“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)
चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
Before you can begin this new job, the hiring company requires the completion of a specific training course. There are others in the class with you, and this is not simply an attendance-based merit system. Grades, assignments, tests and the like – there is assessment at every level.
If we were to say that every attendee passes the course regardless of merit, the system would render the training meaningless. Passing should have some corresponding outcome at the foundation. It is nice to think that every person is in the same category in theory, but relative positions like high and low, pass and fail, and ahead and behind have real world value.
Vedic culture applies this concept to the issue of social upliftment. The standard is based on the degree of self-realization, and so there are primarily four resulting categories.
The matching qualities are intelligence and higher learning. We see such a distinction in practically every area of life, beginning from the time of birth. In comparison to the newborn child, the parents are in a position of goodness. They have more intelligence. They have learned sufficiently through life experiences.
If they were to sit back quietly and not guide the child, inconceivably stating “equality” as the justification, how would the child ever advance? The position in goodness is to be put to use for improving the wellbeing of every person. If I understand that the individual is a spirit soul and not their body, I should pass on that knowledge to others. After all, the entire purpose of the human existence is to reach this realization, at a minimum. Athato brahma-jijnasa.
The defining trait is the tendency to lord it over the material world. Like a competitive spirit inside, the drive to get ahead, to be better than your neighbors and peers, passion is what keeps the world going. The ultimate destination is sex life, which is the only way to maintain the population moving forward.
This category is considered a step down from goodness due to the lack of a realization of the self. Life in this mode is something like the hamster running on a wheel or a person stepping on a treadmill, thinking that with each step they are moving closer to a destination in the distance.
The truth is that passion maintains a sort of neutral position. The drive does yield an output to be utilized for sustainability, but in terms of advancing the individual in their journey through transmigration, it is like being stuck in quicksand.
Passion typically is a single group, but here there is a sub-division for those who are merely productive. There is no feverish pursuit to advance, to win a competition, so to speak. They work hard every day to produce a yield. Something like the farmer making sure that there is sufficient crop at the time of harvest.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes this mode as “the spirit of passive acceptance of being controlled by the laws of nature.” It is something like the “end the misery” philosophy:
“Who cares? Life is terrible. You’re born. You get stuck going to school. Then you’re at an office for an endless number of hours, for thirty plus years. Then you retire and wait for death. Nothing we can do to change the situation. Might as well sit around and do nothing. Drugs and alcohol? Go for it. Why not?”
The idea is that a person should try to advance through the modes. They are never relegated to a particular division for eternity nor even a single lifetime. Otherwise, no one would be able to lift themselves up from poverty or drug addiction. If a person can be trained to be a doctor, then surely they can have their minds opened up to the side of spiritual life, which contains knowledge of the distinction between Divine and material.
Indeed, even the divisions are rooted in something from a higher world. In the Bhagavad-gita we see that Shri Krishna claims credit for the system, technically known as varnasharama. He views every person equally, though those devoted to Him are considered friends.
समो ऽहं सर्व-भूतेषु
न मे द्वेष्यो ऽस्ति न प्रियः
ये भजन्ति तु मां भक्त्या
मयि ते तेषु चाप्य् अहम्
samo ‘haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu
na me dveṣyo ‘sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā
mayi te teṣu cāpy aham
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
Though there is spiritual equality, in the suffering condition of material existence the society gets divided based on attributes and ways of living. In theory, this should be beneficial to everyone involved; otherwise, the population becomes vulnerable to staying in ignorance, with no hope in sight.
The Vedic culture, whose culmination is pure and unalloyed devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is meant for returning the individual to their position of spirit soul living in a world free of duality. No more distinctions and no more need to separate between reality and fiction. The return to that way of living is possible through the guidance of the spiritual master, who receives the sacred information in an unbroken chain of transfer known as parampara. They are thus supported directly by Bhagavan, who happily welcomes back lost souls into His company.
Not with spiteful words to attack,
Krishna happily welcoming back.
Varnashrama for this purpose made,
Not for same in every life played.
Equality at spirit but distinctions too,
An Ideal role suited for me and you.
Spiritual master proper way revealing,
And duality condition healing.
Categories: the four