What nurtured the caste system in ancient India?

I am sharing my answer to a Quora question. Casteism is a sensitive topic for many human beings. Please feel free to put your views in the comments section.

  • In ancient India, caste system became a social problem when members of the Indian society lost freedom in selecting their professions. Downward mobility was allowed; you could not move upwards. As an example, a priest or ruler could become an employee in a bookstore, but a bookstore employee could not become a ruler if he or she wanted to. The ancient hierarchy is as follows: Educators and Priests (Class I; Brahmin) → Rulers and Defence Professionals (Class II; Kshatriya) → Entrepreneurs (Class III; Vaishya) → Employees (Class IV; Shudra)
  • Casteism was not a problem created by the so-called higher caste individuals; it was more about people in political power misusing their power. However, in earlier times, unlike today, most people in power came from the higher castes (mainly Brahmins and Kshatriyas). Accordingly, Brahmins and Kshatriyas, in general, can’t be held responsible for casteism; only the individuals who misused power in ancient times can be partly blamed for it.
  • If we look at ancient World History, selected people in political power have misused power even in Europe. Misuse of power is always immoral, even when the phenomena involved is not labelled as casteism by historians.
  • Today’s India has been facing a faculty shortage for a while, maybe due to lesser perks. This indicates that people are not that interested in teaching — a job that Brahmins used to do in the past. People in ancient times were more interested in the privileges that came with it, say the permission to ride palanquins and elephants.
  • Casteism has been a social-political problem of the Indian subcontinent; it is not a problem of Hinduism, which is a global democratic religion. The saints of the Bhakti Movement, most of whom were from the so-called higher castes, ensured that casteism remains eliminated from true Hindu spirituality.
  • It appears that many ancient scholars may have even altered some of the scriptures to suit their needs. Many passages in Hindu scriptures are unnecessarily Brahmin-centric and appear out of context; they may be later additions. Because internal inconsistencies and interpolations may be present in scriptures of every world religion, we need to avoid the My scripture is perfect paradigm while reading scriptures and read them selectively.
  • We must understand that God does not discriminate on the basis of caste. At the same time, Brahmin-bashing is immoral.
  • We should remember that many of the devotional saints who handed over spiritual knowledge to society, like Sri Ramananda, Saints Tulasidasa, St. Thyagaraja, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Adi Shankarahcarya, St. Gyaneshwar and others were all born in Brahmin families. (Saints were considered beyond caste, but that is a different issue.) In North India, Sri Ramananda had the biggest role in opposing casteism. This shows that many people from the higher castes did think differently and supported goodness as opposed to casteism.
  • Many human beings from the so-called higher castes sacrificed their lives between 1200-1947 to free India from foreign rule. The period between 1200-1850 could have been politically and economically the worst for India, and foreign rule was unfortunate for everyone in India, irrespective of their castes.

Do Hindu scriptures say that Rama is the Supreme God?

I would like to share my answer to a Quora question. The answer tries to reject some of the misconceptions people have about Lord Rama. Though Rama has been established as the Supreme God in most Hindu scriptures, some individuals continue to propagate the false viewpoint that he is not divine.

If a human being does not want to believe that Lord Rama is Purna-Brahman — and all-knowing, — no literature support for this fact will be sufficient for him or her. On the other hand, if someone has developed faith, he or she will unambiguously recognize Rama’s divinity in all authentic versions of the Ramayana — including those written by Maharishi Valmiki, Maharishi Ved Vyas, and Goswami Tulasidasa — and in other devotional Hindu scriptures. So in the end, it is Rama (God) himself — the Real Doer — who decides if Rama will be perceived as the Divine by an individual soul (jiva) or as a mere human being or as an allegory. This is where faith and trust on Rama become important.

Unfortunately, today we do not have access to many scriptures in their original forms [1]; many scriptures appear to have later additions in them with internal logical inconsistencies or errors. Because we did not have a printing press in earlier times, it came down do hand-written manuscripts being transferred from generation to generation and memorization by later scholars. This is where unnecessary words may have been inserted, in spite of good intentions.

What can be a solution to deal with this situation? Rather than developing a My favourite scripture is perfect or My favourite scripture is better than your scripture kind of paradigm, we should learn to absorb what is useful in any scripture and skip what is not relevant for us. Moreover, equally importantly, we can also request Rama to directly guide us towards himself. In Hinduism, Rama’s being the Supreme God is not solely a scripture-dependent concept; it is more dependent on the personal experiences of devotional saints who have met him in person [2] and the experiences of commoners, some of which have also been documented in scriptures.

[1] Some relatively newer scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita may have had a higher chance of reaching us in their original state or with minimal modifications. In North India, the Ramacharitamanasa was more recently written and may have reached us in its original state.

[2] For many exclusive devotees of Rama like Sri Ramananda, Goswami Tulasidasa, Saint Thyagaraja, and Samarth Guru Ramdas, Lord Rama happens to be the source of Lord Vishnu and all incarnations. For many Vaishnava saints like Mirabai and Surdas, Rama is an equal of Krishna; for some, he is an incarnation of Vishnu. In spite of the superficial differences, Rama has been considered divine by all Vaishnava saints.

Aims of human life and their relation to Astrology

I have already talked about the four aims of human life in a previous post. Interestingly, principles from Vedic astrology can be used to learn what the four aims of life involve in the Hindu way of living. Moreover, some astrological principles can be learned and applied even if we do not believe in future telling.

The four aims of life include dharma (righteousness and fulfilment of duties), artha (wealth), kama (desires and fulfilment of dreams), and moksha (liberation). Out of these, eventual liberation or reaching God happens to be the ultimate aim of Hindu life. And artha and kama may have to be coupled with dharma to maintain the former two objectives on the right track.

Everything belonging to Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn (artha trikona or wealth triangle; earth signs) can be categorized within artha.  Accordingly, earning money, employment, professional growth, aspiration for recognition, honesty, discipline, perseverance, perfection, and a realistic or down-to-earth approach in life are artha influences.

Communication, expression, aspiration for emotional relationships, entrepreneurship, owning a business, team work, nurturing artistic talent, technological pursuits, aspiration for a new electronic gadget, philanthropy, and a logical-analytical approach to problem solving are Gemini-Libra-Aquarius influences (kama trikona or desire triangle; air signs). Accordingly, they belong to the domain of kama [1].

Dharma includes the love of God, creativity, education, work ethics, a traditional outlook, leadership, aspiration for learning philosophy, enthusiasm, kindness, guidance by a spiritual guru, and an idealistic-creative approach in life, which are all Aries-Leo-Sagittarius influences (dharma trikona or righteousness triangle; fire signs). On the other hand, seeking happiness, finding peace in the world, caring for humanity, research, aspiration for learning occult, transformation, meditation, renunciation, and an emotional-intuitive approach in life are moksha objectives, belonging to the domain of Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces (moksha trikona or liberation triangle; water signs; [2]).

[1] We should carefully note that kama in the context of the four aims of life means desire, not lust, and does not have an inherent negative connotation. On the other hand, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Lord Krishna describes kama in the context of the three gates to hell, he is talking about lust (16:21). Context can definitely change the meaning of a word.

[2] Every astrology chart has a balance of qualities from the four types of astrological signs. Relatively more planets in the liberation triangle does not directly correlate with higher chances of liberation. Being born in a specific sign of the zodiac will not supposedly create an advantage (in any sphere of life) over individuals from the other zodiac signs; the different signs probably reflect differences in disposition.

Hinduism: Main beliefs

I am sharing some Hindu beliefs that I personally find significant. Though these beliefs are popular, I would not like to impose them on all Hindus.

Existence of Truth

Hindus believe in the existence of a supreme reality. For most, this refers to the Divine — Rama, Shiva, or Durga. For the atheistic, this could refer to supporting the notion that goodness is a better option in life than hurting anyone. After all, the actual word for Hinduism is “Sanatana Dharma,” which means Eternal Righteousness.

Multiplicity of paths

Hindus believe that there is more than one way to approach the ultimate reality and therefore respect alternate viewpoints. They understand that more than one right answer may exist for every question. This aids in maintaining the dynamic nature of Hinduism.

Dynamic learning

Just like beings can amend the constitution in a democracy, the knowledgebase of Hinduism can be updated. This does not mean that anyone can write a new Upanishad. It means that we can become a Brahman-rishi or a bhakti saint one day and then write a new Purana or Upanishad.

Because of Hinduism’s adaptability, every vote, including that of the unrealized, counts in Hinduism. Because every viewpoint has some lesson, it is worth listening to, though we do not have to follow it.

Liberation for all

Freedom is a property of the soul; every being deserves it and eventually reaches a state of total bliss. This is the final aim of life in Hinduism.

Perishability

Everything other than the Divine and his name is perishable or less permanent.

Divine jurisdiction

Sita-Rama, the queen and king of the universe, the Bhavani-Shiva, our divine parents, continuously observe our actions, including the intention with which they are performed. Saying “sorry” for our bad karma may wash away some of our karma, but we still have to change ourselves to reach bliss.

Grace

Hindus believe in the existence of grace (kripa), but even the best saints and philosophers of Hinduism do not quite understand how the grace of Rama works. So I’ll stop here as well.

Beyond theory

Bhakti and realization are independent of philosophy. If we like a specific philosophy or Vedantic commentary and want to use it on our path to God, we can. But all theories are optional; they are not necessary for reaching God.

The Karmic Law Quiz

Many of us believe in the law of karma but do not recognize it. You can answer the questions below to check if you believe in this spiritual law. Please feel free to use a paper.

Question 1: A guy hits his hand on the firm surface of a table. Do you think his hand will get hurt too?
Question 2: A child is sitting with his parents and eating a sandwich. A guy enters the room and throws the child’s lunch box on the floor. The kid starts crying. Do you think that there would be some negative consequences for this guy?
Question 3: The child is now sitting in an empty room (with no one around). The guy throws the child’s lunch box on the floor. The kid starts crying. Do you still think that the event would somehow affect the guy in the future?
(Skip the questions below if you said No to Question 3.)
Question 4: A guy sees a child eating a sandwich and gets irritated for no reason. Rather than throwing the child’s lunch box or saying anything to the child, he starts cursing the innocent child in his own mind. Do think that Nature would still teach the guy a few things about kindness?
Question 5: Do you think that if the guy in Question 3 did not learn the significance of kindness in the present lifetime, Nature would get back to him in the next lifetime?

Key
If you said Yes to Question 1, you believe in the well-established scientific law that is often worded similarly to the karmic law.
If you said Yes to Question 2, you believe that negative consequences follow a wrong action, at least when human observers are present.
If you said Yes to Question 3, you believe in the karmic law; you probably believe that Nature is always watching everyone’s actions.
If you said Yes to Question 4, you believe in the karmic law and believe that karma includes all thought processes.
If you said Yes to Question 5, you believe in the karmic law and the reincarnation principle, which work together in Hinduism.

Disclaimer: It is better to trust the Divine than a human understanding of any spiritual law. Also, the final aim of Hindu life is to transcend karma.

 

%d bloggers like this: