What’s your VARNA quotient?
What’s your IQ? What’s your EQ? These days we are also asked about SQ (spiritual quotient). These IQ, EQ, SQ are available today only to measure our aptitude, emotions, spirituality etc. But there is a quotient that was discovered thousands of years ago in India, which is based on natural order of things. It is the VQ ~ the Varna quotient which is simple, logical and provides a template to understand oneself.
We just can’t help but categorise anything and everything. We have created so many categories, divisions, sub divisions in almost everything we know of. It is no surprise then, that there exists all over the world one sort of division or the other in a society.
Those who know the Indian society a bit more deeply would agree that Indian society is one of its kind with categories and categories of people and people, full of diversity and riddle with complexities. It has been that way for thousands of years. But the Indian thinkers of the past, in their wisdom, observed deeply and discovered a system of classification or grouping the very society they lived in.
The four categories…
We all can identify with this grouping as it is based on our innate tendencies and behaviour. It is famously called the Varna system and according to this system, there are the four categories. They are the four categories of Thinkers, the Leaders, the Profit-minded and the Hands-on-Workers. A society has people in all of these four categories be in Western, Middle Eastern, South Asian or Far Eastern. Here is a simple descriptor of these four categories.
THE THINKERS: The thinkers are those who are purely intellectually driven, the scholarly type. They are the contemplative ones who have a passion for research and study. They create knowledge and they are the policy makers, the scientists, the hardcore R&D guys, the sublime mystics, the philosophers, the educators of the society etc. These people love to think, analyse, categorise, educate and provide roadmaps for mankind.
THE LEADERS: The Leaders are the ones who have a commanding personality and provide leadership. They naturally tend to lead the masses. They are the ones who govern, offer protection to society, are in the military, defence, prevent wrong doing in the society, ensure justice, are the lawyers, cops etc.
THE PROFIT MINDED: The Profit minded people are the corporate guys who live and breathe profit. Business is what they understand. Profit and loss is their fundamental temper. They own capital, run industries and fund enterprises.
THE WORKERS: They are the ones who work more, do service to society and do the processing, the grassroot workers. They need not be just unskilled workers or those who do menial jobs.
The technical terminology used for these categories or Varnas are “Braahmanas” for thinkers, “Kshatriyas” for leaders, “Vaishyas” for the profit minded and “Shudras” for the workers. This four-fold category is not by inheritance or birth but only by mental temperaments. For example a thinker’s son need not be a thinker. A businessman’s son can be a natural thinker or even a worker. The word Braahmana is derived from the noun Brhman (brahmani aacharati iti braahmanah – One who seeks Brhman is a Braahmana). A Kshatriya is a holder of kshatra or authority. Vaishya is from the noun Vishaha meaning merchant. Shudra is said to share roots with the words shuddha and shucha which mean pure.
So how do one know to what varna one belongs to? We can be a combo of all categories but dominance of a particular mental temperament (Varna Quotient) generally shows in our behaviour. If one reads the scriptures of India, the VQ or the Varna Quotient is actually well defined. ‘Varna’ according to the scriptures is based on our innate tendencies called ‘Gunas’ and our ‘karma’ (conduct) which is the deciding factor in determing our varna. So a Raavana is from a family of Braahamana and we know by his mind passions and conduct that he wasn’t one. No society can function without the thinkers, the protectors of good, the merchants or the service workers. All Varnas are essential as a society needs them all.
Varna quotient ~ the real facts from ancient sources…
The Indian sourcebooks and the extensive body of knowledge explain these categories. They are very clear about these concepts and candid in their explanations, duties, responsibilities for each of the varnas etc. The Bhagavad Gita says in chapter 18 verse – 41, that
“Of scholars (BRAHMANAS) , of leaders (KSHATRIYAS) and of traders (VAISHYAS) , as also of workers (SHUDRAS) , O Parantapa, the duties are distributed according to the qualities born of their own nature”.
So, does the varna system or the varna vyavastha belong to the entire mankind? Swami Chinmayananda the world renowned authority on Vedanta explains in his commentary tho the above verse of the Bhagavad Gita:
“Krishna classifies the entire mankind under four distinct heads: the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. Different types of duties are assigned to each of these classes of individuals depending upon their nature (Swabhaava), which is ordered by the proportion of the gunas in the make-up of each type of inner equipment. The duties prescribed for a particular type depend upon the manifestation of the inner ruling gunas, as expressed in the individual’s contact with the world and his activities in society. The good and bad are not diagnosed by merely examining the texture of the person’s skin or the colour of his hair; an individual is judged only by his expressions in life and by the quality of his contacts with the world outside. These alone can reflect one’s inner personality — the quality and texture of the contents of one’s mind-intellect.
After testing and determining the quality of the inner personality, the individuals in the community are classified, and different types of duties are prescribed for each. Naturally, the duties prescribed for a Brahmana are different from those expected of a Kshatriya; and the work of the Vaishya and the Shudra should necessarily be different from that of the Brahmana and the Kshatriya. The Shastra enjoins duties, by pursuing which the preponderant Tamas can be evolved into Rajas, which, in its turn, can grow to become Sattwa. And, even then, the seeker must wait for the sublimation of Sattwa, when alone the final experience of the Infinite is gained.
By observing a person one can conclude as to which class he belongs to — whether to the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya or the Shudra. In this context, when we say a man is Sattwic, it only means that the Sattwic qualities are predominant in him; even in the most Sattwic of persons, at times, the Rajasic and the Tamasic qualities can and will show up; so too, even in the most Tamasic man, Sattwa and Rajas will necessarily show up sometimes. No one is exclusively of one guna alone.”
To call Varna as caste simply shows lack of research and an intellectual myopia. In fact there is no such word as ‘caste’ in the Indian vocabulary. It was coined from the word Portuguese word ‘Casta’ by the Portuguese invaders during their maiden voyage to India in the 16th century. The British in India simply continued using this incorrect word.
The generic definition of the term ‘Varna’ comes from ‘Vriyate Iti Varnaha’ implying that one can choose the group and occupation based on your innate tendencies.
“Just as a wooden toy elephant cannot be real elephant, and a stuffed deer cannot be a real deer, so, without studying scriptures and the Vedas and the development of intellect, a Braahmana by birth cannot be considered a Braahmana” says the Manu Smriti.
A hymn from the Rig Veda goes to the extent of saying,
“No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity”.
Swami Vivekananda explains
“Take a man in his different pursuits, for example: when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudra-hood; when he is busy transacting some piece of business for profit, on his account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Braahmana. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one Varna into another. Otherwise, how did Vishwamitra become a Braahmana and Parashurama a Kshatriya?”
The ancient Varna system may or may not be in ideal practice, but it’s a flexible natural order of mankind and makes sense even today. In fact many sections of society follow this naturally without any such stratification. The Varna quotient basically makes us who we are and what we do, in line with our inner callings. So what’s your dominant mental temperament – your Varna quotient? Are you the kind of the “Braahmana”, “Kshatriya”, “Vaishya” or the “Shudra”?
Ram Lingam blogs his insights on India and Indian culture at www.indiasutra.co.nz