Question: We have heard that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura instructed Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta to establish the system of daiva-varṇāśrama. My question is, what is daiva-varṇāśrama? Is it something different from varṇāśrama as we generally know it?
Answer: Yes, daiva-varṇāśrama is significantly different from what is generally conceived as varṇāśrama, the four social and spiritual orders of life designed to maintain human society. In varṇāśrama there are various duties according to one’s position that a person has to perform. Because of being in the material world these duties may not always be spiritual, such as earning money to maintain one’s family members, etc.
Four fields of activities are there in human society; dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa (duty, accumulating energy or acquiring wealth, material enjoyment and liberation). The system of varṇāśrama guides one through these four stages from dharma to the attainment mokṣa. But daiva-varṇāśrama basically omits artha and kāma.
The concept for daiva-varṇāśrama is explained in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in this way:
dharmasya hy āpavargyasya nārtho ‘rthāyopakalpate
nārthasya dharmaikāntasya kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ
“All occupational engagements (dharmasya) are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain (arthāya). Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification (kāmaḥ).” (Bhāg. 1.2.9)
kāmasya nendriya-prītir lābho jīveta yāvatā
jīvasya tattva-jijñāsā nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ
“Life’s desire should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s work.” (Bhāg. 1.2.10)
Essentially varṇāśrama is tainted with materialism and is sometimes called asura-varṇāśrama or demoniac, whereas daiva-varṇāśrama is cent-per-cent devotion to pleasing the senses of Kṛṣṇa and attaining the ultimate goal of life, love of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, it is daiva, or thoroughly divine.
For a person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness (the system of daiva-varṇāśrama) there is no such thing as artha or acquiring material gain. Everything belongs to Kṛṣṇa. We do not acquire or possess anything. Therefore, there is no question of personal proprietorship for one who is actually in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Everything belongs to Kṛṣṇa. Even one’s family members, money etc, everything belongs to Kṛṣṇa. As such there is no kāma or material enjoyment because everything is meant for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure.
Separate interest is what distinguishes a person following asura-varṇāśrama from a devotee following the system of daiva-varṇāśrama. A person in asura-varṇāśrama may have separate interests, while a devotee of Kṛṣṇa in daiva-varṇāśrama has no separate interests whatsoever. This was the conception of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta – to give up separate interest, it is simply the cause of death!
Without a doubt these are troubled times in the world today with economic issues out of control, global warming, environmental disasters, the war in Iraq and so on. But what the people do not understand is that these disturbances, whether caused by nature or by governments, are actually being caused by separate interests and the enjoying mentality that ensues. Separate interests and material enjoyment are the sole cause of material sufferings.
Devotees as well as people in general want a better world to live in and better servant governments to protect them, but what they do not understand is that they themselves are the architects of their own misfortunes. Be it the misfortune of natural disturbances or corrupt and repressive government – the miseries of the material world are born upon the heads of the living entities out of their own activities.
Everyone in the material world wants money because money enables material gain and the enjoyment of the senses. Even neophyte devotees sometimes fall victim to this scenario. But advanced devotees of Kṛṣṇa, who believe wholeheartedly in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, know that all wealth is to be engaged in the performance of dharma. And in particular, all money in excess of what is required to maintain a healthy, legitimate and dignified life is to be engaged in the performance of saṅkīrtana-dharma, the duty or responsibility of spreading the congregational chanting of the Holy Names of Kṛṣṇa.
Any avoidance of this principle results in karmic reaction in varying degrees according to the deviation. We sometimes distinguish between a devotee and a non-devotee by referring to the non-devotee as a karmī. But in fact, a karmī is anyone who maintains separate interests from Kṛṣṇa, however important one thinks those separate interests to be. In other words, to be counted as an actual devotee of Kṛṣṇa, one has to give up all separate interest, give up all sense of false ownership of wealth, give up material enjoyment and engage everything for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa. That is what it means to be a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ tat-paratvena nirmalam
hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
“Bhakti or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one’s senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.” (from Nārada-pañcarātra as found in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.12)
To this end, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta conducted his mission on four principles, derived from the instructions of Śrī Caitanaya Mahāprabhu to Sanātana Gosvāmī. These principles, as found in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, are to preach the principles of pure devotional service to the masses, to open centres for the cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness (love of Kṛṣṇa), to cultivate the service of Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, and to teach people how to practice renunciation.
lupta-tīrtha-uddhāra, āra vairāgya-śikṣaṇa
“You must explain Kṛṣṇa’s devotional service, establish centres for the cultivation of love of Kṛṣṇa, excavate the lost places of pilgrimage and teach people how to adopt the renounced order.” (Cc. Antya 4.80)
This is the formula to establish this in the world today. Otherwise simply to establish a system of varṇa and āśrama that does not have Kṛṣṇa as its centre on each and every aspect of life will not actually do any good to the world. As Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta used to say, “This world is only lacking one thing, devotion to Kṛṣṇa.”
If the world is to become a better place, then Kṛṣṇa must become the centre of everyone’s live. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is all that is needed. We are not masters of this world. Indeed, we are far from it. We are servants of Kṛṣṇa. We are dependent on Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa holds the only Absolute position. This is the actual reality of life.