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Understanding *Varnasrama* Through Bhagavata Dharma

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Understanding *Varnasrama* Through Bhagavat-dharma

Introduction: In September 1972, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gave a series of "Bhagavat-dharma Discourses" in New Vrndavana. I was greatly blessed by being present for all of them. Prabhupada explicitly spelled out the relationship of the mission of ISKCON, Bhagavat-dharma, to varnasrama-dharma. This paper is composed of direct quotations from those discourses (apart from my own linking texts that simply introduce or summarize Prabhupada's words). The quotations are excerpted from an edited-for-publication compilation that Palace Press produced in 1983. The BBT Vedabase Folio can be consulted for the raw transcripts (look for the NV lectures from the first week of September '72). Below I do not credit the exact day upon which the quotations were made. Prabhupada's elucidation of particular subjects spanned several discourses; thus the quotations clubbed together around one point may not be from the same day.

1. Vedic *dharma* real and apparent

This section of quotations shows that real Vedic dharma, or *varnasrama-dharma*, is *nivrtti-marga.* Accordingly, the *yajna* (sacrificial work) meant for each and every occupation of the social body's four parts aims at liberation. *Pravrti-marga*, "Hindu dharma," and modern technological society, are aimed at some kind of materialistic substitute for liberation.

According to the Vedic system, there are two paths: *pravrtti-marga* or the path of sense enjoyment, and *nivrtti-marga*, or the path of renunciation. We have come within the material world to enjoy material resources, and this is the path of *pravrtti.* However, when a person comes to understand that he is not the body but the soul, then his occupation changes, and he enters onto the path of *nivrtti.*

We have already described *dharma* as occupational duty. According to the Vedic system, we are supposed to follow the *varnasrama-dharma.* However, at the present moment "Hindu *dharma*" has become very ambiguous. Actually the Vedic literatures never mention a thing as "Hindu *dharma*." Such an expression is never found in *Bhagavad-gita*, *Srimad- Bhagavatam* or any other authorized scripture. Unfortunately, in India the term "Hindu *dharma*" has become very prominent. This is unfortunate because so-called Hindu *dharma* is a vitiation of the real Vedic *dharma*, which is *varnasrama-dharma.*

Everyone can cultivate his particular occupational duty with the aim of attaining ultimate salvation. Human life is meant for salvation, for liberation from the bondage of birth and death. Unfortunately at present the so-called intellectual class of men has no information of ultimate liberation.

Formerly, the *brahmanas* used to learn Ayurvedic medicine and astrology. The lower castes--the *ksatriyas*, *vaiyas* and *sudras*--used to consult the *brahmanas* on these two subjects. Everyone wants to know about his health, and therefore everyone wants to know about the future, so by studying these, the *brahmanas* could supply the information required. However, *Srimad-Bhagavatam* points out: "I am not this body."

As pointed out previously, to accept a *dharma* is to nullify all these *vargas*--hard work, fear, frustration and death. One should not think, however, that executing *dharma* is simply going to church or temple and asking God for some bread. ... Such a prayer means that one does not know how to pray. One should rather pray to God to grant him release from material miseries.

If one does not work for Yajna, Visnu, he is bound by the reaction of his work. If one works piously, he is elevated to higher planetary systems, or he becomes a rich man's son. By performing pious activities, one may get a good birth (*janma*) in an aristocratic or rich family, or one may receive good learning (*sruta*) or one may be rewarded by a beautiful body (*sri*). These are the results of pious activities. And if one performs impious activities, he receives just the opposite: birth in a low family, poor education and an ugly body. Generally people understand *dharma* by these things. But *Srimad-Bhagavatam* says that *dharma*, religious principles, should be executed in order to nullify material benefits. Whether one becomes poor or rich he has to undergod the tribulations of material existence. Just because one is a rich man, he cannot avoid death. The poor man also works hard but for even less money and is also subjected to the other tribulations. Some people think that if they become rich all their tribulations will be ended, but who would think that by becoming rich he will be free from old age, disease and death?

Modern educated society does not know what *vimukti* is. They may know what liberation is, but they do not know what the ultimate liberation is. The scientists, for instance, are trying to give us so many facilities by developing the machine. In a sense, this is also *vimukti.* We may be inconvenienced and have to travel a far distance, so the scientists devise some kind of "horseless carriage" that can travel long distances at great speeds. In a sense, then, this is also *vimukti*. In the world every attempt is being made at *vimukti*, for getting out of some inconvenient situation. The tragedy is, however, that no one knows of the ultimate *vimukti.* The ultimate *vimukti* is to attain freedom from birth, old age, disease and death.

Furthering our material comforts is not real progress. Actually our comforts and discomforts are already settled as soon as we get a particular type of body. Some bodies entail a great deal of suffering, and others entail less. If we buy a very cheap car, our ride will not be comfortable, and if we buy a very expensive car, our ride will be comfortable. The degree of comfort is determined beforehand by the amount of money we put into a vehicle. There is no necessity in trying to improve it. Indeed, we cannot improve it. In the human body a certain amount of discomfort is destined to come.

2. Bhagavata-dharma

It is established that a *dharma* is the occupational duty of the four parts of the *varnasrama* social body. *Dharmasya hi apavargasya*--*dharma* means nullifying the influence of both good and bad material circumstances. Accepting a *dharma* means work; that work must be for Visnu, without personal interest in the material results that may accrue. Next we shall see that Bhagavata-dharma is the life of the Vedic social body so engaged in sacrificial work. The method of liberation in Bhagavata-dharma is not dry. Liberation is manifest in one's service relationship to the Lord. That relationship must develop on two levels--the physical level of sacrifical work, and the subtle level of mind, intelligence and false ego. Hearing and chanting about Krsna spiritualizes the subtle body. This is the essence of Bhagavat-*dharma.* Without *sravanam-kirtanam*, *dharma* becomes a burden. Unless we talk of Krsna, we will talk about sociology, welfare work and mundane philosophy.

Bhagavat-dharma refers to the relationship between the devotee and the Lord. The Lord is Bhagavan, and the devotee is *bhagavata*--that is to say, he is in a relationship with Bhagavan. Everyone is related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, just as a son is related to his father. That relationship cannot be broken at any stage, but it sometimes happens that the son, out of his own independence, leaves home and forgets his affectionate relationship with his father. ... We are part and parcel of God, but when we want to live independent of God, we fall into the conditional state--which means, accepting a material body that is conditioned in so many ways.

To get out of conditional life and be free of its miseries we have to revive our *bhagavata* consciousness, or Krsna consciousness, or God consciousness. ... This Krsna Consciousness movement is therefore spreading Bhagavat-dharma.

The point is that if we want a successful life, peace of mind and full satisfaction, we should concern ourselves with how to advance in devotional service to the Lord. This striving is actually the life of *dharma.* However, if one executes his duties but does not become Krsna Conscious, then all his striving is in vain.

In human society there is always some kind of religious institution. This is called *dharma*, faith. As already explained, *dharma* is one's constitutional and functional duty. The essence of real religion is the rendering of service to God. We have, however, manufactured many different religions in society according the the countries and circumstances. It is stated in this verse that one can execute any type of religious principle, but the results should be the achieving of perfection. One may say that he is perfectly executing the principles of his religion found in the *Bible*, *Koran*, etc., and that is all very good, but what is the result? The result should be that one should increase his desire or tendency to hear about God.

We may keep these Deities here and serve them, but if we do not hear about them, the process may become hackneyed. In India Deity worship has become hackneyed because they have given up the process of *sravanam kirtanam.* Of course this is happening everywhere, not just in India. People have given up this process of hearing and chanting about God. Consequently worship has become a burden, and the clergy are forced to sell their churches and temples.

We should therfore try to understand these Bhagavata discourses which constitute the philosophy of God. As stated before, a first class religion is that religion which teaches us to love God, and the practice of that love is *bhakti-yoga.* By the process of devotional service we can immediately acquired *vairagyam* and *jnanam*-- knowledge and renunciation or detachment. These are the two things that are needed in human life. We must understand what *vairagyam* is; it is not false renunciation byt renunciation of material activities. In this Krsna Consciousness movement, for instance, we have renounced all material activities by centering activities around Krsna. ... The same activities may be there in material life, but the difference is that the materialist performs these activities not for Krsna, but for sense gratification. One is actually renounced when he only works for the satisfaction of Krsna.

One should work only enough to keep the body functioning in order to execute *dharma.* If more money comes, then it should not be used for sense gratification but for Krsna. Therefore in ages past, rich men used to employ their money by constructing temples or churches. At the present moment, however, churches are being transformed into factories and post offices because people have lost their sense of religion. Thus people have become animalistic, and peace and prosperity are not possible in a society of animals.

Therefore, while living in the gross body, we have to educate the subtle body in a way that it becomes completely spiritualized. The subtle body, as stated, is composed of mind, intelligence and ego. We should therefore always think of Krsna in our minds, and we should employ our intelligence in working for Krsna. We should also change our false ego. ... We do not discuss politics, sociology or anything else here. Our business is simply to talk about God. Those who discuss God are called *santas*, saintly persons. There are two types of men in the world--materialists and transcendentalists. Those who are interested in spiritual life talk of self-realization, and those who are materialistic talk about the body and things that pertain to the body--politics, sociology, welfare activities, etc. A materialistic person will read the newspaper, but a transcendentalist will read *Srimad-Bhagavatam.* ... Because materialists have no information of the soul, they are always talking about the body, or at most, they philosophically discuss the mind. One philosopher theorizes one thing, and another philosopher theorizes something completely different. Thus a great deal of literature is generated, and it is all nonsense because it is mental speculation.

Bhagavata-dharma means transcending both the subtle and gross bodies and coming to the platform of the spiritual body. As soon as we attain the spiritual body and attain liberation from the gross and subtle bodies (*mukta-sanga*), we actually feel happiness and independence. This process of Krsna consciousness is the highest benediction for human society because it is trying to elevate the human being to the platform of the spiritual body, transcending the gross and subtle bodies. That is the hightest perfection of human life. Human life is especially meant for coming to that spiritual platform and for transcending the gross and subtle conceptions of life.

3. Krsna is *dharma-varmani*

I do not find a reference to the term *daivi-varnasrama* in the 1972 Bhagavata-dharma discourses. Therein, however, Srila Prabhupada gave a brilliant elucidation on Godly (therefore, *daivi*) *varnasrama.* Citing *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 1.1.23, he said that Krsna embodies real *dharma.* That real *dharma* is service to Him. When one performs his occupational duty in knowledge that he is not the body but part and parcel of Krsna, he is engaged in real *dharma.* In
Bhagavat-dharma, the four *varnas* work to expand Krsna consciousness throughout the world. This is love of God.

*Brahmanye dharma-varmani. Dharma-varmani* refers to He who embodies all religious principles. The Sanskrit word *dharma actually refers to God or Krsna. Generally, *dharma* is translated into English as religion, but this is not a perfect translation, for *dharma* is different from religion. Religion is usually defined in a dictionary as a kind of faith, but *dharma* is not really a faith. ...As liquidity is the natural state of water, similarly *dharma* is the natural state of the living entity. Since the living entity is part and parcel of God, he has a natural position. For instance, one's finger is part and parcel of the body, and as such it has a natural position. ...In this way the finger serves the whole body. Similarly, *dharma* indicates that the living entity, being part and parcel of God, must serve Him. ... Service is actually meant for God, but because we have forgotten Him, we are rendering service to so many forms of *maya.*

If we cannot serve Krsna, we must accept a false occupational duty and serve *maya.* The word *maya* actually means "false." Of course, there is a difference between one's relative occupational duty and one's real occupational duty. If a person has the body of an American, his occupational duty is different from that of an Indian, or of a dog or cat. This is relative. This is the occupation of the body. But the real occupation is that of the soul.

Externally we are these material bodies, and internally we are spirit soul. Anyone can understand that he is not the body but is covered by the body. ... The body may be a very important philosopher's body or a great scientist's body, but the body is not the philosopher or the scientist. It is the soul that is the philosopher or the scientist, and it is the body that is the instrument.

When we come to the platform on which we perform the actual occupational duty of the soul, we are on the platform of real religion.

At the present moment we are all acting according to the bodily conception, but when we come to understand *aham brahmasmi*, "I am not this matter; I am spirit soul," our activities change, and we enter into our real occupation. At the present moment we are *jiva-bhuta*, that is, we are thinking that we are these bodies, but when we come to the *brahma-bhuta* platform, understanding that we are Brahman, part and parcel of Krsna, or God, our duties change, and consequently our perceptions change also.

Work is inevitable. In *Bhagavad-gita*, Krsna tells Arjuna that he has to work, for without working one cannot keep body and soul together. ... Arjuna was certainly a great devotee of Krsna's. Indeed, he was talking personally to Krsna, and Krsna was personally helping Arjuna on the battlefield. How exalted Arjuna is! Nontheless, Krsna advises him to work.

In all societies there is a class of men concerned with the cultivation and broadcasting of knowledge--scientific and philosophical knowledge. Such men are supposed to have brahminical qualifications, because if one distributes knowledge he must have a good brain and education, for a fool and a rascal is not capable. And in all societies there are politicians and administrators (*ksatriyas*) who are supposed to be under the guidance of the intelligent class in order to keep society in a peaceful situation. In all societies there are merchants, shop keepers and farmers (*vaisyas*), otherwise how could men live? And the fourth class, the laborer class (*sudra*), is there in all societies, for every society needs a class of working men. This class may have neither great intelligence, nor administrative, nor productive ability, but they can work under the direction of some higher authorities. ... Everyone can cultivate his particular occupational duty with the aim of attaining ultimate salvation. Human life is meant for salvation, for liberation from the bondage of birth and death.

God is pure, and those who are acting for God are pious. Each and every activity in our Krsna Consciousness temples is a pious activity. As soon as one associates with the pious devotees, there will be an inclination to act like them. This is actually taking place in our program, for our students are chanting the Hare Krsna *mantra*, dressing in such a way, worshiping in such a way, reading these Vedic literatures, etc.

Perfect civilization depends upon the arrangements made by God, even as the lower animals depend upon them. ... Our real problem is not insufficient food, sleeping arrangements, etc. Our real problem is that we have forgotten God. ... We want satisfaction, self satisfaction, and if we actually want to satisfy ourselves, then we should take to this devotional service. When we actually become *bhaktas*, lovers of God, no material condition can touch us. We are therefore attempting to describe this *parah-darma*, sublime occupation. We have therefore discussed what, according to Vedic authorities, is the first class religious system.

One must be engaged in the transcendental service of the Lord with love and devotion. What is the symptom of love? The devotee in love with Krsna wants to see that His names become widespread. He wants His Lord's names to be known everywhere. This is love. If I love someone, I want to see that he is glorified all over the world. In *Bhagavad-gita* Krsna says this of one who spreads His names and imparts the message of the *Bhagavad-gita*:

*na ca tasman manusyesu kascin me priya-krttamah bhavita na ca me tasmad anyah priyataro bhuvi*

"There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear." (*Bg* 18.69)

If we are really lovers of God and workers for God, we should never think or worry about our economic condition. As Krsna Himself says in *Bhagavad-gita*:

*ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham*

"But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form--to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have." (*Bg* 9.22)

Thus Krsna personally supplies whatever necessities are required. A father looks after the comforts of his child; it is not necessary for the child to ask the parent. Just as the child cannot speak out but depends completely upon his parent, we should also depend completely upon God. If we simply depend on God, there is no question of scarcity. The only scarcity at the the moment is the sacrcity of devotees.

4. Every human being is eligible for Bhagavat-dharma; the choice is up to us

Interviewer: What about the future? Is it possible to bring more people into Krsna Consciousness. To expand?

Prabhupada: Of course there are good men and bad men, and good men are taking to this movement because it is a good movement. "Good" means not having illicit sex, not eating meat, not indulging in intoxication, and indulging in gambling. If anyone observes these four principles, he is considered a good man, and if he does not observe them, he is a bad man. So, good men will take to this Krsna Consciousness movement, and bad men will not. We give distinct rules on how to become good, for if one does not become good, how can he understand God, who is all good? First, we must become good men; then we can understand God. God is all good, and if we don't become good we cannot understand Him--that's all. It's up to us to make the choice. The past, present and future are open for everyone. There is no restriction; no one says, "This class of man shall be good, and this class of man shall be bad." Anyone can become good. If we educate a child nicely, he becomes good, but if we train him foolishly, he comes a rascal. It is the duty of the government, of the father and of the teachers to make everyone good. If the government is bad, if the father is bad and the society is bad--how can the child be good? Everywhere the government, father and society are bad; therefore, we are producing bad men, and therefore there is no peace and prosperity.

Interviewer: What about the men who surround you?

Prabhupada: They're all good men.

Interviewer: They are good men who were raised in a bad society.

Prabhupada: No, they were raised in a bad society, but they have chosen to become good.

Interviewer: Is that preordained, or is it by free choice?

Prabhupada: Free choice. What is preordained? You are here of your free choice. If you like, you can sit down and talk with me, and if you don't like, then you can go. That is your free choice. Free choice makes destiny; if I act in goodness, then my future is good. And if I act badly, my future is bad. That is destiny. Man is the architect of his own destiny. If you are educated, your future is nice, and if you remain foolish, then your future is bad. Future destiny depends on present action. This life is an opportunity to make the next life, and if we behave like human beings, then in our next life we will go back home, back to Godhead. But if we behave like animals, then in the next life we will take animal bodies. That's all. All this is very nicely described in *Bhagavad-gita.* The conclusion is that human beings are meant for understanding God, but if we waste our time understanding dog, that is our choice.

Therefore, my first condition is that if someone wants to become by student he has to follow these four regulative principles. Consequently, I do not have many followers, but I do have a select few. Because they are select, they will bring about a revolution in the world.

These Bhagavata discourses are calling to humanity to get up, to rise. *Jiva jago jiva jago gauracanda bale*--this is the message of Lord Caitanya. It is Lord Caitanya who says, "My dear living entity (*jiva*), please get up. This is also the message of Narottama dasa Thakura, who sings, "My dear Lord, I have this valuable form of human life, but I have wasted it for nothing. This life is meant for understanding Radha and Krsna, but I have not done so, and therefore I have knowingly drunk poison." Although a suicide knows that as soon as he takes poison he will die, he takes it anyway. Similarly, one who does not take to Krsna Consciousness and who instead takes to materialistic life, knowingly takes poison.

In any case, this Bhagavata culture is not for any particular country or nation, it is meant for everyone. God is not monopolized by anyone. He is for everyone.…...

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