore, the ability to chant mantras, perform fire rituals, practice penance, and sacrifices does not make one a Brahmana, just as a Shudra remains a Shudra, despite the ability to perform all these activities [when merely going through the motions].” (BP, 41.5-9)

“Similarly, the Brahmanas who indulge in sinful activities must be considered fallen. Therefore, the only sane conclusion is that the concepts of Brahmana and Kshatriya etc., are temporary designations and not ultimate reality.” (BP, 41.52)

EXPECTED CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIONS

OF EACH PERSON OF THE FOUR VARNAS

What follows are a very few of the qualities, actions and characteristics that are typical of people in each of the four varnas.

“Brahma said: Genuine Brahmanas know very well what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected. They avoid sinful behavior, carefully control their senses, mind, and speech, and carefully observe the prescribed etiquette. They follow the rules and regulations that are prescribed for them in the scriptures, and constantly work for the welfare of others. They work for the protection of religious principles in this world and are fixed in trance, meditating on the Absolute Truth. They restrain their anger, and are free from material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride. They are attached to the study of the Vedas [and their supporting literature], very peaceful, and are the best well-wishing friends of all living entities. They are equal in happiness and distress, reside in a solitary place, observe all the vows prescribed for them with their body and mind, and are pious by nature. They are reluctant to perform any abominable act, and are freed from illusion and false pride. They are charitable, compassionate, truthful, and very learned in the scriptures. They know the Supreme Brahman and have high regard for the revealed scriptures.” (BP, 42.1-7)

From this verse we can understand that if a Brahmana is not free from such things as anger, material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride, along with the other qualities mentioned above, then such people do not have the real mentality of a Brahmana, even if they do appear to have some expertise in other areas. Thus, they are not genuinely qualified to be spiritual authorities for the rest of society, but, indeed, have much more work to do on themselves for their own progress and development.

Another class of beings are also known as Brahmanas, as explained: “Brahma was born from the navel of the purusha-avatara [Vishnu]. All living entities were manifested by Him, and among them, those who are devotees, surrendered souls unto that Supreme Personality of Godhead, are also known as Brahmanas.” (BP, 42.9)

Furthermore, “Those who have some realization of the Supreme Brahman, and who act according to the prescribed codes of good conduct, are called Brahmanas, and they are glorified by the other members of society.” (BP, 42.11)

In regard to the other main varnas, namely the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, their expected standards are also described: “Those who give protection to others, saving them from all kinds of danger, are known as Kshatriyas. Those who engage in farming, cow protection, and trading are known as Vaishyas, and those who have no capacity to study the Vedas [or deep spiritual knowledge], and are engaged in serving members of the higher three classes are known as Shudras.” (BP, 42.10)

“Lord Brahma has prescribed the methods for members of all the varnas that will enable them to achieve perfection by performing their respective duties.

“Among the human beings, those who are comparatively more powerful and are thus able to give protection to others, saving them from all types of danger, should be known as Kshatriyas. Persons who approach the Kshatriyas to beg some charity after instructing them on the messages of the Supreme Lord as found in the Vedic literature should be known as Brahmanas.

“Those who are almost as powerful as the Kshatriyas but engage in agriculture, cow protection, and trade [such as banking and business], should be known as Vaishyas. Those who, not very capable of working independently, and who are easily overcome by lamentation and illusion, should engage in the service of the higher three classes of men and thus be known as Shudras. In this way, according to their nature and qualities, there are prescribed duties for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.” (BP, 42.19-24)

“The qualities of a Brahmana are peacefulness, austerity, self-control, purity, tolerance, simplicity, knowledge, the practical application of the knowledge, and inquiry into the nature of the Absolute Truth. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the Kshatriyas. Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the Vaishyas, and for the Shudras there is labor and service to others.” (BP, 42.25-27)

In this way, everyone has a natural tendency for some aspect of the particular traits described, and are also a part of the social body of civilization to help contribute to its balance and progress, and the well-being of one and all.

IN CONCLUSION

If people can understand the real basis of the Varna system, and be trained in acting accordingly, raising themselves to their original spiritual level, then the false, superficial and bodily based sectarian spirit can ultimately be put to rest. Then there is every possibility that such people can develop a spiritual vision of one another with a mood of love, care, cooperation, sacrifice, and service. This is the real purpose of the Varna system anyway, to see that everyone is a part of the larger social body, and that each person, by their actions and occupation, has a contribution to make to the well-being of all.

“It is therefore to be concluded that humanity is essentially one, but distinctions of caste have been made according to a person’s qualities and work [mentality and consciousness]. As far as general behavior is concerned, the entire human race is one. There is only a difference in people’s occupations and attitudes. Those who divide society into castes according to birth cannot see that human beings are essentially one.” (BP, 42.33-34)

Another article of mine on my website that can help provide more clarity is Casteism: Is It the Scourge of Hinduism, or the Perversion of a Legitimate Vedic System?

[This article is available at: www.stephen-knapp.com]



Faith, Varnashrama and Airborne Children
by Niscala dasi
Posted April 29, 2010

Varnashrama is often equated with self-sufficiency, yet it is much more than that, providing a paradigm wherein many of our current problems — plaguing us since our inception — find their solution.

Currently being discussed on the Internet is the problem of brahmacaris neglecting their future careers and thereby entering the grhastha ashrama unprepared. Coincidentally, this is being discussed in two different forums — hence emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. It was observed that when brahmacaris neglect their careers, they often cannot afford child support when the marriage splits — which often happens because we also do not teach that love is so important in the family. Because they cannot afford child-support payments due to not having a decent career, the issue often ends up in the courts — which is really bad for our reputation, what to speak of not pleasing Srila Prabhupada.

The varnashrama paradigm is very different to our current situation. During brahmacarya, the student is observed very carefully, and his desires, talents and propensities are considered, and then he is advised to get training accordingly, in one of the four varnas.

Brahmana Varna
ISKCON can provide training for brahmanas provided that we teach the value of honesty, the most basic and essential brahminical principle. There is philosophical honesty, which has two parts: 1) theoretical philosophical honesty — which is to argue cogently, with reason, thus establishing the truth of an argument — and 2) practical philosophical honesty — which is to use the philosophy in a way that allows people to be themselves, without fear of judgment and condemnation. If, instead, we model pretense — in Srila Prabhupada's coinage, "showbottle spirituality" — then our brahmanas might as well be trained in philosophy at a university. At least they will learn to argue cogently and convince with reason.

Other Varnas
In these ways, ISKCON can provide training if the brahmacari is sure that he only wants to maintain a family the brahminical way — through teaching practical applications of the philosophy. As far as other varnas are concerned, brahmacaris can attend university or technical colleges, according to their propensities. In Canberra, Australia, Indian brahmacaris study at university and live at the temple. They can either pay rent if they have time to work part-time, or they may prefer to do service.

Brahmacari Ashrama
We must remember that brahmacari does not mean sannyasi — he is renounced, but often not planning for permanent renunciation. Brahmacari also does not mean brahmana — he may be interested in the philosophy but more suited to work that is not directly teaching it. Or he may be interested in the philosophy but unable to follow all the brahminical principles. That situation includes most of those who join us. We should make facility for it, not pretend that we just chant Hare Krsna, close our eyes and all problems will vanish like magic. Srila Prabhupada chanted Hare Krsna too, but he observed this problem with open eyes and recommended varnashrama. Let each brahmacari and brahmacarini decide on his or her varna and get trained in it. They can also distribute books to their friends at college or during their holidays.

Objection
The temple presidents in our movement might not like such a situation, as they may think: "If we encourage all brahmacaris to get training for their future careers, then fewer books will go out, and therefore there will be less money for the temple programs." My answer to them is as follows:

The Airborne Child
Srila Prabhupada set the example of doing what is right, and leaving the results in Krsna's hands, having faith that He will always protect us if we take risks on His behalf. We cannot please Krsna while we neglect the instructions of His pure devotee. We must ask ourselves: "Do we have only a lip-service attitude to our faith in Srila Prabhupada — proclaiming it, but not really feeling it?" If we do have faith, then we cannot help but show it. Faith means a leap in the dark, a leap into the unknown. It's like a child laughing when his parents throw him up in the air — his carefree attitude is because he has utmost faith that his parents will catch him.

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain
If each devotees is free to follow his or her propensity and can get training for it, it means that they are naturally situated in whatever work they are best suited for, work that they are happy to engage in their whole lives. That means a vast reduction in the numbers of devotees leaving ISKCON to do other stuff — they can do their "other stuff" in ISKCON. What this translates to, in strictly financial terms, is instead of a few devotees giving out books full-time and often getting stressed and burnt-out in the process, you have a huge number of devotees giving out books part-time and in natural spontaneous ways, sharing them with friends and associates. You also have, in financial terms, a devotee community that is capable of donating to the temple programs. This is already happening in the Indian congregation. They did not spend their student life in full-time book sales but mainly in studying, and now they can not only donate to the temple, but also support book distribution is respectable ways, amongst colleagues.

Internal Rewards
Srila Prabhupada's recommendation is not truly a "leap in the dark" but has already been shown to work much better than the current ISKCON model. (How many of our Indian congregation "bloop," never to be seen again?) It is natural, and therefore it uproots the anarthas of falsity and pretense, mentioned by Sri Chaitanya in Caitanya Caritamrita. Srimad Bhagavatam was spoken specifically for those who are "thoroughly honest." Apart from greatly advanced avadhutas, many of the great souls who are mentioned in that literature followed their duties in varnashrama, as did the author. Only those who are beyond any influence of the modes of nature need give up varnashrama, and even then they often do not, as it is a vehicle for service.

The Self-Sufficiency Insufficiency
Varnashrama, therefore, does not mean just self-sufficiency, as some think. It is not a synonym for life on a farm — it can happen anywhere there are people interested to become devotees. Of course, at a farm the training is much simpler, as is the lifestyle. That does not mean that ksatriyas should not take advantage of management courses — currently much of what is considered "management" is the people-skills necessary for a ksatriya to be respected and appreciated. Devotees will willingly and joyfully serve a person who is always enquiring about their welfare, doing everything to help them be happy and grow in Krsna consciousness.

From Careworn to Airborne
If in the community, love and honesty between the devotees is stressed, then naturally, when two devotees join forces and become married, they will be loving and respectful, and the likelihood of divorce is much reduced. It is not enough to make child abuse unacceptable; one must foster that healthy dynamic which creates an atmosphere in which such exploitation cannot take place. If we respect the uniqueness of each person who joins us, working out how we can engage them so that they are most joyful by nurturing their natural talents, we will also respect the uniqueness of each devotee born into our movement.

If, on the other hand, we have a mood of exploitation, even for "Krsna's service," towards those innocent souls who are attracted to our movement, then our children will also be abused, as they are in the same category. It is the ksatriya's responsibility, given in the sastra, to make sure that no one in his "kingdom" or precinct suffers in any way, even mentally. He is that person who has the most people-skills — or willing to learn them.

Non-Judgmental Religion?
It is clear from the Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam that varnashrama is a very loving and non-judgmental dynamic: in Dwaraka even the prostitutes were respected. When the religious become steeped in self-righteous condemnation of others, they do more to further the cause of atheism than if they took to a full-time career of disproving God. We do not have prostitutes joining us, generally, but we do have couples and others who sometimes fail the no-illicit-sex principle as most strictly interpreted. If even a prostitute can be a respected devotee of the Lord, why not a devoted couple, fully dedicated to the Lord's service, what to speak of a fully devoted gay couple?

Varnashrama needs to be there so that everyone who wants to be can be a devotee of the Lord, be included in a community of devotees, be engaged in service that is pleasing and natural, be able to support their families and the temple and thrive in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation, despite their differences. Of course, it may be argued that all of the above can be cultivated without varnashrama, which is a circular argument, because all of the above means that there is the varnashrama dynamic in place, whether we call it that or not.



Varnashrama As a Means to Freedom
by Niscala dasi
Posted December 9, 2009

ISKCON's four regulative principles (avoiding meat-eating, all sex except for procreation in marriage, gambling and intoxication) are sometimes referred to as "the four principles of freedom". If they really are the principles of freedom, then they should foster honesty. One can only be free in honesty- for deception is entangling.

As the poem goes:

Oh! what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practice to deceive!

Maya is literally 'illusion", a synonym for "deception". So, since honesty is essential, both to freedom, and to self-realization, it follows that to the extent that one can honestly follow the four regulative principles, to that extent they are beneficial and liberating. But what of the contingency plan?

Freedom through Honesty

If one cannot follow, then the prescription given by Srila Prabhupada is varnashrama. Not that one cannot be a devotee, as the only qualification for becoming a devotee is the desire to be one!

In Srila Prabhupada's conversations about varnashrama (see below), he was stressing it as a means to discourage devotees from accepting principles that they could not follow, and as a means to make bhakti easy for everyone to follow. So why are we excluding people, or why are people going away, because they can no longer

follow the four regulative principles? Let them follow a less austere version that will keep the society in peace and prosperity...

Keeping in mind the goal of varnashrama, the spiritual and material well-being of the society, the regulative principles for the varnas may vary according to time, place and circumstance. For example, in Vedic times, when the safety of the society required a physically powerful leader, ksatriyas were even allowed to eat meat, to get the excess of protein required to become human juggernauts in battle. This is not necessary in these times, when it is not archery and the wielding of swords, but the plethora of advanced weaponry (and the winning of hearts and minds), that generally determines the outcome of a battle. Thus, it does not compromise our safety to have our ksatriyas be vegetarians, and giving up meat is not hard for devotees to follow, in our experience. Most stay vegetarians voluntarily, even after "blooping" or losing interest in Krishna consciousness, because it has immense benefits, for one's health, the environment, and one's friends, the animals. It is indeed a principle of elevation in these times-- when there is so much advanced technology, that physical strength has become virtually redundant.

Similarly we find there to be no need to compromise the principles of "no intoxication" or "no gambling", as these indulgences undermine the well-being of any society, including our own, and in a setting of varnashrama, which is rural, there is no facility of intoxication and gambling anyway. There is however, always the (glances of) the opposite sex! Herein lies the need for the contingency plan given by Srila Prabhupada, the need to adjust so as to make bhakti "easy" for everyone, to make it so that we can reach out and call everyone a member of our all-embracing society. Alternatively, we can continue to be as we are- a small sect of fanatical rule-followers...that will certainly ensure our stagnation...or decline...

Compassion and Empathy

The goals of varnashrama are the spiritual and material well-being of all. The spiritual well-being requires we develop honesty, taking care to avoid both deception of self and others. Specifically, it means not pretending to be more advanced than we are- for that is a common synthesis of two anarthas- duplicity- kutinati, and the desire for honor -pratistha. Our material, emotional well-being requires that we develop compassion and empathy. Combining these twin goals, if one cannot be celibate except for procreation- then at least one should be true to one's spouse. So much unbearable pain and heartbreak is caused by having sexual affairs outside marriage. This is appropriately called "cheating" or deception, because rather than facing the problems in the marriage honestly and with integrity and respect for one's partner, one looks for an escape.

Love

And in marriage, one should strive against seeing the spouse as a sense object- to treat him/her neither for sexual, nor egotistic, domination. If one cannot see him/her as Krishna's own beloved, at least make him/her one's own beloved- let attachment not degrade into exploitation, but be a training ground for expressing loving feelings. One should try to see oneself as an instrument for Krishna's love to flow through ,for such an attitude will keep one humble, and devotional, at the same time.

Additional Principles of Freedom

Varnashrama is about honesty. It is also about love- treating each other with the utmost respect that every servant of Krishna deserves. Also compassion- not being harsh or judgmental about other's weaknesses- or even one's own.

It is about being forgiving.

And patient.

That is what I saw in Prabhupada's conversations about varnashrama, and so I have tried to stress it in my book (Varnashrama- the Eight-Petalled Lotus). Others have interpreted varnashrama to mean simply self-sufficiency or cow protection-(it has become synonymous with the same, in some circles)- but that is only a part of it. It is an important part, but not all...

Varnashrama, in essence, is about freedom- from exploitation, and from deception. Thus, it is the freedom to be oneself- not some ideal- and the freedom of being respected for that- that special freedom that is indistinguishable from love- the freedom that comes from being appreciated- regardless of one's shortcomings. That is love that is unconditional, ahaituki, the kind of love we must eventually develop for the Lord, and that we must train ourselves in, beginning with those parts and parcels of the Lord whom we call our husbands, wives, children, friends and workers...

For more discussion, or more about the book, please write to me at: niscala_dasi @yahoo.com.au

Prabhupada's Instructions on Varnashrama

Prabhupada: Therefore varnashrama-dharma is required. Simply show-bottle will not do. So the varnashram-dharma should be introduced all over the world, and...

Satsvarupa: Introduced starting with ISKCON community??

Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. brahmana, kshatriyas. There must be regular education.

Hari-sauri: But in our community, if the..., being as we're training up as Vaishnavas [devotees of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, or Krishna]...

Prabhupada: Yes.

Hari-sauri: ...then how will we be able to make divisions in our society?

Prabhupada: Vaishnava is not so easy. The varnashram-dharma should be established to become a Vaishnava. It is not so easy to become Vaishnava.

Hari-sauri: No, it's not a cheap thing.

Prabhupada: Yes. Therefore this should be made. Vaishnava, to become Vaishnava, is not so easy. If Vaishnava, to become Vaishnava is so easy, why so many fall down? It is not easy. The sannyasa is for the highest qualified brahmana. And simply by dressing like a Vaishnava, that is... fall down.

Hari-sauri: So the varnashram system is like for the kanishthas, kanishtha- adhikari [neophytes].

Prabhupada: Kanishtha?

Hari-sauri: When one is only on the platform of neophyte.

Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. Kanishtha-adhikari, yes.

Hari-sauri: Varnashram system is beneficial.

Prabhupada: At least ideal must be there. That we are doing.

Hari-sauri: This will more or less revolutionize the way we're running our centers. If we introduce it, it will more or less revolutionize the way we're running our centers.

Prabhupada: Why? Why revolution?

Hari-sauri: Because right now our only emphasis is just to simply produce brahmanas .

Prabhupada: So why you are taking "we"? Why not others? This is kanishtha-adhikari. You are thinking of "we." That is kanishtha-adhikari. It is not that "we." Na tad-bhakteshu chanyeshu. [SB 11.2.47] You have to think for others also.

*******

Satsvarupa: In our ISKCON, one becomes a brahmana after a year. It's not very hard. Everyone becomes a brahmana.

Prabhupada: That is due to chanting. That lifts very easily.

Hari-sauri: Where will we introduce the varnashram system, then?

Prabhupada: In our society, amongst our members.

Hari-sauri: But then if everybody's being raised to the brahminical platform...

Prabhupada: Not everybody. Why you are misunderstanding? Varnashram, not everybody brahmana.

Hari-sauri: No, but in our society practically everyone is being raised to that platform. So then one might ask what is...

Prabhupada: That is... Everybody is being raised, but they're falling down.

Hari-sauri: So then we should make it more difficult to get...

Prabhupada: Yes.

Hari-sauri: ...brahminical initiation. After four or five years.

Prabhupada: Not necessary. You remain as a kshatriya. You'll be ...

Hari-sauri: No need for even any brahmana initiation, then...

Prabhupada: No, no.

Hari-sauri: ...unless one is...

Prabhupada: No, brahmana must be there. Why do you, say, generalize?

Hari-sauri: Unless one is particularly...

Prabhupada: Yes.

Hari-sauri: ...inclined.

Prabhupada: Not that a shudra man is by force become a brahmana. You cannot improve. That is not possible. But even if he remains a shudra and does accordingly, he will get the same position as devotee. Sva-karmana tam abhyarchya sam... [From Bg. 18.46: "{By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading} a man can attain perfection through performing his own work."] He'll get the perfection. At the present moment the idea is: if one remains a shudra, then he cannot get perfection. No. Even a shudra can get perfection provided he does the work of a shudra perfectly.

Hari-sauri: For Krishna.

Prabhupada: Therefore why a shudra artificially should be a brahmana? Let them, let him remain a shudra, and if he follows strictly the rules and regulation of shudra, he'll also be as good as a brahmana. The same example: Just like head is as important as my leg. It is not that because it is leg, it is less important than my head. And if you ask the head, "Do the work of a leg," it is impossible. And if you ask the leg to work as a brain, that is impossible. Let him remain brain, let him remain leg, and do your duty and you become perfect.

Satsvarupa: Today you've been saying that the Vaishnava is the highest, above the brahmana. But then we've also understood that everyone in ISKCON is a Vaishnava.

Prabhupada: Yes. Vaishnava everyone, even if he's not brahmana: jivera 'svarupa' haya-krishnera 'nitya-dasa' [Cc.Madhya 20.108]: "It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna"] But you have to gradually bring him to that pure consciousness that "I am servant of Krishna." Here the bodily conception is going on-"I am American," "I am Indian," "I am this," "I am that."

Satsvarupa: If in our society we say, "Srila Prabhupada wants some to be shudra..."

Prabhupada: No, no, no. I don't want. I want everyone to become Vaishnava. But because he's a shudra, it is not possible to bring him immediately to the platform of brahmana, or Vaishnava. Therefore falling down. Therefore system must be. But even if he remains a shudra, he's a Vaishnava.

Hari-sauri: So we'd have to completely revise the whole system that we have now.

Prabhupada: No. Whatever we have, that is all right. But we see by experience that they're falling down. There must be systematic. Why falling down? Because he was not fit for the position, therefore he has fallen. Better remain in his position and become perfect. Why artificially bring them? There is no need."



Community Improvement Survey
by Niscala dasi
Posted March 17, 2011

I was recently offered to take part in an anonymous survey for improving our local ISKCON community. I had some ideas about that, which I am posting here for discussion, as I think the problems our local community is having, are not unique. It is also a universal discussion, in that I am not aiming to provide a solution to any specific problem, or to problems in general, but to change our approach to how we deal with problems. As it is said: "problems do not go away by ignoring them", and I might add: "...or even by chanting Hare Krsna" for there are some problems, most of them, actually, that Lord Krsna wants us to face, and solve as a service to Him. Even in Krsna's pastimes, He wanted Arjuna to do the fighting- not for ambition, but for Him alone.

The Survey

1. What are the strengths of the local community?

The location, the size- both of land and number of devotees, and the respect, in general, given to Srila Prabhupada.

2. What are the weaknesses of the local community?

The specific lack of respect and value for Srila Prabhupada's teachings and instructions regarding the farming communities in ISKCON.

3. What practical suggestions do you have for improvement?

The introduction of the vision of Srila Prabhupada in respect to the farming communities- i.e. the introduction of varnashrama, which is to give service (karma) according to one's natural qualities (guna). Examining the books of Srila Prabhupada, various examples are there of the qualities inherent in the ksatriya, such as Pariksit, Rantideva and Arjuna. They were prepared to enter fire or cut off their flesh in order to give complete protection and shelter to the most vulnerable and needy. It is described that the ksatriya had the same loving care and concern for all members of his community, as he had for his own family members. If anyone had any problem or anxiety at all, in the community, they could go to the ksatriya, who was foresworn to help anyone in difficulty.

So we need leaders who are prepared to put aside everything, to hear the problems of any distressed member- and go to all lengths to relieve their distress...that are never too busy- busy for what? Their only meaning in life is to serve those in need. They have the natural aptitude to care for others, and so for them, it is a joy to be able to do so.

4. Do you have any other suggestions?

Besides having a ksatriya as leader, which is to put whomsoever is most concerned about others welfare, in charge of others welfare- which is the natural order, we also require brahminical guidance for that ksatriya, on the basis of the guna of the brahmana- detachment, spiritual vision and truthfulness. Those who are unafraid to give truthful, painful and penetrating feedback to those in power, who are peaceful and unambitious for power themselves and who thus refuse to take favours from those in leadership positions, have the natural qualities of the brahmana, and are valued by the ksatriya for their wise and unambitious feedback.

We need only ksatriyas and brahmanas in leadership positions, so that the devotees feel happy in all respects. Physically and psychologically, the ksatriya gives all protection from distressful situations, and spiritually, the brahmana instructs for the progressive development of spiritual bliss. If we instead have vaisyas as leaders, we have what we have now- people concerned with money, bills, debts and so on- in the case of Sydney temple, charging $8 for the Sunday feast, which is reportedly of mean proportion and quality, compared to elsewhere.

Modeling the perfect leader, Srila Prabhupada was once asked if a certain temple that was badly in debt should start charging for the Sunday feast- he recommended instead Harinama- he always advised "Don't worry about money, Krsna will provide!" He modeled the perfect ksatriya by being always approachable for those in difficulty and going out of his way to help them, and by giving shelter even to those unable to follow the four regulative principles, by instructing us to introduce varnashrama so that they do not have to leave, or lose hope, or continue to pretend to be pukka brahmanas, or live in guilt, but be perfect in their natural position.

Varnashrama on many fronts can make devotees happy to be in the Krsna Consciousness movement, and unwilling to leave it, and seeing so many joyful devotees, and a loving atmosphere where everyone is cared for and valued, others will be encouraged to join. This message will be uninteresting to those who have ambition to stay in power, despite the fact that it recommends following the instruction of Srila Prabhupada, whom they tend to revere on only the ethereal or theoretical platform, and more as a matter of form, rather than one of true faith and integrity.

End of survey

In dealing with community problems, it is essential to analyze what we consider to be a problem in the first place, for this gives us a clue on how to implement Srila Prabhupada's solution- varnashrama. Ask yourself that question, and if you think: "financial, our problems are financial, we need to make more money", you are probably a vaisya. If you think immediately: "the devotees are having difficulty, we need to help them", you are probably a ksatriya. If you think: "who cares? I have my own problems", you are probably a sudra, and if you think : "the devotees are having spiritual difficulties, how can I inspire them?", you are probably a brahmana*. Varnashrama simply means giving the service or karma, to those with the natural qualities, or guna. It is very simple, if only attachment to position, or ambition to achieve it, is put aside, in favour of following the instructions of our purportedly beloved founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada.

*This topic is dealt with in more detail in my book: "Varnashrama, the Eight-Petalled Lotus" which can be ordered by emailing me at: niscala_dasi (at) yahoo (dot) com (dot) au



The Responsibility of Leadership
by H. H. Bhakti Raghava Swami
Posted March 28, 2010


A few years ago, while pursuing postgraduate studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, I glanced over the front page of the local newspaper to read the following headline in large capital letters: "Wanted: Leaders."

The then Prime Minister of Malaysia was expressing 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 county, but the lack of such qualified leaders is rampant in present-day society, the consequences of which can be witnessed by increasing anomalies in all spheres and at all levels of modern day life.

More recently, the Minister of Education of India expressed a similar concern, declaring that 75 percent 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 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 were kings or heads of state (ksatriyas) accepted as leaders, but those having dependents in the other varnas, such as the brahmanas and vaisyas, 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 and 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 parents. 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 analysing the fourfold 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, only when we begin to closely consider the fourth division of varnasrama do 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 (brhat 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 a 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 children and of 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 (18.43), we find the 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."

From the Srimad Bhagavatam (7.11.22), 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 ksatriya."

We find another important instruction given in the Srimad Bhagavatam (5.5.18) by the great King Rshabadava to his 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."

The purport to this verse explains: "Ordinarily, the spiritual master, husband, wife, father, mother or superior relative accepts worship from an inferior relative, but here Rshabhadeva forbids this. First the parent, spiritual master or spouse must be able to release the dependent from repeated birth and death. One who cannot do this plunges into the ocean of reproach. Everyone should be very responsible and take charge of one’s dependents, just as a spiritual master takes charge of his or her disciple or as parents take charge of their child. All these responsibilities cannot be discharged honestly unless one can save the dependent from repeated birth and death."

Conclusion — Thus, leadership within the Vedic culture carries a heavy responsibility. We can therefore better understand why so much preparation would go into training young girls and boys before entering householder life. Similarly, anyone who would envision becoming either a brahmana or a ksatriya would likewise have to undergo many years of training and education.

To become a parent is a lifelong 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.