An Introduction to Indian Art and Culture – 4

                  Indian culture recognized with a remarkable depth that one code of conduct or a credo or Dharma cannot be applied to all types of men. Man is different in his intellectual capacity, emotional nature, spiritual temperament, in his capacity for development and perfection, in his role and function in life, in his dreams and aspirations. The same standard of ethics or rules cannot be applied to a poet, an artist, a social worker, a saint, a business man, a labourer. The ancient Chaturvarnya system has degenerated into the present caste system which is solely determined by birth and which was not its original meaning. Its idea was that the nature of man falls into four main types – 1. the man of knowledge and learning (Brahmin) – thinkers, priests, scholars, religious leaders 2. the man of power and action (Kshatriya) – warriors, kings, rulers 3. the economic man (Vaishya) – merchants, artisans, agriculturists 4. Labourer (Shudra) – the man uncapable of meaningful creation, fit only for the menial tasks. This division into four classes is not uncommon in other cultures, that into priesthood, nobility, merchant class and the serfs (though here the priest has the most power and not the man of knowledge as in India); the difference lies not so much in the outward form as in its spiritual motive. The social status of man (Varna) was fixed, not solely by birth but by man´s inner nature and capacities. Though it does not serve its original purpose now, it was necessary in its time, and it has given the culture a stability that can hardly be seen in any other culture.

                 Each profession, even the meanest, had its own law, Dharma and measure of success and dignity of a fixed standard of perfection (for man needs inspiration in his everyday life) , so that it was a means of self-finding and also a self-satisfaction for every individual. Each pursuit had its own standard of ethics and there is no rigid rule for everyone like that found in many other religions. The rule of non-violence cannot be applied to a warrior, though in him too the qualities of mercy and respect for the wounded, the down-trodden, the weak are stressed. Daily reading of the scriptures can only be a form of punishment to a man who lives entirely in his lower nature i.e. lives only for the satisfaction of his desires. He is not condemned to eternal hell and damnation for being true to his nature.  [The temple worship, the constant festival, ceremony and the activities surrounding it were intended as an aid to this kind of person. (he is right in asking the gods for the satisfaction of his desires, for now he is turning to something higher than himself instead of relying on and turning around on himself, the ego)] Man must be allowed to flower into his divine nature and cannot be forced to do so. His claims and demands were given their due importance but not allowed to run unbridled. And at the same time he was not allowed to forget that there was something else waiting for him, and that what he is now is not all what he can be, that there was a greater life to be lived and a greater truth to be discovered – the discovery of the soul and its joys.

The completey unique framework of the four Asramas was a further aid to him in this respect. Life was divided into four natural periods – 1. that of the student 2. that of the householder 3. that of the ascetic or forest dweller and 4. that of the free man, parivrajaka. The period of the student was for learning, in all branches of knowledge, arts and sciences, ethical and spiritual discipline; the householder stage was where he lived out this knowledge gained, lived for himself and paid his debt to society; in the third stage, he lived in social freedom as a recluse seeking his own inner truth and the fourth, greatest stage of all was where he severed all ties with society and lived in spiritual detachment. The third stage was not reached by a majority of people and a rare few only ever reached the final stage. But this provided an ideal scheme for man and thus there was always a constant insistence and pressure in his life, to perfect himself and grow beyond himself .


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