Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Triad of Quartets - A Indian perspective of Varna-Ashrama-Purushartha system

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Interrelation of Varnas,  Ashramas, Purusharthas system. Designed by Sri. Raama Yeleswarapu.

While describing "Indian way of life" as Hindu religion is defined, one needs to understand these three quartets and their interrelation in all spheres of human life (spiritual, personal, social, political, economic). Please follow the reference links in red font, in case you need to read more about the term or phrase.

The Triad of Quartets

First Quartet: The Ashrama system: Human life is divided into four stages.

1. Brahmacharya: The child would live with his family till he was at the age of 5. He would then be sent to a Gurukul (house of the guru) and typically would live with a Guru (teacher), acquiring knowledge of science, philosophy, scriptures and logic, practicing self-discipline and celibacy, learning to live a life of dharma (righteousness).

2. GrihasthaThe householder life is spent in enjoying family life, carrying out one's duties towards family and society, and gainful labor.

3. Vaanaprastha: After the completion of one's householder duties, one gradually withdraws from the world, freely shares wisdom with others, and prepares for the complete renunciation of the final stage.

4. Sannyaasa: Completely withdrawing from the world, this is a time of complete dedication to spiritual pursuits, the seeking of moksha (freedom from the cycle of rebirth), and practicing meditation to that end.

Having divided the life in these four stages of Child, householder, retiree and Peace-seeker, Indian way of living asks each individual to pursue four Purushaarthas (Achievements). 

Second Quartet: The Purushartha system

This four-fold system deals with defining a complete life with some purpose. For leading a successful and "complete" life, the four basic achievements need to be addressed. They are to be pursued in second stage that is Grihasthashrama stage of human life by each individual.  They are as follows.

1. Dharma: What dharma is has been elaborately described in the previous posts of this blog. Interested readers should follow following links to read further elaboration on this fundamental concept.


To summarize, Dharma is a framework of rules OR constitution which is arrived upon by every component of ecology which ensures just opportunities to every component of the ecological system to pursue their inherent drive to evolve and excel and attain stable position vis-á-vis other components. A just constitution.

2. Artha: The individual, once enrolled in to the "just" system OR "Dharma" has to pursue the material ambitions using "just" means (that is without breaking "dharma"). An individual has to strive hard to attain wealth, power, resources and enrich his life materially using "dharmik means".  To be addressed and pursued  in second stage of life (Grihasthashrama)

3. Kaama: While an individual is attaining and accumulating power and wealth in his capacity using Dharmik means, he has to fulfill his material desires using dharmik means. The desires range from sexual to artistic. All the desires are to be fulfilled. Fulfilling desires is not only just and righteous, but necessary in order to lead successful life. The only pre-requisite is the means and actions while fulfilling the desires should be "Dharmik" and "Just". To be addressed and pursued in second stage of human life (Grihasthashrama). 

4. Moksha: While one is fulfilling the material needs and desires and acquiring wealth and power, one also has to give time towards higher questions which deal with "Adhyatma" (literally - "Deep introspection"). The human being is marked by his tendency to question and marvel about question about self, universe and purpose of life and finding peace and answers to these questions in his capacity. This is fundamental trait and tendency of human-beings which sets us apart from rest of our animal and plant siblings. This aspect of human existence is addressed in the "Moksha" aspect of life. A human being is expected to find answers to such questions and attain peace or die while trying to do it. Typically addressed by human beings in third and fourth stage of human life.

While Artha and Kaama Purushaarthas (achievements) are limited to second stage of life (Grihasthashrama - House-holder), Dharma is to be followed by every individual from birth to death. The Moksha aspect typically is addressed by human beings in later stage of life after the Artha and Kaama achievements are addressed. Although this is not a rule and there are plenty of examples of individuals who turn towards addressing deep introspective questions (Adhyatma) early in life stage. However, Indian system emphasizes that the other achievements should not be abandoned for this fourth Purushaartha, unless one is completely sure. More often than not, if an individual turns towards Moksha aspect of life without fulfilling the Artha and Kaama Purushartha, the individual ends up frustrated and disillusioned in later stages of life. Hence extreme caution is prescribed by the learned individuals to those who abandon wealth and desire for introspection.

Third Quartet: The Varna System

The four-fold Varna system is the most infamous and misunderstood aspect of Indian civilization. While the misunderstanding and misinterpretation has been largely owing to the deeds and actions of many individuals who missed the point of this system and abused it for many a century, it is never too late to smell coffee and find the truth.

Out of human population in a given nation and civilization, the section of society in second stage of life is most productive and back-bone of the nation. The section of population between the age 23 to 60 is the productive population. This productive section of society is referred to as "Grihasthashrama" stage of human life described earlier. The other sections of society like children (age 0-23, referred to as Brahmacharya-ashrama, the first stage of human life), the retired senior citizens (60-onwards, referred to as Vaanaprastha-ashrama, the retiree stage of human life) are dependent on the second block of society for survival. 

Thus, the population belonging to Grihasthashrama stage of life generate wealth for the other three sections of society and for nation and civilization. It is during this stage of life, people indulge in various "Dharmik" professions to fulfill their Artha and Kaama achievements. While every individual has to pursue all the achievements in their capacity, not all human beings have uniform drive towards a particular achievement. E.g. For an professional artist, the Kaama pursuits are much more important than artha pursuits, although he is earning his livelihood via selling his art. On the other hand, for a businessman, acquiring wealth is promary concern than learning and indulging in Kaama pursuits more than necessary. This rather simplistic picture is further complicated when we take into account the professional liabilities and responsibilities of individuals.

To address this issue, the productive section of society was divided into four categories. The other three sections (children and retiree population) are exempted from this social division. Another factor which contributed towards this four-fold division was the assessment by Indian sages that the power of "productive section" of society manifests herself in four different sources.

The four sources of power are:
A. Intellectual Power
B. Military and Physical Power
C. Financial and commercial Power
D. Technological, Numerical power and Land-possession.

The Indian system argued that these four sources of power SHOULD NOT be concentrated in hands of any one section of "Grihastha-Ashrama" pursuing block of population at any given time. Hence the house-holders were divided into

1. Brahmana Varna Professional scholars, teachers, priests, intellectuals, poets, scientists, philosophers and sages. This profession was not allowed to possess any wealth, weapons and land. In return, they were accorded higher respect in society. They were supposed to live off on the donations and grants given by kings, businessmen and farmers.

2. Kshatriya Varna: Professional  kings, warriors, soldiers, sportsmen and rulers. They were the section of productive society which possessed military, physical and official strength. However, they were not allowed to possess land, indulge in trade, and frame policies of nation without consultation and approval of the Brahman Varna.

3. Vaishya Varna: Professional merchants, businessmen, traders. This section of productive society was part of society which was generating wealth for rest of society and controlled the finances of nation and civilization. Hence, this was the richest section of society. However in return, they were not allowed to possess arms, military and frame policies without official approval of intellectual class and ruling class of society. Furthermore, Indian polity does not allow a king to tax more than 16% of income during peace time (which was extended to 25% during wartime). Hence this class was allowed to retain 84% of the income they generated. Hence they were mandated to indulge in charity and contribute towards developmental projects designed by intellectuals and authorized by kings. Although richest section, their social status and respectability wasn't dependent upon the wealth they possessed but charities they indulged in.

4. Shudra Varna: Professional farmers, agriculturists, labourers, craftsmen, engineers, technologists, doctors, lawyers and artisans (developers and propagators of various technologies prevalent in different times and places). This section of society possessed the power of numerical superiority. Along with this, they possessed rights to till the land, develop and propagate technologies and various crafts. However in return they were not allowed to indulge in long-distance trade, possessing arms and weapons, and frame state policies.

There was fifth varna known as Panchama varna (in modern times referred to as Dalits), This was the section of society which were "excommunicated" either due to indulgence in criminal activity (Chaandala) or due to pursuing professions which were considered as "impure" and "dirty" by rest of productive society. Such professions included leather-work, butchering, or removal of rubbish, animal carcasses, and waste. Dalits work as manual labourers cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers. Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual, and this pollution was considered contagious. As a result, Dalits were commonly segregated, and banned from full participation in Hindu social life.

With time and space, the severity of this social ostracism varied. But largely in later phase of 2nd millennium C.E, the severity was on the rise until independent India banned the social ostracism and introduced corrective measures in form of affirmative actions to rectify the injustice done to this section of society in history.

The Confluence of three Triads

Being "Indian" refers to living on the confluence point of these three quartets described above. While this point of confluence where all three quartets were in perfect harmony with each other was mercurial and capricious, India and Indic society has been around this point of perfect equilibrium for considerable duration of history.

According to a famous verse from Rigveda, the message of life is Charaiveti (Keep on walking). This phrase also describes the efforts of Indic and Dharmik civilization based in India to remain close to this point of equilibrium through the currents of history. While doing so, certain excesses were committed in each of the three quartets. 

India, Indics and Dharmiks have to keep this mind and keep on walking and striving to be as near as possible to this perfect point of equilibrium as individual, community, society, nation, civilization and ecology.

Shubham astu!!!

1 comment:

sis said...

highly informative and thought provoking. thank u :-)