You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : October 1995

Date: Fri Oct 27 1995 - 22:39:12 PDT

This is a very  interesting subject as it has implications on secular life
also and is one of the terms imprinted on Hinduism.  Also Purvacharyas, in
the times they lived did not have to address this to the extent they have
addressed other aspects of our scriptures which we are still struggling to
even just understand. At least for the Sri-Vaishnava purvacharyas, as per the
great tradition of total acceptance of Alvars etc., caste was immaterial.
What mattered was PRAPATTI.  Thus, as a group Chaturvarnya is a fertile area
for our thoughts.  Just as Modern Physics is there as a scientific basis of
Vedanta Philosophy, we may say that Modern genetics  in a way is  supportive
scientific  basis for Chaturvarnya.

Varna is determined at birth  and is influenced by environment.  God
(Krishna) is the source of everything. He is saying that he created
chaturvarnya, just to imply that He did not create all 
with same aptitude(and attitude). In other words, we are not created equal.
This inequality is also Krishna's (God's) creation. This is a basic
requirement for the functioning of a society.  The Vedic Purushasukta already
describes the four castes and which parts of Purusha went to make them
(Brahmins from mouth of Purusha)
BrahmanOsya Mukhamaseet(Warriors from the shoulders of Purusha)
Bahu rajanya kritah (Business class from Thighs of the Purusha)
ooru tadasyayadvaishyah (Serving class from feet or sole of the Purusha).
his classification is for proper functioning of a society. each group is
suppose to supply it's share of complement for the whole. 

Take the case of human body, we need normal and proper functioning of Kidney,
if our brain has to work. Yet , we normally
 do not praise someone's kidney, although we may admire some one's
intelligence. That intelligence will collapse, if the kidney fails! Each
organ is for a specific function and they have to work in mutual compliance
for the normal function of a body. The same is true for a society. 

Now comes how to determine one's caste?
The answer to this is in the Gita. Chapter 18 describes the basic qualities
of the four Varnas. One can easily figure out the caste he or she belongs to
based on that. We may never find a 100% match, yet, in most cases, one caste
trait will predominate over all others in us. That dominant trait is our
caste.  If what we do is quite opposed to our basic traits and thought, then
we have cheated ourselves-a matter of self-deception.  By this we have also
deprived the society we live in by providing our low quality work and at the
same time denying a useful contribution we could have made in a different
area. At some time along the Indian road, our basic traits(determined by our
genes at the time of birth) was molded by environment (nurture) mostly by
parents and the society. It is easier for parents to raise their children
with what they are familiar with. That is what they did and that is what we
are doing to our children more or less.  

Even today it is happening in India, may be in a different tone. The
previously underprevileged class (outcastes) has automatically become
previledged. We told them then that they were not good enough (wrong), and
now we are saying that they don't  need be good, we promise to give you
goodies just because you are here(wrong again). 

Among caste people also aptitude test is never heard of in India. Anyone who
has money can join MBBS or BE, whether fit or not.  I also remebber how the
arts and commerce majors were basically looked down (this is post - post
Brahmanical domination era!). At least in the USA, there is aptitude test
which to an extent filters people from choosing areas against their
varna(caste, basic traits). People all through their career are turned and
tossed and at some point or the other, just like the water in an irregularly
shaped container, everyone will find their level. Also parental pressure does
not work that well. Incentives work, that is why we have some of 
the best brains wasted in the legal profession. People who could be making a
better contribution are using their valuable faculties to come up with ways
to rescue wealthy scounderels and also invent new divorce laws. No system is

The ONLY system close to being  perfect is that given by Krishna:Svadharme
Nidhanam shreyah (not as interpreted by Sri Ramanuja),  the more natural
interpretation.  I feel that Krishna is asking us to stay true to ourselves
(SWA-STHA). For eg., if we love Science and intellectual enquiry, we should
stay there instead of becoming a lawyer, just for the sake of MONEY. Ofcourse
we have to be pragmatic to an extent  and choose within the many areas we
like-that which will help us to pay for  our basic existance. Farther we
deviate from our aptitude and attitude, more A-SWA-STHA (sick) we get.

Then what should determine the caste? Obviously the basic aptitude(genes).
 Gita implies  that , after all Krishna said he created chaturvarnya
(individuals), not Chaturvarneeya vamshams(clones). Even the message of Gita,
 Krishna taught to a host of Rajarshis in the great past.  Even BhagavadGita
as we know is taught to us through a Kshatriya and by Krishna of Vrishni
tribe. Vyasa is son of Parashara and a fisher girl, Matsya gandha
(Satyavathi) outside the wedlocks. Yudhishtira clearly says in Yakshaprasna
that behavior and not the birth that detrmines one's caste (while answering
what makes one a brahmin). Elswhere in Mahabharat, we hear Duryodhana saying
that all hero's belong to one caste (while talking to Karna, the suta putra).
To day we know that all Test cricket stars or scientists in a given field
belong to one caste irrespective of their race or religion!

One of the greatest misconception has been pouring the caste of parents down
the throat of their progeny.  By doing like this we have lost so many who
could have contributed to the society in other caste functions than the one
 they were  wasted in. At the same time we also settled down for inferior
performance of individuals who  were backed by family and not by their own
ability.  Even to day we know how Nehru-Indira-Sanjay-Rajiv-Sonia(waiting her
acceptance?) chain was laid on and accepted.  it is noteworthy, here to quote
king Bharatha (son of Dushyanta) says none of his son's were worthy of th
ethrone and seeks to bring an outsider. The other Bharatha reigned for 14
years treating  Rama's paduke  as the real king.

Our wrong notion of Svadharme nidhanam shreyah (ie., hanging on to parents
caste rigidly, INSTEAD of hanging on to one's own individual caste) has
costed us dearly. I am sure that  in many cases the
 parents caste and the progenies caste  more or less matched.  After all the
caste traits are not strict water tight compartments. I am only commenting an
when it did not match at all or only poorly matched. It is here our
misunderstanding of Gita has  costed our society. 

K. Sreeekrishna.