Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who is Responsible for the Decay of Varna Dharma?

Who is Responsible for the Decay of Varna Dharma?


Politicians and intellectuals alike say that jati is part of an uncivilized system. Why? Who is responsible for the disintegration of so worthy an arrangement as varna dharma?


These are question that I raised and I shall try to answer them. The wrong ideas that have developed about varna dharma must be ascribed to the Brahmins themselves. They are indeed responsible for the decay of an ages-old system that contributed not only to our Atmic advancement but also to the well-being of the nation as well as of all mankind.


The Brahmin relinquished the duties of his birth-the study of the Vedas and performance of the rites laid down in the Vedic tradition. He left his birthplace, the village, for the town. He cropped his hair and started dressing in European style. Giving up the Vedas, he took to the Mundane learning of the West. He fell to the lure of jobs offered by his white master and aped him in dress, manners and attitudes. He threw to the winds the noble dharma he had inherited from the Vedic seers through his forefathers and abandoned all for a mess of pottage. He was drawn to everything Western, science, life-style, entertainment.


The canonical texts have it that the Brahmin must have no love for money, that he must not accumulate wealth. So long as he followed his dharma, as prescribed by the sastras, and so long as he chanted the Vedas and performed sacrifices, he brought good to the world, and all other castes respected him and treated him with affection. In fact they looked upon him as a guide and model.


Others now observed how the Brahmin changed, how his life-style had become different with all its glitter and show and how he went about with all the pretence of having risen on the scale of civilization. The Brahmin had been an ideal for them in all that is noble, but how he strayed from the path of dharma; and following his example they too gave up their traditional vocations that had brought them happiness and contentment, and left their native village to settle in towns. Like the Brahmin they became keen to learn English and secure jobs in the government.


For thousands of years the Brahmin had been engaged in Atmic pursuit and intellectual work. In the beginning all his mental faculties were employed for the welfare of society and not in the least for his own selfish advancement. Because of this very spirit of self-sacrifice, his intelligence became sharp like a razor constantly kept honed. Now the welfare of society is no longer the goal of his efforts and his intelligence has naturally dimmed due to this selfishness and interest in things worldly. He had been blessed with a bright intellect and he had the grace of the Lord to carry out the duties of his birth. Now, after forsaking his dharma, it is natural that his intellectual keenness should become blunted.


Due to sheer momentum the bicycle keeps going some distance even after you stop pedalling. Similarly, though the Brahmin seeks knowledge of mundane subjects instead of inner light, he retains yet a little intellectual brightness as a result of the "pedalling" done by his forefathers. It is because of this that he has been able to achieve remarkable progress in Western learning also. He has acquired expert knowledge in the practices of the West, in its law and its industries. Indeed he has gained such insights into these subjects and mastered their finer points so remarkably well that he can give lessons to the white man himself in them.


A question that arises in this context is how Vedic studies which had not suffered much even during Muslim rule received a severe set-back with the advent of the European. One reason is the impact of the new sciences and the machines that came with the white man. Granted that many a truth was revealed through these sciences- and this was all to the good up to a point. But we must remember that the knowledge of a subject per se is one thing and how we use it in practice ins another.


The introduction of steam power and electricity made many types of work easier but it also meant comforts hitherto unthought-of of to gratify the senses. If you keep pandering to the senses more and more new desires are engendered. This will mean the production of an increasing number of objects of pleasure. The more we try to obtain sensual pleasure the more we will cause injury to our innermost being. The new pleasures that could be had with scientific development and the introduction of machines were an irresistible lure for the Brahmin as they were to other communities. Another undesirable product of the sciences brought by the white man was rationalism which undermined people's faith in religion and persuaded some to believe that the religious truths that are based on faith and are inwardly experienced are nothing but deception. The man who did not give up his duties even during Muslim rule now abandoned them for the new-found pleasures and comforts. He dressed more smartly that the Englishman, smoked cigarettes and even learned to dance like his white master. Those who thus became proficient in the arts of the white man were rewarded with jobs.


Now occurred the biggest tragedy. Up till now all members of society had their hereditary jobs to do and they did not have to worry about their livelihood. Now, with the example of the Brahmin before them, members of other castes also gave up their traditional occupations for the jobs made available by the British in the banks, railways, collectorates, etc. With the introduction of machinery our handicrafts fell into decay and many of our artisans had to look for other means of livelihood. In the absence of any demarcation in the matter of work and workers, there arose competition for jobs for the first time in the country. It was a disastrous development and it generated jealousy, ill-will, disputes and a host of other evils among people who had hitherto lived in harmony.


Ill feelings developed between Brahmins and non-Brahmins also. How? Brahmins formed only a small percentage of the population. But they were able to occupy top positions in the new order owing to their intelligence which, as I said before, was the result of the "pedalling" done by their forefathers. They excelled in all walks of life- in administration, in academics, in law, in medicine, engineering and so on. The white man made his own calculations about developing animosity between Brahmins and non-Brahmins and realised that by fuelling it he could strengthen his hold on the country. He fabricated the Aryan-Dravidian theory of races and the seeds of differences were sown among children born of the same mother. It was a design that proved effective in a climate already made unhealthy by rivalry for jobs.


As if to exacerbate this ill-will, the Brahmin took one more disastrous step. On the one hand he gave up the dharma of his caste and joined hands with the British in condemning the old order by branching it a barbarous one in which one man exploited another. But, on the other hand, though he spoke the language of equality, he kept aloof from other castes thinking himself to be superior to them. If in the past he had not mixed physically with members of other castes, it did not mean that he had placed himself on a high pedestal. We must remember that there was a reason for his not coming into physical contact with other castes.


There have to be differences between the jatis based on food, work and surroundings. The photographer needs a dark room to develop his films. To shoot a film, on the contrary, powerful lights are needed. Those who work in a factory canteen have to scrupulously clean; but those who dust machinery wear soiled clothes. This does not mean that the waiter in a canteen is superior to the factory hand who dusts machines. The man who takes the utmost care to keep himself intellectually bright, without any thought of himself, observes fasts, while the soldier, who has to be strong and tough, eats meat.


Why should there be bad feelings between the two, between the Brahmin and the Ksatriya? Does the Brahmin have to come into physical contact with the Ksatriya To prove that he does not bear any ill-will towards him? If he intertwined with the Ksatriya he would be tempted to taste meat and such a temptation might eventually drag him into doing things that militate against his own duty. Each community has its own duties, customs and food habits. If all jatis mixed together on the pretext of equality without regard to their individual ways of life, all work would suffer and society itself would be plunged into confusion.


It was with a definite purpose in view that the village was divided into different quarters: the agrahara (the Brahmin quarter), the agriculturists quarter and so on. Such a division was possible in rural life but not in the the new urban way of living. With urbanization and industrialization it becomes necessary for people belonging to various jatis to work together on the same shift, sit together in the same canteen to eat the same kind of food. The Brahmin for whom it is obligatory to observe fasts and vows and to perform various rites was now seen to be no different from others. Office and college timings were a hindrance to the carrying out of these rites. So the Brahmin threw them to the winds. He had so far taken care to perform these rites with the good of others in mind. Like a trustee, he had protected dharma for the sake of society and made its fruits available to all.


All that belonged to the past. Now the Brahmin came forward proclaiming that all were equal and that he was one with the rest. All the same he became the cause of heart-burning among others and –ironically enough- in becoming one with them he also competed with them for jobs. That apart, though he talked of equality, he still thought himself to be superior to others, in spite of the fact that he was not a bit more careful than they about the performance of religious duties. Was this not enough to earn him more hatred?


The Brahmin spoiled himself and spoiled others. By abandoning his dharma he became a bad example to others. As a matter of fact, even by strictly adhering to his dharma the Brahmin in not entitled to feel superior to others. He must always remain humble in the belief that "everyone performs a function in society; I perform mine". If at all others respected him in the past and accorded him a high place in the society it was in consideration of his selfless work, his life of austerity a, discipline and purity. Now he had descended too such depths as to merit their most abrasive criticism.


It is my decided opinion that the Brahmin is responsible for the ruin of Hindu society. Some people have found an explanation for it. The Brahmin, if he is to be true to his dharma, has to spend all his time in learning and chanting the Vedas, in performance sacrifices, in preserving the sastras, etc. What will he do for a living? If he goes in search of money or material he will not be able to attend to his lifetime mission- and this mission is not accomplished on a part-time basis. And if he takes up some other work for his livelihood, he is likely to became lax in the pursuit of his dharma. It would be like taking medicine without the necessary diet regimen: the benign power gained by the Brahmin from his Vedic learning will be reduced and there will be a corresponding diminution in the good accruing to mankind from his work.


This is one reason why Brahmin alone are permitted by the sastras to beg for their living. In the past they received help form the kings_ grants of lands, for instance-in consideration of the fact that the dharma practiced by them benefited all people. But the sastras also have it that the Brahmins must not accept more charity than what is needed for their bare sustenance. If they received anything in excess, they would be tempted to seek sensual pleasures and thereby an impediment would be placed to their inner advancement. There is also the danger of their becoming submissive to the donor and of their twisting the sastras to the latter's liking. It was with a full awareness of these dangers that in the old days the Brahmins practised their dharma under the patronage on the rajas(accepting charity to the minimum and not subjecting themselves to any influence detrimental to their dharma).


The argument of those who have found an excuse for the conduct of latter days Brahmins goes thus. "Brahmins ceased to receive gifts from rulers after the inception of British rule. How can you expect them to live without any income? Force of circumstances made them to English education and thereafter too seek jobs with the government. It is unjust to find fault with them on that score. "


There is possibly some force in this argument but it does not fully justify the change that has come over Brahmins. Before the British, the Moghuls ruled us and before them a succession of sultanates. During these periods a few pandits must have found a place in the darbar. But all other Brahmins adhered to their dharma, did they not, without any support from any other ruler? The phenomenon of the Brahmin quarter becoming deserted, the village being ruined, all pathasala (the Vedic school) becoming forlorn and the lands (granted to Brahmins) turning into mere certificates is not more than a hundred years old. Did not Vedic dharma flourish until a generation ago?


The Vedic religion prospered in the past not only because of the patronage extended to the Brahmins by the Hindu rulers. People belonging to all varnas then were anxious that it should not become weak and perish. They saw too it that the Brahmin community did not weaken and contributed generously to its upkeep and to the nurturing of the Vedic tradition. Today you see hundreds of Vedic schools deserted. There are few Brahmin boys willing too study the scriptures. Who had raised the funds for the Vedic institutions? [In Tamil Nadu] the Nattukottai Nagarattars, Komutti Cettis and Vellalas. The work done by Nagarattars for our temples indeed remarkable. Throughout Tamil Nadu, if they built a temple they also built a Vedic school with the belief that the Vedas constituted the "root" of the temple. This root, they felt, was essential to the living presence of the deity in the temple and for the puja conducted there. Similarly, the big landowners among the Vellalas made lavish donations to the Vedic schools.


If the Brahmin had not been tempted by the European life-style and if he were willing to live austerely according to the dictates of the sastras, other castes would have come forward to help him. It is not that the others deserted him. He himself ran away from his dharma, from his agrahara, from his village and from the Vedic school because of his new appetite for the life of luxury made possible with the new technology of the West. He forgot his high ideals and paid scant respect of the principle that the body's requirements are not more that what it takes- in physical terms- to help the well-being of the Self. All told the argument that the Brahmin was compelled to abandon his dharma because he was deniedhis daily bread does not hold water. We cannot but admit that the Brahmin became greedy, that he yearned far more that what he needed for his sustenance.


Let us concede that the Brahmin left his village because he could not feed himself there and came to a city like Madras. But did he find contentment here? What do we see today in actual practice? Suppose a Brahmin received a salary of Rs1000 in Madras today. If he gets a job in Delhi with double the salary he runs off there. When he goes to Delhi he would abandon totally the dharma he was able to practise at least to a small extent in Madras. Later, if he were offered $4000 a month in America he would leave his motherland for that country, lured by the prospect t of earning a fortune. There, in the United States, he would became totally alienated from his religion, from his dharma, from all his money. The Brahmin is willing to do anything, go to any extent, for the sake of money. Fort instance, he would join the army if there were the promoter of more income in it. If necessary he would even take to meat and to drinking. The usual excuse trotted out for the Brahmin deserting his dharma does not wash.


I will go one step further. Let us suppose that, the following the import of Western technology, other communities also became averse to observing their respective dharmic traditions. Let us also assume that, with their thinking and feelings influenced by the Aryan-Dravidian theory concocted by the English, these castes decided not to support the Brahmins any longer. Let us further assume that to feed himself(for the sake of a handful of rice) the Brahmin had to leave hearth and home and work in an office somewhere far away from his native village. Were he true to his dharma he would tell himself: "I will continue to adhere to my dharma come what may, even at the risk of death". With this resolve he could have made a determined effort to pursue Vedic learning and keep up his traditional practices.


There is no point, however, in suggesting what people belonging to the generation that has gone by should have done. I would urge the present generation to perform the duties that the past generation neglected to perform. To repeat, you must not forsake your dharma even on pain of death. Are we going to remain deathless? As it is we accumulate money and, worse, suffer humiliation and earn the jealousy of others and finally we die losing caste by not remaining true to our dharma.


Is it not better then to starve and yet to be attached firmly to our dharma so long as there is breath in us? Is not such loyalty to our dharma a matter of pride? Why should we care about how others see us, whether they honour us or speak ill of us? So long as we do not compete with them for jobs they will have no cause for jealousy or resentment. Let them call us backward or stupid or think that we are not capable of keeping abreast of the times. As we not now already their but of ridicule? Let us be true to our dharma in the face of the mockery of others, even in the face of death. is not such a lot preferable to suffering the slings of scorn and criticism earned by forsaking our dharma for the sake of filling our belly? People nowadays die for their mother land; they lay down their lives for their mother tongue. They do not need a big cause like the

freedom of the country to be roused too action: they court death, immolate themselves, even for a cause that may be seem trivial like the merger of a part of their district in another. Was there any demonstration of faith like this, such willingness to die for a cause or a belief, when the British came here with their life-style? At the same time did we protect our dharma with courage, in the belief that even death was a small pride to pay for it?


The Lord himself has declared in the Gita that it is better to die abiding by one's dharma than prosper through another man's dharma ("nidhanam reyah"). Brahmins who had seen no reason to change their life-style during the long Muslim period of our history changed it during British rule. Why? New sciences and machinery came with the white man. The motor car and electricity had their own impact on life there. Brahmins were drawn to comforts and conveniences not thought of before. This could be for a reason for their change of life, but not a justification.


The Brahmin is not to regard his body as a means for the enjoyment of sensual pleasures but as an instrument for the observance of such rites as are necessary to protect the Vedas- and the Vedas have too be protected for the welfare of mankind. The basic dharma is that to the body of the Brahmin nothing must be added that incites his sensual appetite. It was a fundamental mistake on the part of the Brahmin to have forgotten the spirit of sacrifice that incites his dharma and become a victim of the pleasures and comforts easily obtained form the new gadgets and instruments. There is pride in adhering to one's dharma even when one is faced with adverse circumstances. Brahmins (during British rule) committed a grave mistake by not doing so and we are suffering the consequences. See the ill-will in the country today among children of the same mother. We have created suffering for others also. At first Brahmins were denied admission to colleges and refused jobs. Now things have come to such a pass that other communities also suffer the same fate.


All was well so long as man, using his own innate resources, lived a simple life without the help of machines. With more and more factories and increasing machine power, life itself has become complicated. The situation today is such everyone is facing difficulties in getting admission to college or in getting a job.


People ask me: "What is the remedy today? Do you expect all Brahmins to leave their new life-style and return Vedic learning? "Whether or not I expect them to do so and whether or not such a step seems possible, I must ask them to do so ( to return to their Vedic dharma). Where is the  need for a guru-pitha or a seat on which an acarya is installed if I am to keep my mouth shut and watch idly as the dharma that is the source of everything is being endangered? Even if it seems not possible (Brahmins returning to the dharma of their birth) it must be shown to be possible in practice: that is the purpose of the institutions called mathas. They must harness all their energies towards the attainment of this goal.


During the years of the freedom struggle some people wondered whether the white man would quit because of satyagraha. Many things in this world regarded as not being within the realm on possibility have been shown to be possible. It is not for me to say that this (return of all Brahmins to the Vedic dharma) is not possible; to take such a view would be contrary to our very dharma. it is up to you to make it possible in practice or not to make it possible. All I can do is too keep reminding you the message of the dharmasastras.


(Source: Voice of the Guru by Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami in Hindu Dharma – The Universal Way of Life)



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Why only in this Country?

Why only in this Country?


The question arises: "What about countries other than India? And what about the religions practised there? They do not have a system of jatis  nor do they have in force any division of labour based on heredity. Why should we alone have such an arrangement? . "


It will be conceded that even such countries as do not have any social division based on vocations have produced wise men who have contributed to the growth of knowledge and statesmen, administrators, agriculturists, traders and labourers. But if you look at the matter impartially- and not necessarily as a proud patriot-you will realise that no other country has had such a great civilization as we have had. It is true that great civilizations flourished in other lands too, but they did not last thousands of years like ours. To say this is not to blow our own trumpet. From the time of Alexander until today-when we seem to have fallen into an abyss from the heights of glory-foreigners have been filled with wonder for the Hindu civilization.


Other countries, it is true, have given birth to great men, to men of God, to philanthropists, to men of sacrifice. But if you take a census of all nations, you will see that no other nation would have given birth, generations after generation for thousands of years in an uninterrupted manner, to such a large number of great men, saintly men, wise men, philosophers, devotees and philanthropists. They will outnumber all such men produced in other countries put together. Foreigners refer to India as the "land of saints", as the "land of sages". They express their profound admiration for our Vedanta, for our metaphysics, and all our ancient works.


The whole world acknowledges our unparalleled contributions to art, sculpture, music, poetry, astronomy, medicine. It never ceases to wonder at our great works of philosophy and literature like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, the Sakuntalam, etc. Scholars abroad are of the opinion that there are hardly any devotional works outside India like the Tamil Tevaram and Divyaprabandham. They note the Kural, in the same language, to be an astonishingly profound and lucid ethical work that is yet so brief. Foreigners come to our land, leaving their home and hearth, to find out all about our gopurams, our sculptures, our dances like Bharatanatyam all of which have cast a spell over them. Europeans enslaves us, ascribed all kinds of faults to us and held us in bondage with their policy of divide and rule. But, all the same, out of admiration for our culture they have sought out our sastras, our ancient texts, conducted research into them and translated them into their own languages.


To what special factors are we to attribute the existence of such a great and unique civilization? In looking for an answer you will discover that there was something in our social structure that was not shared by other countries, that is varna dharma. According to our reformers all our ills are due to the caste system. But it is this land with this unique system - varnasrama - that has excelled all other nations in metaphysics, in the arts, in social values and in wisdom. Stability in society and peace go hand in hand. Without them, without an atmosphere conducive to creative work, no arts, no philosophy, no culture could have flourished generation after generation. Philosophers and sages and geniuses in the field of arts would not have otherwise been thrown up in such amazingly large numbers.


The religions that governed life in other countries did not evolve a social structure capable of creating this kind of stability. One might say that the question of creating a sociological foundation was overlooked in them. They did not lay down rules for orderly social life and had but general interdictions and injunctions like "Do not steal"; "Do not tell lies"; "Do not commit adultery"; "Live a life of sacrifice". In Buddhism and Christianity the institutionalized system is meant only for the monks. Unlike in Hinduism in none of these religions was attention directed towards weaving together the entire society into a fabric in which one member formed a support to another.


One does nod deny that there was scientific advancement in other nations. they had a system of defence and they carried on trade and commerce. But the spirit of rivalry vitiated all walks of life in these lands. No community had an occupation entirely to itself. Everyone could compete with everyone else for every kind of job. In our country people had their own hereditary calling and they were assured of their livelihood. This meant peace and stability in society. We must remember that it was because our people were bound together in their unique varna system that they excelled in culture and character, not to mention the fact the stability afforded by the system facilitated the birth of countless numbers of individuals who exemplified all that is noble in mankind. In contrast, in the absence of a similar institution, jealousy and rivalry became disturbing factors in the life of other countries.


Our nation should have witnessed many a revolution if, as claimed by our social reformers, the people were kept suppressed in the varna system. However, the term "social revolution" was new to us until recently. It is only after reading a about the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Soviet Revolution that we have known that compulsions would arise for great masses of people to be plunged in unrest. The common people in other countries were again and again involved thus in revolutionary movements. But we note- and this is important - that no revolution has achieved anything of permanent value. If there is an upsurge today there is another fifty or a hundred years later. we have to conclude from this that people abroad have remained discontented most of the time.


Today's situation is all too obvious to be stated. The whole world is in turmoil. Indiscipline, strikes, social upsets and savage orgies of violence have become the order of the day. It is only in a country like the Soviet Union where there is a dictatorship that comes down heavily on those who voice any opposition to it that there is hardly any unrest. However, it is said that the volcano of unrest might erupt any time there. Now and then an intellectual or writer escapes from that land to tell us about the tyranny from which people suffer there. Obviously in the Soviet Union too people are not happy and contented.


India has seldom had an autocracy or dictatorship of this type. It would not have taken the strides it did in the sciences and arts had it been a slave country or a country ruled by despots. People here never lamented before others that they were kept suppressed. All our works of knowledge and wisdom, all our arts and all our temples would not have been possible if the mind was not enabled to unfold itself in an atmosphere of freedom. It would also be preposterous to suggest that a majority of the common people were victims of superstition and delusion and lived in fear of witchcraft. You could speak thus of the tribes living in the forests of Africa or South America. In these places the priest was like a king. He would be fearsome even to look at and he was able to impress his tribesmen that he could do anything with his utterances (his mantralike formulae). He had also the power to punish people. Such was not the case in our country. People here were fairly knowledgeable irrespective of the jatis to which they belonged and they were devoted and advances in matters pertaining to the Self.


If you go through the Puranas (including the Tamil Periaypuranam) You will learn that there were great men in all jatis. Imperial rulers like Chandragupta and ministers like Sekkizhar belonged to the fourth varna.


Our priests had no authority to punish anyone, According to the canonical texts the priest must be a man of spotless character and, if he commits a wrong, he must punish himself. If a white man happens to come into physical contact with a black man, the latter is taken to task. But if a priest in our country comes into similar contact with an untouchable, it is he (the priest) who is enjoined to have a bath. Let us leave aside for the moment the question of untouchability. The point to note is that it was not by inspiring fear, by the threat of punishment or by suppression, that such customs were practised. A civilization like ours that is glorified all over the world could not have flourished if some sections of the people were suppressed or were victims of deception. It is only when the dharmasastras are advantageous to all that there will be no cause for any section of the people to revolt.


When the ancient varna system was in force, our civilization grew steadily without giving any cause for revolt or discontent among the people. But, that apart, look at the state of India after it broke with the old system of division of labour and took to the new path adopted by other countries on the pretext of "progress" and "equality". Everywhere you see immorality, dishonesty, corruption and prostitution. Agitations, strikes, demonstrations, hartals, curfew, etc, have become the order of the day. Is it not obvious from this that there is much discontent among the people? In matters of trade we have come to such a pass that we are the target of attack and ridicule of other nations for our dishonest practices. The time is past when everyone had nothing but praise for India. Even a small country like Pakistan drags us into war. Does this not show that our spiritual strength has diminished so much?


How did we lose our inner vitality? By giving up what have we become weak? What was it that nurtured our civilization and kept it growing for thousands of years? By parting with what have we descended so low as to be ashamed of calling ourselves heirs to this civilization? The fact is that, so long as we practised varna dharma that is unique to our country, our civilization stood like a rock arousing the admiration of all the world. But after this dharma began to decline we have been on the descent day by day.


Why should this country alone practise varna dharma? Because this dharma is necessary if we want to sustain a civilization that can promote the growth of philosophy, nourish our arts and culture, inspire us more and more in our inward search and help us in the realization of Godhead. If the varna system, is followed at least in this country, it will be an example to the rest of the world.


If there is not varna dharma, it means at once the growth of social disharmony, the rise of jealousies and discontent among the people. Men will compete with one another for the jobs they like or are convenient to them. There will be competition for education on the same lines. Since all will not succeed in their efforts or in their desire or ambition being satisfied, the result will be hatred and resentment everywhere. Look at what is happening now in India. When educated unemployment is on the increase, it is suggested that admissions to colleges must be restricted, that there are too many engineers already in the country and that some engineering colleges must be closed down. Here we see that the theory of throwing open everything to everybody does not work; imposing some restriction on people is seen to be inevitable. In the old days a man's work, whatever it was, became second nature to him and he had a sense of pride in it as an "asset", legacy that had come to him from his forefathers, indeed a prized family "possession". He also did his job efficiently and sincerely. Money was a secondary consideration then. Since everything was done on the basis of trust and with a high degree of personal involvement - the worker was always conscious that he was doing his work- there were no problems. The whole society prospered.


No civilization can flourish in the absence of a system that brings fulfilment to all. Varna dharma brought fulfilment and satisfaction to all. Is it possible to bring Varna dharma back to life? Whether we fail in during all we can in reviving the system or whether we abandon our efforts finding them to be futile, we must at least recognise that it is this system that our thousands of years brought well-being to all communities of our religion and to our country and throughout them to the whole world outside. Again, we must at least have the good sense not to find fault with such a system.


(Source: Voice of the Guru by Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami in Hindu Dharma – The Universal Way of Life)


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1. Woman is the Divine power on earth.


2. Woman is the first teacher of man.


3. See woman as the Energy of God.


4. Woman is the Sajiva Maya or Chaitanya Maya.


5. Woman is an embodiment of sacrifice, Ahimsa and patience.


6. If she is weak in striking, she is strong in suffering.


7. Woman is an embodiment of patience, gentleness, softness, sweetness, service and Ahimsa.


8. Woman has innate sweetness. She is kind, tender and affectionate. She has a motherly heart. So she is fit for Bhakti-Yoga.


9. The women of India have preserved the spiritual character of our society.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Divided by Work but still of One Heart

Divided by Work but still of One Heart


I spoke about the different jatis, the work allotted to each of them and the rites and customs prescribed for each. What I said was not entirely correct. The vocation is not for jati; it is jati for the vocation. On what basis did the Vedic religion divide the fuel sticks [that is the jatis] into small bundles? It fixed one jati for one vocation. In the West economists talk of division of labour but they are unable to translate their ideas into practice. Any society has to depend on the proper execution of a variety of jobs.


It is from this social necessity that the concept of division of labour arose. But who is to decide the number of people for each type of work? Who is to determine the proportions for society to function in a balanced manner? In the West they had no answer to these questions. Everybody there competes with everybody else for comfortable jobs and everywhere you find greed and bitterness resulting from such rivalries. And, as a consequence of all this, there are lapses from discipline and morality.


In our country we based the division of labour on a hereditary system and, until it worked, people had a happy, peaceful and contented life. Today even a multimillionaire is neither contented nor happy. Then even a cobbler led a life without cares. What sort of progress have we achieved today by inflaming evil desires in all hearts and pushing everyone into the slough of discontent? Not satisfied with such "progress" there is talk everywhere that we must go forward rapidly in this manner. Greed and covetousness were unknown during the centuries when varna dharma flourished. People were bound together in small well-knit groups and they discovered that there was happiness in their being together. Besides they had faith in religion, fear of God and devotion, and a feeling of pride in their own family deities and in the modes of worshipping them. In this way they found fullness in their lives without any need to suffer the hunger and disquiet of seeking external objects. All society experienced a sense of well-being.


Though divided into a number of groups people were all one in their devotion to the Lord; and though they had their own separate family deities, they were brought together in the big temple that was for the entire village or town. This temple and its festivals had a central place in their life and they remained united as the children of the deity enshrined in it. When there was a car festival (rathotsava) the Brahmins and the people living on the outskirts of the village[the so-called backward classes] stood shoulder to shoulder and pulled the chariot together. We wonder whether those days of peace and harmony will ever return. Neither jealousy nor bitterness was known then and people did not trade charges against one another. Everyone did his job, carried out his duties, in a spirit of humility and with a sense of contentment.


Considering all this, would it be correct to say that Hinduism faced all its challenges in spite of the divisions in society? No, no. Such a view would be totally wrong. The fact is that our religion has survived as a living force for ages together because of these very divisions. Other great religions which had but one uniform dharma for all have gone under. And there is the fear that existing religions of the same type might suffer a similar fate. What has sustained Hinduism as an eternal religion? We must go back to the analogy of the fuel sticks. Like a number of small bundles of sticks bound together strong and secure-instead of all the individual sticks being fastened together-Hindu society is a well-knit union of a number of small groups which are themselves bound up separately as jatis, the cementing factor being devotion to the Lord.


Religions that had a common code of duties and conduct could not withstand attacks from within and without. In India there were many sets of religious beliefs that were contained in, or integrated together with, a common larger system. If new systems of beliefs or dharmas arose from within or if there were inroads by external religious systems, a process of rejection and assimilation took place: what was not wanted was rejected and what was fit to be accepted was absorbed. Buddhism and Jainism sprang from different aspects of the Vedic religion, so Hinduism(later) was able to digest them and was able to accommodate many other sets of beliefs or to make them its own. There was no need for it to treat other systems as adversaries or to carry on a struggle against them.


After the advent of Islam we adopted only some of its customs but not any of its religious concepts. The Moghul influence was felt to some extent in our dress, music, architecture and painting. Even such impressions of the Muslim impact did not survive for long as independent factors but were dissolved in the flow of our Vedic culture. Also the Islamic impact was largely confined to the North; the South did not come much under it and stuck mostly to its own traditional path. Later, with the coming of the Europeans, faith in the Vedic religion began to decline all over India, in North as well as South. How did this change occur? Why do all political leaders today keep excoriating the varna system, giving it the name of "casteism"? And how has the view gained ground everywhere that the division of jatis has greatly hindered the progress of the nation? And why does the mere mention of the word jati invite a gaol sentence?


I shall tell you later, as best I can, about who is responsible for this state of affairs. For the present let us try to find out why some people want to do away with varna dharma. To them it seems an iniquitous system in which some jatis occupy a high status while some others are pushed down to low depths. They want all to be raised to the same uniform high level.


Is such a step possible or practicable? To find an answer, all that we have to do is to examine conditions in countries where there is no caste. If there were no distinctions of high and low in these lands, we should see no class conflicts there. But in reality what do we see? People in these countries are divided into "advantaged" and disadvantaged" classes who are constantly fighting between themselves. A true understanding of our religion will show that in reality there are no differences in status based on caste among our people. But let us for argument's sake presume that there are; our duty then is to make sure that the feelings of differences are removed, not get rid of varna dharma itself.


One more point must be considered. Even if you concede that the social divisions have caused bitterness among the different sections here, what about the same in other countries? Can the existence of such ill-will in other lands be denied? The differences there, based on wealth and status, cause bitterness and resentment among the underprivileged and poorer sections. In America, it is claimed that all people have enough food, clothing and housing. They say that the Americans are contented people.  But what is the reality there? The man who has only one car is envious of another who has two. Similarly, the fact that one person has a bank balance of a hundred million dollars is cause for heart-burning for another with a bank balance of only a million. Those who have sufficient means to live comfortably quarrel with people better off over rights and privileges. Does this not mean that even in a country like the United States there are conflicts between the higher and lower classes of society?


The story is not different in the communist countries. Though everyone is said to be paid the same wages there, they have officers and clerks who do not enjoy the same status. As a result of the order enforced by the state, there may not be any outward signs of quarrel among the different cadres, but jealously and feelings of rivalry must, all the same, exist in the hearts of people. In the higher echelons of power there must be greater rivalry in the communist lands than elsewhere. The dictator of today is replaced by another tomorrow. Is it possible to accord the same status to all in order to prevent the growth of antagonisms? Feeling of high and low will somehow persist, so too the competitive urge. It seems to me that better than the distinctions prevailing in the West distinctions that give rise to jealousies and social discord-are the differences mistakenly attributed to the hereditary of vocations. In the old days this arrangement ensured peace in the land with everyone living a contented life. There was neither envy nor hatred and everyone readily accepted his lot.


The different types of work are meant for the good of the people in general. It is wrong to believe that one job belongs to an "inferior" category and another to a "superior type". There is no more efficacious medicine for inner purity than doing one's work, whatever it is, without any desire for reward and doing it to perfection. I must add that even wrong notions about work (one job being better than another or worse) is better that the disparities and differences to be met with in other countries. We are[or were] free from the spirit of rivalry and bitterness that vitiate social life there.


Divided we have remained united, and nurtured our civilization. Other civilizations have gone under because the people of the countries concerned, though seemingly united, were in fact divided. In our case though there were differences in the matter of work there was unity of hearts and that is how our culture and civilization flourished. In other countries the fact that there were no distinctions based on vocations (anyone could do any work) itself gave rise to rivalries and eventually to disunity. They were not able to withstand the onslaught of other civilizations.


It is not practicable to make all people one, nor can everyone occupy the same high position. At the same time it is also unwise to keep people divided into classes that are like water-tight compartments.


The dharmasastras have shown us a middle way that avoids the pitfalls of the two extremes. I have come as a representative of this way and that is why I speak for it: that there ought to be distinctions among various sections of people in the performance of rites but there must be unity of hearts. There should be no confusion between the two.


Though we are divided outwardly in the matter of work, with unity of hearts there will be peace. That was the tradition for ages together in this land-there was oneness of hearts. If every member of society does his duty, does his work, unselfishly and with the conviction that he is doing it for the good of all, considerations of high and low will not enter his mind. If people carry out the duties common to them, however adverse the circumstances be, and if every individual performs the duties that are special to him, no one will have cause for suffering at any time.


(Source: Voice of the Guru by Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami in Hindu Dharma – The Universal Way of Life)


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Unity in Diversity

Unity in Diversity


Talking of the varna system I am reminded of the early days of aviation. In the beginning the air ship[dirigible balloon] was filled with one gas bag. It was discovered that the vessel would collapse even if it sprang just one leak. So it was fitted with a number of smaller gas bags and kept afloat without much danger of its crashing. The principle of different duties and vocations for different sections of society is similar to what kept the old type of airship from collapsing. In the varna system we have an example of unity in diversity.


Fastening together a large number of individual fire sticks is not easy: the bundle is loosened quickly and the sticks will give way. The removal of even one stick will make the bundle loose and, with each stick giving way, you will be left with separate sticks. Try to tie together a handful of sticks at a time instead of all the sticks together. A number of such small sheaves may be easily fastened together into a strong and secure larger bundle. Even if it becomes loose, none of the smaller bundles will come away. This is not the case with the large bundle bound up of individual sticks. A bundle made up of a number of smaller sets will remain well secured.


To keep a vast community bound together in a single uniform structure is well-nigh an impossible task. Because of its unmanageable size it is not easily sustained in a disciplined manner. This is the reason why - to revert to the example of the fuel sticks - the community was divided into jatis [similar to the smaller bundles in the analogy of the fire sticks] and each jati assigned a particular vocation. Each varna was divided into a number of jatis [smaller bundles], with each jati having a headman with the authority to punish offenders. Today criminals are sentenced to prison or punished in other ways. But the incidence of crime is on the increase since all such types of punishment have no different effect. In the jati system the guilty took the punishment to heart. So much so that, until the turn of the century, people lived more or less honourably and there was little incidence of crime. The police and the magistrates did not have much work to do.


What was the punishment meted out to offenders by the village or jati headman? Excommunication. Whether it was a cobbler or a barber - anyone belonging to any one of the jatis now included among the "backward" or "depressed" classes - he would feel deeply stung if he were thrown out of his jati: no punishment was harsher or more humiliating than excommunication.


What do we learn from all this? No jati thought poorly of itself or of another jati. Members of each jati considered themselves the supreme authority in managing their affairs. This naturally gave them sense of contentment and satisfaction. What would have happened if some jatis were regarded as "low" and some others as "high"? Feelings of inferiority would have arisen among some sections of the community and perhaps, apart form Brahmins and Ksatriyas, no jati would have had any sense of pride in itself. If each jati had no respect for itself no one would have taken excommunication to heart. When the entire society was divided into small groups called jatis, not only did one jati have affection for another, each also trusted the other. There was indeed a feeling of kinship among all members of the community. This was the reason why the threat of excommunication was dreaded.


Now some sections of the community remain attached to their jatis for the only reason that they enjoy certain privileges as members belonging to the "backward" classes. But they take no true pride in belonging to their respective jatis. In the old days these sections "enjoyed" no special privileges but we know it to be a fact that, until some three or four generations ago, they were proud of belonging to their jatis. We must add that this was not because - as is the case today - of rivalries and jealousies among the various groups. There were indeed no quarrels, no rivalries, based on differences of jati. Apart from pride, there was a sense of fulfilment among members of each jati in pursuing the vocation inherited from their forefathers and in observing the rites proper to it.  Nowadays trouble-makers defy even the police. But in the past, in the system of jatis, there was no opposition to the decisions of the headman. The police are, after all, part of an outward system of discipline and law enforcement. But in jati rule the discipline was internal since there was a sense of kinship among the members of each jati. So in the jati set-up crime was controlled more effectively than in today's system of restoring to weapons or the constabulary. Though divided according to jatis and the occupations and customs pertaining to each of them, society remained united. It was a system that ensured harmony.


(Source: Voice of the Guru by Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami in Hindu Dharma – The Universal Way of Life)



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