HomeArticlesVedic Literature Says Caste by Birth is Unjust

Vedic Literature Says Caste by Birth is Unjust

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HOW EVERYONE CAN ADVANCE

The proper observance of the Vedic system of Varnashrama-dharma is to help one’s growth and self-development. The great sages have explained that this system of division into varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, providing a means so one can rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. Such is our ideal for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of the great ideal of being a spiritual man, who is calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God-realization.

The additional aim of Varnashrama-dharma is to promote the development of the universal, eternal Sanatana-dharma, the balanced state of being in which you perceive and live according to your genuine spiritual identity. This is the ultimate goal of the whole Vedic system for all of humanity. Thus, as the saying goes, “if you take care of Dharma, Dharma will take care of you.” If you destroy it, society will become bereft of balance. Therefore, we should never destroy our Dharma. This principle holds true of the individual as much as of the nation. It is Dharma alone which keeps a nation alive and moving forward. Dharma is the very soul of man. Dharma is the very soul of a nation also, even the world. So how can we all move forward together on the sure path of progress? Here it is explained as follows:

“Brahminical prowess progressively increases in pious persons who cultivate godly qualities such as forgiveness, control of the senses, compassion, charity, truthfulness, purity, meditation, respect for others, simplicity, satisfaction, freedom from false ego, austerity, self-control, knowledge, freedom from the propensity to blaspheme others, celibacy, cultivation of knowledge, freedom from envy, faithfulness, freedom from hatred, detachment, renunciation of the thirst for material enjoyment, service to the spiritual master, and control of the body, mind, and speech.” (BP, 42.12-15)

“Many persons in the past became highly advanced and powerful by cultivating these qualities and practicing behavior befitting a saintly person. It is a fact that by such a practice, the heart becomes purified, freeing one from the influence of the modes of passion [raja-guna] and ignorance [tamo-guna].” (BP, 42.16)

“According to learned authorities, those who possess these godly qualities are actually scholars of the Vedas and Puranas, and understand the confidential purport of the Bhagavad-gita. By faithfully following the principles of varna and ashrama, people in all four yugas have attained the perfection of life.” (BP, 42.17-18)

CLASSIFICATIONS BASED ON THE BODY ARE COMPLETELY FALSE

By now we should be able to see that even a person who has taken birth from a family who has been considered of a low varna can raise him or herself up to a higher classification by having proper training and showing appropriate codes of conduct and lifestyle.

“When a Shudra has become advanced by undergoing the [Vedic] samskaras, he can no longer be considered a Shudra. The conclusion is that a person’s external dress or appearance cannot be the criterion for his being accepted as a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.29)

However, the samskaras or rituals and training in themselves cannot be the sole means of determining one’s social position. This certainly helps, but there must be more than that, which, as already explained.

“If the undergoing of samskaras is the main criteria for being accepted as a Brahmana, then all those who have undergone samskaras are certainly Brahmanas. If that be the case, how can they be compared with personalities like Srila Vyasadeva, who did not undergo the samskaras. If we consider this, we see that there is no support for the theory of different castes. Although different castes are recognized in society, this is just an artificial conception of materialistic people. The material body is composed of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and sky. These elements cannot be the cause for one being accepted as a Brahmana [or anything else], because they combine for some time and then merge back into their source. Indeed, the body of an atheist, mleccha, or a yavana is made of the same material elements. [Thus, such designations based on the body are completely false].” (BP, 39.30-33)

“Religiosity as described in the Vedas can also be found in people who are sinful, violent, of bad character, and cruel. Therefore the determination of one’s social status does not depend on undergoing [purificatory] samskaras.” (BP, 39.34)

“Therefore, [from the conclusions that have been presented so far] there is no difference between a Brahmana and a Shudra in terms of bodily features, mentality, experience of happiness and distress, opulence, prowess, tendency toward gambling, shrewdness in business, ability to earn wealth, steadiness, restlessness, intelligence, detachment, virtue, accomplishment of the three objectives of life [dharma, artha and kama], cleverness, beauty, complexion, sexual capacity, stool, bones, holes of the body, manifestations of love, height, weight, and bodily hair. Therefore, even if the demigods were to try very hard to find distinctions between Brahmanas and Shudras [and everyone in between] in this way, they would not be able to do so.” (BP, 39.35-39)

“One should not think that all Brahmanas are white like moon rays, that all Kshatriyas have a complexion like the color of a kimsuka flower, that all Vaishyas have a golden complexion like the color of an orpiment fruit, and that all Shudras are black like half-burnt coal. How can there be four classes of human beings when their walking, complexion, hair, happiness, distress, blood, skin, flesh, bone marrow, and fluids are totally identical? There is nothing special about anyone’s complexion, height, weight, figure, period of stay within the womb, speech, wisdom, working senses, life-air, strength, illnesses, objectives of life, and methods for curing diseases.” (BP, 39.41-43)

“A father may have four sons and it is assumed that all of them belong to the same caste as their father. Similarly, all living entities are produced by the one Supreme Father and so, how can His children be divided into different castes? Just as the color, texture, structure, feel, and juice of different portions of a fig are the same, so are the human beings that are emanating from one source, and so it is improper to differentiate between them. The brothers, children, daughters-in-law, births, marriages, beauty, complexion, and artistic ability must be the same for the member of the lineages [or gotras] coming from Kaushika, Gautama, Kaumdinya, Mandavya, Vashishtha, Atreya, Kautsa, Angirasa, Maudgalya, Katyayana, and Bhargava.

“Although some learned scholars accept the material body as being a Brahmana [or something else], this indicates that they are in the bodily concept of life [without spiritual perception], which exists in a condition of dense ignorance. This is like a blind person desiring to treat others’ eyes by applying a black ointment. Both are ludicrous. Because the material body has a beginning, it also has an end. After death, the elements of the body merge into the totality of material elements once again. Therefore, the body [alone] cannot be accepted as a Brahmana [or any other varna].” (BP, 39.45-51)

In conclusion, therefore, “Only ignorant people accept this material body as being a Brahmana. According to their understanding, the position of being a Brahmana cannot be achieved simply by undergoing the various purificatory processes.” (BP, 39.54)

ONE MISSES GOAL OF LIFE WHEN PREOCCUPIED BY CASTE

“If after attaining the human form of life, which enables one to possess things like attractive bodily features, abundant wealth, great power and prestige, one does not live according to the prescribed religious principles, it cannot be predicted what species of life he will thereafter be forced to accept on various planets. This is the fate of one who is so proud that he dares to challenge the supremacy of God. Being intoxicated by pride, thinking that their caste, race, beauty, social status, and education are very wonderful, people do not bother to understand their actual self-interest, and because of that in their next life they will suffer like eunuchs.

“Material existence can be compared to a huge pit in which thousands of millions of living entities are drowning. Knowing this perfectly well, which intelligent person would be very proud of his caste?

“There are many human beings who are presumed to be fully satisfied, having been born in aristocratic families, and yet because of their own misdeeds, after death they will be forced to take birth in this world in some lower species of life. In this world, no one can remain permanently in some situation.” (BP, 39.3-6)

If this does not make it clear regarding the impermanent nature of the living being, and that even one’s high, intermediate or low birth is temporary, then I do not know what can. Yet, we see that so many people are going through life, completely asleep in regard to the real purpose of this existence. Thus, they may think their present position is so grand, not knowing that if they do not use this life properly for real spiritual progress, after death their next life may not be very great at all. But how many lifetimes must we go through this before we learn our lessons about the real truth of the matter, that our real position is as a spiritual being, beyond the body and its superficial designations, and everything else is temporary and secondary?

THE DIFFERENCE OF PROPER CONSCIOUSNESS AND INTENT, OR MERELY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

In the next few verses it is pointed out that a person must also have the proper concentration and focus, along with the proper intentions in their actions if they are expected to be qualified in their positions. Otherwise, it is seen that anyone can chant mantras and do rituals, but merely going through the motions, especially for adoration, profit and distinction, is not what is needed to suitably accept or be qualified for a higher status in one’s social classification.

“Generally, those who are twice-born—the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas—undergo all the Vedic samskaras. For this reason, they are certainly to be considered as superior to the Shudras who engage in all kinds of frivolous activities.

“In spite of undergoing the samskaras, if those who are twice-born engage in violent and sinful activities, such as killing a Brahmana [or worse], having sexual intercourse with the wife of the spiritual master, stealing, killing a cow, drinking wine, cheating, speaking lies, exhibiting great pride, speaking atheistic philosophy, blaspheming the Vedas, denying the authority of the Vedas, plundering the wealth of others, acting whimsically, earning money by dancing or cheating, eating all types of abominable food, and performing any other prohibited activity with the body, mind, and speech, they can never be considered purified, even if they perform thousands of sacrifices [rituals].

“Therefore, the ability to chant mantras, perform fire rituals, practice penance, and sacrifices does not make one a Brahmana, just as a Shudra remains a Shudra, despite the ability to perform all these activities [when merely going through the motions].” (BP, 41.5-9)

“Similarly, the Brahmanas who indulge in sinful activities must be considered fallen. Therefore, the only sane conclusion is that the concepts of Brahmana and Kshatriya etc., are temporary designations and not ultimate reality.” (BP, 41.52)

EXPECTED CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIONS OF EACH PERSON OF THE FOUR VARNAS

What follows are a very few of the qualities, actions and characteristics that are typical of people in each of the four varnas.

“Brahma said: Genuine Brahmanas know very well what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected. They avoid sinful behavior, carefully control their senses, mind, and speech, and carefully observe the prescribed etiquette. They follow the rules and regulations that are prescribed for them in the scriptures, and constantly work for the welfare of others.  They work for the protection of religious principles in this world and are fixed in trance, meditating on the Absolute Truth. They restrain their anger, and are free from material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride. They are attached to the study of the Vedas [and their supporting literature], very peaceful, and are the best well-wishing friends of all living entities. They are equal in happiness and distress, reside in a solitary place, observe all the vows prescribed for them with their body and mind, and are pious by nature. They are reluctant to perform any abominable act, and are freed from illusion and false pride. They are charitable, compassionate, truthful, and very learned in the scriptures. They know the Supreme Brahman and have high regard for the revealed scriptures.” (BP, 42.1-7)

From this verse we can understand that if a Brahmana is not free from such things as anger, material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride, along with the other qualities mentioned above, then such people do not have the real mentality of a Brahmana, even if they do appear to have some expertise in other areas, or are born in a Brahmana family. Thus, they are not genuinely qualified to be spiritual authorities for the rest of society, but, indeed, have much more work to do on themselves for their own progress and development.

Another class of beings are also known as Brahmanas, as explained: “Brahma was born from the navel of the purusha-avatara [Vishnu]. All living entities were manifested by Him, and among them, those who are devotees, surrendered souls unto that Supreme Personality of Godhead, are also known as Brahmanas.” (BP, 42.9)

Furthermore, “Those who have some realization of the Supreme Brahman, and who act according to the prescribed codes of good conduct, are called Brahmanas, and they are glorified by the other members of society.” (BP, 42.11)

In regard to the other main varnas, namely the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, their expected standards are also described: “Those who give protection to others, saving them from all kinds of danger, are known as Kshatriyas. Those who engage in farming, cow protection, and trading are known as Vaishyas, and those who have no capacity to study the Vedas [or deep spiritual knowledge], and are engaged in serving members of the higher three classes are known as Shudras.” (BP, 42.10)

“Lord Brahma has prescribed the methods for members of all the varnas that will enable them to achieve perfection by performing their respective duties.

“Among the human beings, those who are comparatively more powerful and are thus able to give protection to others, saving them from all types of danger, should be known as Kshatriyas. Persons who approach the Kshatriyas to beg some charity after instructing them on the messages of the Supreme Lord as found in the Vedic literature should be known as Brahmanas.

“Those who are almost as powerful as the Kshatriyas but engage in agriculture, cow protection, and trade [such as banking and business], should be known as Vaishyas. Those who, not very capable of working independently, and who are easily overcome by lamentation and illusion, should engage in the service of the higher three classes of men and thus be known as Shudras. In this way, according to their nature and qualities, there are prescribed duties for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.” (BP, 42.19-24)

“The qualities of a Brahmana are peacefulness, austerity, self-control, purity, tolerance, simplicity, knowledge, the practical application of the knowledge, and inquiry into the nature of the Absolute Truth. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the Kshatriyas. Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the Vaishyas, and for the Shudras there is labor and service to others.” (BP, 42.25-27)

In this way, everyone has a natural tendency for some aspect of the particular traits described, and are also a part of the social body of civilization to help contribute to its balance and progress, and the well-being of one and all.

 IN CONCLUSION

If people can understand the real basis of the Varna system, and be trained in acting accordingly, raising themselves to their original spiritual level, then the false, superficial and bodily based sectarian spirit can ultimately be put to rest. Then there is every possibility that such people can develop a spiritual vision of one another with a mood of love, care, cooperation, sacrifice, and service. This is the real purpose of the Varna system anyway, to see that everyone is a part of the larger social body, and part of the Supreme, and that each person, by their actions and occupation, has a contribution to make to the well-being of all. If people actually understood this and saw society in this way, it would tend to nullify what is called caste-based discrimination, which has been part of the misunderstanding and misapplication of what is called the caste system that we find today, which was not a part of the traditional Vedic varnashrama system.

“It is therefore to be concluded that humanity is essentially one, but distinctions of caste have been made according to a person’s qualities and work [mentality and consciousness]. As far as general behavior is concerned, the entire human race is one. There is only a difference in people’s occupations and attitudes. Those who divide society into castes according to birth cannot see that human beings are essentially one.” (BP, 42.33-34)

  • BY – Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana Dasa)
Stephen Knapp
(Sri Nandanandana Dasa)

This article and more information at www.stephen-knapp.com

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