Author: J.G. Arora
Date: February 27, 2005
There is a misconception in some minds that Hindu scriptures sanction the caste system.
Vedas, the proud possession of mankind, are the foundation of Hinduism. Vedas are all-embracing, and treat the entire humanity with the same respect and dignity. Vedas speak of nobility of entire humanity (krinvanto vishvam aryam), and do not sanction any caste system or birth-based caste system. Mantra, numbered 10-13-1 in Rig Veda, addresses the entire humanity as divine children (shrunvantu vishve amrutsya putraha). Innumerable mantras in Vedas emphasise oneness, universal brotherhood, harmony, happiness, affection, unity and commonality of entire humanity.
A few illustrations are given here. Vide Mantra numbered 5-60-5 in Rig Veda, the divine poet declares, “All men are brothers; no one is big, no one is small. All are equal.” Mantra numbered 16.15 in Yajur Veda reiterates that “all men are brothers; no one is superior or inferior.” Mantra numbered 10-191-2 in Rig Veda calls upon humanity to be united to have a common speech and a common mind. Mantra numbered 3-30-1 in Atharva Veda enjoins upon all humans to be affectionate and to love one another as the cow loves her newly-born calf. Underlining unity and harmony still further, Mantra numbered 3-30-6 in Atharva Veda commands humankind to dine together, and be as firmly united as the spokes attached to the hub of a chariot wheel.
The Bhagavad Gita, which contains the essence of Vedas and Upanishads, has many shlokas that echo the Vedic doctrine of oneness of humanity. In shloka numbered V (29), Lord Krishna declares that He is the friend of all creatures (suhridam sarva bhutanam) whereas shloka numbered IX (29) reiterates that the Lord has the same affection for all creatures, and whosoever remembers the Lord, resides in the Lord, and the Lord resides in him. Shloka numbered XVIII (61) declares that God resides in every heart (ishwar sarva bhutanam hrudyeshe Arjun tishthti).
Guna (Aptitude) and Karma (Actions)
Hindu scriptures speak only about ‘varna’ which means to ‘select’ (one’s profession, etc.) and which is not caste or birth-based.
As per shloka numbered IV (13) of the Bhagavad Gita, depending upon a person’s guna (aptitude) and karma (actions), there are four varnas. As per this shloka, a person’s varna is determined by his guna and karma, and not by his birth. Chapter XIV of the Bhagavad Gita specifies three gunas viz. satva (purity), rajas (passion and attachment) and tamas (ignorance). These three gunas are present in every human in different proportions, and determine the varna of every person. Accordingly, depending on one’s guna and karma, every individual is free to select his own varna. Consequently, if their gunas and karmas are different, even members of the same family can belong to different varnas. Notwithstanding the differences in guna and karma of different individuals, Vedas treat the entire humanity with the same respect and do not sanction any caste system or birth-based caste system.
Veda is the Foundation
Hinduism is all-embracing and grants the same respect to all humans, and anything to the contrary anywhere is not sanctioned by the Vedas. Being divine revelation, the shrutis (Vedas) are the ultimate authority on Dharma, and represent its eternal principles whereas being human recapitulations, smritis (recollections) can play only a subordinate role. As per shloka numbered (6) of Chapter 2 in Manu Smriti, “Veda is the foundation of entire Dharma.” Shloka numbered 2(13) of Manu Smriti specifies that whenever shruti (vedas) and smritis differ, stipulation of Vedas will prevail over smritis. In view of this position, anything discriminatory in Manu Smriti or anywhere else is anti-Veda, and therefore, is not sanctioned by Hinduism and has subsequently been inserted with unholy intentions, and deserves to be weeded out.
Besides, precise codification of Hinduism in one book is indispensable to make Hinduism easier to be understood by a layman. For this codification, appropriate mantras of Vedas and Upanishads, and selected shlokas in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (which also includes the Bhagavad Gita), etc. will provide the basic material.
Role of Media
In order to usher in a casteless and harmonious society, the all-embracing and universal message of Vedas has to be followed and spread.
Both the print and electronic media play an important role in a country’s life. They should contribute their mite to unite various sections of the society. But in India, most of the media are unwittingly strengthening caste and communal divisions. By publishing divisive articles and describing political leaders and electorates, achievers and sports persons, and even wrong-doers and their victims as members of a particular caste or community, the media is strengthening the divisions instead of unifying the society. The media should play a positive role so that there is amity all around.
Let Your Hearts be One
Anyone believing in the caste system is violating the Vedic command of oneness of entire humanity. Although the first known poem in the world appeared as the first mantra in Rig Veda, and though the Vedas and Upanishads contain the sublimest thoughts in the sublimest language, because of a faulty education system, most of the educated Indians are ignorant of their rich heritage contained in the Vedas and Upanishads. Most Indians do not know Sanskrit, the language of Vedic literature. Many persons do not know even the meaning of their Sanskrit names. By learning Sanskrit one can read the Vedas, though even translated Vedic literature can be studied.
We have to ensure that we do not lose our rich Vedic heritage as it would amount ot losing our identity. To ensure the survival of our Vedic heritage, and to bring about unity and harmony in society, it is imperative that the all-embracing message of the Vedes is practised and propagated.
(The author is a former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org)