The purpose and practice of Varnasrama of Vedic culture in Hindu religion is stated in the Part – I as prescribed in the Vedic tradition going through the Vedic and post vedic literature and how this Varnasrama is retained in the contemporary religio-philosophic movements suiting to the modern context without changing its purpose is discussed in the Part-II of this book The work presents explicity the significance of the Varnasramic religio-philosophic aspects both as stated in tradition and as expressed by the contemporary movements leaders with its underlying philosophy and practice.
The author confidently hopes that this volume would help the students, researchers, and academicians who are working in the area of Religion and Philosophy and Indian Culture.
The author is deeply indebted and profusely thankful to Sri Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams for their magnanimous financial assistance in publishing this volume. My sincere thanks are also due to Late Dr. Sridhara Babu (Guide), Dr. S.B Raghunathacharya, Dr Kiran Kranth, Sri Ananthanarayana and Dr. K. Pratap, Reader in Sanskrit who constantly helped in preparing this book. I am greatly indebted to my parents (Sri Murugendra Gowd and Malleswari) my husband and my brothers and sisters who had given constant encouragement throughout the phase of this work. It is a great pleasure for me to record my sense of gratitude to Prof. C. Ramaiah for his constant encouragement and inspiration in writing this book.
Last but not the least I am thankful to all who directly or indirectly helped in completing the work successfully. The readers are requested to convey their kind opinion and suggestions to improve the content and presentation for further editions.
I am happy to know that Dr. (Mrs.) A.R. Anasuyadevi is publishing her thesis Tradition and Modernity in Coutemporary Religio-Philosophic Movements, an out come of sincere study of the Vedic tradition in its ancient and contemporary perspectives. Dr. Anasuya has shown that though the vedic tradition is remote in time is not remote in thought and has brought out its need and relevance in the contemporary period for a sane and happy society.
Dr. Anasuyadevi has done weli in interpreting the much misunderstood concept ‘Varna’ as based on one’s good conduct and not on one’s birth. It is said that at birth every one is a sudra and it is by one’s conduct that he is considered a Brahmana or Ksatriya or sudra.
The contemporary religio-philosophic movements headed by Sri Ramakrsnaparamahamsa, Sri Ramanamaharsi, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Satyasai and the followers of Harekrsna movement vitalized the vedic tradition by their creative contributions, While accepting the Varnasrama Dharma they modified it by eliminating what is undesirable in it and accepting what is conducive for the happiness of one and all.
Dr. Anasuya toiled hard to high light the insights of these religio-philosophic movements to regenerated the apparently outmoded vedic tradition. She has shown that the vedic tradition, especially its varnasrama scheme, understood in its true perspective, stands relevant even to day, to guide us in our empirical existence for a better life (abhyudaya) and also lead us to ultimate spiritual perfection (Moksa).
I am sure that the work of Dr. Anasuya would be useful to all, both the initiated and the un-initiated in vedic tradition.
Studies and monographs with regard to the vedic tradition and its prominent ‘varna’ and ‘asrama’ system are separately written. The gigantic works like P.V. Kane’s History of Dharmasatra bring together all material regarding the traditional background of these eoncepts and their historical developments. There are separate and independent works on the contemporary religio-philosophic movements. The study is primarily intended to examine the recent innovations and interpretations of the traditional patterns and concepts. It mainly touches upon precepts of the Vedic tradition and practices and interpretations of the leaders of the religio-philosophical Movements who emerged in the recent past.
This book is an attempt at reviewing and establishing a coordination and correlation between the tradition, that means the Vedic as well as the Post-Vedic religio-philosophical ideas about Varna and Asrama which constitute the first part, and its new connotations and innovations in the contemporary religio-philosophical movements, dealt with in the second part. The Vedic tradition postulates four distinct groups of people (Varnas) existing in the world and four stages of life (Asramas) for an alround development of the individual in society and finally for his ‘Moksa’.
So, the Varnasrama as a system of the vedic religion reflects the aim and purpose of the individual in society and expounds the underlying Philosophical principle of it, which directs one to ‘Moksa’. The Part-I of the book includes the main points of reference from the literature portraying Vedic thought. Here it is discussed that the division of Varna according to tradition was made only on the basis of ‘Gunakarma’ (functions prescribed to the individuals following their constituent nature). To Start with, the tradition had ordained and exemplary conduct and character to be exhibited by a ‘bramana’ in order to be called himself a ‘brahmana’. In many cases non-brahmin – dvija classes as ‘Ksatriya’ and ‘Vaisya’ castes and non-brahmin (non-dvija) ‘sudras’ were considered as brahmanas on the basis of good conduct. Occasions where a brahmana was humiliated or degraded as a ‘sudra’ deprived of his previleges in tradition devoid of his expected virtues show that the Vedic culture has set up the ‘brahmna’ for the ideal and model to see the divinity to him with all the virtues not only for his own salvation but to liberate all others in a similar way through his exemplary good conduct possessing qualities of sympathy, humility and equal consideration to all. Hence caste is not merely decided by birth but by virtue of conduct keeping ‘brahmana’ ideal and that untouchability and inequality of the distinction of castes and its sub-divisions on the basis of birth may not fit within the idealogical perview of the Vedic thought. This is the purpose of Varna which has been brought out under the traditional ‘Varnasrama’ system by citing many instances in the first phase of the Part-I of the book.
In the second phase of Part-I of the ‘Asramas’ taking ‘brahmacaryasrama’ in the beginning, the three main factors of a proper ‘Guru’, the deserving student and the mode of training are discussed to depict the life of ‘brahmacarya’ in tradition leading the student along the right, spiritual path. The period of ‘brahmacarya’ is the stage where a Vedic student was prescribed with various disciplines like celibacy, vedic study, surrender to the realized Guru and so on, preparing one as an exemplary spiritual householder or ‘Sannyasin’ who not only serves the society but works for his own salvation with the above means.
Restricted enjoyment of pleasures following dharma, performance of sacrifices for a ‘grhastha’, facilitates him to proceed on his spiritual path with his prescribed duties to support the persons of other stages of life, namely, brahmacarins and sannyasins show that ‘Grhasthasrama, is given a prominent position in the Vedic literature. After discharging his duties as an house-holder the relinquishes his property and family altogether and goes to the forest to lead an austere and meditative life which functions as a preparatory stage to ‘Sannyasasrama.’ This stage is known as ‘Vanaprastha’.
Finally, the state of ‘Sannyasa’ is a stage where desires are subjugated to facililate one to accomplish the unification with the Divine in a detatched way. He is expected to overcome his ego and to be free from all cares. His vision is fixed on ‘Samadhi’ as his goal, helping and guiding others to react the same.
The second part of the book deals with the ‘Varnasrama’ trend in the five contemporary religio-philosophic movements, namely (1) Sri Ramakrishna –Vivekananda movement (2) Sri Ramana Maharshi movement (3) Sri Aurobindo movement (4) Sri Satya Sai movement and the (5) ISKCON or Harekrishna movement.
(1) Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) born in an orthodox Brahmin family broke many conventions on the basis of the spiritual as well as humanitarian considerations and was very much devoted from his childhood to mother kali of Daksineswar. His uniqueness lies in practicing sadhanas of all religions, devoting himself to each in realizing that particular religious sadhana. He preached that all religious lead to the same goal namely God.
This becomes the only solace-offering solution amidst the chaos of differentiating and warring minds having religious bias. This is the first epoch-making movement in the spiritual or religio-philosophic world. this message was spread by his important and dynamic disciple, Swamy Vivekananda (1863-1902) He carried this message with missionary zeal to spread it all over the globe, ringing his bells throughout to get recognition to his version of the Vedanta with its practical humanitation tone and content.
The Ramakrishna Math was started by Swamy Vivekananda in 1898, setting before it the aims to prepare Sannyasi-disciples of Ramakrishna order to spread ‘Vedanta’ along with the phieanthrophic workto all the needy, taking every individual (‘jiva’) as God (‘Siva’).
The first chapter of the second part of the book deals with the ‘Varnasrama’ system considering the main points of reference from the movement.
The second chapter of the second part deals with Sri Ramana Maharshi movement of Tiruvannamalai.
(2) Sri Ramana (Venkatraman) was born as a second son of Sunderaram Iyer, a pleader in Tamilnadu on December 1879. He had his early edueation in Tiruchezi, his native home town where he studied in Scott’s middle school and also in the American mission high school. No significant notice of his introspection was made by any of his relatives or companions except his occasional absent-minded ness during the working hours in his school days. He experienced a meditative reflection through which he had the question of introspection with the formula ‘Who am I’?. He deeply under-stood the transient nature of the body comparing to the self (‘I’) at the age of fifteen. With these spiritual feelings he left home and reached Tiruvannamalai. He stayed there for some time in the temple precincts the Saint’s tomb, a mango grove and later at various caves on Arunachala hill. He finally stayed ‘jivanmukti’ in 1922) upto his ‘Mahanirvana’ (demise) which occurred on 14th April, 1950. The first two years of his life at Tiruvannamalai were characterized by silence (‘mauna’) and detachment (‘Vairagya’) and perpetual ecstacy (‘Samadhi’). Later, when the spiritual aspirants started coming to him he got acquainted with many religious works in Tamil and Sanskrit. He composed a few original Tamil poems like ‘Five hymns to Arunachala’, ‘Upadesa Saram’ (essence of instructions), ‘Ulladu Narpadu’ (The forty verses on Reality)’ and others. And he rendered some standard Sanskrit works into Tamil Prose and verse like Sri Sankara’s Vivekacudamani, Hastamalaka stotra, Daksinamurti stotra, Drik Drisya Viveka, Atmabodha, Vicaramanimalai, Atmasak- satkara, Devikalotthara and others. He rendered his own Upadesasaram from Tamil to Sanskrit, Malayalam and Telugu verse.
Further his excellent replies covering various subjects relating to different aspirants of various stages are collected in the Ramana Gita’, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi’, Day by day with Bhagavan’ and Letters from Sri Ramanasramam. These books guide different grades of people to understand the traditional spirit in essence for inculcating right attitude of religion and philosophy in the contempory minds.
Actually he is an essential silent preacher. But his occasional answers are very simple and brief but impregnated with rich spiritual meanings. He suggests the various paths leading to liberation suiting different persons of varied mental states and finally declare that the best way is the ‘self-enquiry’.
One can find the remarks he expressed regarding ‘Varna’ and ‘asrama’ in his replies and writings which are discussed in this chapter.
(3) The third chapter deals with the Movement of Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was born in Calcutta on 15th August 1872. He received completely an occidental education in England in his earlies for 14 years (1879-1893) without any contact with the culture of India. He was a brilliant scholar in Greek and Latin and also learnt French. Further he studied German and Italian himself, sufficiently to study Goethe and Dante in their original tongues. He passed in first class and obtained record marks in Greek and Latin in the examination for the Indian Civil Service. All this gave him a wide introduction to the culture of ancient, medieval and modern Europe, later on it helped him to assess the glory of Indian culture with all its disciplines of ‘brahmacarya’ etc. in the ‘Varnasrama’ system with the background of his own practice and experience of Reality.
Sri Aurobindo spent thirteen years in Baroda service, in the Revenue Department from 1893 to 1906 doing Secretarial work for Maharaja, later as a Professor of English and Vice-Principal of Baroda College. These were the years of self-culture and a preparation for his future work. He composed poetry in English and learnt Sanskrit and in addition several modern Indian languages assimilating the spirit of Indian civilization and its expressed forms of the past and present. He was involved silently in political activities between the years 1902-1910. He gave up Baroda service in 1905 and joined openly the Indian political freedom movement. He was also the Principal of Bengal National College in Calcutta, joining there in 1906. He was the acting editor of ‘Bande Mataram’ daily from 1907-1908 till its end which changed the political thought of India and also presided over the Nationalistic conference at Surat in 1907. He was arrested in May, 1908 in Alipur conspiracy and spent a year in jail, entirely practicing ‘yoga’. After his release, he published ‘Karmayogin’ (weekly) and ‘Arya’ (Bengali Journal) to revive the political movement, later he resolved to withdraw himself from the political field due to the inner spiritual pressure assuming the withdrawal for a temporary period.
In February, 1910, he withdrew to a secret place of retirement at Chanderanagar and in the beginning of April, settled in Pondicherry of the then French-India, devoting his time more and more to his spiritual work and ‘sadhana’. The increasing disciples for his ‘yoga’, resulted in the development of the Aurobindo Asram.
In 1914, after four years of silent ‘yoga’, he began the publication of a philosophical monthly, the ‘Arya’. Most of his important works and his ideas on ‘yoga’, (also regarding the ‘varnasrama’ disciplines) appeared serially in the issues of ‘Arya’. These are published later as the works namely the Life Divine, The Synthesis of ‘yoga’, Essays on the Gita, The Isa Upanisad etc.
These works contain in them his inner wisdom that had come to him in his practice of ‘yoga’. His other works were concerned with the spirit and significance of Indian civilization and culture ‘The foundation of Indian culture’, the true meaning of the ‘Vedas’, The secret of the ‘Veda’), the Progress of human society (the human cycle), the possibility of the unification of the human race (the ideal human unity). Actually he began his practice of ‘yoga’ in 1904. Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Yoga’ rises the spirit to redescend with its gains, brings the light, power and bliss (with eternal supermind) into life to transform it. The world viewed from this point of view is not a world of illusion, seen in ignorance. He speaks of spiritual evolution which brings the Divine consciousness in things. Mind is the highest form manifested so far in the evolution, but it is not the highest evolute that is to be reached with all its capabilities.
Above it (the mind) a supermind or eternal truth consciousness, which is in its nature self aware and self-determining light and power of a Divine knowledge ‘Sthitaprajnatvam’. It is only by the descent of this supermind that the perfection dreamed of by all that is highest in humanity can come. To realise this, Sri Aurobindo has suggested integral ‘Yoga’.
(4) Sri Satya Saibaba was born on 23, November 1923 in a village called Puttaparthy, Anantpur (dt.), India. He was believed to be an incarnation (avatara) of the Divine reality. There are ample evidences of the great miracles performed by him, which are recorded in the books on him. He himself announced that his mission of life is divided into three stages.
(i) Performing miracles to draw the devotees and to inculcate faith in them.
(ii) The mission of giving ‘Upadesa’ to the spiritual aspirants.
(iii) Starting educational and health centres for serving students and devotees.
As he has declared, it is said that he is the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba as Satya Sai Baba to spread the Vedic Culture and spirituality among the masses. In his mission of varied activities he gave importance to the stages of ‘brahmacarya’ and ‘grhastha’ to be strictly followed by his devotees with a spirit of duty, discipline and devotion.
(5) The ISKCON (Harekrishna) Movement is discussed in the fifth chapter. Here follows a brief sketch of the founder of the movement.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta swamy Prabhupada, (known as Srila Prabhupada, 1896-1977) is the founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). He was a ‘Vaisnava’ by birth and completed his degree in 1920. He was brought up by his pious parents according to the ‘Vaisnava’ tradition, in Calcutta, his native place. He propagated the ‘Vaisnava’ doctrines till the end of his life. The main scriptures of Bengali Vaisnavas are the Chaitanya Caritamrta, The Srimad Bhagavatam and The Bhagavad Gita. He took initiation being as a house-holder in 1932 from Sri Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswathy Thakura, a spiritual master of the ‘Vaisnava Gaudiya Math’. As his spiritual master ordered him he propagated Krishna Consciousness in abroad.
His preaching in India was discouraged by his family and seemed to have conflict with their worldly interests. So, on leaving home he became alone and pennyless. So, he strived to fulfil his desire of printing some books and spreading Krishna Consciousness in the East and the West. By translating and writing commentaries of Srimad Bhagavatam and other ‘Vaisnava’ texts he continued to spread the Krishna Consciousness. He took ‘Sannyasa’ formally under Kesavaraj Maharaj in Mathura to leave India to the West in 1965 at the age of sixty nine and established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1966. After his demise, his mission is being carried on by his devotees making Mayapur (West Bengal, India, Caitanya’s birth place) as the centre with its Governing Body Commission’ (G.B.C.) to guide all the institutions of ISKCON world wide. The strict adherence to the ‘Varnasrama’ system is the special and important factor of this movement.
At last, the work is concluded underling the Modifications brought in by the Modern Religio-philosophers in respect of the Vedic concept of Varnasrama system.
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