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varNASrama dharma & bhAgavata dharma

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Mon Sep 30 1996 - 22:34:40 PDT

I do not want to stir up controversy in this discussion,
but I feel certain points should be made.  Not everyone
will be pleased with what I am about to say.

Several people have either implied or stated that there 
is nothing objectionable about varNASrama dharma as passed
down by the SAstras, and that a prapanna or bhAgavata 
can adhere to all the smriti codes pertaining to varNa
dharma and still be a good prapanna.

I must respectfully disagree.  VarNASrama dharma is not
a black and white thing.  There are good parts as well
as bad parts, a few of which I shall cite below. 
In contrast, the code of conduct for a bhAgavata or
prapanna is always conducive of the highest good.
When these come in conflict, the latter must prevail.

One of our members has cited an episode from the life
of Thirumazhisai Azhvar, where the saint came across
a group of brahmins who were chanting the Vedas.  
The brahmins suddenly stopped, seeing that the Azhvar
was a non-dvija and in their opinion barred from any 
contact with the Vedas.  We are told further that the 
fact that the brahmins stopped chanting was 
bhAgavata-apacAram, a great insult to a devotee of the 
Lord, and that they felt very embarrassed upon realizing 
the greatness of the Azhvar.

But what were the brahmins to do? According to Gautama
Dharma Sastra, in a passage quoted by both Sankara and Ramanuja,
severe punishments are to be meted out to the Sudra who
perchance hears the Vedas.  The text says that the Sudra's 
ears are to be filled with molten lead, lest he hear any more, 
and that his tongue be cut off, lest he repeat what he heard.

Where did the brahmins go wrong, then? Were they not doing
what the SAstras taught?  How are we to reconcile such
a conflict of dharma?

The higher dharma in such an instance is the dharma of
the prapanna, the dharma of the Vaishnava, what Sri Azhagiya
Manavala Perumal Nayanar calls the way of the tirumantra.
VarNa dharma in such an instance is to be eschewed by 
the devout, for it goes against the very grain of seeing
the Lord everywhere and realizing his Seshitva.

Similarly regarding the RNas, or three debts: one
should perform these tarpaNams, etc., merely as worship to God 
following His command -- sri bhagavad ajnayA, we say, and
not with the intention that we are pleasing our ancestors,
devas, or discharging our debts.  After all, our ancestors,
presumably prapannas themselves, are enjoying the bliss 
of service to the Lord, and have no desire nor need to come 
here to receive our offerings of rice, etc.!  These offerings 
are historical remnants of the varNa dharma followed by
non-prapannas, who believe that their ancestors are in svarga.

Someone who performs these karms with the idea of 
discharging debt is following a lower form of dharma.  Someone
who realizes the true recipient of all this worship is 
Narayana and does it as worship of Him is following prapanna 

nama: sarva RNa vimocanAya nArAyaNAya,