Once upon a time some great Indian Rishis and thinkers with the aid of their high spiritual realizations and deep insights into human nature conceived of a social organizational system of Chaturvarna, or Four Social Classes. Ideally this social stratification was to be based on people’s inner aptitude and temperament, in order to facilitate the well-integrated growth of the individual through his/her education, vocation and corresponding ethical-moral training, as well as the harmonious growth of the collective through the individual progress. Ideals are almost never translated into perfect application.
But then this post is not about explaining, defending or negating the unique social system that it was, or about how or why it degenerated into the infamous caste system that we see today. I also don’t want to go into how the term varna has been mistranslated into caste. (Interested readers may take the help of the big free university called Google to learn more about that). Instead in this post I want to bring up the possibility that the seed-ideas of the ancient Chaturvarna system may still be relevant in our present age as well as the future age of any society, but these seed-ideas must take a new form more suitable for the new times. I intend to do this thought-exercise because of its implication for rethinking Indian education, or education in general.
The four varnas, as everyone knows are – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. To see the four varnas as four personality types or four inner temperaments – Knowledge/Wisdom, Courage/Will, Harmony/Organization, Perfection in Details/Service – is the starting point for our rethinking exercise. Recognizing that each person may have all four personality types inherent in him or her but with one (or two) leading the way may be the next step. And once the dominant type is recognized, the next step may be to provide all the necessary means and opportunities through which the dominant trait is trained, chiseled and perfected, while at the same time ensuring that the individual recognizes the inter-dependence of all these four personality types.
This recognition and acceptance of such inter-dependence is essential because as Sri Aurobindo points out in his writings, the power of knowledge (Brahmin-hood) needs the power of courage and will (Kshatriya-hood) to translate knowledge into reality, power of courage and will needs to be enlightened by the power of knowledge, power of production and harmonious organization (Vaishya-hood) needs both the power of knowledge & intellect and also the power of courageous action and will, and similarly, the power of service and obedience (Shudra-hood) needs the light of knowledge, action and harmonious organization.
The need of the time-spirit is to enable individuals through proper education in such a way that they can develop an integrated personality with all these four soul-powers or aspirations of the soul harmonized in such a way that while one of these may still remain as the dominant personality-type influencing the individual’s temperament and work preference, the other powers are also appropriately developed and integrated around this dominant power. This will also ensure a more integral development of the different instruments of the soul – body, life and mind.
And finally, all of these powers and instruments must be integrated around the true, inner personality of the individual – the spark of the Divinity within. This new form of the ancient spirit of chaturvarna provides the ideal to be pursued in a true Indian National Education. But in order for this ideal to be converted into reality, we need major overhaul of not only our education system and of our political structures (which thrive on division and not integration), but first and foremost of our mental conditioning.
Most importantly we need each one of us to be fully convinced that the future of India necessitates that we get rid of the old dead conventions, mental rigidities and mental biases about how we understand the great truths from our own cultural wealth. In other words, before we condemn any ancient idea/ideal from our past heritage, let us first get to know the inner truth behind it and see if the truth holds any value still for our present and future. Of course, the dead conventions, abuses, misapplications that inevitably crop up around the truth must definitely go.
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