Daiva Varnasrama

Swami - February 27, 2019 12:38 am

I have been thinking about varnasrama and where it connects and where it departs from Vaisnava dharma. Someone recently wrote to me and said that Bhaktivinoda had written extensively about Daiva Varnasrama. To my knowledge that is not true. The term is not found even once in Jaiva Dharma. Today I read everything BVT wrote about VAD in Jaiva Dharma and it is clear that he is writing to a society where VAD is the social system and that the extent two which a devotee should follow VAD is the extent to which he or she is involved in the world socially as a house holder and to the extent that following some aspect of the system does not go against bhakti. Otherwise I though this quote was interesting:

"Rupa Gosvami explains that amongst all those who follow the regulations of sastra, only those who develop faith in bhakti are eligible to engage in bhakti. They are not attracted towards the regulations of material life, nor do they renounce material life. Rather, they follow the ways of ordinary civilized life to maintain their livelihood, and at the same time practice the sadhana of suddha-bhakti with faith. A civilized jiva becomes qualified to engage in bhakti as a result of sukrti accumulated in the course of many lives. There are three types of such faithful people: the kaniistha (neophyte), the madhyama (intermediate bhakta), and the uttama (highly exalted bhakta)."

He seems to say here that devotees should  follow "ordinary civilized life to maintain their livelihood," which could be a varnasrama system or any other system. In other words, bhakti has the power to thrive in any social system and is not dependent upon varnasrama, but varnasrama is most supportive when properly understood. 

Vamsidas - February 27, 2019 3:26 am

Guru Maharaja, related to the quote you cited, I liked the question from Vrajanatha that brings out that answer that you quoted from Babaji:

“Why doesn’t everyone who follows the regulations of varṇāśrama practice kṛṣṇa-bhakti?”

The question itself highlights the inferiority of VAD in comparison to bhakti, as it cannot give bhakti and does not qualify one for bhakti--a point I've heard you make frequently and is clearly made in what you've quoted. Shortly after this, Babaji states that "the entire human race is eligible for bhakti," not just those in Aryan families that follow VAD. Makes you wonder why some seem intent on making VAD a primary focus rather than simply a supportive system as you've described it.

BSST's interest in VAD seemed to be in relation to breaking down caste considerations and sort of raising the social status of Gaudiya Vaisnavas in general, which also gives it a supportive rather than primary role. Would you agree with that?

Gauravani Dasa - February 27, 2019 10:17 am

Guru Maharaja,

How did Gaudiya Vaisnavas in the past handle situations where the dominant social order was less than ideal? For example, Muslim rule during Mahaprabhu's time and Britsh rule during BSST's time? Is it accurate to say that the Vaisnavas created and protected their own, smaller communities that were conducive to the processes of bhakti and reduced dependence on the dominant (and often exploitative) social order? This would be in contrast to an attempt to comprehensively reform the social order in the direction of varnasrama. It seems that Srila Prabhupada's encouragement to form agricultural communities would be in this vein (there may be some Gandhian thought in there as well). Would you agree with this or would you nuance this in any way?

Swami - February 27, 2019 10:31 am

During Muslim rule Hindus had their own varnasrama communities. Here is something interesting from Jaiva Dharma concerning Vaisnavas who are not part of Varnasrama and the extent to which those living in a varnasrama society are bound by it rules:


Vrajanatha: it seems that people who are situated in varansrama have to follow two sets of duties – the regulations of varansrama, and the rules of suddha-bhakti – whereas those situated outside varansrama have only one duty, which is to follow the limbs (angas) of bhakti. This means that people situated in varansrama have to endeavor more, because they have to follow both the material regulations and the spiritual regulations. Why is this?

Babaji: A bhakta who is qualified for suddha-bhakti may be situated in varansrama, but his only duty is to follow the nìga of bhakti, and then all his worldly duties are fulfilled automatically. There is no fault in neglecting worldly duties where they are independent of bhakti, or opposed to it. A qualified bhakta is by his very nature not inclined to neglect prescribed duties or to perform forbidden activities. If in spite of this he accidentally commits some sinful activity, he does not have to perform the penances that are prescribed in the rules governing karma. When bhakti resides in the heart, sins that the bhakta commits by chance do not create a lasting impression, and they are destroyed very easily and quickly. That is why bhaktas do not need to perform any separate penance.

Swami - February 27, 2019 10:40 am

But yes, Prabhupada did want communities within the existing social system that had their own social system. But really the social system for us that parallels VAD is Hari-bhakti-vilasa. HBV is our Gaudiya Vaisnava smriti. Here is Prabhupada saying the same thing:

""As far as we are concerned, we are trying to establish daiva-varṇāśrama, as it is instructed by the Gosvāmīs, by Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, by our spiritual master. May not be very perfect, but we are trying our best to introduce this daiva-varṇāśrama."

And this: 


"Sanätana Gosvami wrote his Vaisnava smrti, Hari-bhakti-vilasa, which was specifically meant for India. In those days, India was more or less following the principle of smarta-vidhi. Srila Sanatana Gosvami had to keep pace with this, and his Hari-bhakti-vilasa was compiled with this in mind." 

The implication above is the relativity of even HBV in consideration of time, place, and circumstances.

Swami - February 27, 2019 11:41 am

Yes, Vamisi dasa. I agree. At the time the existing VAD was critical of Gaudiya Vaisnavas, thinking its path superior to that of the caste-less Gaudiyas. He tried to correct that. 


Swami - February 27, 2019 3:09 pm

It occurred to me that the moral sensibilities of the bhakti marg are drawn from VAD that deals exclusively with the small "g" good or morality. However, Vaisnava dharma (VD) seems to include only the general moral sensibilities of VAD and not its moral laws verbatim and even rejects some of them. Similarly, if a Vaisnava sins (sin being a VAD determination), he or she does not need to remedy the sin by VAD's method of prayscitta, or atonement. He or she simply needs to embrace a healthy sense of remorse and engage in bhakti. 

Perhaps we could say that VD accepts VAD's moral sensibilities in principle but not in detail and as such is capable of determining moral laws or details relative to time and circumstances going forward and in cultures outside of VAD. 

Swami - February 27, 2019 3:30 pm

One major difference is that VD is class-less and thus anyone of any race or gender can engage in any and all angas and aspects of bhakti. At the same time, devotees still carry with them their material dispositions that VAD seeks to deal with. So in a Vasinava society devotees would engage themselves naturally in consideration of their dispositions with a view to transcend them rather than to foster them. 

Gauravani Dasa - February 27, 2019 3:39 pm

There may be social orders that are arguably inherently violent, such as colonialism with slavery and unrestrained capitalism. I think they would all not be considered ethical VAD (little 'g') for multiple reasons.

But for VD the question is whether or not one can perform bhakti in these social orders, correct? If the answer is yes, as SBVT seemed to indicate during the British Raj, then there is not much impetus to either reform or withdraw from the social order and a householder can "follow 'ordinary civilized life to maintain their livelihood.'"

But what I struggle with is this: I may be able to do some bhakti in these social orders, but what about others who are so materially impoverished due to being exploited by the social order, that they are unable to even consider bhakti. Maybe this is an expression of my own bhakti-misra-karma conception, but it seems like just as devotees need some material balance to practice, there is also some kind of "social material balance" that would help provide the support for people to practice. Is this what we mean by VD? A personal and social material balance that supports bhakti? And if so, it does seem like VD communities are the solution (instead of an attempt to reform deeply entrenched, violent social orders). (Sorry if I am taking this discussion on a tangent but it is something I have been thinking and writing about--thank you for your time and your responses Guru Maharaja.)

Atmananda Dasa - February 27, 2019 3:42 pm

Could anarcho-syndicalism be made to fit more naturally with VD for those not already socialized to VAD? It is a system that strives towards a classless society and also is meant to carve out a niche within other systems of organizing society.

Krsna Caitanya Das - February 27, 2019 6:30 pm
1 hour ago, Gauravani dasa said:

But what I struggle with is this: I may be able to do some bhakti in these social orders, but what about others who are so materially impoverished due to being exploited by the social order, that they are unable to even consider bhakti.

It seems like there are also many people who are too materially well-off to be able to take advantage of bhakti. But they also feel as if they do not have enough. Most people are continually working for just a little more artha thinking this will lead to more kama, not really considering dharma or moksa, what to speak of bhakti. I think this is why Srila Prabhupada put forward S.B 1.2.9 as a very important verse to Prof. Hopkins when asked:

Prof. Hopkins: Yes, I've seen it. I'm just wondering what your judgment is on what... If you had to say to someone who was going to collect one small section of your work, what would you want them to collect?

Prabhupāda: That is stated in few verses. (aside:) You find out this. Dharmasya hy āpavargyasya (SB 1.2.9). [from a conversation in Philadelphia on July 13,1975]

"dharmasya hy āpavargyasya
 nārtho ’rthāyopakalpate
nārthasya dharmaikāntasya
 kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ
dharmasya — occupational engagement; hi — certainly; āpavargyasya — ultimate liberation; na — not; arthaḥ — end; arthāya — for material gain; upakalpate — is meant for; na — neither; arthasya — of material gain; dharma-eka-antasya — for one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service; kāmaḥ — sense gratification; lābhāya — attainment of; hi — exactly; smṛtaḥ — is described by the great sages.

All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification."

I feel like this concept is a very important idea in relation to householder Vaishnava Dharma. (Are we saying VD= Vaisnava Dharma and VAD= VarnAsrama Dharma?). This may not really speak to what you were bringing up, but I am trying to point out that the impoverished may not be the only ones who are distracted from spiritual pursuits by being focused on having a better material situation. I guess I also see the affluent as victims of a capitalistic society. Either way, I have found the above verse to be very helpful to me in my life and I think it is a fundamental idea that applies to VD. 



Gauravani Dasa - February 27, 2019 8:33 pm

Good point, KC. That helps me think about this more. Thank you.

Swami - February 27, 2019 9:05 pm

One thing we do for the impoverished is offer them an ideal that does not cost much. They can live simply with less and be fulfilled and have as much of a voice as anyone else. And for the wealthy we offer them something meaningful to invest in. 

Krsna Caitanya Das - February 28, 2019 2:30 am

Thinking about the  impoverished makes me think of Kholaveca Sridhara. He seems like a very good role model for VD: making pots out of the skin of banana trees, drinking out of an iron pot, and spending half of what he earns on worship of the Ganga, despite not having much money. 

Atmananda Dasa - February 28, 2019 1:52 pm

When I looked at Yogi Bhajan’s followers in America I was impressed how although they do not attempt to follow VAD they really try to be dutiful, caring and compassionate and keep their spiritual practice in the forefront. They seem to have been pretty successful with some business endeavors like Yogi tea, a security business and a kundalini yoga teaching organization. They also have something called a “Das fund” which is an account that every individual or family sets up to support Sikh dharma. To me it looks like they actually got a lot further towards implementing the principles of VAD without even accepting the VA system. 

Swami - February 28, 2019 2:08 pm

BVT on VAD from Caitanya Siksamrtam—"All the daily rules cannot be practiced perfectly in modern times, due to the influence of differing political and social trends. . . . Thus the householder should perform his daily activities with great faith after considering his individual needs." That leaves a lot of room for adjustment and practically no scope for Manu-samhita having any bearing even on VAD nowadays, what to speak of on VD.

Atmananda Dasa - February 28, 2019 4:43 pm
2 hours ago, Swami said:

BVT on VAD from Caitanya Siksamrtam—"All the daily rules cannot be practiced perfectly in modern times, due to the influence of differing political and social trends. . . . Thus the householder should perform his daily activities with great faith after considering his individual needs." That leaves a lot of room for adjustment and practically no scope for Manu-samhita having any bearing even on VAD nowadays, what to speak of on VD.

This sounds like a very conclusive statement on the matter.

Here is a quote from Bhakti-tattva-viveka chapter 4, An Analysis of the Qualification for Bhakti (translated from the Hindi edition of Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja) 


The conclusion is that every human being has the right to perform bhakti. Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, śūdras and antyajas(untouchables), gṛhasthas, brahmacārīs, vānaprasthas and sannyāsīs– all of them can be qualified for bhakti if they have faith in the injunctions of the scriptures and the instructions of sādhu and guru. 

Here is another quote from the same chapter. 


We should understand the words sarva-dharma in this verse to mean paths that are obstacles to complete surrender, such as the pursuance of one’s occupational duties within the varṇāśrama system and the worship of demigods. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is saying, “Rejecting all of these, one should surrender unto Me, meaning one should develop exclusive faith towards engaging in bhajana unto Me. don’t be fearful of the reactions that come to those who commit the sin of rejecting their occupational duties. I assure you that I will free you from the reactions to all such sins.”

From reading the chapter my understanding is that by faith in scripture and submission to the the pure devotee everything is accomplished. 

Swami - February 28, 2019 4:49 pm



Krsna Caitanya Das - March 1, 2019 4:46 pm

Here are some tidbits pertaining to varnasrama from Bhaktyaloka by BVT:

From the section on Sadhu-vrtti: Following in the footsteps of the previous acaryas:

‘The traditional occupation of those who are lower than sudras are their means of livelihood.” To me, this meant that, for those outside of varnasrama, the way we make a living is more or less our varna. 

“Human beings are divided according to their nature into the following divisions: brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra, sankara, and antyaja Even though the system of varnasrama is not clearly present in some countries, still it exists in a seedling form. According to one’s nature, he develops his occupation and, accordingly, his means of livelihood.”

“Members of the four varnas and the lower castes should be eager to progress their sattvic nature. If an outcaste becomes fortunate due to his pious deeds, then he should progress his cultivation of goodness while following the conduct of a sudra."

"With devotion, the member of any varna is considered the best of the brahmanas; without devotion, the life of a brahmana fixed in goodness is useless.”

“The conduct of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers is meant to teach people, so that conduct should be followed in all respects. What is proper occupation? To know this, one should see the behavior of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's followers.” BVT then goes on to have a whole section devoted to examples from the lives of Mahabrabhu and his devotees citing the CC and CB.

From the section on Niyamagraha: Too much attachment to, or too much neglect of, rules and regulations:

“The devotees whose minds are fixed on chanting and remembering Krsna's glories in pure love have no taste for activities prescribed for lower stages. Although they are not attached or bound to follow the prescribed rules of the scriptures, they sometimes follow out of their own accord.”

Vamsidas - March 8, 2019 2:51 am
On 3/1/2019 at 11:46 AM, krsna caitanya das said:

"With devotion, the member of any varna is considered the best of the brahmanas; without devotion, the life of a brahmana fixed in goodness is useless.”

And there's where VD splits from VAD. 

Jamadagni Dasa - March 8, 2019 4:02 pm

I’ve noticed that Srila Prabhupada’s emphasis on VAD seems to have increased in talks he gave during 1975. This is also the time period when he made controversial statements regarding the role of women in society. If I remember correctly, Burke Rochford tells us that by 1975 the divorce rate among devotees was soaring and book distribution, as well as recruitment, had begun to decline. Perhaps moral lapses in general were a concern. During one Bhagavad Gita lecture in Honolulu he argues vehemently for the protection of women and then stresses strongly that anyone serious about Krsna Consciousness must come to the standard of a brahmana. His depiction of (daivi) varnasrama is of an incredibly fluid society-wide morality competition. To my mind, it sounds like he’s saying everyone should strive to be a brahamana, which is a much different idea than the rather static social positions determined by innate qualities of VAD proper. My hypothesis is that Srila Prabhupada hoped to employ SBVT’s concept of daivi varnasrama to address acute issues faced by his international society. With this interpretation I’ve  begun to see the thrust of Srila Prabhuapda’s discussion of VAD, in his books and elsewhere, as an attempt to give his audience a conceptual orientation by which to evaluate their own morality and lifestyle, rather than a prescription for organized social engineering. Is this somewhat accurate?

Swami - March 8, 2019 7:43 pm

The problem is with the term Daiva Varnasrama. It means different things to different people. When BVT encouraged BSST to establish DVAD, arguably all he meant was to establish through preaching that VAD determines one's varna by guna and karma rather than by birth and also to establish the proper understanding of the relationship between bhakti and VAD. Both of these issues were misunderstood at the time.