“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)
Friend2: In one sense, the clearer definition of what passes today as “Hinduism.”
Friend1: Not the caste system, right?
Friend2: Divisions by quality and work, guna and karma. Janma is not mentioned. There is no reference to jati, either.
Friend1: Reference where?
Friend2: In the Bhagavad-gita. Shri Krishna says that varnashrama comes from Him. He creates the system. It’s completely natural, too.
Friend1: To have divisions?
Friend2: Yes. Look at the successful business. Usually one person is at the top. Then there are salespeople. Others are good at packaging and distributing. There may be programmers, as well. You have strategists. The idea is that everyone works together
Friend1: It is not that every person is equal or suited for the same role.
Friend2: Exactly. Varnashrama is two terms. Varna means “color,” or in this case “occupation.” Ashrama is a spiritual institution. Four divisions of work and four stages of life. Each stage is meant for increased realization of the Divine; hence the use of the word ashrama.
Friend1: Before I forget, what are janma and jati?
Friend2: Janma is birth and jati refers to someone’s caste. Caste is inherited; it gives an idea of a person’s family tree, sort of. If a person’s varna were determined strictly by birth, then the Supreme Lord Krishna would have used that word in the Bhagavad-gita. He would have described caste inheritance, as well.
Friend1: But He didn’t.
Friend1: And what is the purpose of varnashrama-dharma?
Friend2: To keep society well-maintained. Everyone should be happy doing the work they are suited for. There is already equality through the identification as atma, or spirit. One atma is not greater than another. Especially in the material world, every person is suffering the same. Birth itself is considered a tragic event.
Friend1: Because it means that there was death in the previous lifetime, and consciousness wasn’t completely pure.
Friend2: Exactly. Since the consciousness while quitting the body determines the next kind of existence:
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Friend1: Alright, we can discuss this topic almost endlessly, so I better get my question in before I forget. If varnashrama-dharma, in its pure form, is so wonderful, why is it basically extinct today?
Friend2: What makes you think it doesn’t exist? Are there not doctors? Are there not lawyers? Are there not administrators?
Friend1: I see what you are saying, that the divisions are still there, even if they don’t have a formal name. But it is not necessarily true that everyone is doing the work that best suits them. There are the concepts of equality and upward mobility.
Friend2: I understand. The divisions will always be there, as that is one result to gunas, or material qualities. If you’re referring to the pure form, where there are legitimate brahmanas at the head, acting as the brains of the society as compared to a body, then you are correct.
Friend1: It’s not around anymore. If we study history, we see that the divisions were rejected by the people, sometimes in bloody rebellions. There is the famous line from Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, saying, “Let them eat cake.” The people were so angry at her elitism that they overthrew the government.
Friend2: Just so I understand the argument, you’re saying that the unhappiness of the people living in these systems reveals some sort of flaw in varnashrama?
Friend1: I understand that it comes from God. It’s the way to manage society. But how come it is not around anymore? That’s the real question.
Friend2: In the examples you gave, though there were kings and landowners and laborers, the system still wasn’t pure. There shouldn’t be exploitation. It is not that I think I am better than everyone else because I am a brahmana. We are all working together. That is the real aim.
Friend1: Working for what, though? If it’s sense gratification, then surely the kings enjoy more than the peasants. The landowners don’t work as hard physically as the laborers they hire.
Friend2: I am so glad you mentioned that. Varnashrama is meant for limiting sense gratification. It is for purifying desires. Do your work, but don’t be attached to the results.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.47)
Friend1: In these more recent examples, the flaw was sense gratification, then?
Friend2: Godlessness. Varnashrama should create a progressive march towards enlightenment. Think about that for a second. You can be working in the fields, picking crops, and be totally detached. You can be focused on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He makes the promise that every kind of person is eligible for liberation, even those not at the top of the chain in terms of occupation:
“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth – women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers] – can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)
Friend1: If implemented properly, varnashrama would make people happy?
Friend2: How could it not? You have a job. You know what you are working for. There is no doubt. There is no hesitation. You know that you are pleasing God with your work. If it wasn’t a great way to manage society, Krishna wouldn’t have given it to us. Regardless, the opportunity to serve is always there. Even if there isn’t good government, if the people are generally unhappy and envious, you can still chant the holy names and find liberation: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Of varnashrama’s glories we’re told,
But today nowhere to behold.
By people everywhere rejected,
So what gain from it expected?
Godless the key ingredient lacking,
Sense desire at core attacking.
Everyone progressing in implementation ideal,
Why Shri Krishna providing first system real.