“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
“Oh, don’t mind him, he’s only an engineer. He has just a masters degree. He’s not like the rest of us. We have our doctorates. That is why people refer to us as “doctor.” Why would we want to listen to anything he has to tell us? He’s not even smart enough to come up with a doctoral thesis. He’s content just playing with his toys used in his field of engineering. We do the hard work of coming up with these amazing theories, and then he puts in the manual labor to make those ideas a reality. If it weren’t for us, he wouldn’t have any work to do. We are therefore superior to him in all respects.”
The elitist attitude is difficult to shake, especially if you receive so much praise for whatever position of prominence you have reached. In school there are the honors classes reserved for the more intelligent students. In sports there are the positions that go to the more skilled players. In a company, there are the bosses and the management teams, which are ideally paid more because they call the shots. Yet does this really mean anything at the end of the day? Is a person inherently superior because of the position they receive? What if there were no members to fill the other positions? The person with true wisdom sees all souls equally, and in the work performed the same person understands the integral role that everyone plays.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
The scientific division of members of society based on quality and work is nicely described in the Bhagavad-gita. If you don’t know, the Bhagavad-gita is a famous Vedic scripture. The Vedas are the books that form the origin of what is commonly referred to today as Hinduism.
“Hinduism, you say? Isn’t that the religion that discriminates based on caste? Isn’t it that you’re born into a particular caste and then can’t move out of it? Aren’t the lower castes shunned? Doesn’t Hinduism give us the untouchables?”
Surely there is discrimination within the Hindu society today, as there is in any society, but this doesn’t invalidate the original system for division described in the Bhagavad-gita. The four divisions are the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. Elsewhere in Vedic literature the same divisions are described by comparing them to the human body. The brahmanas are the brain, the kshatriyas the arms, the vaishyas the stomach, and the shudras the thighs and the legs.
Keeping this in mind, would we ever discriminate between these various parts on our body? Would we ever think: “Wow, our legs are so inferior to the stomach. They are useless. They exist for no reason. They are not as good as the arms or the brain.” Such thinking would be silly, and so it is also the case when we apply elitism to discriminate in society in general.
The mention of the four societal divisions is made by Lord Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the detail behind the abstract conception of God. If you are hesitant to accept Shri Krishna, who has a beautiful body of a blackish hue, as the Supreme Lord, then at least know that these divisions are scientifically based and rooted in a higher power. And that higher power does not make distinctions between the classes. He doesn’t consider one to be inherently superior to another, at least not at the constitutional level.
Why make distinctions then if everyone is equal?
Just as a business cannot function if everyone takes up the same role, society will have great difficulty if the four orders don’t exist. If you don’t have a brain, how will the arms, stomach and legs know what to do? You can perhaps lose a leg or an arm and still survive in great difficulty, but without the brain there is no question of an existence. Thus in the material scheme the brahmana is superior, but material is not the end-game. Spiritual is what life is about, as each one of us is a spirit soul at the core.
In the same Bhagavad-gita, it is said that a learned man sees with an equal vision. He sees the tiger and the human being as equal. He won’t necessarily treat them the same, as there is no benefit to going up to talk to a tiger. But the vision is equal, which means that the learned man won’t think that the human is inherently superior. He knows that the bodies are just temporary, the result of past action in karma. As action continues to take place, new results consistently accumulate. The tiger can be a human being in the next life and the human being a tiger. Nothing is fixed in the material world. That is part of the definition of material.
Every person operating within the divisions has their value. Thus a wise person, without even needing to consult the Bhagavad-gita, appreciates the work of the so-called inferiors. Rather than looking down on them, he is so thankful that they dutifully take up their tasks. He thinks of how fortunate he is to be paired with such kind-hearted souls.
And you would be glad to hear that the Supreme Lord takes the same attitude. He is intimately related to all of us, as we are by nature spirit. He is the Supreme Spirit, so there is similarity in quality. He is the superior and we the inferior; that is always the case no matter what anyone says. As He is really superior, He has no need to flaunt His superiority. In fact, for those who love Him, He’s always trying to elevate their spirits, to lift them out of difficulty. He does not make distinctions between “big devotees” and “small devotees.”
Prahlada Maharaja was a helpless five-year old boy who was favored by the Supreme Lord when He appeared as a half-man/half-lion to do away with the boy’s evil father. Sudama Vipra was a brahmana but materially very poor. Shri Krishna favored him by having His wife, the goddess of fortune, provide the brahmana’s family with tremendous opulence. Maharaja Ambarisha was a powerful king, and yet Krishna favored him as well when he ran into trouble with Durvasa Muni. The king was not puffed up at all; in fact he offered everyone else the highest respect.
The more one loves Krishna, the humbler they become. The truly self-realized soul will actually never admit to anyone that they are self-realized. If they do, it is done confidentially for the purpose of maintaining the other person’s faith. Nevertheless, the self-realized soul still always thinks that others are better devotees, that they are better at pleasing Krishna. This attitude is adopted by even the biggest spiritual master, who has so many disciples across the world. If even they are humble and fully appreciative of the efforts of all, then why shouldn’t we have the same attitude?
“To what he says don’t mind,
Great intelligence in him not to find.
Doctorate never did he earn,
To reach our status he’ll always yearn.
Thankfully he has us around to teach,
Only then material opulence within reach.”
Such attitude in wise never to persist,
In them humility in knowledge exists.
Four divisions of society Krishna gave,
For from inactivity in ignorance to save.
Yet distinctions in devotees He does not make,
Only sincerity from them away does He take.