Hare Krishna, welcome to this session with ‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’. This is your servant Diptiman Gaurahari das. So in this video we are going to talk about the Indian caste system, the so-called division of the Indian society on the basis of higher and lower castes..
We are going to discuss whether this caste system is bonafide and whether it finds mention in the Vedic scriptures. As we all know that this caste system has been a source of major controversy and has led to deep unrest within the Indian society. So in this video we are going to try and learn more about this so-called indian caste system and try to determine its authenticity.
Origin & Authenticity :
It is said that the division of the Indian society on the basis of castes, this caste system, finds its origin in the ancient Indian varnashrama system. Varnashrama is a system of classifying the society on the basis of ‘varnas’ and ‘ashramas’. Now what are varnas ? ‘Varna’ basically translated to class. Now there are four varnas that has been broadly identified.
The four Varnas are –
- brahmanas – the priestly class.
- Kshatriyas – those who are rulers and administrators
- Vaishyas – the mercantile class
- Shudras – the labourers or he working class.
While Ashramas is the division of society on the basis of the four orders of life –
- Brahmacharya , or the celibates
- Grihasta, or the householder
- Vanaprastha – one who is retired
- Sannyasi – one who is renounced
The brahmanas or the priestly class are considered to be the highest and the most esteemed, followed by the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and shudras. However the caste system as it stands today, is solely based upon one’s birth and one’s lineage. What I mean is – a son of a brahmana is automatically considered to be a brahmana these days..and a son of Kshatriya is considered to be a kshatriya..a son of a vaishya is considered to be vaishya and a son of a shudra is considered to be a Shudra. So this entire caste system..this entire division of society on the basis of varnas, has been reduced to one’s birth and lineage. So the question now arises whether it was the same centuries ago ? And does this caste system ,in its present form, adhere to the teachings, the tenets of the Vedic scriptures ? As Vedas are considered to be the words of God, so did God intend to place this caste system in the human society ? And does one’s birth and lineage get to be the most important deciding factor that decides one’s class..that decides one’s caste ?
Does Birth determine Caste ?
Today in this video, we are going to investigate into the Vedic scriptures in order to find out this exceedingly vital truth. Well it is true that the reference to the varnashrama system is found widely in the Vedic scriptures. If we look no further than the Vishnu Purana, we find that it states –
Varnasramacara vata, purusen parah puman,
visnur aradhyate pantha, nanyat tat-tosa Karanam
The Supreme personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, is worshipped by proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varna and ashrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Being. One must be situated in the institution of varna and ashrama.
The Bhagavad Gita, for instance, states that these four classes of men that divides the human society..these four classes – the brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the vaishyas and shudras..these four classes are born from the four different parts of the Supreme Lord. The brahmanas , or the priestly class, are born from the Lord’s face, the kshatriyas or the rulers are born from his arms, the vaishyas or the mercantile community are born from the Lord’s thighs and the Shudras ,the labourers, are born from the Lord’s feet. Infact if we calmly think of this division of the human society on the basis of the varnas and ashramas, we would find that it is quite natural. Whether it be in India, America or China – people can be classified into these same categories based on their natural tendencies and occupation. Hence this priestly class or the intellectuals, the administrative class or the rulers, the mercantiles and the labourers are to be found everywhere – across countries and across societies. Similarly the celibates, the householders, the retired and the renounced are the natural orders of one’s existence. When one engages in his/her occupational duty as per his natural tendencies – then one can live peacefully and not be greatly disturbed by external circumstances.
The whole objective of this varnashrama system is in fact, to engage each and every person as per his nature..as per his tendencies…and thereby gradually uplift one’s consciousness and thereby make him/her realize the essential truths of life.
So now the question arises as to how one’s varna or caste is determined ? Is it one’s birth or lineage that decides one’s varna? Let us try to investigate into this subject in more detail..Let us actually try to refer to the vedic scriptures..try and understand this subject in order to find an answer to this question.
If birth had been the only determining factor, then it must be stressed that several of the great sages of Vedic India, whose glories are widely sung till this day …many of them did not inherit their castes from their parents..some of them even had non-human origin. For example, sage Rishyasringa was born from a deer, sage Kausika was born from kusa grass, Jambuka Rishi was born from a jackal, Valmiki was born from an ant hill and sage Vyasadeva was born from a fisherman’s daughter. Gautama muni was born from the back of a rabbit, Vasistha was born from Urvasi, the celestial damsel… and Agastya muni was born from a pitcher. The Vedic scriptures profess that the brahmanas are the highest class. Now the question naturally arises – as to who is a brahmana ?
So who is a brahmana ?
Is it this body which is the brahmana? Is it one’s soul which is the brahmana ? Is it one’s intellect..one’s mind..which is the brahmana? Is it one’s activities which is the brahmana ? Or is it one’s inherited caste which is the brahmana ?
If one argues that the soul is the brahmana, then it must be said that each and every living entity is a spirit soul, which is part and parcel of the supreme Lord…aham brahmasmi..
On the spiritual platform, all ‘atmans’ are the same qualitatively. Each and every soul..each and every atman..is nothing but a minute spark of the paramatma, who is the supreme consciousness. The spiritual identity of the living entity remains the same in the past, present or the future.According to the Vedic scriptures, the soul transmigrates from one body to the other..sometimes being embodied in the body of an animal, sometimes in the body of a human, sometimes he takes birth as a man, sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a hindu, sometimes as a muslim..sometimes as an American and so on..
So if a living entity is termed as a brahmana , then all living entities have to termed as brahmanas, since they are all spirit souls.
If one however argues that this body is the brahmana, then it must be noted that all human bodies ..starting from the body of a so-called brahmana, down to that of a ‘candala’ or a barbarian, are composed of the same five gross elements – which is earth, water, ether, fire and wind. Birth, death, religion, irreligion, etc affect all bodies equally. There is no such law that the body of a brahmana is white, the body of kshatriya is red, while that of a shudra is black. Hence it must be concluded that the body is definitely not the brahmana.Moreover when the son of a brahmana burns the body of his dead father, he does not commit the sin of killing a brahmana (brahma hatya). Therefore the body is definitely not the brahmana.
So who is the ‘brahmana’? Is it the mind and the intellect that constitute the actual brahmana ? If that were the case then there are so many learned people who belong to the so-called different castes. Yudhisthira maharaja was very learned and so was Bhishma pitama. Both of these great gentlemen were kshatriyas.
Neither can one’s activities be considered to be a brahmana..as there are or there were several noble kings who used to give even gold in charity. So then who is the ‘brahmana’ ? This question is very nicely answered by Yudhisthira maharaja and it is recorded in the vana parva of the Mahabharata.
Varna is determined by one’s qualities :
So when the snake asked – ‘O Maharaja Yudhisthira, who is a brahmana ? and what is the object of knowledge ? You are very intelligent, therefore I will be enlightened by your statement’
Maharaja Yudhisthira then replied – ‘A person who possesses truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, sobriety, gentleness, austerity, and lack of hatred. Such a person is called a brahmana’.
The snake then enquired – ‘But, even shudras possess these qualities. Many of them possess truthfulness, charity, freedom from anger,nonviolence, noneviousness, and lack of hatred’.
So Maharaja Yudhisthira then clarified ,’if such symptoms are found in a shudra then he should never be considered to be a shudra, just as a brahmana is not a brahmana if he does not possess these qualities.O snake, only a person who is endowed with the characteristics of a brahmana can be called a brahmana, otherwise he is simply a shudra’.
Elsewhere the Brahma Sutras reveal –
tad abhava nirdharane ca pravrtteh
Whether a person belongs to a varna other than that of his birth may be ascertained by considering his qualities.
The Shanti parva of Mahabharata narrates a similar pastime in which Bharadwaja muni had a similar doubt and he clarified the same with Bhrigu Maharaja. He asked that since there were innumerable categories of animate and inanimate living entities – how can one possibly determine their varnas or their castes?
Bhrigu Maharaja replied that there was not much difference between the varnas. When Lord Brahma initially created this universe, all the living entities were endowed with godly qualities and they were all brahmanas.Later on, as people became degraded, they attained the designations of different varnas.
He went onto explain that when the brahmanas commit violence, speak lies, become greedy, earn their livelihood by any and all activities, lose their purity by sinful activities.. then they become degraded into shudras.
The Vishnu yamala goes as far as saying :
asuddhah sudra kalpa hi brahmanah kali sambhavah
“The brahmanas born in Kali-yuga are impure and no better than the shudras “
Thus it must be quite clear by now that it is one’s nature and qualities ..and not one’s birth and lineage that determines one’s varna and caste. One’s varna is currently ascertained only from his birth. But the ancient and rational system approved by the Vedas is to ascertain one’s varna by considering one’s symptoms. This is not the new imagination of selfish people. Many people were not born in brahmana families but have gone onto become brahmanas by proper initiation. Innumerable incidents illustrating this fact are known to those who are well aware of the Indian history. For example Gadhi was the son of Kusika who belonged to the Candra dynasty. He was the king of Kanyakubja.His son, Visvamitra, went on to become a brahmana , a great brahmarishi, by the strength of his own austerities. Even the great king Bali maharaja, bore sons, some of who became brahmanas and some of who became kshatriyas. His brahmana sons came to be known as Baleya brahmanas, whereas his kshatriya sons came to be known as Baleya kshatriyas.
Beyond Caste :
Now let us read what the Srimad Bhagavatam has to say about this system of Varnashrama. The Srimad Bhagavatam reveals :
“Lord Shiva said that a person who executes his occupational duty of varnashrama properly for one hundred births becomes qualified to occupy the post of Brahma, and if he becomes more qualified, he can approach Lord Shiva. However, a person who is directly surrendered unto Lord Krsna, or Vishnu, in unalloyed devotional service is immediately promoted to the spiritual planets. Lord Shiva and the other demigods attain these planets only after the destruction of this material world.”
The Padma Purana speaks on similar lines and stresses on pure devotional service..devotional service unto Lord vishnu or Lord Krishna, as compared to one executing his occupational duties as per the system of varna and ashrama.The Padma Purana says –
na karma bandhanam janma vaishnavanam ca vidyate
vishnur anucaratvam hi moksamahur manisinah
“Vaisnavas are not bound by the fruitive activities or forced to take birth, because learned persons have firmly declared that service to Lord Vishnu is liberation itself “
Materialistic people who are proud of their high births or their high castes are actually puppets in the hands of the Lord’s illusory potency, which is also known as ‘Maya’. These people try to act independently in order to accumulate fruitive activities to subsequently enjoy their senses, their mind or their ego. The devotees of the Supreme Lord so not fall for this trap.They know that the attempts to become the master of this material world are in reality a service to Maya,the illusory potency of the Lord, which is the root cause of bondage in this world of birth and death. Hence they give up their hellish fruitive mentality and understand that the eternal service of the Supreme Lord is their only constitutional duty. The devotee of the Supreme Lord realizes that the very essence of the Vedas is to render unconditional loving devotional service unto Sri Krishna , the Supreme Lord. It is revealed in the Bhagavad Gita –
‘vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo’
Of all the Vedas, only I, Sri Krishna, am to be known
Identifying oneself with anything other than the part and parcel of the Supreme Lord is an illusion that is detrimental to one’s spiritual progress.
So we have learnt till now that the caste system which is prevalent in the current indian society..which is being implemented in the indian society at present..is a perverted version of the varnashrama system ..the original varnashrama system..that has been professed in the Vedic scriptures. Merely staying true to one’s varna and ashrama ..and discharging one’s occupational duty would not help one reach the Supreme Lord..unless the Supreme Lord is the center of one’s life itself.Discharging pure devotional service unto the supreme lord is the actual purport of the Vedas which supersedes the institution of Varnashrama itself and awards one with the ultimate objective of divine love.
Krishna Chaitanya lays the foundation of a casteless society
That is why Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when He sat with Ramananda Raya on the banks of Godavari…Sri Chaitanya rejected this institution of Varnashrama as something external and not conducive to pure devotional service. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has famously said :
“I am a pure spirit soul. I am not a brahmana, I am not a kshatriya, I am not a vaishya or a shudra . Nor am I a brahmachari, a householder, a vanaprastha or a sannyasi .I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna…”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had preached about pure devotional service, ecstatic love and the absolute truth by making Ramananda Raya, a householder who was born in a low caste, as the speaker…while Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, the exalted brahmana sannyasi, and under His orders Pradyumna Mishra who was also a purified brahmana…both of them became the audience of Ramananda Raya’s philosophical discourses.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu exhibited the glories of the holy name of the Supreme Lord through Haridasa Thakura, who was born in a Muslim family. Similarly, He exhibited the essence of devotional service through Sanatana Gosvami, who had almost been converted into a Muslim. Srila Haridasa Thakura used to chant 3 lakh holy names of Krishna daily and is also renowned as the Namacharya of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. Sri Raghunatha das goswami, one of the most revered and one of the six exalted Goswamis of Vrindavana, was born in a kayastha family. He devotional mood and sentiments are glorified in the entire world.
Thus it has to be understood that the designations of Varna and Ashrama are temporary concepts related to one’s body. These designations are finished as soon as one gives up his body. However the soul is immortal and its journey is eternal. The soul’s transmigration from one body to the next only ends when one obtains the shelter of the lotus feet of Lord Hari, or Vishnu, the Supreme Lord. Hence a Vaishnava , or a devotee of Lord Vishnu, does not identify himself with all these external designations.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had said –
‘kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, Shudra kene naya ,yei krishna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya’
One may be born a brahmana, a shudra..or he may be a sannyasi. These external designations are not very important. However, what is really important is whether a person is well versed in the science of God..in the science of Krishna or not. If he is well versed in the science of Krishna ,then that person is eligible to become a Guru or a spiritual master, irrespective of his varna or ashrama.
Thus it is very clear that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had rejected this institution of varnashrama, in its present form that has become prevalent in the Indian society today…and instead He encouraged others to rise beyond these material designations, and focus their activities..focus their strengths..focus their skills towards the service of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. He stressed that one should redirect all of one’s strengths towards satisfying the Supreme Lord without having a tinge of desire for satisfying one’s own senses.
Thus when little Raghunatha das wanted to renounce his own family..and wanted to join Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement full time..at that time, Mahaprabhu had actually discouraged him and advised him not to become a show-bottle renunciant. Outwardly renouncing the family and society while harbouring desires for sense gratification is just like the renunciation of a monkey. Instead it is better to stay at one’s home, and practice devotion engaging one’s mind, body and senses in the service of the Supreme Lord. Sri Chaitanya mahaprabhu hence preaches –
yei bhaje sei bada abhakta hina chara
krishna-bhajane nahi jati-kuladi-vicara
Anyone who discharges devotional service is exalted, whereas a non-devotee is always condemned and abominable. In the discharge of devotional service to the Supreme Lord, there is no consideration of one’s background,one’s status or one’s family.
I would like to end this video, this presentation by citing a beautiful verse by srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati. Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati is considered to be an authority on the Vedic scriptures. He was a great follower of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu inspires us to rise above this petty caste system and instead focus our energies and dedicate our lives in the service of the Supreme Lord. Pure devotional service is the actual purport of the Vedic scriptures and the real goal of one’s existence.So brothers and sisters – let us not waste anymore time and pray for Sri Krishna Chaitanya’s mercy so that we can dedicate our lives..we can engage our lives..in this noble mission. Srila Prabodhananda writes in Chaitanya Chandramrta –
For those who have attained the merciful sidelong glance of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, impersonal liberation becomes as painful as going to hell, the heavenly cities of the demigods seem to be as trivial as mere flowers floating in the sky, the venomous and poisonous fangs of the untamable black snakes of the senses become extracted and uprooted,the whole world which is otherwise full of misery becomes full of supreme joy and the exalted positions of Brahma, Indra and all the demigods become as insignificant as those of tiny insects. Let us glorify that supremely merciful Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
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