'Kaayaka' And Dignity Of Labour
- V. K. JAVALI*
Basava is an outstanding socio-spiritual reformer of India. Like Buddha he organised a mass movement on a large scale against a caste-ridden society. The priestly class and the princely class who praised one another as gods on earth kept the masses under subjugation through fear and superstition. Discrimination, inequality, and segregation became the evil practices of the orthodox caste-society. But Basava in the 12th Century in Karnataka in South India taught a new outlook towards life and labour. Many teachers of the world renounced mundane life and devoted it exclusively to mere preaching. Basava lived a married life and followed a Kaayaka as Minister under King Bijjala. He was not an itinerant preacher. Kaayaka literally means physical labour or work of the body. Kãya means body and Kaayaka means work done by the body.
In its wider sense as preached and practised by Basava and a host of other Sharanas it means an occupation, a profession, a vocation, labour, work, duty or any employment undertaken as a means of self-realization. Kaayaka enjoins that everyone must do a duty. Its underlying principle is that man should not live an idle life hut be an earning member of the society. It is opposed to the idea of meditation in a forest, running away from society; it is opposed to Sanyasa or renunciation; and it is opposed to beggary and dependence on others for a living. Kaayaka cuts at the root of the traditional Varna or caste order of Society and the Ashrama or compartmental stages of life. It is a new outlook towards man and his labour and towards life and divinity. It embodies the principles of dignity of man and dignity of labour these are quite alien to the traditional way of life in India imposed on society by the self-motivated preaching class. The Kaayaka view of life is in conformity with the modern democratic principles of equality, justice, liberty and fraternity which arc laid down, in the preamble to the Constitution of India.
Kaayaka is a spiritual view of labour and not merely a materialistic view. According to Kaayaka man has to sublimate his physical labour into a spiritual pursuit. The mercenary motive is sublimated into spiritual motive. Carlyle says “Work is worship” and a Sharana says “Work is heaven”. The Kannada saying is “Kaayakave Kailsa”. Every labour is looked upon by Sharana with high honour, dignity and spiritual significance. Kaayaka does not encourage amassing wealth or hoarding of money. It is not motivated by profit. Kaayaka is to be done in the spirit of Daasoha. The earning from Kaayaka is to be dedicated to the preacher or Jangama who in his turn utilizes it for the good of the society. Kaayaka is a duty by which each one has to maintain oneself, and render its proceeds to the welfare of the society as a whole. This is the comprehensive view of Kaayaka.
The democratic principle of freedom of occupation is embodied in Kaayaka. The Karma theory which has given rise to Caste system in society is opposed to this principle. It dictates that each man’s occupation is pre-determined by birth. It says that man has no freedom to choose any vocation he likes and no freedom to think and act as he likes. The protagonists of the Karma theory advocate that one has to follow the hereditary profession; that a farmer’s son should become a farmer, a barber’s son a barber, a preacher’s son a preacher and so on. Basava revolted against this. He advocated freedom of occupation and dignity of labour. This is crystallized in Kaayaka. Basava says emphatically that he does not want to ask what Kaayaka one is following. He condemns vehemently any discrimination on the basis of birth, sex or occupation. He considers “Karma as an impurity” (or Mala). The history of India reveals that the Karma theory has hampered the progress of Society and has caused economic stagnation. The Kaayaka theory of the other hand supports the progressive view of the Society and the development of national economy. Beggary and idleness have no place in the Kaayaka system of society. Kaayaka and Daasoha emphasize self-denial and charity.*
The method adopted by Basava for propagating the tenets of his faith is unique. He settled at Kalyana as a Minister of Bijjala. He discharged the duties of his minister-ship as a Kaayaka. He practised what he preached. He established a spiritual parliament called Anubhava Mantapa at Kalyana. People from far and near came and settled at Kalyana and participated in the discourses that were carried on at the Anubhava Mantapa. This institution is unique in several respects. In the history of the spiritual movements in the World there is no other example, except that of Basava, where a founder of a faith or a reformist has adopted the democratic method of meeting together for discussing arid for laying down the path of spiritual advancement and social reconstruction based on free thinking. Almost all the renowned teachers of the various countries in the world moved from place to place to preach their gospel or to interpret the earlier scriptures. Basava adopted a new method. He did not renounce life like Buddha nor did he move from place to place preaching his gospel. He did not write his commentaries like Shankara on old scriptures. He was a free thinker and led a host of people to think freely like him. The members of the Anubhava Mantapa who participated in its deliberations followed various Kaayakas, or Occupations. The deliberations and discussions took place in Kannada. They have been recorded in the form of Vachanas. Each Saying or Vachana is a self-contained unit and is a free expression of the Sharana on spiritual, ethical or economic subject.
The fundamental principles accepted by Basava and the other Sharanas of the Anubhava Mantapa may be summarised as follows:
1. All men are equal.
2. No man is high or low either by birth, sex or occupation.
3. There is no discrimination between man and man and between man and woman.
4. Woman has equal rights with man to follow the path of self-evolution.
5. Each one should follow a profession of his choice.
6. Women also can take up any Kaayaka.
7. All Kaayakas are honourable professions. No Kaayaka is either low or high.
8. Varnas (or castes) and Ashamas (or stages) are to be discarded.
9. Self-development is to be achieved through Kaayaka.
10. Renunciation and dwelling in forest are ruled out as cowardly tendencies to escape from life.
11. Inter-group marriages and free dining should be encouraged.
12. Untouchability has no place in the society.
13. Every man is free to think on all spiritual and social subjects.
14. Reason and experience are the only guiding lights for free thinking and spiritual advancement.
15. Language of the people should be the medium for imparting spiritual and secular education.
16. All men have equal rights to participate in spiritual discussions, to acquire spiritual knowledge and to follow the same path of self-evolution.
The Anubhava Mantapa was a regular institution. The deliberations that took place in it were a sort of symposium. They are recorded in the form of Vachanas in Kannada. Men and women, married and unmarried people who followed different Kaayakas participated in the deliberations. Each one of them has composed Vachana. Some of the Kaayakas followed by the Sharanas of the Anubhava Mantapa are mentioned here — Pot-making, wood-cutting, washing, shoe-making, haircutting, cattle-grazing, rowing, farming, sewing, tailoring, basket making, weaving, trading, carpentry, smithy, etc… All the Sharanas irrespective of their Kaayakas enjoyed equal status. Maarayya was a Prince, Machideva was a washerrnan, Appanna was a barber, Chowadayya was a ferryman, Chennayya was a cobbler, Ketayya was a basket-maker, Raamanna was a cattle grazer, Sidharaama was an earth mover, and so on. This Anubhava Mantapa has, perhaps, no parallel in the spiritual history of mankind.
The teachings of Basava have great significance for a democratic society of the modern world. In a democratic society sovereignty lies with the public. It has no place for kingship or imperialism. In a democratic government the procedure followed is group discussion, group decision and group execution. This was exactly the procedure followed in the Anubhava Mantapa. People of different Kaayakas held group discussion in the Mantapa and arrived at decisions which were put into practice. They have come to us in the form of vachanas. The main topics dealt with in these Vachana as are in respect of Ashtavarana, or eight aids to faith, Panchachara, or five rules of conduct and Shatsthala or six stages of self-evolution. The Ashtavaranas deal with spiritual psychology, the Panchacharas deal with ethical behaviour, and the Shatsthala deal with metaphysical evolution. In a modern democratic society all men have equal rights in the pursuit of knowledge, wealth and power. This was so in the case of the members of the Anubhava Mantapa. Rich or poor, married or unmarried and men of different occupations were all welcome with equal respect and rights. In a democracy free thinking is the right of every person. The vachanas of the various Sharanas are the outcome of free thinking. In a socialistic society constructed by Basava there were no monopolies and no privileges. He revolted against the orthodox caste system which gave rise to a feudal type of society. Knowledge was monopolised by the priestly class, political power by the princely class, wealth by the merchant class and slavery was the lot of the working class. These social disparities became hereditary arid led to discrimination and stagnation. These social evils were up-rooted by Basava and his colleagues. Though Basava was a minister he said that no one was lesser than he; though Maarayya was a prince he took the Kaayaka of a wood cutter, though Madivaala was a washer man he revolted as a warrior. Irrespective of birth, sex, position and occupation, all the Sharanas followed the one and the same spiritual path.
The teachings of Basava had profound influence on the life of the people in their daily affairs. The brotherhood of man established by him was practised in every day (walk of) life. Each one addressed the other as brother or sister, as father or mother. Basava is renowned as Anna, or Elder brother, and Mahaadevi as Akka, or Elder sister Even today the terms Akka, Ajja, Appa and Avva are used as suffixes to the personal names of the vast majority of the people in Karnataka. Woman is shown respect by accosting her as goddess, or devi. According to the preaching’s and practice of Basava the Whole mankind is a brotherhood. This mission is in line with the modern Concept that all humanity is one.
In a democratic economy everyone must be an earning member of the society. In a planned economy beggary and unemployment are unthinkable in any form or sense. Even preachers should not be parasites on society but accept the profession of preaching as a Kaayaka for social service. According to Basava no one is to beg. He should rather work as a coolie than be a beggar.
In one of his vachanas Basava says that good conduct is heaven and bad conduct is hell. This aphorism of Basava serves as a beacon light to the modern world of materialists. According to Basava Society is dynamic and progressive but not static. The Sharanas never disparaged mundane life for the sake of spiritual life. Nor did they consider married life to be in any way inferior to unmarried life. In their scheme of life, secularism is not contrary to spirituality and scientific outlook is not repugnant to spiritual outlook. The human body is looked upon as sacred as a temple and Kaayaka as salvation itself.
The aphorism “work is heaven” contains a comprehensive view of Kaayaka as expounded in the philosophy of the Sharanas.
[This Article is from the book: Sri Basavesvara, Eigth centenary commemoration Volume, Pub: Government of Mysore (Karnataka), Bangalore, 1967.]*
 From the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.