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The different varnas
Only the varna called hamsa
existed among the people of Satya-yuga;
divisions were created in Treta-yuga.
In ancient times there were no divisions of varna among the people of India. Later, in the beginning of Treta-yuga the process of dividing the varnas was introduced. It is stated in the Seventeenth Chapter of the Eleventh Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam as follows:
adau krita-yuge varno nrinam hamsa iti smritah
treta-mukhe maha-bhaga pranan me hridayat trayi
vairajat purushaj jata ya atmacara-lakshanah
“In the beginning, in Satya-yuga, there is only one social class, called hamsa, to which all human beings belong. O greatly fortunate one, at the beginning of Treta-yuga Vedic knowledge appeared from My heart, which is the abode of the air of life, in three divisions-as Rig, Sama and Yajur. The brahmanas appeared from the Lord's face, the kshatriyas from the Lord's arms, the vaishyas from the Lord's thighs and the shudras from the legs of that mighty form. Each social division was recognized by its particular duties and behavior.” In his commentary on Mahabharata (Shanti-parva 188.4), Shri Nilakantha has said: varnah satvikam rajasam tamasam mishram ceti svacchatvadi samat guna-vritam varna shabdenocyate-“The different varnas were created according to the mixture of the three modes of nature-goodness, passion, and ignorance-as well as according to one's qualification and propensities.” The word varna refers to the qualities and occupation of the living entities.
The brahmanas are the highest among the varnas-
the kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras are determined according to qualities and activities.
Shri Bharadvaja has said in Shri Mahabharata, Shanti-parva, Moksha-dharma, Chapter 188, as follows:
jangamanam asankhyeyah sthavaranam ca jatayah
tesham vividha-varnanam kuto varna-vinishcayah
“There are inumerable castes among the animate and inanimate living entities. How does one conclusively ascertain their various varnas?” In answer to this, Bhrigu has said:
na vishesho' sti varnanam sarvam brahmam-idam jagat
brahmana purva-shrishtam hi karmabhir-varnatam gatam
brahmananam sito varnah kshatriyanam tu lohitah
vaishyanam pitako varnah shudranam asitas tatha
krishnah shauca-paribhrashtas te dvijah shudratam gatah
ity etaih karmabhir vyasta dvija varnantaram gatah
Actually the living entity does not belong to any varna, in other words, a soul is devoid of any varna. In ancient times Lord Brahma created this world and filled it with brahmanas. Later on, according to their activities, people were divided into various varnas, such as kshatriya. Since the brahmanas possess the qualities of goodness, such as peacefulness and self-control, they are white-colored. The kshatriyas possess the propensities of passion such as heroism and strength, so they are red-colored. The vaishyas possess the mixed qualities of passion and ignorance such as farming, and thus they are yellow-colored. The shudras are simply in the mode of ignorance, devoid of any self-manifested propensity, like a cart directed by others, and thus they are black-colored. Persons who engage in all types of activities become envious, fond of speaking lies, and greedy because of being controlled by the mode of ignorance. Due to being devoid of all samskaras, such people become impure and thus degrade from their positions of kshatriyas and vaishyas to the platform of shudras. Because of these low-class activities, the brahmanas degraded from their position and attained positions such as kshatriya. All living entities are by nature qualified to understand Brahman and possess the qualities of goodness. When they are in the mode of goodness they are white, and by the mixture of goodness and passion they become red. When people are in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance, devoid of goodness, they are yellow; and people who are simply in the mode of ignorance, devoid of the modes of goodness and passion, become black. One accepts a particular color and is thus identified as belonging to that varna, therefore his varna is determined by the color and qualities that he possesses. The brahmanas are situated as the root or topmost among these divisions of varnas.
The history of the origin of the brahmanas mentioned in the Vedas and Upanishads; the rules and regulations for undergoing the sacred thread ceremony.
The divisions of brahmanas are found in the Purusha-sukta section of the Rig Veda (10.90.11). The origin of the brahmanas is described in the Krishna-yajur-veda-samhita (184.108.40.206), the Shukla-yajur-veda-samhita (14.28), the Atharva Veda (15.10.1 and 19.6.6), the Taittiriya Brahmana (220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168), as well as in the Shatapatha Brahmana (22.214.171.124).
The rules for making the son of a qualified twice-born who has properly undergone the forty-eight purificatory processes a brahmana is followed by the seminal descendants of the brahmanas. In this way they undergo purificatory processes and are accepted as brahmanas. Knowing that the son of a brahmana is eligible for becoming a brahmana, statements such as ashta-varsham brahmanam upanayita-“a brahmana should undergo the sacred thread ceremony at the age of eight” are found in the Vedas. Also in the Gobhiliya Grihya-sutras it is stated: garbhashtameshu brahmanam upanayet-“a brahmana should be awarded the sacred thread at the age of eight.” The period for undergoing this ceremony extends up to the age of sixteen. When one surpasses this age, he should not be awarded the brahmana thread. Such a person is called a fallen twice-born as well as a vratya, or one who fails to fulfill his vow. A vratya should neither be given a sacred thread, be allowed to study the Vedas, nor given a daughter in charity.
The upanayana-samskara and qualification for spiritual initiation according to the Vedic Grihya injunctions.
It is mentioned in the smritis:
grihyokta-karmana yena samipam niyate guroh
balo vedaya tad yogat balasyopanayanam viduh
“According to Vedic Grihya injunctions, the ceremony in which a boy is taken to an acarya, or Vedic teacher, for studying the Vedas is called upanayana, or the sacred thread ceremony. There is no use of studying the Vedas before one's knowledge is matured. That is why it takes a minimum of seven years to complete other necessary purificatory processes before one is ready for upanayana. It is not proper to take a boy to an acarya for studying the Vedas before the age of eight. It is not possible for a boy of that age to live in the gurukula, away from his parent's house. During the course of his Vedic studies, a brahmana becomes qualified for following the Vedic injunctions. Ultimately he gets the opportunity to be initiated in a fire sacrifice. If there is no possibility of sending a brahmana boy to the house of an acarya before the age of sixteen, or if the young brahmana boy has no taste or desire for studying the Vedas, then it is to be understood that according to his taste he does not wish to become a brahmana by undergoing the upanayana samskara. From the topics of Jada Bharata it is understood that though he was born in a brahmana family that strictly followed the purificatory processes, he was never inclined towards ritualistic ceremonies. If the boy born in a brahmana family exhibits no taste even for becoming a kshatriya or vaishya, then he will neither want to go to gurukula or undergo the preliminary purificatory processes. In the process of Vedic karma-kanda, the fire is accepted as the original ingredient in all samskaras. This karma-kanda process is a polished stone meant for some future purpose, but the end result is uncertain.
It is not a fact that material endeavors will always be successful. Whether a boy is interested or not, his father and society force him to go to gurukula in order to keep the family and social tradition intact. The result of this is that though the boy is induced by his father or others to follow their proposed fruitive activities, he often does not achieve the desired result due to a lack of qualification and taste. For this reason, even though a brahmana boy acts according to the instructions of his well-wishers and undergoes the sacred thread ceremony, he nevertheless later changes his varna to kshatriya, vaishya, shudra, or outcaste.
The varnas are meant for only
the gross and subtle bodies of a living entity.
Only the gross and subtle bodies accept varnas. A soul's qualification for accepting varnas lies only in his two bodies. Although a hamsa, or a brahmana free from the three modes of material nature, accepts a body, nevertheless he is born from the limbs of the universal form of the Lord. Therefore his unchangeable transcendental existence is divided into four categories according to conditional mundane considerations. The qualities and activities produced from these qualities are the cause for dividing the varnas of the living entities, who are otherwise equiposed. The totality of human beings are divided into four categories according to their symptoms. If one wants to know a person by his symptoms or by the process of division, then it is to be understood that his gross bodily identification is limited to his father's family. Later on his subtle identification or occupational identification helps create the division of varnas. While observing the symptoms of a brahmana's subtle identification, we often end up analyzing the origin of his gross body. But if we conclude that the subtle body has emanated from the gross body, then we have to accept that a seed comes from the skin of a fruit. Then we will have to say that the gross body is the father of the subtle body. But actually such a fantasy is not approved in consideration of the subtle body. When the gross body is finished, the subtle body thinks of accepting another gross body, therefore it is understood that the subtle body existed before the gross body. Those who accept the process of reincarnation or karma do not believe that the subtle body has come from the gross, rather they accept that the subtle body puts on a gross covering. Material desires alone accumulate the ingredients for a gross body from this world, consisting of the three modes of nature. The ingredients that a gross body gradually accepts from this world are actually approved by the subtle body, or the mind. The living entity's tastes develop due to his subtle body, and the gross body is forced to accept them. The mind, or the subtle body, which is a reflection of spirit, is the cause for accepting gross elements.
Ascertainment of varnas is possible only by occupation, it is not bound by seminal consideration.
The color of varna is determined through the process of seeing. Imagination is created or conceptions manifest through senses like the eyes. When a person's external identification is determined through the process of gross seeing, then the identification of that person's varna is limited to seminal consideration. But thoughtful persons ascertain that the consideration of one's occupation is the only criteria for determining one's varna. Since everyone will not be sufficiently thoughtful, seminal identification is given prominence in order to properly execute gross social activities or determine sexual relationships. When the seminal identification process is prominent, then there is possibility of many problems in ascertaining one's varna. That is why we do not usually find an agreement on this subject in ordinary Dharma-shastras or Grihya-sutras. When the Vedic rituals are converted into the fruitive path of asslike less intelligent people, then following the injunctions of the Pancaratras takes precedence to those Vedic rituals. The injunctions of the Pancaratras, which replaces the Vedic ritualistic performances, consists of five forms of knowledge as found in the Vedas, the Aranyaka, and pure Sankhya bhakti-yoga. The Vedic rituals defined by the fruitive workers are different from the rituals conducted by the followers of the Aranyaka. The Vedic rituals of devotees on the path of worship are supported by the Pancaratras and the Vedas. The Vedic rituals of the impersonalists are supported by the Upanishads. The smritis and the Puranas have illuminated the subject of the Vedas. They did not totally discourage the polluted Vedic path of the fruitive workers, rather they consider this path as incomplete and meant for less intelligent people.
Those who reject the path of the Vedas,
the smritis, the Puranas and the Pancaratras
are simply creating disturbances.
That is why Shri Narada-pancaratra states:
shruti-smriti-puranadi- pancaratra-vidhim vina
aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate
“Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanishads, Puranas, and Narada-pancaratra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.” When the rules and regulations of the Vedas are inappropriate due to differences in time, place, and persons, then tantras that are favorable to the Vedas or expansions of the Vedas that are able to fulfill such deficiency are called Pancaratras. The Pancaratra scriptures emanated from the mouth of Shri Narayana in order to keep the Vedic injunctions intact and fulfill the vacancy created by obstructions to the proper utility of the varnashrama principles mentioned in the Grihyas, which are subordinate to the Vedic injunctions. The Vedic process that does not take support from the Pancaratras is often obstructed. Any system followed in the name of Vedic injunctions that is opposed to the Pancaratras and that encourages a distorted form of worshiping Lord Vishnu is nothing but a disturbance in the society.
The worship of the Supreme Lord that is beyond the realm of sense enjoyment and liberation is superior to the worship of either the karmis, who are fond of sense enjoyment, or the jnanis, who are fond of liberation.
Due to the influence of time, the rules and regulations of the Grihyas or Vedic injunctions are not being properly followed. The glories of Shandilya's Pancaratra, which was misinterpreted by Shri Shankaracarya as averse to the Vedas, have been established in Shri Mahabharata since time immemorial as favorable to the Vedas. The activities that puffed-up fruitive workers consider Vedic are actually material enjoyment that according to the followers of Pancaratra is averse to the devotional service of Vishnu. In the hands of the karmis the Vedic literatures yield forgetfulness of the Lord, while in the hands of the followers of the Pancaratras the very same Vedic literatures are accepted as the basis for worshiping Lord Hari. The fruitive activities based on material enjoyment, the impersonal knowledge based on renunciation, and the worship of the Lord based on service attitude, which is beyond material enjoyment and mental speculation, produce different results among the three communities. Although they all endeavor to follow the Vedic injunctions, there are differences among them. Therefore if one wants to debate over the various Vedic injunctions and the varnashrama system followed by these three communities of people-the karmis, jnanis, and bhaktas-it is very difficult to achieve success.
We will gradually discuss the terms and conditions for accepting grihya-samskaras, which are properly established by Vedic injunctions in the Mahabharata, the Satvata-samhitas, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, and the Pancaratras. (Weekly Gaudiya, Vol. 1, Part 19)