The system of Varnashrama is a systematic procedure to adjust ourselves and adapt ourselves to the circumstances of life, horizontally in society, and vertically in our own personality. The horizontal adjustment is the Varna and the vertical adjustment is the Ashrama. We have to be complete in society, in our relationships with people, and we have to be complete in our own selves by a suitable harmonious alignment of the various layers of our personality. Such an adjustment is very effectively brought about by following the great canons of the Varna and the Ashrama.
People generally think that Varna means caste, but it is not that. It means a class. The principle of the classification of society is called the Varna-Dharma. It is a classification, not a ‘castification’. No man is complete in himself, and therefore, no man can be satisfied merely in his own self without the cooperation of other persons. Man is, among other things, intellect, will, emotion and energy. Everyone is not possessed of these characteristics in the same measure. Inasmuch as everyone’s intention is the welfare of all human beings, the solidarity of mankind in general, it is necessary that we share among ourselves the commodities that we have. The commodities are not necessarily physical ones; they can be psychological ones also. If one has great intellectual capacity and spiritual acumen, which are necessary for the welfare of society, but not other facilities, he will share the knowledge and wisdom and the directing intelligence that he has with others, for the facilities which he does not have. The mutual cooperative activity of society—spiritually, administratively, economically and manually—forms the essence of the Varna system. The classification into Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras is not a categorization of people into superior and inferior types, into bosses and subordinates, but it is a classification of the functions of individuals according to their knowledge and capacities, for the purpose of a complete cooperative organization of humankind, with a noble intention and purpose. The desires of ours are classified in this manner, and they are given an opportunity of permissible satisfaction, by a mutual cooperation horizontally in this manner.
There is the other side, namely, the vertical side, which is the subject of the Ashrama-Dharma, or duties pertaining to the different Ashramas, or stages of life. Just as we have totally misunderstood the meaning of the Varna system, we have also misunderstood the meaning of the Ashrama system. Just as we condemn the classification of Varna as caste distinction, we convert the classification of the stages of one’s life by way of Ashrama, into a kind of dead routine of religion. Neither Varna nor Ashrama is a routine. Varnashrama is a vital participation in the processes of life, externally as well as internally. Externally it goes by the name of Varna, and internally it goes by the name of Ashrama. So, outwardly as well as inwardly, these systems of organization known as Varna and Ashrama, are procedures enjoined upon every person, for untying the various knots of entanglement in life, engendered by one’s needs which are social, physical, vital, emotional, intellectual and so on.
Such a vast involvement is associated with this little thing called Brahmacharya, by the practice of which we do not merely put on a conduct personally and socially but establish ourselves in a status of strength, where we are so tuned to things that our energies do not move at all in any direction, but are held up in such a way that there is no urge within ourselves to transfer our energies to outside things for the fulfilment of our desires.
The intention behind the practice of the canons of Varna and Ashrama in a graduated manner is not the indulgence of desires, but their graduated, scientific, systematized and cautious fulfilment in a measure that is permissible and required under the circumstances for the purpose of freeing oneself from them finally. So, we do not eat because we want to eat, but because it is necessary to reach a stage where we need not eat at all. There is, therefore, a deep background behind the psychology of the canons known as the Yamas and a clear understanding of this background will help us to practice these canons better.
The mere fact he has broken through to samâdhi means that he was able to justify experience enough in his subconscious mind so that his subconscious mind could fall into line, into the habit pattern of pure concentration. When the conscious mind is in concentration upon one single thing, the subconscious mind is in concentration also, following the pattern of the conscious mind, on one particular thing. Then that expands consciousness automatically into the superconscious state of mind.
Each soul comes into Self Realization differently, because each has a different mind, a different subconscious mind and a different conscious mind.
The teachings of yoga are so basically simple and so basically concrete. And the most beautiful thing in the world, on contemplation, is the simplest thing in the world. The most beautiful design is the simplest design. So, simply since one has realized the Self and gone into nirvikalpa samâdhi once, then obviously the simplest thing to do is to do it again. This is the practice of samâdhi. He will become consciously more superconscious for longer periods of time each time he experiences nirvikalpa samâdhi.
If he goes into nirvikalpa samâdhi and becomes ramified in the psychic powers that come after samâdhi, after his first samâdhi, his second samâdhi, his third samâdhi, he will become more intense and will realize new possibilities within himself. If he remains on those planes of the phenomena of the occultism of the mind, then he gains new and fascinating powers of the mechanism of the mind, but he loses the power to bring others along the path into samâdhi.
His first step in practicing samâdhi would be to concentrate upon one physical object, that is if he cannot see his inner light. Only after he has gone into samâdhi many, many, many times, where his whole body becomes filled with light, will he then see his inner light all the time, twenty-four hours a day. The light, really, is the friction of the super conscious mind against the conscious and subconscious mind. In my way of looking at it, it is an electrical friction. The odic forces and the actinic forces merging causes light and sound. So, when he sees this brilliant light right in his head—more brilliant than he has ever seen, intensified brilliance—he tries to find the center of it. When he finds the center of it, again trying to open up that light like a camera lens, he will then come into a state of consciousness called Sat chid ânanda, a state of pure consciousness, a state of pure bliss, savikalpa samâdhi.
Dharma after Self Realization
What is life like after realization? One difference is the relationship to possessions. Everything is yours, even if you don’t own it. This is because you are secure in the Self as the only reality, the only permanence, and the security that depends on having possessions is gone. After Self Realization, we no longer have to go into ourself. Rather, we go out of ourself to see the world. We are always coming out rather than trying to go in. There is always a center, and we are the center, no matter where we are. No matter where we are, no matter how crude or rotten, the vibrations around us will not affect us. Curiosity is the final thing to leave the mind, which it does after Self Realization. The curiosity of things goes away—of siddhis, for example. We no longer want power, because we are power, nonpower, unusable. And Satchidânanda is now to us similar to what the intellect used to be. Samyama, contemplation, is effortless to you now, like the intellect used to be; whereas before, samyama was a very big job which took a lot of energy and concentration.
For ultimate freedom, everything has to go away, all human things, possessions, love, hate, family, friends, the desire for attention and community acceptance. The sannyâsin renounces the world, and then, if his giving up is uncompromisingly complete, the world renounces the sannyâsin. This means the world itself won’t accept him as it once did as a participant in its mundane transactions of a job, social life, home and family.
The renunciate’s path is to seek enlightenment through sâdhana, discipline, deep meditation and yogic practices. That is the goal, but only the first goal for the sannyâsin. To stay enlightened is even a greater challenge for him.
The advice is, having once attained a breakthrough of light within the head, wisdom tells us, remain wise and do not allow these experiences to strengthen the external ego. Become more humble. Become more self-effacing. Become more loving and understanding. Don’t play the fool by giving yourself reprieve from prânayâma, padmâsana, deep meditation, self-inquiry and exquisite personal behavior.
The wise know full well that the higher chakras, once stimulated, stimulate their lower counterparts as well, unless the sealing of the passage just below the mûlâdhâra has been accomplished. Diligence is needed, lest higher consciousness fall unknowingly on the slippery slide of ignorance into the realms of lower consciousness, of fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, loneliness, malice and distrust.
Traditionally, the character has to be built within the devotee as a first and foremost platform before even the hint of an initiation into inner teaching is given. This purifying preparation involves repentance, confession and reconcilation through traditional prâyaschitta, penance, to mitigate kukarmas. This crucial work often takes years to accomplish.
We are still living in a physical body. Therefore, one foot must always be kept firmly on the head of the snake of the instinctive-intellectual nature. The higher we go, the lower we can fall if precaution is not taken. Therefore, we must prepare devotees for a sudden or slow fall as well. They should land on the soft pillows of consistent daily sâdhana, worship of God, Gods and guru, and the basic religious practices of karma yoga and bhakti yoga. Without these as a platform, they may slide down in consciousness, below the mûlâdhâra, into the chakras of fear, anger, doubt and depression. Therefore, we reaffirm, having attained a small degree of enlightenment, or a fuller enlightenment, stay enlightened, because mukti, the transference from the physical body through the top of the head at the point of death, has not yet occurred. And only after that happens are we enlightened forever. This is the beginning of the ultimate merging with Siva in a physical body! Thereafter follows visvagrâsa, the final, final, final merger whence there is no return, where jîva has in reality become Siva, as a bowl of water poured into the ocean becomes the ocean. There is no difference and no return.
Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Manu is the universal lawgiver; not alone for Hindu society, but for the world. All systems of wise social regulations and even justice are patterned after Manu.
He has outlined the duties of a king. “He should shower amenities like Indra (lord of the gods); collect taxes gently and imperceptibly as the sun obtains vapor from water; enter into the life of his subjects as the wind goes everywhere; mete out even justice to all like Yama (god of death); bind transgressors in a noose like Varuna (Vedic deity of sky and wind); please all like the moon, burn up vicious enemies like the god of fire; and support all like the earth goddess.
“In war a king should not fight with poisonous or fiery weapons nor kill weak or unready or weaponless foes or men who are in fear or who pray for protection or who run away. War should be resorted to only as a last resort. Results are always doubtful in war.”
The origin of the caste system, formulated by the great legislator Manu, was admirable. He saw clearly that men are distinguished by natural evolution into four great classes: those capable of offering service to society through their bodily labor (Sudras); those who serve through mentality, skill, agriculture, trade, commerce, business life in general (Vaisyas); those whose talents are administrative, executive, and protective-rulers and warriors (Kshatriyas); those of contemplative nature, spiritually inspired and inspiring (Brahmins). “Neither birth nor sacraments nor study nor ancestry can decide whether a person is twice-born (i.e., a Brahmin);” the Mahabharata declares, “character and conduct only can decide.” Manu instructed society to show respect to its members insofar as they possessed wisdom, virtue, age, kinship or, lastly, wealth. Riches in Vedic India were always despised if they were hoarded or unavailable for charitable purposes. Ungenerous men of great wealth were assigned a low rank in society.
Inclusion in one of these four castes originally depended not on a man’s birth but on his natural capacities as demonstrated by the goal in life he elected to achieve. This goal could be (1) kama, desire, activity of the life of the senses (Sudra stage), (2) artha, gain, fulfilling but controlling the desires (Vaisya stage), (3) dharma, self-discipline, the life of responsibility and right action (Kshatriya stage), (4) moksha, liberation, the life of spirituality and religious teaching (Brahmin stage). These four castes render service to humanity by (1) body, (2) mind, (3) will power, (4) Spirit.
“These four stages have their correspondence in the eternal gunas or qualities of nature, tamas, rajas, and sattva: obstruction, activity, and expansion; or, mass, energy, and intelligence. The four natural castes are marked by the gunas as (1) tamas (ignorance), (2) tamas- rajas (mixture of ignorance and activity), (3) rajas-sattva (mixture of right activity and enlightenment), (4) sattva (enlightenment). Thus has nature marked every man with his caste, by the predominance in himself of one, or the mixture of two, of the gunas. Of course every human being has all three gunas in varying proportions. The guru will be able rightly to determine a man’s caste or evolutionary status.
“To a certain extent, all races and nations observe in practice, if not in theory, the features of caste. Where there is great license or so-called liberty, particularly in intermarriage between extremes in the natural castes, the race dwindles away and becomes extinct. The Purana Samhita compares the offspring of such unions to barren hybrids, like the mule which is incapable of propagation of its own species. Artificial species are eventually exterminated. History offers abundant proof of numerous great races which no longer have any living representatives. The caste system of India is credited by her most profound thinkers with being the check or preventive against license which has preserved the purity of the race and brought it safely through millenniums of vicissitudes, while other races have vanished in oblivion.”
Serious evils arose when the caste system became hardened through the centuries into a hereditary halter. Social reformers like Gandhi and the members of very numerous societies in India today are making slow but sure progress in restoring the ancient values of caste, based solely on natural qualification and not on birth. Every nation on earth has its own distinctive misery-producing karma to deal with and remove; India, too, with her versatile and invulnerable spirit, shall prove herself equal to the task of caste-reformation.
“Do not do what you want, and then you may do what you like” – a guide to soul freedom through mastery of the ego told by Sadasiva.
Excerpts from the book by Paramhansa Yogananda “Autobiography of a Yogi”
Most people on this Earth are following a path of self-interest and selfishness. No doubt, it is the most popular path, and it has its own pandits and masters, who teach how to perfect the path of the external ego, how to perfect worldliness, how to perfect the trinity of I, me and mine, how to perfect self-indulgence.
Enamored with the senses, unaware of and thus not interested in dharma or his inner Divinity, a man surrounds himself with the pleasures and distractions of the world: women, wine, fine apparel, rare fruits and flowers and the intellectual diversions found in books and games.
One of these I call the ânava mârga, or the path of egoism. True, it is not a traditional path, but it is a path well worn, well known in all human traditions. In fact, you could say there are three such untraditional paths, three worldly mârgas: ânava, karma and mâyâ. The last two bonds, karma and mâyâ, are the first to begin to diminish their hold on the soul as one proceeds on the path to enlightenment.
The karma mârga is when the soul is totally enmeshed in the actions and reactions of the past and making new karmas so swiftly that little personal identity, or egoism, is experienced, like a small boat bouncing on a vast ocean of ignorance, the ignorance of the mâyâ mârga. And when these fetters begin to loosen, the ânava, the personal ego identity, thoughts of “me,” “my” and “mine,” should also begin to go, but often don’t. When karma and mâyâ begin to go, ânava often becomes stronger and stronger and stronger.
Here the realization comes that “Yes! I am a person on this Earth with the rights of all. I am no longer bound and harassed by experience. I can adjust experience, create new experience for myself and for others. I can be the controller. I am I.” The I becomes the realization and sometimes the end of the path of the karma and mâyâ mârga. The I, that all-important personal identity, so strong, becomes the realization of the small and limited “self,” which appears to be a big and real “self” to those who have found this path, which is not the spiritual path, but the path of grayness; while the karma and mâyâ mârgas are the paths of darkness. Ånava, the personal ego, finding oneself, with a small “s,” the personal identity, gaining intellectual freedom are all modern clichés.
To offset the negative with the positive better explains the positive. To understand the pure essence of ignorance, where it comes from, its values, beliefs and motivations, better defines the heights of wisdom out of which comes dharma and aspirations for mukti. We cannot advance on the path without a starting place. No race was ever won but that everyone began at the same place.
The businessman on the ânava mârga is generous by all appearances, gives enough to gain praise, adulation and to make friends. In proportion to his wealth, he gives a pittance. There is always some attachment to the gift, some favor to be eventually reaped. The gift is a purchase in disguise.
Television is a window into the ânava mârga. We see extremely successful professional people who maybe have started on the ânava mârga and have bypassed it to the artful acting portrayal of people on the ânava mârga.
Before the ânava mârga, there is only confusion, unqualified thoughts, desires that are only motivative or directional, not crystallized into any kind of a concept that can be manifested toward a fulfillment. The confusion arises out of the drive for self preservation. All animal instincts are alive in such a human being. He does not hold to promises, does not seek to strive, is a proverbial burden on society. Society is made up of ânava mârgîs and those who live in the other mârgas. Deception, theft, murder, anger, jealousy and fear are often the occupation and the emotions of those living without a personal identity, a well-defined ego. A personal identity and well-defined ego is the ânava, and the pursuit of the development of that is the mârga. Each purusha, human soul, must go through the ânava mârga, a natural and required path whose bloom is the fulfillment of the senses, of the intellect and all the complexities of doing. It is prior to our entrance upon the ânava mârga and while we are happily on the ânava mârga that we create the karmas to be understood and overcome later when we walk the charyâ and kriyâ mârgas. You have to understand before you can overcome. This is the time that we “do ourselves in” and later understand the all-pervasiveness of Siva, the laws of karma, dharma, sansâra. Yes, of course, this is the time the mischief is done.
The ânava mârgî looks at God from a distance. He does not want to get too close and does not want to drift too far away, lives between lower consciousness and higher consciousness, between the manipûra, svâdhish†hana and mûlâdhâra and the lower three, atala, vitala and sutala, which represent fear, anger and jealousy. He is guided by reason. That is why he can come into the other mârgas. Therefore, God is at a distance. He sees himself pluralistically, separate from God, coexistent with God. The higher chakras are dreaming benignly, waiting for the consciousness to explore them.
Only when someone begins to love God is he on the path of spiritual unfoldment. Only then is he a seeker. Only then does his budding love begin to focus on religious icons. Only then is he able to nurture his love into becoming a bhaktar and at the same time a religious person, a giving person. This is the charyâ path. We come onto the charyâ mârga from the ânava mârga. We come to Lord Ganesha’s feet from the ânava mârga. He is now the guide. The personal ego has lost its hold.
The ânava mârga, and the glue that holds it together, is ignorance of the basic tenets of Hinduism. There is no way one can be on this mârga if he truly accepts the existence of God pervading all form, sustaining all form and rearranging all form. There is no way this mârga could be pursued by one understanding karma, seeing his manifest acts replayed back to him through the lives of others, his secret diabolical thoughts attacking him through the lips of others. The ânava mârga does not include this knowledge. The dharma of a perfect universe and an orderly life, the consciousness of “the world is my family, all animals are my pets” is an abhorrent idea to someone on the ânava mârga, especially if he is casted by birth in this life. The ânava mârgî abhors the idea of reincarnation. To pay the bill of one’s indiscretions in another life is not what ânava is all about. There is a forgetfulness here. When you renounce your childhood, you forget that you ever were a child. You forget the moods, the emotions, the joys and the fears and all that was important at that time.
The yoga mârga must come naturally out of intense bhakti and internalized worship. The intensity of bhakti is developed on the kriyâ mârga. The final remains of the ego are pulverized on the charyâ mârga, where Sivathondu, selfless service, is performed unrelentingly with no thought of reward, but a hope that the pu∫ya, merit, will be beneficial in the long run. The ânava mârga is easy to leave through total surrender to God, Gods and guru, along with seva, service to religious institutions. Surrender, prapatti, is the key.
It is not without a great ordeal and effort, soul-searching and decision-making that one mârga bends into the other or bows before the other before it releases the consciousness to go on. One mârga must really bend before the other before one can be released. Before entering another mârga, it is a matter of giving up, which is painful, most especially for the ânava mârga people, for whom suffering is no stranger.
Ånava people are always pursuing something, the fulfillment comes on the ânava mârga, and there is fulfillment, but in a never-stopping pursuit of fulfillment. As soon as we stop the pursuit of fulfillment, we become unhappy, empty, feel unfulfilled and, I might even say, at times depressed. The ânava mârga is the I-ness, me-ness, mine-ness; me, my, I. “I want, I give, I get, I collect.” I, me and mine are the key words here. The true ânava mârgî is the owner, the getter, the consumer, not always the producer, vulnerable to the emotions of fear, who uses jealousy as an asset to obtain.
There are two mârgas before the ânava mârga begins, within the realm of deep ignorance. Here reside the masses who live in confusion, the professional consumers who know the generosity of society, who will never in this lifetime manifest a desire, a goal, a thought for the future worthy enough to be accepted on the ânava mârga. They are the slaves of the ânava mârgîs, those whom, as slaves, they manipulate without conscience.
Ånava is one’s personal ego, his identity and place in the world and position on the planet. If his motives are proper and the position is earned on account of good deeds, it is not ânava. But if, when praised, he takes credit for himself, it is ânava. Ånava is the tricky substance of the mind. It is behind every door, it’s peeking in every window. It is the first thing to come at birth and the last thing to go at death. To break the chain of ânava, the yoking to the Infinite beyond comprehension in any state of mind must be complete and final. And yet, while a physical body is still maintained, the ânava elf is still lurking in the shadows, saying “praise is better than blame, name must come into fame, and shame is to be avoided at all cost.” This is the ânava routine. It keeps people held down on the planet in the instinctive-intellectual mind of remorse and forgiveness and suffering the adjustments to circumstance that occur beyond their power of understanding.
If we were to admit that there are really seven mârgas, we would find that charyâ, kriyâ, yoga and jñâna are progressive states of fullness, and the ânava mârga, by comparison, is a static state of emptiness. This feeling of emptiness is a motivative, driving force of desire toward the attainment of the feeling of fullness. The feeling of fullness is the awakening of the higher chakras, of course. And the constant feeling of completeness is, of course, the permanent awakening of the sahasrâra chakra.
The path of the ânava teaches us what to do and what not to do. It creates the karmas to be lived through and faced in many lives to come. And when dharma is finally accepted and understood and the religious patterns of life are encompassed in one’s own personal daily experience, then and only then do we see the end of this path in view. So, the ânava mârga is definitely not a never-ending maze or a no-man’s land. Though a state of ignorance, it is still a state of experiential learning.
People try to fill their emptiness with things. They work so hard for their money, thinking, “Oh, when I can buy this object for my home I will feel fulfilled.” They buy it with their hard-earned money. A day or two later, after ownership has taken effect, the initial fulfillment of ownership wanes, and unfulfillment, which has always been there, takes over. There is no fulfillment in the instinctive-intellectual mind.
Bound to the Path
These days egos get gratified by going to heads of corporations, meeting important people and bowing before heads of state. It is on the charyâ mârga that we learn that rich and poor, the powerful and lowly are all purushas, pure souls, jîvas encompassed in a physical body. And on this mârga we learn to bow before God and the Gods. We learn that their home, their officiating place, is the temple, the home shrine and under sacred trees. Being in their presence makes the charyâ mârgî feel small. The first glimmer of the feeling of smallness is the first footstep on the charyâ mârga.
Those who are not successful in life yet, and experience the repercussion of karmas of past lives denying them things, experiences, security and wealth, are the ruthless ânava mârgîs. For those who have fulfilled their dharmas, and desire has waned for more—they don’t need more money, they don’t need more food, they don’t need more houses, they don’t need more respect—the ânava wanes of its own accord, like an old leaf on a tree turns color and falls to the ground. They enter the charyâ mârga and kriyâ mârga with matured respect and humility.
The one who has little desires the most. He takes issues with the smallest things. The instinctive desire to save face is ever prevalent in his mind, for his face is all he’s got. Even the jîvanmukta doesn’t like unjust criticisms, but he is bound by his wisdom to nondefensiveness, just, unjust, true or false. “Let them say what they have to say, and if it affects me, it is helping me on the way to my final mukti.” He would bless them for that. The ânava mârgî is not like people on the other mârgas, who have mixed feelings about these issues. The ânava mârgî is a prefect in retaliation. That comes as one of the powers or boons of living on this mârga, along with deception and the ability to lie one’s way out of a situation. And to save face, place and position, no matter how lowly they might seem, is the goal of life for the ânava mârgî.
Exiting the Anava Marga
There is a little of the ânava always with us right up to the moment of mukti. You don’t get off the ânava mârga. Individual ego slowly diminishes as the soul unfolds from mârga to mârga. Nandi the bull represents the ego, personal identity, and in a large traditional Hindu temple, we see many images of Nandi, getting progressively smaller as we approach the innermost sanctum. This indicates the soul’s progression toward God or the diminishing ego.
Self-preservation is a very important part of the personal ego. But then, later, as progressive steps are taken, spiritual identity fulfills the emptiness, as water fills up a container. Only at the moment that mukti occurs does the container vanish. Until then the ânava is like smoldering coals in a burnt-out fire. New wood can be thrown upon them. They can be fanned up. Detractors to a spiritual movement will often try to reawaken the ânava of its leader and kill out the rival movement by creating his downfall.
It is no accident that the Hindu sages can understand the ânava within man. Yes, of course, they passed through it themselves and are just tapping their own memory patterns, seeing the actions of others and knowing the outcome.
Without sâdhana, penance tends to be spontaneous, erratic; whereas consistent sâdhana is the regulation of penance. Now the soul begins dropping off the bonds of karma, mâyâ and ânava as it unfolds into bhakti, love. All this is not without being a painful process. Therefore, the protective mechanism of fear, which in itself is an avoidance process, is right there to help – in the chakra just below the mûlâdhâra. The presence or absence of spiritual surrender and willingness to serve shows whether a person is on the ânava mârga or on the charyâ mârga. Devotees on the charyâ mârga are striving to unfold spiritually and reach the kriyâ mârga. People on the ânava mârga are not striving at all. They are their own self-appointed teachers and proceed at their own pace. When we are on the charyâ mârga, we have a lot of help from family, friends and our entire religious community. When we are on the kriyâ mârga, the entire Hindu community, the elders and others all get behind us to help us along our way. Then when we are finally on the yoga mârga, we have all the saptha rishis helping us. The sat gurus are helping, too, and all three million swâmîs and sâdhus in the world are helping us along the path at this stage. When we have entered the jñâna mârga, we are bringing forth new knowledge, giving forth blessings and meeting the karmas that unwind until mukti.
Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami