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The Varna System and Modern Society

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 8 months ago


About vedic society, modern economy, democracy and the difficulty of establishing the varna system in a postmodern society



BG 1.42.

dosair etaih kula-ghnanam


utsadyante jati-dharmah

kula-dharmas ca sasvatah






By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.





Arjuna tells Krsna that the families are ruined by varna mixing (varna sankara) but Krsna replies that the world would be ruined if people didn’t do their duties. It is not by doing your duty that the world is ruined. Arjuna laments: What a great sin! He prefers to be killed unarmed than killing his kinsmen. Dharma is not just a family tradition but it has to lead to a higher principle.


Every society has a set of rules. Good laws are intended to promote welfare and human flourishing, but there are grey areas. So there are always people who manipulate the law to subvert the original purpose of the law.


Varnasrama: Vedic society is constitutional monarchy – not absolute monarchy - with freedom of speech (example from Mahabharata: People could criticize the king). The king was under, not above certain laws. Monarchy has its advantages and disadvantages.


There is not a substitute for proper culture. The ruling power functions within a general culture. There are many democratic regimes which are highly exploitative and the same is true with monarchies.



Q: In ISKCON we have the idea that we first have to get rid of democracy in order to establish varnasrama dharma.


I don’t think that we are working against democracy as much as we are working for Krsna Consciousness. It is not clear to me to what extent we can establish varna system in a post industrial economic planet. What does it mean nowadays to be a war hero? Now the generals are many miles away at a computer screen. The nature of warfare has changed drastically, there are no more assembled armies, there is no more front and back. Ksatriyas are totally different. Vaisyas also:  The whole economy has changed now cows are not giving wealth anymore.


Q: To what extent were people forced to be good?


In my impression, to a significant extent it was what people say nowadays  - as long as it is not hurting anyone else. It is a certain moral common sense. It was a real world morality. E.g. polygamy was allowed for kings sometimes because it was better than adultery and promiscuity, but it was always a problem. It was just damage control. In modern culture a man is free to sexually exploit several women, but what makes you a criminal is not exploiting her but legally committing yourself to be responsible and provide for her. And that is polygamy: the act of committing yourself to be responsible and provide for the women that you are sexually using. If you are only sexually exploiting her it is legally perfectly alright.


In Greece and also modern society often power is divided among several individuals (legislative, jurisdiction, executive) because it tends to corrupt.  In Vedic times we don’t find courts as a separate branch of the government, usually the king passed a law, but there are cases where a brahmana would make a law. There are two ways to look at it: We have to go back to Vedic culture and get rid of these courts and congresses and parliaments or we could say that Krsna has not revealed everything just to one people but to different people because everyone is part of Krsna, and this division of power and branches of government is actually a good thing which Krsna has instituted through other people, not only through Indians. The Gita doesn’t really settle the matter. Scripture doesn’t really talk about it, but the idea that Krsna is revealing things not only to one person and in only one part of the world is an interesting concept.



- Even within ISKCON based on our experience we have restricted the power of certain individuals, so whom would we trust to become the ruler of the world today?


- Internet is a big economical and political equalizer