Everyone will admit that Hinduism is
nothing without the law of Varna1
. It would be impossible to find
work of which a large part
was not devoted to Varnashrama Dharma. This law of Varna and Ashrama
is to be traced to our most ancient scriptures-the Vedas, and so no
one who calls himself a Hindu may ignore it. It is his duty to study
it in all its bearings, and to reject it if it is an excrescence,
and to foster it and restore it to its pristine purity, if
represents a universal law.
So far as the law of Ashrama is
concerned it is extinct, alike in profession and observance.
Hinduism lays down four Ashramas or stages-the life of a Brahmachari
(continent student), the life of Grihastha (house holder), the life
of a Vanaprastha (who is retired) and the life of a sannyasi (renunciator)-
through which every Hindu has to pass to fulfill his purpose in
life. But the first and the third are practically non-existent
today, the fourth may be said to be observed in name to a small
extent. The second is professed to be observed by all today, but it
is observed in name, not in spirit. Grihasthas or householders of a
kind we are all, inasmuch as we eat and drink and propagate our
kind, like all created beings. But in doing so, we fulfill the law
of the flesh and not of the spirit. Only those married couples who
fulfill the law of the spirit can be said to observe the law of
Grihathashrama. Those who live the mere animal life do not observe
the law. The life of householders of today is one of indulgence. And
as the four stages represent a ladder of growth and are
interdependent, one cannot leap to the stage of a Vanaprastha or a
Sannyasi, unless he or she fulfilled the law of the first two
Ashramas-Brahmacharya and Grihastha. The law of the Ashrama,
therefore, is a dead letter today. It can be revived only if the law
of Varna, with which it is intimately interlinked is revived.
That brings us to a consideration of
the law of Varna. Varna is intimately, if not indissolubly connected
with the birth, and the observance of the law of Varna means the
following on the part of us all of the hereditary and traditional
calling of our forefathers in a spirit of duty. Those who thus
fulfill the law of their Varna can be counted on oneís fingersí
ends. This performance of oneís hereditary function is done as a
matter of duty, though it naturally carries with it the earning of
oneís livelihood. Thus, the function of a Brahmana is to study and
to teach the science of Brahman (or spiritual truth). He performs
the function as he cannot do otherwise, as it is the law of his
being. That secures him his livelihood, but he will take it as a
gift from God. A Kshatriya will perform the function of protecting
the people in the same spirit, accepting for his livelihood whatever
the people can afford to give him. A Vaishya will pursue
wealth-producing occupations for the welfare of the community,
keeping for himself enough for his own maintenance and rendering the
balance to the community it one shape or other. A Shudra will
perform physical is labour in the same spirit of service.
Varna is determined by birth, but can
be retained only by observing its obligation. One born of Brahaman
parents will be called a Brahamana, but if his life fails to reveal
the attributes of a Brahamana when he comes of age, he cannot be
called a Brahmana. He will have fallen from Brahmanahood. On the
other hand, one who is born not a Brahmana but reveals in his
conduct the attributes of a Brahamana will be regarded as a
Brahamana, though he will himself disclaim the label.
Varna thus conceived is no man-made
institution but the law of life universally governing the human
family. Fulfillment of the law would make life livable, would spread
peace and content, end all clashes and conflicts, put an end to
starvation and pauperization, solve the problem of population and
even end disease and suffering.
But if Varna reveals the law of oneís
being and thus the duty of one has to perform, it confers no right,
and the idea of superiority or inferiority is wholly repugnant to
it. All Varnas are equal, for the community depends no less on one
than on another. Today Varna means gradations of high and low. It is
a hideous travesty of the original. The law of Varna was discovered
by our ancestors by stern austerities. They sought to live up to the
law to the best of their capacity. We have distorted it today and
have made ourselves the laughing stock of the world. No wonder that
we have today amongst the Hindus a section which is bending its
energies to a destruction of the institution which in their opinion
spells the ruin of the Hindus. And certainly one need have no mercy
for the hideous distortion, which means nothing but destruction of Hinduism.
Harijan, 28-9-34, pp. 260-61
Varnashram Dharma defines manís
mission on this earth. He is not born day after day to explore
avenues for amassing riches and to explore different means of
livelihood; on the contrary man is born in order that he may utilize
every atom of his energy for the purpose of knowing his Maker. It
restricts him, therefore, for the purpose of holding body and soul
together, to the occupation of holding body and soul together, to
the occupation of his forefathers. That and nothing more or nothing
less is Varnashrama Dharma
Young India, 27-10-27, p. 357
Though the law of Varna is a special
discovery of some Hindu seer, it has universal application. Every
religion has some distinguishing characteristic, but if it expresses
a principle or law, it ought to have universal application. That is
how I look at the law of Varna. The world may ignore it today but it
will have to accept it in the time to come.
The four Varnas have been compared in
the Vedas to the four members of the body, and no simile could be
happier. If they are members of one body, how can one be superior or
inferior to another? If the members of the body had the power of
expression and each of them were to say that it was higher and
better than the rest, the body would go to pieces. Even so, our body
politic, the body of humanity, would go to pieces, if it were to
perpetuate the canker of superiority or inferiority. It is this
canker that is at the root of the various ills of our time,
especially class-wars and civil strife. It should not be difficult
for even the meanest understanding to see that these wars and
strifes could not be ended except by the observance of the law of
Varna. For it ordains that everyone shall fulfil the law of oneís
being by doing in a spirit of duty and service that to which one is born.
Harijan, 28-9-34, pp. 261-262
Varnashrama, as I interpret it,
satisfies the religious social and economic needs of a community. It
satisfies the religious needs, because a whole community accepting
the law is free to devote ample time to spiritual perfection.
Observance of the law obviates social evils and entirely prevents
the killing economic competition. And if it is regarded as a law
laying down, not the rights or the privileges of the community
governed by it, but their duties, it ensures the fairest possible
distribution of wealth, though it may not be an ideal, i.e.,
strictly equal, distribution. Therefore, when people in disregard of
the law mistake duties for privileges and try to pick and choose
occupations for self-advancement, it leads to confusion of Varna and
ultimate disruption of society. In this law, there is no question of
compelling any person to follow the parental occupation against his
or her aptitude that is to say, there can be no compulsion from
without as there was none for, perhaps, several thousand years,
during which the law of Varnashrama worked without interruption. By
training, the people had recognized the duty and the justice of the
law, and they voluntarily lived under it. Today, nations are living
in ignorance and breach of that law and they are suffering for it.
The so-called civilized nations have by no means reached a state
which they can at all regard with equanimity and satisfaction.
Harijan, 4-3-33, p. 5
Varna has nothing to do with caste.
Down with the monster of caste that masquerades in the guise of
Varna. It is that masquerades in the guise of Varna. It is this
travesty of Varna that has degraded Hinduism and India. Our failure
to follow the law of Varna is largely responsible both for our
economic and spiritual ruin. It is one cause of unemployment and
impoverishment, and it is responsible for untouchability and
defections from our faith.
Young India, 24-11-27, p. 390
Man being a social being has to devise
some method of social organization. We in India have evolved caste:
they in Europe have organized class. Neither has the solidarity and
naturalness of a family which perhaps is a God-ordained institution.
If caste had produced certain evils, class has not been productive
of anything less.
If class helps to conserve certain
social virtues, caste does the same in equal, if not greater,
degree. The beauty of the caste system is that it does not base
itself upon distinctions of wealth possessions. Money, as history
has proved, is the greatest disruptive force in the world. Even the
sacredness of family ties is not safe against the pollution of
wealth, says Shankaracharya. Caste is but an extension of the
principle of the family. Both are governed by blood and heredity.
Western scientists are busy trying to prove that heredity is an
illusion and that milieu is everything. The solid experience of many
lands goes against the conclusion of this scientist; but even
accepting their doctrine of milieu, it is easy to prove that milieu
can be conserved and developed more through caste than through class.
Young India, 29-12-20, p. 2
. Colour; one of the four divisions of Hindu
society (i.e., Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) based on hereditary occupations.
. Stage of life; abode of spiritual teacher; place for disciplined community living.
. The codes, based on recollection of the Shastras.