The Law of Varna
Varna means pre-determination of the choice of man's profession. The law of varna
is that a man shall follow the profession of his ancestors for earning his
livelihood. Varna therefore is in a way the law of heredity. Varna
is not a thing that is superimposed on Hindus, but men who were trustees for
their welfare discovered the law for them. It is not a human invention, but an
immutable law of nature—the statement of tendency that is ever present and at
work like Newton's law of gravitation. Just as the law of gravitation existed
even before it was discovered so did the law of varna. It was given to
the Hindus to discover that law. By their discovery and application of certain
laws of nature, the people of the West have easily increased their material
possessions. Similarly, Hindus by their discovery of this irresistible social
tendency have been able to achieve in the spiritual field what no other nation
in the world has achieved.
Varna has nothing to do with caste. Down with the monster of caste 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.
The Rishis after incessant experiment and research arrived at this fourfold
division, that of teaching, of defending, of wealth-producing, and of manual service.
In ancient times there were automatic trade guilds, and it was an unwritten law to
support all the members of the profession. A hundred years ago, a carpenter's
son never wanted to become a lawyer. Today he does, because he finds the
profession the easiest way to steal money.
In ages gone by there was not the ambition of encroaching on another's profession and
amassing wealth. In Cicero's time, for instance, the lawyer's was an honorary
profession. And it would be quite right for any brainy carpenter to become a
lawyer for service, not for money. Later, ambition for fame and wealth crept in.
Physicians served the society and rested content with what it gave them, but now
they have become traders and even a danger to society. The medical and the legal
professions were deservedly called liberal when the motive was purely philanthropic.
When I follow my father's profession, I need not even go to a school to learn it, and
my mental energy is set free for spiritual pursuits, because my money or rather
livelihood is ensured. Varna is the best form of insurance for happiness
and for real religious pursuit. When I concentrate my energy on other pursuits,
I sell away my powers of self-realization or sell my soul for a mess of pottage.
We are talking with crooked notions of varna. When varna was really
practised, we had enough leisure for spiritual training. Even now, you go to
distant villages and see what spiritual culture villagers have as compared to
the town-dwellers. These know no self-control.
We need not, ought not, to seek new avenues for gaining wealth. We should be satisfied
with those we have inherited from our forefathers so long as they are pure. If
my father is a trader and I exhibit the qualities of a soldier, I may without
reward serve my country as a soldier but must be content to earn my bread by trading.
Young India, 24-11-'27, pp. 390, 391 & 395
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-'38, p. 5
As I have interpreted Varna Dharma, there is no bar in any shape or form to the
highest mental development. The bar altogether normal is against change of
hereditary occupation for the sake of bettering one's material condition, and
thus setting up a system of unhealthy and ruinous competition which is today
robbing life of all its joy and beauty.
Harijan, 29-7-'33, p. 8
Varna is determined by birth, but can be retained only by observing its obligations.
One born of Brahmana parents will be called a Brahmana, but if his life fails to
reveal the attributes of a Brahmana 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 Brahmana will
be regarded as a Brahmana, 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 one's being and thus the duty 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 gradation 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.
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. It ordains that every one shall
fulfill the law of one's being by doing in a spirit of duty and service that to
which one is born.
Harijan, 28-9-'34 p. 261-62
Talks with an American Clergyman
Gandhiji: "Why should my son not be a scavenger if I am one?”
"Indeed? Do you go so far?"
"I do, because I hold a scavenger's profession in no way inferior to a clergyman's."
"I grant that, but should Lincoln have been a wood- chopper rather than President of the U.S.A.?”
"But why should not a wood-chopper be a President of the United States? Gladstone used to chop wood."
"But he did not accept it as his calling."
"He would not have been worse off if he had done so. What I mean is, one born a scavenger
must earn his livelihood by being a scavenger, and then do whatever else he
likes. For a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your President.
That, according to me is Hinduism. There is no better communism on earth.
Varna Dharma acts even as the law of gravitation. I cannot cancel it or its
working by trying to jump higher and higher day by day till gravitation ceases
to work. That effort will be vain. So is the effort to jump over one another.
The law of varnais the antithesis of competition which kills."
Harijan, 6-3-'37, p. 27
Caste1 v. Class
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 has 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
V 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 these scientists; but even accepting their
doctrine of milieu
, it is easy to prove that milieu
conserved and developed more through caste than through class.
The spirit behind caste is not one of arrogant superiority; it is the
classification of different systems of self-culture. It is the best possible
adjustment of social stability and progress. Just as the spirit of the family is
inclusive of those who love each other and are wedded to each other by ties of
blood and relation, caste also tries to include families of a particular way of
purity of life (not standard of life, meaning by this term, economic standard of
life). Only it does not leave the decision, whether a particular family belongs
to a particular type, to the idiosyncrasies or interested judgment of a few
individuals. It trusts to the principle of heredity, and being only a system of
culture does not hold that any injustice is done if an individual or a family
has to remain in a particular group in spite of their decision to change their
mode of life for the better. As we all know, change comes very slowly in social
life, and thus, as a matter of fact, caste has allowed new groupings to suit the
changes in lives. But these changes are quiet and easy as a change in the shapes
of the clouds. It is difficult to imagine a better harmonious human adjustment.
Caste does not connote superiority or inferiority. It simply recognizes different
outlooks and corresponding modes of life. But it is no use denying the fact that
a sort of hierarchy has been evolved in the caste-system.
Young India, 29-12-’20, p. 3
I have frequently said that I do not believe in caste in the modern sense. It is an
excrescence and a handicap on progress. Assumption of superiority by any person
over any other is a sin against God and man. Thus caste, in so far as it
connotes distinctions in status, is an evil.
Young India, 25-3-'33, p. 3
In the eye of religion all men are equal. Learning, intellect or riches do not entitle
one to claim superiority over those who are lacking in these.
The Hindu, 19-9-'45
 Gandhiji here uses the word caste in the same sense asvarna. When
he condemns caste, he condemns only the idea of superiority and inferiority
which it came later to acquire and not the principle of following hereditary
occupation which he calls varna and of which he thoroughly approves. - Ed.