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Caste System: The Final Word || Acharya Prashant, with SPA Delhi (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
187 reads

Questioner (Q): Good evening Sir. I am a student of Town Planning. I would like to ask about casteism. So, there is an age old debate about castes in India where some people say that it is an embodiment of systematic exploitation, while others say that it is just a division of labour that got corrupted with time. You have spoken previously about true meaning of caste based upon Upaniṣads , what are your views right now about the Indian caste system?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Does not depend what criteria you use to divide man from man, it is bogus. Full stop! Even if you need to have division of labour, why does that have to be from birth? How is birth a criteria to decide who will pursue what kind of vocation? How is it guaranteed that someone born to an iron-smith would be great with metals? Or that someone born to a family of priests would indeed be a wise person? So all that is quite bogus, doesn’t matter how you want to interpret it or justify it. Just leave it to the history and museums now. It’s outlived its utility, if ever, there was any. I really don’t think there ever was any.

I really don’t think there ever was any utility, it’s just an expression—the case system is just an expression—of the tendency of the ego to divide. Because the ego is a limited thing and all limits mean boundaries; the ego therefore cannot live without boundaries. It needs to find some way—one way after the other—to divide one person from the other. The criteria could be anything—gender is a criteria, obviously money is a criterion, economic status, colour of the skin, ethnicity, and race, and creed—you name it and it becomes a dividing line.

And that is also the reason, you see, you don’t find this kind of casteism only in Hinduism. Most people, because they are not very acquainted with how the society is working, do not know that even in Muslims there is a rigorous caste system; so, it’s there everywhere. Look at the divisions in Christianity, obviously, there you don’t have untouchability and stuff. But look at the divisions and look at the violence, look at how that thing exists even in the streams that emerged with a view to purge Hinduism of its corruption.

Think of Sikhism. Think of Buddhism. What do you think, you don’t have caste distinctions there? Then you do not know how the societies are operating. So, yes obviously, no point denying that it’s the most rampant in Hinduism, to the point that it in fact became a distinctive feature of Hinduism; nobody wants to deny that. When I give the example of how caste operates or how divisions operate in other religions, it’s just to exemplify that the ego loves to divide, irrespective of where the egoistic mind is stationed. The mind could be the stationed in Saudi Arabia, or in Europe, or in Russia, or in China, or in Sri Lanka—it’s going to divide, and divide on some possible criteria. So, I don’t know why we still have a debate over caste, that’s what is quite astounding.

Caste should have being relegated to the museums and the history books by now, it should have become a non-issue. What’s interesting is, who are the people who still keep it alive as an issue? And what do they want? It’s a relic! No place! You should not even know somebody’s caste, that’s what; that’s how caste disappears. As long as you are interested in somebody caste—"What’s your caste by the way?” If I am interested, then I am casteist! Caste goes when you do not even know the others caste, and that’s how the society must be.

You meet someone, the person is standing in-front of you, assess him. The person who could be good, bad, virtuous, ill, evil, whatever. The person is right there in front of you, why do you want to know his caste? The person is sufficient, is he not? If he is sick, you want to help him; or would you ask for his caste? And if he is arrogant, you want to show him his place; you don’t want to enquire into his caste. Getting it?

(Q): Yes Sir, I understand.

(AP): Closer to your age—there is a beautiful girl and she appears intelligent also; many ways she is someone you want to approach. And you approach her and the first thing you ask is, “What’s your Jat (caste)?” How do you sound? Who are you? What kind of beastly question is this? So, it’s a non-issue and those who are still keeping this issue burning, they should be brought to justice. What’s the point? Why are you still interested in raising this again and again? Why this boogie?

You will never have a complete absence of duffers, you see. Even I suppose after hundred years from today, you will continue to have the people who believe in things like purity of blood. They will say, “We have this kind of blood, falana (particular) blood and therefore we cannot marry into some other caste or something; blood will become impure.”

Covid came to teach them what blood really is? Or a road accident—the best teacher. When you require immediate blood transfusion, do you enquire into the caste of the blood donor? You will die. And then you in fact do not, because you know in your own heart that all this is just sham. And your son is dying, and you say, “Oh, please, please, please get me B-positive.” You do not say, “No, I want only Brahmin , or Kāyastha , or Rajput B-positive.” You don’t do that, or do you do that?

Then all this notions of superiority and purity of blood, they just vanish. The thing is, we all are people of mixed blood now. Think of your own lineage—somebody in you line must have had a blood transfusion at some point of time, either your father or grandfather or somebody. So, you have a mixed blood, so have I. Everybody has mixed blood, so caste is gone anyway, finished!

Even if you go to the scriptures, they are very clear, very clear— Jāyate Śūdra , the one who takes birth is Śūdra . The meaning is very clear, the body is Shudra. So, there is no difference at the time of birth. Only the beast is born! And then depending on how you navigate through life, the kind of choices you make, the status of your consciousness is determined.

How can caste be something that comes by birth? And you have already said that I have spoken on it. Yes, an entire Upaniṣad is devoted to this, Vajrasūcī Upaniṣad . The student is asking the Rishi , “What is caste?” And the Rishi — the way of the Upaniṣad — the Rishis were very fun loving people, they loved to kind of toy with the disciples. They said, “Please tell me, does the body have caste? Does the blood have caste? Does the bone have caste? What has caste? And the disciple is intrigued, “No, No, No, these things have no caste. Because these are just pañca-bhūta (five great elements), how can that have caste? This is just soil. How can soil have caste?”

“Ok, ok. Fine. So, does the pure self Ātman have caste?” And this is Upaniṣad , this is Vedānta . “Does the Ātman have caste?” ask the Rishis. And the disciple is again, “ This Ātman is not even born, sir. How can it have caste? The Ātman has no name, no form, no shape, no Upādhi , no Upamā . How can it have caste? No attributes, how can it have caste?” Rishi says, “Don’t you understand then what is caste? Caste is an imagination of the mind! Caste is neither in the body, nor in the self, it is just in the mind.” It’s an imagination of the mind, it’s a mental construct. It’s a man-made thing.

It’s a man-made thing that I doubt, ever had any utility. And even if it had some dubious utility at some point, it has long outlived its utility. Drop it! Drop it right now! Full stop! But to drop it, you will need to have self-knowledge. You need to understand, why you held on to it on the first place? To drop something, you must first of all know why you were clinching at it for so long? Caste didn’t come to us; we kept clutching at caste, didn’t we? So why did we do that?

You have to realize. You have to go into yourself, you have to understand how the mind functions. You have to understand the ways of the ego, and then you will know how things like caste survive. The more you understand the nature of the mind, the more spontaneously stupidity like caste will drop! And what’s more? Not only will you drop caste, you will drop several other stupidities as well. I will tell you, the man who believes in the caste is also the man who believes in thousand other stupidities; because they belong to the same family, correct?

For example, it is very difficult to be casteist and not ritualistic. The man who will be casteist, will most probably be ritualistic as well; so these stupidities go together. For example, it is very difficult to be casteist and not superstitious. The man who will be casteist will also be superstitious. It’s very difficult to be casteist and not violent; the casteist man will be violent as well.

So, when you drop caste, you find all these other things are dropping as well. And they will be dropped only when the centre that holds them together is dropped. That centre is called ignorance of the Self. When the inner ignorance is dropped, then all these stupidities—they all are together in one basket, and they go together in one basket. Is it making sense?

(Q): Yes, Sir.

(AP): Is it because of your caste that this is making any sense?

(Q): No, sir.

(AP): Did I speak to your caste?

(Q): No sir. It is because of my studies, I am a town planner; so, sociology becomes one of the most important things to study.

(AP): So, when you were studying me, that is when you were listening to my words, were you listening to my caste?

(Q): No, sir.

(AP): Good. So, that’s who both of us are—consciousness, attentiveness. That’s what Vedānta teaches us. Bodh is our nature. Caste etc., the Rishis don’t even bother to speak too much on them. Once in a while they speak on these things, just to denounce them, repudiate them, negate them; so, don’t think that caste comes from spiritual philosophy either. No! Caste is a social construct. Deep spirituality has nothing to do with caste. It does not have anything to do even with your body. You go to Vedānta , you are told you are not even the body. If you are not even the body, how can you have a caste?

So, that’s another thing, those who are victims of caste oppression, they start hating all the scriptures. And I keep telling them, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Yes, I understand there are certain books that promoted the caste culture, but those books are not at all central to religion and they are not at all to be counted as spiritual. So, keep those books apart; go to the real books, go to the real spiritual philosophy. And that’s the reason why I love Vedānta so much. Vedānta has no space for all this nonsense.

Anything left to ask?

(Q): No Sir, thank you Sir!

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