What nurtured the caste system in ancient India?

I am sharing my answer to a Quora question. Casteism is a sensitive topic for many human beings. Please feel free to put your views in the comments section.

  • In ancient India, caste system became a social problem when members of the Indian society lost freedom in selecting their professions. Downward mobility was allowed; you could not move upwards. As an example, a priest or ruler could become an employee in a bookstore, but a bookstore employee could not become a ruler if he or she wanted to. The ancient hierarchy is as follows: Educators and Priests (Class I; Brahmin) → Rulers and Defence Professionals (Class II; Kshatriya) → Entrepreneurs (Class III; Vaishya) → Employees (Class IV; Shudra)
  • Casteism was not a problem created by the so-called higher caste individuals; it was more about people in political power misusing their power. However, in earlier times, unlike today, most people in power came from the higher castes (mainly Brahmins and Kshatriyas). Accordingly, Brahmins and Kshatriyas, in general, can’t be held responsible for casteism; only the individuals who misused power in ancient times can be partly blamed for it.
  • If we look at ancient World History, selected people in political power have misused power even in Europe. Misuse of power is always immoral, even when the phenomena involved is not labelled as casteism by historians.
  • Today’s India has been facing a faculty shortage for a while, maybe due to lesser perks. This indicates that people are not that interested in teaching — a job that Brahmins used to do in the past. People in ancient times were more interested in the privileges that came with it, say the permission to ride palanquins and elephants.
  • Casteism has been a social-political problem of the Indian subcontinent; it is not a problem of Hinduism, which is a global democratic religion. The saints of the Bhakti Movement, most of whom were from the so-called higher castes, ensured that casteism remains eliminated from true Hindu spirituality.
  • It appears that many ancient scholars may have even altered some of the scriptures to suit their needs. Many passages in Hindu scriptures are unnecessarily Brahmin-centric and appear out of context; they may be later additions. Because internal inconsistencies and interpolations may be present in scriptures of every world religion, we need to avoid the My scripture is perfect paradigm while reading scriptures and read them selectively.
  • We must understand that God does not discriminate on the basis of caste. At the same time, Brahmin-bashing is immoral.
  • We should remember that many of the devotional saints who handed over spiritual knowledge to society, like Sri Ramananda, Saints Tulasidasa, St. Thyagaraja, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Adi Shankarahcarya, St. Gyaneshwar and others were all born in Brahmin families. (Saints were considered beyond caste, but that is a different issue.) In North India, Sri Ramananda had the biggest role in opposing casteism. This shows that many people from the higher castes did think differently and supported goodness as opposed to casteism.
  • Many human beings from the so-called higher castes sacrificed their lives between 1200-1947 to free India from foreign rule. The period between 1200-1850 could have been politically and economically the worst for India, and foreign rule was unfortunate for everyone in India, irrespective of their castes.

Prasadam: Food offered to God

What do the Shiva Purana and the Bhagwad Gita tell us about prasadam? How is offering food to God related to bhakti (devotion)? To find out, please read my new article from the Speaking Tree section of the Economic Times.

Source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-speaking-tree/food-for-the-divine/

Aims of human life and their relation to Astrology

I have already talked about the four aims of human life in a previous post. Interestingly, principles from Vedic astrology can be used to learn what the four aims of life involve in the Hindu way of living. Moreover, some astrological principles can be learned and applied even if we do not believe in future telling.

The four aims of life include dharma (righteousness and fulfilment of duties), artha (wealth), kama (desires and fulfilment of dreams), and moksha (liberation). Out of these, eventual liberation or reaching God happens to be the ultimate aim of Hindu life. And artha and kama may have to be coupled with dharma to maintain the former two objectives on the right track.

Everything belonging to Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn (artha trikona or wealth triangle; earth signs) can be categorized within artha.  Accordingly, earning money, employment, professional growth, aspiration for recognition, honesty, discipline, perseverance, perfection, and a realistic or down-to-earth approach in life are artha influences.

Communication, expression, aspiration for emotional relationships, entrepreneurship, owning a business, team work, nurturing artistic talent, technological pursuits, aspiration for a new electronic gadget, philanthropy, and a logical-analytical approach to problem solving are Gemini-Libra-Aquarius influences (kama trikona or desire triangle; air signs). Accordingly, they belong to the domain of kama [1].

Dharma includes the love of God, creativity, education, work ethics, a traditional outlook, leadership, aspiration for learning philosophy, enthusiasm, kindness, guidance by a spiritual guru, and an idealistic-creative approach in life, which are all Aries-Leo-Sagittarius influences (dharma trikona or righteousness triangle; fire signs). On the other hand, seeking happiness, finding peace in the world, caring for humanity, research, aspiration for learning occult, transformation, meditation, renunciation, and an emotional-intuitive approach in life are moksha objectives, belonging to the domain of Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces (moksha trikona or liberation triangle; water signs; [2]).

[1] We should carefully note that kama in the context of the four aims of life means desire, not lust, and does not have an inherent negative connotation. On the other hand, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Lord Krishna describes kama in the context of the three gates to hell, he is talking about lust (16:21). Context can definitely change the meaning of a word.

[2] Every astrology chart has a balance of qualities from the four types of astrological signs. Relatively more planets in the liberation triangle does not directly correlate with higher chances of liberation. Being born in a specific sign of the zodiac will not supposedly create an advantage (in any sphere of life) over individuals from the other zodiac signs; the different signs probably reflect differences in disposition.

In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

Defeating corruption

Hinduism, with its eternal focus on righteousness, the rich guidance it has continuously received from the self-realized, and the disciplined lifestyle that it supports, is the most equipped among world religions for combating corruption [1]. For individuals who wish to change, the scriptures that Hindus typically read everyday can provide sufficient self-help for developing rajasic and sattvic traits. For those who can no longer get on track on their own, Hinduism offers satsang, one’s ultimate hope for change.

What blocks the transformation of the corrupt people among us? Do they believe in God’s authority [2]? It appears that many of them would answer the second question in the affirmative. Probably, they too listen to discourses and memorize praise for God, just like many of the honest people do. Yet, for some reason or the lack of it, they seem to feel that they are faultless. This can be one of their biggest obstacles. While the corrupt would believe that they are goodness incarnate, a saint like Kabirdasa would feel that he or she has more flaws than anyone else in the world [3]. Our recognition of our own imperfections in action and thought, as opposed to a combination of egomania, greed and unkindness, allows our ethical and spiritual advancement.

While Hinduism, with the karmic law in place, has not been gentle towards the corrupt, the Hindu tradition offers a second chance to all the individuals who have realized their fault. To defeat corruption in the mind, we need to go beyond the label of being religious (or spiritual) and start assimilating the teachings of our chosen spiritual path [4].

[1] When we perceive Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, saying that Hinduism can help us combat corruption becomes redundant because corruption does not exist when everyone follows dharma and performs his or her duties honestly.
[2] This blog does not intend to correlate atheism or one’s spiritual beliefs with morality.
[3] See Kabiradasa’s doha: “bura jo dekhan main chala, bura na milya…”
[4] A spiritual solution may not be practicable for everyone; defeating the shadripu (including greed) in the mind is more difficult than respecting the law.


Satsang, meaning “companionship of the righteous,” is emphasized for spiritual aspirants of all levels….What is so important about worshipping together or interacting with other people who share the same interest in spirituality? First of all, it teaches us to connect to each other and to God in place of connecting to God alone. Connecting with each other for a righteous cause is an important lesson to be learned in life, for it gives us a foresight in dharma at a collective plane. Without this initial lesson, we may never develop the impressions for tolerance, peace, and “seeing God everywhere,” cultivation of which is compulsory for becoming a great soul. Satsang teaches us to keep our ego in check, for it promotes sharing of God’s love and prevents us from ignoring fellow humans under the excuse of spiritual evolution. It opens the gates for exchanging good wishes and blessings with fellow beings. In addition to making us more spiritual, satsang develops the wish to live with ethically gifted people. Thus, in the long run, this translates to an eternal wish of making our community a better place to live.

In a more traditional sense, satsang refers to the company of saints, who have God in their heart and continuously aspire for him.* It is believed that they can radiate positive or spiritual energy to our minds, and their presence can accelerate our spiritual progress, just like the company of the immoral can trigger our tamas instincts.

Excerpted from Devotional Hinduism by M.S. Goel (2008), p. 20.

*Note that satsang is a much wider term than listening to discourses (pravachan), though the two are often used as synonyms today.
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