“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)
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मां हि पार्थ व्यपाश्रित्य
ये ऽपि स्युः पाप-योनयः
स्त्रियो वैश्यास् तथा शूद्रास्
ते ऽपि यान्ति परां गतिम्
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya
ye ‘pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās
te ‘pi yānti parāṁ gatim
“I have heard it said that in the ancient Vedic system there was no formal education for women. Girls basically stayed at home. They learned by watching others. They were protected in that way, for better or for worse. Once they reached the appropriate age, they would get married.
“I think the same applied for the shudra class. This is based on the distinctions ultimately rooted in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You have the four varnas or occupations: brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra.
“The shudra is the laborer class. They didn’t require formal enrollment in a school because they could learn their trade by studying under others. The same has taken place throughout history, most recently known as the apprenticeship.
“I know this sounds offensive to some, but I have heard it said that school was avoided for these groups due to their being less intelligent. The training under the guru was for a higher way of thinking, of understanding the formless Absolute Truth that is Brahman or administering a society and protecting the innocent against injury.
“Setting aside the past for a second. What is the fate of people being educated today? To which category do they belong? They are not taught in the ways of Brahman. If you mention God in a public school, you will be forcefully removed. If you mention God in public, that might also land you in trouble.
“Is everyone a shudra, then? That is a rather harsh classification. Is no one really educated? Is not learning to read and write important? Does not the university degree hold value? Is there no merit to formal education?”
It should be noted that the varna designations are based on qualities and work. A person is not forever condemned to a lower class based on their ancestry. Similarly, a person is not forever respected due only to the high occupation of their parents.
चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“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)
To inquire into Brahman is to make the best use of the human birth. We have the example of the child. If no one educates them, they will not learn much. They may be able to manage within society, in the ability to hold conversations, but to be literate in the language of the region is a huge advantage. It is a way to both communicate ideas and thoughts and learn new concepts from others, including generations past.
One of the qualities of the shudra designation is excessive lamentation. As an example, someone is playing a professional sport. It is violent in nature. When there is a severe injury, to overly lament is not wise. After all, the vulnerability was well-known beforehand. Moreover, lamenting and sitting on the sidelines will do nothing to change the situation. Quitting the game or continuing on has no impact on the medical treatment provided to the fallen player.
If we see excessive lamentation within the educated population, it means that they have not progressed beyond a certain level of understanding. They may be able to write code for an online app that generates billions of dollars in revenue, but they are ignorant as to the true nature of the individual.
It should be acknowledged that every person is eligible for elevation in status. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita. Shri Krishna says that the nature of the birth is not a prohibition on entry. Even those considered to belong to a sinful birth have the potential for reaching the supreme destination.
We see evidence of this truth in the historical example of the gopis of Vrindavana. They were village girls, not formally educated. They did not go to a specific school to learn Brahman. They were not members of an esteemed sampradaya. They did not provide elaborate commentary on sacred texts or give an opinion on the contentious issue of the origin of the jiva.
Despite these missing qualifications, they are considered the greatest transcendentalists. They are above such designations, even. They are purely in a loving mood with the Supreme Lord, in a bond that cannot be broken.
This means that no matter to what level a person has reached or failed to cross, as long as there is life there is the chance for reaching perfection in that life. Devotional service at the highest levels is without motivation and without interruption.
What education for?
When lamentation in store.
That of the truth not knowing,
Only into illusion going.
Whether educated or not,
This opportunity got.
Like gopis to highest levels reaching,
Their example life’s goal teaching.
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