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Varnashram Dharma

Updated on January 10, 2016

Varnashram Dharma




In the 8th century C.E. raja Satyavak Vaideha ruled over Shatadrugram a small kingdom in Mahabharat. Long ago, in a previous life, he was a brigand who raided a monastery to loot valuables and, in the process, killed a bhikkhu. The laws of karma applied resulting in him being sent to niraya (narak), a horrific experience which taught him to pursue sila ,the moral code, as consistently as circumstances allowed him. The result was rebirth as a boar and then a pret. A pret to a Hindu is the atma of a deceased which has not embodied and wanders aimlessly in forests, cremation grounds or households it knew in previous lives. Humans are frightened of prets. A pret is translated as a ghoul in the English language. In time it embodied as various types of herbivorous animals. After a very long time it took residence in a human and many similar lives later it embodied in the raja of Shatadrugram.

The raja was born in a family of Kshatriya varna, a varna meaning colour of the skin. In practice a varna is taken to be a class in the social hierarchy. As a member of the Kshatriya varna, his varnashram dharma was to kill when necessary in total opposition to one who was born in a family with brahman varna.

As a raja and a kshatriya it was was his duty to fight for his kingdom if attacked but he refrained from killing any living being as a brahman should do. He was a kind king and his subjects were very happy.

He did not of course remember his past lives but he was determined to accrue favourable credits in this life. To his disadvantage he chose to ignore the fact that each varna, class, had obligations and codes of behaviour dictated by the varna's dharma which of course is the varnashram dharma. It was bad karma resulting in debits if one deviated from his or her varnashram dharma.

The raja strove for his next life to be as an extra-special being who would spend the whole of his time on the slope of Mount Meru. In some life in the future he would like to stay with the 33 devatas on the top of Mount Meru; upon his death he should arrive without delay in tusita, swarga, where he only wished for a brief sojourn and avoid the life of gaiety. From there he should proceed automatically to rupa loka and finally to arupa loka. He resolved to do all this by meditation no matter how many lives it took to accomplish. He knew that arupa loka was the primordial state of shunyata, zero. He knew also that he would have to return to lower planes but he hoped that it would never again be niraya.

Although he never stopped dreaming and hoping, he was satisfied with his present life. His queen, children or other members of the family left him alone. Even his senapati, the commander-in-chief of his army, never involved him in decision making processes. Unfortunately, one fateful day an aspiring imperialist from the west attacked his kingdom. The senapati prepared to defend the kingdom. His intelligence source informed him that the invader was a white king who subdued Gandhar in the north, the Pauravas in the centre and the large Sindhu kingdom in the south. The boundary of Gandhar touched the, what came to be known later, as the Hindu Kush mountain. To the south of the mountain was Charikar from where the invader attacked the small kingdom and advanced rapidly. His soldiers raped, pillaged and plundered.

The senapati resisted. He still commanded the fourfold army of Mahabharat; the elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantrymen. The westerner used guerilla tactics. The elephants stampeded upon being shot with blazing arrows. Catapults lobbed fire balls on civilian houses, thereby incinerating the residents. The commander-in-chief was dumbfounded. All this was against the dharma of battle. Fighting must be between equals. A swordsman must only fight a swordsman; an archer an archer; the opponent must be warned of the attack. Civilians must never be harmed. War was a contest. Certainly an invader must be defeated but one must never be persuaded to deflect from fairness. One must obey the dharma of war.

Raja Satyavak Vaideha negotiated a ceasefire. He pointed out the dharma of battle.He asked in a mournful, helpless voice why the white king was incinerating civilians? Why was the white king's soldiers just murdering his subjects without any reason? Why was he arranging to take his artisans away with him to his own kingdom? Why was he stealing young women against their will?

The invader became irritated. He told the vanquished raja that he must have led a sheltered life. He had already murdered thousands in Gandhara but as he moved through Nysa he paid homage to the image, murti, of Skanda also known as Kartik not out of respect for the natives but because he himself thought of him as the Greek Dionysus. He paid homage to a similar image in Takshasila. Citizens holding high office prostrated in front of him because he was white. “You have a slave mentality towards the white race,” said the invader contemptuously. “You deserve all you get.”

The raja pleaded. “Take me as a prisoner,” he said. “Do what you wish with me but spare the people of Shatadrugram. Take all the money and jewellery from the royal household.”

The king was tied to a pole. The invader addressed a large crowd who were summoned. He said, “Your king is a coward. He would not fight. I will spare the lives of the rest of you provided you accept me as your king. I will leave a Governor behind who will run your country. Your property will not be confiscated but your king will be deposed and punished for not fighting me. He will be given 50 lashes and then beheaded.” The crowd protested but the king was stripped to the waist and flogged hard. He died after about a dozen lashes.

Raja Satyavak Vaideha had the rare privilege of being conscious of his activity. He noticed with horror that he was descending to the world of animals, just one step higher than niraya. He appealed to Mrityu, death.

He said, “Dev why this injustice? I have performed paramitas throughout my past life which I have been allowed to remember. I have given alms always and never harmed a living creature. I have promoted equanimity.”

Mrityu said, “Ho rajan, I was the first man when this vishwa became manifest. I did not want to die so I carried out a special ritual with fire successfully. That gave me enough credit for me to have this job of being Mrityu. I will cease to be only when this vishwa becomes unmanifest. I am not empowered to alter the fruits of karmic laws.”

The raja insisted that he had accumulated good and substantial credits from his karma during his past life.

Mrityu folded his palms as a gesture of respect. He said, “Oh king of kings, protector of the oppressed, saviour of the poor and a friend and well-wisher of your subjects – the mortals of mother earth loved you. Even the devatas adore you but debits, pap, accruing from your karma are high. You are a Kshatriya. Your principal karma according to your varna was to fight, particularly, a predator when he attacked your kingdom. You have not done so. You have shown complete disregard to your varnashram dharma. I am pleased to see that, at least, you have not been sent to narak.”

Mrityu wiped the tears off the erstwhile raja's eyes and disappeared. The raja could not remember his past life including his encounter with Mrityu from that moment.

He became reborn as a patanga, a mayfly.



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