Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 3 - Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

How Viṣṇu is to be worshipped, as related by Aurva to Sāgara. Duties of the four castes, severally and in common: also in time of distress.

MAITREYA: --Inform me, venerable teacher, how the supreme deity, the lord of the universe, Viṣṇu, is worshipped by those who are desirous to overcome the world; and what advantages are reaped by men, assiduous in his adoration, from the propitiated Govinda.

PARĀŚARA: --The question you have asked was formerly put by Sāgara to Aurva. I will repeat to you his reply:

Sāgara having bowed down before Aurva, the descendant of Bhrigu, asked him what were the best means of pleasing Viṣṇu, and what would be the consequence of obtaining his favour.

Aurva replied:

"He who pleases Viṣṇu obtains all terrestrial enjoyments; heaven and a place in heaven; and what is best of all, final liberation: whatever he wishes, and to whatever extent, whether much or little, he receives it, when Achyuta is content with him.

In what manner his favour is to be secured, that also I will, oh king, impart to you, agreeably to your desire.

The supreme Viṣṇu is propitiated by a man who observes the institutions of caste, order, and purification practices: no other path is the way to please him.

He who offers sacrifices, sacrifices to him; he who murmurs prayer, prays to him; he who injures living creatures, injures him; for Hari is all beings.

Janārdana therefore is propitiated by him who is attentive to established observances, and follows the duties prescribed for his caste.

The Brahman, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya, and the Śūdra, who attends to the rules enjoined by his caste, best worships Viṣṇu.

Keśava is most pleased with him who does good to others; who never utters abuse, calumny, or untruth; who never covets another's wife or another's wealth, and who bears ill-will towards none;

who neither beats nor slays any animate or inanimate thing; who is ever diligent in the service of the gods, of the Brahmans, and of his spiritual preceptor;

who is always desirous of the welfare of all creatures, of his children, and of his own soul; in whose pure heart no pleasure is derived from the imperfections of love and hatred.

The man, oh monarch, who conforms to the duties enjoined by scriptural authority for every caste and condition of life, is he who best worships Viṣṇu: there is no other way."

Aurva having thus spoken, Sāgara said to him, "Tell me then, venerable Brahman, what are the duties of caste and condition: I am desirous of knowing them."

To which Aurva answered and said:

"Attentively listen to the duties which I shall describe as those severally of the Brahman, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya, and the Śūdra:

The Brahman should make gifts, should worship the gods with sacrifices, should be assiduous in studying the Vedas, should perform ablutions and libations with water, and should preserve the sacred flame.

For the sake of subsistence he may offer sacrifices on behalf of others, and may instruct them in the Śāstras; and he may accept presents of a liberal description in a becoming manner (or from respectable persons, and at an appropriate season).

He must ever seek to promote the good of others, and do evil unto none; for the best riches of a Brahman are universal benevolence.

He should look upon the jewels of another person as if they were pebbles; and should, at proper periods, procreate offspring by his wife. These are the duties of a Brahman.

"The man of the warrior tribe should cheerfully give presents to Brahmans, perform various sacrifices, and study the scriptures. His especial sources of maintenance are arms and the protection of the earth.

The guardianship of the earth is indeed his especial province: by the discharge of this duty a king attains his objects, and realizes a share of the merit of all sacrificial rites.

By intimidating the bad, and cherishing the good, the monarch who maintains the discipline of the different castes secures whatever region he desires.

"Brahmā, the great parent of creation, gave to the Vaiśya the occupations of commerce and agriculture, and the feeding of flocks and herds, for his means of livelihood; and sacred study, sacrifice, and donation are also his duties, as is the observance of fixed and occasional rites.

"Attendance upon the three regenerate castes is the province of the Śūdra, and by that he is to subsist, or by the profits of trade, or the earnings of mechanical labour. He is also to make gifts; and he may offer the sacrifices in which food is presented, as well as funeral offerings.

"Besides these their respective obligations, there are duties equally incumbent upon all the four castes:

These are, the acquisition of property, for the support of their families; cohabitation with their wives, for the sake of progeny; tenderness towards all creatures, patience, humility, truth, purity, contentment, decency of decoration, gentleness of speech, friendliness; and freedom from envy and repining, from avarice, and from detraction.

These also are the duties of every condition of life.

"In times of distress the peculiar functions of the castes may be modified, as you shall hear:

 A Brahman may follow the occupations of a Kṣatriya or a Vaiśya; the Kṣatriya may adopt those of the Vaiśya; and the Vaiśya those of the Kṣatriya:

but these two last should never descend to the functions of the Śūdra, if it be possible to avoid them; and if that be not possible, they must at least shun the functions of the mined castes.

I will now, Rājā, relate to you the duties of the several Āśramas or conditions of life."