The proper functioning of society is dependent on a number of factors. Meeting the needs of man entails many types of physical as well as intellectual work. It is totally wrong to claim that one kind of work is inferior to another kind or superior to it.
We need rice, all of us, don't we? Also salt, clothing, books, and so on. Would it be possible - or practicable - for each one of us to grow rice or wheat, to make salt or to produce clothing and books? The tiller grows crops not only for himself but for the of the entire community. The weaver weaves for all of us. Some carry on trade for the sake of the entire society. And some wage war on behalf of all of us to defend the country
What about the Atmic well-being of mankind? Well, some people are charged with the caring of such well-being: they practice meditation, perform puja, conduct sacrifices and carry out the ordinances of the sastras that are meant for the good of all mankind. Our dharmasastras have cut out an ideal path of happiness for us by creating a system which is to the advantage of all and in which different sections of people are allotted different occupations.
How has this allotment been made? Is it according to the capacity of earth? If so there is the risk of everyone having an excessive idea of his own ability. If work is assigned according to the predilection of each individual, everyone will claim that he is suited for jobs that are "prestigious" and, in the end, no one will come forward to do other jobs. How should a system be devised in which people fill vocations in a manner that ensures the smooth functioning of all society? It must be one that works not only for the present but for all time. This is not possible if everyone competes with everybody else for every kind of job. It is as an answer to such problems that varna dharma in which vocations are hereditarily determined came into existence.
The principle behind this arrangement is that a man must do the work handed down to him from his forefathers - whatever such work be - with the conviction that it has been ordained by Isvara and that it is for the good of the world. The work he does in this spirit itself becomes a means of his inward advancement.
The religious observances meant to free people from worldly existence vary according to their callings. We cannot expect a man who does hard physical work to observe fasts. Those who do intellectual work do not need much bodily nourishment. They are enjoined to perform many a rite and to observe a number of fasts so that they will learn not to take pride in their body. There would be no room for disputes and misunderstandings among the various sections of people if they realised that the differences in the observance of religious practices are in keeping with the different vocations.
If we keep performing the rites prescribed even without understanding their meaning, It will stand us in good stead in later life when we do come to understand the meaning. It would indeed be commendable if each one of us carried out the duties prescribed and helped others to carry out theirs. ":Why do you pursue that vocation, that dharma? Why don't you do the work that I do? Or shall I take up your dharma, your duties? " We must not give room for such feelings of rivalry or become victims of the competitive spirt. When a man thinks of abandoning his dharma - the duties allotted to him by birth - you must persuade him not to do so and impress upon him that he must remain loyal to his dharma since it serves not only him individually but all others.
As I said earlier there is no gradation among people doing various kinds of work: the man who does one type of job is neither inferior to the man doing another kind of job nor superior to him. It is to ensure that society functions properly that the sastras have divided jobs into a number of categories and assigned them to different groups of people.
If we are guided only by our likes and dislikes in the choice of our occupation - or if we are engaged in work according to our sweet will - the common purpose of society will suffer. You see today that everyone is intent on filling his pockets with other people's money. If there were no principle to guide us in the fulfilment of the common good, the only concern of people would be that of finding such work as can bring them a lot of cash. There is no place for any division of labour in all this and so also no concern for the well-being of mankind in general.
If everyone does his hereditary work and performs the rites that his forefathers performed, there will be no cause for feelings of rivalry or jealousy. There is the further advantage that life in the community will go on smoothly without any hindrance to the common work and, at the same time, each individual will feel pure inwardly. All this must be taken into account if, in the name of carrying out reforms, society is not "deformed".
The government has the obligation to provide food, clothing and housing to all irrespective of the work they do. Jealousies and rivalries will develop if people hunger for things beyond these essentials. All the trouble today arises from the fact that the satisfaction gained from money is greater than that gained from anything else. This attitude must change. With maturity of outlook a man will come to realise that the fulfilment he obtains from doing the work allotted to him properly is itself his God.
You see such a variety of eatables in front of you. The ragas (musical modes) you listen to are numerous. And many and varied are the types of work essential to the smooth functioning of society. You add salt to your rasam to give it the right flavour. But if you add it to a sweet drink the result will be rasabhasa (the drink will not be palatable). Similarly there would be rasabhasa if the svara (musical note) of one raga were used in another [the music so produced would be cacophonous, not pleasing to the ear]. People today are lacking in taste. While narrating a moving incident from a puranic story the Bhagavatar tells cheap jokes which the audience relishes immensely. When there are so many delectable things to eat, people smoke tobacco which is injurious to health. These are all instances of rasabhasa on a small scale. The rasabhasa on a big scale is the confusion created in the varna system [making a mess of it], a system that has contributed so much to the welfare of our people through its enunciation of different codes of conduct for different sections of the community.
For a general background, please see here