In the present times, there are lot of misconceptions regarding the caste system. Most of apprehensions are regarding the relevance and the social problems caused by the divisions. It is during this time that we should all be aware of the reason why caste – the four fold order – came into existence. The following is an excerpt from a website and I found it really interesting to know the initial concept behind the four-fold order.
Lord Krishna speaks to Arjuna as he clarifies the origin and purpose of the caste system in sanaatana dharma (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Shloka 13).
cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ .
tasya kartāramapi māṃ viddhyakartāramavyayam 4-13
The four-fold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. Though I am its creator, know Me to be incapable of action or change.
Cāturvarṇyaṃ: the four-fold order. The four varnas are named – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. They constitute the four-fold order. The three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas – and the law of karma – these four elements were divided by Me to create the four varnas.
Sattva guna predominates in Brahmins – and they are assigned the tasks (karma) of sham, dam, tapas (meditation) etc.
Rajas guna predominates in Kshatriyas – sattva guna is secondary. Their karma is to be warriors and show bravery and tejas.
Rajas guna also predominates in Vaishyas – tamas guna is secondary. Their karma is to be farmers and traders.
Tamas guna predominates in Vaishyas – rajas guna is secondary. Their karma is to serve others.
The emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function) and not on jaati (birth). The varna or the order to which we belong is independent of sex, birth or breeding. A caste is determined by temperament and vocation – not by birth or heredity.
According to the Mahabharata, the whole world was originally of one class but later it became divided into four divisions on account of the specific duties.
ekavarṇama idama pūrvaṃ viśvama āsida yudhiśthira karmakriyāviśesena caturvarṇyama pratiśthitama
Even the distinction between caste and outcaste is artificial and unspiritual. An ancient verse points out that the Brahmin and the outcaste are blood brothers.
antyajo viprajātiśa ca eka eva sahodaraḥ ekayoniprasūtas ca ekasākhena jāyate
In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira says that it is difficult to find out the cast of persons on account of the mixture of castes. Men beget offspring in all sorts of women. So conduct is the only determining feature of caste according to the sages.
The four-fold order is designed for human evolution. There is nothing absolute about the case system which has changed its character in the process of history. Today it cannot be regarded as anything more than an insistence on a variety of ways in which the social purpose can be carried out. Functional groupings will never be out of date. As for marriages – they will happen among those who belong to more or less the same stage of cultural development. The present morbid condition of India broken into castes and sub-castes is opposed to the unity taught by the Gita, which stands for an organic as opposed to an atomistic conception of society.
Akartāram: non-doer. As the Supreme is unattached, He is said to be a non-doer. Works do not affect His changeless being, though He is the unseen background of all works.
[ Source (in part): Bhagavad Gita with commentary by Shankaracharya (in Hindi), Gita Press.
cross posted from: http://www.eaglespace.com/spirit/gita_castesystem.php ]