The Varṇāśrama system is divided into four classes—Brahmana (priests), Kshatriya (rulers and warriors), Vaisya (farmers and businessmen), and Sudra (workers). If these classes follow their prescribed duties and are not misguided by greed, lust, and envy, then society is free of class clashes. If, however, people in these classes neglect their duties or are guided by greed, lust, and envy, then the class clash begins. Western history is marked by such clashes arising from the neglect of duties driven by lust, greed, and envy, resulting in the abolition of classes. Most people today are so traumatized by this past that they blame the classes rather than the lust, greed, and envy. Such clashes, however, haven’t existed in other societies, and certainly not in the Vedic society until recently. This post explores the societal and historical differences, along with the consequences of classful and classless societies, showing how classful societies depend upon a science of qualities of nature.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Story of the Western Class Struggles
- 2 The Story of the Varṇāśrama System
- 3 Effects of Destruction of Social Classes
- 4 Reverting to the Varṇāśrama System
The Story of the Western Class Struggles
Class Struggle in Roman Times
The Early Roman Empire was also divided into four classes in which the Roman kings were Kshatriyas, the priests who worshipped many Roman gods were the Brahmanas that held elite positions in society, the mostly poor landed gentry was the Vaisyas, and the Sudras (who are paid workers in the Varṇāśrama system) were replaced by slaves created through subjugation during various Roman conquests.
Unlike the Varṇāśrama system where the Kshatriya follow the Brahmanas, however, Roman kings believed that they had direct access to the gods, and, following the principle of do ut des (I give that you might give)—they directly negotiated with gods, leaving the priests out of the most important political decisions. The priests were involved in birth, marriage, death, and other rituals for ordinary people. Thereby, there were two conflicting pillars of religion in Roman times—the rulers and the priests.
Both these pillars of religion were elitist, which meant that the gods talked to the elites and cared for them, leaving the ordinary masses out of the equation. Christianity entered Europe through the non-elitist parts of society—the landed gentry, soldiers, and slaves. Jesus the Messiah walked among common men, talked like common men, and was helping common men. These common men wanted Jesus to be their king instead of the Roman emperors, although Jesus appears to not be interested in such conflict. He is quoted as saying: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God that are God’s”. The Romans were, nevertheless, insecure. When Jesus was crucified due to this insecurity, the class divide between elites and non-elites was solidified. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire despite persecution, to quell the dissent from the non-elites, to get the soldiers on his side in the political struggle to the throne, and to rule effectively thereafter, Constantine accepted Jesus as the Messiah but changed many parts of his teachings to maintain control.
For instance, the slaves got more freedom, better wages, and fairer treatment, and everyone—including the masses and the kings—was equal in heaven, although not on earth. The elites too got their fair share of spoils in the process. For example, only the Pope (and the Church) had that authority to establish a covenant with God, and the kings could no longer negotiate directly with God. Roman emperors still had Divine Rights, which meant that they could not be persecuted by the priests or the common people, because they were appointed by God, ensuring the end of opposition to their rule.
Christianity is the outcome of a class struggle in which everyone’s primary demands were satisfied. First, the priests got what they wanted—i.e., supreme power to negotiate with God. Second, the kings got what they wanted—i.e., unchallenged authority to rule. Third, the non-elites got what they wanted—i.e., an equal place in heaven and better treatment on earth through participation in religion.
Post-Roman History of Class Struggles
However, Christianity was far from a perfectly negotiated settlement because the fundamental tensions between elites and non-elites kept simmering under the surface. For instance, the Bible notes: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”. Well, if that were the case, then were priests and kings not going to enter God’s kingdom?
Many Christian doctrines evolved over the centuries to placate these class tensions, with different classes getting an upper hand in successive negotiated settlements arising from a class struggle.
The modern age is defined by a clean break from incremental negotiated compromises over the ages. In the previously negotiated settlements, the upper three classes—priests, kings, and landowners—had gotten a better shake, while the lowest rungs of society (the workers) were not receiving a fair deal. The clean break from the past involved the lowest classes revolting against the upper three classes. This revolt led to—(a) the rejection of the divine powers of priests by the Protestant Reformation, (b) the rejection of the Divine Rights of kings in order to replace autocracy by democracy, (c) the rejection of special status of landed gentry by the workers, known as the conflict between capitalism and socialism. The French, Russian, and American revolutions are also the results of the same clean break.
It is no surprise therefore that Karl Marx viewed European history through the lens of class struggles. Christianity was not the divine word of God, but a negotiated settlement between people of different classes, which arose because—(a) God seemed to play favorites to elites, and (b) of the wealth and power disparities between classes. Marx’s solution was to abolish both: The former by rejecting the claims of God, heaven, and the afterlife, and the latter by dissolving wealth and power disparities to create an equal society. He believed that if class conflicts end, then society can progress continuously. Marx did not come to this conclusion lightly. He had a long history of class struggles to back up his claims.
The trouble with Marxism is that it only explains European history well, because all these class struggles are somewhat unique to European history, and not applicable to other societies.
Absence of Class Struggles in Other Societies
Islamic society, for instance, advocated theocracy at its advent, thereby dissolving the class struggle between priests and kings. In Shia countries like Iran where such a struggle arose temporarily, it was destroyed by the restoration of theocracy through the Islamic Revolution. In Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, the struggle is averted by the Kings allowing clerics to preach extreme versions of Islam. Muslims emigrate out of these countries to other Christian-majority countries to escape the theocratic rule.
Likewise, class struggles haven’t existed in Buddhist societies either because Buddhist monks have led a pious and renounced life with little political involvement, or they have elected their spiritual leader as their political leader, or everyone who wanted to embrace Buddhism did so in their own way, without being oppressed by other Buddhist schools. Even when Buddhists supported the Japanese imperial military in the 20th century, it wasn’t so much about a class struggle within society as a struggle between societies; it is comparable to imperial colonial designs rather than intra-societal class struggles.
Finally, we come to Indian society. King Ashoka (who reigned around 250 BCE) became a Buddhist after seeing the senseless killing in the Kalinga war, although he was a descendant of Hindu kings. He played a pivotal role in the spread of Buddhism across Asia, and while Hindus and Buddhists were slightly segregated in terms of their language, philosophies, social practices, and customs, there is no evidence of a class struggle between various sections of society. During the Gupta Empire (which reigned from 4th to 6th century CE), again Hindus and Buddhists had their separate parallel systems, but no overt conflict or class struggle. Intellectual, philosophical, and religious debates, however, were quite common.
Of course, as Buddhists rejected the Vedic authority, they also rejected Brahmanas. However, they were not trying to take on the position of Brahmanas, or asking everyone to be a Brahmana. They were in principle rejecting ritual practices, deity and demigod worship, and emphasizing self-realization. The Varṇāśrama system of four classes, therefore, continued in India despite the presence of Buddhism.
Impositions of Western Universalism
Despite the differences between Western and other societies, due to the universalization of ideological viewpoints, the theories created in the West for the West are exported to other parts of the world. Left-wing ideologues, for example, try to see all societies through the lens of class struggles, although such struggles have not existed in non-European societies. Right-wing ideologues, similarly, try to see a class system in India as harking back to their past that was divided into priests, kings, landowners, and slaves, and the destruction of this classful society as the only way that equality of souls can be realized to make earth similar to heaven.
Western left- and right-wing think tanks are at odds in the West, but they are united in India because both have a common metaphysical belief in the equality of all people. The destruction of the class system is their shared route to Westernization. Western society is unable to imagine how diversity can exist in harmony because it has never been able to exist in harmony with diversity. Harmonization of people for the West means universalization and homogenization. Everything else must entail conflicts.
One academic example of such attempts to Westernize is to impugn the existence of slavery in India akin to that in Western societies by translating Vedic words like dāsa and dāsi as male and female slaves, disregarding the fact that spiritual initiates are given the suffixes of dāsa and dāsi even today. However, if dāsa and dāsi are slaves, then svāmi must mean a master of the slave and not the title of the renunciate class of people called sannyasis. The Pāndavas became servants of a king during their incognito exile, and they were called dāsa and dāsi. Draupadi for example was the dāsi of the queen, and Yudhishthira was a dāsa of the king. It did not mean slaves.
And yet, for Westerners, a classful society is reprehensible because of their history and the numerous societal and class conflicts that have defined society in the West. Any talk about higher- and lower-classes based on their superior or inferior qualification is immediately taken to imply an insult to some people, harking back to the days of struggles between masses, slaves, priests, and kings. To satisfy their false sense of equality, everyone must be treated with respect. Respect is not something you earn by your qualities and activities. Respect is your birthright.
The Story of the Varṇāśrama System
The Class System vs. the Caste System
The Varṇāśrama system is in the purest sense, a class system and not a caste system, which means anyone can be in any class based on their qualities and activities. That movement across classes, however, has always been a rare thing in Vedic society. For the most part, the children of Brahmana were Brahmana, the children of Kshatriyas were Kshatriyas, etc. This is due to three main reasons.
First, a successful marriage requires compatibility between partners, which is more likely if the partners come from the same cultural background. For the most part, even today, rich people marry into rich families, and working-class people marry into working-class families. This is because marriages tend to fall apart when the husband and wife have completely different values and aspirations.
Second, this principle holds even in the upbringing of children. What parental values should be imparted to the children? If the parents have different backgrounds, the children would receive conflicting values. Conflicts between the value systems of parents naturally percolate in the conflictual upbringing of children. If the parents are not similarly aligned, the children always grow confused, conflicted, and weak.
Third, confused children resulting from endogamy (interclass marriages) are less likely to succeed in society. Everyone wants an aggressive warrior and a patient teacher. A compassionate warrior or a combative teacher is not preferred. Likewise, a businessman must be a negotiator instead of being principled like a Brahmana or Kshatriya. And those who are neither principled nor negotiators must prefer routine tasks. Each class of work needs a different value system that is acquired during childhood. If we mix these values, then we will get people who are not best-suited for any class of work, which means that they will be relatively unemployable since everyone wants the best person for a job. Parents obviously don’t want to produce children that would become unemployable in society.
Thereby, the general principle of free movement between classes in Varṇāśrama is curtailed by biology, ideology, values, employability, the need to provide a happy home for children in which parents get along and agree on how to bring up their kids. This curtailment converts classes to castes because endogamy is often the cause of unhappy families and confused children who cannot be effective in society because they are carrying conflicting values due to parents from different backgrounds.
While the theory of Varṇāśrama is a class system, the practice—forced by practical necessities—produces a caste system signified by the absence of endogamy. The children produced due to endogamy were therefore called Varṇa-Saṇkara or those of mixed-class and were generally frowned upon.
Caste System vs. Class Struggle
Neither class nor caste systems, however, imply a class conflict or struggle between classes, because if each person is doing the best job they can and are rewarded in the best way possible based on their qualities and activities then there is no cause for dissent between classes. Each person in each class will know that endogamy is likely to make things worse instead of better. Class struggle results from the perception that a particular class is being cheated by the other classes. If that perception doesn’t exist or has no rationale and empirical foundation, then class struggles also don’t exist.
This is a crucial point that Marxists don’t understand. They imagine that the mere existence of classes implies a class struggle because they presume a greedy, deceptive, and manipulative human nature, which always tries to cheat and exploit other people resulting in a struggle between classes. Such natures are dominant in a society devoid of the philosophy of karma, or that nature works on the moral principle of tit-for-tat. Marxism tries to apply European ideas to Indian society, after ignoring the philosophical assumptions of Indian society.
That however doesn’t mean the complete absence of class discrimination. It only means that when such discrimination existed, it was an aberration. The Mahabhārata, for example, describes how Vidura was insulted by Duryodhana as a dāsi-putra or the son of a maidservant when he tried to stop the Mahabhārata war. Partly as a result of that insult, and partly due to this unwillingness to witness the carnage of Mahabhārata, Vidura left Hastināpur on a pilgrimage, during which he met the sage Maitreya and asked him many philosophical questions which are recorded in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, considered the pinnacle of all Vedic texts. The Pandavas, and numerous other personalities described in the Mahabharata, always treated Vidura with great respect. Vidura was also a prominent minister and the chief advisor in Dhritarashtra’s court. The Mahabharata derides Duryodhana and it praises Vidura everywhere. This is an example of how low-minded people like Duryodhana thought of classes in terms of birth, while the high-minded people thought of them in terms of qualities and activities.
Class Segregation in Indian Society
India has never been a fully Varṇāśrama society, and this is quite evident to anyone who studies the Vedic epics, which describe different classes of people—those in other lands (Yavana, Mleccha, Hun, Khasa, etc.) and those in other parts of India (Ahīr, Kirāta, Pulinda, Śaka, etc.). When Lord Rāmachandra was exiled, he traveled from Ayodhya southward, where he encountered many tribes living in the mountains and the forests. They all welcomed Lord Rāmachandra, and He lived with them for quite some time. He left their association to go deeper into forests so that people from Ayodhya would not try to find Him and disturb the period of His exile. There is a beautiful story about Him eating the berries collected by Shabari, supposedly an “untouchable outcast”, who used to bite into each berry to ensure that they were sweet!
From these narrations, we can see that India was segregated into Varṇāśrama and non-Varṇāśrama communities. And yet, there was no love lost between them as a result of segregation. They lived amicably but separately and came together when such was needed.
The non-Varṇāśrama communities could be broadly divided into two classes. First, there were the tribal people, who performed jobs like forestry and mining, which required them to live in forests and mountains. Second, some people were more connected to the Varṇāśrama society, as they performed jobs that Sudras would not. The Sudras included carpenters, weavers, jewelers, and artisans. But there were classes that worked as cobblers and blacksmiths. They were more connected to the Varṇāśrama society, but not a part of it.
The segregations of these societies were amicable because all communities were based on their chosen culture and lifestyle. Today, they are called “outcasts” or “untouchables” because people only remember that they were outside Varṇāśrama and have forgotten that they had their own place, culture, and lifestyle. All society is culturally imbued. The societies that agreed on stricter norms were considered Varṇāśrama and those who wanted a less regulated and more permissive lifestyle had their respective communities and places of residence. This general principle was always used in India in former times, where communities could trade with each other, but they lived separately.
The problem began when kings out of their political ambitions conquered lands that were previously reserved for those outside Varṇāśrama and brought them under their control. Then, the classes started mixing because the kings had invaded their land. The resulting tensions are akin to invasions from other cultures from outside India, and they began slowly at the dawn of Kali-yuga. What most people call the caste problem today began primarily due to the conquest of lands that were previously reserved for non-Varṇāśrama classes.
The Appearance of Class Struggle in India
However, up until the Gupta period (6th century CE), even as Indian kings conquered other lands, they did not force them into a common culture, because the Vedic dharma system is not based on universal rules. It is adapted according to a person’s abilities, natural preferences, exigent circumstances, and so on. Thereby, there could be multiple cultures and communities under the rule of a single king. Buddhists and Hindus, for instance, coexisted peacefully under the rule of the same king, although they had dramatically different cultures and norms.
The classical Vedic dharma system relies on Mīmāṃsā philosophy, which advocates the contextualization of duty rather than the universalization of rules and regulations. Dharma is compared to meaning in Mīmāṃsā. Just as meaning cannot be understood merely by universal dictionaries, and requires the grasp of the context and individuality of the speaker, similarly, duty is individual and contextual. There are universal principles like truth, cleanliness, austerity, and kindness. And yet, some principles can be prioritized over others depending on the context. If someone cannot follow those principles, they are allowed to live separately in a community that accepts such violations. By that separation, nobody is forced to endure other people’s conception of morality, although there are higher and lower moralities.
Brahmanas were consultants in the practice of dharma as they explained how the universal principles of morality had to be adapted to an individual’s nature and contextual exigencies. The same principles of individualization and contextualization were extended to those who were not following the Vedic system, which allowed different diversities to live in harmony and peace, although separately.
A rapid decline in the understanding of dharma began with the advent of impersonalism around 800 CE because Shankarāchārya defeated Mīmāṃsā. According to Shankarāchārya, the performance of dharma doesn’t lead one to liberation. That is true. Merely the performance of social duties doesn’t lead a person to liberation. However, the converse is truer—neglect of social duties will plunge society into immorality, and certainly not lead to liberation. Social duties are meant to gradually take a person toward detachment, tolerance, and desire for transcendence, but they are not themselves transcendence. One has to develop a spiritual understanding after detachment. Such duties can be violated by advanced souls who work for the pleasure of the Lord, and not according to social norms, and yet, they generally perform social duties as a routine to set the right example for others. Shankarāchārya destroyed this principle when he defeated Mīmāṃsā.
As Mīmāṃsā died, dharma began declining, because the Brahmanas who were explaining how duties must be individualized and contextualized no longer had respect in society. Now, the duty could either be freely chosen by everyone or it had to be enforced via universal laws and regulations. Free choices would lead to anarchy. Hence, duty slowly became universalist rules and regulations, thereby transforming the Vedic society based on dharma into something akin to the Western idea of universal commandments.
When universal rules of social conduct are imposed on people, society begins fragmenting because no rule works in all situations. Why should one person follow the rules imposed by another person—especially when it is obvious that the rules are beneficial for one person and not for the others? If rules cannot be explained based on reason and observation, and they cannot be adapted according to time, place, and situation, then everyone wants to create rules beneficial to themselves, and that creates divisions. Thus, the result of impersonalism was (a) the rapid decline of Brahmanas who explained dharma, (b) rapid decline in the performance of duties as a result, (c) the fragmentation of society as everyone wants to create their own rules, (d) political disunity that divided India into many small states, and (e) vulnerability to external invasions due to disunity, although numerous Islamic, Central Asian, and Western invasions had been repelled and defeated previously. All invading rulers that followed, employed universalization, although by force, thus creating more societal conflicts.
Christianity and Islam are universalist; the same laws apply to everyone. Christianity and Islam are also supremacists. So, they conquer lands, equate people of different backgrounds, and force the same rules upon everyone. The Vedic dharma system instead contextualizes society, religion, and duty. Thereby, many people can live in harmony, either as part of a community or in different communities. When a society accustomed to contextualization and segregation is brought under universalization and intermixing, serious conflicts are naturally created.
Initially, the Muslim invaders accelerated the decline caused due to impersonalism by looting temples, killing civilians, and burning libraries. Some Mughal rulers persecuted Hindus. For example, the Chaitanya Charitamrita notes how Haridāsa Thākur was beaten in 22 marketplaces for publicly chanting the names of God. In contrast, public offerings of Islamic prayers were encouraged by the Mughal rulers.
Due to Islamic rule, India realized how impersonalism had destroyed India’s autonomy. That led to the Bhakti movement which opposed universalism created by impersonalism and emphasized individual devotion to God. However, because philosophy was neglected in the process, devotion led people to read stories from the Purāṇas and Indian epics and sing devotional songs. They completely ignored the philosophy of Vedas. Everyone could be a devotee of God even if they were not educated. Thereby, the Brahmanical focus on philosophy died, India became intellectually weak, and the unity of India deteriorated further. The result of the Bhakti movement was that impersonalism was almost completely destroyed in India, but the neglect of Vedic philosophy worsened the problem of ideological and political disunity.
In this weakened state the British arrived, who further devastated the Indian society from within. The Brahmanical system of education, which was now limited to the study of Purāṇas and Indian epics, was destroyed by derogatory interpretations of Vedic texts. The Kshatriyas were used as cannon fodder in the British army to fight colonial expansionist wars. The Indian economy was destroyed by a forced export of raw materials from India to England, use of raw materials to make goods in England, exporting those goods back to India, levying exorbitant taxes on Indian made goods, killing or disabling of Indian workers, replacing locally made goods with those imported from England.
The landowners, whom we could call Vaisyas, were compelled to pay exorbitant taxes to the British that propelled them to overwork and underpay laborers, creating extreme poverty resulting in many deaths. This system of overwork and underpay was denominated slavery by the British in which both the slaves and the slave masters were Indians. The tax collections were sent to England which meant that Indian laborers were slaving for Britain. Meanwhile, the British touted themselves as the liberators of slaves everywhere else.
Christian missionaries were at the forefront of rationalizing the conquest of India by comparing it to pre-Christianized pagan-polytheistic idol-worshipping Europe. To counter these attacks, impersonalism was revived in India, because (a) it replaces the many forms of God by one impersonal Brahman, and (b) it dissolves social, cultural, and linguistic divisions as illusory effects of māyā upon Brahman. This revival of impersonalism was called Indian Renaissance. However, it did not revive the Brahmanical culture, it did not bring greater unity in India, it destroyed the gains of the Bhakti movement, and made Indians embarrassed and apologetic about idol worship and casteism.
The Distortion of Class Struggle in India
Once the British left India, Marxists-socialists began a process of distorting what had actually happened. The earliest trigger for this came from B. R. Ambedkar. In his essay The Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar makes false claims about Vedic texts, such as “The Shastras do not permit a Hindu to accept anyone as his Guru merely because he is well-versed.” Anyone well-versed in scriptures can refute that. For example, Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-Gita, that the four classes are created by Him, according to qualities and activities. The subjugation of lower classes can be refuted by examples like that of Vidura above. The respectful and accommodative relations between Varṇāśrama and other types of communities can be seen from the Rāmāyana. Exceptions to endogamy can be seen when Bhīma married Hidimbā. There are so many counterexamples all over the Vedic texts, that there is simply no foundation for discrimination in Vedic texts.
And yet, Ambedkar ignored the fact that the real cause of caste discrimination was the decline of dharma and blamed it on the Hindu scriptures. M. K. Gandhi noted this about Ambedkar: “In my opinion, the profound mistake that Dr. Ambedkar has made in his address is to pick out the texts of doubtful authenticity and value, and the state of degraded Hindus who are no fit specimens of the faith they so woefully misrepresent.” But even M. K. Gandhi did not trace the problem to the universalizing tendencies in Hindus, Muslims, and Christians as the cause of the problem. The situation today is that the political dispensation talks about a “Uniform Civil Code” because there are differences between the rules and regulations for different religions in India. It shows that they don’t understand contextual dharma.
Ambedkar’s singular achievement was causally linking unrelated facts, blaming Hinduism for all societal evils, and then arguing for the dissolution of class structure. For example, Ambedkar cites Ferdinand Lasalle, a socialist revolutionary and a friend of Karl Marx, who believed that society must give primacy to workers rather than the upper classes, and this primacy must be enshrined in the nation’s constitution. His socialism does not mean economic equality, as it does for the rest of the world. It means granting equal social status to all classes. This is particularly interesting in the context of Vedic society because Brahmanas lived a modest life, and yet, they were accorded the highest social status. In Ambedkar’s version of equality, a Brahmana, even if he is austere and simple, should not be given respect relative to the other classes. His socialism is not about economic equality but predominantly targeted toward the destruction of respect for Brahmanas.
Sometimes, his disdain for starving Hindus overflows: “Physically speaking the Hindus are a C3 [third-class] people. They are a race of Pygmies and dwarfs, stunted in stature and wanting in stamina. It is a nation 9/10ths of which is declared to be unfit for military service.”
And yet, despite his false tirades, Ambedkar became the author of India’s constitution, which has been the inspiration for socialist-Marxists in India for several generations now. The Marxists show a benign face in academia where they foist Western ideologies on India, use double standards to support the uniqueness of “minorities” and critique the uniqueness of Hindus, and their right to “free speech” to defend extremist and separatist movements. It is impossible to argue against them in a legal sense because their guru is the author of the Indian constitution. They will cite Ambedkar, the Indian constitution, and portray a person as violating the constitution to justify their stance.
Persistent Problems of the Caste System
Practical experience, however, shows that socialist-Marxist tendencies ideologies in India have further ossified and ritualized the caste system, rather than removing it, because the Indian government reserved jobs and benefits for marginalized castes, which made it beneficial to belong to lower castes and harmful to belong to the upper castes. At present, nearly 60% of government jobs are reserved for marginalized classes, which includes premier government institutions. This is the Indian version of affirmative action, which made caste politics a mutually beneficial enterprise for both voters and politicians—voters voted for those politicians who guaranteed for them government reservations, and politicians motivated caste-based voters to create captive vote banks of marginalized castes.
The reality of Indian society is that the caste system discriminates against the upper castes, contrary to the popularly held view outside India that the caste system discriminates against the lower castes. The caste system is ossified and ritualized primarily because the lower castes don’t want to let go of their benefits. There is a solution to this problem: Minimize the government, reduce the dependence on government grants, and fix the timeline by which affirmative action ends. But that would be suicidal for politicians. Because politicians love votes, they reinforce it at every election. Thereby, even as most people have stopped believing in castes, they remain a huge legal-political reality.
The biggest problem of a classful society is that the class system is initially converted into a caste system due to practical exigencies, but the caste system then (a) ossifies into one that prevents the movement of qualified people from one class to another, and (b) ritualizes into a system where unqualified people claim to belong to a class simply by birth. Both undermine the basic principles of Varṇāśrama. The cure for that problem is not the rejection of the classes, but a return to the principle that these must be based on qualities and activities. However, if we reject that principle, and try to impose equality by fiat, affirmative action, or governmental regulation, the problem worsens.
Summary of Complex Historical Caste Issues
This complex history of India, which has spanned for nearly 1200 years now, can be divided into six transformative phases: (a) the weakening of India due to the advent of impersonalism, (b) destructions due to Islamic invasions, (c) the Bhakti movement that destroyed impersonalism but weakened the intellectual traditions, (d) economic destruction caused by British that demoralized India, (e) revival of impersonalism to address Christian attacks on casteism and idol worship, which made people embarrassed and apologetic about their religion, and (f) dominance of Marxists-socialists whose atheistic and revolutionary agendas have prevented any progress in post-independent India.
In this complex history, there is a clear point of demarcation when contextualization and individualization of duty are replaced by universalization. Universalization began with impersonalism, moved forward during Islamic rule, was broadened during British rule, and finally became all-consuming due to the effect of Marxism. Therefore, it is impossible to assign singular blame because Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Marxists have all contributed to the problem in different ways. The problem is never solved because it is never diagnosed.
The problem is the universalization of dharma and religion, through forced rules and regulations, and equating people by fiat. The difference is simply that the West believes in the universalist “rule of law” and impersonalism believed that all such laws were meaningless.
To go beyond this confusion and complexity, we have to understand that there is a universal truth, which is partially but progressively understood by different kinds of people. Since there is progression, therefore, some dharma is better than another. However, since there is complete perfection too, therefore, there is an Absolute Truth. Dharma, religion, or duty is contextualized to the person’s current state of progress. Thereby, people at different levels of progress are never equated. Socially they may coexist if they accept the superiority of those who are factually superior. They may be segregated if they don’t accept that superiority, or prefer to follow their own system. Thereby other people are shielded from the consequences of their choices and over time they can see which ideology is better by observing which society is better. When progress is rejected, superior and inferior are denied, everyone is intermixing, and equated by fiat, nobody can create a different society; we cannot identify the foundations of better vs. worse, and how to make something better rather than worse.
This progressive understanding of Absolute Truth is based on the philosophy of personalism, although it is not Christian or Muslim universalist monotheism. Progress appears in this philosophy as a hierarchy, in which the higher rungs of society must be objectively closer to the Absolute Truth. The role of philosophy is to establish the nature of Absolute Truth, and what is closer or farther from it. In contrast, impersonalism, Christianity, Islam, and Marxism advocate universalist binary truths without a conception of progress. You are either a devout or a heretic, either a follower or a non-believer, either in truth or in delusion. There is no nuance, subtlety, or sophistication that permits diversity. Forced applications of these binary truths or the rejection of all truths are equally problematic results of universalism.
The only way to go beyond these problems is to (a) revive the philosophy of personalism and devotion to the Lord, (b) reject the universalist binary claims of other religions, (c) reject the universalism of atheistic-materialism founded on the supposed universality of quantitative arithmetic, and (d) reject the equality of all viewpoints, statuses, and people found in Marxist-socialist conceptions of society.
Effects of Destruction of Social Classes
Gradual Decline of a Classless Society
The result of false equality created by fiat, affirmative action, and government regulation, is that the least qualified people have to be treated with as much respect as the most qualified. The least qualified people get equal vote share, voice, and their opinions are valued as much as the most qualified people. Now, the qualified people feel suffocated and stifled, and they start seeking shores that value them.
If the qualified people are not respected, they immigrate to other societies. This has been the fate of India, where the qualified people have left for other countries because they were not valued in India, and the society has been lowered to the level of the unqualified. Indians in the US, for example, are the highest income group among all ethnicities. By some estimates, the median Indian household income is twice that of the median Caucasian households. But India is still poor. This is the result of equality by fiat instituted by the post-independence Indian politicians. The politicians see short-term benefits in rewarding the masses by giving them equality. In the process, they alienate the qualified people, who leave, downgrading the society to the unqualified. If this happens in backward societies, their path to upliftment is closed.
We have to remember that unqualified people fight for their rights more than qualified people. This is because unqualified people cannot go anywhere else—they are not qualified to be welcomed elsewhere. But the qualified people don’t fight; they just quit. Equality by fiat is a dangerous idea because when a qualified person is not valued, he or she leaves. Then, the voices of the remaining qualified people are further drowned by the unqualified people, accelerating their departure. Over time, society is reduced to the most unqualified people.
The Superficiality of a Classless Society
When we give the unqualified person an equal voice, then the qualified voice has to not just have the qualification, but also the marketing, publicity, and popularity skills to rise above the cacophony. That means more and more time is spent by the qualified people in approval theatrics and show-business than in becoming even more qualified. The qualified person will often be accused of not being popular because he or she is focusing on becoming qualified, while the unqualified are focusing on publicity and popularity via theatrics.
The consequence of false equality is that public discourse becomes a theatre for meaningless competitions between qualified and unqualified. For example, one ill-informed person discusses some controversial issue on a public forum, without a complete understanding of the issue. The “right to free speech” gives them the freedom to do so. This discussion then leads to a controversy highlighted by newspapers, media outlets, and common people, such that even more forums now start discussing the same issue, without the full understanding, repeating the cycle of controversy. Nobody has the complete picture, nor do they know the truth. And yet, they assert their rights to free speech, by which they confuse, excite, and aggravate everyone. To stop this controversy, someone in a position of power makes an authoritarian decision, which everyone protests as it undermines their “right to free speech”, and it creates a new wave of controversy.
This is theatre for public consumption and entertainment. Through this theatre, the distracted are distracted by distraction. It doesn’t make anyone wiser, because the wisdom resides in the truly qualified, but they are not popular anymore. In fact, oversimplification and hyperbole is the method for garnering attention, as it generally leads to more controversy. Nuance disappears from conversations. But you don’t know what else to do since society has allowed the proliferation of unqualified voices under the false pretension of equality of all voices.
Oppression in Classless Societies
The most ardent proponents of social equality have historically perpetrated the most extreme forms of genocides. In their desire to stop the oppression by higher classes, the Communists pushed their own ilk into higher positions. They did not know that when the person from the lower class suddenly ascends to a higher position, his venal side that was previously hidden due to the absence of opportunities enabled by power, now gets a chance to become prominent. Enabled by the opportunity to express their venal side, the person tries to outdo his former oppressors in cruelty. Communists, in fact, have almost always transformed into something much worse than their former oppressors.
People from the upper classes have often seen power and wealth, and they are less enamored by it. But those who have never seen power and wealth, and have craved for these opportunities all their lives, go berserk when they acquire great amounts of wealth and power suddenly. Their actions and tactics are far worse than those of the previously unseated higher classes. Social equality is then replaced by extreme forms of authoritarian control, precisely because the ruler comes from a lower class, whose anger at deprivation is insatiable.
Class struggles fill the lower classes with rage against the upper class. But when the people from the lower class ascend to higher echelons of society, then this rage has nowhere to go. It cannot go up, because there is nothing up. It is initially quenched by targeting innocent and helpless upper classes, whether or not they were the culprits. But this rage can be insatiable. It then turns downwards and is exercised upon people of the lower classes, which are split into loyal to the cause vs. traitors to the cause—the cause being the upper classes.
Fragmentation of a Classless Society
The nature of equality is that it constantly fragments society into more atomized parts. Equality may have emerged out of a class struggle, where the classes were unified in their voices. However, once the classes are dissolved, the class struggle doesn’t disappear. It infiltrates smaller groupings and alliances within society. For example, there is a greater struggle for power in governments today than before. The result is that governments are hamstrung by themselves, move slowly, and achieve little. Every organization is similarly paralyzed by its internal politics that wastes human energy in conflicts.
You see, class struggle is always about self-interest, and never about the class-interest per se. At one time, self-interest may have aligned with a class interest. But over time, the class keeps narrowing until it only includes the individual. At that time, people stop seeing the greater good, a class good, a social good, or a community good. They can only see their own good. And equality gives them the right to just think about themselves. Out of this selfishness emerges an extremely narrow individual struggle.
This is the atomization of society in which your interests do not align with the interests of anyone else. You are always at war with everyone else—your family, so-called friends, employers, and society at large. You have previously been a part of so many classes and struggles that you realize that you don’t belong with anyone. Atomization makes each person lonely, isolated, helpless, and depressed. It might sometimes turn into anger, but it returns to isolation, helplessness, loneliness, and depression.
This trajectory of historical evolution can be summarized into the following steps: (a) self-interest that exploits others, (b) self-interest that leads to class struggle, (c) self-interest that claims equality and dissolves classes, (d) self-interest that constantly narrows leading to individual conflicts, (e) self-interest that ends in social atomization, distrust, isolation, loneliness, and depression.
Reverting to the Varṇāśrama System
Reversal to a Classful Society
Once we have reached the end of this process, then people turn back to true religion. This is because, as Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-Gita, four types of people come to religion: (a) those who are suffering, (b) those who are materially desirous, (c) those who are curious about religious practices, and (d) those who want to know the nature of the Absolute Truth. Suffering is the beginning of religion.
When a person is suffering, he just wants some mitigation from suffering. Then, when the suffering is slightly mitigated, he desires some material happiness. Then when both suffering mitigation and material happiness have been obtained, then a person develops some curiosity regarding God and soul, the real purpose of life beyond suffering mitigation and enjoyment, and the meaning of eternity. Finally, when one gains a deeper understanding of all these topics, then one comes to the study of the Absolute Truth, or how everything is created from a single source, how that source controls everything.
Varṇāśrama can appear only when people have developed a qualitative understanding of material nature, which leads to (a) the understanding of the conditioning by various modes of nature, (b) how one type of conditioning is better than others, and (c) the social life by which the conditioning is regulated rather than liberated, improved rather than worsened, and decreased rather than increased.
If we do not develop this qualitative understanding of nature, then we will never be able to understand the deeper aspects of a person, and we will either discriminate against people based on gender, skin color, and material statuses, or falsely claim the equality of all genders, skin colors, and material statues.
Varṇāśrama is a Quality Science
The Varṇāśrama system rests on the three qualities of nature called sattva, rajas, and tamas. As discussed in an earlier post, the Sudras understand inanimate things, the Vaisyas animate plants and animals, the Kshatriyas animate humans, and the Brahmanas the animate superhuman. Three of the four classes are directly involved with the animate as distinct from the inanimate, which means that there has to be an understanding of what makes the animate distinct from the inanimate.
Similarly, Sudras are entirely in tamas, Vaisyas partly in rajas and partly in tamas, Kshatriyas partly in rajas and partly in sattva, and Brahmanas entirely in sattva. These four classes constitute priests, rulers, farmers and businessmen, and workers. They are not equal, but their inequality is based on their qualities and activities, which enable them to play a certain type of social role to near perfection.
The system of qualities appears only when people become interested in the Absolute Truth, and that is the crucial distinction between the Vedic system and other religions. Abrahamic religions speak about soul and God, without the understanding of qualities of the soul, nature, and God. Buddhism and other allied traditions understand material qualities somewhat better, but not the qualities of the soul and God. When the system of qualities is understood, then there is peace in society, and that peace then leads to prosperity. However, when the understanding of the system of qualities dies, then it is either replaced by unqualified authoritarian control or unqualified radical freedom. Over time, authoritarian control collapses due to class struggle, and radical freedom collapses due to individual struggle.
The end to struggle is possible if each role is played by the people best qualified to play it. Qualification depends on qualities. To get the most qualified people into higher rungs of society, we have to be able to distinguish the better qualities from the worse qualities. That needs a science of qualities.
Societal Change Needs a Quality Science
We cannot change society unless we agree that the person in a higher position has to be better than the person in a lower position. With great power comes greater responsibility. A person who has better abilities, morality, and desires can do better as a leader. But how will we accept that someone is better unless we perceive the differences between qualities and know the science of better and worse qualities?
Isn’t it inevitable that under the influence of equality we will tend to negate the objective reality of better and worse, and leave everything to an individual’s choice and preference of what they think it to be? In fact, isn’t it inevitable that everyone under free choice is going to think that they are the best, and thereby elect and select those people who are just like them, because “just like them” is naturally better?
Society descends into chaos because there is no science of qualitative better and worse. Without an objective measure of qualitative better and worse, and equality by fiat, everyone substitutes it with quantitative better and worse, which basically means “more for me”.
Qualities Change Our Vocabularies
More is not better. Rather, better is necessary and sufficient. Necessity means that we cannot live without knowing what is better. And sufficiency means that if we know what is better, then we will not need to aspire for more. Hence, better must be given primacy.
Since this simple answer is unfathomable to most people, therefore, we can try to illustrate it through examples. When we aspire for more money, more sex, more consumption, then we also get more crimes, more violence, and more unhappiness. This is because all the scientific theories based on quantities can only process two words—more and less. They cannot process the words better and worse. In a theory that relies on quantitative more and less, you cannot call money better and crime worse because better and worse are meaningless words in a quantity science. Thereby, as you try to get more of the better, you will also get more of the worse. Then, you try to get less of the worse, you will also get less of the better. At this point, most people go on arguing about the tradeoff between more of worse vs. more of better but they can never resolve the problem because quantitative scientific theories can never capture better and worse, only more and less.
This problem is solved when we study the world qualitatively because then more of better is simply better than better. Likewise, better is less worse. Thereby, we don’t need the words more and less, because the words better and worse are necessary and sufficient.
Varṇāśrama is impeded by 2000 years of Western history and 1200 years of Indian history. Western history impedes it because it has introduced useless words—more and less, free and slave, lawful and lawless. Indian history impedes it because the rise of impersonalism has destroyed the science of qualities, calling all material qualities māyā or illusion. How can some illusion be considered better than another?
To go past this history, we have to undo the adverse effects of both Western and Indian history. That undoing of Western history requires deleting all the useless words like more and less, free and slave, lawful and lawless, and replacing them with qualitative better and worse. Likewise, the undoing of Indian history requires us to accept the reality of the material world, but as qualities rather than quantities. Then there are better and worse qualities, not more and less quantities. More of better is even better, so more is not required. Better becomes free, and worse becomes a slave, so slave and free is not required. Better is that which doesn’t need laws, and worse is that which needs laws, so lawful and lawless is not required. Everything is correctly and automatically achieved by simply knowing better and worse qualities.
If we focus on making life better, then sometimes freedom may be curtailed to make it better. Then, sometimes, quantities of consumption may need to be sacrificed to make things better. And sometimes universal laws may be broken to make things better. But curtailment of freedom is not slavery if it makes life better. Reduction in quantities of consumption is not poverty if it makes life better. And the breaking of laws is not a violation of any natural principle, because no natural principles are violated when betterment is pursued honestly.
The entire saga of the appearance of laws, quantities, and freedom is useless in the sense that it gives us no path to perfection. It has appeared as a result of the impersonalists calling the world an illusion, equating better to worse, after which Western civilization replaced better with more and worse with less. That reduction of qualities to quantities is false and it exacerbates all the social problems.
Of course, people are attached to their history, as the source of their identity. That attachment can delay the popularity of Varṇāśrama, as people repeat the blunders of the past. So, attachment to the mistakes of history, rather than to the lessons of history, is not the proper study of history. History can give us important lessons, and it can make us repeat our mistakes. What it does depends on whether we study history for its remarkable lessons or as means by which we search for our identity. Many people in the West and India study history at the present—not for identifying its lessons, but for finding their identity. By ignoring the lessons of history, they make it a waste of time.