Understanding The Four Orders

[Rama's lotus feet]“Tulsi says that those who find worldly pleasures tasteless and love for Rama full of taste are very dear to Rama, whether they live in the forest or in a house.” (Dohavali, 61)

je jana rūkhe bi।saya rasa cikane rāma saneha’ |
tulasī te priya rāma ko kānana basahiṃ ki geha’ ||

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What is more important, following rules and regulations or achieving a specific state of mind? In more general terms, is the path more important than the goal? Obviously the goal would be superior, as the path exists to lead to the goal. As long as the path does not involve violating laws of nature meant to help others reach the same goal, then its exact nature isn’t so important. This can only be true with one goal, which is the only one that every person can share. Fortunately, this goal is every individual’s birthright.

That goal is love and devotion for God. This is what counts most in an existence. In ignorance we put stock in other factors, which are all temporary. Even if a situation lasts for thousands of years, it is not the most important thing. For instance, if a living being takes on the form of a tree, it may remain stationary for a very long period of time. The human being struggles hard just to live for a fraction of that time, and yet no one would consider the human to be less evolved than the tree. Therefore longevity in a world that is destined for destruction is not so important. By itself, it is not the sign of advancement.

Love for God is eternal. The practice of it is known as bhakti-yoga, which can translate to “uniting with the Supreme Spirit through the means of love and devotion.” You practice love in order to get it. If this sounds confusing, know that the practice of bhakti at the beginning can go by other names, such as jnana, karma, dhyana and sankhya. When the desire for the rewards specific to each discipline gets cast aside in favor of the pleasure of the supreme object of worship, then the effort turns into bhakti.

“Ramanujacharya has explained the word sanatana as ‘that which has neither beginning nor end,’ so when we speak of sanatana-dharma, we must take it for granted on the authority of Shri Ramanujacharya that it has neither beginning nor end.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)

[Ramanujacharya]Bhakti-yoga is synonymous with sanatana-dharma. Sanatana translates to “that which has no beginning and no end.” Dharma is the essential characteristic of something. When you work towards either regaining or maintaining that essential characteristic, the work also classifies as dharma. Sanatana-dharma therefore means the eternal occupation. It is synonymous with bhakti-yoga since the soul’s essential characteristic is to love God. This love is meant to be given without motivation; thereby making it pure. It also should continue without interruption.

In the original state, the pure spirit soul is fixed in sanatana-dharma. Thus there is no question of order, class, gender, age, or occupation. In the world in which we presently live, we have such designations because sanatana-dharma seems so far away. To help regain the eternal occupation, the Supreme Lord, through His Vedas, gives man the four divisions of occupation and the four orders of life. The four divisions are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra. These are the priests, the administrators, the merchants and the laborers respectively.

There are also the four orders of life: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas mentions conditions specific to grihastha and sannyasa. Grihastha is householder life, and so the person in this order lives in a home, i.e. a regular house. Sannyasa is the renounced order, and so the person in it lives in the wilderness, i.e. they don’t have a conventional home. The third order, vanaprastha, also lives in the forest.

Tulsidas says that in the eyes of the Lord, the dwelling doesn’t matter so much. This is provided that two conditions exist: distaste for worldly things and taste in the practice of love and devotion to Rama, who is God. There is an apparent contradiction here. The opinion of the author supports the idea that the eternal occupation is not dependent on temporary factors. If love for God is within the soul’s core, then why should the type of residence matter?

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

[four divisions of occupation]At the same time, the four orders are given by God Himself; He says so in the Bhagavad-gita. So why is the system there if the goal is to rise above designations and be devoted to God purely? The answer comes from the existence of the goal itself. The four orders are a means, but they are not the end. Just as the conditioned soul needs an education in order to read books to help expand their knowledge, the system of the four orders helps to bring one to the platform of pure love and devotion.

The situations themselves are never the ultimate determining factor. The Supreme Lord measures the size of the heart and not the square footage of the dwelling. The materially conscious person is focused on the size of the home, and on the reverse side the spiritualist is just as strict. One side looks for more space, while the other looks for less. The Supreme Lord looks to see if there is love and devotion to Him. The renunciate is typically favored since they have a better chance for becoming attached to the Supreme Lord’s lotus feet, but their style of living doesn’t automatically qualify them. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that if material desires still exist, the person in renunciation is kidding themselves.

karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya
ya āste manasā smaran
indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā
mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate

“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.6)

[Tulsidas writing about Rama]The saints of the Vedic tradition are so kind that they give even those who don’t have the four orders available to them a chance at reaching the ultimate goal of life. Tulsidas composes verses for all men and women to read. Lest they get discriminated against, considered less intelligent by society, they can win the favor of the Supreme Lord by hearing about His true nature, as displayed during His famous descent to earth as Shri Rama. Actions speak louder than words, and Rama showed that He cares most about what is in the heart.

In Closing:

Not concerned with footage square,

Rama with what’s in the heart to care.


Is there love and devotion to Him,

Or merely strong desire to sin?


Giving to society divisions and orders four,

Reaching stage of pure bhakti for.


Whether in large house or forest to stay,

Towards Rama any can make their way.


Categories: dohavali 41-80

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