Jaya Jaya Sankara Hara Hara Sankara – The following answer by Sri Periyava is a condensed response to what we see in Deivathin Kural, Who is Responsible and What is the Remedy chapter. A very thought provoking chapter where Periyava pours his heart out. Click HERE to read. Rama Rama
Q: What, according to Your Holiness, is the justification for the existence of the caste system? Does this dangerous anachronism, lend itself to any reform or modification?
H.H.: The caste system has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. It represents the world’s oldest way of life and it remains well preserved to this day because of its vitality. Selfishness is the root cause of the decline of all civilisations. For it leads to competition, encroachment, exploitation and eventually annihilation—the poor give way to the rich, the ignorant to the learned, the simple to the sophisticated, and the believer to the non-believer. But the Hindu caste system, has originally conceived, encourages none of these disruptive tendencies. On the contrary, it combats them most effectively. Otherwise it would not have been able to survive the tempestuous ups and downs spread over a period of 5,000 years. Its guiding principle is: “Live and let live.” The emphasis is on creative cohesion and co-operative co-existence. Each part strengthens itself as much for its own sake as for the ultimate good of the whole—Hindu society. Unity through division: this is what we have achieved through the caste system.
Naturally, even today, the ageless pattern of life continues throughout the country. Language changes from State to State, sometimes from district to district. But the Hindus all over the country share a common way of life based on caste, and this has helped them in their spiritual evolution down the centuries. The caste system—again in its original form, I repeat—inculcates the spirit of tolerance in every Hindu. For each caste is preoccupied, not with the grabbing of what rightly belongings to the other three castes but with the preservation of its own integrity—its swadharma. For example, the Brahman may be very poor. But he has no evil designs on the riches of Vaisya. Similarly, the Vaisya, however wealthy he may be, never aspires to the throne of the Kshatriya. The inspiration behind the greatest achievements in our religion, philosophy, art and literature is to be traced to the caste system. But today the Hindu caste system exists only in form, not in spirit. Hence the conflict. Division, which was once the main source of its strength, has become a disintegrating factor. It has been the cause of compartmentalisation of a most sinister kind. The result is tragic: all the four castes are mutually not merely exclusive but destructive. No wonder that those outside the caste system are jubilant. They can attack each caste separately, you see. That is why even Brahmans provide such rich material for the Christian proselytisers.
In the past, the Brahman was the spiritual leader of the Hindus. Actually, the term then in vogue was Brahmanism, not Hinduism. Nowadays, those down the ladder of the caste system are eager to usurp spiritual leadership from the Brahman. Jealousy, arrogance and intolerance have begun to gnaw at the vitals of every caste. The Brahman, the Vaisya, the Kshatriya and the Sudra: they are all the time engaged in an invisible civil war. The Brahman himself, if you ask me, is the main cause of the disintegration of the caste system. For he no longer commands respect from the other castes. He does not inspire confidence in them. He is not at all competent to lead the community on this spiritual plane. Once he symbolised not only the lowest rung of the economic ladder but the summit of the spiritual and intellectual achievement. He has the epitome of plain living and high thinking. He was universally revered, despite his poverty. His absence, however brief, used to be acutely felt in his village. His house had the look and feel of a hermitage. He lived in the most exemplary manner possible, because he knew that he was being watched by the whole world. Being the spiritual leader of the community, he was always ready to make the maximum sacrifice in order to exert a healthy influence on the other castes.
But the present-day Brahman has no awareness of his responsibilities. He is not qualified even to preach the ideals practiced by his ancestors. It is difficult to distinguish him from the Vaisya, the Kshatriya or the Sudra. Naturally those down the social ladder feel justified in agitating for equality with the Brahman. They will all eventually dissect, not merely distort, the caste system beyond recognition.
What is the remedy? Castelessness? A very facile solution. The antidote to the ills of the caste system lies within the structure itself. The Brahman alone can resuscitate the institution and restore it to its original splendor. All that I have to say to him is this: “Live like a good Brahman so that the other castes emulate your example. See that they follow your virtues, not your vices. Mind-control, self-control, voluntary poverty: these are some of the sacred ideals cherished by your ancestors. Practice them as they did. It is only then that you can inspire the other castes and thus achieve unity within the Hindu fold.” Where spiritual values are concerned, he should make no concessions or compromises, whatever be the circumstances. Of course, he has to make great sacrifices. People die for their country. Why should not the Brahman be prepared to die for his religion? It is time he realise that the leadership has not only its rewards but its responsibilities too. The inherent strength of the caste system lies in the Brahman’s spirit of sacrifice and self-denial. Otherwise how can we justify the exacting and elaborate core of moral conduct that our religion imposes on him? The Brahman alone can save the situation.