“The caste system”.
I dislike it. A lot.
But I despise the assumption that the caste system is connected to religion, even more.
One religion that the caste system is generally assumed to be synonymous with is the Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism as it’s popularly known. I do not have a comprehensive knowledge about all the literature that makes up Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma, nevertheless, I would like to share my thoughts regarding this issue in the hope that it can provide a counter-argument (or make people think about the topic, at least) to the caste system stigma attached to Hinduism.
“The Caste System”
Here are some points on the caste system that seems to be commonly acknowledged:
-The caste system is a structure and Brahmins are at the top and the “Untouchables” are at the bottom.
-The structure is rigid and is prescribed by God and it cannot be changed.
-The structure gives certain rights to one caste over the other.
-Your caste is dependent on the household you are born into and the job you do.
The Caste System
Now onto some ideas about the actual caste system, its uses in non-Hindu societies and Hindu societies.
I have found that there are two ways to understand the caste system; one is economic and the other is spiritual.
The economic understanding would argue that society is split up into different sections based on the job you or your family undertakes. In this sense, the Brahmins are placed at the top as they are seen to be full of knowledge and the Sudras are placed at the bottom because they are the workers of society. This distinction is very similar to the feudal societies that existed in many Western civilisations prior to the industrial revolution. For example, the King’s divine right to rule is no different to the supposed Brahmin right to knowledge and religion, the Sudra’s role to work for others is no different to the labourers and the Dalit (or Untouchables) are no different to the peasants. These divisions in societies occur in Muslim, Christian, Hindu and even Atheist societies.
The economic example shows that society in all parts of the World, in all eras, has been divided along these lines so to assume that the caste system is a Hindu phenomenon is naive.
Having said this, many people will counter this and point out lines from scriptures and show that Hinduism agrees with a rigid caste system.
There is no doubt that Hindu scriptures do mention the caste system, but the understanding of the system seems to be lost in translation.
The Hindu version of the caste system is a dynamic system, one where humans are able to change from being a Brahmin to being a Kshatriya, to being a Vaishya, to being a Sudra.
As Shri Krishna states in The Gita:
“I created the four divisions of human society based on aptitude and vocation. Though I am the author of this system of the division of labour, one should know that I do nothing directly and I am eternal.” (4.13)
“The division of human labor is also based on the qualities inherent in peoples’ nature or their make up.” (18.41)
The idea that Brahmin do certain things and behave in certain ways compared to Sudras, for example, is quite true if you think about it. Any spiritually aware person (regardless of religion) will behave in a certain way. Those who are genuinely spiritually enlightened will be of a calm and understanding nature. Take Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus for example; both spiritually on levels higher than many of us, and both were peaceful in nature. This is how the Brahmin person, or spiritually inclined person, will behave as they have a greater knowledge of God and understand that there is no need for anger and hatred as the consequences are always negative. In this sense anyone can be a Brahmin assuming they have the spiritual awareness that goes with the title.
The image below represents the Hindu Caste System in a visual form. It shows that those who have a greater level of self awareness have a higher form of consciousness thus they are known as “Brahmin”.
In other words, the Hindu caste system is based on a person’s attitude, which affects their spiritual awareness, which ultimately affects the way they behave and their nature which then affects their karma and the way they interact with other people, as opposed to merely focusing on the economic role society labels a person with, as soon as they are born.
Furthermore, the Dalit caste is also known as the “Untouchables” because their role in society is a role where the tasks can be seen as dirty. This has meant that society keeps away from them as they view them as unclean because of the tasks they undertake. Nevertheless, many great people from history were from the supposed lower caste.
One of Shri Krishna’s best friend was Sudama, a poor man. Although their social places on Earth were of extreme sides of the spectrum, the Lord himself had a special place for Sudama in His heart, so who are we to assume we cannot touch the supposed lower caste or befriend them?
Additionally, some of the most exalted people in Hindu history supposedly come from the lower castes. The writers of the Ramayan and Mahabharat are Valmiki and Ved Vyas and both are supposed to be from a low caste. Two knowledgeable men with divine insight and great skill of Poetry coming from a low caste is also a great representative of how the caste system in the Hindu tradition is not merely based on the jobs that people do in society; rather, it arguably focuses on the spiritual awareness a person possesses.
Finally, before I end, I would like to say thank you for reading this far (I am aware the post is quite long) and I would also like to point out, once again, that I do not have complete knowledge of this issue and I am always learning about the Sanatana Dharma, so if you have read this and wish to know more, I would recommend reading the scriptures themselves and pondering this issue further to gain a complete insight into it. Having said that, I hope my humble and simplistic post has opened up new avenues of thought which will hopefully dispel the negative connotations associated with the caste system and its link to Hinduism and the uses of negative connotations as justifications for doing wrong towards fellow human beings.