True intent of the caste system

The caste system in India has been a subject of much controversy. It was supposed to be an identification of man’s inbuilt inclinations and capacities, but gradually this truth was lost and it morphed into a mechanical system for slotting people into various social categories based on their birth in a certain family. It thus became a vehicle for stigma and discrimination.  In the following selections from various works, Sri Aurobindo points out the true origin of the caste system –  how the four castes are actually four latent powers (caturvyuha) within Man which must be perfected by every person on the spiritual path.   The Brahmin represents the faculty of knowledge, ethics and learning, the Kshatriya represents valour, the Vaishya represents commerce and relationship of harmony, while the Shudra represents perfection in work.

In contemporary terms:

  1. Brahmin = intelligentsia.
  2. Kshatriya = people involved in governance.
  3. Vaishya = capitalists.
  4. Shudra = labour.

Sri Aurobindo on the four powers within Man

We must realise that the ancient Aryan Rishis meant by the Chaturvarnya (four castes) not a mere social division, but a recognition of God manifesting Himself in fundamental Swabhava(individual nature), which our bodily distinctions, our social orders are merely an attempt to organise in the symbols of human life, often a confused attempt, often a mere parody and distortion of the divine thing they try to express. Every man has in himself all the four Dharmas, but one predominates, in one he is born and that strikes the note of his character and determines the type and cast of all his actions; the rest subordinated to the dominant type and helps to give it its complement. No Brahmana is a complete Brahmana unless he has the Kshatratejas in him, the Vaishyashakti and the Shudrashakti, but all these have to serve in him the fullness of his Brahmanyam. God manifests Himself as the four Prajapatis or Manus, catvāro manavah of the Gita, and each man is born in the amśa of one of the four; the first characterised by wisdom and largeness, the second by heroism and force, the third by dexterity and enjoy- ment, the fourth by work and service. The perfected man develops in himself all four capacities and contains at once the god of wisdom and largeness, the god of heroism and force, the god of skill and enjoyment, the god of work and service. Only one stands dominant and leads and uses the others.

Sri Aurobindo, Supplement: Shakti-Chatushtaya

The fourfold personality

The Divine Mother here is the female form of the Infinite Power which has manifested the Universe.

Four powers of the Divine Mother Attribute
Manifests in human nature as
Maheshwari, goddess of the supreme knowledge brings to us her vision for all kinds and widenesses of truth, her rectitude of the spiritual will, the calm and passion of her supramental largeness, her felicity of illumination Brahmana
Mahakali, goddess of the supreme strength with her are all mights and spiritual force and severest austerity of Tapas and swiftness to the battle and the victory and the laughter, the attahāsya, that makes light of defeat and death and the powers of the ignorance Kshatriya
Mahalakshmi, the goddess of the supreme love and delight her gifts are the spirit’s grace and the charm and beauty of the Ananda and protection and every divine and human blessing Vaishya
Mahasaraswati, the goddess of divine skill and of the works of the Spirit and hers is the Yoga that is skill in works, yogah karmasu kauśalam, and the utilities of divine knowledge and the self-application of the spirit to life and the happiness of its harmonies Shudra

Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on the Gita.

The fundamental truth is not this outward thing, but a force of our inner being in movement, the truth of the fourfold active power of the spiritual nature. Each Jiva possesses in his spiritual nature these four sides, is a soul of knowledge, a soul of strength and of power, a soul of mutuality and interchange, a soul of works and service, but one side or other predominates in the action and expressive spirit and tinges the dealings of the soul with its embodied nature; it leads and gives its stamp to the other powers and uses them for the principal strain of action, tendency, experience. The Swabhava then follows, not crudely and rigidly as put in the social demarcation, but subtly and flexibly the law of this strain and develops in developing it the other three powers. Thus the pursuit of the impulse of works and service rightly done develops knowledge, increases power, trains closeness or balance of mutuality and skill and order of relation. Each front of the fourfold godhead moves through the enlargement of its own dominant principle of nature and enrichment by the other three towards a total perfection. This development undergoes the law of the three gunas. There is possible a tamasic and rajasic way of following even the dharma of the soul of knowledge, a brute tamasic and a high sattwic way of following the dharma of power, a forceful rajasic or a beautiful and noble sattwic way of following the dharma of works and service. To arrive at the sattwic way of the inner individual Swadharma and of the works to which it moves us on the ways of life is a preliminary condition of perfection. And it may be noted that the inner Swadharma is not bound to any outward social or other form of action, occupation or function. The soul of works or that element in us that is satisfied to serve, can, for example, make the life of the pursuit of knowledge, the life of struggle and power or the life of mutuality, production and interchange a means of satisfying its divine impulse to labour and to service.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: Swabhava and Swadharma

Sri Aurobindo in the Synthesis of Yoga

The Godhead, the spirit manifested in Nature appears in a sea of infinite quality, Ananta-guna. But the executive or mechanical Prakriti is of the threefold guna, sattwa, rajas, tamas, and the Ananta-guna, the spiritual play of infinite quality, modifies itself in this mechanical nature into the type of these three gunas. And in the soul-force in man this Godhead in Nature represents itself as a fourfold effective Power, caturvyūha, a Power for knowledge, a Power for strength, a Power for mutuality and active and productive relation and interchange, a Power for works and labour and service, and its presence casts all human life into a nexus and inner and outer operation of these four things. The ancient thought of India conscious of this fourfold type of active human personality and nature built out of it the four types of the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, each with its spiritual turn, ethical ideal, suitable upbringing, fixed function in society and place in the evolutionary scale of the spirit. As always tends to be the case when we too much externalise and mechanise the more subtle truths of our nature, this became a hard and fast system inconsistent with the freedom and variability and complexity of the finer developing spirit in man. Nevertheless the truth behind it exists and is one of some considerable importance in the perfection of our power of nature; but we have to take it in its inner aspects, first, personality, character, temperament, soul-type, then the soul-force which lies behind them and wears these forms, and lastly the play of the free spiritual Shakti in which they find their culmination and unity beyond all modes. For the crude external idea that a man is born as a Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra and that alone, is not a psychological truth of our being. The psychological fact is that there are these four active powers and tendencies of the Spirit and its executive Shakti within us and the predominance of one or the other in the more well-formed part of our personality gives us our main tendencies, dominant qualities and capacities, effective turn in action and life. But they are more or less present in all men, here manifest, there latent, here developed, there subdued and depressed or subordinate, and in the perfect man will be raised up to a fullness and harmony which in the spiritual freedom will burst out into the free play of the infinite quality of the spirit in the inner and outer life and in the self-enjoying creative play of the Purusha with his and the world’s Nature-Power.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: Soul-Force and the Fourfold Personality

See Also :

  1. The Fourfold order of society
  2. Chaturvarna in the Karmayogin
  3. Plato had proposed a somewhat similar division of society in his tripartite theory of the soul.

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41 thoughts on “True intent of the caste system

  1. ned

    Sandeep,

    Regarding what Sri Aurobindo says here …

    “but one predominates, in one he is born and that strikes the note of his character and determines the type and cast of all his actions; the rest subordinated to the dominant type and helps to give it its complement.”

    Sri Aurobindo, Supplement: Shakti-Chatushtaya

    I wonder to what extent this formulation will remain true as the evolution of man progresses and man’s nature becomes more and more complex and varied. (Currently there are half a dozen schemes trying to classify human personality and inner temperaments, all based on different criteria.) I personally can’t say that any of the above qualitative powers predominates in me — I go through long periods where one predominates and then another.

    It seems to me that there’s no need to have a fixed idea of one’s swabhava or make a fetish out of it, as the action of the Supramental Shakti in any event brings out latent capacities or new capacities hitherto undeveloped.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      > I personally can’t say that any of the above qualitative powers predominates in me — I go through long periods
      > where one predominates and then another.

      That’s because you are a stumbling mystic 🙂

      You may be misled by the title I (deliberately) chose. The sole purpose of the article was to show that caste is not a rigid construct.

      Reply
  2. ned

    Hi Sandeep,

    No, I get the point being made here … I’m just a bit skeptical that human nature divides so neatly into exactly four types or swabhavas based on the predominance of one of the four powers of the Mother manifesting in an individual’s nature. It seems kind of arbitrary to me.

    I also don’t see the connection between the Vaishya swabhava and Mahalakshmi.

    To my knowledge Mother and Sri Aurobindo didn’t hand out swabhava labels to sadhaks so I’m only saying that I feel that there’s no need to make some sort of a fetish out of what one thinks one’s swabhava is, given the dynamic nature of these things in yoga anyway.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Forgot to reply to this comment..

      To my knowledge Mother and Sri Aurobindo didn’t hand out swabhava labels to sadhaks so I’m only saying that I feel that there’s no need to make some sort of a fetish out of what one thinks one’s swabhava is, given the dynamic nature of these things in yoga anyway.

      Nobody is making a fetish. I think you are hung up on the idea that all human beings should be treated equal. Yes, all may be all Divine souls but in the outer manifestation, there are differences which are explained by these four personalities.

      Sri Aurobindo himself says above: “Every man has in himself all the four Dharmas, but one predominates, in one he is born and that strikes the note of his character and determines the type and cast of all his actions; the rest subordinated to the dominant type and helps to give it its complement.”

      Sri Aurobindo, Supplement: Shakti-Chatushtaya

      Read the Essays on the Gita for further clarification

      Reply
    2. Sandeep Post author

      I also don’t see the connection between the Vaishya swabhava and Mahalakshmi.

      See Nolini’s article:

      And the corresponding four aspects of Ishwari form the other great quaternary: maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. They embody the four major attributes of the Divine in his relation to the created universe: Knowledge, Power, Love and skill in work. They also represent thus a divine fourfold order. The first embodies the Brahmin quality of large wisdom, wide comprehension, a vast consciousness; the second has the Kshatriya quality of force, dynamism, concentration and drive of energy; the third possesses the vaishya quality of harmony, beauty, mutuality and the fourth has the Shudra quality of perfect execution, thoroughness in detailed working, order and arrangement.

      (Nolini Kanta Gupta, The Soul and its Journey, vol. 3 of his Collected Works, page 207

      Reply
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    1. Sandeep Post author

      I would say that the psychic being is more like a “white mass of light”, which puts forth a distinct personality in every life based on past Karma, and that is what decides a person’s predispositions (i.e. caste)

      Reply
      1. amsha

        So colour could be different from life to life or mode of its expression, or person, or core is white, or it’s just matter of personal experience? I’m asking because Sri Aurobindo usually mentions rose.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        I guess it is a matter of personal experience. I am not capable of offering any “ex cathedra” remark at this point.

  5. Sandeep Post author

    Sri Aurobindo on caste vis-a-vis democracy:

    Disciple: The word “Dharma” has come to mean “religion”, though the original sense is not that. It is the law of being – social or moral – which sustains the being. Is the old classification of men in four orders, according to the peculiar Dharma of each, tenable now? Can each human being have the characteristics of the four orders?

    Sri Aurobindo: There is infinite possibility. So the potentiality of all the four castes is in every man, but that does not exist as a fact. No classification can be perfect so long as man is living in the mental consciousness. It is not possible to classify all natures into four orders. So we have come to the present confusion because it is regulated by birth. Of course, there are tradition, training, culture and atmosphere which tend to give the stamp of nature.

    But then the economic classification set aside the one according to inherent inborn nature. Profession then became the mark of the caste. Now, even this has broken down – what continues as caste is meaningless. Many meaningless things continue in humanity.

    Before Buddha there were Kshatriyas in Bengal. When Buddhism collapsed there remained two castes – Brahmins and Shudras – other castes rightly resented being called “Shudras”. In old times the agriculturist, the trader and the craftsmen were all Vaishyas.

    Disciple: Nowadays there is the democratic ideal.

    Sri Aurobindo: Yes. In the democratic ideal all are inherently equal. Now they say we must give equal opportunity to all – that is possible; there was a hierarchy in India and in Feudal Europe.

    But where is democracy even today? It is a name which simply covers up the inequalities. All human ideals move round in a vicious circle. First, a hierarchy starts the culture – the start, generally, is with knowledge and spiritual experience. Then the culture spreads down to the people and in so doing it depreciates. Then a general levelling down takes place and there comes democracy. Then a hierarchy comes in and the circle starts again.

    Disciple: But is there a goal for humanity?

    Sri Aurobindo: Yes, there is a goal, and humanity is not going towards it but round and round in a circle below, while the goal is high up.

    Disciple: What can man do to get out of the circle?

    Sri Aurobindo: To escape he must go beyond humanity. In the case of individuals attempts up till now have succeeded. But no effort has succeeded in making it a part of the earth-nature.

    (Purani, Evening Talks, 4th August 1926)

    Reply
  6. Sandeep Post author

    In an epistle written on 3rd Jan., 1895 from Chicago to Justice Sir Subrahmanya Iyer, Swami Vivekananda expatiates that the caste system as practised in India is false and actually a hindrance to progress:

    Swami Vivekananda:”Non, take the case of caste — in Sanskrit, Jâti, i.e. species. Now, this is the first idea of creation. Variation (Vichitratâ), that is to say Jati, means creation. “I am One, I become many” (various Vedas). Unity is before creation, diversity is creation. Now if this diversity stops, creation will be destroyed. So long as any species is vigorous and active, it must throw out varieties. When it ceases or is stopped from breeding varieties, it dies. Now the original idea of Jati was this freedom of the individual to express his nature, his Prakriti, his Jati, his caste; and so it remained for thousands of years. Not even in the latest books is inter-dining prohibited; nor in any of the older books is inter-marriage forbidden. Then what was the cause of India’s downfall? — the giving up of this idea of caste. As Gitâ says, with the extinction of caste the world will be destroyed. Now does it seem true that with the stoppage of these variations the world will be destroyed? The present caste is not the real Jati, but a hindrance to its progress. It really has prevented the free action of Jati, i.e. caste or variation. Any crystallized custom or privilege or hereditary class in any shape really prevents caste (Jati) from having its full sway; and whenever any nation ceases to produce this immense variety, it must die. Therefore what I have to tell you, my countrymen, is this, that India fell because you prevented and abolished caste. Every frozen aristocracy or privileged class is a blow to caste and is not-caste. Let Jati have its sway; break down every barrier in the way of caste, and we shall rise. Now look at Europe. When it succeeded in giving free scope to caste and took away most of the barriers that stood in the way of individuals, each developing his caste — Europe rose. In America, there is the best scope for caste (real Jati) to develop, and so the people are great. Every Hindu knows that astrologers try to fix the caste of every boy or girl as soon as he or she is born. That is the real caste — the individuality, and Jyotisha (astrology) recognises that. And we can only rise by giving it full sway again. This variety does not mean inequality, nor any special privilege.”

    (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 4, Writings: Prose, A Plan of Work for India)

    Reply
  7. Sandeep Post author

    Sri Aurobindo refuted some remarks by Mahatma Gandhi on the caste system

    The view taken by the Mahatma in these matters is Christian rather than Hindu-for the Christian, self-abasement, humility, the acceptance of a low status to serve humanity or the Divine are things which are highly spiritual and the noblest privilege of the soul.

    This view does not admit any hierarchy of caste; the Mahatma accepts castes but on the basis that all are equal before the Divine; a Bhangi [scavenger] doing his dharma is as good as the Brahmin doing his; there is division of function but no hierarchy of functions. That is one view of things and the hierarchic view is another, both having a standpoint and logic of their own which the mind takes as wholly valid but which only corresponds to a part of the reality. All kinds of work are equal before the Divine and all men have the same Brahman within is one truth, but that development is not equal in all is another.

    The idea that it needs a special punya(merit) to be born as a Bhangii [scavenger] is, of course, one of those forceful exaggerations of an idea, which are common with the Mahatma and impress greatly the mind of his hearers. The idea behind is that his function is an indispensable service to the society, quite as much as the Brahmin’s but, that being disagreeable, it would need a special moral heroism to choose it voluntarily and he thinks as if the soul freely chose it as such a heroic service as reward of righteous acts-but that is hardly likely the service of the scavenger is indispensable under certain conditions of society, it is one of those primary necessities without which society can hardly exist and the culture development of which the Brahmin life is part could not have taken place.

    But obviously the cultural development is more valuable than the service of the physical needs for the progress of humanity as opposed to its first static condition, and that development can even lead to the minimizing and perhaps the entire disappearance by scientific inventions of the need for the functions of the scavenger. But that, I suppose, the Mahatma would not approve of, as it would come by machinery and would be a departure from the simple life. In any case it is not true that the Bhangii [scavenger] life is superior to the Brahmin life and reward of a special righteousness. On the other hand, the traditional conception that a man is superior to other because he is born a Brahmin is not rational or justifiable. A spiritual or cultured man of pariah birth is superior in the divine values to an unspiritual and worldly-minded or a crude and uncultured Brahmin. Birth counts, but the basic value is in the man himself, in the soul behind and the degree to which it manifests itself in his nature.

    Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – I: Fate and Free-Will, Karma and Heredity, etc. – III

    Reply
  8. Sandeep Post author

    A longish essay by Dr. Soumitra Basu “The Caste System Of India – An Aurobindonian Perspective” available at http://iiyp.net/Downloads.php

    Here is an excerpt from his essay

    “The caste systems as we find today is of course of a deviated and deformed version of the original Caturvarna system. Sri Aurobindo examines the problem from three angles :
    (a) the socio-economic and political perspective which helps us to understand how the ethical principles enshrined in the Dharma-idea maintained the Caturvarna and how the political changes affecting the structure of the classical Indian community influenced transition of the ancient Caturvarna to the caste-system of later years ;
    (b) the socio-cultural and psychological perspective which shows how the spiritual and religious values attached to the Caturvarna evolve into psychological and ethical paradigms and again into conventional prototypes; and
    (c) the spiritual and synthetic perspective which justifies and innovative effort to re-use the Vedic-ideas that gave birth to Caturvarna to effectuate another synthesis. This new synthesis is entirely different from Caturvarna in its form yet to consonance with the spirit of the original seed-ideas form which the Caturvarna evolved and hence would be more acceptable to the Indian psyche.”

    Reply
  9. Sandeep Post author

    The question of caste existed 2500 years ago during the time of the Buddha as well. Brahmins in that era tried to claim superiority over others by virtue of being born in a certain family. The characteristic of a Brahmin is decided not by birth but by conduct; a true Brahmin is one who has transcended sensual pleasures.

    The Buddha’s disciple Kaccana (Katyayana) was called upon by the King Madhura Avantiputra to explain the basis of the Brahmin superiority. This discourse forms part of the Madhura Sutta(aka Madhura Sutra) — Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 84

    The King asks Katyayana, “The brahmins, Kaccâna, say thus,–‘the brahmins are the best caste; every other caste is inferior. The brahmins are the white caste; every other caste is black. Only the brahmins are pure, not the non-brahmins. The brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmâ, born from his mouth, Brahmâ-born, Brahmâ-made, heirs of Brahmâ.’ What do you say to this, sire?”

    Kaccâna replied, “It is mere empty words, sire, to give it out among people that ‘the brahmins are the best caste; every other caste is inferior. The brahmins are the white caste; every other caste is black. Only the brahmins are pure, not the non-brahmins. The brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmâ, born from his mouth, Brahmâ-born, Brahmâ-made, heirs of Brahmâ.”

    Kaccâna: “For the following reason it may be known to be mere empty words to make that statement.–What do you think of this, sire? If prosperity attended a kshatriya in the form of property or herds or silver or gold, could he have another kshatriya who would get up earlier than he, go to bed later, be zealous in his master’s service, study his comfort, and speak with affection?–Could he have a brahmin, a vaisya, and a sûdra who would behave similarly?”

    King: “Yes, he could, Kaccâna.”

    Kaccâna:”What do you think of this, sire? If prosperity attended a brahmin in the form of property or herds or silver or gold, could he have another brahmin who would get up earlier than he, go to bed later, be zealous in his master’s service, study his comfort, and speak with affection?–Could he have a vaishya, a sudra, and a kshatriya who would behave similarly?”

    King:”Yes, he could, Kaccâna.”

    Kaccâna: “What do you think of this, sire? If prosperity attended a vaisya in the form of property or herds or silver or gold, could he have another vaisya who would get up earlier than he, go to bed later, be zealous in his master’s service, study his comfort, and speak with affection?–Could he have a sûdra, a kshatriya, and a brahmin who would behave similarly?”

    King:”Yes, he could, Kaccâna.”

    Kaccâna:”What do you think of this, sire? If prosperity attended a sûdra in the form of property or herds or silver or gold, could he have another sûdra who would get up earlier than he, go to bed later, be zealous in his master’s service, study his comfort, and speak with affection?–Could he have a kshatriya, a brahmin, and a vaisya who would behave similarly?”

    King: “Yes, he could, Kaccâna.”

    Kaccâna: “What do you think of this, sire? If the case be so, are those four castes exactly equal, or not? Or how does it strike you?”

    King: “Undoubtedly, Kaccâna, if the case be so, those four castes are exactly equal. I perceive no difference, sir, between them herein.”

    Read more at http://www.sacred-texts.com/journals/jras/1894-14.htm

    Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    The Vajra Sucikopanishad of the Sama Veda expounds on what defines a real Brahmin. The following passage is from an English translation by N.S. Subrahmanian:

    Class by birth is not the brahmana either, as there happen to be various species among creatures other than the human beings unto which alone the brahmana belongs. Further, several Maharishis have been of diverse origin such as Risyasringa-of a female deer, Kausika of kusa grass, Jambuka from jackal, Valmiki from an ant-hilI, Vyasa from a fisher-girl, Gautama from the back of a hare, Vasistha from the celestial nymph Urvasi, and Agastya from an earthen jar, etc. Also, there have been several other great sages who have given proof of their higher wisdom and experience purely from their own higher stand. So, class by birth, by itself, is not the brahmana.

    Knowledge is not the brahmana, because the small – kshatriyas and others–have attained the highest end and the goal of llfe.

    A performer of the ordained duties (karma) is not also the brahmana, as the actions of all beings are all alike, more so in relation to righteousness and pious conduct, and those arising out of the past tendencies, and of actions petformed. The pious performer of religious duties is not that too, because several kshatriyas and others have lavished gold as pious offerings connected with rituals.

    Who then is a brahmana ? (i) It is the actual seer of the nondual atman that is the true brahmana….

    (source: N.S. Subrahmanian. Encyclopaedia of the Upaniṣads, New Delhi : Sterling, 1985, pp 152-153)

    Reply
  11. Sandeep Post author

    The rapid growth that followed the opening of India’s economy in 1991 is now progressively dismantling the caste walls and increasing social mobility. See this article from the New York Times.

    Scaling Caste Walls With Capitalism’s Ladders in India

    For most of India’s history after independence, the government was the only thing that could improve the Dalits(untouchables)’ lot. For nearly all Indians but especially for Dalits, a government job, even a low-level one, was the surest ticket out of poverty, guaranteeing education, housing, a salary and a pension. Few in the socialist government or in India’s generally risk-averse society saw entrepreneurship as an attractive option.

    But that has started to change. Since 1991, when India’s economy opened to the world and began its astonishing growth trajectory, hundreds of thousands of new businesses have been created, leaving an opening for millions of people who never imagined that owning their own business was even possible. A small handful of Dalits were uniquely poised to take advantage.

    Read and see the video at : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/world/asia/indias-boom-creates-openings-for-untouchables.html

    Reply
  12. Sandeep Post author

    Apparently, even the Manusmriti (laws of Manu) recognizes that caste is determined by conduct rather than birth in a certain family

    “Shudro brahmanatameti brahmanashchaiti shudratam.
    Kshatriyanjalamevamtu vidyadvaishyattathaiva cha.”(Manusmriti 10/65)

    translation: a Shudra can become a brahmin by acquiring learning, merit, virtuous life, etc.and a brahmin lacking in above traits becomes a Shudra.

    Historical examples where caste changed due to conduct

    1. Kavash Ailush, a son of a slave-woman, and Vatsa, a son of a Shudra-woman became Rigvedic Rishis for their having become seers of Mantras(exponents of Vedic hymns).

    2.Valmiki who (according to some legends) was lowly-born acquired the fame which goes with the name of Maharishi Valmiki.

    3.Slave woman’s son, Vidur, became the Prime Minister of Raja Dhritarashra and came to be known as Mahatma.

    4. Shri Ram, a son of King Dashratha, and Shri Krishna, born in a Yadav family, came to be regarded as God. They became venerable even for the Brahmanas, their birth in a Kshatriya family notwithstanding.

    5.On the other hand, Ravana who was born in a clan of Pulastya Rishi came to be called a Rakshasha ‘demon’ for indulging in evil deeds and for his misconduct.

    6. Raghu, the ancestor of Rama had a son named Pravridha. He was outcast from the Kshatriya clan due to his misdeeds and misdemeanour and became a demon.

    7. Trishanku, originally a king became a Chandal.

    8. Many of the Vishwamitra’s sons came to be called Shudras.

    (Source: 1.Opposition to Manu Why? by Dr.Surendra Kumar, pub.by Arsh Sahitya Prachar Trust, Delhi and

    Excerpted from an article by Y.K. Wadhwa on Purusha Sukta at http://agniveerfans.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/purusha-sukta/

    Reply
  13. amsha

    I always thought that Brahmin is somebody who has direct Knowledge of Brahman but perhaps I’m mistaken and of course it is not so in the caste system.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      No, you are not mistaken. Unfortunately, in India itself, the term Brahmin got misused to mean someone who is born in a “Brahmin” family (one in which father studies and recites scriptures, etc). While it is certainly helpful for a child to be born in a family of scholars, it doesn’t automatically mean that one becomes a Brahmin. The profound insights into people’s personalities that were discovered by sages got reified into banal social divisions.

      Even amongst the Spartans and Egyptians, professions used to handed down from father to son (e.g. Son of a cook became a cook, etc.).

      Reply
  14. Sandeep Post author

    Caste system among South Asian Muslims

    Ashrafs : elite Muslims who consider themselves superior due to their foreign ancestry – Arabs, Persians
    Ajlafs: who are native converts to Islam from Hinduism
    Arzal : untouchables who do menial work (recorded in the 1901 census in India )

    Some of the backward or lower-caste Muslim caste include Ansari, Kunjra, Dhobi and Halalkhor. The upper caste Muslim caste include Syed, Sheikh, Siddiqui, Qazi, Usmani, Pathan, Mirza, Kalal and Mallik.

    Read more@
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_among_South_Asian_Muslims

    Imtiaz Ahmen “The Ashraf and Ajlaf Categories in Indo-Muslim Society”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 2, No. 19, May 13, 1967; online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4357934

    Caste system among South Asian Christians

    In Kerala, they have
    Syrian Christians: converted high caste Hindus who were evangelized by St. Thomas the Apostle
    Latin Christians : fishermen converted between 16th-19th centuries

    In Goa, they have
    Bamonn Christians : who are converted Hindu Brahmins
    Chardos Christians : who are converted Kshatriyas and Vaishyas

    Read more@
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_among_Indian_Christians

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Dr B.R. Ambedkar discussed the caste system among Muslims in his book “Partition of India”

      http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/410.html

      The Superintendent of the Census for 1901 for the Province of Bengal records the following interesting facts regarding the Muslims of Bengal :—
      “The conventional division of the Mahomedans into four tribes— Sheikh, Saiad, Moghul and Pathan—has very little application to this Province (Bengal). The Mahomedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, (1) Ashraf or Sharaf and (2) Ajlaf. Ashraf means ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other Mahomedans including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terms, ‘Ajlaf ,’ ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’: they are also called Kamina or Itar, ‘base’ or Rasil, a corruption of Rizal, ‘worthless.’ In some places a third class, called Arzal or ‘lowest of all,’ is added. With them no other Mahomedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque to use the public burial ground.

      “Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus.

      I. Ashraf or better class Mahomedans.

      (1) Saiads.
      (2) Sheikhs.
      (3) Pathans.
      (4) Moghul.
      (5) Mallik.
      (6) Mirza.

      II. Ajlaf or lower class Mahomedans.
      (1) Cultivating Sheikhs, and others who were originally Hindus but who do not belong to any functional group, and have not gained admittance to the Ashraf Community, e.g. Pirali and Thakrai.
      (2) Darzi, Jolaha, Fakir, and Rangrez.
      (3) Barhi, Bhalhiara, Chik, Churihar, Dai, Dhawa, Dhunia, Gaddi, Kalal, Kasai, Kula Kunjara, Laheri, Mahifarosh, Mallah, Naliya, Nikari.
      (4) Abdal, Bako, Bediya, Bhal, Chamba, Dafali, Dhobi, Hajjam, Mucho, Nagarchi, Nal,Panwaria, Madaria, Tunlia.

      III. Arzal or degraded class.
      Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi, Maugta, Mehtar.”

      Reply
  15. Sandeep Post author

    These are verses in the Bhagavad Gita which assert that caste is based on character (Gunas) rather than birth in a certain family

    4.13 says
    cātur-varṇyaḿ mayā sṛṣṭaḿ
    guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ
    tasya kartāram api māḿ
    viddhy akartāram avyayam

    The four castes were created by me (Krishna) according to “guna-karma” (i.e. character, and not by birth in a family)

    18:41 says
    brahmana-ksatriya-visam
    sudranam ca parantapa
    karmani pravibhaktani
    svabhava-prabhavair gunaih

    The division of the four castes is based on the “svabhava-prabhavair gunaih” (based on three modes of Nature – sattwa, rajas and tamas)

    Reply
  16. Pingback: Sri Aurobindo on Nationalism | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  17. Sandeep Post author

    This was originally posted on a mailing list by Vinod Kumar

    Caste system in Iran

    “Around the king, the social order stratified into rigid classes. First came the clergy, incorporating priests, judges, temple guardians, teachers and ascetics; second, the military; third, the scribes, including the writers of official communications and chronicles as well as physicians, astronomers, poets, and accountants; and fourth, the artisans, embracing farmers, herdsmen, merchants, and skilled craftsmen. A writer of the period likened the social system to a man. The priests were the head; the warriors the hands; the agriculturists the stomach and the artisans the feet. And each class represented an aspect of man’s character. the first the virtue; the second, manliness; the third, steadfastness; and the fourth, diligence. Between these classes, privileges on one side and interdiction on the other built almost insurmountable barriers. The position of the priests and the aristocratic landholders was hereditary. Neither class was allowed to intermarry with then lower classes, who in turn were forbidden to acquire property. Basically, society cleaved between the few highly privileged and the rest. It was the beginning of the social-political oppression that would mould the Iranian culture and political behavior for centuries. Still existing in a modified form populated by different families at the time of Muhammad Reza Shah, the call to level this hierarchical system was one of the most forceful elements in the Iranian revolution on1979.”

    (“The Iranians” by Sandra McKey, Penguin Group, 1996, pp. 34 – 35)

    Reply
  18. mwb6119

    “In India an “ashram” is normally a spiritual or religious community whose members are gathered around a Master and have renounced the world to devote themselves to meditation, concentration, and yogic exercises, in order to attain “liberation.” As we can imagine, Sri Aurobindo’s ashram had little to do with this definition, except for the fact that the disciples were gathered around a Master and Mother. … Each one had to find his own truth, which is not the same as the next man’s. … Every conceivable human activity was represented. It was a microcosm. One could be a baker, or wash dishes, or try ones hand at carpentry, if one believed in the virtues of simple work. But there was no hierarchy among those activities; none of them was remunerated, nor was any of them considered superior to another. … The only real task was to discover the truth of one’s being, for which the outer was but a means. It was remarkable also to observe people changing activities as the consciousness awakened; very soon, all the values attached to the former professions fell away, and because money no longer had any meaning, one who thought he was a doctor, say, found himself more comfortable as an artisan, while a man with no particular education suddenly discovered he had a talent for poetry or painting, or immersed himself in the study of Sanskrit or Ayurvedic medicine. It was a complete recasting of outer values to the one inner criterion. When a disciple one day asked Mother about the best way of collaborating in the superamental transformation, he was given this answer: “It is always the same thing: to realize one’s own being, in whatever form, by whatever means–it doesn’t matter–but that is the only way. Each person carries in himself a truth; it is with this truth that he must unite, this truth that he must live; when he does that, the path he follows to join and realize this truth is also the path that brings him the closest to the Transformation. That is, the two are inseparably connected: personal realization and transformation. Perhaps it is even that multiplicity of approaches that will yields the Secret and open the door, who knows?”” Satprem, The Adventure of Consciousness, pp. 355-358

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      “The tamasmic doer of action is one who does not put himself really into his work, but acts with a mechanical mind, or obeys the most vulgar thought of the herd, follows the common routine or is wedded to a blind error and prejudice. He is obstinate in stupidity, stubborn in error and takes a foolish pride in his ignorant doing; a narrow and evasive cunning replaces true intelligence.”

      Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Gunas, Mind and Works

      “Life, State, society, family, all surrounding powers seem to be in a league to lay their yoke on our spirit, compel us into their moulds, impose on us their mechanical interest and rough immediate convenience. We become parts of a machine; we are not, are hardly allowed to be in the true sense, manusya, purusa, souls, minds, free children of the spirit empowered to develop the highest characteristic perfection of our being and make it our means of service to the race. It would seem that we are not what we make ourselves, but what we are made. …the functions of a man ought to be determined by his natural turn, gift and capacities. The individual who develops freely in this manner will be a living soul for the service of the race. …Whatever a man’s work and function in life, he can, if it is determined from within or if he is allowed to make it a self-expression of his nature, turn it into a means of growth and of a greater inner perfection. …This machinery of ego , this tangled complexity of the three Gunas, mind, body, life, emotion, desire, struggle, thought, aspiration, endeavor, this locked interaction of pain and pleasure, sin and virtue, striving and success and failure, soul and environment, myself and others, is only the outward imperfect form taken by a higher spiritual Force in me which pursues through its vicissitudes the progressive self-expression of the divine reality and greatness I am secretly in spirit and shall overtly become in nature.”

      Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: Swabhava and Swadharma

      “Destroyed is the illusion of the mind; the soul’s memory of its self and its truth concealed so long by the misleading shows and forms of life hs returned to it and become its normal consciousness: all doubt and perplexity gone, it can turn to the execution of the command and do faithfully whatever work for Gid and the world may be appointed and apportioned to it by the Master of our being, the Spirit and Godhead self-fullfilled in Time and universe.”

      Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Supreme Secret

      Reply
      1. mwb6119

        Serious typos in the last paragraph – corrected here:

        “Destroyed is the illusion of the mind; the soul’s memory of its self and its truth concealed so long by the misleading shows and forms of our life has returned to it and become its normal consciousness: all doubt and perplexity gone, it can turn to the execution of the command and do faithfully whatever work for God and the world may be appointed and apportioned to it by the Master or our being, the Spirit and Godhead self-fulfilled in Time and universe.”

        Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Supreme Secret

        Additional:

        “Our ideas and experiences and efforts are mental images only of greatest things which would be done more perfectly, directly, freely, largely, more in harmony with the universal and eternal will by that Power itself in us if we could only put our selves passively as instruments in the hands of a supreme and absolute strength and wisdom. That power is not separate from us; it is our own self one with the self of all others and at the same time a transcendent Being and an immanent Person. Our existence, our action taken up into this greatest Existence would no longer, as it seems to us now, individually our own in mental separation. It would be the vast movement of an Infinite and an intimate ineffable Presence; it would be the constant spontaneity of formation and expression in us of this deep universal self and this Transcendent spirit. The Gita indicates that in order that that may wholly be, the surrender must be without reservations; our Yoga, our life, our state of inner being must be determined freely by this living Infinite, not predetermined by our mind’s insistence on this or that dharma or any dharma. The divine Master of the Yoga, yogesvarah krsnah, will then himself take up our Yoga and raise us to our utmost possible perfection, not the perfection of any external or mental standard or limiting rule, but vast and comprehensive, to the mind incalculable. It will be a perfection developed by an all seeing Wisdom according to the whole truth, first indeed of our human Swabhava, but afterwards of a greater thing into which it will open, a spirit and power illimitable, immortal, free and all transmuting, the light and splendour of a divine and infinite nature.”

        Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Supreme Secret

      2. mwb6119

        “As soon as we have abolished within us, even for a moment, all egoistic desires, all personal and selfish aims, we can surrender to this inner spontaneity, this deep inspiration which will enable us to commune with the living and progressive forces of the universe.

        The conception of our work will inevitably grow more perfect as we grow more perfect as we grow more perfect ourselves; and to realise this growing perfection, no effort to exceed ourselves should be neglected, but the work we perform must become always more and more joyful and spontaneous, like water welling from a pure spring.”

        The Mother, Words of Long Ago: 14 May 1912

    1. mwb6119

      That whole description of the Ashram by Satprem is so very inspiring. I wonder why places like this are not dotted around the globe? Club Med for the soul lol.

      Reply
  19. mike

    ‘Club Med for the soul lol’

    Yes, lol.

    l have discovered there are quite a few little ashram communities springing up in some very unlikely spots. l posted some things on here about a famous kundalini yogi, and a short tīme after, l find out that one of his leading disciples had started an ashram just down the road from me. l live in a small town, so this wäs a bit mysterious. l only found it recently, but it’s been there for some years now – and this isn’t the only ashram nearby. lt’s not my kind of yoga, but still. On top of this l only discovered it through the son of someone l’m very close too [he spent some time there].
    l think if there is enough of the right kind of aspiration then the right teacher will be drawn there – the dots will multipy at an increasing rate..

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      I know of two here, but I am sure there are many many more. The close is the MA Center which belongs to Amma. And another in Emeryville belonging to Gurumayi [Siddhi Yoga]. I don’t feel drawn to either for some reason. Amma visits there once or twice a year.

      Presently I am working with a person who is commited to “personal realization and transformation,” not specifically SA & M’s yoga, she draws from a very broad perceptual base, and yet she does know SA & M’s teachings. Anyway, I felt I needed contact with a living teacher since I only have the written works of SA & M for guidance – and visiting sites like Sandeep’s blog. She is as close as I will ever get to being with The Mother, in a sense. *I don’t want to promote her name here.

      Reply
  20. mike

    Yes, mark, it can be a lonely and dry trek without the physical presence of the Guru. lf it wasn’t for the contact with SA and M in dreams and the occasional clairvoyant contact with them at the physical level, l think l might have thrown in the towel. Fortunately, these experiences are increasing, but it’s not like having a visible emanation of them with us all the time – which l’ve heard a few claiming to have. But, l’m certainly very aware when they put in an appearance lol.
    l’ve never felt attracted to amma – something doesn’t feel right about her. Although, l did get a little attached to sai baba and m.meera at one time, but l grew out of that after eventually seeing through them. Ultimately, we get the guru we’ve earned, l suppose.
    SA and M are always available in my experience. As you know, it’s through the psychic consciousness that the True Contact is made.
    Since SA and M are Permanent Avatars on the subtle physical, once we train ourselves to go to them in sleep, or learn to leave our bodies, we don’t have to go far to find them, unlike other guru’s who tend to inhabit the higher planes, l believe. l’ve been to SA’s house on the subtle physical, a few times, so l’m quite sure it’s there.
    l see them in lot’s of different places apart from their subtle houses, though. l saw SA ,in a dream, in my mother’s house recently – He gave me some important information, which was confirmed later. So, once we are ready, you can be sure they’ll appear.

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      I have to admit that I am surprised to have made this much progress with SA & M. Although I have little contact with them on the subtle levels, at least to my waking consciousness. I still struggle with the subtle realms, it is hard to gain the sense of it. Something is keeping me here, and so I continue to read their books – fortunately it is very fascinating materials. Yes, I believe “once we are ready they’ll appear.” I’m in no hurry 🙂

      Reply
  21. Pingback: Contemporary, Challenging, Classical, Corroborative, Creative [2] | Vande Mataram

  22. Sandeep Post author

    Similar “caste system” in China existed in the past centuries

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_occupations

    Scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants; each of the four peoples had their respective profession. Those who studied in order to occupy positions of rank were called the shi (scholars). Those who cultivated the soil and propagated grains were called nong (farmers). Those who manifested skill (qiao) and made utensils were called gong (artisans). Those who transported valuable articles and sold commodities were called shang (merchants).[4]

    And the outcastes (Burakumin) in Japan
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin

    Reply

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