Bhakti And Varnasrama-Dharma




by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur

Śrī Chaitanya-śīksāmrta 3.4
(with footnotes as in original)

What is the relationship of varnāśrama, which was previously discussed, with vaidhi-bhakti? Should a person take shelter of vaidhi-bhakti and give up the rules of varnāśrama-dharma, or should he practice vaidhi-bhakti for developing devotion while still following the varnāśrama rules and duties? It was previously stated that the purport of varnāśrama-dharma is to maintain the body, develop the mind, perform good works for society, and learn spiritual topics, all with the goal of developing pure bhakti. (1)

Since man is bound by a material body, he must follow the varnāśrama rules. That cannot be denied, for without the development of body, mind, society and spirit, mans’ life becomes degraded. The rules of varnāśrama are suitable for this purpose, and therefore they should be followed. However, varnāśrama is not the final goal. With the assistance of varnāśrama-dharma, a person should cultivate bhakti. It is also necessary to follow the rules of varnāśrama in the cultivation of bhakti.

But by following the rules of varnāśrama, which are time consuming, a person may not have anytime left to cultivate bhakti. (2) Furthermore, where there is some conflict of principles, what should be done? First, it should be said that without taking proper care of body, mind, society and spirit, a person cannot perform the more elevated activities of bhakti. How can the seed of devotion, faith, awaken in the heart if a person dies prematurely, develops mental problems, or never learns anything about spirit? And if a person gives up the rules of varnāśrama and acts as he pleases, his physical and mental actions will be like those of a madman. He will be engaged in the worst sins. No sign of bhakti will be visible.

Thus, though varnāśrama-dharma is somewhat engaging, it must be followed as an assistant to bhakti, and with the cultivation of bhakti its consumption of time will decrease. (3) Its various activities will transform into devotional actions. First a person should practice the five types of devotional activities to the utmost, as directed by Lord Chaitanya (associating with devotees, chanting the holy name, hearing Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, residing in Mathura, and worshiping the deity, as listed in Cc. Madhya 22.128 – Ed.), while simultaneously being meticulous in observance of varnāśrama duties, which may take too much time. He should gradually reject those varnāśrama duties that are against devotional principles. Finally, being purified by bhakti, varnāśrama duties will become the servant of sādhana-bhakti. Acting it this way, there will be no conflict between the duties of varnāśrama and bhakti. By the cultivation of bhakti, the life of a brāhmana and the life of a śūdra, both purified by bhakti, become equalized. The śūdra, being illumined by his state of servitude to the Lord and to the devotees, becomes equal to the selfless brāhmana. The purity of vaisnava unity will enlighten the lives of the four varnas so much that the world will seem to be Vaikuntha. By removal of the obstacles arising from bodily identification, real equality of the souls is possible. (4)

Just as atheistic moral dharma merges with theistic moral life, varnāśrama-dharma, so theistic moral life transforms itself and becomes devoid of its previous faults in the life of adevotee. In varnāśrama-dharma, the worship of the Lord is only one among many rules. When this dharma is incorporated in the life of a devotee, all the rules becomes subordinate to the worship of the Lord. Although this change may seem very general, when faith becomes strong the whole life of the person becomes transformed. The lives of a varnāśrama follower and a devotee are completely different.

According to the scriptures, every human being has a qualification for performing bhakti. (5) As devotion is the natural propensity of the soul, all attention should be paid to this matter. Thus, all persons in the four varnas and āśramas are qualified for bhakti. Of course, as people outside the varnas are also counted as human beings, they have a right to devotion as well, but the opportunities are less. Because their birth, association, actions, and nature are all without proper regulation, they are extremely attached to the material modes, and live like animals. Just to fill their stomach, they become selfish, violent towards others, and devoid of compassion. Because their hearts are hard, bhakti becomes difficult for them to appreciate. (6) Examples like Haridas Thakur, the hunter saved by Narada, and the story of Jesus and Paul, show that such people do have qualification for devotion. By examining their lives however, it will be found that they endured many hardships in taking up the path of devotion, so much so that their life spans were considerably shortened.

Though all humans have a right to practice bhakti, those who follow the regulations of varnāśrama have a much easier time. But even though the qualification and opportunity is there, many varnāśrama followers do not take to bhakti. (7)

The reason is that mans’ life takes the form of ascending steps. Those outside the varnāśrama are on the lowest step. Atheistic moralists are on the second step. Theistic moralists are on the third step. Vaidha-bhaktas are on the fourth step, and rāgānuga-bhaktas are on the fifth step. It is the nature of the soul to ascend to the next higher step, but he should not ascend prematurely or too quickly. Only after being firmly established on one step is it possible to ascend to the next step. That is why being qualified with steadiness on each level has been emphasized. When a person is qualified to ascend to the next step, he must also give up attachment to the old step. The tendency to cling to the old stage is called niyamāgraha, clinging to outmoded rules. Because of this, the outcastes have no respect for the atheistic moralists; the atheistic moralists have no respect for the pseudo-theistic moralists; the pseudo-theists have no respect for the theistic moralists; the theistic moralists have no respect for the vaidha-bhaktas; and the vaidha-bhaktas have no respect for rāgātmikā-bhakti. Because of such habit, the followers of varnāśrama often do not respect the vaidha-bhaktas. (8) This does not affect bhakti itself, but it is a misfortune for those who do not take up interest in their own advancement. Those at a higher stage naturally have compassion for those at a lower stage, but until the lower-situated people are fortunate, they cannot give up their stage and develop a taste for the higher stage.

When the consciousness of those situated in varnāśrama matures into devotional sentiment, they take up the life of a devotee. But as long as they do not, they must still be said to be practicing karma. Karma is not an integral part (anga) of bhakti. When karma matures fully, it takes the form of devotional action, and this is called bhakti, not karma. The moment that real faith in the Lord arises, a person transcends karma. The sandhyā rites are obligatory activities arising out of the rules of moral dharma. They are not activities of bhakti arising from faith. When faith in the Lord arises, all the activities, being centered on the Lord, are given respect according to their contribution to the goal, bhakti. Thus, if a devotee is listening to a devotional lecture in the evening, he does not like to interrupt that to perform his sandhyā rites. The devotee understands that there is no necessity for giving up an activity that is already fulfilling the goal of sandhyā rites.


— (1) —

etat samsūcitam brahmams tāpa-traya-cikitsitam
yad īśvare bhagavatī karma brahmani bhāvitam

O Brāhmana Vyasadev, it is decided by the learned that the best remedial measure for removing all troubles and miseries is to dedicate ones activities to the service of the Supreme Lord Personality of Godhead [Sri Krishna].

āmayo yaś ca bhūtānām jāyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy āmayam dravyam na punāti cikitsitam

O good soul, does not a thing applied therapeutically cure a disease caused by that very same thing?

evam nrnām kriyā-yogām sarve samsrti-hetavah
ta evātma-vināśāya kalpante kalpitāh pare

Thus, when all a mans activities are dedicated to the service of the Lord, those very activities that caused his perpetual bondage become the destroyer of the tree of work.

yad atra kriyate karma bhagavat-paritosanam
jnānam yat tad adhīnam hi bhakti-yoga-samanvitam

Whatever work is done here in this life for the satisfaction of the mission of the Lord is called bhakti-yoga, or transcendental loving service to the Lord, and what is called knowledge becomes a concomitant factor.

kurvānā yatra karmāni bhagavac-chiksayāsakrt
grnanti guna-nāmāni krsnasyānusmaranti ca

While performing duties according to the order of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one constantly remembers Him, His names, and His qualities. (Bhāg. 1.5.32-36)

— (2) —

na hy anto ‘nanta-pārasya karma-kāndasya coddhava
sanksiptam varnayisyāmi yathāvad anupūrvaśah

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Uddhava, there is no end to the innumerable Vedic prescriptions for executing deity worship; so I shall explain this topic to you briefly, one step at a time. (Bhāg. 11.27.6)

— (3) —

śreyān sva-dharmo vigunah para-dharmāt sv-anusthitāt
svabhāva-niyatam karma kurvan nāpnoti kilbisam

It is better to engage in ones own occupation, although one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept anothers occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to ones nature are never affected by sinful reactions. (Bg.18.47)

— (4) —

brāhmane pukkase stene brahmanye ‘rke sphulingake
akrūre krūrake caiva sama-drk pandito matah

Such a man sees equally the brāhmana and the outcaste, the thief and the charitable promoter of brahminical culture, the sun and the tiny sparks of fire, the gentle and the cruel. (Bhāg. 11.29.14)

— (5) —

na hy acyutam prīnayato bahv-āyāso ‘surātmajāh
ātmatvāt sarva-bhūtānām siddhatvād iha sarvatah

My dear sons of demons, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayan, is the original Supersoul, the father of all living entities. Consequently, there are no impediments to pleasing Him or worshiping Him under any conditions, whether one be a child or an old man. The relationship between the living entitiesand the Supreme Personality of Godhead is always a fact, and therefore there is no difficulty in pleasing the Lord. (Bhag. 7.6.19)

— (6) —

sukham aindriyakam daityā deha-yogena dehinām
sarvatra labhyate daivād yathā duhkham ayatnatah

Prahlad Maharaja continued: My dear friends born of demoniac families, the happiness perceived with reference to the sense objects by contact with the body can be obtained in any form of life, according to ones past fruitive activities. Such happiness is automatically obtained without endeavor, just as we obtain distress.

tat-prayāso na kartavyo yata āyur-vyayah param
na tathā vindate ksemam mukunda-caranāmbujam

Endeavors merely for sense gratification or material happiness through economic development are not to be performed, for they result only in a loss of time and energy, with no actual profit. If ones endeavors are directed toward Krishna consciousness, one can surely attain the spiritual platform of self-realization. There is no such benefit from engaging oneself in economic development. (Bhāg. 7.6.3-4)

— (7) —

yan-nāmadheyam mriyamāna āturah
patan skhalan vā vivaśo grnan pumān
vimukta-karmārgala uttamām gatim
prāpnoti yaksyanti na tam kalau janāh

Terrified, about to die, a man collapses on his bed. Although his voice is faltering and he is hardly conscious of what he is saying, if he utters the Holy Name of the Supreme Lord he can be freed from the reaction of his fruitive work and achieve the supreme destination. But still people in the age of Kali willnot worship the Supreme Lord. (Bhāg. 12.3.44)

— (8) —

viprād dvi-sad-guna-yutād aravinda-nābha-
pādāravinda-vimukhāt śvapacam varistham
manye tad-arpita-mano-vacanehitārtha-
prānam punāti sa kulam na tu bhūrimānah

If a brāhmana has all twelve of the brahminical qualifications (as they are stated in the book called Sanat-sujāta) but is not a devotee and is averse to the Lotus Feet of the Lord, he is certainly lower than a devotee who is a dog-eater but who has dedicated everything – mind, words, activities, wealth and life – to the Supreme Lord. Such a devotee is better than such a brāhmana because the devotee can purify his whole family, whereas the so-called brāhmana in a position of false prestige cannot purify even himself. (Bhāg. 7.9.10)


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