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The previous post identified two impersonalist tendencies—i.e. “we are one” and “we are equal”—and discussed their respective impacts on Indian and Western societies. The post also discussed how a personalist system based on hierarchical thinking (rather than equality or oneness) is necessary for social organization. This post carries forward that topic and identifies two kinds of personalist social systems—one material and the other spiritual. These are respectively called Varṇa and daivī Varṇa systems. When talking about the Varṇa system, people often think that we are talking about the material system, which previously led to the modern “caste system”. There is, however, another Varṇa system—the daivī Varṇa system—which is different from the material Varṇa system. This system also has classes, but these classes are eternal and spiritual because they are based on the innate desires of the soul, not merely the material conditions of the body and mind, enforced by the present circumstances. Once we understand the difference between the two systems, it becomes easier to see how in the daivī Varṇa system material social life and spiritual society are identical. All concerns about society are therefore transformed from material to spiritual.

Spiritual vs. Material Varṇa System

The material Varṇa system is based on the guna and karma of the living being, which changes over time, and accordingly, the position of the soul in society can change from a Brahmana to a Sudra or vice versa. Given these changes, a true spiritualist is not very much inclined to give great importance to the material roles. Since all such material roles are temporary, a true spiritualist would recommend taking the material roles with a pinch of salt.

However, we also need to understand that discarding the material roles doesn’t mean a rejection of spiritual roles too. Just as a material role in a social hierarchy is premised on the fact that all bodies and minds are not equal, similarly, a spiritual role in a spiritual society is based on the fact that all souls are not equal. As we saw in the previous post, the idea that “we are all equal” leads to self-service rather than other’s service. However, even if we acknowledge that we are not equal materially, most people would be inclined to think that we are still equal spiritually in some sense. But it is precisely that sense of spiritual equality that leads to material equality. The rejection of equality, therefore, has to be much deeper—i.e. it has to recognize that all souls are not equal.

Rather, each soul has an eternal personality that defines what they enjoy doing, or what will give them eternal and continual pleasure. In the present life, we enjoy various kinds of activities such as teaching, cooking, defending, organizing, crafting, nurturing, etc. based on our material tendencies. But these tendencies are not merely in the body and mind; they can be present in the soul too. That is, some souls will eternally enjoy teaching, while other souls will eternally enjoy cooking, defending, or nurturing. Based on their natural proclivity to a certain type of enjoyment, these souls have a natural “higher” and “lower” position even in a spiritual society.

The Organization of Spiritual Society

Just as the teacher is “higher” in present society relative to a carpenter who is “lower”, similarly, even in a spiritual society, there is “higher” and “lower” based on their spiritual proclivities. The difference between the two is only that in the material Varṇa system, one can change their role, but in the spiritual Varṇa system, the role is eternal because the soul feels no need to change the role as they eternally enjoy a certain type of activity.

Hence, there is a material social hierarchy, and there is also a spiritual social hierarchy, and these two hierarchies have identical structures—i.e. Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra. The fact that you enjoy cooking or sewing or teaching right now, therefore, doesn’t necessarily mean that these are temporary material activities. Instead, these same personality traits can also be your spiritual personality traits. Our position in a spiritual society too can be based on what we enjoy doing eternally. If you are happy cooking eternally, then your spiritual social position is eternally that of a cook. You don’t have to compete with others on what they enjoy doing, because you would not enjoy doing the same things. In that sense, while there is “higher” and “lower” in society, there is no competition between classes because each person is happy doing whatever activities they are doing based on their desires, capabilities, and opportunities.

The Role of the Spiritual Master

The true spiritual master is one who can place a person from the start in their daivī Varṇa—i.e. giving them a type of activity that they can eternally enjoy, and which constitutes their real spiritual personality. If such a spiritual master “initiates” a disciple into the proper activity in spiritual life, this position is not temporary but eternal. As one goes on performing the apparently “material” activities, the person automatically discovers their true spiritual identity—i.e. what they enjoy doing. If the spiritual master is advanced and has placed the living being appropriately, then the eternal spiritual identity will be identical to their material social position in the Varṇa system. In other words, you simply transition from sewing or stitching in the material society to sewing and stitching in a spiritual society. You continue doing and enjoying after the death of the body what you were doing and enjoying before the death. Death has no meaning because there is no change in your activities and your pleasure.

This is the true meaning of dīkṣā. It is placing a living being in an activity that constitutes their natural spiritual proclivity. Based on this proclivity the person is given a type of activity in the present material life, but that activity (if the dīkṣā is performed properly) is also the activity in a spiritual society. In other words, if you’re spiritual proclivity is sewing, then spiritual training means perfecting that sewing—it is not just that sewing will be done by material hands. Rather, sewing goes deeper and deeper: the mind is sewing, the intellect is sewing, the ego is sewing, and ultimately the soul is also sewing. The meaning of soul sewing is that the soul eternally enjoys the sewing activity and would never get tired of doing it over and over.

In the material Varṇa system, the top three classes—the Brahmana, Kshatriya, and Vaisya—were given an “initiation” into material life due to which they were called dvija or twice-born. The idea was that a guru decides (based on a person’s guna and karma) what their social status and activity must be. The fourth class (Sudra) was not initiated, which means that you were not given an initiation if your guna and karma did not qualify you for the other three classes. The process of initiation was therefore essential to place a person in a material role.

In the spiritual Varṇa system, the purpose of initiation is to place the person in a spiritual role in a spiritual society. The spiritual roles are also Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra, because all souls are not equal. Each soul has different proclivities which means that in a society they have to be placed in a “higher” or “lower” situation. However, these grades are not superior or inferior in the material sense because each person enjoys their natural activities. Those activities are the only activities that give them pleasure. Doing someone else’s activity might seem socially higher but since it is not pleasurable, nobody is hankering for it. Unlike the material social classes where a laborer hankers to be a very rich man, or envies the positions of other people in society, in a spiritual social class, a person is placed according to their desire; they are in a lower class because this is what they desire, not because they are forced by social circumstances.

Differences in Spiritual and Material Varṇa System

The spiritual Varṇa system goes beyond the material Varṇa system in its restrictions. For example, in the material Varṇa system, the Brahmana worships demigods through yajña and mantra to obtain their favors (such as rain and sunshine) for society. In the spiritual Varṇa system, a Brahmana only worships Lord Viṣṇu but not the demigods. A Brahmana will still understand the process of yajña and mantra and the needs of society. But, he will only worship Lord Viṣṇu rather than the demigods. Similarly, the Kshatriya are allowed meat-eating, womanizing, and sports, in the material Varṇa system. Kshatriyas were permitted sex without marriage (and Kshatriyas were indeed involved with the girlfriends of their queens), they were permitted meat-eating after performing sacrifices, and they were indeed involved in gambling too (as evidenced from the tales of Mahabharata and gambling between the Pāṇḍava and Kaurava). But they are not so permitted in the spiritual system. The Sudra is allowed visits to prostitutes and intoxication in the material Varṇa system, but they are not allowed in the spiritual Varṇa system; even the Sudra is expected to be chaste and sober.

The reason is that there are many tendencies in the material world that are not eternal, and must be left behind. There are also several tendencies in the material world that can exist even in the spiritual world, and they can be carried forward. The revival of the daivī Varṇa system is not identical to the rejuvenation of the material Varṇa system because the daivī Varṇa system only permits those tendencies that can be taken forward spiritually. Those activities which are not to be carried forward will also not be permitted in the present world. The daivī Varṇa system is therefore far more restrictive in terms of the activities that it permits than the material Varṇa system.

The Vision of Vaishnava Ācharyas on Daivī Varṇa System

Vaishnava Ācharyas such as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati and Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda envisioned a daivī Varṇa system to transform human society. Their vision of the Varṇa system is not material, because it rejects all meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling, which are permitted for the classes in the material Varṇa system. By rejecting all these forms of activities, the daivī system permits only those activities which can be considered potentially a spiritual proclivity.

The meaning of the daivī Varṇa system is that our material life is itself the spiritual life because we are engaged in an activity (identified by the true spiritual master) that is based on spiritual proclivities. We should not be engaged in activities that cannot be carried forward to the spiritual world, or in activities that can be carried forward but which are not our spiritual proclivities. For example, music is a legitimate material and spiritual proclivity. However, music is not the natural spiritual proclivity for every soul, although they may enjoy it in the material world. Therefore, while a soul can be engaged in music here, this is not the ideal engagement from a spiritual perspective. The person should be engaged in eternal spiritual proclivities.

All spiritual tendencies exist in the material world, but all material tendencies do not exist in the spiritual world. Therefore, certain material activities can be considered spiritual too, and with such activities even the material society is spiritual.

The Qualification of a Guru

The role of the spiritual mater is to identify a person’s spiritual proclivities at the start, and when the person is engaged in such activities from the beginning, performing those activities itself becomes the start of spiritual social existence. For example, materially speaking, a person may have the talent for art, music, and teaching, but only teaching may be a spiritual proclivity, while music and art may be material proclivities. That is, in this life, a person may enjoy art, music, and teaching equally, but in the longer run, their interest in art and music would disappear.

Recognizing which tendencies are eternal and which ones are temporary is the fundamental prerogative of the “initiating” spiritual master or dīkṣā guru. When such a guru instructs a disciple on a certain service or activity, that activity is not merely a task that is needed only for tactical purposes such as for fulfilling a societal or institutional goal right now. It is rather also an activity that constitutes the natural proclivity of the soul, and by performing that activity (to the exclusion of other activities) one discovers the true nature of the self by enacting that self. There is, hence, no “transition” from material existence to a spiritual existence. Rather, you continue doing what you were doing even after death, enjoying the same activities.

This means that the daivī Varṇa system depends on only one thing—a truly qualified spiritual master who can engage people in their spiritual proclivities even in the material world. This also means that the true spiritual master must be able to see a person’s true spiritual personality from the beginning. It requires the guru to have that transcendental vision that pierces through the layers of gross matter, senses, mind, intellect, ego, and morality, and see a personality with eternal desires and pleasures and then engage them in the right kind of activity.

In the daivī Varṇa system, a guru can come from any class of society (i.e. BrahmanaKshatriyaVaisya, or Sudra) because all these classes exist in spiritual society too. The real qualification is not based on material position, but on whether you have understood your spiritual position. Owing to this fact Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu allowed everyone to initiate, not just Brahmana or Sannyasis. Similarly, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda also encouraged everyone to initiate. The caveat, however, is that you must have realized your spiritual proclivity and your role in the spiritual society, and have the ability to do so for those who haven’t. A guru from the Sudra class can therefore initiate a disciple into the Brahmana class because the guru can see that the eternal spiritual proclivity of the disciple is Brahmana although he or she hasn’t yet realized it. In such a case, the disciple would be eternally grateful to the guru for showing the path, although he would be socially higher in both material and spiritual societies. The main requirement is that the guru is spiritually realized, whether or not their social role (material or spiritual) is higher. This is possible only in the Daivī Varṇa system, not in the material Varṇa system.

In the material Varṇa system, a guru is always a Brahmana. In the daivī Varṇa system, the guru can be a Sudra too, provided he is spiritually realized. Similarly, women can be spiritual masters too in the Daivī Varṇa system although they are largely forbidden to initiate in the material Varṇa system. Again, the main qualification is a person having recognized their spiritual proclivities, and their position in a spiritual society. A carpenter in a spiritual society can also be a guru (i.e. to show the way) for a priest in a material society to eventually become a priest in the spiritual society. This is a radical conception of the Varṇa system, with few similarities to the material Varṇa system.

The Meaning of Dīkṣā

The word dīkṣā comprises of two parts—dik meaning direction, and kṣā meaning seeing. The meaning of dīkṣā is, therefore, “showing the direction”. This word has a conventional meaning in the material Varṇa system. It also has a non-traditional meaning in the spiritual Varṇa system. The material meaning is that a person is awarded an activity in the material world which situates them in a social class—i.e. Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya—and accords them certain roles and responsibilities of that class. The spiritual meaning is that the activities of a person are chosen such that they can represent the true spiritual proclivity of the soul.

The term dīkṣā also means that the guru “points in the direction” but does not fix the destination. The command of the guru limits the choices for the soul but does not fix the choice. The soul still has free will but within certain limits. For example, if the direction of the guru is to “go East”, then the disciple should not march West, North, or South. However, in marching to the East, the disciple can make some refinements since “go East” is sufficiently abstract: it prescribes the direction but not the destination. These changes are the free will of the soul but within the guru’s command. The disciple thus follows the guru’s instructions but does not lose his free will in that act.

The term dīkṣā indicates the time when the disciple accepts the instructions and commands of the guru and starts following them. It has no relation to a ceremony, which is often performed to mark the start of a journey. If a person is following the instructions of the guru well ahead of the ceremony, then the dīkṣā ceremony does not reset the process. If instead, the person is not following the instructions, then the dīkṣā ceremony does not start the process. The ceremony is simply a time when the disciple takes a vow to follow the instructions. That vow may not be the start of the instruction obeying, nor can the instructions be considered invalidated if the vow is broken. Nevertheless, a formal process of taking a vow is prescribed to indicate to the disciple that hereafter the vows should not be broken, because they have been taken with fire as the witness.

The dīkṣā ceremony is like the marriage ceremony between husband and wife. During the ceremony, they take vows to be faithful to each other. But that faithfulness need not begin only after the vow and is not guaranteed to be maintained after a vow. Generally, we take the guru’s instructions and take a vow to follow them. But you can follow the instructions without taking a vow to follow them, or take a vow to follow but do not actually follow the instructions. In that sense, the dīkṣā ceremony is only a formality, not the real “showing the direction”. The true dīkṣā is when the guru shows a spiritual path—i.e. the service to be performed in the present life, which also indicates the spiritual proclivities—because they are not separate.