In my last article, we had seen the basic essence of Lord Krishna’s instructions through Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Going forward, I will attempt to present the views from the perspective of Vedic teachings on some of the issues that we have been facing one millennium after another.
If someone writes articles about quantum mechanics, theory of relativity, chaos theory, Fourier transforms and so on, I bet that there will be almost close to ‘zero’ interaction on it. Whereas, there are couple of topics on which one can be assured of a deluge of comments from experts (no sarcasm here) who have had life as their laboratory and their own experiences as results of experiments. But no topic is as prone to sentimental ranting and fanatic following based on so many varied theories and ‘popular leaders’, like the topic of “Indian Caste System”.
Now I will attempt to present the caste system as described by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I request anyone reading this article to set aside your prejudices, read through the article fully and then decide for yourself if it makes sense.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 04, verse 13:
cātur-varṇyaḿ mayā sṛṣṭaḿ
tasya kartāram api māḿ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.”
I might probably see, if I can, a few mouths drop open!
So, Bhagavad Gita endorses the caste system? Apparently, yes… but not in its current form. Unfortunately, this has the ultimate weapon for some pseudo-experts and proselytizers. The fault is not with Bhagavad Gita, but with us for our lack of understanding on the scriptures and our false ego which twists almost everything to suit our own needs.
Lord Krishna says he created the 4 divisions in the society… namely, Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Notice the words Guna and Karma highlighted in the verse? Krishna does not mention Janma (birth) in his description. This is the crux of the problem. A brahmana’s son cannot become a brahmana by default i.e. by birth. A Ksatritya’s son cannot remain as a Ksatriya by default and so on. Somewhere in time, this system started to degrade. The change was because of people’s own selfish goals, and addiction to power that came with the caste assignment. The problem started when ‘unqualified’ people started remaining in the same caste as they were born in. The original system was simply that you go to a Gurukula, spend a couple of years learning stuff and the Guru identifies the stream of skill that you are good at and then assigns you to that caste. But that got changed and nowadays, you see a boy born in a ‘brahmin’ family still being branded as ‘brahmin’ even if he has the worst character possible and is working as a laborer in the IT industry! (Don’t get me started on how IT is a boon and such. That’s for some other time.)
So, what differentiates the 4 divisions? That is also addressed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
BG 18.41: Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.
BG 18.42: Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness — these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.
BG 18.43: Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.
BG 18.44: Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there is labor and service to others.
I think the verses are self explanatory.
There is one more area where pseudo-secularists raise a hue and cry. They quote Manu Smriti (or Manu Samhita) and make an appeal to pity for their cause by citing verses which talk about punishments to be given for people who deviate from their caste… like a Sudra speaking Vedas. In opposition, if a person without a qualified MBBS degree is found to be working a doctor, will the law enforcers remain silent? In the same way, a person who has been identified by his Guru to be NOT having any qualities or work tendencies to be a Brahmana or a Ksatriya or a Vaisya, becomes a sudra. So how does this person have any right to lecture on the Vedas? Looking from the perspective of how the caste system should have been, I see nothing wrong in the punishments.
I quote my teachers:
“In the Vedic setting, if it is ascertained that one has the nature of a sudra, they were given vocational education; literacy for the masses was not given great importance in Vedic society. However, as the sudras gave service to the other varnas, it was in turn the duty of brahmanas to systematically disseminate shastric knowledge to the general public. In fact, the temple in a Vedic community was to serve just this purpose – as a center of learning – where the mercantile and laborer classes would come and learn about religious principles through art, drama and regular discourses on scriptural teachings.”
Nowadays the word Sudra has taken a ‘derogatory’ tone… while it is simply equivalent to being called a ‘dancer’, ‘mechanic’ and so on. I am 100% against the concept of ‘untouchability’, which is again the perverted rendering of the Vedic system by the pseudo-brahmanas of recent times. And one should also be careful while dealing with ‘modern reformers’ who are quick to denounce the Vedas and have ‘converted’ to Buddhism and such… they are more dangerous than the pseudo-brahmanas because not only are they wrong in their understanding of the scriptures, they are also proud of it and do what they do as a sense of duty and right.
So, the next time someone lectures to you on the caste system and starts denouncing the Vedic scriptures, you remember that it was we people, not the scriptures, who are responsible for the current mess.