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Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part IX.


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part IX.


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Part IX

The Bhagavad Gita, As It REALLY Is

BG7: Detailed Exposition: Summary and Conclusions

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 16 April, 2017


Bhagavad Gita Series Abstract

This series on the Bhagavad Gita is part of a larger series of articles which examine the important question: Is caste-based discrimination in Hindu society an intrinsic part of Hinduism? Is it sanctioned in Hindu scripture? Or is it simply a social custom arrived at by distorting the scriptures?

A key attendant question is: Is caste, according to Hindu scripture, a rigid status that accrues to an individual only by virtue of birth in that caste, and hence unchangeable during that person's life? Or, is it a more fluid descriptor of a person that can change during a person's lifetime? In other words, is caste birth-based, or can it be earned?

To examine this question, I investigated every verse in the Bhagavad Gita that has any relationship to the issue of varNa, the overarching concept that contains the concept of caste, and subjected each of these verses to a detailed analysis, using both the literal meaning of the Sanskrit shlOkas as well as the commentaries of highly respected commentators on these verses. I viewed the verses both in isolation and in the overall context of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in the overall context of Hindu theology and philosophy. The results of my study are presented in this seven-part series (BG1 to BG7), which is part of my larger series on caste in Hinduism.

I conclude that caste and caste-based discrimination are fundamental to the very foundation of Hinduism as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita.

They are not a distortion of the scriptures of Hinduism. Far from being an added social custom, the birth-based caste system is at the very basis of Hindu thought.

The caste system, as seen today, is largely a faithful representation of Lord Krishna’s words and intended meaning in the Bhagavad Gita. The central arguments in the Bhagavad Gita itself would collapse without the support of caste-based discrimination. The system, therefore, is expressly sanctioned in the Bhagavad Gita.

In this seven-part series, I present the original Sanskrit text of each verse discussed, its transliteration, its word-by-word meaning, its free translation, and the commentaries of six major interpreters of the Gita: Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Shridhara Swami, Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, and Sant Jnaneshwar. Based on all these, I draw overall meanings for each verse, and overall conclusions for each group of verses. Finally, I draw overall conclusions on the scriptural sanction for caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita.

A concise summary of the ideas in the Gita discussed in this seven-part series can be found in BG0 (Part II of the larger series.)


Current Article Abstract

In the present article, BG7, I present the summary of the six preceding parts (BG1 to BG6) of this detailed exposition. Following this, I present the summary and overall conclusions of this detailed study of caste-related verses in the Gita.

From the conclusions, it is evident that varNa-based (and therefore caste-based) discrimination is at the foundation of Krishna’s message in the Gita, because it is birth in a certain varNa that defines the divinely-ordained duty of a person. And this divinely-ordained, varNa-based duty is deemed just and appropriate by Krishna, because it corresponds to what is believed to be the inborn quality (guNa) of that person, which is a result of good or bad actions (karmas) performed in past births. The Bhagavad Gita therefore gives divine sanction, through Lord Krishna, to the institution of varNa-based discrimination.

Because of this assumed causality, there is no injustice seen in the Hindu psyche for a person’s birth in a low caste and the social consequences of that low birth.

The caste system, far from being seen as an oppressive and unjust system by the Gita and its author, Lord Krishna, is instead seen to be a fair and just system that rewards or punishes souls for their actions in past births.


Table of Contents

Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme
BG1: The Intermixture of varNas
BG2: The Creation of the Four varNas
BG3: The Three guNas of Human Nature
BG4: The Duties of the Four varNas
BG5: The Nature of the Shudras
BG6: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life
Overall Summary and Conclusion - Bhagavad Gita
The Plight of the Dalits
Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism
Acknowledgments
Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism - The Full Series
Indexes for All Gita Series Shlokas


Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme

The methodology and sources used for the analysis of the verses in the Bhagavad Gita have been already presented in Part III, including brief backgrounds of the commentators and their philosophical leanings. The overall framework of this entire series has been presented in Part I of this series. The transliteration scheme used here can be seen in Part II of the series. A Glossary can also be found in Part II.

The numbering scheme followed in this entire "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series is that each article has an number in the overall sequence of articles in the "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series, represented by Roman numerals. Within the larger series, individual series articles, dealing with individual scriptures, are numbered using scripture initials and Arabic numerals. For instance, the articles in the Bhagavad Gita series are numbered as BGN, where N is the number of the article in the Bhagavad Gita series.


BG1: The Intermixture of varNas

Mixed-varNa marriages should not be allowed when the varNa of the man is lower than that of the woman.

In BG1, Part III of the Caste Series, Krishna explains that inter-varNa unions are a bad thing (in pratilOma unions, in which the varNa of the man is lower than than of the woman - even though this is not explicitly stated, it is the intent, because the discussion is on lower-varNa men taking widowed Kshatriya women as wives), because the children from these unions are cast out of the varNas of both parents. This means that there is no one among the offspring of such unions to perform the rituals that need to be performed monthly and yearly for the souls of the departed ancestors. If these rituals are not performed, then the souls of the ancestors sink into hell. Thus, mixed-varNa marriages should not be allowed when the varNa of the man is lower than that of the woman.

In addition, as is mentioned in the Mahabharata and Manusmriti (which will be covered in other parts of this series), even in anulOma unions, when the man's varNa is higher than the woman's, it is forbidden for a Brahmana man to marry a Shudra woman.

BG2: The Creation of the Four varNas

(Lord Krishna) is not to blame for who falls in what varNa, for individual souls have their own actions over millions of births to blame or thank for their present births.

In BG2, Part IV of the Caste Series, Krishna tells Arjuna that he has created the four-varNa system (the superset of the modern caste system – each varNa encompasses several castes) of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. He tells Arjuna that individuals are born into different varNas depending on the past actions (karmas) of the AtmAs of those individuals during millions of past births, and the pre-natal qualities of their AtmAs (their guNas) as they arrive in this birth, that have been accumulated over those millions of births as a result of those karmas. Although Krishna is the creator of the varNa system, He is not to blame for who falls in what varNa, for individual souls have their own actions over millions of births to blame or thank for their present births.

BG3: The Three guNas of Human Nature

So someone with a predominance of sattva guNa is reborn in a Brahmin family … and someone with a predominance of tamas guNa is reborn as a Shudra.

In BG3, Part V of the Caste Series, Krishna explains to Arjuna in detail the differences between the three guNas of sattva, rajas, and tamas, and how they ensnare the AtmA and attach it to the body in the jIva. He explains that the attachment of the AtmA to the body comes about because the jIva confuses the body with the AtmA, and so starts to think that what he experiences with the body is really who he is.

So the jIva enjoys learning and scholarship as a sAttvik person, and thinks that is who he is; he enjoys bodily pleasures, such as good food, sexual intercourse, and intoxicants, and thinks his life is about bodily pleasures (the effect of rajas guNa); he loves sleep, ignorance, superstition, and laziness, and believes that is his self (tamas guNa). The pleasures that the body provides him through his five senses prevent him from seeing the soul as distinct from the body. So the guNas influence a person’s thinking and his actions, typically leading to the strengthening of the same guNa in a person.

Because of all these actions, one guNa in him is strengthened at the expense of the others, and because of this, when he dies, he is reborn into a family and a varNa which is suited to the guNas his soul possessed all his life, and at the time of its death. So someone with a predominance of sattva guNa is reborn in a Brahmin family; someone with a predominance of rajas guNa is reborn in a Kshatriya family; someone with rajas guNa and tamas guNa mixed, but with rajas dominant, is reborn as a Vaishya; and someone with a predominance of tamas guNa is reborn as a Shudra.

BG4: The Duties of the Different varNas

The Shudras, because they have no positive qualities in their souls, and because they are unfit for the duties of the aforementioned three varNas owing to the fundamental defect in their AtmAs, which are dominated by tamas, have only one duty – to serve the other three varNas without complaining, and depend on them to take care of their needs.

Now that we understand that a person is born into a certain varNa because of the quality of his AtmA – i.e., to match the guNas he is born with, Krishna explains in BG4, Part VI of the Caste Series, what the duties of that varNa are, and why they are a good match for that soul.

Krishna explains that, because the Brahmins are born with high levels of sattva in their souls, they must engage in learning the Vedas; have firm faith in God; live a life of serenity, self-control, austerity, and purity; and show tolerance, wisdom, and honesty. The Kshatriyas, because they are born with high levels of rajas, need to display heroism, exuberance, determination, resourcefulness, generosity, leadership, and show no trace of cowardice in battle. The Vaishyas, because they are born with a mixture of rajas and tamas, need to engage in agriculture, trade, and cow-protection. The Shudras, because they have no positive qualities in their souls, and because they are unfit for the duties of the aforementioned three varNas owing to the fundamental defect in their AtmAs, which are dominated by tamas, have only one duty – to serve the other three varNas without complaining, and depend on them to take care of their needs.

Krishna explains that, as per the path of karma yOga, or the discipline of duty to attain mOksha, a person born in a certain varNa, if he performs these varNa-determined duties that Krishna has laid out, to the best of his ability, and performs them, not for the material benefits that performing such duties might confer upon him – whether those be money, land, or status for a Brahmin; wealth, conquest, and power for a Kshatriya; or profits for a Vaishya – but as service to God, then he will attain mOksha.

Krishna further adds that one must only do one’s own varNa-determined duty; He says that doing the duty of another varNa, even if one can do such a duty perfectly, is wrong. He goes on to say that one must not grudge his duties even if one finds them objectionable or unpleasant (such as a Shudra might).

BG5: The Nature of the Shudras

Thus, the inborn qualities of a Shudra automatically disqualify him from the professions of the other three varNas.

Due to his defective and sinful birth, he is only fit to do menial tasks and take orders, according to Krishna.

In BG5, Part VII of the Caste Series, Krishna explains the qualities of a tamas-ridden being in the verses presented here. The tamas-dominated person, i.e., the Shudra, has no redeeming features, according to Krishna. He is stupid, evil, wicked, untrustworthy, irresponsible, lazy, vulgar, vain, etc. He is also given to erroneous conclusions and always believes the opposite of what a thing’s true nature is – he mistakes good for evil and vice versa; righteousness for urighteousness and vice versa; and so on.

With such severe character defects, and from birth (as stated by Krishna earlier), why would any society entrust such people with any duty other than servitude? The verses in this part, therefore, justify the duties assigned to the Shudra in Part VI. Why would you entrust the governance of a nation or the running of an army to a lazy, irresponsible person? Why would you allow a stupid person who always takes the wrong conclusion from a teaching to be educated? Why would you entrust the running of a business or a farm to someone who is lazy, procrastinating, unreasonable, and irresponsible?

Thus, the inborn qualities of a Shudra automatically disqualify him from the professions of the other three varNas. Due to his defective and sinful birth, he is only fit to do menial tasks and take orders, according to Krishna.

BG6: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life

(Those born in low varNas) must endure the consequences of their karmas in previous births.

The verses presented in this part explain how, in order to attain mOksha, a person needs to see the Universal Consciousness, or paramAtmA, in every living being, whether that being be a high-born Brahmin, a sacred cow, an animal, or a low-caste, dog-eating shvapAka. The ability to see God in every living being is an essential prerequisite for attaining mOksha. This is explained in BG6, Part VIII of the Caste Series.

However, this does not contradict the rest of the Gita in terms of caste discrimination. What this means is that one should be able to recognize that God is everywhere; but individual AtmAs, even though they are just a portion of the paramAtmA, have to endure the consequences of their past births as long as they are attached to prakRuti, to the material world, and as long as they have not seen through the veil of the physical world. They must endure the consequences of their karmas in previous births. The enlightened one cannot help the person who has been born in a low caste, short of helping him understand how to see through the veil of illusion.

The Plight of the Dalits

No discussion of the caste system is complete without considering the plight of the Dalits, or the outcastes from the caturvarNa system. The Gita does not talk much about those outside the caturvarNa system – it confines itself to discussions of the four varNas – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.

But this does not mean that Dalits did not exist in the world of the Gita. In at least one verse, there is reference made to an outcaste, an untouchable – the shvapAka. Ironically, the mention of this untouchable caste comes in one of the more enlightened verses in the Gita, 5-18, which talks about how the Supreme Consciousness, the Ultimate Truth, brahman, is present equally in all life forms. To make the point abundantly clear, an example is chosen from the highest stratum of Hindu society – a Brahmana. To show the other extreme – a person from the lowest stratum, Krishna chooses to mention the shvapAka, an untouchable varNa whose job it was to serve at crematoria, and the members of which eat dogs for food. The other examples chosen in this verse are animals: a cow, an elephant, and a dog.

This example is significant because

  1. It acknowledges that these untouchable outcastes did exist in the world of the Gita (estimated to be composed between 500 BCE to 200 BCE).
  2. It acknowledges that their status is very low in the society of those times (by acknowledging that these people were dog eaters.)
  3. Verse 5-18, while stating that the same brahman exists in both the Brahmin and the shvapAka, does not say there is anything wrong in the wretched state of the shvapAka person, who has to work in crematoria and eat dogs. Like the Shudra, the shvapAka has deserved his fate.
  4. The shvapAka is only one of several outcaste varNas mentioned in the Mahabharata, the parent epic within which the Gita is contained. The Mahabharata mentions more than a dozen outcaste varNas that are formed from inter-varNa unions. These varNas were not allowed to mix with the rest of society. So Dalits were a reality in the world of the Mahabharata (estimated to have existed at approximately 900 BCE) and the Gita.
  5. From 5-18, it is clear that the shvapAka represents the lowest of the low in terms of merit – even lower than a Shudra. The shlOka is clearly constructed to mention the Brahmin as one end (the high end) of the stick of merit, and the shvapAka as the other end (the low end) of that stick. We already know, from Part VII, how low the status of Shudras, who are part of the caturvarNa system, was in the Gita – the descriptions of the guNa of tamas, which the Shudra is supposed to be full of, leave no doubt that they represent the lowest in human qualities. Yet, there are varNas, such as the shvapAka, who are even lower than the Shudras.

From this, the low status of Dalits during the time of the Gita can be gauged.

Overall Summary and Conclusion: Bhagavad Gita

To motivate Arjuna to fight in the war against his own relatives, Krishna explains the entire foundation of Hindu thought, and explains to Arjuna why it is absolutely essential that he fight in order to follow his divinely-ordained duty.

The essence of that foundation is as follows.

  • All living beings are made of matter infused with a soul, an AtmA, which is immortal, and part of the immortal, Supreme, all-pervading spirit of the divine, the paramAtmA.
  • The AtmA, fused with the physical body, gives rise to an embodied being, the jIva.
  • Through the jIva, the AtmA experiences the world. The jIva performs actions (karmas) good or bad, as part of its life.
  • These give rise to guNas, or qualities, that are attached to the soul. There are three kinds of guNas – the sattva guNa, or mode of goodness; the rajas guNa, or mode of passion and action; and the tamas guNa, or mode of darkness and ignorance. sattva, rajas, and tamas form a hierarchy of decreasing merit and goodness.
  • When a jIva dies, only the physical body dies. The AtmA, being immortal, eventually takes birth in another body as another jIva.
  • When the AtmA takes birth as a new jIva, the accumulated guNas from its past life (which bear the influence of all the actions in all of its previous lives) attach to it.
  • The imprint of the guNas on the soul is very strong. An AtmA with a high level of sattva will tend to act in virtuous ways, whereas an AtmA with a high level of tamas will tend to act in wicked ways.
  • After an AtmA takes birth as a jIva, its actions in the new life can further strengthen the guNas it was born with, or can weaken them.
  • Depending on the guNas of an AtmA, it is born into an appropriate varNa (a superset of caste – a varNa encompasses many castes of a similar kind). sAttvik AtmAs are born as Brahmins; rAjasik AtmAs are born as Kshatriyas; AtmAs with both rajas and tamas, but with a preponderance of rajas, are born as Vaishyas; and AtmAs with both rajas and tamas, but with a preponderance of tamas, are born as Shudras. This is done to match an AtmA’s dominant guNa with its surroundings.
  • Because of the nature of the guNas, certain duties are prescribed for certain varNas. Since sattva is the mode of goodness, and sAttvik souls are born as Brahmins, the duties of Brahmins, consistent with their guNas, are learning the Vedas, having firm faith in God, and displaying serenity, self-control, and the like. Since rajas is the mode of passion and action, and rAjasik souls are born as Kshatriyas, the duties of Kshatriyas are to show heroism, bravery, exuberance, determination, leadership, generosity, etc. Because rajas and tamas are both present in Vaishyas, with rajas as a more dominant guNa, Vaishyas need to engage in trade, agriculture, and cow protection. And because tamas is the mode of ignorance, and tamas-dominated souls are born as Shudras, Shudras are not fit for any of the duties of the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, or the Vaishyas. They are fit only to be servants.
  • The varNa system has been created by God, by Krishna himself, so it must not be taken lightly. It must be followed very faithfully.
  • The spiritual goal of life is to attain mOksha, or salvation – release from this cycle of birth and death, and merging of one’s AtmA with the paramAtmA.
  • The way to mOksha is to follow your divinely-ordained duty, as per your varNa, as stated by Krishna. One must perform only the prescribed duties of his varNa, even if he is not good at them, and even if he is better at doing the duties of another’s varNa, because it would be sinful not to do so. One must also not grudge his duty as his varNa determines, because one has only oneself to blame for his present birth – it is the consequence of all one’s own actions in his past births. Whatever is one’s duty (dharma) in life, determined by his varNa, he must do to the best of his ability and do it as service to Krishna. This is the way to salvation.

This is the Hindu way of life. And because of all this, Arjuna, who is born a Kshatriya, must fight, because fighting for good is his duty as a Kshatriya. He has no choice. It is also the way for him to obtain mOksha for his soul – by fighting as an offering to Krishna.

The same is true for all Hindus. According to the teaching of the Gita, one must perform those duties, and only those duties, that are deemed appropriate for his varNa. One has no choice.

It can therefore be seen that caste-based discrimination is at the heart of Hindu philosophy and of the Bhagavad Gita. Without a divinely-ordained duty for a caste (or a varNa), there would be no way to convince Arjuna that indeed, he must fight. Arjuna must fight, because it is his sacred duty as a Kshatriya, and he would commit sin by not fighting, even though jnAna yOga is a superior path to attaining mOksha, and even though it is nonviolent, because it is not Arjuna’s varNa dharma to follow jnAna yOga.

People are born into varNas; they cannot earn it. The duties of one born in a varNa are mandatory, not optional. One varNa cannot do the prescribed duty of another. There are restrictions on inter-varNa marriages. This is, therefore, a system of discrimination based on birth.

The Bhagavad Gita, therefore, clearly endorses caste-based discrimination. Indeed, its entire message would collapse without it.

Although it has been mentioned earlier in this series, it bears repetition to say that, although most discussions in Hinduism are with reference to varNa, and not jAti (caste), the conclusions still apply broadly to castes. This is because jAtis are simply a subset of varNas. Hence, if there is a prohibition, for example, on Shudras, that prevents them from engaging in occupations involving learning or leadership, it applies to all jAtis in the Shudra varNa. Similarly, any prohibition on intermarriage between the Shudra varNa and the Brahmana or Kshatriya varNa applies to all jAtis within those varNas. However, the Gita says nothing about superiority or inferiority of jAtis within a varNa. That may well be a social custom inspired by the varNa system.


Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Having said all this, however, one could fairly make the argument that those who believe in the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, and run a society according to the principles of the Hindu religion, described herein, do not consciously discriminate against their fellow humans.

Let me explain.

Our modern idea of discrimination stems from our fundamental modern belief in the equality of human beings. In the words of the American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776:

In the Hindu scheme of things, all men (and women) are not created equal.

Since, in the Hindu view, people are unequal, the fair thing to do is to treat them unequally.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Similarly, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, written in 1949, reads (capitalization as in the original):

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought , expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

These principles are common among all liberal democracies, whether or not such statements are explicitly written: the idea that all citizens of a country are entitled to equal rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as the American Declaration states, or as the Indian Preamble further qualifies, the idea that all citizens are entitled to liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship, and equality of status and of opportunity.

Viewed through this lens, the Hindu caste system appears to be a highly unfair and discriminatory system, in that it restricts education only to some; in that there is certainly no equality of status or opportunity – professions are restricted to certain varNas; in that people are not allowed to marry whom they wish; and in that all citizens clearly do not have the same right to the pursuit of happiness.

But the fundamental assumption in this view – the reason that the Hindu restrictions on people are considered discriminatory – is the assumption that, as the American Declaration puts it, that “all men are created equal.”

In the Hindu scheme of things, all men (and women) are not created equal.

By “creation,” if we mean the embodied soul, the jIva, then it should be clear to the reader from all the discussions in this article series on the Gita that all men and women are certainly not created equal in the religious system described in the Bhagavad Gita. Hindus believe that different human beings are created unequal because of the guNas they are born with. Those with high levels of sattva guNa are superior to those with high levels of raja guNa, and both these are superior to those with high levels of tama guNa. Those guNas are a consequence of AtmAs’ own actions in past lives. So one has deserved his unequal status by one’s own actions in previous lives.

Since there is no equality of humans in the Hindu worldview, there is no discrimination according to the Hindu. Discrimination only arises when people who are equal are treated unequally.

Since, in the Hindu view, people are unequal, the fair thing to do is to treat them unequally.

A more cynical view would argue that the views presented in the Bhagavad Gita were expressly codified in this way, in a post-hoc fashion, to preserve the privileges of a pre-existing, entrenched elite. By

  • Postulating that certain groups (to which the elites belonged) were superior to others;
  • Asserting that this superiority was obtained only by birth; and
  • Restricting inter-group marriage (and excommunicating those who did marry between groups),
  • these groups were able to preserve the existing hierarchy for all time and for all future generations.

    If one believes in the teaching of the Gita, then one must believe in a society where all humans are born unequally. It stands to reason (and follows from an argument of meritocracy) that a Brahmin, being superior to the other varNas, should have more privileges and more status. He should be more entitled to privileges as he is closer to God. In sharp contrast, a Shudra whose soul (according to Hindu belief), from the time he is born, is steeped in darkness, superstition, evil, and ignorance, should certainly not be valued at all. To value highly a worthless and wicked person, and give him the same status as a highly intelligent, morally pure, honest, and spiritually sublime person such as a Brahmin (again, according to the assumptions of Hindu belief) would be stupid and ridiculous in the extreme. If you genuinely believe in the teachings of Hinduism – that people are born with unequal innate qualities, which only allow them to do certain jobs well – then you would feel completely justified in only letting them do those jobs and not other jobs.

    In the modern world, we value people who we consider wise and intelligent far more than we value idiots and fools. We pay them much more, because they are intelligent and wise, than we pay the idiots and fools.

    The difference between our modern liberal societies and ancient Hindu society is that we measure inequality of people based on manifest abilities, such as their ability to solve practical, everyday problems and their ability to understand temporal concepts; the ancient Hindus measured inequality of people based on their guNas, which they determined based on which family one was born into.

    Many Hindus, even today, believe in the Hindu varNa system, described in the Bhagavad Gita, and therefore believe that humans are created unequally at birth, and therefore deserve to be treated unequally. Not surprisingly, many of those who believe in the system happen to belong to the so-called "higher" varNas in Hindu society - those who have the most to gain from such an assumed superiority.

    One could argue fairly that the view just presented is a charitable one.

    A more cynical view would argue that the views presented in the Bhagavad Gita were expressly codified in this way, in a post-hoc fashion, to preserve the privileges of a pre-existing, entrenched elite. By

  • Postulating that certain groups (to which the elites belonged) were superior to others;
  • Asserting that this superiority was obtained only by birth; and
  • Restricting inter-group marriage (and excommunicating those who did marry between groups),
  • these groups were able to preserve the existing hierarchy for all time and for all future generations.

    To add to this, they also had a philosophical justification for this inequality. They could (and did) justify it as the result of actions done by people in "past births" — actions that they did not and could not know anything about — thus absolving those at the top of the pyramid of any blame or guilt for the misery experienced by those at the bottom of the pyramid.

    … the caste system does have divine sanction — it is sanctioned by the Almighty Lord Krishna Himself in the holy Bhagavad Gita.

    It is a most ingenious system for controlling and subjugating people — one that has stood the test of time for millenia.

    To destroy such a system, one must first understand the foundation of that system. It is hoped that this exegesis on caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita will have helped in that understanding.

    Further, it his hoped that this study will help people in understanding why the caste system is so deep-rooted in Hinduism, and why it has resisted efforts at reform for centuries. The idea that one is, by birth, superior to others in a divinely-sanctioned way, makes for powerful adherents. Even if that same system means that you are inferior by birth to someone else (as everyone is, except the Brahmins at the top), it is something very hard for a lot of people to give up - except those at the very bottom, who have nothing to gain from it.

    What this study has shown is that indeed, the caste system (or more precisely, the varNa system, from which the caste system is derived) does have divine sanction - it is sanctioned by the Almighty Lord Krishna Himself in the holy Bhagavad Gita.

    Acknowledgments

    I would first and foremost like to thank my wife, Sandhya Srinivasan, for giving me unstinting support in the many months and years it has taken me to do the research for this article series and write it, even though it took me away from her and our daughter for extended periods. Without her constant, unwavering, and enthusiastic support, this series would not have been possible.

    I also owe thanks to Sandhya for being a strong intellectual partner in this endeavor. She has been very kind to spare time from her busy schedule to read every word of every article that I have ever written for my blog, and offer careful, considered, and critical feedback on them. Her inputs on this caste-discrimination series in the form of feedback and suggestions have been invaluable.

    One friend without whom this series would not have been possible is Ganesh Prasad. He has been a source of constant encouragement, and his unflagging enthusiasm for the project allowed me to continue with it even at times when I started to wonder if the effort was at all worth it. In addition, Ganesh has been very patient and thorough in proofreading every line of every article in the series, and offering extremely valuable feedback that has greatly improved the series, from as far back as 4 years ago when he read the first draft of this series, to the final posted articles now. I owe him a debt of gratitude.

    I would like to thank Dileepan Raghunathan for his help in understanding some passages in the Gita. I would also like to thank Ramdas Menon for helpful comments and feedback on the articles in this series, and for his strong encouragement and support of this series in particular, and my writing in general.

    Lastly, I would like to thank the many people with whom I have had vigorous arguments on this topic, on Facebook and WhatsApp. Some of those arguments took up entire weekends, but they ended up clarifying my thinking immensely and helped me sharpen my positions.

    Any errors or mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to any of these people, for such errors and mistakes are entirely my own fault. The contributions of my kind and patient friends and family have been only to enhance this humble work.

    Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism – The Full Series

    This is an evolving list. More titles will be added as they are published. This list is the current list of published articles.

    Indexes for All Gita Series Shlokas



    Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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