Chapter Twelve
The Perfect Society: Four Spiritual Classes
This chapter particularly describes the brahmacārī and the person in the vānaprastha stage, and it also gives a general description of the four āśramas—brahmacarya, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa. In the previous chapter, the great saint Nārada Muni has described the varṇa institution of society, and now, in this chapter, he will describe the stages of spiritual advancement in the four āśramas, which are known as brahmacarya, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa.
The brahmacāri should live under the care of the true spiritual master, giving him sincere respect and obeisances, acting as his menial servant, and always carrying out his order. The brahmacārī should engage himself in spiritual activities and study the Vedic literature under the direction of the spiritual master. According to the brahmacarya system, he should dress with a belt, deerskin, and matted hair and should bear a daṇḍa, waterpot and sacred thread. He should collect alms daily in the morning, and in the evening whatever alms he has collected he should offer to the spiritual master. A brahmacārī should accept prasāda upon the order of the spiritual master, and if the spiritual master sometimes forgets to order the disciple to eat, the disciple should not take prasāda on his own initiative; rather, he should fast. The brahmacārī should be trained to be satisfied with eating what is absolutely necessary, he should be very expert in executing responsibilities, he should be faithful, and he should control his senses and try to avoid the association of women as far as possible. A brahmacārī should very strictly abstain from living with women and should not meet with gṛhasthas and those too addicted to women. Nor should a brahmacārī speak in a lonely place with a woman.
After completing one’s education as a brahmacārī in this way, one should give dakṣiṇā, an offering of gratitude, to one’s guru, and then one may leave for home and accept the next āśrama—the gṛhastha-āśrama—or else one may continue in the brahmacarya-āśrama without adulteration. The duties for the gṛhastha-āśrama and brahmacarya-āśrama, as well as the duties for sannyāsīs, are prescribed in the śāstras. A gṛhastha is not meant to enjoy sex life without restriction. Indeed, the whole purpose of Vedic life is to become free from sexual indulgence. All the āśramas are recognized for spiritual progress, and therefore although the gṛhastha-āśrama gives a kind of license for sex life for a certain time, it does not allow unrestricted sex life. Therefore, in gṛhastha life also, there is no illicit sex. A gṛhastha should not accept a woman for sexual enjoyment. Wasting semen is also illicit sex.
After the gṛhastha-āśrama is another āśrama, known as vānaprastha, which is midway between gṛhastha and sannyāsa. A person in the vānaprastha order is restricted in eating food grains and forbidden to eat fruits that have not ripened on the tree. Nor should he cook food with fire, although he is allowed to eat caru, grains that have been offered in a sacrificial fire. He may also eat fruits and grains that have grown naturally. Living in a thatched cottage, the vānaprastha should endure all kinds of heat and cold. He should not cut his nails or hair, and he should give up cleaning his body and teeth. He should wear tree bark, accept a daṇḍa, and practice life in the forest, taking a vow to live there for twelve years, eight years, four years, two years or at least one year. At last, when because of old age he can no longer perform the activities of a vānaprastha, he should gradually stop everything and in this way give up his body.
śrī-nārada uvāca
brahmacārī guru-kule
vasan dānto guror hitam
ācaran dāsavan nīco
gurau sudṛḍha-sauhṛdaḥ
śrī-nāradaḥ uvāca—Śrī Nārada Muni said; brahmacārī—a brahmacārī, a student living at the residence of the guru; guru-kule—at the residence of the guru; vasan—by living; dāntaḥ—continuously practicing control of the senses; guroḥ hitam—only for the benefit of the guru (not for one’s personal benefit); ācaran—practicing; dāsa-vat—very humbly, like a slave; nīcaḥ—submissive, obedient; gurau—unto the spiritual master; su-dṛḍha—firmly; sauhṛdaḥ—in friendship or good will.
Nārada Muni said: A student should practice completely controlling his senses. He should be submissive and should have an attitude of firm friendship for the spiritual master. With a great vow, the brahmacārī should live at the guru-kula, only for the benefit of the guru.
sāyaṁ prātar upāsīta
sandhye ubhe ca yata-vāg
japan brahma samāhitaḥ
sāyam—in the evening; prātaḥ—in the morning; upāsīta—he should worship; guru—the spiritual master; agni—the fire (by a fire sacrifice); arka—the sun; sura-uttamān—and Lord Viṣṇu, Puruṣottama, the best of personalities; sandhye—morning and evening; ubhe—both; ca—also; yata-vāk—without talking, being silent; japan—murmuring; brahma—the Gāyatrī mantra; samāhitaḥ—being fully absorbed.
At both junctions of day and night, namely, in the early morning and in the evening, he should be fully absorbed in thoughts of the spiritual master, fire, the sun-god and Lord Viṣṇu and by chanting the Gāyatrī mantra he should worship them.
chandāṁsy adhīyīta guror
āhūtaś cet suyantritaḥ
upakrame ’vasāne ca
caraṇau śirasā namet
chandāṁsimantras in the Vedas, like the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra and the Gāyatrī mantra; adhīyīta—one should chant or read regularly; guroḥ—from the spiritual master; āhūtaḥ—being addressed or called (by him); cet—if; su-yantritaḥ—faithful, well behaved; upakrame—in the beginning; avasāne—at the end (of reading Vedic mantras); ca—also; caraṇau—at the lotus feet; śirasā—by the head; namet—one should offer obeisances.
Being called by the spiritual master, the student should study the Vedic mantras regularly. Every day, before beginning his studies and at the end of his studies, the disciple should respectfully offer obeisances unto the spiritual master.
bibhṛyād upavītaṁ ca
darbha-pāṇir yathoditam
mekhalā—a belt made of straw; ajina-vāsāṁsi—garments made of deerskin; jaṭā—matted hair; daṇḍa—a rod; kamaṇḍalūn—and a waterpot known as a kamaṇḍalu; bibhṛyāt—he (the brahmacārī) should regularly carry or wear; upavītam ca—and a sacred thread; darbha-pāṇiḥ—taking purified kuśa in his hand; yathā uditam—as recommended in the śāstras.
Carrying pure kuśa grass in his hand, the brahmacārī should dress regularly with a belt of straw and with deerskin garments. He should wear matted hair, carry a rod and waterpot and be decorated with a sacred thread, as recommended in the śāstras.
sāyaṁ prātaś cared bhaikṣyaṁ
gurave tan nivedayet
bhuñjīta yady anujñāto
no ced upavaset kvacit
sāyam—in the evening; prātaḥ—in the morning; caret—should go out; bhaikṣyam—to collect alms; gurave—unto the spiritual master; tat—all that he collects; nivedayet—should offer; bhuñjīta—he should eat; yadi—if; anujñātaḥ—ordered (by the spiritual master); no—otherwise; cet—if; upavaset—should observe fasting; kvacit—sometimes.
The brahmacārī should go out morning and evening to collect alms, and he should offer all that he collects to the spiritual master. He should eat only if ordered to take food by the spiritual master; otherwise, if the spiritual master does not give this order, he may sometimes have to fast.
suśīlo mita-bhug dakṣaḥ
śraddadhāno jitendriyaḥ
yāvad-arthaṁ vyavaharet
strīṣu strī-nirjiteṣu ca
su-śīlaḥ—very polite and well behaved; mita-bhuk—eating only exactly what he needs, neither more nor less; dakṣaḥ—expert or without laziness, always busy; śraddadhānaḥ—possessing full faith in the instructions of the śāstra and the spiritual master; jita-indriyaḥ—having full control over the senses; yāvat-artham—as much as necessary; vyavaharet—should behave externally; strīṣu—unto women; strī-nirjiteṣu—men who are henpecked, controlled by women; ca—also.
A brahmacārī should be quite well behaved and gentle and should not eat or collect more than necessary. He must always be active and expert, fully believing in the instructions of the spiritual master and the śāstra. Fully controlling his senses, he should associate only as much as necessary with women or those controlled by women.
A brahmacārī should be very careful not to mix with women or with men addicted to women. Although when he goes out to beg alms it is necessary to talk with women and with men very much attached to women, this association should be very short, and he should talk with them only about begging alms, and not more. A brahmacārī should be very careful in associating with men who are attached to women.
varjayet pramadā-gāthām
agṛhastho bṛhad-vrataḥ
indriyāṇi pramāthīni
haranty api yater manaḥ
varjayet—must give up; pramadā-gāthām—talking with women; agṛhasthaḥ—a person who has not accepted the gṛhastha-āśrama (a brahmacārī or sannyāsī); bṛhat-vrataḥ—invariably observing the vow of celibacy; indriyāṇi—the senses; pramāthīni—almost always unconquerable; haranti—take away; api—even; yateḥ—of the sannyāsī; manaḥ—the mind.
A brahmacārī, or one who has not accepted the gṛhastha-āśrama [family life], must rigidly avoid talking with women or about women, for the senses are so powerful that they may agitate even the mind of a sannyāsī, a member of the renounced order of life.
Brahmacarya essentially means the vow not to marry but to observe strict celibacy (bṛhad-vrata). A brahmacārī or sannyāsī should avoid talking with women or reading literature concerning talks between man and woman. The injunction restricting association with women is the basic principle of spiritual life. Associating or talking with women is never advised in any of the Vedic literatures. The entire Vedic system teaches one to avoid sex life so that one may gradually progress from brahmacarya to gṛhastha, from gṛhastha to vānaprastha, and from vānaprastha to sannyāsa and thus give up material enjoyment, which is the original cause of bondage to this material world. The word bṛhad-vrata refers to one who has decided not to marry, or in other words, not to indulge in sex life throughout his entire life.
guru-strībhir yuvatibhiḥ
kārayen nātmano yuvā
keśa-prasādhana—brushing the hair; unmarda—massaging the body; snapana—bathing; abhyañjana-ādikam—massaging the body with oil and so on; guru-strībhiḥ—by the wife of the spiritual master; yuvatibhiḥ—very young; kārayet—should allow to do; na—never; ātmanaḥ—for personal service; yuvā—if the student is a young man.
If the wife of the spiritual master is young, a young brahmacārī should not allow her to care for his hair, massage his body with oil, or bathe him with affection like a mother.
The relationship between the student or disciple and the wife of the spiritual master or teacher is like that between son and mother. A mother sometimes cares for her son by combing his hair, massaging his body with oil, or bathing him. Similarly, the wife of the teacher is also a mother (guru-patnī), and therefore she may also care for the disciple in a motherly way. If the wife of the teacher is a young woman, however, a young brahmacārī should not allow such a mother to touch him. This is strictly prohibited. There are seven kinds of mothers:
These mothers are the original mother, the wife of the teacher or spiritual master, the wife of a brāhmaṇa, the king’s wife, the cow, the nurse and the earth. Unnecessary association with women, even with one’s mother, sister or daughter, is strictly prohibited. This is human civilization. A civilization that allows men to mix unrestrictedly with women is an animal civilization. In Kali-yuga, people are extremely liberal, but mixing with women and talking with them as equals actually constitutes an uncivilized way of life.
nanv agniḥ pramadā nāma
ghṛta-kumbha-samaḥ pumān
sutām api raho jahyād
anyadā yāvad-artha-kṛt
nanu—certainly; agniḥ—the fire; pramadā—the woman (one who bewilders the mind of man); nāma—the very name; ghṛta-kumbha—a pot of butter; samaḥ—like; pumān—a man; sutām api—even one’s daughter; rahaḥ—in a secluded place; jahyāt—one must not associate with; anyadā—with other women also; yāvat—as much as; artha-kṛt—required.
Woman is compared to fire, and man is compared to a butter pot. Therefore a man should avoid associating even with his own daughter in a secluded place. Similarly, he should also avoid association with other women. One should associate with women only for important business and not otherwise.
If a butter pot and fire are kept together, the butter within the pot will certainly melt. Woman is compared to fire, and man is compared to a butter pot. However advanced one may be in restraining the senses, it is almost impossible for a man to keep himself controlled in the presence of a woman, even if she is his own daughter, mother or sister. Indeed, his mind is agitated even if one is in the renounced order of life. Therefore, Vedic civilization carefully restricts mingling between men and women. If one cannot understand the basic principle of restraining association between man and woman, he is to be considered an animal. That is the purport of this verse.
kalpayitvātmanā yāvad
ābhāsam idam īśvaraḥ
dvaitaṁ tāvan na viramet
tato hy asya viparyayaḥ
kalpayitvā—ascertaining positively; ātmanā—by self-realization; yāvat—as long as; ābhāsam—reflection (of the original body and senses); idam—this (the body and senses); īśvaraḥ—completely independent of illusion; dvaitam—duality; tāvat—for that long; na—does not; viramet—see; tataḥ—by such duality; hi—indeed; asya—of the person; viparyayaḥ—counteraction.
As long as a living entity is not completely self-realized—as long as he is not independent of the misconception of identifying with his body, which is nothing but a reflection of the original body and senses—he cannot be relieved of the conception of duality, which is epitomized by the duality between man and woman. Thus there is every chance that he will fall down because his intelligence is bewildered.
Here is another important warning that a man must save himself from attraction to woman. Until one is self-realized, fully independent of the illusory conception of the material body, the duality of man and woman must undoubtedly continue, but when one is actually self-realized this distinction ceases.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Bg. 5.18) On the spiritual platform, the learned person not only gives up the duality of man and woman, but also gives up the duality of man and animal. This is the test of self-realization. One must realize perfectly that the living being is spirit soul but is tasting various types of material bodies. One may theoretically understand this, but when one has practical realization, then he actually becomes a paṇḍita, one who knows. Until that time, the duality continues, and the conception of man and woman also continues. In this stage, one should be extremely careful about mixing with women. No one should think himself perfect and forget the śāstric instruction that one should be very careful about associating even with his daughter, mother or sister, not to speak of other women. Śrīla Madhvācārya cites the following ślokas in this regard:
bahutvenaiva vastūnāṁ
yathārtha-jñānam ucyate
advaita-jñānam ity etad
dvaita-jñānaṁ tad-anyathā
yathā jñānaṁ tathā vastu
yathā vastus tathā matiḥ
naiva jñānārthayor bhedas
tata ekatva-vedanam
Unity in variety is real knowledge, and therefore giving up variety artificially does not reflect perfect knowledge of monism. According to the acintya-bhedābheda philosophy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, there are varieties, but all of them constitute one unit. Such knowledge is knowledge of perfect oneness.
etat sarvaṁ gṛhasthasya
samāmnātaṁ yater api
guru-vṛttir vikalpena
etat—this; sarvam—all; gṛhasthasya—of a householder; samāmnātam—described; yateḥ api—even of the person in the renounced order; guru-vṛttiḥ vikalpena—to follow the orders of the spiritual master; gṛhasthasya—of the householder; ṛtu-gāminaḥ—accepting sex only during the period favorable for procreation.
All the rules and regulations apply equally to the householder and the sannyāsī, the member of the renounced order of life. The gṛhastha, however, is given permission by the spiritual master to indulge in sex during the period favorable for procreation.
It is sometimes misunderstood that a gṛhastha, a householder, is permitted to indulge in sex at any time. This is a wrong conception of gṛhastha life. In spiritual life, whether one is a gṛhastha, vānaprastha, sannyāsī or brahmacārī, everyone is under the control of the spiritual master. For brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs there are strong restrictions on sexual indulgence. Similarly, there are strong restrictions for gṛhasthas. Gṛhasthas should indulge in sex life only in accordance with the order of the guru. Therefore it is mentioned here that one must follow the orders of the spiritual master (guru-vṛttir vikalpena). When the spiritual master orders, the gṛhastha may accept sex life. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (7.11). Dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo ’smi: indulgence in sex life without disobedience to the religious rules and regulations constitutes a religious principle. The gṛhastha is allowed to indulge in sex life during the period favorable for procreation and in accordance with the spiritual master’s order. If the spiritual master’s orders allow a gṛhastha to engage in sex life at a particular time, then the gṛhastha may do so; otherwise, if the spiritual master orders against it, the gṛhastha should abstain. The gṛhastha must obtain permission from the spiritual master to observe the ritualistic ceremony of garbhādhāna-saṁskāra. Then he may approach his wife to beget children, otherwise not. A brāhmaṇa generally remains a brahmacārī throughout his entire life, but although some brāhmaṇas become gṛhasthas and indulge in sex life, they do so under the complete control of the spiritual master. The kṣatriya is allowed to marry more than one wife, but this also must be in accordance with the instructions of the spiritual master. It is not that because one is a gṛhastha he may marry as many times as he likes and indulge in sex life as he likes. This is not spiritual life. In spiritual life, one must conduct one’s whole life under the guidance of the guru. Only one who executes his spiritual life under the direction of the spiritual master can achieve the mercy of Kṛṣṇa. Yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādaḥ . If one desires to advance in spiritual life but he acts whimsically, not following the orders of the spiritual master, he has no shelter. Yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ’pi. Without the spiritual master’s order, even the gṛhastha should not indulge in sex life.
stry-avalekhāmiṣaṁ madhu
tyajeyur ye bṛhad-vratāḥ
añjana—ointment or powder for decorating the eyes; abhyañjana—massaging the head; unmarda—massaging the body; strī-avalekha—to glance over a woman or to paint a woman’s picture; āmiṣam—meat-eating; madhu—drinking liquor or honey; srak—decorating the body with garlands of flowers; gandha-lepa—smearing the body with scented ointment; alaṅkārān—decorating the body with ornaments; tyajeyuḥ—must give up; ye—those who; bṛhat-vratāḥ—have taken the vow of celibacy.
Brahmacārīs or gṛhasthas who have taken the vow of celibacy as described above should not indulge in the following: applying powder or ointment to the eyes, massaging the head with oil, massaging the body with the hands, seeing a woman or painting a woman’s picture, eating meat, drinking wine, decorating the body with flower garlands, smearing scented ointment on the body, or decorating the body with ornaments. These they should give up.
TEXTS 13–14
uṣitvaivaṁ guru-kule
dvijo ’dhītyāvabudhya ca
trayīṁ sāṅgopaniṣadaṁ
yāvad-arthaṁ yathā-balam
dattvā varam anujñāto
guroḥ kāmaṁ yadīśvaraḥ
gṛhaṁ vanaṁ vā praviśet
pravrajet tatra vā vaset
uṣitvā—residing; evam—in this way; guru-kule—under the care of the spiritual master; dvi-jaḥ—the twice-born, namely the brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas; adhītya—studying Vedic literature; avabudhya—understanding it properly; ca—and; trayīm—the Vedic literatures; sa-aṅga—along with supplementary parts; upaniṣadam—as well as the Upaniṣads; yāvat-artham—as far as possible; yathā-balam—as far as one can, according to one’s ability; dattvā—giving; varam—remuneration; anujñātaḥ—being asked; guroḥ—of the spiritual master; kāmam—desires; yadi—if; īśvaraḥ—capable; gṛham—household life; vanam—retired life; —either; praviśet—one should enter; pravrajet—or get out of; tatra—there; —either; vaset—should reside.
According to the rules and regulations mentioned above, one who is twice-born, namely a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya or vaiśya, should reside in the guru-kula under the care of the spiritual master. There he should study and learn all the Vedic literatures along with their supplements and the Upaniṣads, according to his ability and power to study. If possible, the student or disciple should reward the spiritual master with the remuneration the spiritual master requests, and then, following the master’s order, the disciple should leave and accept one of the other āśramas, namely the gṛhastha-āśrama, vānaprastha-āśrama or sannyāsa-āśrama, as he desires.
To study the Vedas and understand them, of course, requires some special intelligence, but the members of the three higher sections of society—namely the brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas—must learn the Vedic literatures according to their capability and power to understand. In other words, studying the Vedic literatures is compulsory for everyone but the śūdras and antyajas. The Vedic literature gives the knowledge that can lead one to understand the Absolute Truth—Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān. Guru-kula, or the reformatory educational institution, should be used only to understand Vedic knowledge. At the present time there are many educational institutions for training and technology, but such knowledge has nothing to do with understanding of the Absolute Truth. Technology, therefore, is meant for the śūdras, whereas the Vedas are meant for the dvijas. Consequently this verse states, dvijo ’dhītyāvabudhya ca trayīṁ sāṅgopaniṣadam. At the present time, in the age of Kali, practically everyone is a śūdra, and no one is a dvija. Therefore the condition of society has very much deteriorated.
Another point to be observed from this verse is that from the brahmacārī-āśrama one may accept the sannyāsa-āśrama, vānaprastha-āśrama or gṛhastha-āśrama. It is not compulsory for a brahmacārī to become a gṛhastha. Because the ultimate aim is to understand the Absolute Truth, there is no necessity of going through all the different āśramas. Thus one may proceed to the sannyāsa-āśrama directly from the brahmacārī-āśrama. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura accepted the sannyāsa-āśrama directly from the brahmacārī-āśrama. In other words, His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura did not think it compulsory to accept the gṛhastha-āśrama or vānaprastha-āśrama.
agnau gurāv ātmani ca
sarva-bhūteṣv adhokṣajam
bhūtaiḥ sva-dhāmabhiḥ paśyed
apraviṣṭaṁ praviṣṭavat
agnau—in the fire; gurau—in the spiritual master; ātmani—in one’s self; ca—also; sarva-bhūteṣu—in every living entity; adhokṣajam—the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who cannot be seen or perceived with the material eyes or other material senses; bhūtaiḥ—with all living entities; sva-dhāmabhiḥ—along with His Lordship’s paraphernalia; paśyet—one should see; apraviṣṭam—not entered; praviṣṭa-vat—also entered.
One should realize that in the fire, in the spiritual master, in one’s self and in all living entities—in all circumstances and conditions—the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Viṣṇu, has simultaneously entered and not entered. He is situated externally and internally as the full controller of everything.
Realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s omnipresence is the perfect realization of the Absolute Truth to be attained through the study of the Vedic literatures. As stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.35), aṇḍāntara-stha-paramāṇu-cayāntara-stham: the Lord is situated within the universe, within the heart of every living entity and also within the atom. We should understand that whenever the Supreme Personality of Godhead is present, He is present with all His paraphernalia, including His name, form, associates and servants. The living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and thus one should understand that since the Supreme Lord has entered the atom, the living entities are also there. One must accept the inconceivable quality of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for no one can understand from the material point of view how the Lord is all-pervasive and yet is situated in His own abode, Goloka Vṛndāvana. This realization is possible if one strictly follows the regulative principles of āśrama (brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyāsa). Śrīla Madhvācārya says in this regard:
apraviṣṭaḥ sarva-gataḥ
praviṣṭas tv anurūpavān
evaṁ dvi-rūpo bhagavān
harir eko janārdanaḥ
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His original form, has not entered everything (apraviṣṭaḥ), but in His impersonal form He has entered (praviṣṭaḥ). Thus He has entered and not entered simultaneously. This is also explained in Bhagavad-gītā (9.4), wherein the Lord says:
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” The Lord can defy Himself. Thus there is variety in unity (ekatvaṁ bahutvam).
evaṁ vidho brahmacārī
vānaprastho yatir gṛhī
caran vidita-vijñānaḥ
paraṁ brahmādhigacchati
evam vidhaḥ—in this way; brahmacārī—whether one is a brahmacārī; vānaprasthaḥ—or one is in the vānaprastha-āśrama; yatiḥ—or in the sannyāsa-āśrama; gṛhī—or in the gṛhastha-āśrama; caran—by practice of self-realization and understanding of the Absolute Truth; vidita-vijñānaḥ—fully conversant with the science of the Absolute Truth; param—the Supreme; brahma—the Absolute Truth; adhigacchati—one can understand.
By practicing in this way, whether one be in the brahmacārī-āśrama, gṛhastha-āśrama, vānaprastha-āśrama or sannyāsa-āśrama, one must always realize the all-pervading presence of the Supreme Lord, for in this way it is possible to understand the Absolute Truth.
This is the beginning of self-realization. One must first understand how Brahman is present everywhere and how He is acting. This education is called brahma jijñāsā and is the real concern of human life. Without such knowledge, one cannot claim to be a human being; rather, he remains in the animal kingdom. As it is said, sa eva go-kharaḥ: [SB 10.84.13] without such knowledge, one is no better than a cow or an ass.
vānaprasthasya vakṣyāmi
niyamān muni-sammatān
yān āsthāya munir gacched
ṛṣi-lokam uhāñjasā
vānaprasthasya—of a person in the vānaprastha-āśrama (retired life); vakṣyāmi—I shall now explain; niyamān—the rules and regulations; muni-sammatān—which are recognized by great munis, philosophers and saintly persons; yān—which; āsthāya—being situated in, or practicing; muniḥ—a saintly person; gacchet—is promoted; ṛṣi-lokam—to the planetary system where the seers and munis go (Maharloka); uha—O King; añjasā—without difficulty.
O King, I shall now describe the qualifications for a vānaprastha, one who has retired from family life. By rigidly following the rules and regulations for the vānaprastha, one can easily be elevated to the upper planetary system known as Maharloka.
na kṛṣṭa-pacyam aśnīyād
akṛṣṭaṁ cāpy akālataḥ
agni-pakvam athāmaṁ vā
arka-pakvam utāharet
na—not; kṛṣṭa-pacyam—grains grown by tilling of the field; aśnīyāt—one should eat; akṛṣṭam—grains that have grown without tilling of the field; ca—and; api—also; akālataḥ—ripened untimely; agni-pakvam—grains prepared by being cooked in fire; atha—as well as; āmam—mango; —either; arka-pakvam—food ripened naturally by the sunshine; uta—it is so enjoined; āharet—the vānaprastha should eat.
A person in vānaprastha life should not eat grains grown by tilling of the fields. He should also not eat grains that have grown without tilling of the field but are not fully ripe. Nor should a vānaprastha eat grains cooked in fire. Indeed, he should eat only fruit ripened by the sunshine.
vanyaiś caru-puroḍāśān
nirvapet kāla-coditān
labdhe nave nave ’nnādye
purāṇaṁ ca parityajet
vanyaiḥ—by fruits and grains produced in the forest without cultivation; caru—grains to be offered in a fire sacrifice; puroḍāśān—the cakes prepared from caru; nirvapet—one should execute; kāla-coditān—that which has grown naturally; labdhe—on obtaining; nave—new; nave anna-ādye—newly produced food grains; purāṇam—the stock of old grains; ca—and; parityajet—one should give up.
A vānaprastha should prepare cakes to be offered in sacrifice from fruits and grains grown naturally in the forest. When he obtains some new grains, he should give up his old stock of grains.
agny-artham eva śaraṇam
uṭajaṁ vādri-kandaram
śrayeta hima-vāyv-agni-
varṣārkātapa-ṣāṭ svayam
agni—the fire; artham—to keep; eva—only; śaraṇam—a cottage; uṭa-jam—made of grass; —or; adri-kandaram—a cave in a mountain; śrayeta—the vānaprastha should take shelter of; hima—snow; vāyu—wind; agni—fire; varṣa—rain; arka—of the sun; ātapa—shining; ṣāṭ—enduring; svayam—personally.
A vānaprastha should prepare a thatched cottage or take shelter of a cave in a mountain only to keep the sacred fire, but he should personally practice enduring snowfall, wind, fire, rain and the shining of the sun.
malāni jaṭilo dadhat
kamaṇḍalv-ajine daṇḍa-
keśa—hair on the head; roma—hair on the body; nakha—nails; śmaśru—moustache; malāni—and dirt on the body; jaṭilaḥ—with matted locks of hair; dadhat—one should keep; kamaṇḍalu—a waterpot; ajine—and a deerskin; daṇḍa—rod; valkala—the bark of a tree; agni—fire; paricchadān—garments.
The vānaprastha should wear matted locks of hair on his head and let his body hair, nails and moustache grow. He should not cleanse his body of dirt. He should keep a waterpot, deerskin and rod, wear the bark of a tree as a covering, and use garments colored like fire.
cared vane dvādaśābdān
aṣṭau vā caturo muniḥ
dvāv ekaṁ vā yathā buddhir
na vipadyeta kṛcchrataḥ
caret—should remain; vane—in the forest; dvādaśa-abdān—twelve years; aṣṭau—for eight years; —either; caturaḥ—four years; muniḥ—a saintly, thoughtful man; dvau—two; ekam—one; —either; yathā—as well as; buddhiḥ—intelligence; na—not; vipadyeta—bewildered; kṛcchrataḥ—because of hard austerities.
Being very thoughtful, a vānaprastha should remain in the forest for twelve years, eight years, four years, two years or at least one year. He should behave in such a way that he will not be disturbed or troubled by too much austerity.
yadākalpaḥ sva-kriyāyāṁ
vyādhibhir jarayāthavā
ānvīkṣikyāṁ vā vidyāyāṁ
kuryād anaśanādikam
yadā—when; akalpaḥ—unable to act; sva-kriyāyām—in one’s own prescribed duties; vyādhibhiḥ—because of disease; jarayā—or because of old age; athavā—either; ānvīkṣikyām—in spiritual advancement; —or; vidyāyām—in the advancement of knowledge; kuryāt—one must do; anaśana-ādikam—not take sufficient food.
When because of disease or old age one is unable to perform his prescribed duties for advancement in spiritual consciousness or study of the Vedas, he should practice fasting, not taking any food.
ātmany agnīn samāropya
sannyasyāhaṁ mamātmatām
kāraṇeṣu nyaset samyak
saṅghātaṁ tu yathārhataḥ
ātmani—in one’s self; agnīn—the fire elements within the body; samāropya—properly placing; sannyasya—giving up; aham—false identity; mama—false conception; ātmatām—of the body’s being one’s self or one’s own; kāraṇeṣu—in the five elements that cause the material body; nyaset—one should merge; samyak—completely; saṅghātam—combination; tu—but; yathā-arhataḥ—as it befits.
He should properly place the fire element in his own self and in this way give up bodily affinity, by which one thinks the body to be one’s self or one’s own. One should gradually merge the material body into the five elements [earth, water, fire, air and sky].
The body is an effect of a cause, namely the five material elements (earth, water, fire, air and sky). In other words, one should know perfectly well that the material body is nothing but a combination of the five elements. This knowledge constitutes merging of the material body and the five material elements. Merging into Brahman in perfect knowledge means understanding perfectly that one is not the body but a spiritual soul.
khe khāni vāyau niśvāsāṁs
tejaḥsūṣmāṇam ātmavān
apsv asṛk-śleṣma-pūyāni
kṣitau śeṣaṁ yathodbhavam
khe—in the sky; khāni—all the holes of the body; vāyau—in the air; niśvāsān—all the different airs moving within the body (prāṇa, apāna, etc.); tejaḥsu—in fire; uṣmāṇam—the heat of the body; ātma-vān—a person who knows the self; apsu—in water; asṛk—blood; śleṣma—mucus; pūyāni—and urine; kṣitau—in the earth; śeṣam—the remaining (namely skin, bones and the other hard things in the body); yathā-udbhavam—wherefrom all of them grew.
A sober, self-realized person who has full knowledge should merge the various parts of the body in their original sources. The holes in the body are caused by the sky, the process of breathing is caused by the air, the heat of the body is caused by fire, and semen, blood and mucus are caused by water. The hard substances, like skin, muscle and bone, are caused by earth. In this way all the constituents of the body are caused by various elements, and they should be merged again into those elements.
To be self-realized, one must understand the original sources of the various elements of the body. The body is a combination of skin, bone, muscle, blood, semen, urine, stool, heat, breath and so on, which all come from earth, water, fire, air and sky. One must be well conversant with the sources of all the bodily constituents. Then one becomes a self-realized person, or ātmavān, one who knows the self.
TEXTS 26–28
vācam agnau savaktavyām
indre śilpaṁ karāv api
padāni gatyā vayasi
ratyopasthaṁ prajāpatau
mṛtyau pāyuṁ visargaṁ ca
yathā-sthānaṁ vinirdiśet
dikṣu śrotraṁ sa-nādena
sparśenādhyātmani tvacam
rūpāṇi cakṣuṣā rājan
jyotiṣy abhiniveśayet
apsu pracetasā jihvāṁ
ghreyair ghrāṇaṁ kṣitau nyaset
vācam—speech; agnau—in the fire-god (the personified god controlling fire); sa-vaktavyām—with the subject matter of speaking; indre—unto King Indra; śilpam—craftsmanship or the capacity to work with the hands; karau—as well as the hands; api—indeed; padāni—the legs; gatyā—with the power to move; vayasi—unto Lord Viṣṇu; ratyā—sexual desire; upastham—with the genitals; prajāpatau—unto Prajāpati; mṛtyau—unto the demigod known as Mṛtyu; pāyum—the rectum; visargam—with its activity, evacuation; ca—also; yathā-sthānam—in the proper place; vinirdiśet—one should indicate; dikṣu—unto different directions; śrotram—the aural sense; sa-nādena—with sound vibration; sparśena—with touch; adhyātmani—unto the wind-god; tvacam—the sense of touch; rūpāṇi—form; cakṣuṣā—with eyesight; rājan—O King; jyotiṣi—in the sun; abhiniveśayet—one should endow; apsu—unto water; pracetasā—with the demigod known as Varuṇa; jihvām—the tongue; ghreyaiḥ—with the object of smell; ghrāṇam—the power to smell; kṣitau—in the earth; nyaset—one should give.
Thereafter, the object of speech, along with the sense of speech [the tongue], should be bestowed upon fire. Craftsmanship and the two hands should be given to the demigod Indra. The power of movement and the legs should be given to Lord Viṣṇu. Sensual pleasure, along with the genitals, should be bestowed upon Prajāpati. The rectum, with the power of evacuation, should be bestowed, in its proper place, unto Mṛtyu. The aural instrument, along with sound vibration, should be given to the deities presiding over the directions. The instrument of touch, along with the sense objects of touch, should be given to Vāyu. Form, with the power of sight, should be bestowed upon the sun. The tongue, along with the demigod Varuṇa, should be bestowed upon water, and the power of smell, along with the two Aśvinī-kumāra demigods, should be bestowed upon the earth.
TEXTS 29-30
mano manorathaiś candre
buddhiṁ bodhyaiḥ kavau pare
karmāṇy adhyātmanā rudre
yad-ahaṁ mamatā-kriyā
sattvena cittaṁ kṣetra-jñe
guṇair vaikārikaṁ pare
apsu kṣitim apo jyotiṣy
ado vāyau nabhasy amum
kūṭasthe tac ca mahati
tad avyakte ’kṣare ca tat
manaḥ—the mind; manorathaiḥ—along with material desires; candre—unto Candra, the mood demigod; buddhim—intelligence; bodhyaiḥ—with the subject matter of intelligence; kavau pare—unto the supreme learned person, Lord Brahmā; karmāṇi—material activities; adhyātmanā—with false ego; rudre—unto Lord Śiva (Rudra); yat—wherein; aham—I am the material body; mamatā—everything belonging to the material body is mine; kriyā—such activities; sattvena—along with the existential conception; cittam—consciousness; kṣetra-jñe—unto the individual soul; guṇaiḥ—along with the material activities conducted by the material qualities; vaikārikam—the living entities under the influence of the material modes; pare—in the Supreme Being; apsu—in the water; kṣitim—the earth; apaḥ—the water; jyotiṣi—in the luminaries, specifically in the sun; adaḥ—brightness; vāyau—in the air; nabhasi—in the sky; amum—that; kūṭasthe—in the materialistic conception of life; tat—that; ca—also; mahati—in the mahat-tattva, the total material energy; tat—that; avyakte—in the nonmanifested; akṣare—in the Supersoul; ca—also; tat—that.
The mind, along with all material desires, should be merged in the moon demigod. All the subject matters of intelligence, along with the intelligence itself, should be placed in Lord Brahmā. False ego, which is under the influence of the material modes of nature and which induces one to think, “I am this body, and everything connected with this body is mine,” should be merged, along with material activities, in Rudra, the predominating deity of false ego. Material consciousness, along with the goal of thought, should be merged in the individual living being, and the demigods acting under the modes of material nature should be merged, along with the perverted living being, into the Supreme Being. The earth should be merged in water, water in the brightness of the sun, this brightness into the air, the air into the sky, the sky into the false ego, the false ego into the total material energy, the total material energy into the unmanifested ingredients [the pradhāna feature of the material energy], and at last the ingredient feature of material manifestation into the Supersoul.
ity akṣaratayātmānaṁ
cin-mātram avaśeṣitam
jñātvādvayo ’tha viramed
dagdha-yonir ivānalaḥ
iti—thus; akṣaratayā—because of being spiritual; ātmānam—oneself (the individual soul); cit-mātram—completely spiritual; avaśeṣitam—the remaining balance (after the material elements are merged, one after another, into the original Supersoul); jñātvā—understanding; advayaḥ—without differentiation, or of the same quality as the Paramātmā; atha—thus; viramet—one should cease from material existence; dagdha-yoniḥ—whose source (the wood) has burnt up; iva—like; analaḥ—flames.
When all the material designations have thus merged into their respective material elements, the living beings, who are all ultimately completely spiritual, being one in quality with the Supreme Being, should cease from material existence, as flames cease when the wood in which they are burning is consumed. When the material body is returned to its various material elements, only the spiritual being remains. This spiritual being is Brahman and is equal in quality with Parabrahman.
Thus end the Bhaktivedanta purports of the Seventh Canto, Twelfth Chapter, of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, entitled “The Perfect Society: Four Spiritual Classes.”

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