Sunday, 25 January 2015

Society, Caste System, And The Guru Srimanta Sankaradeva

During the time of Guru Srimanta Sankaradeva the human society was divided on the basis of caste and creed. Mankind was divided into four varnas (or castes):  Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Ancient Hindu texts suggest caste system was not rigid. There are examples of men born to families belonging to various castes and later with the help of devotion becoming maharishis. This flexibility permitted lower cast Valmiki who was a Shudra by birth becomes Maharishi and composed the Holy Ramayana. However, with the passes of time, those in the privileged position, for their own selfish motives, made the caste system rigid and then the caste of a person was determined by his birth, not by his occupation. This means that a person’s social status was obligated to which caste they were born into. Although this or other forms of differentiation exist in all human societies, however, it becomes a problem when such narrow minded caste system becomes the sole basis of systematic ranking and unequal access to valued resources like wealth, income, education, power and prestige. The Brahmans, usually priests, were at the top. The next were the Kshatriyas, or political rulers and soldiers. The Kshatriyas were followed by the Vaishyas, or merchants, and the fourth were the Shudras, who were usually laborers, peasants, artisans, craftsman, and servants. There were limits on interaction and behavior of people belonging to one caste with people from another caste.

The Priests (Brahmans) and warriors (Kshatriyas) were said to be “better” than or “superior” to the other castes, and in general the Brahmans and Kshatriyas were regarded as united into a ruling class. But although the Brahmans and Kshatriyas together proclaimed to be superior to the commoners, the Brahmans never hesitated to declare their own caste as higher than the Kshatriyas. The Vaishya’s duty was to ensure the community’s prosperity through agriculture, cattle rearing and trade. The Vaishyas were considered inferior to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas and expected to be weak in comparison to their rulers, and were infinitely exploitable and regenerative. These oppressions however, were usually not boycotted because this was presented as a natural state of affairs in the social real. Later, the Shudras took over agriculture and cattle rearing while the Vaishyas became traders and merchants. Then Shudras, who were usually laborers, peasants, artisans, craftsman and servants, were thought to not have any special abilities and were considered only capable of serving as slaves to the upper three class. Shudras enjoyed no rights or privileges, and were not permitted to perform any prayer, read or learn the Vedas or recite the mantras (prayer rituals). They were also not allowed to enter temples and could only serve the upper three castes as a slave, barber, blacksmith or cobbler (Gurjari). The upper castes started to almost exploit the lower castes for their own profit. Financially, the upper castes become richer and the lower castes become poorer day by day.

At that time, education and schooling was also reserved only for the upper castes, especially the Brahmins. Moreover, education and schooling was very costly. Thus, at any cost, the commoners could not afford education. Paper was not yet discovered by mankind. People used to write on leaves and on the bark of tree, in Assamese language we call it “hasi pat”. Also the books written in “hasi pat” (bark of tree) were very few in numbers. Books were not easily available even to the educated people. The schools were run by Brahmins. However, in some of the schools like the school of the great Guru Mahendra Kandali, which was located at Rampur (in Nagaon district of Assam, India), the guru admit all the upper caste children. That means, the children belonging to Brahman and Kayastha families. Still education was a dream for the rest of the people. Even if the guru want to offer free education to all, irrespective of their caste and creed, it was still not possible to educate all because the cost of stationery were too high and needed to be incurred by the student. As a result, a majority of the people were illiterate. Education and knowledge (”Gyan”) became limited only to a few number of people. Through education we acquire knowledge. In the life of a man, knowledge is like the Sun. Without knowledge a man becomes ignorant. It is knowledge (“gyan”) that makes us a human. Humanity and morality is lost when people lack knowledge. Even to know God one needs knowledge. So, with majority of the people being illiterate, the knowledge and morality was lost. The people belonging to the lower castes were fooled in the name of religion, in the name of God. People were made to do many wrong things and perform many rituals which were actually designed for the profit of those in a privileged position. The path of righteousness was lost. Thus, the path of enlightenment and the path of realizing the Gracious Almighty were lost. Unity among the people was lost. The people become cruel and unjust. People lacked knowledge and become superstitious. Ultimately, the people were in misery. At such a time, to save the people from being fooled, to put an end to the sufferings of the people, to tie mankind with the thread of unity, for the upliftment of the poor, for the well being of mankind, to protect righteousness, to pave the path of enlightenment, to reveal the true meaning of the Vedas, to insert the supremacy of the Holy Bhagavata Purana and the sacred Srimad Bhagavata Gita, to show the path of Loving Devotion (prema-bhakti), to spread the Holy name and virtue of Lord Krishna, to establish the Bhagavata dharma, the Supreme Lord incarnated as Srimanta Sankaradeva.

The world is full of misery. Desire is the root of all miseries. Desire leads to anger, hatred and jealousy, which are all the enemies of one’s own self. Anger is a fire inside us and before this fire could destroy someone else, it would first destroy us. Now, the main question is could anybody give up desire? Answer is “No”. We are human beings and we are always seeking pleasure. Today, (in this Kali age) human beings don’t have any control over their senses. Everybody wants to satisfy their senses at any cost. Human beings are greedy and are full of pride. But some wise man had said that the pride of goodness is the root of evil. One’s pride in intellect prevents absorption of the words of the sastras and saints into the inner faculty. The sole objective of human life is to realize the Supreme and Gracious Lord Krishna, and to make use of this precious human life for the upliftment of one’s own self. God could be realized only and only through devotion. But where there is pride of class, devotion is difficult because devotion is through the self, not through the body. And class and caste belongs to the body and not to the self. So, in such a situation, to end the worldly sufferings, to spread the supreme knowledge among all, the Guru Srimanta Sankaradeva decided to impart the knowledge of the Holly Bhagavata Purana and Srimad Bhagavata Gita. He decided to establish the Bhagavata dharma.

In this Kali age, the sinners could get purified only and only through Sravana and Kirttana of the Holy names and virtues of the Supreme Lord Krishna (sravana means listening to the Holy names and virtue of Lord Krishna and Kirttana means singing/reading the same). Hari’s name is the greatest friend of man. Whoever utters the same, surely his seven deeds are performed. Now, let us take note of these seven deeds:
  1. First, Hari’s name burns up all the sins
  2. It creates virtue in great abundance,
  3.  It makes one detached from earthly matters,
  4. It helps attain loving devotion at Krishna’s Lotus Feet,
  5. It helps attain supreme Vaishnavite wisdom,
  6. It leads to the burning of all illusions,
  7. Finally, with supremely conscious and blissful Hari’s image, Hari’s name would unite the devotee in the final stage.
The person who sings Hari’s name surely gets salvation, being free from other offences.

The people in the Kali age would indulge in sins. And since the people would be very sinful they have no right over anything. Except Hari’s name, there is no other means that could rescue the people and end their sufferings. Hari’s name is the sole rescue. In the path of devotion (bhakti), one need not have to be a deva, dvija, a sage, one need not have to be of a pure mind and heart, one need not have to perform any sacrifice, penance or ritual, Hari is satisfied only and only in loving devotion. Hari is the father of all, He is all merciful, God Supreme. Even the most sinful and degenerate person gets redeemed from all the sins if he takes refuge at Hari’s feet.

In Satya, Treta, and Dwapara age, the people had to make a lot of effort to get the meditation, sacrificial ceremonies and worship done. And to perform these one requires a lot of virtue, patience, hard work, purity of heart and mind, wealth and so on. However, even if they get these rituals done, they rarely get the opportunity to become a devotee of Supreme Lord Hari. Also, the result of all such performance was only heavenly pleasure, wealth and prosperity, which were all perishable.  Even if one attains the heaven, there too their fear and misery doesn’t end. Thus, we could say that there was no end to misery. There was no way to attain salvation; there was no way to attain the Gracious Lord Krishna. Today, although Kali age is the epitome of all evil, becoming a devotee of Krishna become very easy and simple, and Sravana and Kirttana alone makes a person a devotee of Lord Almighty Krishna. Thus, by chanting and listening to the Holy name of Hari one could realize one’s own self and serving the illusory ties one gets identified with Hari. Chanting the Holy name alone helps one cross the world.

To impart the supreme knowledge and to end the miseries of the sinful man, the Guru, Srimanta Sankaradeva faced a lot of hardship. The difficulties faced by the Guru while working for the well being of mankind and the upliftment of the downtrodden and deprived sections of the society could not be expressed in words. To rescue the people from their worldly sufferings and to pave the path of enlightenment, to pave the path of salvation, and to establish the great Bhagavata Dharma, the Guru needs to inspire loving devotion (bhakti) at the Lotus Feet of Sri Hari, and to achieve this He need to impart the teachings of the Holy Bhagavata Purana and Srimad Bhagavata Gita to the people. Now, one of the major challenges was the illiteracy rate in the society. A majority of the people were illiterate. Another problem was that the sastras were available only in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit was not a spoken language. It was used only by the Brahmins and the literate people like the Kayasthas. For the rest of the people, Sanskrit was a language of the Devas. So, the sastras must have to be translated into a language understood by the common people. After translating the sastras, the teachings must have to be narrated to the people. Moreover, the copies of the sastras were very few in number and were not easily available. Thus, it was not an easy task to impart the divine knowledge to the messes when the people were mostly illiterate, poor and busy in earning two meals a day. To impart the supreme knowledge from the Holy Srimad Bhagavata Purana and Srimad Bhagavata Gita equally to all the sections of the society the Guru translated the sastras in Sanskrit into a language understood by the common people and authored many sacred books, and wrote many songs and dramas. Since the people were mostly illiterate, the Guru composed songs from the lessons of the Holy Bhagavata Purana and Srimad Bhagavata Gita and sang the same in a melodious voice, so that the people could listen to the songs, enjoy the songs and most importantly, gain the knowledge from the songs. The Guru also wrote many dramas like the “ankia-nat” and these dramas too contain the lessons of the Holy Bhagavata Purana. Thus, the teachings from the holy sastras were presented in a very artistic way to the people in an easily accessible, immediate, and enjoyable manner. And the Guru, Srimanta Sankaradeva spread the Holy name and virtues of Lord Almighty Krishna and the supreme knowledge of the Holy Srimad Bhagavata Purana and Srimad Bhagavata Gita among the messes. The knowledge which was not easily available even to the Devas and Maharishis in the Satya age was now available to all. With the blessings of Guru Srimanta Sankara, that supreme knowledge which Lord Sri Krishna imparted to Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra, was made known to all. It was the knowledge supreme, knowing which one could easily and very quickly get rid of all the worldly sufferings, attain perpetual bliss, and get salvation. It fulfills all the desires. This knowledge leads to the realization of Sri Hari. Knowing this knowledge one gets freedom from the circle of birth and death and departs to Vaikuntha (the supreme abode of Lord Krishna). The Knowledge and the sastras, which were earlier confined only to the upper castes and the learned people, were now available to all, even to the illiterate people.

The Guru Srimanta Sankaradeva imparted the Supreme knowledge to all. He tied the society with the thread of brotherhood and unity, and spread the message of love, devotion and compassion. He established equality among the people. He burnt like a lamp of knowledge and dispelled the darkness born of ignorance. He was an incarnation of Lord Sri Krishna. However, instead of calling him God we call Him “The Guru” because He came in the form of a guru, and only with the blessings of the guru one could gain knowledge, and attain Sri Hari.

"Srimanta Sankara Hari Bhakatara
Jānā yena kalpataru
Tāhānta bināi nāi nāi nāi
Āmāra parama Guru ." 375(Naam Ghukha)

Know ye that Srimanta Sankaradeva is like the wish-yielding tree (kalpataru) of all the devotees of Hari. Be triple sure that there is no (other) Guru than Sankaradeva himself.

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