VAISNAVA VEDIC PERSPECTIVE
Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Real Lionel Joseph Gagnon
Research Scholar, Department of Sociology, Osmania University, Hyderabad. firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. C. Ganesh
Head, Dept. of Sociology & Social Work, Osmania University, Hyderabad
The article Vaisnava Vedic Perspective argues that due to major deviations from basic concepts imbedded in the ancient Vedic culture of sanatana-dharma centered on a theistic organization of society, known as varnasrama dharma, modernity has been leading humanity on a path of destruction away from the foundational concepts of a peaceful, harmonious, healthy, and prosperous society. By neglecting the four pillars of dharma i, namely:1) satyam (truthfulness), 2) daya (compassion), 3) tapah (discipline) and 4) saucam (cleanliness), humanity has been plunged in major deviations since the days of the Industrial Revolution hurling modern civilization in what some claim to be the Holocene extinction also known as the sixth mass extinction. Basic notions of Vedic epistemology and Vedic ontology are fundamental to understand how these deviations have occurred and how they negatively affect present day society. The remedy recommended by the advocates of Vedic Sociology lies in re-introducing the long established and fundamental sciences that deal with the material and spiritual realities of individuals and society, namely: 1) Anviksiki (The Science of Philosophy), 2) Trayi, the Science of Education, 3) Danda Niti, the Science of Politics, and 4) Varta, the Science of Economics. These perennial sciences form the basis of both material sva-dharma (natural material occupations within Varnasrama Dharma) and spiritual sva-dharma (natural spiritual activities within Bhagavat Dharma).
OM SURABHYAI NAMAH! OM SRI GURAVE NAMAH!
To unravel the plight of modern man’s current narrative there is a need to present the Vaisnava Vedic perspective of society (Vedic Sociology). In this article, I will address three pressing problems commonly found in most developed and developing countries, with a special focus on India as described in the Kautilya’s Arthashastra ii, namely 1) Trayi (the Science of Education), 2) Danda-Niti (the Science of Politics), and 3) Varta (the Science of Economics), as they negatively affect the cultural, educational, political, and socio-economic conditions and parameters of communities when managed irresponsibly.
The great Statesman of the Mahabharata, “Grandfather Bhishmadeva”, describes three GIFTS of NATURE to mankind, gifts that should never be sold, never be abused, never misused nor ever exploited, namely 1) cows, 2) land, and 3) knowledge iii.
These three are considered “Mothers” and can best be understood and appreciated in a society
that values the age-long occupation of natural agriculture and cow care, the basis of a Vedic sustainable economy as described in Bhagavad-gita, krishi-goraksya-vanijyam iv. The components of these three gifts of nature are reflected in our modern times through the promotion of “intentional communities”, “sustainable development” and “eco villages” as seen in the efforts of Global Eco Network (GEN) aiming at building a regenerative future.
I will argue that modernity has robbed humanity of these three natural gifts of nature, three treasures that epitomize the real wealth of a nation. Going back centuries, and to this present day, agriculture that fosters a lifestyle based on simple living and high thinking has always been accepted as the noblest of all professions. This was echoed by the Founding Father of America, Benjamin Franklin, by the Founding Father of India, M. K. Gandhi in his Village Swaraj v ,by Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva in her book Soil Not Oil vi, by Russian-American sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, in his book Man and Society in Calamity vii, by American researcher Michael Cremo, author of Human Devolution viii, and by philosopher and social thinker, Rajani Kanth, author of Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century ix.
It is imperative to first clearly understand the basis upon which the Vaisnava Vedic perspective is grounded: 1) by becoming familiar with its Epistemology, 2) by studying its Ontology, 3) by understanding the Vaisnava Vedic Sociology, 4) by knowing and realizing the four standard Vedic sciences (Catur Vidya), 5) by looking closely at the Vedic Hierarchy of Human Needs, an interesting resemblance to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, 6) by understanding the neglect and desecration of human values and lastly 7) by bringing the matter to its proper conclusion.
The principles governing village life in India are essentially the same as those in any country. The readers’ challenge will lie in their ability to discern the major conceptual differences I will identify between the Vedic and Western paradigm to Sociology.
Vaisnava Vedic Epistemology
Out of many processes for acquiring knowledge, Vedic philosophers accept three as being most valid:
1) pratyaksa pramana or proof through direct sense perception
2) anumana pramana or proof through reason/inference/logic/ hypothesis
3) sabda pramana, or proof through aural reception from higher authorities.
Since both material perception through the senses (pratyaksa) and the mental perception through the mind (anumana) are material, these two processes cannot ascertain the spiritual reality claimed by transcendentalists, a reality which is beyond the material realm. Hence, the Vedic philosophers and the scriptures themselves declare that among these three processes, only sabda pramana or sound perception from authorized sources is the best and ultimately the preferred one upon which to be relied.
The source of Vedic knowledge are the Vedas themselves as they are accepted as apaurusheya, independent and faultless, devoid of any mundane origin as explained by the foremost philosopher and mystic Srila Jiva Goswami in his Sri Tattva-sandarbha x.
The Itihasas and Puranas are said to be the fifth Veda, being both apaurusheya in nature and an extension of the original Vedas xi. Within the Mahabharata, we find the Bhagavad-gita, the foundational theme of this great epic summarizing the seminal teachings of the Vedic knowledge. Among the Puranas, the Bhagavat Purana, also known as Srimad-Bhagavatam, is recognized as the summum bonum (supreme) of all Puranas xii. Hence, followers of the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya accept these two Vedic literatures, the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, as their main source of knowledge and strictly observe the process of sabda pramana
Vaisnava Vedic Ontology
The fundamental principles that govern Vedic ontology are given in the perennial teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, as spoken by Lord Krishna and further elaborated upon in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The five tattvas (truths) introduced in the Bhagavad-gita are: 1) isvara (controller), 2) jiva (the spirit soul), 3) prakriti (the material energy), 4) kala (the time factor) and 5) karma (the law of action and reaction). The first four principles are eternal while the last one is not eternal xiii. It is essential to understand these five principles to enter the meaning of the Vaisnava Vedic philosophy, especially as presented in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The first concept, isvara, refers both to the supreme isvara, God, described in sastra (scriptures) as paramesvara (supreme controller) and to the living entity, jiva, a limited isvara, never to attain the level of paramesvara. In his Sri Dashamula Tattvam, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur describes isvara as param tattva (ultimate reality), as shaktiman (vested with infinite power) and as rasa-samudra (an ocean of rasa or sweetness) xiv.
In the Bhagavad-gita itself, Lord Krishna declares Himself to be the compiler of Vedanta and the object to be known in the Vedas xvi.
Prakriti (material nature)
The concept of prakriti refers to material nature composed of twenty-four material elements from which various forms are created among the 8,400,000 species of life described in the Vedic literatures. All species of life are made up of five gross material elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and three subtle material elements (mind, intelligence, and ego) xvii.
Kala (time) is the fourth eternal principle. In the material world, it is experienced as past, present, and future but in the spiritual realm, time is eternal. According to karma, we take on different material bodies until we no longer remain influenced by the modes of material nature (gunas).
Karma (activity), the fifth principle, determines our fate or destiny in this material world. There are three types of karma described in the Bhagavad-gita: 1) karma means following the injunctions of sastra and reaping good reactions, 2) vikarma, means going against the injunction of sastra and reaping bad reactions, 3) naiskarma or akarma, meansnot incurring any good or bad karmic reaction, the path known as bhakti-yoga, enabling one to get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death xviii.
Vaisnava Vedic Sociology
Vaisnavism refers to those who accept the personal form of God and thus worship Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. Members of ISKCON are known as Brahma-Gaudiya-Madhva Vaisnavas.
Every school has an Acarya (Preceptor), a commentary on the primary foundational Vedic text called Vedanta Sutra (aphorisms describing the apex of Vedic knowledge) and a particular seminal truth called tattva.
The philosophy of the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya is summarized by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the following three levels of knowledge: 1) sambandha jnana (knowledge of relationships), 2) abhidheya jnana (knowledge of activities) and prayojana jnana (knowledge of objectives). These three covers all the different levels of tattva (truth).
The expressions Vedic knowledge, Vedic teachings, Vedic culture, Vedic villages, etc., are all connected with the word Veda which broadly speaking means the original knowledge, according to Vaisnava philosophy, revealed to the first created being Lord Brahma xix.
Srila Vyasadeva, has summarized the essence of the Vedic knowledge, culminating in the Vedanta Sutra of which the Bhagavat Purana or Srimad-Bhagavatam is the natural commentary, described as ‘the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures” xx.
The organization of society was a fundamental concept and focus of statesmanship governing villages, states, nations, and the entire world. The Vedic science of polity, the domain of ksatriyas or Vedic rulers, deals amply with both administration and organization of society.
Vedic social organization is the eternal scientific arrangement of four social orders (catur varnyam) and four spiritual orders (asramas) referred to as varnasrama dharma xxi, which is also known as sanatana dharma.
Four Vedic Sciences (Catur Vidya)
The four Vedic sciences of
1) Anviksiki (Philosophy),
2) Trayi (Education)
3) Danda Niti, (Politics)
4) Varta (Economics)
give direction to the social body of varnasrama dharma. However, due to the neglect of these four sciences, the Western world has been plunged in a vicious descending spiral of ever-increasing social unrest and moral turpitude.
Although modernity (and all its nomenclatures such as Positivism, Marxism, Pragmatism, Existentialism, etc.) is the root conflicting factor causing major disruption in the very principles of dharma, I must also acknowledge that the culprits for India’s downtrodden situation are not only from the West. The social discrimination found within the caste system in India finds its source in the abuse and misuse of brahminical powers and this led to a great debate between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar centered on the former’s “undelivered speech” entitled “The Annihilation of Caste” xxii. From the Vedic perspective, it can be said that Ambedkar was unaware of basic principles governing the science of both sanatana dharma and varnasrama dharma and therefore chose to reject the total consummate of Vedic teachings by adopting Buddhism at the end of his life. Deviations from dharma are no reasons to reject the principles of dharma.
Vedic Hierarchy of Human Needs
The following chart delineates the three natural levels of the self (atma), namely 1) the gross material matter, 2) the subtle material body, and) the spirit soul as clearly defined in the Bhagavad-gita xxiii.
Vedic Hierarchy of Human Needs
Self-Identity & Self-Needs
Hierarchy of Human Needs table
Five Material Elements
Three Material Elements
One Spiritual Element
Land Cultivation and
provides for physical
The Varnasrama System
provides for emotional,
cognitive & social needs.
Love & Devotion
helps one develop
pure love of God,
Knowledge of Identity
Knowledge of activity
Knowledge of goal
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs is classified as:
1. Biological and physiological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Belongingness and Love needs
4. Esteem needs,
5. Selfactualization needs.
We can compare the two models.
Figure 1: Vedic Model of Four Needs
Figure 2: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs
Maslow’s self-actualization level in this above model became subservient to yet another
level that he developed later and that he identified as “self-transcendence”:
Figure 3: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs (Revised)
In this second model, we can observe the changing natures of philosophies when we rely
on our limited mental perceptions, in comparison to the Vedic model that is unchanging.
The very expression “self-transcendence” brings us closer to the Vedic conception of
accepting a reality beyond our limited sensual and mental perceptions.
Having been exposed to the Vaisnava Vedic Perspective of Sociology, the readers should now be in a better position to understand the neglect of our three foremost natural mothers, namely: 1) Mother Surabhi, through the on-going exploitation and abuse of cows and other animals, 2) Mother Bhumi, through the abuse of land by the modern practices of ago-business and by the exploitation of natural resources of nature, and 3) Mother Sarasvati, through the misuse of knowledge in our modern educational systems.
The Neglect and Desecration of Holistic Values
Modernity, in its zest and zeal to free individuals and society from the bourgeois and ecclesiastic exploitation prevalent 400 years ago in Europe, in its new found credo of freedom, fraternity, liberty and equality for all, has ironically neglected and severely exploited the basic fundamental rights and values related to: 1) cows, through dairy business, 2) land, through agri-business, and 3) modern education, all three being intimately related to three clearly defined Vedic sciences meant to help societies develop into holistic, balanced, peaceful and prosperous nations. Can we honestly say that we have evolved since the days of the French Revolution? Author Rajani Kanth opines the opposite in his book Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century:
It is the European, Modernist, Governors that have brought the ecological world to the very brink of existence, the societal world to breakdown, and the economic world to collapse. The world is suicidally nuclear today because of their venomous invention(s)… As such, it is the European Modernist, in particular the Anglo-Am set of forces, that is squarely responsible for where we are today: in the Greatest Crisis in the History of Our Species xxv.
Never in the history of mankind has there been such rampant and unscrupulous exploitation among the human species, other species of life and of natural resources. Never have we seen such degradation in the character, morality and ethics of leaders and the general mass of people. The three fundamental Vedic sciences meant to protect, nourish, and give security to all, namely the Science of Education (Trayi), the Science of Governance (Danda Niti), and the Science of Economics (Varta), have practically been destroyed in modern day society. When we grossly neglect these fundamental principles of dharma, we can only but expect deterioration and corruption that results in ever increased suffering for all. And that is our unequivocal gloomy reality in the beginning of our third decade of the Twenty-First Century. One of the greatest proponents of Bhagavat Dharma, Srila Narada Muni, instructs the greatest leader of his times, Yudhisthira Maharaja as follows:
dharma-mulam hi bhagavan sarva-vedamayo harih
smritam ca tad-vidam rajan yena catma prasidati
“The Supreme Being, the Personality of Godhead, is the essence of all Vedic knowledge, the root of all religious principles, and the memory of great authorities. O king Yudhisthira, this principle of religion is to be introduced as evidence. On the basis of this religious principle, everything is satisfied, including one’s mind, soul and even one’s body” xxvi.
i.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (2010). Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 1.17.24). Mumbai: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
ii.Shamasastry, R. (2016). Kautiliya’s Arthashastra (p. 10-12). http://library.bjp.org/jspui/handle/123456789/80
iii.Pandit Ramanarayana Dutta Sastri Pandey Rama (Translator). Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Dana Dharma Parva, Chapter 69, Verse 4). Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press.
iv.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (2007). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 18.44). Delhi, India: Krishna Book Inc.
v.Gandhi, M. K. (1962). Village Swaraj (p. 36). Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House.
vi.Shiva, Vandana (2016). Soil Not Oil (p. 7). California: North Atlantic Books.
vii.Sorokin, Pitirim (1943). Man and Society in Calamity (p. 26). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.
viii.Cremo, Michael (2003). Human Devolution (p. 8). Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
ix.Kanth, Rajani (2017). Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century (p. xxv). New York: Peter Lang: International Academic Publishers, New Edition.
x.Jiva Goswami (2013). Sri Tattva-sandarbha (p. 29). Greater Noida: Giriraja Publishing.
xi.Ibid., (p. 36-53).
xii.Ibid., (p. 87).
xiii.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Introduction, p. 9-10). Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xiv.Bhaktivinode Thakur (2002). Sri Dashamula Tattvam (p. 3-4). Chennai: Sree Gaudiya Math.
xv.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 15.15). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xvi.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 15.7). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xvii.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 7.4). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xviii.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 9.3). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xix.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (2010). Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 1.1.3.). Mumbai: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
xx.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (2010). Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 1.19.4.) Mumbai: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
xxi.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 4.13). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xxii.Ambedkar, B. R. (1944). The Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi https://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/ambedkar/web/readings/aoc_print_2004.pdf
xxiii.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (1972). Bhagavad-gita As It Is (Bg 7.4-5). New Delhi: Krishna Book Inc.
xxiv.Revised Maslow Pyramid, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.
xxv.Kanth, Rajani (2017). Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century (p. 86). New York: Peter Lang: International Academic Publishers, New Edition.
xxvi.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A. C. (2010). Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB 7.11.7.). Mumbai: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.