The caste system in India seems unfair and uncalled for – why divide people based on profession or birth? But was it always so? And is abolishing the caste system the answer to solving the problems associated with it today.
Sadhguru: The Indian caste system can be understood this way. There are four basic castes in what is called Varnashrama Dharma. One is the Shudras, who do menial jobs; Vaishyas, who trade and do business; Kshatriyas, who protect and administer the community or the country; and the Brahmana, who handles the education and the spiritual process of that society.
The four tiers of the Indian caste system
This classification into four tiers of social structure can be understood in different contexts. One way of looking at it is, those who did not take responsibility for their own lives or those who did not take responsibility with the situations in which they lived in, such people were termed as Shudras; he is taking responsibility only for his survival, nothing more. The Vaishya is somebody who takes responsibility for himself, his family and his community. So trading was given to him. Today, the whole system, the whole business atmosphere is very different, but in those times the trader is somebody who stored up grains and all the necessary things that people would need. When there was a scarcity, he gave it out to the community. So in every community there were Vaishyas who took care of this aspect of life – they stored commodities and gave it out when it was needed. These are people who took responsibility for their family and to some extent the smaller community around them. Kshatriyas were people who took responsibility for the whole community or the country. They were the people who bore arms to defend their nation and community and were willing to die to protect the people. They were given administration, and the military apparatus were in their hands.
The brahmins were given education. Spiritual processes and religion were in his hands because the word ‘brahmin’ itself comes from this, that it is somebody who has realized that he is the Brahman or the ‘Divine.’ So a brahmin comes from an ultimate sense of responsibility, an unlimited sense of responsibility. Only a person who has an unlimited sense of responsibility should handle education and religion because they were considered as the most vital aspects of any society.
Difference vs Discrimination
So accordingly, the caste system was made in India. It was a good arrangement for those days. It is just that over a period of time, you became a brahmin by birth not by worth; that is when the trouble started. That is so with every system. Whatever system we create, we must constantly work to keep it clean and make it happen well otherwise every system, no matter how beautiful the system is to start with, can become a source of exploitation.
Over a period of time, human societies have tried to make every difference into a discrimination. Differences are fine. The world is bound to be different and it is nice that it is different, but we try to make every difference into a discrimination, whether it is race, religion or gender. So when we lost our senses and started making everything discriminatory, the Indian caste system became an ugly system. What was once a very relevant way to develop skills in a society has unfortunately became discriminatory and negative, not productive. When there were no IITs or ITIs, when there were no training centers, your family was the only way to train, isn't it? So it was very important to maintain a blacksmith culture, a goldsmith culture or a cobbler culture; otherwise there would be no skills.
The Indian caste system: Modes of training
This whole caste system in India came when there were no formal training centers for any particular profession. Suppose your father was a blacksmith, so at the age of 6, the moment you were ready, you started playing around with the hammer and anvil. By the time you were 8, your father saw that you anyway wanted to hit it, so it was better to hit it with some purpose. By the time you were 12, you were on the job. By the time you were 18 or 20, you had some craft and expertise on your hand to make your own living.
So if your father was a blacksmith, you became a blacksmith; if your father was a goldsmith, you became a goldsmith. Each profession developed its own training centers within the family structure because that was the only training center; all the craft, professionalism and skills in the society could only evolve like this. If you are a blacksmith, you do not try to go and do a goldsmith's job, you just do a blacksmith's job because we need a blacksmith in the society. When people multiplied and became a thousand blacksmiths, naturally they had their own way of eating, their own way of marriage and their own way of doing things, so they formed a caste. There is really nothing wrong with it if you look at it on one level. It was just a certain arrangement of convenience for the society. Between a blacksmith and a goldsmith, the kind of hammer they use, how they work, how they look, what and how they eat, everything was naturally distinctly different because the type of work was very different.
It is over a period of time that it became a means for exploitation. We started saying that a man who runs the temple is better than a man who runs the school. A man who runs the school is better than a man who runs the blacksmith shop. These are differences, everybody has to do something. But we established differences as discriminations over a period of time. If we had just maintained the difference, we would have been a nice, colorful culture; but we made it discriminatory.
The many kinds of caste systems
Human beings make every difference discriminatory simply because every human being is longing to be a little more than what he is right now. One unfortunate way he has found is to put down the person next to him. His longing is actually to feel more, but he does not know how to enhance himself, so the best thing is to depreciate somebody else. It is a very rudimentary mind, but we have worked like that for a long time and we are continuing to work like that. It is time to change it, but that is not going to change just by stripping off the old caste system – it will just establish itself in a thousand other ways. For example do you think there is no caste system in New York City? There is a different kind of caste system based on education, or economic capabilities; all these things create their own kind of discriminatory groups. So it is not going to change unless we revolutionize the human mind.
If there is no sense of inclusiveness in individual human beings there is no way that the systems they create or actions they perform will lead to inclusiveness. If individuals do not experience this inclusiveness, they end up creating very exclusive processes. One basic aspect of spiritual process is that it makes one into an all inclusive human being. At the same time it will hugely equip the individual to be more efficient, more capable, more balanced and in turn more productive.
Editor's Note: Sadhguru looks at the past, present and future of this nation, and explores why this culture matters to every human being on the planet. With images, graphics and Sadhguru’s inspiring words, here’s Bharat as you have never known it!