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The Indian Caste System Is Nuts!

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I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!

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Something is Wrong

The distinguishing characteristic of the caste system as it has played out in India is one of absolute stricture of choice. It's a prime example of how misinterpretation of religion can lead to the snuffing-out of great human potential, free choice, and free will.

When we hear "caste system" we think of people placed into categories at birth from which they can never escape. It's hereditary, so if your parents are untouchable outcasts, you're also an untouchable for life--as are your kids, their kids, and so on to the end of time. The problem is that some castes are better off than others, and nobody gets to choose which one they're in.

People in a Brahminical class, for example, are "born" to be priests, sages, and scholars. Yet another caste may be "born" to crawl on hands and knees cleaning up human excrement, for life, and no one is allowed to look at them, talk to them, or acknowledge their existence.

Although many Hindus subscribe to the belief that one is born into a certain caste, this belief is not supported by their scriptures. The caste system in India has degenerated into a system falsely recognizing men born in Brahmin families as Brahmins, even though they don't exhibit the qualities of Brahmins. This has caused so many problems.

What is Varna?

Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material mode.

— The Four Varnas

the-indian-caste-system-explained

The true caste system, Varna, is described in the Bhagavad-Gita (ancient Hindu scripture.) It has very little similarity to what we think of today as the caste system, as it's based instead on a person's nature.

A person's natural inclination to do what matches their character, strengths, interests, and temperament defines the caste to which they belong. It is not hereditary or restrictive. However, it is recommended one follow one's true nature for best results.

The four major castes are:

  • Brahmins - scholars, teachers, priests
  • Kshatriyas - warriors, kings, administrators
  • Vaishyas - agriculturists, merchants
  • Shudras - artisans, service providers

It should work like this: Though you may be born into a Brahmin caste (say, most people in your family are priests), if you decide to pursue a career as a store owner, you are now a Vaishya.

How it works now: You are born a Brahmin, and even if you don't act like one, you can't be anything else. You are also automatically seen as more moral and educated, even if you aren't.

How Did This Go So Wrong?

the-indian-caste-system-explained

Most people just don't understand how a system like the current one could come about. I'm here to say it happened just like things like this tend to happen: Misunderstanding and a little bit of exploitation.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. Hindus believe that one is born into one's "nature" based on past incarnations and the associated karma that comes along with them. So it follows that those born with a Brahmin nature are perceived as having "better karma" than Sudras, who are less educated and work more menial jobs. It's kind of like a ladder of realization, which would make sense had it not been misinterpreted.

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The problem came, at some point in distant history, when instead of a man earning his place as a Brahmin, he was just "automatically" born into it. He needn't act the part, or be karmically superior, or train, or study, or even practice what he preach: He was born into a Brahmin family, and that's that. Shudras were born to shudras, vaishyas to vaishyas, and kshatriyas to kshatriyas.

These days Brahmins, the ones teaching religion to the masses, are not necessarily trained to do so to the degree found in ancient times. This is not to say that the majority of Brahmins don't try to aspire to their roles; however, it is to say that more than ever before the Brahmin "title" can be exploited for personal gain. There are many wolves in sheep's clothing, and as in any religion, many of the less educated and less aware blindly follow them.

How We Can Help

There's not a whole lot we can do other than to inform others of the facts and learn more ourselves. Here are some great quotes to get you started:

"The Vedas recognize different people have different skills and qualifications, but it is not by birth, it is by guna [qualification] and karma [work]." - Bhagavad Gita

"The current Indian system is something like accepting the sons of supreme court judges as supreme court judges. It's nonsense. They have to be qualified, they have to attend the university and pass the course, then they have to work under a qualified judge and get the practical experience, then they may be able to become supreme court judges."

"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness: These are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kshatriyas. Farming, cow protection, and business are the natural work for the vaishyas, and for the shudras is labor and service to others." - Bhagavad Gita