Please read generously. This is just a blog post, not an article or an essay or a book.
My angle on the question of the relevance of Varṇāśrama to bhakti is that there are two things: pure bhakti and mixed bhakti. For one, Varnāśrama is quite irrelevant, for the other Varnāśrama is quite relevant.
Pure Bhakti – Where Varṇāśrama is Useless
Pure bhakti is completely independent and unstoppable (“ahaituky apratihata“), it doesn’t rely on anything for facilitation or help, etc. – i.e. you don’t have to be healthy, or happy, or wealthy, or wise, or this or that or the other thing before you can completely dive into pure bhakti. It is immediately acessable, and nothing is an obstacle to it.
Pure bhakti is accomplished by it’s own internal parts:
- Primarily by Śrī-nāma-saṁkīrtana, supported by:
- bhāgavatārtha-svada (tasting the purports of Bhāgavatam),
- sajātiyāśaya-snigdha śrī bhāgavata-bhakta-saṅga (becoming close with devotees of the Beautiful All-Attractive who are similar to us, able to shelter us, and affectionate – not for “social development” but for Hari-Kīrtana and Hari-Kathā),
- śrī murty anghri-sevane pritaḥ (affectionately doing humble service for the beautiful deity), and
- śrī mathurā-maṇḍala sthiti (situating oneself within the circle of beautiful Mathurā).
If one has faith (śraddhā) in pure bhakti – in other words if one is substantially convinced that pure bhakti is the real immediate and essential objective of life – then one won’t find a need to “psycho-physically situate themselves properly” or have a proper social life, etc. etc. One will merely feel the need to engage in Hari Nāma Saṁkīrtana with the support of the four practices mentioned above. Nothing else will seem important, and full satisfaction on all levels, physical, mental, social, intellectual, and spiritual will come directly from the Holy Name.
Mixed Bhakti – Where Varṇāśrama might be Usefull
If one doesn’t have faith in pure bhakti (kevala bhakti-śraddha) then one should weep incessantly. That’s the most useful endeavor.
The tears should inspire one to find someone else who does have such faith. We should try to associate with that person in such a way that their faith Pure Bhakti rubs off on us.
Meanwhile, since we still keep some roots of faith in temporary things we will unavoidably feel all sorts of lackings, deficiencies, and hungers, from the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual realms and will wish for a different world, where varṇāśrama was established and everyone was psycho-physically healthy and happy.
But then such worlds do exist, and that will probably be our destination if we care too much about nursing our mixed faith in bhakti (miśra bhakti śraddha). That’s why miśra bhakti leads to higher “planets” within the material world.
What is “faith in mixed bhakti”? It’s the idea that “bhakti is important but other things are important too.”
“Social development is important, physical health is important, emotional health is important, education is important, and bhakti is important too.” That’s a phrase from the miśra-bhakti handbook. In the kevala bhakti phrasebook there’s this phrase “to hell with everything else, where is the beautiful Son of Nanda, the source of all physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual bliss!?!?!?!?”
As far as I can tell this assessment of the relative use and uselessness of Varṇāśrama is extremely similar to the conclusion of Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.246-263 (http://www.dicara.com/Members/vic/BRS/1-2-245.htm#246)