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Hindu caste system a myth? Hindu class system explained

 

1. Definition of the four classes (Chāturvarna)

trigunas: At a spiritual level, the universe or all creation is made up of three unseen subtle basic components. These are known as the three subtle basic components namely Sattva, Raja and Tama. In the word triguna, ‘tri’ stands for three, while guna stands for subtle components.

The social system created to assist everyone in society to behave based on their natural temperament, i.e. their constitution, which is composed of the three subtle components (trigunas) and their spiritual evolution is the system of the four classes (varnas). In other words, this system of four classes incorporated in Righteousness (Dharma) is meant to provide guidance on behaviour and spiritual practice (sādhanā) according to one’s potential and requirement, to enable one to experience Bliss.

 

1.1. Motive (principle) and importance of Hindu class system

Smrutis: The word Smruti is used with two meanings. In a broad sense, it refers to all the ancient religious texts that profess Sanatan philosophy, excluding the Vēdic literature of the post-Vedic period. These Holy texts include Pāninī’s Vyaakaran, the Shrautsūtras, Gruhyasutras and Dharmasutras, the Mahābhārat, and the Holy texts by Sages like Manu and Yadnyavalkya. More narrowly, the Smrutis refer to ‘religious (Sanatan) scriptures’.
All the Smrutis are in the form of verses (shlokas) and all their topics are arranged systematically.

A. The creation of the classes, described by authors of the Smrutīs is based on division of labour. This was meant to strike a balance between various societal groups without leading to any rifts between them. In that system of classes rather than the rights and privileges of the different classes, emphasis was laid on the performance of duties.

B. In a family, children generally resemble their parents with regard to the complexion, temperament, intelligence, etc., due to genetics. Based on this, authors of the Smrutis, such as the Sage Manu laid down the rules for constituting the societal pattern. Sage Manu came across different people with qualities required for various tasks in a particular social setup and believed the qualities to be inherited. He then allotted the responsibility of various tasks beneficial to society to each group based on those qualities.

C. Shrīkrushna has said (Shrīmadbhagwadgitā 4:13), ‘चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्ट्यं गुणकर्मविभागश:।’. This means, ‘I have created the four classes according to components (guna) and actions (karma)’.

D. Shrī Eknaathi Bhāgwat (20.314, 21.209-210) emphasises this point: ‘Each individual is born in a particular class, depending on his potential to practise Spirituality or according to his need for that particular type of spiritual practice. The God’s motive behind establishing this system of four classes was for man to re-enter the Hansa class (the purest class from the purest times, that is, the period preceding even the pure Era of Truth or Satyayuga) after he had fulfilled the obligations of all the four classes. This means that the restrictions of the four classes imposed by God are in fact meant to overcome or transcend the four classes.’

2. Actual spiritual practice according to Hindu class system 

We are born on earth with the sole purpose of undergoing the destiny created by our deeds from previous births and to realise God. Regardless of the destiny we are born with, the class system helps us in accomplishing the goal of God realisation.

A. Spiritual practice means offering whatever one has, unto God. A Shūdra (labourer) should offer his body, as he does not have anything else to offer by the way of service. A Vaishya (businessman) should offer his body and wealth, a Kshatriya (warrior) his body, wealth and life and a Brāhman (priest) his body, wealth, life as well as intellect for the Absolute Truth (God alone is the Absolute Truth).

B. In the present times of Kaliyuga, every person, to whichever class he may belong, becomes a Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra for some time of the day, everyday, as given in the table below.

Class
 

Duration of class during the day (%)

 

Brahman

Kshatriya

Vaishya

Shudra

Total

Brahman

40

30

20

10

100

Kshatriya

30

40

20

10

100

Vaishya

20

20

40

20

100

Shudra 

20

20

20

40

100

For some time of the day, every individual is a Brahman when he studies, a Kshatriya when he fights according to the situation, a Vaishya when he earns a livelihood and a Shudra when he does some physical work like cleaning his body during a bath. Hence, every one needs to undertake the spiritual practice of all the four classes for some time each day.

C. The origin of the system of the four classes dates back thousands of years. From then till the present period, nearly 70% of the population has been born of interclass marriages. For this reason too, every one needs to undertake the spiritual practice of all the four classes for at least some time.

D. An individual is born in the class which is conducive to his spiritual progress. Hence, if a Shudra is rich as a result of his merits from previous births, his thinking that, ‘I will practice Spirituality by offering my wealth like a Vaishya,’ is wrong. He must certainly offer his wealth, but according to his class he should also render physical service unto God. As a result of performing the service of both classes, instead of being born in his next birth as a Vaishya, he may directly be born in a Kshatriya or Brahman class.

E. If one undertakes the spiritual practice of one’s class appropriately and completely, then in the next birth, one is born in a higher class. E.g. if in this birth the spiritual practice of a Shudra is completed, then in the next birth he may be born as a Vaishya. Later, being born progressively as a Kshatriya and a Brahman, he may ultimately attain the Final Liberation (Moksha).

It is not possible to undertake spiritual practice for the sake of society (samashti sadhana) without doing individual spiritual practice (vyashti sadhana); hence, to make rapid spiritual progress a seeker should do both. Mainly Brahmans and Kshatriyas can undertake spiritual practice for the sake of society. In case of a Brahman it involves teaching Spirituality to others while for a Kshatriya it is sacrificing even one’s life for the protection of society, should the need arise. 

2.1 Animals and the four classes 

The system of four classes is observed not only in man, but also among flora and fauna. Among animals, the cow and the serpent, who are sāttvik (spiritual purity predominant), belong to the Brahman class while the tiger and lion, who are rājasik (action-passion predominant) in nature, belong to the Kshatriya class. This means that ‘class’ is a state, which is determined by the three components.

3. The determination of class

3.1 Difficulties in the determination of class

One has to be beyond the three components (gunatit) to recognise the qualities and actions of another. Only Saints can do this, but They do not answer such queries and only recommend the appropriate spiritual practice.

3.2 Creation according to the doctrine of evolution 

A. The Shudra: According to the doctrine of evolution, the protection of one’s body is the basic impression in any living being. All are Shudra at birth, because they are born with the impression that ‘I am the body (जन्मात् जायते शूद्र:।).’ It is said that Shudras have no right to study the Vēdas,’ because Shudras (those who are concerned about their bodies) cannot think beyond their bodies and to understand the Vedas, one has to be able to focus on its subtle or spiritual aspects by going beyond the body.

B. The Vaishya: With further evolution, one begins to be concerned with nurturing his family and thus commences some occupation for livelihood, such as agriculture, business, etc.

C. The Kshatriya: With yet further evolution, one begins to develop an affinity for a territory. This leads to the creation of the Kshatriya class. Now the affinity is for the country and not for one’s body, hence patriots sacrifice even their lives for their country.

D. The Brahman: In the final stage of evolution, one becomes curious about God and spiritual knowledge. This leads to the origin of the Brahman class.

3.3 Qualities are more important than the birth

यस्‍य यल्‍लक्षणं प्रोक्‍तं पुंसो वर्णाभिव्‍यंजकम्‌
यदन्‍यत्रापि दृश्‍येत तत्तेनैव विनिर्दिशेत्‌ ।। - श्रीमद्‌भागवत ७.२१.३५

Meaning: An individual should be classified in a particular class irrespective of his birth if he possesses the decisive characteristic of that class. One’s class should be decided considering the holistic picture of the qualities of the class of the person and those of the other classes. - Shrimadbhagwadgita 7.21.35

The Hindu Holy epic, the Mahabharat says that an individual’s class should be determined by birth, but in accordance with his qualities and only if he possesses those qualities should he be considered to belong to that particular class.

 

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