Book: Hindu Dharma, Written by Swami Chandrashekarendra
I spoke about the different jatis, the work allotted to each of them and
the rites and customs prescribed for each. What I said was not entirely
correct. The vocation is not for jati; it is jati for the vocation. On
basis did the Vedic religion divide the fuel sticks [that is the jatis]
small bundles? It fixed one jati for one vocation. In the West
talk of division of labour but they are unable to translate their ideas
practice. Any society has to depend on the proper execution of a variety
It is from this social necessity that the concept of division of labour
But who is to decide the number of people for each type of work? Who is
to determine the proportions for society to function in a balanced
manner? In the West they had no answer to these questions. Everybody
there competes with everybody else for comfortable jobs and
everywhere you find greed and bitterness resulting from such rivalries.
And, as a consequence of all this, there are lapses from discipline and
In our country we based the division of labour on a hereditary system
and, until it worked, people had a happy, peaceful and contented life.
Today even a multimillionaire is neither contented nor happy. Then even
a cobbler led a life without cares. What sort of progress have we
today by inflaming evil desires in all hearts and pushing everyone into
slough of discontent? Not satisfied with such "progress" there is talk
everywhere that we must go forward rapidly in this manner.
Greed and covetousness were unknown during the centuries when varna
dharma flourished. People were bound together in small well-knit groups
and they discovered that there was happiness in their being together.
Besides they had faith in religion, fear of God and devotion, and a
of pride in their own family deities and in the modes of worshipping
them. In this way they found fullness in their lives without any need to
suffer the hunger and disquiet of seeking external objects. All society
experienced a sense of well-being.
Though divided into a number of groups people were all one in their
devotion to the Lord; and though they had their own separate family
deities, they were brought together in the big temple that was for the
entire village or town. This temple and its festivals had a central
their life and they remained united as the children of the deity
in it. When there was a car festival(rathotsava) the Brahmins and the
people living on the outskirts of the village[the so-called backward
classes] stood shoulder to shoulder and pulled the chariot together. We
wonder whether those days of peace and harmony will ever return.
Neither jealousy nor bitterness was known then and people did not trade
charges against one another. Everyone did his job, carried out his
in a spirit of humility and with a sense of contentment.
Considering all this, would it be correct to say that Hinduism faced all
challenges in spite of the divisions in society? No, no. Such a view
be totally wrong. The fact is that our religion has survived as a living
for ages together because of these very divisions. Other great religions
which had but one uniform dharma for all have gone under. And there is
the fear that existing religions of the same type might suffer a similar
fate. What has sustained Hinduism as an eternal religion? We must go
back to the analogy of the fuel sticks. Like a number of small bundles
sticks bound together strong and secure-instead of all the individual
being fastened together-Hindu society is a well-knit union of a number
small groups which are themselves bound up separately as jatis, the
cementing factor being devotion to the Lord.
Religions that had a common code of duties and conduct could not
withstand attacks from within and without. In India there were many sets
of religious beliefs that were contained in, or integrated together
common larger system. If new systems of beliefs or dharmas arose from
within or if there were inroads by external religious systems, a process
rejection and assimilation took place: what was not wanted was rejected
and what was fit to be accepted was absorbed. Buddhism and Jainism
sprang from different aspects of the Vedic religion, so Hinduism(later)
was able to digest them and was able to accommodate many other sets
of beliefs or to make them its own. There was no need for it to treat
other systems as adversaries or to carry on a struggle against them.
After the advent of Islam we adopted only some of its customs but not
any of its religious concepts. The Moghul influence was felt to some
extent in our dress, music, architecture and painting. Even such
impressions of the Muslim impact did not survive for long as independent
factors but were dissolved in the flow of our Vedic culture. Also the
Islamic impact was largely confined to the North; the South did not come
much under it and stuck mostly to its own traditional path.
Later, with the coming of the Europeans, faith in the Vedic religion
to decline all over India, in North as well as South. How did this
occur? Why do all political leaders today keep excoriating the varna
system, giving it the name of "casteism"? And how has the view gained
ground everywhere that the division of jatis has greatly hindered the
progress of the nation? And why does the mere mention of the word jati
invite a gaol sentence?
I shall tell you later, as best I can, about who is responsible for this
of affairs. For the present let us try to find out why some people want
do away with varna dharma. To them it seems an iniquitous system in
which some jatis occupy a high status while some others are pushed
down to low depths. They want all to be raised to the same uniform high
Is such a step possible or practicable? To find an answer, all that we
to do is to examine conditions in countries where there is no caste. If
there were no distinctions of high and low in these lands, we should see
no class conflicts there. But in reality what do we see? People in these
countries are divided into "advantaged" and disadvantaged" classes who
are constantly fighting between themselves. A true understanding of our
religion will show that in reality there are no differences in status
on caste among our people. But let us for argument's sake presume that
there are; our duty then is to make sure that the feelings of
are removed, not get rid of varna dharma itself.
One more point must be considered. Even if you concede that the social
divisions have caused bitterness among the different sections here, what
about the same in other countries? Can the existence of such ill-will in
other lands be denied? The differences there, based on wealth and
status, cause bitterness and resentment among the underprivileged and
poorer sections. In America, it is claimed that all people have enough
food, clothing and housing. They say that the Americans are contented
people. But what is the reality there? The man who has only one car is
envious of another who has two. Similarly, the fact that one person has
bank balance of a hundred million dollars is cause for heart-burning for
another with a bank balance of only a million. Those who have sufficient
means to live comfortably quarrel with people better off over rights and
privileges. Does this not mean that even in a country like the United
States there are conflicts between the higher and lower classes of
The story is not different in the communist countries. Though everyone
said to be paid the same wages there, they have officers and clerks who
do not enjoy the same status. As a result of the order enforced by the
state, there may not be any outward signs of quarrel among the different
cadres, but jealously and feelings of rivalry must, all the same, exist
hearts of people. In the higher echelons of power there must be greater
rivalry in the communist lands than elsewhere. The dictator of today is
replaced by another tomorrow. Is it possible to accord the same status
all in order to prevent the growth of antagonisms? Feeling of high and
low will somehow persist, so too the competitive urge.
It seems to me that better than the distinctions prevailing in the
that give rise to jealousies and social discord-are the
differences mistakenly attributed to the hereditary of vocations. In the
old days this arrangement ensured peace in the land with everyone living
a contented life. There was neither envy nor hatred and everyone readily
accepted his lot.
The different types of work are meant for the good of the people in
general. It is wrong to believe that one job belongs to an "inferior"
category and another to a "superior type". There is no more efficacious
medicine for inner purity than doing one's work, whatever it be, without
any desire for reward and doing it to perfection. I must add that even
wrong notions about work(one job being better than another or worse) is
better that the disparities and differences to be met with in other
countries. We are[or were] free from the spirit of rivalry and
that vitiate social life there.
Divided we have remained united, and nurtured our civilization. Other
civilizations have gone under because the people of the countries
concerned, though seemingly united, were in fact divided. In our case
though there were differences in the matter of work there was unity of
hearts and that is how our culture and civilization flourished. In other
countries the fact that there were no distinctions based on
vocations(anyone could do any work) itself gave rise to rivalries and
eventually to disunity. They were not able to withstand the onslaught of
It is not practicable to make all people one, nor can everyone occupy
same high position. At the same time it is also unwise to keep people
divided into classes that are like water-tight compartments.
The dharmasastras have shown us a middle way that avoids the pitfalls of
the two extremes. I have come as a representative of this way and that
why I speak for it: that there ought to be distinctions among various
sections of people in the performance of rites but there must be unity
hearts. There should be no confusion between the two.
Though we are divided outwardly in the matter of work, with unity of
hearts there will be peace. That was the tradition for ages together in
land-there was oneness of hearts. If every member of society does his
duty, does his work, unselfishly and with the conviction that he is
for the good of all, considerations of high and low will not enter his
If people carry out the duties common to them, however adverse the
circumstances be, and if every individual performs the duties that are
special to him, no one will have cause for suffering at any time.