Tuesday, 23 April 2013

03. Varna Dharma

In this session, we will discuss the important topic of Varna Āshrama Vyavasthā. Varna Āshrama Vyavasthā can be translated as Varna Āshrama scheme. We saw in the last session how the main aim of the scriptures is to help the human being in accomplishing the four fold human goals. The scriptures are willing to help those people who are willing to take the assistance of the scriptures. There is no enforcement. Whoever has got faith in the scriptures, however is humble enough to take assistance in the scriptures, the scriptures provide valuable help for the humanity in accomplishing the four fold goals or Preyas and Shreyas.

For accomplishing these four fold goals, the scriptures provide a particular infrastructure. A country’s progress needs a proper infrastructure like roads and communication. Vedas or the scriptures also understand the role and importance of the infrastructure and the infrastructure presented by the Vedas is called Varna Āshrama Vyavasthā. According to the scriptures this scheme is the ideal scheme in which the society can or the human beings can accomplish all the four Purushārtha. It must be remembered that when Vedas provide a scheme, they keep in mind the spiritual and material goals of life. The western society specialises in providing the infrastructure only for material success – making money and providing entertainment. An infrastructure which suits only the material success is not enough for the accomplishment of spiritual goals. Hence the scriptural infrastructure keeps in mind both the material and spiritual goals of humanity. This is because, according to the scriptures, mere material success is absolutely worthless. This is what Arjuna discovered in the battle field. Even though he was materially rich and accomplished person, his spiritual bankruptcy came into the fore when he faced a crisis in life. And therefore the scriptures say the material success is extremely important but it should be equally balanced by spiritual success also and ultimately what matters is spiritual success. A truly successful person is one who has discovered his real spiritual nature.

And the infrastructure or the social design or scheme given by the scriptures is called Varna Āshrama Vyavasthā. It consists of two schemes, Varna Vyavasthā and Āshrama Vyavasthā. We will first take up the Varna Scheme for our study and then the Āshrama Scheme.

3.1. Varna Vyavasthā

Varna Vyavasthā is a social scheme which is meant for the upliftment of, the growth of, the prosperity of the society as a whole. Varna Vyavasthā is a sociological scheme. It is a Macro scheme taking a society into account whereas Āshrama Vyavasthā is a scheme in which the individual growth and success are kept in mind. The society must also be taken into account as a whole and the individual must also be taken into account because individual put together alone form the society. Therefore a balance has to be struck between the individual and the society. Hence Varna Vyavasthā is a social scheme.

In the Varna Vyavasthā the whole humanity or society is classified into four groups or four classes. Each group is called a Varnaha. And the society is divided into four such groups which we called Varna Vibhāgaha. Varna Vyavasthā is a scheme in which the society is broadly classified into four groups known as Varna Vibhāgaha. And each group serves as an organ of the society if the society is taken as one body. Thus the society is seen as an organic whole having this four fold organs. Those four Varnāhā
  • Brāhmana Varnaha
  • Kshatriyaha Varnaha
  • Vaishya Varnaha
  • Shūdra Varnaha

Varnaha can be translated as ‘groups’ for the time being.

What is the basis on which this division is made ? Any distinction can be made based on any characteristic or condition. Thus whenever you talk of classification you should ask what is the basis of classification so that I can determine into which group I belong to. And when we look at the basis of classification, we can see that there are three different bases or conditions on which the society can be classified. The groups will change and my status will change based on the norm of classification.

3.1.1.Guna Vibhāgaha

The first norm on which the society can be classified is character or personality or inclination or trait. In Sanskrit we call it Guna Vibhāgaha – Guna based division of society. And when you make such a division we talk about four types of personalities and based on the type of personality, the person will be called :-
  • Guna Brāhmana or
  • Guna Kashatriya or
  • Guna Vaishya or
  • Guna Shūdra
The above classification is purely based on personality.

The next question is what makes me a Guna Brahmana ? What personality trait makes me a Guna Brahmana or Guna Kshatriyaha or Guna Vaishya or Guna Shūdra ?

The four traits given in the scriptures are as follows

  • Spiritual Personality
  • Dynamic Personality
  • Selfishly Motivated Personality
  • Lethargic Personality Spiritual Personality

A personality in which one gravitates towards spirituality primarily. One who loves spiritual pursuits, withdrawal, solitude, silence, contemplation, pursuits of the ultimate reality. That alone appeals to that mind. While all the other things in life which the other people consider as very important, for this personality they appear insignificant or even silly. Such a spiritually oriented, contemplative, silent solitude enquiry loving personality or trait is called Guna Brāhmanatvam and such a person is called Guna Brāhmanaha. Sanyāsa appeals to such a mind. Renunciation appeals to such a mind. While for other people, solitude appears as terrible loneliness, a dreadful depressing loneliness, this mind loves solitude. This is called a spiritual personality and whoever enjoys this trait is called Guna Brāhmanaha. In the Shāstrams, the technical word used is Sattva Pradhāna personality. Dynamic Personality

This personality heavily loves activity. Outgoing, active, planning, energetic, dynamic, highly motivated mind are the traits. And this motivation is itself selfless motivation. Interested in activity but not in self-centred activity, not selfish dynamism but interested in contribution, serving, uplifting, helping the society. Such a selflessly motivated mind is called Guna Kshatriya mind – a personality which heavily contributes to the material progress of the society. So we will call it Guna Kshatriya – selflessly motivated mind. In the Shāstrams, the technical word used is Shuddha Rajaha Pradhāna personality. It is active and the activity with noble motives. Selfishly Motivated Personality

This personality is also equally dynamic as the Kshatriya personality. Both cannot think of solitude, withdrawal or Sanyasi and may get angry with Sanyasi. So this type is highly dynamic and motivated, cannot think of silence, renunciation, contemplation but this personality is different from the previous one. This personality is highly self centred – selfishly motivated personality. So every activity has to produce a benefit for oneself and one’s family. This personality would like to amass wealth, and will not think of contributing to the society. So this mind is Guna Vaishya mind. Can be translated as selfishly motivated and dynamic mind. In the Shāstrams, the technical word used is Ashuddha Rajaha Pradhāna personality. It is Rajaha Pradhāna personality, dynamic and active, enthusiastic and motivated, but the Ashuddhi is totally selfishness. Lethargic Personality

This personality is called Guna Shūdra and is passive and lethargic. It has no motivation at all either for material or spiritual success. No Purushārtha appeals to this personality. The mere goals of life is to eat and survive and die. This is a mind which is very close to animalistic mind. A lethargic, passive, motivation-less personality is the fourth type of personality called Guna Shūdra Personality. In the Shāstrams, the technical word used is Tamas Pradhāna personality.

The above are four norms based on which Guna Vibhāgaha or Gunataha Varna Vibhāgaha is done. And we have to decide whether we are Guna Brāhmana or Guna Kshatriyaha or Guna Vaishya or Guna Shūdra. We need not declare it outside, but we can know where we stand.

3.1.2.Karma Vibhāgaha

The next norm of classification is Karma Vibhāgaha of the four Varnas - the fourfold Varnas based on work or profession or contribution done to the society. And all the possible professions are broadly classified into four types of works. These are not watertight and may involve overlap. Each work is important to the growth of the society. Karma Brāhmanaha

The most important one which is being neglected nowadays is scriptural learning and teaching. Scriptural teaching primarily is a very important work, which requires specialisation and dedicated pursuit. We saw earlier, our scriptures are too big. Our scriptures are both extensive and intensive. By extensive, we mean it deals with a range of topics – philosophy, ritual, astrology, ethics, grammar etc. The scriptures are also intensive – they have commentaries and sub commentaries. And all this takes a lot of effort. So unless somebody is there to dedicate their lives to learn and teach, you cannot maintain and preserve. One important job to be done is studying the scriptures in their originals. Translations are often terrible. Not only we have to study the scriptures, to maintain the scriptures it has to be taught to the next generation equally extensively and intensively.

Can every lay person go to the total study of scriptures? To complete the 700 verses of the Gītā, it takes 6-7 years and people find it difficult. Therefore the whole society cannot dedicate to the study of scriptures. Therefore we require a separate group which specialises only on that. They should not have any other job, their only job should be studying all the scriptures and teach the next generation and society in a simplified manner in a contemporary language and interpreting in a way suitable for the present society. E.g. One cannot teach everything in the Brahma Sūtra to the public. One cannot, need not and whole society does not require that. Whatever is required by the society that much knowledge somebody must give. This is like the medical or legal profession. We can have a basic understanding of our health. We need not study the whole medical science, but we require some medical people who have dedicated their life for the medical science and who enlighten the society with regards to the basic laws of health or law. Therefore the entire humanity cannot study the whole scriptures and therefore we require a whole group people who have dedicated their life for the study of scriptures and memorising and chant these. Even chanting of the scriptures is good for the society. The Vedic vibration, is supposed to give help to the society. Therefore a group dedicated to Veda Adhyayanam, Veda Adhyāpanam, Veda Pārāyanam, Veda Pāthanam and Vedic interpretation. Vedic interpretation is important because, what is said hundred years ago, may not be relevant now. So when new situations come, a scripture has to be flexibly interpreted to suit the modern society. And if proper interpretation is to be done, that person should have a holistic vision, a total vision and therefore it is a separate work that requires life-long dedication which is called scriptural teaching. They are the scriptural teachers of the society or consultants and they may have to serve as psychiatrists to the society. This is because scriptures deal with psychological problems also. That work is called Brahmana Karma or whoever takes up that job is called Karma Brahmanaha whose life is confined to scriptures. Karma Kshatriyaha

The second type of profession which is valued now is all forms of public service, administration of the country, governing the society, maintenance of law and order, policing the society, defending the country, army – all these things will come under those activities which are meant for providing the peaceful and appropriate atmosphere for the citizens to pursue their goals. Otherwise there will be no harmony all over. If the individual should pursue his goal, the atmosphere of the society must be maintained. In the olden days, it was the duty of the king, nowadays it is the role of ministers and administrators. And whoever has taken to that profession or Karma is called Karma Kshatriyaha. Karma Vaishya

This refers to all forms of commercial activities, business and trade. This is important for the equal distribution and sharing of the wealth of the requirement of the society. This includes all forms of commercial activities. This karma is called Vaishya Karma and whoever takes to this activity is called Karma Vaishyaha. Karma Shūdraha

In the fourth and final part comes all forms of labour. Unskilled or semi-skilled labour where a person cannot think and there is no leadership but does the activities for some other person. No independent thinking exists but service to other three groups of people is only there i.e. following the leadership of Karma Brahmana, Karma Kshatriya or Karma Vaishya. And whoever takes to such an activity is called Karma Shūdraha.

Therefore, I can be based on my profession, any one of the above. This is the second division called Karma Vibhāgaha and this also comes under Varna Vyavasthā.

3.1.3. Jāti Vibhāgaha

The third division is purely based on the norm of birth, Janma or the family into which one is born. In Sanskrit , birth is called Jātihi. Derived from Jan – to be born. And based on the birth, one can be a Jāti Brāhmanaha if born into a Brahmana family, a Jāti Kshatriya if born into a Kshatriya family, a Jāti Vaishya if born into a Vaishya family or a Jāti Shūdra if born into a Shūdra family.

From three different norms the society can be classified. E.g. a person can be a Jāti Brāhmanaha and if he becomes an MP or MLA he becomes a Karma Kshatriya and suppose if he exploits the position to amass wealth then he becomes a Guna Vaishyaha. Thus one person himself, can be in these three Varnāhā. It depends on the norm that you base. This is the first topic of classification of the Varnas.

3.2. Which is the best ?

Next we will discuss the gradation. Do we have any gradation in the Varnas ? Is any Varna superior or inferior to the other ? In Sanskrit this is called Tāra Tamyam. Now we say, that as far as Jāti Vibhāgaha is concerned i.e. birth wise division is concerned, all the four are equal by birth. Birth cannot give superiority to anyone or inferiority to anyone. Jātitaha Sarve Api Samāhā Eva. Therefore nobody should claim superiority from the standpoint of Jāti. Caste system is the problem caused by the Tāra Tamyam attributed to Jāti Vibhāgaha. In Jāti Vibhāgaha there is no superiority.

Then what about profession ? Karma Vibhāgaha wise, is anybody superior ? Karma Vibhāgaha wise also, all are equal. No profession is inferior or superior, all jobs are equally important. And it is from this angle, the well known Purusha Sūktam mantra occurs,
Brahmanosya Mukham Āsīt,Bahurajanya KrutahaŪrutadasya Yad VaishyahaPadbhyagum Shudro Ajāyata
The above is for Karma Vibhāgaha only. Just as four organs have four different functions, the four Varnas have four different functions. The above mantra means :

  • Brāhmanaha : Teaching professional scriptural teaching.
  • Kshatriya : Maintenance of Law and Order
  • Vaishya : Taking care of the economic strength of the society, support system
  • Shūdra : All forms of labour, more of running around and less of head usage

And by saying that all these four are the four parts of the Lord, we say that all of them are equally sacred. You cannot say that the feet are less sacred than the Mukham. In fact we worship the feet of the Lord. Shankarāchārya is called Bhagavadpādaha and not Bhagavadshiraha. We talk about Pāda Pūja and not Ūru Pūja or Hasta Pūja. Therefore profession wise, there is no Tāra Tamyam. So Jāti Tāra Tamyam Nāsti, Karma Tāra Tamyam Nāsti.

Whereas in Guna Vibhāgaha, there is a gradation. A Guna Brāhmana is certainly superior to a Guna Kshatriya is certainly superior to Guna Vaishya is certainly superior to Guna Shūdra. Because Guna Shūdra is closer to animals and Guna Brahmana is closer to God. And therefore character wise superiority we have to accomplish and whoever has got the higher character deserves Namaskāram . Even though Prahalāda is a born Rākshasa, he can become the most reverential person in our culture. Prahlāda, Nārada, Parāshara – early morning, we are supposed to remember Prahlāda even before Nārada. Therefore birth does not matter, character alone matters.

Therefore there is no gradation in Jāti and Karma Vibhāgaha but gradation is to be recognised in Guna Vibhāgaha.

3.3. Is there a choice ?

The next topic is Choice. Do we have a choice in determining our group ?

3.3.1.Jāti Vibhāgaha
As far as Jāti is concerned, we don’t have choice with regards to this birth, because we are already born. But the scriptures say, we do have a choice with regards to the next birth.

Shuchīnām Srīmatām Gehe Yogabhrashto Abhijāyate.
(Bhagavad Gītā 6.41)

This birth we have already chosen, the next we can choose by our lifestyle. Therefore this only a partial choice.

3.3.2.Karma Vibhāgaha

As far as profession is concerned, Karma Vibhāgaha, we do have a choice. And we can choose our profession from any angle. I can choose my profession based on my

  • Svabhāva or character – character or trait based choice of profession. Or I can base it on
  • Heredity – birth based or family profession. Or the choice is
  • Money based – where there is income.

Our scriptures based on ideal is character based choice. Because you will love your profession and it will not be a burden. Even salary will not matter then because you will love the very work itself. In fact Karma Yoga can be ideally practiced if you love what you do because the very performance gives you satisfaction.

Character based profession is ideal, but if you are not sure about character, then the next best is family based or hereditary profession. There will be no competition or over crowding of certain fields and then some fields will not be neglected. Thus all professions will be protected and there will be no competition.

The worst and negative approach is money based choice of profession. This is the most terrible one because, when money becomes important, corruption will be inevitable in a society where money is God. Hence either go by character or by family. An in fact to a great extent our society was heredity based. Now alone it is gradually changed.

3.3.3.Guna Vibhāgaha

With regards to Guna also, we do have a choice. And all the spiritual Sādhanāni Sādhanā are to improve our Gunāhā to Guna Brāhmanatvam. We all should become Guna Brāhmana ultimately, whatever be our birth or profession. Therefore there is choice in this also. Also note, only because there is choice, it is called Varnaha. Vriyate Iti Varnaha. You can choose your (next) Janma, profession or character, but the choice of character is ultimately important.

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