You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : October 1995

Gita and Varnaashrama Dharma

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Fri Oct 27 1995 - 15:01:50 PDT

K.P. Sridharan writes:
* 	I would like to pose a question Varnasrama dharma. In BG 4.3 Krishana 
* says "  Chaturvarnyam maya srishtam.."  Thus He says that the varna  system 
* was created by him bases on guna and karma namely qulities and the 
* occupation (?) [...] If indeed varna is not determined 
* by birth what was the system by which varnas were alloted? 

This is a difficult question to answer and one that I have 
debated on many occasions. In my gut I feel that Sri Krishna is not
talking about any kind of rigid birth-based varna, even though
Vedanta Desikar says the opposite.  Ramanuja is not so clear, but it
does not seem to be a big issue for him.

It should be noted that when Sri Ramanuja interprets
the phrase "better to do one's dharma than another's", he
takes it to mean karma-yoga vs. jnaana-yoga. The dharma of
jnaana-yoga is fraught with fear, since it is so difficult; 
only the most astute and gifted can perform it, whereas 
karma-yoga is an easy beginning point for all.  In other words, 
the issue of brahmana vs. sudra is completely absent here.

I feel that the Gaudiyas are correct from an absolute
standpoint.  One's varna is determined through careful
introspection, with the help of a guru, etc. One also
is naturally inclined to certain tasks based upon one's
varna. I cannot explain any more than this since the
literature on the topic is so vague. As Yudhisthira
tells the yaksha in Mahabharata, ``Follow the lead of the 
rishis and elders, for the dharma-saastras are a mass of 
confusion.''

Sri Azhagiya Manavaala Perumaal Nayanaar, younger brother
of Sri Pillai Lokacharya, has written a work called "Acharya Hridaya"
that goes into detail about the duties of a true prapanna
and Sri Vaishnava.  In this context, prapanna status 
transcends the divisions of varna and ashrama, in that 
everything is purely bhagavat kainkaryam and completely
honorable.  Most violations of varna dharma are therefore
not a big deal.  Sri Krishna (and Ramanuja in his commentary)
say just as much in the verses near the end of the 9th
chapter of the Gita.

There is also a verse attributed to Villiputtur Pakavar,
who used to consciously bathe in an area far removed from
the orthodox smaartas of his time. When asked why he did
so, he said

	vishnu-dAsA vayam yUyam brAhmaNA varNadharmiNaH
	[...] nAsti sangatiH

I have forgotten one pAda of the sloka, but in effect he
is saying that there is no connection between the duties
as Vishnu's servants and those of the orthodox varnaashrama 
brahmins.

Mani

P.S. Look at the original verse itself: chaaturvarNyam is
based on guNa and karma, meaning the qualities of the person
and the actions he or she performs.  Jaati is never mentioned.