“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)Download this episode (right click and save)
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
There is a big game coming up. Everyone is talking about it. There is excitement to watch the event on television. The only issue is that you don’t follow this sport at all. You know nothing about it. To help you understand which team is better, you can look at the point spread. This is particularly relevant for gamblers. The person taking wagers places the line at a point where they can get a relatively equal amount of bets on either side. People who follow the sport can also help you get an idea on the nature of the teams, what to expect and the like.
Though these systems may help in predicting the outcome, there are no guarantees. A team that is heavily favored to win can lose. In the same way, the Vedas provide a sort of handicapping system for success in spiritual life. These are general tendencies, a way to predict who has a better chance at reaching the objective of the human life and who doesn’t.
1. The four varnas
The Sanskrit word varna means “color.” It is a designation. It also refers to an occupation. The four natural occupations, which are timeless and present in every society, are priest, administrator, businessman, and laborer. The designations are not artificially drawn. Each person has their natural tendency. Just as we say someone is a born leader, each person has certain gunas, or material qualities, that they assume at the time of birth.
We can use the body of the human being for understanding the four varnas. The laborers are like the feet. The businessmen/producers are like the stomach. The administrators are the arms, as they are meant to protect everyone else. The priests are the brains. All the parts must work together for the body to function properly. Still, you could say that certain parts are more important. The brain is the most important, since without it the other parts wouldn’t know what to do.
The Vedas say that the brahmana is an advanced position. They have the best chance at understanding the spiritual science and advancing beyond that. The brahmana should be Brahman realized, which means that they should know the spiritual energy that is Brahman. They neither lament nor hanker. As you descend further in the classes, there is more ignorance, i.e. more focus on the temporary. When the consciousness is impure, it is harder to make advancement in spiritual life.
2. The four ashramas
In addition to the four varnas, there are four spiritual institutions. These are like phases of life. The idea is to build your way to full enlightenment by the time death arrives. Human life has no other purpose. If the aim were to enjoy the senses as much as possible, then the animal birth is preferable. The animal can enjoy without having to worry over so many responsibilities. The animal doesn’t need to keep an eye on dharma, or virtue, or worry about the future consequences to action, karma.
The first stage is student life. The pillar of this ashrama is celibacy. The second stage is married life, where a person earns a living but stays detached from sense gratification. The third stage is retirement, and the fourth complete renunciation. This last stage, known as sannyasa, is considered to be most ideal for succeeding in spiritual life. The brahmana-sannyasi, the renounced priest-like person, has the best opportunity to continue to stay focused on the spiritual energy. They are both learned and free of distractions. They have the highly coveted opulences of jnana and vairagya, which are knowledge and renunciation.
3. The stipulation of lower births
If you are born with the gunas of a laborer, or shudra, it is considered a low birth. Indeed, the same status is applied to the female body and birth as a merchant/businessman. Obviously a person having one of these body types would not like to hear such discrimination. Again, it should be remembered that the knowledge comes to us as a sort of handicapping system, not meant to denigrate.
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya
ye 'pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās
te 'pi yānti parāṁ gatim
“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth - women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers] - can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)
The idea is that in the female body it is more difficult to see the difference between body and spirit, to understand the conclusion of all conclusions, Vedanta philosophy. A person who works hard all day and doesn’t think about the purpose to their work is similarly disadvantaged. The same applies to the person chasing hard to earn a dollar.
4. The future of the unsuccessful yogi
Since there are varieties of living entities and different conditions of birth for the human being, not everyone is expected to reach full enlightenment in a single lifetime. There is no need to worry, as there can be progressive births. In the Bhagavad-gita, we learn the fate of the unsuccessful yogi.
prāpya puṇya-kṛtāṁ lokān
uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
śucīnāṁ śrīmatāṁ gehe
“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.41)
They end up taking birth in a family of yogis or rich aristocracy. They continue from where they left off in the previous life. This means that progress along the path of true yoga does not vanish. By revealing the future of the unsuccessful yogi, we again see that certain circumstances are more conducive to spiritual life than others. The Sanskrit word used for rich aristocracy is shrimatam. The word shri means “opulence.” The idea is that the yogi finds a home where there is high culture. The family members are not struggling to survive, and they have some idea of spiritual life. In times past all the wealthy homes following Vedic culture would at least have a deity that was worshiped.
5. The call to surrender
Despite the best guesses made, time still has to operate. The Supreme Lord is Himself that time. This means that the greatest underdog can achieve victory. This has been shown many times in history. A person in the body of a Vanara, which is a monkey-like forest dweller, overcame tremendous obstacles to emerge successful in the mission to please the Supreme Lord. The people who are considered the embodiment of perfect devotion are simple village girls, the gopis of Vrindavana. It is not that only brahmanas and sannyasis are eligible for perfection. People who previously ate meat and were intoxicated on a regular basis can turn things around. There is always the opportunity to reform.
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)
The way is to be completely conscious of God the person in surrender. This surrender is known as bhakti-yoga, and it cannot be checked. The handicapping system is a way to judge how far along someone is in a race. Nevertheless, until you reach the end, you haven’t won. The Supreme Lord guarantees to shelter those who surrender to Him. That surrender can take place in an instant, or it can take many lifetimes. The key is a combination of sincerity and an auspicious meeting with a spiritual master, who is God’s representative. Then even the great underdogs, who for so long have been under the spell of illusion, can emerge out of the darkness and into the light, to feel the bliss of unmotivated service to the Divine.
The occupational divisions four,
And ashramas advancement for.
Type of handicapping system giving,
For potential in spiritual life living.
Still victory not until reaching the end,
Through Krishna instantly to victory circle to send.
When of Lord thinking free from doubt.
From the bodily designation to come out.