the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action
Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338
The Law of Varna and Mahatma Gandhi
Q.: We do not understand your emphasis on varnadharma. Can you justify the present caste system? What is your definition of Varna?
A.: Varna means pre-determination of the choice of man’s profession. The law of Varna is that a man shall follow the profession of his ancestors for earning his livelihood. Every child naturally follows the ‘colour’ of his father, or chooses his father’s profession. Varna therefore is in a way the law of heredity. Varna is not a thing that is superimposed on Hindus, but men who were trustees for their welfare discovered the law for them. It is not a human invention, but an immutable law of nature the statement of a tendency that is ever present and at work like Newton’s law of gravitation. Just as the law or gravitation existed even before it was discovered so did the law of Varna. It was given to the Hindus to discover that law. By their discovery and application of certain laws of nature, the peoples of the West have easily increased their material possessions. Similarly, Hindus by their discovery of this irresistible social tendency have been able to achieve in the spiritual field what no other nation in the world has achieved. Varna has nothing to do wish caste. Caste is an excrescence, just like untouchability, upon Hinduism. All the excrescences that are emphasized today were never part of Hinduism. But don’t you find similar ugly excrescences in Christianity and Islam also? Fight them as much as you like. Down with the monster of caste that masquerades in the guise of Varna. It is this travesty of Varna that has degraded Hinduism and India. Our failure to follow the law of Varna is largely responsible both for our economic and spiritual ruin. It is one cause of unemployment and impoverishment, and it is responsible for untouchability and defections from our faith. But in quarrelling with the present monstrous form, and monstrous practices to which the original law has been reduced, do not fight the law itself.
Q. How many varnas are there?
A. Four varnas, though it is not a rigid division inherent in Varna itself. The rishis after incessant experiment and research arrived at this fourfold division—the four ways of earning one’s livelihood.
Q. Logically, therefore, there are as many varnas as there are professions?
A. Not necessarily. The different professions can easily be brought under the four main divisions that of teaching, of defending, of wealth-producing, and of manual service. So far as the world is concerned, the dominant profession is the wealth producing, just as grahasthashrama is the most dominant amongst all ashrams. Vaisya is the keynote among the varnas. The defender is not wanted if there is no Wealth and property. The first two and the fourth are necessary because of the third. The first will always be very few because of the severe discipline required for it, the second must be few in well-ordered society, and so the fourth.
Q. If a man practices a profession which does not belong to him by birth, what Varna does he belong to?
A. According to the Hindu belief he belongs to the varna in which he is born, but by not living up to it he will be doing violence to himself and becomes a degraded being a patita.
Q. A Sudra does an act which belongs to a Brahmin by birth. Does he become a patita?
A. A Sudra has as much right to knowledge as a Brahmin, but he falls from his estate if he tries to gain his livelihood through teaching. In ancient times there were automatic trade guilds, and it was an unwritten law to support all the members of the profession. A hundred years ago, a carpenter’s son never wanted to become a lawyer. Today he does, because he finds the profession the easiest way to steal money. The lawyer thinks that he must charge Rs. 15,000 as fees for the exercise of his brain, and a physician like Hakim Saheb thinks that he must charge Rs. 1,000 a day for his medical advice!
Q. But may not a man follow a profession after his heart?
A. But the only profession after his heart should be the profession of his fathers. There is nothing wrong in choosing that profession; on the contrary, it is noble. What we find today are freaks, and that is why there is violence and disruption of society. Let us not confound ourselves by superficial illustrations. There are thousands of carpenters’ sons following their fathers ‘calling, but not even a hundred carpenters’ sons who are lawyers. In ages gone by there was not the ambition of encroaching on others’ profession and amassing wealth. In Cicero’s time, for instance, the lawyer’s was an honorary profession. And it would be quite right for any brainy carpenter to become a lawyer for service, not for money. Later, ambition for fame and wealth crept in. Physicians served the society and rested with what it gave them, but now they have become traders and even a danger to society. The medical and the legal professions were deservedly called liberal when the motive was purely philanthropic.
Q. All that is under ideal conditions. But what do you propose today when everyone is hankering after paying professions?
A. It is a sweeping generalization. Put together the number of boys studying in schools and colleges and determine the percentage of boys going in for the learned professions. Highway robbery is not open to everyone. The present seems to be an agitation for highway robbery. How many can become lawyers and Government servants? Those who can be legitimately occupied in earning wealth are Vaisya. Even there when their profession becomes a highway robbery, it is hateful. There cannot be millions of millionaires.
Q. So far as Tamilnad is concerned, all Non-Brahmins want to take up professions to which they were not born.
A. A rejects your claim to speak on behalf of the 22 million Tamilians. I give you a formula Let us not want to be what everyone else cannot be. And you can work out this proposition only on the basis of Varna as I have defined it.
Q. You have been saying that the law of Varna curbs our worldly ambition. How?
A. When I follow my father’s profession, I need not even go to a school to learn it, and my mental energy is set free for spiritual pursuits, because my money or rather livelihood is ensured. Varna is the best form of insurance for happiness and for real religious pursuit. When I concentrate my energy on other pursuits, I sell away my powers of self-realization or sell my soul for a mess of pottage.
Q. You talk of releasing the energies for spiritual pursuits. Today those who follow their father’s professions have no spiritual culture at all their very Varna unfits them for it.
A. We are talking with crooked notions of Varna. When Varna was really practised, we had enough leisure for spiritual training. Even now, you go to distant villages and see what spiritual culture villagers have as compared to the town-dwellers. These know no self-control. But you have spotted the mischief of the age. Let us not try to be what others cannot be. I would not even learn the Gita if everyone who wished could not do it. That is why my whole soul rises against learning English for making money. We have to rearrange our lives so that we ensure to the Millions the leisure that a fraction of us have today, and we cannot do it unless we follow the law of Varna.
Q. You will excuse us, if we go back to the same question over and over again. We want to understand it properly. What is the Varna of a man practicing different professions at different times?
A. It may not make any difference in his Varna so long as he gains his livelihood by following his father’s profession. He may do anything he likes so long as he does it for love of service. But he who changes profession from time to time for the sake of gaining wealth degrades himself and falls from Varna.
Q. A Sudra may have all the qualities of a Brahmin and yet may not be called a Brahmin?
A. He may not be called a Brahmin in this birth. And it is a good thing for him not to arrogate a Varna to which he is not born. It is a sign of true humility.
Q. Do you believe that qualities attaching to Varna are inherited and not acquired?
A. They can be acquired. The inherited qualities can always be strengthened and new ones cultivated. But we need not, ought not, to seek new avenues for gaining wealth. We should be satisfied with those we have inherited from our forefathers so long as they are pure.
Q. Do you not find a man exhibiting qualities opposed to his family character?
A. That is a difficult question. We do not know all our antecedents. But you and I do not need to go deeper into this question for understanding the law of Varna as I have endeavoured to explain to you. If my father is a trader and I exhibit the qualities of a soldier, I may without reward serve my country as a soldier but must be content to earn my bread by trading.
Q. Caste, as we see it today, consists only in restrictions about inter-dining and intermarriage. Does preservation of Varna then mean keeping these restrictions?
A. No, not at all. In its purest state, there can be no restrictions.
Q. Can they be omitted?
A. They can be, and Varna is preserved even by marrying into other varnas.
Q. Then the mother’s Varna will be affected.
A. A wife follows the Varna of her husband.
Q. Is the doctrine of varnadharma, as you have expounded it, to be found in our Shastras, or is it your own?
A. Not my own. I derive it from the Bhagavad Gita.
Q. Do you approve of the doctrine as given in Manusmriti?
A. The principle is there. But the applications do not appeal to me fully. There are parts of the book which are open to grave objections. I hope that they are later interpolations.
Q. Does not Manusmriti contain a lot of injustice?
A. Yes, a lot of injustice to women and the so-called lower ‘castes’. All is not Shastra that goes by that name. The Shastras so called therefore need to be read with much caution.
Q. But you go by the Bhagavad Gita. It says Varna is according to guna and karma. How did you bring in birth?
A. I swear by the Bhagavad Gita because it is the only book in which I find nothing to cavil at. It lays down principles and leaves you to find the application for yourself. The Gita does talk of Varna being according to guna and karma, but guna and karma are inherited by birth. Lord Krishna says, “All varnas have been created by me ˜,” i.e., I suppose by birth. The law of Varna is nothing, if not by birth.
Q. But there is no superiority about Varna?
A. No, not at all, though I do say Brahmanism is the culmination of other varnas, just as the head is the culmination of the body. It means capacity for superior service, but no superior status. The moment superior status is arrogated, it becomes worthy of being trampled underfoot.
Q. Kural you know. Do you know that the author of that Tamil classic says there is no caste by birth? At birth, he says, all life is equal.
A. He says it as an answer to the present-day exaggerations. When superiority was claimed by any Varna, he had to raise his voice against it. But that does not cut at the root of Varna by birth. It is only the reformer’s attempt to cut at the root of inequality.
Q. The recent practice is so distorted that may it not be the best thing to give it up altogether and begin on a clean slate?
A. Only if we were creators. We cannot by a stroke of the pen alter Hindu nature. We can find out a method of working the law, not destroying it. Q. When authors of Shastras created new Smritis, why not you?
A. If I could create a new creation! My state then would be far worse than Vishvamitra’s and he was far greater than I. Q. So long as you do not destroy Varna, untouchability cannot be destroyed.
A. I do not think so. But if varnashrama goes to the dogs in the removal of untouchability, I shall not shed a tear. But what bearing has Varna as defined by me on untouchability?
Q. But the opponents of reform quote you in support.
A. That is the lot of every reformer. He will be misquoted by interested parties, but you also know that some of them want me to relinquish Hinduism. Others would banish me if they could from the Hindu fold. I have gone no-where to defend varnadharma, though for the removal of untouchability I went to Vykom. I am the author of a Congress resolution for propagation of khadi, establishment of Hindu- Muslim unity, and removal of untouchability, the three pillars of swaraj. But I have never placed establishment of varnashrama dharma as the fourth pillar. You cannot, therefore, accuse me of placing a wrong emphasis on varnashrama dharma.
Q. Do you know that many of your followers distort you teaching?
A. Do I not know it? I know that I have many followers only so called. Q. Buddhism was driven out of India because Brahmins dominated the organization. Similarly they will drive Hinduism out, if it does not serve their end.
A. Let they dare. But I am certain that Buddhism has not gone out of India. India is the country that imbibed most of the spirit of the Buddha. Buddhism must be distinguished from the spirit of the Buddha as well as Christianity from the spirit of the Christ. They were successful in driving out Buddhism, because they had assimilated the central teaching of the Buddha.
Q. The same Brahmin who assimilated the good things of Buddhism has committed the worst crime, worse than the Amritsar wrong, by not allowing untouchable’s entry into temples and imposing on them cruel disabilities.
A. You are right to a certain extent. But you are wrong in fixing the guilt on Brahmins. It is the whole of Hinduism that is responsible. Varnadharma having become distorted gave rise to untouchability. There was no deliberate wickedness, but the result was a human tragedy.
Q. But so long as you use the word varnashrama dharma it brings in with it the evil associations of today.
A. The moral is, destroy the evil associations and restore varnadharma to its purity.