Traditional Indian society was organized by the sages of India who had a deeper and holistic view of the world and life principles. The knowledge of the common person is obtained through external cognitive senses, jñānendriya, and through the mind. The ancient thinkers of India, known as ṛṣis and munis, however, had a different means of knowledge, called ṛtambharā prajñā or truth-bearing vision (vide Yoga Sūtra 1.48). They acquired it with the practice of tapas and samādhi. With this vision, they understood that the universe functions on some basic principles, known as ṛtam. One of the most fundamental ṛtams is the cyclic nature of time. The whole cosmos undergoes a cyclic repetition of creation, sustenance, and dissolution, sṛṣṭi, sthiti, and laya. This is stated at the very beginning of Vedānta Sūtra (1.1.2) “From Him occur Creation, Sustenance, and Dissolution”, janmādyasya yataḥ. The same statement is found at the beginning of Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇam, the last work of Śrī Vyāsa Deva. It can also be understood from our own experience that everything, including our own life, undergoes these three phases. This, therefore, is the basic ṛtam, or rhythm, of the cosmos and everything within it.
The ṛṣis of India realized that to maximize happiness in human life and to attain perfection, human beings must live in harmony with the ṛtam. For this purpose, they organized the human life at two levels: individual and social. At the individual level, they divided the human life into four parts: brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyāsa. Considering the human life span to be about one hundred years, they allocated twenty-five years to each stage of life.
At the social level, the ṛṣis divised the concept of varṇa. They understood that not all human beings are equal. Every human being has got some unique trait, or characteristic, which is also called an individual’s prakṛti. It was best to educate a person according to his or her prakṛti and then to let them function in the society utilizing their prakṛti-given abilities. For this, they understood that although every individual is unique, to organize the society, some broad categories are needed. These categories were called varṇas. One’s varṇa was not based on birth; according to the individual’s acquired nature, or prakṛti, he would belong to a particular varṇa. The ṛṣis conceived four basic varnas, known as, brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, and śūdra. Every society which functions as an organized unit must include these four types of people for its sustenance, propagation, and prosperity. These four categories are unavoidable, and they emerge naturally in societies all over the world. However, it is Indian thinkers who recognized this and supplied the theory behind the four varṇas.
The ṛṣis also understood that to be in harmony with the ṛtam, or rhythm, of the universe, an individual, as well as the society at large, must strive for four pursuits called puruṣārtha. The four puruṣārthas are: dharma, artha, kāma, and mokṣa. These puruṣārtha were meant to harmonize the life of an individual as well as the society with the basic ṛtam of sṛṣṭi, sthiti, and laya. Artha and kāma were for sṛṣṭi, dharma for sthiti, and mokṣa for laya. Keeping this in mind, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that he created the four varṇas in society (Gītā 4.13). In brief, this describes the template on which Indian society was based and functioned peacefully for thousands of years.
Furthermore, every system requires maintenance and adjustments. In the history of India, many great personalities appeared to rectify the situation whenever things went out of balance. Indeed, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself proclaims that He manifests in order to rectify society whenever there is a deformation in the system (Gītā 4.7).
However, this system started to crumble when the Indian society was invaded by western forces, primarily beginning with Alexander around 326 B.C. Since then, the system experienced a downward spiral. Fortunately, the system was very resilient. Even when India came under foreign rule, in around 1192 A.D., its educational system was not tampered with. Therefore, even under the prolonged rule of the Mughals, the system still survived. The biggest blow, however, came in 1850, when the Britishers callously scrapped the Indian educational system. They selfishly replaced it with a Western educational system in order to produce clerks to help them control the vast country. Tragically, the western educational system has no such insight about human life, what to speak of the cosmic ṛtam. Unfortunately, even after India gained independence in 1947, they did not reclaim the heritage bequeathed to them by the sages of India. Instead, they continued with the borrowed educational system as well as the Constitution of the west, a complete mismatch for the Indian mind.
At present what we see in the society is the pursuit of artha and kāma. There is no education about dharma. Mokṣa is beyond anyone’s concept. As a result, we see a lot of sṛṣṭi or manufacturing. Everyday some new product or a newer version of an existing product is advertised. Indeed, the progress of a country is measured only by GDP (Gross Domestic Production). Too much sṛṣṭi (creation) naturally creates an imbalance in the society. There is no program to balance it with sthiti (sustenance) and laya (destruction) through the pursuits of dharma and mokṣa. Thus, we see that there is a crisis in every country, primarily caused by an imbalanced economy. Material objects are created and then marketed to us. We chase after material objects, thinking we will find happiness, acceptance, appreciation, and love. We chase after the more prosperous job, fancier car, better house, or more beautiful wife. There is no regulator (dharma) that keeps us in check. We seek to attain more, better, faster, but that does not relate to our prakṛti. We only compare ourselves to our neighbor. In fact, even when we attain what we were chasing after, and it is more than that of our neighbor, do we feel happy? No. Well, at least not for long. So we go on chasing the next thing. We’ve run out of money? No problem! That is why we have credit cards! We keep on chasing, spending, and getting momentary glimpses of happiness, only to eventually chase our next desire. This process will continue, although we may be very good at rationalizing that we are not in this cycle. We can invent very good reasons why we are doing what we are doing. However, the truth prevails.
When human beings do not take steps to align their lives with the ṛtam of the cosmos and when there is no avatāra in sight to fix it, then nature steps in to balance it. I think that the spread of the Corona virus is the nature’s way of bringing this cycle into balance. Therefore, it is no wonder that the biggest effect of the Corona virus has been on the GDP of a country. We may find a vaccine to counteract the virus but that will not solve the root problem. The real solution lies in aligning ourselves with the ṛtam. Thus, Śrī Kṛṣṇa advises, “O Arjuna, one who in this life does not observe this cycle set into motion in the manner depicted leads a miserable life, delighting only in the senses. Such a person lives in vain.” (Gītā 3.16) Unless the leaders of the society take a note of this, humanity is bound to suffer.