“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)
चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
Friend1: Likely one of the more controversial aspects of Hinduism, or Vedic culture, if you want to use the appropriate term, is the caste system.
Friend2: Well, a correction is required. It is actually varnashrama-dharma. Three Sanskrit terms combined to define the way of living for every individual.
Friend1: Extending beyond the human society, as well?
Friend2: For sure. The spirit soul is atma, and dharma is specifically defined for the characteristic that gives the atma its essence. Varnashrama-dharma is one manifestation of what you could call the single religion, the universal way towards transcendence.
Friend1: Alright, before we go too far down the avenue of philosophical terms and explanation, we know that the caste system as understood today relates to having seniority by birthright.
Friend2: Special privileges. Lower status based on your last name. High honor due to an ancestral link to a saintly person from the past, whose noteworthy deeds may have occurred thousands of years ago.
Friend1: “I am a Brahmin. Give me respect. Don’t mess with me. Only I am eligible for returning to the spiritual world. The rest of you will have to wait your turn.”
Friend2: Haha, yeah, something like that.
Friend1: I know that the proper understanding relates to guna and karma.
Friend2: Material qualities and fruitive activity. Essentially, who you are as a person and the kind of work you do.
Friend1: Yes, and so a brahmana would have certain qualifications, a kshatriya their own, and so forth.
Friend2: Nine qualities for the priestly person, seven for the warrior, three for the businessman, and one for the laborer. At least as far as I remember. You can get the detailed list from the Bhagavad-gita.
Friend1: Here is my question today. Are these divisions reserved for the area of India?
Friend2: Are you saying that material qualities and work only apply to people born in a certain place in the world?
Friend1: Hey, it’s an argument I hear a lot. Your qualities may determine the varna, or occupation, but you still have to be born into the system.
Friend2: That is a preposterous argument. That is like saying you can only find soldiers, doctors, programmers, lawyers, waiters and other people in a specific region of the world. It makes no sense. We are talking about qualities here. As long as you are a human being, you have the potential to fall into these categories. Actually, you will most definitely fall into at least one of them.
Friend1: What is the process for identification within an area that has no traces of varnashrama?
Friend2: You mean they don’t know about the divisions or they are seeking a Utopian vision of equality, where everyone is the same?
Friend1: Could be either situation. I imagine that an outsider stepping into the situation and identifying varnas based on qualities would ruffle some feathers.
Friend2: Oh, listen, the divisions are already there. A company has its leader. It has the positions requiring higher intelligence, such as coding. It has other positions requiring physical strength and service, such as for moving furniture, setting up office infrastructure, and the like. Someone else manages the books. The security guards protect the premises. The idea is to find your proper occupation and dovetail it with service to the Supreme Lord.
Friend1: How do we do that? How do I know that my occupational duties are fulfilling a higher purpose?
Friend2: Consciousness is the key. That is why His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates bhakti-yoga as “Krishna consciousness.” These things generally sort themselves out through proper participation in the bhakti culture. Chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Follow the four regulative principles and take the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Understand that men of the teaching order in terms of spiritual life can be found anywhere. Birthright can play a significant role, but it is not the sole deciding factor. The brahmanas are needed everywhere, and they are very dear to Shri Krishna.
Though original not totally preserved,
Varnashrama not for India reserved.
Natural divisions everywhere to find,
Such as laborer or one of excellent mind.
Idea that with service to combine,
Work but properly refined.
So that every person advancing,
And spiritual welfare enhancing.