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Varnashram Dharma

Although Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He sometimes plays the part of an ordinary human being to teach the world by His example. During His earthly pastimes in Dvaraka He appeared as a king and a householder, and offered royal hospitality to the poor brahman Sudama by washing his feet. Because the brahmans are the spiritual masters of human society, they should be honoured by all, including kings.


"As long as one is not liberated, one has to perform the duties of his particular body in accordance with religious principles in order to achieve liberation. On the bodily plane sva-dharma is called varnasrama-dharma, or man's steppingstone for spiritual understanding. " (Bhagavad-gita As It Is 2.31 Bhaktivedanta Purport.)


Specific duties on the bodily plane are defined according to varna and ashram and are meant to gradually elevate the individual in spiritual realisation. Within the varnashram system, the traditional duty of the grihastha is to give in charity.


"Education, charity, penance and truth are said to be the four legs of religion, and to learn this there are four orders of life." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.12.41)


The four ashrams - brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa - are meant to uphold the four legs of religion respectively - education, charity, penance and truth.


"Student life is meant for acquiring the best education; household family life is meant for gratifying the senses, provided it is performed with a charitable disposition of mind; retirement from household life is meant for penance, for advancement in spiritual life; and renounced life is meant for preaching the Absolute Truth to the people in general." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.12.41 Bhaktivedanta Purport)


Out of the four orders of life within the varnashram system, only the householders are allowed to engage in economic development. They therefore become responsible for maintaining the other three orders.


"The man who lives with a wife has a great responsibility in maintaining the members of the other social orders, the brahmacaris, vanaprasthas and sannyasis. By helping the other three sections of society cultivate spiritual values, the householder also makes advancement in spiritual life." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3. 14.18 Bhaktivedanta Purport.)


There are many different ways that householders can contribute to maintaining the other orders and those in need, according to their means. One way is by feeding guests. Any guest who arrives at the door of a religious household is traditionally offered a seat, something to drink and whatever food is available.


"It is the duty of a householder to feed first of all the children, the old members of the family, the brahmanas and the invalids. Besides that, an ideal householder is required to call for any unknown hungry man to come and dine before he himself goes to take his meals. He is required to call for such a hungry man thrice on the road." (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.14.43 Bhaktivedanta Purport).


Calling out three times on the road before eating, to find out if there is any hungry person in the neighbourhood, is an ancient Vedic injunction for householders.This means that they should care and provide for not only their immediate family, but also any hungry person in the vicinity of their home. Charitable grihasthas are like fathers and mothers to all of those around them who have no other means of support. And this responsibility is not limited to human beings. The animals should also be protected and cared for by householders.


"One should treat animals such as deer, camels, asses, monkeys, mice, snakes, birds and flies exactly like one's own son. How little difference there is between children and these innocent animals." (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.14.9).


Householders should also invite guests to the house and feed them to full satisfaction with prasad (pure vegetarian food that has been offered to the Lord). Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught this by His own example.


"In this way the Lord satisfied all his guests and taught the world how to behave as a perfect householder. The foremost duty of a householder is to serve his guests. If a householder happily serves his guests without duplicity and according to his ability he is considered hospitable." (Caitanya-bhagavata Adi 14. 21. 26.)


According to Bhagavad-gita, there are three ways of giving charity, according to the three modes of material nature - goodness, passion and ignorance. The scriptures recommend charity in the mode of goodness, which is described as follows.


"Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the mode of goodness." (Bhagavad-gita As It Is 17. 20.)


The most worthy recipients of charity are those who are engaged in spiritual activities for the welfare of human society.


"Charity is never unproductive or blind. In the sastras charity was offered to persons who deserve to accept charity by dint of spiritual enlightenment."(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.12.14 Bhaktivedanta Purport).


According to the laws of karma, if our donations are used for sinful activities, such as meat eating or intoxication, we become implicated in the resultant sinful reactions. On the other hand, if our donations are used in the service of God, we become purified and make spiritual advancement.


"If one has more than one requires for his necessities, the extra money should be spent for Krsna. The grhasthas should give contributions for constructing temples of the Supreme Lord and for preaching of Srimad Bhagavad-gita, or Krsna consciousness, all over the world." (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.14.8 Bhaktivedanta Purport.)