An Essay from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.
ONE CASTE - HAMSA
In the ancient times there only one caste lived in India called hamsa. They were yogis, devotees of the Lord, or knowers of Brahman engaged in studying the Vedas. Among the hamsas, those who on the strength of devotional service, yoga or impersonal knowledge distinguished themselves over their respective groups were accepted by the hamsas as paramahamsas. Among the ordinary impersonalists and yogis of India, the topics of the bhagavata paramahamsas are particularly mentioned in a few places. The differences between bhagavata paramahamsas with impersonal knowledge and yogic paramahamsas is clearly explained by Sri Jiva Goswami when he discusses Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan as the advaita- jnana, or non-dual Absolute Truth.
The word Brahman refers to the greatness and nourishment of unbroken knowledge or supreme consciousness, unalloyed consciousness, pure consciousness, and eternal consciousness.
Srimad Anandatirtha Purnaprajna Madhvacarya Bhagavan has fully unfolded the difference between Brahman and the living entities in the hearts of his followers. He ascertained that in the constitutional position of the living entities, they are situated in unbroken knowledge. Since the living entities are constitutionally marginal, sometimes they identify themselves as under the subordination of unbroken knowledge, sometimes they misidentify themselves as brahman or knowers of dualistic knowledge and sometimes they misidentify themselves as matter, which is opposite to brahman.
As soon as the living entities give up the subordination of matter they realize themselves as Vaisnavas. At that time, due their spiritual nature, material desires and material conceptions of life cannot attract them.
The living entities' lack of knowledge about the Absolute Truth makes them ignorant of Brahman. Sometimes they accept Brahman as an inferior object and try to establish themselves as Brahman. Being desirous of material enjoyment, they sometimes determine to accept the illusory energy of the Lord as Brahman.
Those who do not know the truth neglect their spiritual master, with the help of material knowledge, follow the ascending path.
They live within this world and unnecessarily praise themselves as knowers of Brahman. The hamsas, however, know perfectly well that Brahman, which is devoid of form and variegatedness, is a partial manifestation of the Supreme Lord.
Some of the hamsas know the localized aspect of the Absolute Truth as Paramatma and thus disassociate themselves from the activities of this material world, which is created by the illusory energy of the Lord. The perfection of this disassociation qualifies them to meditate on the Supersoul as yogis. It is not very difficult to attain spiritual knowledge or devotional service to Visnu from the respective positions of either persons who have realized Brahman or yogis who have attained perfection; rather it is their gradual progress. The position of the devotees of the Lord, or that of bhagavata paramahamsas, is the highest perfectional platform for both impersonal hamsas and yogi hamsas. When a devotee, or bhagavata paramahamsa, descends to the lower levels, he should not be considered either a pseudo impersonalist or a pseudo yogi. The bhagavata paramahamsa is the highest yogi and supreme knower of Brahman. One should not consider him inferior to either the impersonalists or yogis.
When the hamsas give up impersonal knowledge and endeavor to distinguish themselves from other hamsas while following their Grihya-sutras, or social codes of conduct, then according to their qualities and activities the four varnas and four ashrams are created. In Satya yuga there was only one varna called hamsa.
Later, after 1,728,000 years passed, the varnashram system was inaugurated among the hamsas. These divisions were effected according to ones occupation, qualities, symptoms, and possibility of future utility, According to the differences in the processes of one's goal, perfection, and intelligence, there can be tow types of varnashram. It has been a current practice in this country that the ascertainment of Varna according to seminal consideration is based on future utility. Moreover, one's occupation, nature, and symptoms have always nourished the seminal system. When we discuss the topics of Kavasa mentioned in the Aitareya Upanisad and the topics of Jabala mentioned in the Chandogya Upanisad then we will properly understand seminal consideration. Sri Mahabharata, Hari-vamsa and the 18 Puranas had mentioned both processes of varnashram.
It is not that the system of varnashram according to seminal considerations which began in Treta Yuga, will continue forever and should be kept intact, though its purpose is lost the truthful hamsas of India do not accept this. The statements of the Vedas such as the Kalpa-sastras and the Grhya-sutras of Gobhila, Katyayana, and others that a brahmana should undergo the sacred thread ceremony at the age of eight is only a proposal.
Although all hamsas are equal, those who wish to follow the Grhya- sutras and their descendants are to be considered prospective brahmanas. A twice born brahmana is required to undergo social purificatory processes. Those who disagree or are unqualified for such samskaras, in other words, those who do not exhibit any inclination for Brahman, such people among the hamsas are non-brahmanas devoid of samskaras, or simply seminal descendants.
A twice born must follow the rules and regulation of the Grhya- sutras. According to familial tradition, those who followed were accepted as twice born. Those hamsas who due to envious nature or laziness were addressed as sudras by the brahmanas could not become twice born. When the descendants of such people will be in favor of undergoing social reformation, then they will not be bereft of the opportunity from being reinstated in their respective occupation quality, and nature.
Among the hamsas, the occupations, natures, and symptoms of the yogis, the worshipers, and the knowers of Brahman have always been there, are there, and will be there. In ancient times, when the varnashram system was not prominent, the hamsas alone attained the platform the bhagavata paramahamsas. There were also many paramahamsas found amongst the yogis, who were less inclined towards cultivation of the Absolute Truth, and amongst the impersonalists who were engaged in mental speculation. But when the impersonal conception among the hamsas of the world gradually sank in the deep water of forgetfulness, then atheism began to expand, the words of the spiritual master were reduced to chaos, and disregard for the truths of the Vedas covered the hearts of some hamsas like fog. Being deceived by their own material knowledge, they began to disrespect the Absolute Truth. In this way, the hamsas were divided into four varnas.
Essay published in the Weekly Magazine Gaudiya from the time of Siddhanta Saraswati.