I recently read Niscala Devi Dasi’s book, “Varnasharma – The Eight Petalled Lotus Divinity in All, Diversity in One”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt that Niscala Prabhu brought up several intelligent, important points.
I appreciated her emphasis on guna, qualities, as opposed to karma, work, in finding out one’s true varna. In other words, Niscala Prabhu points out that it’s more important, in deciding which varna one belongs to, to first see what qualities one naturally expresses, not just the work one is good at doing. For example, a person can be a great teacher, an intelligent academic, but has no regard for the well-being of others, or is full of pride and envy. The result might be a person good at teaching hateful ideas, or a brilliant scientist who creates a weapon of mass destruction. Such a person should not be considered a brahmana.
I also appreciated her emphasis on how natural a true varnashrama system must be – where people will, by definition, be situated in the level of spiritual commitment and a certain kind practical work which most satisfies them, neither leaving them hankering for other service or work opportunities, nor setting them up for a spiritual/administrative falldown. (I like her term, “the hypocrisy of falling up”, in reference to trying to put oneself in a spiritual/administrative/social position superior to one’s actual nature).
Another point I found interesting is her suggestion that there be vows specific to one’s ashram. We all know how easy it is to make great and powerful vows of renunciation and austerity in our early years of spiritual life (brahmacari), only to find them impossible or a great burden to follow in the grihastha ashram, especially for those who were not, as they might have thought, in the brahmana varna. She suggests a model whereby everyone can find his or her place in Krishna consciousness, according to his varna and ashram. Not that those who cannot follow the strict code of conduct and vows of a brahmana should feel excluded, fallen, or in any way, a lesser person. She reminds the reader, time and time again, that Krishna set up the varnashrama system in such a way that everyone can achieve perfection in this lifetime.
Another very useful point she brings up is the great danger of pratistha – the desire for fame and power, the desire to feel superior to other people and to exploit them. She makes the case that the system of varnashrama exists precisely to combat this terrible tendency of mundane consciousness, because the system values each and every person, varna and ashram – they are all important and necessary.
This leads her to point out the very present danger we all face (and generally ignore) that our religious or devotional service is motivated by subconscious envy, greed, lust, desire for fame, power, etc. She reminds us that if such motivations remain in our subconscious, they will be fed by the process of devotional service, not eliminated by it. These are the weeds of bhakti that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu alluded to. On the other hand, conscious material desires are gradually diminished and dealt with in the process of bhakti.
The book could use a very thorough re-write, to better organize her excellent insights and correct the many editing mistakes. It also needs more professional layout work, both on the cover and main text. But these are superficial problems that do not significantly decrease the value in reading this book, which I thoroughly recommend.