As a complete social system, Varņāśrama-dharma not only assists in sensual control but also offers a comprehensive solution for modern crises. Whereas today’s civilization induces people to pursue unreal and abnormal aspirations that inevitably end in frustration (if not disaster), varnāśrama- dharma enables both men and women to find fulfillment in their natural roles. Varņāśrama-dharma regulates the lower propensities and channels them toward higher propensities.

Although egalitarianism is supposed to provide equal opportunities, almost inevitably “might makes right” and the weak are exploited. Vedic culture is more realistic, for it recognizes that people are different and have different needs and capabilities, and accordingly assigns commensurate functions to individuals, thus maximizing their opportunities for personal development.

Varņāśrama-dharma is “the perfect institution for humanity.” [1] Of course, the enactment of varnāśrama-dharma can never be fully perfect, inasmuch as it is meant for regulating imperfection, for normalizing people who are affected by māyā. And without Krsna consciousness, varnāśrama-dharma must inevitably degrade.

Lord Krsna created the system of four varnas (brähmaņa, kşatriya, vaiśya, and sūdra) according to quality and work, [2] concomitant with which is the system of four aśramas (brahmacāri, grhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyäsa). Šrila Prabhupāda gave an overview of varņāśrama-dharma as follows:

Human life is meant for understanding one’s relationship with the Supreme Lord and acting in that relationship. Any human being can do this by dovetailing himself in the service of the Lord while discharging his prescribed duties. For this purpose human society is divided into four classes: the intellectuals (brähmanas), the administrators (kşatriyas), the merchants (vaiśyas), and the laborers (śūdras). For each class there are prescribed rules and regulations, as well as occupational functions. The prescribed duties and qualities of the four classes are described in the Bhagavad-gitā (18.41-44). A civilized society should be organized so that people follow the prescribed rules and regulations for their particular class. At the same time, for spiritual advancement they should follow the four stages of äśrama, namely student life (brahmacarya), householder life (grhastha), retired life (vānaprastha) and renounced life (sannyäsa).

Those who strictly follow the rules and regulations of these eight social divisions can actually satisfy the Supreme Lord, and one who does not follow them certainly spoils his human form of life and glides down toward hell. One can peacefully achieve the goal of human life simply by following the rules and regulations which apply to oneself. The character of a particular person develops when he follows the regulative principles in accordance with his birth, association, and education. The divisions of society are so designed that many people with different characteristics can be regulated under those divisions for the peaceful administration of society and for spiritual advancement as well. The social classes can be further characterized as follows:

(1) One whose aim is to understand the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, and who has thus devoted himself to learning the Vedas and similar literatures is called a brähmana.

(2) A person whose occupation involves displaying force and administering the government is called a kşatriya.

(3) One who is engaged in agriculture, herding cows and doing business is called a vaiśya.

(4) One who has no special knowledge but is satisfied by serving the other three classes is called a śūdra. If one faithfully discharges his prescribed duties, he is sure to advance toward perfection. Thus regulated life is the source of perfection for everyone. One who leads a regulated life centered around devotional service to the Lord attains perfection. [3]

Succinctly, Varņāśrama-dharma efficient organization of human society as ordained by the Supreme Lord, whereby people are engaged in work according to their individual propensities and dispositions, while also regulating their senses and offering the results of their labor for Krsna’s satisfaction. Everyone is obligated to worship the Supreme Lord according to the facility he has been given, in a spirit of devotional service. The spirit of service, of dharma, of duty – doing what is right as opposed to what feels good is inculcated in varņāśrama-dharma, and matures into perfection as pure devotional service. As expressed by Tamāla Krsņa Goswami:

The Vedic culture provides equal opportunities for all devotees to advance in Krsna consciousness. With intelligence, it recognizes psychophysical differences between the sexes as well as between individuals within each sex, while at the same time maintaining a spiritual equality. This allows for an individual to utilize his or her abilities maximally. And it also ensures the peaceful continuation of normal relationships within the family and in the greater society at large. Although modern critics may doubt the value of such an ordered social structure, they should bear in mind that the Vedic social system has been successful for millions of years, having been created by Lord Krsna Himself. We do not believe that the present so- called civilization, despite its constant innovations, will be able to stand the similar test of time. [4]

In a dharmic society, none of the law-abiding citizens feel oppressed or despised. Rather, varņāśrama-dharma promotes mutual sharing, appreciation, and service between all classes of people, and when practiced in Krsna consciousness, it helps aspiring devotees to rise to the highest platform. However, if not practiced in Krsna consciousness, varnāśrama-dharma is mundane and thus gives rise to the material disease of exploitation. The caste system arose in India because people lost the true spiritual focus of varņāšrama-dharma and instead used it to exploit others. Srila Prabhupäda very much desired to introduce the genuine, ancient, and sound method of varņāśrama-dharma, both to regulate his own disciples and to rectify the social ills that afflict the world today. [5]


[1]. SB 4.24.53, pPpt.

[2.] Bg 4.13, verse translation.

[3] From Teachings of Lord Caitanya, ch. 27.

[4] Servant of the Servant, ch. 9

[5] Conversation, 14 Feb. 1977

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