The Varna System of Social Organization
Several of my previous posts articulated the conceptual basis of an economic system different than the one that presently exists. These foundations include: (1) the real economic value lies in the objective properties of matter rather than in its human perception, and an economic system when organized around this objective value tends towards stability, (2) the problems in the current economic systems—both socialism and capitalism—arise from the existence of middlemen either in the form of global corporations or governments, and (3) the economy and government should be localized in a geography to administer the exchange of goods and services, while the exchange of knowledge—ideas and methods—must be globalized, thus creating two different kinds of trades: the local trade exchanges goods while the global trade exchanges ideas. This post will use these foundations to describe the Varṇa System of social organization, illustrating how this system is grounded in the previous insights about the nature of economic systems, as well as on a theory of matter and cosmic structure.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the Varṇa System?
- 2 The Varṇa System in Modern Society
- 3 The Concentration of Power and Independence
- 4 The Philosophical Basis of the Varṇa System
- 5 Who Owns Ideas?
- 6 Vedic Cosmology is Essential to Understand Varṇa
- 7 The Role of Brahmana in the Society
- 8 The Economic Cycle in the Universe
- 9 The Rejuvenation of the Social System
- 10 Share this:
What is the Varṇa System?
The Varṇa System is a description of the classes in society, defined based on the types of roles the classes play. The system is based on two kinds of trade—the exchange of goods and services carried out by the mercantile class called Vaiśya and the exchange of knowledge and methods carried out by an intellectual class called Brahmana. The exchange of ideas and methods, in this system, is globalized and unregulated by any government and all societies can take the best ideas and methods from wherever they are available, outside the control of a local government. The exchange of products and services, however, is localized and regulated by the local government—comprised of a class people called Kshatriyas.
The higher rungs of society comprise of three main classes: (1) those who create and exchange ideas (Brahmana), (2) those who create and exchange goods and services (Vaiśya), and (3) those who regulate the process of goods and service exchange (Kshatriyas). The Varṇa System also recognizes a fourth class—called Sudra—which comprises of people that assist the above three classes, and are therefore “employed” by them for furthering their respective functions in society.
Thus, society is divided into employers and employed; the top three classes of people (Brahmana, Kshatriya, and Vaiśya) are employers and the fourth class (Sudra) is employees.
The Varṇa System in Modern Society
Many people today deride the Varṇa System as a “caste system” for two main reasons. First, the system has indeed degraded into a caste system (e.g. the son of a politician becomes a politician, creating dynastic politics, which today exists everywhere in the world). Second, they find the idea of a fourth class (Sudra)—which serves the other three classes—reprehensible because it reminds them of slavery when in fact this class represents employees rather than slaves.
More than 99% of the global population today is employees—the people who are paid to serve as clerks, accountants, managers, salesmen, housekeepers, artisans, craftsmen, and a wide variety of blue-collar workers in the industrial system. Even the intellectuals and academics who are employed by a business, or serve the government’s administration are employees. If you are an employer, then you belong to one of the top three classes, but if you are an employee then you belong to the fourth class. By that measure, most of the population today is Sudra.
However, as the number of independent employers has declined, while the population continues to grow, most of employees have also become employers, creating steep hierarchies of organizational structure, in which the ownership and power gradually increases as one rises to higher rungs of the hierarchy, but there is still very limited ability to make independent decisions as a small business owner could and would.
There is nothing wrong with hierarchy per se because in order to maintain order in the society, there must be different classes who play different roles. However when hierarchy steepens then human freedom reduces dramatically. Only a few people at the top rungs of society have the ability to make decisions, while everyone else follows. A steep hierarchy stifles the human spirit and innovation—as every organization admits. And yet, with the concentration of wealth and power, there is no other way to organize society than to create steep hierarchies that destroy human inventiveness.
The Concentration of Power and Independence
In modern society, independent intellectuals have almost disappeared. All academic work is today funded either by government projects on defense or financed by businesses for the sole purpose of profit. Such intellectuals, therefore, have little independence; they must support their employers or find alternative employment. They are not, therefore, Brahmana; they are in fact Sudra. Similarly, the managers in a corporation are not Vaiśya or Kshatriya because they have little independence. They execute the orders of their bosses, and the bosses follow the guidelines laid out by the majority stock owners of the company. Even the CEOs of a company are replaced if the stockholders don’t like them. The majority owners of the company stock are therefore the Vaiśya while everyone else is their employee.
Similarly, the bureaucrats of different government departments are not Kshatriya because they are employees of the government. In the modern system, the politicians who win elections could be called Kshatriya, but given that most of these politicians are controlled by big businesses, they cannot act independently. Effectively, they too are “employees” of the big businesses although they are compensated for their services through election campaign funds rather than through monthly salaries. All such politicians appear to be in a position of power, but they are actually servants of the corporate masters who command and dictate their actions.
Effectively, modern society has only two classes—Vaiśya and Sudra. By and large, the banking system, a few global corporate owners, and small or medium businesses are the Vaiśya—this constitutes less than 1% of the total population. The remaining 99% of the population is largely Sudra. Some of these Sudra might even be rich, and they can therefore employ other employees, but they are not independent. It is rare to find an independent ruler—a Kshatriya—and even more rare to find an independent thinker—a Brahmana. Whenever and wherever such people exist, they are oppressed, suppressed, and eliminated by the dominant Vaiśya and their employee Sudra.
While Brahmana were expected to freely exchange ideas in order to improve the living conditions of society at large, this control has now passed into the hands of corporations who control access to the variety of technologies for a profit. Similarly, instead of regulating the businesses, the governments are regulated by the businesses.
The Philosophical Basis of the Varṇa System
The Varṇa system combines the Trickle-Up and Trickle-Down economic models discussed previously. In this system, goods and services trickle up, while knowledge trickles down. In terms of conventional economic goods, services, and capital, the Varṇa System is a Trickle-Up system in which the Sudra serve the Vaisya, the Vaisya are taxed by the Kshatriya, and the Kshatriya provide welfare to the Brahmana. In return, the Brahmana enrich the society with ideas and methods, and this knowledge gradually trickles down from Kshatriya to Vaisya and ultimately to Sudra. Thus, in terms of material goods and services, the economic value trickles up, but in terms of material ideas and methods, the economic value trickles down.
This system is based on the understanding that material objects are created from ideas, and these ideas exist in matter as the design and organization which creates value. The scientific basis of the Varṇa system is a hierarchical theory of space, in which the world exists as a tree, the root of which is the original idea, from which trunks, branches, twigs, and fruits gradually emerge through a process of diversification of ideas. Thus, all material objects are produced from ideas, by adding to them more and more ideas. At some point in this diversification, the ideas begin to manifest as sensations and objects for the senses. This is the point at which we call these ideas “material objects”. Such objects, however, are not all that exists in nature; quite specifically, these objects are like the fruits on a tree, underlying which are twigs, branches, trunks, and a root, which are not sensually perceivable. The world thus exists as an inverted tree in which the roots are above and the fruits are below.
Society too is organized hierarchically and the Brahmana (who deal in the exchange of knowledge) are higher than the Kshatriya (who provide administration), who are higher than the Vaisya (who perform the job of production of consumable goods). The Sudra are those who provide useful services to the three classes of society. Society in this view has three main functions—business, government, and knowledge—held by the three upper classes. The fourth class of people assists and supports the performance of the above three functions.
Who Owns Ideas?
An earlier post noted how humans are not owners of ideas, although they can be owners of the instances of the ideas. A following post noted why we can assert the copyrights on their expressions of ideas, but they cannot assert a patent on the idea itself. The distinction between the patent and a copyright was traced to the distinction between minds and senses: a patent aims to prevent others from using ideas in the mind, while a copyright only aims to protect the creator of an instance of an idea from continued use and updates to the instance.
This might have led to the impression that ideas aren’t owned by anyone, which is incorrect. The Varṇa system relies on the principle that there are different kinds of societies within the universe, and just as members of the human society can be owners of material objects, another society—called the demigods—owns ideas. The universe in the Vedic system is described as being comprised of many tiers, which are called planetary systems. The Earth planet is included in the bhūloka, and the residents of this place are owners of material objects. Higher than bhūloka are six other planetary systems called bhuvarloka (the owners of sensations), svargaloka (the owners of senses), maharloka (the owners of mind or ideas), janaloka (the owners of intellect or judgments), tapaloka (the owners of ego or intentions), and satyaloka (the owners of moral values).
Vedic Cosmology is Essential to Understand Varṇa
The triad of bhūloka, bhuvarloka, and svargaloka is often called the “three worlds” although worlds above and below these worlds also exist. The svargaloka includes the nine planets—Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Rahu, and Ketu—and the system of stars above it. The svargaloka extends all the way to the polestar and includes the residence of Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu just above it, who is also called Paramātma because he resides in all atoms. He is the ultimate controller of the material objects, the sensations, and the senses that are used to create and control the objects and sensations.
Above these three worlds is maharloka, the realm of the mind or all ideas which is controlled by a form of Lord Viṣṇu called Aniruddha. Higher than the mind is intelligence and is controlled by the residents of janaloka under the supervision of another form of Lord Viṣṇu called Pradyumna. Higher than the intelligence is the ego which is controlled by the residents of tapaloka under the supervision of a form of Lord Viṣṇu called Saṅkarṣaṇa. And higher than the ego is mahattattva which is controlled by the residents of satyaloka under the supervision of a form of Lord Viṣṇu called Vāsudeva.
The residents of bhuvarloka have the patent over all sensations such as the colors red, blue, and yellow. The residents of svargaloka have patents on all senses, which are the properties such as color, taste, smell, sound, and touch. The residents of maharloka have the patent over all ideas or object concepts such as ‘table’, ‘chair’, ‘house’, etc. The residents of janaloka have the patent over all judgments such as which ideas are fundamental versus which ideas are non-fundamental. During a partial devastation, the living beings of maharloka move to the janaloka which means only fundamental ideas remain, and all non-fundamental ideas are destroyed. The residents of tapaloka have the ownership of all intentions or goals. And the residents of satyaloka are the owners of all moral values. The residents of bhūloka—e.g. living beings on Earth—can assert ownership of material property—e.g. our bodies, houses, cars, tables, chairs, etc. But since these objects are produced out of sensations, senses, ideas, judgments, intents, and values—which we don’t own—even the ownership of objects depends on the support of the living beings in the higher planets (and ultimately to the different forms of Lord Viṣṇu who supervises these living beings) who must allow their “patents” for our use.
The Role of Brahmana in the Society
The role of Brahmana in human society is to obtain the patent licenses owned by the higher rungs of the cosmic society by which appropriate sensations, properties, ideas, judgments, intents, and moral values can be brought into the bhūloka. When such permission has been obtained, we are morally entitled to the use of subtle forms of matter to create the gross forms that we can perceive through our senses. When such permission hasn’t been obtained, we are effectively stealing the property owned by other living beings. That stealing creates new karma.
Effectively, when the Brahmana are absent, the society is involved in theft, thus creating negative karma, the results of which have to be suffered. When the Brahmana exist and guide society by providing them with sensations, properties, ideas, judgments, intents, and moral values, which have previously been obtained from the higher planetary systems, the entire society becomes happy because the creation of negative karma ceases.
The living beings on bhūloka must at the least cease the creation of negative karma to be happy. They can also cease the creation of positive karma and get liberated. But at the minimum, we have to end the sinful activities which only cause suffering.
The Economic Cycle in the Universe
Some people might question at this time the need for continuously obtaining the permission of the higher societies to continue using their property. Can we not just ask them once and then continue using it forever? The short answer to that is that all such properties are material and are therefore destroyed. Thus, sensations, properties, ideas, judgments, intents, and moral values cannot be obtained permanently as they are continuously being destroyed by the effect of time. To keep replenishing them, we must keep getting them from those who produce them.
Every society that consumes material objects produces waste. This waste corresponds to the degraded state of matter devoid of “information”—i.e. sensations, properties, ideas, and so forth. To rejuvenate this waste into “raw materials” we have to add information to it again, and that information has to be obtained from the higher societies in the universe. In that sense, a continuous influx of information from the higher societies is needed to maintain the human society. If this influx ceases, then we would be left with a lot of waste and no raw materials.
The raw materials include sufficient rains, sunshine and moonshine, minerals and metals, fertile soil, mountains, etc. Humans can produce many things with their efforts, but all these things depend on the “raw materials”, which are in turn produced from properties and ideas, which have to be supervised by good judgment, which have to be under the control of good intentions, which have to be oriented with good moral values. All these are the gifts of demigods—the citizens of the higher planetary systems. The Brahmana help the society by fetching the instances of these demigod properties on the bhūloka.
As the Brahmana no longer exist, the society will eventually run out of raw materials. Since the consumption of raw materials cannot be stopped, environmental preservation is ultimately a flawed idea. Preservation can delay the eventual exhaustion, but it cannot prevent it. To keep society running, the environment has to be rejuvenated rather than simply preserved. This requires the existence of real Brahmana.
The Rejuvenation of the Social System
The wealth of the rich is not real wealth for the society because we cannot eat, breathe, or drink money. Society needs grains, milk, water, air, minerals, wood, etc. and these cannot be created by the wealthy. Wealth creation is performed by the Brahmana who produce the raw materials on which society survives. Vaisya or businessmen manipulate this wealth to create a variety of consumables such as food, clothes, shelter, transportation, etc. If the supply of raw materials ends, then the prices of commodities will rise exponentially and the reservoirs of wealth with the rich can only be exchanged for little food, water, and air. In other words, all the wealth of the rich cannot save the world from catastrophe. It can only be saved by the knowledge that helps the rejuvenation of raw materials by instantiating abstract ideas into matter.
Society cannot be rejuvenated without the Brahmana who can enlighten the world about how gross matter is produced from many layers of subtle matter through the assistance of the demigods under the supervision of different forms of Lord Viṣṇu. Society will remain in turmoil so long as it believes that only material objects are real and everything else—sensations, properties, ideas, judgments, intentions, and moral values—are byproducts of these objects. By not recognizing the separate existence of subtle matter, while using it endlessly, we become thieves who need to be corrected by nature’s punishment.