The question arises: "What about countries other than India? And what about the religions practised there? They do not have a system of jatis nor do they have in force any division of labour based on heredity. Why should we alone have such an arrangement? . "
It will be conceded that even such countries as do not have any social division based on vocations have produced wise men who have contributed to the growth of knowledge and statesmen, administrators, agriculturists, traders and labourers. But if you look at the matter impartially- and not necessarily as a proud patriot-you will realise that no other country has had such a great civilization as we have had. It is true that great civilizations flourished in other lands too, but they did not last thousands of years like ours. To say this is not to blow our own trumpet. From the time of Alexander until today-when we seem to have fallen into an abyss from the heights of glory-foreigners have been filled with wonder for the Hindu civilization.
Other countries, it is true, have given birth to great men, to men of God, to philanthropists, to men of sacrifice. But if you take a census of all nations, you will see that no other nation would have given birth, generations after generation for thousands of years in an uninterrupted manner, to such a large number of great men, saintly men, wise men, philosophers, devotees and philanthropists. They will outnumber all such men produced in other countries put together. Foreigners refer to India as the "land of saints", as the "land of sages". They express their profound admiration for our Vedanta, for our metaphysics, and all our ancient works.
The whole world acknowledge our unparalleled contributions to art, sculpture, music, poetry, astronomy, medicine. It never ceases to wonder at our great works of philosophy and literature like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, the Sakuntalam, etc. Scholars abroad are of the opinion that there are hardly any devotional works outside India like the Tamil Tevaram and Divyaprabandham. They note the Kural, in the same language, to be an astonishingly profound and lucid ethical work that is yet so brief. Foreigners come to our land, leaving their home and hearth, to find out all about our gopurams, our sculptures, our dances like Bharatanatyam all of which have cast a spell over them. Europeans enslaves us, ascribed all kinds of faults to us and held us in bondage with their policy of divide and rule. But, all the same, out of admiration for our culture they have sought out our sastras, our ancient texts, conducted research into them and translated them into their own languages.
To what special factors are we to attribute the existence of such a great and unique civilization? In looking for an answer you will discover that there was something in our social structure that was not shared by other countries, that is varna dharma. According to our reformers all our ills are due to the caste system. But it is this land with this unique system - varnasrama - that has excelled all other nations in metaphysics, in the arts, in social values and in wisdom. Stability in society and peace go hand in hand. Without them, without an atmosphere conducive to creative work, no arts, no philosophy, no culture could have flourished generation after generation. Philosophers and sages and geniuses in the field of arts would not have otherwise been thrown up in such amazingly large numbers.
The religions that governed life in other countries did not evolve a social structure capable of creating this kind of stability. One might say that the question of creating a sociological foundation was overlooked in them. They did not lay down rules for orderly social life and had but general interdictions and injunctions like "Do not steal"; "Do not tell lies"; "Do not commit adultery"; "Live a life of sacrifice". In Buddhism and Christianity the institutionalized system is meant only for the monks. Unlike in Hinduism in none of these religions was attention directed towards weaving together the entire society into a fabric in which one member formed a support to another.
One does nod deny that there was scientific advancement in other nations. they had a system of defence and they carried on trade and commerce. But the spirit of rivalry vitiated all walks of life in these lands. No community had an occupation entirely to itself. Everyone could compete with everyone else for every kind of job. In our country people had their own hereditary calling and they were assured of their livelihood. This meant peace and stability in society. We must remember that it was because our people were bound together in their unique varna system that they excelled in culture and character, not to mention the fact the stability afforded by the system facilitated the birth of countless numbers of individuals who exemplified all that is noble in mankind. In contrast, in the absence of a similar institution, jealousy and rivalry became disturbing factors in the life of other countries.
Our nation should have witnessed many a revolution if, as claimed by our social reformers, the people were kept suppressed in the varna system. However, the term "social revolution" was new to us until recently. It is only after reading a about the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Soviet Revolution that we have known that compulsions would arise for great masses of people to be plunged in unrest. The common people in other countries were again and again involved thus in revolutionary movements. But we note- and this is important - that no revolution has achieved anything of permanent value. If there is an upsurge today there is another fifty or a hundred years later. we have to conclude from this that people abroad have remained discontented most of the time.
Today's situation is all too obvious to be stated. The whole world is in turmoil. Indiscipline, strikes, social upsets and savage orgies of violence have become the order of the day. It is only in a country like the Soviet Union where there is a dictatorship that comes down heavily on those who voice any opposition to it that there is hardly any unrest. However, it is said that the volcano of unrest might erupt any time there. Now and then an intellectual or writer escapes from that land to tell us about the tyranny from which people suffer there. Obviously in the Soviet Union too people are not happy and contented.
India has seldom had an autocracy or dictatorship of this type. It would not have taken the strides it did in the sciences and arts had it been a slave country or a country ruled by despots. people here never lamented before others that they were kept suppressed. All our works of knowledge and wisdom, all our arts and all our temples would not have been possible if the mind was not enabled to unfold itself in an atmosphere of freedom. It would also be preposterous to suggest that a majority of the common people were victims of superstition and delusion and lived in fear of witchcraft. You could speak thus of the tribes living in the forests of Africa or South America. In these places the priest was like a king. He would be fearsome even to look at and he was able to impress his tribesmen that he could do anything with his utterances(his mantra- like formulae). He had also the power to punish people. Such was not the case in our country. People here were fairly knowledgeable irrespective of the jatis to which they belonged and they were devoted and advances in matters pertaining to the Self.
If you go through the Puranas(including the Tamil Periaypuranam) You will learn that there were great men in all jatis. Imperial rulers like Chandragupta and ministers like Sekkizhar belonged to the fourth varna. Our priests had no authority to punish anyone, According to the canonical texts the priest must be a man of spotless character and, if he commits a wrong, he must punish himself. If a white man happens to come into physical contact with a black man, the latter is taken to task. But if a priest in our country comes into similar contact with an untouchable, it is he (the priest) who is enjoined to have a bath. Let us leave aside for the moment the question of untouchability. The point to note is that it was not by inspiring fear, by the threat of punishment or by suppression, that such customs were practised. a civilization like ours that is glorified all over the world could not have flourished if some sections of the people were suppressed or were victims of deception. it is only when the dharmasastras are advantageous to all that there will be no cause for any section of the people to revolt.
When the ancient varna system was in force, our civilization grew steadily without giving any cause for revolt or discontent among the people. But, that apart, look at the state of India after it broke with the old system of division of labour and took to the new path adopted by other countries on the pretext of "progress" and "equality". Everywhere you se immorality, dishonesty, corruption and prostitution. Agitations, strikes, demonstrations, hartals, curfew, etc, have become the order of the day. Is it not obvious from this that there is much discontent among the people? In matters of trade we have come to such a pass that we are the target of attack and ridicule of other nations for our dishonest practices. The time is past when everyone had nothing but praise for India. Even a small country like Pakistan drags us into war. Does this not show that our spiritual strength has diminished so much?
How did we lose our inner vitality? By giving up what have we become weak? What was it that nurtured our civilization and kept it growing for thousands of years? By parting with what have we descended so low as to be ashamed of calling ourselves heirs to this civilization? The fact is that, so long as we practised varna dharma that is unique to our country, our civilization stood like a rock arousing the admiration of all the world. But after this dharma began to decline we have been on the descent day by day.
Why should this country alone practise varna dharma? Because this dharma is necessary if we want to sustain a civilization that can promote the growth of philosophy, nourish our arts and culture, inspire us more and more in our inward search and help us in the realization of Godhead. If the varna system, is followed at least in this country, it will be an example to the rest of the world.
If there is not varna dharma, it means at once the growth of social disharmony, the rise of jealousies and discontent among the people. Men will compete with one another for the jobs they like or are convenient to them. There will be competition for education on the same lines. Since all will not succeed in their efforts or in their desire or ambition being satisfied, the result will be hatred and resentment everywhere. Look at what is happening now in India. When educated unemployment is on the increase, it is suggested that admissions to colleges must be restricted, that there are too many engineers already in the country and that some engineering colleges must be closed down. Here we see that the theory of throwing open everything to everybody does not work; imposing some restriction on people is seen to be inevitable. In the old days a man's work, whatever it was, became second nature to him and he had a sense of pride in it as an "asset", legacy that had come to him from his forefathers, indeed a prized family "possession". He also did his job efficiently and sincerely. Money was a secondary consideration then. Since everything was done on the basis of trust and with a high degree of personal involvement - the worker was always conscious that he was doing his work- there were no problems. The whole society prospered.
No civilization can flourish in the absence of a system that brings fulfilment to all. Varna dharma brought fulfilment and satisfaction to all.
Is it possible to bring Varna dharma back to life? Whether we fail in during all we can in reviving the system or whether we abandon our efforts finding them to be futile, we must at least recognise that it is this system that our thousands of years brought well-being to all communities of our religion and to our country and throughout them to the whole world outside. Again, we must at least have the good sense not to find fault with such a system.
For a general background, please see here