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Discussions on the doctrines of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Please place practical questions under the Miscellaneous forum and set this aside for the more theoretical side of it.

Varnasrama-dharma - Janma, Guna and Karma

Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 12:58:09 +0530
Though the subject matter is not directly related with the practice of raganuga-bhakti, I thought it might be of interest to our good audience here, since there has been some controversy surrounding the subject matter of brahminhood and division of varna and ashrama in general.

As I've been reflecting on the radical reforms of the Gaudiya Matha, I've researched the works of Bhaktivinoda and found several references of interest, which I am posting here.
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 13:33:47 +0530
Sometimes a social system is envisioned in which the varna, or the socio-occupational status of a person is determined according to his qualities, instead of according to his birth, as has been the prominent system over the centuries. It is sometimes called "Daivi Varnashrama", or "Divine Varnashrama". There is something we need to consider. What is there particularly "daivi" in a class society of one kind or another? I believe the only factor that can make any social system divine is the performance of occupational duties for the pleasure of Vishnu, whether they be hereditary or not.

There are certainly several verses which can be adopted to prove that caste is determined by qualification. There are equally numerous verses which are twisted to fit the purpose, unfortunately. And there are also several verses which demonstrate how birth goes together with qualities. There are some interesting excerpts from Bhaktivinoda in regards to birth and a brahmin's occupational duties in an earlier thread.

Let me first quote a verse from the Bhagavata (7.11.13):

saMskArA yatrAvicchinnAH sa dvijo ’jo jagAda yam
ijyAdhyayana-dAnAni vihitAni dvijanmanAm
janma-karmAvadAtAnAM kriyAz cAzrama-coditAH

"Those who have undergone all the samskaras [beginning from garbhadhana] without interruption are known as dvija (twice-born). Those who are sanctioned by Brahma, who are engaged in worship and study of the Vedas as prescribed, they are the twice-born, who are purified by their janma (birth), karma (duties) and kriya (actions), they should follow the system of asramas [of brahmacari, grihastha etc.]"

In his Jaiva Dharma, Bhaktivinoda has presented his views on the position of those born outside the Varnashrama social convention. The following references are from its sixth chapter.

"Muslims are not eligible to perform the duties prescribed for the different varnas in the varnasrama-system because their birth disqualifies them. However, they have every right to participate in the practices of bhakti."

It is clear that the argument "Vaishnavas are transcendental to this" is not valid here, since Bhaktivinoda does mention the practice of bhakti in the passage above. And if this is true of those with a Muslim birth, then what to speak of people with a Western birth.

"One must take birth in a brahmana family to perform yajnas and other such activities, and even one who is born in a brahmana family must be purified by the ceremony of investiture with the sacred thread before he is eligible to perform the duties of a brahmana. Similarly, a candala may have become purified by the chanting of harinama, but he is still not eligible to perform yajnas until he acquires a seminal birth in a brahmana family. However, he can perform the angas of bhakti which are infinitely greater than yajnas."

The message above is very clear and requires no elaboration.

"There are two types of human activity: material activities that relate to practical existence (vyavaharika); and spiritual activities that relate to the ultimate truth (paramarthika). A person may have attained spiritual qualification, but that does not necessarily qualify him for particular material activities. For example, one who is a Muslim by birth may have acquired the nature and all the qualities of a brahmana, so that he is a brahmana from the spiritual point of view, but he still remains ineligible for certain material activities, such as marrying the daughter of a brahmana."

The passage above not leave much room for doubt on the opinion of Bhaktivinoda. The translations are taken from Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti's recent edition of Jaiva Dharma, which in my opinion is the most accurate English presentation of the title up to date.

Why, then, is it improper, if all the spiritual qualifications are there? Bhaktivinoda argues:

"If one violates social customs, one is guilty of secular impropriety, and members of society who take pride in their social respectability do not condone such activities. That is why one should not perform them, even if he is spiritually qualified."

We all know the history which resulted from breaking this etiquette in the early 1900's.
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 13:40:04 +0530
Bhaktivinoda discusses the subject matter of Varnashrama and sannyasa-ashrama in his Caitanya Siksamritam, Chapter 2, section 4 -- Delineation of Asramas (Sree Gaudiya Math, Chennai, 1983 / 1998). Some quotes and my notes on them.

"The brahmanas take up the householder's life after their brahmacarya life, the ksatriyas adopt the householder's life after returning from their guru's house having studied sastras proper for them, the vaishyas become householders after studying portions of the Vedas' teachings on the breeding, cattle-trade and animal husbandry. The shudras may become householders as soon as they reach majority ie. adult life."

It is interesting to note how Bhaktivinoda presents the classical varna-asrama-dharma concept. The division of varna above is evidently done at least in the early childhood of an individual, if not directly based on his birth. In this context, I am reflecting on Bhaktisiddhanta's reform on how all Vaishnavas adopt upavita and brahminhood (along with a brahmin's occupational duties I'd expect) upon receiving diksa-mantras. It does not exactly fit into the scenario of Varnashrama education presented by Bhaktivinoda above.

Bhaktivinoda then delineates the duties of a vanaprastha and a sannyasi. He more or less repeats the classical idea from the seventh canto of the Bhagavata.

First vanaprastha:

"The Vanaprastha (residence in forest) is the third stage of life. The house-holder should take up the Vanaprastha (3rd stage of life at the matured age, leaving back his wife in the care of his son or if there is no further chance for begetting issues should take her with him to the forests. He should fully restrain his wants there. The duties of a Vanaprastha are sleeping on the bare-ground, putting on barks of trees as the main apparel and scarf, abandonment of shaving, adoption of the function of a muni (hermit), refraining from talks except those all about the service of God, bathing at the three periods of the day for prayer viz. morning, noon and evening, serving strangers as far as practicable, living on fruits and roots and worship of God in the solitary parts of the forests. Members of all the castes are competent for taking up the third stage of life."

Bhaktivinoda states that members of all the castes are competent for vanaprastha. That is, of course, if they are prepared to sleep on bare ground and dressing with tree-bark, giving up shaving etc.

Then sannyasa:

"Sannyasa (Asceticism) is fhe fourth stage of life. The ascetic is called bhiksu (beggar or mendicant) or Parivrajaka (having no permanent residence). When persons belonging to the three stages of life afore-said, become completely indifferent to worldly affairs, always painstaking, conversant with the ultimate truth, without any desire for companionship but their mind always footed on God, careless about pleasure and pain maintaining equality with all, kind hearted, non-envious and given to meditation are eligible for the fourth stage viz. Sannyasa. The Sannyasis are always engaged in contemplation. They would not stay in one place for more than five nights but can live in a place in special circumstances such as in the case of chaturmasya etc. In the first stage they would ask alms from the house of Brahmin. None but Brahmin can accept this stage."

According to Bhaktivinoda, the ascetic sannyasi is not supposed to stay in one place for more than five nights (that is, they are not supposed to build ashrams for themselves etc.). A person who is "given to meditation" is eligible for sannyasa. He does not particularly present the sannyasi as a preacher. Moreover, he states that none but brahmins can accept the stage of sannyasa.

Not much beyond this is discussed about the sannyasa-ashrama in this section of the Caitanya Siksamritam. Nothing to the extent of the modern-day version of sannyasa in the Gaudiya Math.

As for the idea of varna based on qualification, this is of course drawn from the Gita itself. Guna and janma are very much inter-related though, as we see in the following passage (Caitanya Siksamritam, 2.1):

"It is expected that the offspring of a man of the shudra nature will have the shudra nature, and that a man of the brahmana natura will get children of the same nature. But there is no certainty thereabout. Accordingly the makers of shastras made rules for purificatory rites in order to adjust the varna after ascertaining the nature."

In other words, according to the presentation of Bhaktivinoda, exceptions do exist, though generally guna and karma are based on janma.
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 13:49:59 +0530
Bhaktivinoda presents some further considerations on the value of brahmana-karma for Vaishnavas in his Jaiva Dharma, chapter three. An aristocratic brahmana comes among the Vaishnavas of Navadvipa and inquires:

“The Manu Smriti and other dharma-sastras state that the brahmana caste is the highest caste. According to these sastras, religious rites such as chanting brahma-gayatri and other Vedic mantras at dawn, noon and sunset (sandhya-vandana) are considered to be nitya-karma (eternal duties) for the brahmanas. If these activities are obligatory, why is Vaishnava behavior opposed to them?”

Vaishnava dasa then gives a lengthy reply, presenting how the so-called “nitya-dharma” is also naimittika-dharma, or temporary duties, from the spiritual perspective. Some excerpts from his reply:

“For example, a brahmana's chanting of sandhya-vandana, like his various other duties, is temporary and subject to specific rules. These activities do not stem from his natural, spiritual proclivity. If after peforming these prescribed duties for a long time, one obtains the association of suddha-bhaktas (sadhu-sanga), one develops ruci (taste) for hari-nama. At that time, sandhya-vandana is no longer a circumstantial, prescribed karma. Hari-nama is complete spiritual practice, whereas sandhya-vandana and other such practices are only the means to obtain this principal goal and can never be the complete reality.

Naimittika-dharma is commendable because it aims at the truth, but it is eventually meant to be abandoned, and it is mixed with undesirable results; only spiritual reality is truly beneficial. Although the jiva should relinguish matter and its association, materialism is prominent in naimittika-dharma. Moreover, naimittika-dharma produces such an abundance of irrelevant results that the jiva cannot help but get entangled with them.”

The sandhya-vandana mentioned above refers to the prayer offered by brahmanas at the three junctions of the day, namely Brahma Gayatri. According to Bhaktivinoda, when one obtains sadhu-sanga and a consequent taste for the holy names, sandhya-vandana becomes irrelevant to him.

In other words, adopting a particular varna is of no particular spiritual merit. In fact, Bhagavad Gita (3.35) warns us:

zreyAn sva-dharmo viguNaH para-dharmAt sv-anuSThitAt
sva-dharme nidhanaM zreyaH para-dharmo bhayAvahaH

"It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous."
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 13:53:43 +0530
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu considered it unnecessary for Vaishnavas to superimpose varnasrama-dharma upon themselves. It is external and impotent in perfecting our bhakti-tendency. This is evident from both Mahaprabhu's instructions to Sanatana Gosvami and His discourse with Ramananda Raya. The verses are as follows (Caitanya Caritamrita, 2.8.57/59, 2.22.93):

prabhu kahe paDa zloka sAdhyera nirNaya
rAya kahe sva-dharmAcaraNe viSNu-bhakti haya
prabhu kahe eho bAhya, Age kaha Ara

Prabhu said, "Recite a stanza from the scriptures in ascertaining the perfection of life."

Ramananda Raya replied, "By executing one's sva-dharma (prescribed duties), Vishnu-bhakti is there."

Prabhu replied, "This is external. Why don't you tell me something better?"

eta saba chADi' Ara varNAzrama-dharma
akiJcana haJA laya kRSNaika-zaraNa

"All of this one should reject, including varnasrama-dharma, and without attachment to the mundane, take exclusive shelter of Sri Krishna."

Certainly if one is already situated within a varnasrama society, he may maintain his social position, but there is no factual merit for adopting varnasrama if one is not already situated within a position in a varnasrama society. Rather, to the contrary, it will only impose an obstacle to his development of devotion.

In the words of Sri Brahmaji (SB 10.14.3):

jIvanti san-mukharitAM bhavadIya-vArtAm
sthAne sthitAH zruti-gatAM tanu-vAG-manobhir

"In your life, stay wherever you are, and participate in hearing discourses about the Supreme Person in the association of saints."

Thus one should stay wherever he is, or adopt a position convenient enough so he can stay in it with a peaceful mind, focusing on the essential practices of bhakti.
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 14:03:17 +0530
Then a famous verse from the Bhagavad Gita (18.66):

sarva-dharmAn parityajya mAm ekaM zaraNaM vraja |
ahaM tvAM sarva-pApebhyo mokSayiSyAmi mA zucaH ||

"Renounce all kinds of dharma and just surrender unto Me. I will deliver you from all sins, do not worry."

Sri Visvanatha comments:

sarvadharmAn varNAzramadharmAn sarvAn eva parityajya ekaM mAmeva zaraNaM vraja

"All dharmas, that is, varnasrama dharmas, everyone of them, you should reject and come to me as your only shelter."
Madhava - Thu, 10 Oct 2002 14:03:52 +0530
The attitude of a Vaishnava is summarized in a famous stanza of Padyavali (63).

nAhaM vipro na ca nara-patir nApi vaizyo na zUdro
nAhaM varNI na ca gRha-patir no vana-stho yatir vA |
kintu prodyan nikhila-paramAnanda-pUrNAmRtAbdher
gopI-bhartuH pada-kamalayor dAsa-dAsAnudAsaH ||

“I am not a brahmana, a ksatriya or a vaisya, nor am I a sudra. I am not among the varnas, not a grihastha, not a vanaprastha nor a sannyasi either. But I am the servant of the servants of the lotus feet of Him who is the Lord of the cowherd maidens, and a paramount nectarine ocean of brilliant universal bliss!”

Certainly much more is yet to be said. I will, however, end here for now.
jagannathdas - Fri, 11 Oct 2002 01:09:19 +0530
Much of the above argument against the daivi varnashrama dharma uses comments from Bhaktivinoda's Jaiva Dharma. However, it is remarkable that it should be his son who wished to develop this system in society. We have read previously of the strong differences of opinion between Lalita Prasad and Bhaktisiddanta. Is there anything on record that shows that Bhaktivinode disagreed with Bhaktisiddhanta's position or was this brought about after his disappearance?
Madhava - Fri, 11 Oct 2002 01:28:20 +0530
It is not really that I am arguing against daivi varnashrama. Just some research I've done I thought people may find interesting. It was not my attempt to present something conclusive. Rather I wished to provoke thoughts in our audience, some among whom may have been subject to rather biased presentations in the past on many subject matters.

Historically speaking, Bhaktisiddhanta took his major step towards pushing forth his idea of daivi varnashram in 1918 when he accepted tridandi-sannyasa. Bhaktivinoda disappeared in 1914. 1918 is also the year when Bhaktisiddhanta began giving mantra-diksa to others as far as my records go. Significantly, this is also the year when Lalita Prasad ceased to cooperate with him.

Prior to this, in 1911, the famous Midnapur meeting took place, in which Bhaktisiddhanta presented a long thesis delineating the ontological positions of a brahmana and a Vaishnava. This was compiled into a book, "Brahmana o Vaishnava", also rendered into English in 1999 by Bhumipati and Pundarika Vidyanidhi of ISKCON. The meeting was chaired by Visvambharananda Gosvami (Syamananda parivar) of Gopivallabhapura in the presence of Madhusudana Sarvabhauma (Gopal Bhatta parivar) of Vrindavana and several other Vaishnavas, including Vipin Vihari Gosvami (Nityananda parivar) of Baghna Pada. Though it is often assumed that the meeting was a monologue of Bhaktisiddhanta's, there were several speakers there, Bhaktisiddhanta being there on behalf of Bhaktivinoda, since the latter was bed-ridden at that time. I take it that what Bhaktisiddhanta spoke there was at least to a great extent, if not in toto, in accordance with the conception of Bhaktivinoda.

Interestingly the aforementioned Gosvami of Gopivallabhapura comes from the lineage of Syamananda and Rasikananda, which has some parallels to the Gaudiya Math in as much as giving upavita is concerned. I have not studied their tradition in depth so I am not in a position to comment on their exact practices.

There is a letter from Bhaktivinoda to Bhaktisiddhanta written in 1910 encouraging him to establish daivi-varnashram. The relevant excerpt reads as follows:

"People of this world who are proud of their own aristocratic birth cannot attain real aristocracy. Therefore they attack the pure Vaisnavas, saying, “They have taken birth in low class families because of their sins.” Thus they commit offenses. The solution to this problem is to establish the order of Daivi-Varnasrama Dharma -- something you have started doing; you should know that to be the real service to the Vaisnavas."

I will summarize the thoughts presented by Bhaktisiddhanta in his thesis on brahmanas and Vaishnavas later on as I find the time for wading through the 250 pages of the title. A note for everyone who has the title at hand: The English edition contains several incorrect renderings of Sanskrit verses quoted in the course of the thesis, good examples of wishful translation. The same is quite possibly true of the rest of the translation, but this will remain unverified until I have a Bengali copy at my disposal. At any rate, we'll get a general idea.
Madhava - Fri, 11 Oct 2002 02:22:34 +0530
The basic controversy in the meeting with the Smarta samaja was over two issues.

1) Even if a sudra-born person receives pancaratrika-diksa, he is disqualified from worshiping the salagrama-sila.

2) A Vaishnava, regardless of how qualified he may be, is disqualified from the duties of an acarya if he is not born in a brahmana family.

Essentially that is what Bhaktisiddhanta argued against with the approval of the Vaishnavas present. I have also read from Gaudiya Matha sources that Bhaktisiddhanta would have read his thesis to Bhaktivinoda prior to its presentation. At any rate, Bhaktivinoda was certainly aware of the conclusions his son presented in the meeting.
Mina - Fri, 11 Oct 2002 03:59:52 +0530
Bhaktivinode was speaking to an Indian audience and addressing a situation in Hindu society in India during his lifetime.  It becomes problematic when one attempts to transplant that approach to a different culture and era (the last third of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty first century in America, Europe, Australia, etc.), and attempt to practically implement anything of real value.  There are enough uphill battles in attaining respectability in a primarily Judeo-Christian society.  There are also two main ways to organize a religious community.  One is to have an order of priests and a worshipping congregation that resides in the community at large.  The other is to have a closed  community with cultlike characteristics.  The latter approach has been implemented by Western Vaishnavas to a greater degree in rural settings, particularly farms, whereas the former approach has been the norm in urban centers of worship.

There is also the question of whether or not people that take up the path of bhakti actually convert to Vaishnavism from the faiths they were raised in.  Many may feel they have reconciled Catholicism (for example) with the type of bhakti taught by Rupa, and not really consider themselves Hindu or Vaishnava per se.  Others may feel they have a sort of 'dual citizenship' being both Catholic (your family religion goes here) and Vaishnava simultaneously.

The political and socio-economic systems currently in place in the developed nations of the world are for the most part recognized as being efficient and beneficial, despite various flaws.  Anything that is to be superimposed upon those will have to be compatible enough with them, and an attempt to replace them with something different is far too radical to ever have any universal appeal.

Those are some thoughts in connection with the Daivi-varnashram concept, which are apart from the objections to such a system on the basis of it being an obstacle to raga marga bhakti.
jiva - Sat, 12 Oct 2002 00:47:47 +0530
In my less-than-qualified opinion,Caitanya was not concerned with social rules and regulations or their change.

Caitanya was supremely concerned with religious worship.His sole concern with caste was that its restrictions should not interfere with this community of worship.And this brought him into conflict
with certain caste ideas.By emphasizing this element in his teaching which appears to be anti-caste,certain modern writers(who desire to make him appear a great social reformer) have created a misconception

For Caitanya,this was entirely a matter of religion.In so far as his bhakti-preaching broke down caste conventions it was social change undoubtedly,but the lowering of caste barriers was not its aim.This was purely an effect.

His social heterodoxy lay in his experience of bhakti.The powerful emotions of that experience were too expansive to be confined within prescribed limits.They refused to be regulated.He sew that it was the nature of bhakti to create its own fellowship by a higher law than that of caste.All who could and would respond to its appeal had a right to its fellowship.That's the whole story .
Radhapada - Sat, 12 Oct 2002 15:57:12 +0530
My observation of the attempt of implementing a varnasrama system within an institution in the west, namely creating brahmanas from those not born in brahmana families, is that it has created an extra and unwanted layer of ahankara within the consciousness of individuals thinking themselves brahmanas, and even more qualified than those born in brahmana families. I remember many devotees who used to think that it was beneath them to look for a job as an employee to maintain themselves because it was 'unbrahmanical' to accept employment. Many of such devotees, even till today, resort to maintain themselves by 'professional begging' (collecting money from people on the street). I don't think that such activies leads to credibility to the general public in the western world. What happens if one has an institutional temple wherein everyone thinks he is a brahmana, who would clean the toilets?
greed is good? - Sat, 12 Oct 2002 18:14:24 +0530
QUOTE(Radhapada @ Oct. 12 2002,05:27)
What happens if one has an institutional temple wherein everyone thinks he is a brahmana, who would clean the toilets?

The women, of course!   sad.gif