Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Varnashrama Dharma

Vishnu said that before creation began, there was only water in the universe and Vishnu slept on these waters. When it was time for creation to begin, Brahma emerged from Vishnu’s body. And Shiva emerged from Vishnu’s anger. Lakshmi too was created from Vishnu’s body and took her place by Vishnu’s side.

The third stage of life is vanaprastha (forest dwelling stage). Such a person retires to the forest and lives on fruits and roots. He studies the Vedas, performs tapasya (meditation) and observes religious rites. One should never embark on a forest-dwelling stage unless one’s mind is ready for it. This also means that one must have had sons. Without sons to carry on the line, it is not recommended that a householder venture out on the forest-dwelling stage. There are two types of forest-dwellers. The first type consists of individuals who primarily devote themselves to worshipping the gods and performing religious ceremonies. Such an individual is known as a tapasya, because he does do some tapasya. But there are individuals who devote themselves entirely to meditation. Such a person is known as a sannyasika, since there is very little of difference between him and a sannyasi (hermit).

There are four ashramas (stages of life). The first one is brahmacharya (celibate studenthood). The primary duties of a person who is in this stage of life are studying the Vedas and serving one’s guru (teacher) well. He has to live on alms that are obtained through begging. When this stage of life if over, there are two options that are available to the individual. In rare instances, he may desire to devote the rest of his life to studying and meditation. Such a person is known as naishthika. More commonly, individuals wish to step into the next stage of life, An individual who does so is known as an upakurvana.

The shudras constitute the last of the four classes. They were created from Brahma’s feet. Their primary duty is to serve the other three classes. In addition, a shudra can adopt artisanship as an occupation, A shudra who performs these tasks well, will live with the gandharvas (singers of heaven).

The kshatriyas constitute the second of the four classes. They were created from Brahma’s arms. The duties of kshatriyas include dana (donation of alms), adhyayana (studying) and performing yajnas (sacrifices). But their primary duties are to take up arms and fight, It is their job to punish the evil and protect the good. A kshatriya who performs these tasks well, attains Indra’s residence of Indraloka.

Vishnu complied. He requested Lakshmi, “Please delude and destroy gods, demons and humans who are about to be created. But please leave the righteous alone and make them prosper. I will tell you how to know the righteous. They are those that follow the precepts of varnashrama dharma.”

There are various other traits that are demanded by the righteous way of life. One must forgive and display pity, one must not be jealous and must be ready to sacrifice one’s own selfish interests. One must be truthful, practice non-violence and learn to control the senses. One must also visit tirthas (places of pilgrimage). It is also important to realise that one does not perform actions for the sake of the fruits of the actions. The fruits of all actions vest with the brahman (the divine essence). In fact, it is a gross misconception to think that la specific action is being performed by an individual. All actions are performed by the brahman, the ordinary human being is merely an instrument. As long as this realisation is missing, an individual is ignorant and is doomed to the shackles of worldly bonds.

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