Certainly, it is not relevant now in the sense it was in the past. But we still need the ideals that worked through the system. Today’s students cannot go to the forest and live with a Guru. But they should try to follow the ideal of the brahmacharya āshrama. Brahmacharya means restraint in life, purity in thought, word, and deed, and conserving the physical and mental energy for appropriate use. Right use of our energy means applying it for good purposes. Otherwise it would automatically go wrong. That is the present relevance this ideal. We should concentrate on the core ideas instead of the external forms.
After the student life many would naturally opt for a family life, the gārhasthya āshrama. That should be founded on righteousness and discipline, so that it can be devoted to the welfare of many people. Later on, perhaps the attachments of family life will diminish. That is the spirit of vānaprastha. At a still later stage perhaps it would occur to some that enough of familial duties were done. A sense of detachment comes. Selfish desires become less and less. Perhaps one is now telling the young men of one’s locality about Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and getting involved in some work for the good of others. That is: there is a touch of the sannyāsa āshrama, even while one is at home.
How is varna relevant? The actual concept is: if my intelligence does not work, if I can only earn my bread by physical labour, and if my demand grows more and more – I have the life of a shudra. Shall we spend the life in this way? It cannot be. There is an infinite ocean of power, knowledge, and bliss within me. I can see everybody as my own and work for the good of all. Why should I not be able to do anything beyond physical labour? To organize training camps boys of the Mahamandal in some places arrange for the money by working as daily wage labourers. The physical aspect of the work is apparently shudra’s. But they do it with the intelligence of the brāhmana. That is what we need today. Let everyone do one’s own duty, but let it be done with the intelligent outlook of the brāhmana. Thus a new dimension will be added to the work, resulting in the good of all. The power of the brāhmana, coming from his inner apprehension of the truth, is brahma-teja. The valour and practical efficiency of the kshatriya is kshātra-virya. If these two come together, the gods dwell there happily and shower their blessings – say the Vedas. That means, the life, the family, and the society of such people become the abode of goodness, happiness, and prosperity.
Whether we are labourers or farmers or something else by occupation, we have no reason not to acquire such intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and feeling, along with practical efficiency. The country will rise, if we can develop ourselves in this way. And in that sense the ideals of varnaand āshrama are still valid.