Genealogy shapes mentality, but doesn’t determine it

The caste system widespread in India operates on the notion that people’s caste is determined solely by their birth.

However, birth didn’t define the original quality-based system of socio-spiritual division known as varnashrama. This system, mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita (04.13), acknowledges that people are irreducibly different. So, they all can’t be good in any one kind of work. Accordingly, varnashrama aims to match people’s vocations with their inclinations, thereby maximizing their personal satisfaction and social contribution. By thus harmoniously organizing people’s material life, varnashrama facilitated them in focusing on their spiritual growth – life’s ultimate purpose.

People’s varna in varnashrama referred to not their birth-determined caste, but their quality-determined class. The word varna also means color, which in varnashrama refers to the color of their mind. That is, it refers to their mental disposition: their qualities and inclinations.

Just as genealogy shapes our physical color, so too does it shape our mental color. For example, children of intellectually-oriented parents are more likely to be intellectually-oriented not just because of genes or upbringing, but also because of transmigratory attraction among like-minded souls. During conception, intellectually-oriented couples are more likely to attract as progeny souls who have cultivated intellectual interests in previous lives.

Though genealogy shapes mentality, it doesn’t determine mentality. If we were products of nothing but genealogy, children would be clones of their parents. But they aren’t. Children of intellectuals, even after having favorable pre-natal and post-natal influences, don’t automatically become intellectuals; they do so only on using those influences for growing intellectually.

By equating genealogy with mentality, today’s caste system inflates the high-born even when they are unqualified; chokes the talents of the low-born; and overall defeats varnashrama’s benevolent purpose. Nonetheless, by introspecting to understand our inclinations and by seeking socio-cultural milieus that nurture those inclinations, we can fulfill varnashrama’s purpose even today.

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