Caste by birth is the perversion of class by worth

The modern discriminatory caste system has been a source of great exploitation and misery. This regrettable state of affairs has resulted because some power-hungry people misappropriated an originally benevolent system of social and spiritual organization. That system, known as varnashrama, was meant for cooperation, not exploitation.

The Bhagavad-gita (04.13) states that varnashrama was based on qualities and activities, or in today’s parlance, attitudes and aptitudes. Recognizing that different people are good at different things, varnashrama provided them vocations that gelled with their specific set of strengths, thus enabling them to maximize their contributions to society and to their own well-being.

Is the positioning of the head at the top of the body and the legs at the bottom discriminatory? No, because it’s based on worth – on how these parts can make the most worthwhile contribution to the functioning of the body.

The division of labor in varnashrama was organic and symbiotic, akin to the division of labor among different bodily parts. Within the social body, brahmanas are like the head; kshatriyas, like the arms; vaishyas, like the belly; and shudras, like the legs. Is the positioning of the head at the top of the body and the legs at the bottom discriminatory? No, because it’s based on worth – on how these parts can make the most worthwhile contribution to the functioning of the body. Just as all bodily parts are valuable in their position, so too are all social classes in their position.

Unfortunately this cooperation-centered system was sabotaged by the caste by birth dogma, which was perpetuated by the power-hungry among the upper classes to establish their hegemony over the lower classes. Still, we don’t have to let the abuse of the system blind us to its use. Rather than castigating the whole system of varnashrama as evil, we can meditate on how its essential principle remains relevant and benevolent even today. Rather than chasing glamorized careers that don’t gel with our nature and leave us unfulfilled, we can choose vocations that channelize and maximize our worth.

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