This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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8.9. Caste

Caste and modern India

The theory of caste is a part of spiritual anthropology in that it describes the basic tendencies of human nature and how they are related to one another, both in theory and in the context of the social order. What follows is precisely this type of study, and while human institutions, under normal conditions, attempt to retrace nature, they do so imperfectly and sometimes very imperfectly. Thus, we do not attempt to describe in detail or even justify the system of caste that is currently in place in modern India. What we say here is in accordance with the Hindu doctrine, but it may or may not apply to the social order of modern Hindu civilization. This does not alter the truth of the theory. A man might understand physics perfectly yet be unable to shoot an arrow into the bullseye of a target. Such is the discrepancy between principle and application, and in this age certain principles cannot be applied with any degree of success under present conditions.

Presence and absence of caste in the traditional world

The system of castes is an expression of the nature of things, but as such it only expresses a certain aspect of reality by emphasizing a certain truth, which is hierarchy and differentiation. Diversity of qualifications (through birth or heredity) exists and so the caste system is justified, and that is enough.

But it is also true that the other side of the proverbial coin has equal validity, which is why we see traditional worlds, such as the Islamic one, which deploys an almost entirely egalitarian outlook (although not completely egalitarian, which would result in anarchy). This outlook results from a focus, not on the nature of the human condition in this world, but on the questions of man’s final end and spiritual nature, and in this regard each is equal to his neighbor.

The shape of the social order is therefore a result of the consideration given most weight by the doctrine or Revelation belonging to that world, which also, by the grace of God, corresponds to the nature of that particular human type.

Islamic egalitarianism, focused as it is on the final end of man, postulates the immortality of the soul; Hinduism, focused as it is on the diversity of qualifications and their hierarchical arrangement, postulates the divine character of the intellect and, as a result, gives priority of place to an intellectual elite.

Christianity and caste

As we’ve explained elsewhere, Christianity is somewhat unique in the way it deals with its Revelation, at times displaying a confusion of the esoteric and exoteric, and straddling the fence when it comes to the truths it chooses to emphasize, whereas other traditions seem to have staked out their claims and developed themselves within these limits. Part of this is due to the inherent versatility and mobility of the Christian Revelation, which, much like Buddhism, is capable of adaptation and re-adaption based on time and place and people. This means that when we come to the question of caste, we find that although the Gospel itself is quite egalitarian in its emphasis, Christianity is nonetheless capable of developing a caste-based world and thriving within it. The medieval period, and feudalism in particular, presents itself as a de facto caste system, if not a doctrinal one, as in Hinduism. What we can take from this is that Christian doctrine does not possess a distinctly social component, or what in Islam is the Sharia law. This is what makes it capable of adaptation to a diversity of human worlds and capable of serving as a means of grace for a broad spectrum of human types, but it also means that questions of social application are not clearly defined and therefore easily perverted or ignored depending on the situation.

Humanist egalitarianism is not traditional egalitarianism

One should be careful not to equate traditional egalitarianism with the egalitarian of the modern West. One is rooted in the Divine and on the nature of man insofar as his final end is the Divine. The ‘equality’ postulated by the modern West is, on the contrary, based in a humanism that refuses to recognize a final end at all, and if it speaks of a shared human nature, boils down to vague and flattering abstractions and, in the end, human animality. In other words, traditional egalitarianism is deduced from above, while modern egalitarianism is obtained by induction from below, hence its worship of science and insistence on evolutionism.

Islam rejects caste because all men are God; the modern world rejects caste because all men are primates. This makes all the difference, and this is why, despite the drastic difference between the Hindu and Islamic social orders, they will always have more in common with one another than either have with contemporary Western nations.

Exceptions and exclusions

Even where we see caste developed, we find exceptions. In Christian Europe at the height of feudalism, it was still possible for a man of any background to become a priest, and once a priest, to crown an emperor. In Hinduism there are acknowledged vocations that exclude the responsibilities and limitations of caste, namely the sannyasis or wandering monks.

Ascending development vs. descending elaboration

It is interesting to note that, for all of its insistence on human equality, the modern West permits individuals and classes to rule, although it only permits this on the basis of purely material qualifications. In other words, it is horrified if anyone claims that this or that individual is inherently more qualified to rule, but is thrilled to have a billionaire purchase a seat of power, taking the accumulation of wealth as an acceptable ‘qualification’ since this does not seem to encroach on the doctrine of equality.

Modern hierarchy is therefore the result of an ascending development on the part of theoretically equal beings, usually measured by the standard of material wealth; traditional hierarchy is a descending elaboration of the divine nature.

This latter point also explains why in Hinduism caste can be lost but not gained (although even here exceptions are allowed, since traditional doctrine does not pretend to be a closed system). Qualifications that are ‘qualities’ cannot be gained by material addition, and are therefore unaffected by wealth, whereas in the West, the realm of quantity, wealth easily becomes to end-all-be-all and if one has enough of it there are no social limits to what one can accomplish.

To what do the castes correspond?

We should now ask: to what fundamental tendencies do the castes correspond? In other words, what peculiar distinctions in the human nature are the social categories meant to serve? For that is, after all, their purpose: to serve a specific type of person and enable them to realize their potential to its fullest. Caste, even in theory, never pretends to act in the service of “the greater good” at the sacrifice of the individual who participates (and this is quite contrary to modern political theory, which is always about the greatest good of the greatest number).

To answer these questions, we can say that human nature distinguishes itself in individuals through different tendencies, which amount to different ways of relating to the world, of being conscious of it, and of perceiving what is real. In other words, men with different fundamental tendencies will differ with regard to what is ‘real,’ or at least ‘most real’ in their lives. This in turn dictates their pursuits and priorities, as well as how they valuate activities and vocations.

Obviously, since each tendency is an expression of human nature, each is ‘equally valid,’ even if they must still admit of hierarchical arrangement. If a given man has a given vocation, it is legitimate that he pursues it, and the crime would be for him to pursue the vocation of someone else with the idea that it was a more noble one than his. All castes are therefore necessary and worthy of respect as such.

Although not all traditions develop caste, all can acknowledge the principle just stated, and this acknowledgement alone would alleviate much of the strife in the world, in particular the failure of groups to respect one another.

Our world is determined by what is real to us

We have just said that individuals with different fundamental tendencies will also differ with regard to what is ‘real’ to their consciousness. This implies that, particularly on the global level, different groups with different tendencies will, for all intents and purposes, experience different ‘realities’ than one another. This is not an objective statement, for Truth is One, but in the relative order of human experience, men of different inner tendencies will populate different worlds. This is why we believe that it is accurate to say that a Hindu, for example, populates a different world than the Muslim, and both populate a different world from the American.

Moreover, we should say that in most cases those who live ‘in their own world’ are ignorant of the existence of any other. They not only do not understand the nature of other worlds—they do not even know that there is another world to understand. Instead, the American looks at the Muslim with utter confusion and judges him as if he is an American with an American conscience, American motivations, American sentimentality, and an American outlook, which is to say he judges him horribly.

For the American, all men are everywhere the same: humanity is homogenous. Mankind is American, or would be if they were not misled to be something sub-American. It is this arrogant superficiality about men and their worlds which leads him to do some much violence to the people of other countries, and all the while he tells himself that he is ‘saving’ them via proselytism, whether that proselytism is religious or in the form of economic ‘development.’

What is real for the Brahmana?

The Brahmana, the contemplative and purely intellectual type, which typically coincides with the sacerdotal function, the transcendent is what is real. Life, even his own life, or especially his own, is relative, not as an abstract notion but as a matter of intuition and immediate perception. He experiences all changing and temporal things as ‘less real’. When it is said that the world is an illusion, for the Brahmana this is merely a way of enunciating his basic experience of life: it is not, as it is for men of a different temperament, merely an imaginative device useful for spiritual discipline but contrary to experience. We say that his inner disposition is contemplative because he is by nature withdrawn from the world and from life and turned inward and upward toward the Principle. He values sacred knowledge (as opposed to profane knowledge and erudition) above all else.

What is real for the Kshatriya?

The Kshatriya is the man of action, and for him, although his intellect may be powerful and spiritual sense quite developed, it is action that is most real. After all, it is action which determines things, and is not God the first mover, without whom nothing would be made? For the man of action, the highest pursuits are not inner or contemplative but external and expansive, and are enunciated in terms of virtue and glory and character. He is concerned less about the nature of reality than the influence he could exert upon it. This is why the Kshatriya coincides with the royal function and its representatives serve as rulers of the temporal order. And yet without knowledge, action is blind, and so the Kshatriya, despite its superior power of action, must be hierarchically subordinate to the Brahmana.

We will remark here that the Kshatriya presents himself as a de facto materialist, in the sense that his pursuits are necessarily bound up with the material order. What we mean to say is that he is a materialist only accidentally and not by nature. Action is primary, and he makes use of the material world in order to realize himself via action. His values are non-material and ‘noble,’ hence the name ‘nobility.’ This distinguishes the Kshatriya from the Vaishya.

What is real for the Vaishya?

The Vaishya caste includes the economic vocations ranging from the artisan to the merchant or man of business, even to the peasant in the medieval sense.

We distinguished above between de facto materialism of the Kshatriya and the ‘natural’ materialism of the Vaishya. This is not derogatory to the latter any more than it is derogatory to the former when it is compared to the non-materialism of the Brahmana. It merely describes an inner tendency and the outlook that results from it. In fact, materialism only becomes evil when it is out of alignment with the inner tendency of the individual and taken to excess, and especially when the context is one devoid of any traditional, which is to say transcendent, center.

Thus, we say that the materialism of the Vaishya is not ‘accidental’ but is what it is by virtue of his innermost nature. He operates on what we would describe as the economic plane, and his values are primarily those of material wealth, physical well-being, security, and so on. Other values are secondary in comparison to these, and therefore less real, and he only believes in them tentatively, if he can believe in them at all.

It should be obviously that the most basic teachings and exhortations of exoteric religion are aimed primarily at this type of man, which is appropriate since the bulk of humanity fits into this category and so any popular aspect of a religion will be adjusted to the Vaishya mentality. Thus, Christ and St. Paul after him spend a great deal of time trying to convince their listeners of the futility of worldly life, presenting the idea of ‘treasures in heaven’ which are accumulated by forgoing comforts in this life. One the one hand, these are platitudes if aimed at the Brahmana—statements of the obvious—and they are irrelevant if aimed at the Kshatriya, since the vocation of the nobleman is to be worldly while running little risk of becoming attached to the world.

The virtue of the Vaishya is the pursuit of the perfection of an art, and he judges himself by the fruit it yields. By his fruits does he know himself, if we can turn a characteristically Vaishya phrase from the Gospel. On the religious plane, the Vaishya mentality expresses itself through an emphasis on the accumulation of merit through which is earned posthumous reward.

The Vaishya is passive and pacific, and his intelligence is that of the ‘simple man,’ which is to say he is clever. In this sense, due to his simplicity and stability, he may resemble externally the Brahmana. However, he differs vastly from both the Brahmana and the Kshatriya in that he lacks all of the intellectual qualities that enable the former two castes to appreciate non-material values, and gives to each of them a kind of idealism. To the contemplative, the Vaishya lacks intellect; to the nobleman, the Vaishya lacks taste.

The twice-born and the shudra

Of the four primary castes, the first three are called ‘twice-born’ (dvija). By this term they are distinguished from the final caste, the shudra. Frithjof Schuon has described the distinction by saying that the dvija “might be defined as a spirit endowed with a body, and the shudra…as a body endowed with a human consciousness.”[1]

For this type, which is more remote from the Vaishya than the Vaishya from the Kshatriya, which is why it is set apart, the bodily dimension is what is real. Eating and breathing constitute happiness, and in a way that differs drastically from the Vaishya in that the latter pursues a perfection in the fruits of his labor and is rightly called an ‘artisan,’ while the Shudra perceives the value of material goods only insofar as they satisfy an immediate need. He does not judge himself by his fruits but judges things by how they make him feel and how well they satisfy a physical or psychological need.

Obviously this characterization might be applied to members of any of the castes, as there are hedonists everywhere among members of the clergy and nobility, but the latter tend toward poetry, achievement, and all of the other values which to them are undeniably more worthy even if they are diverted from them by pleasure. For the Shudra, the emphasis on the bodily dimension and the immediate enjoyment of physical things is not a fixation—it is reality, and other values are an illusion. The Kshatriya who pursues comfort and enjoyment exclusively is one who is below himself, but the Shudra who does this is simply retracing his nature.

The Shudra generally displays a lack of interest in whatever transcends bodily life, and for this reason lacks constructive tendencies and aptitudes. Such a one is by nature depending on the direction of another, without which he could not but live hand-to-mouth. As a result, we can say that the Shudra is qualified for manual labor of the simplest order and his caste typically goes to form a kind of servant caste.

Lacking an intellectual qualification, members of the fourth caste are not required to learn the Vedas.

[1] Frithjof Schuon, Language of the Self, p. 117.

Similarities and confusions

In the context of the Dark Age, where the castes are all but dissolved, it is difficult even to conceive of them distinctly in theory. This is more difficult because they are similar in some respects. For example, the Brahmana and the Vaishya and both peaceable, while the Kshatriya and the Shudra are readily violent.

We can perhaps refer to Schuon’s way of putting it as the most succinct:

“the Brahmana is ‘objective’ and centered in the ‘spirit’; the Kshatriya tends towards ‘spirit,’ but in a ‘subjective’ way; the Vaishya is ‘objective’ on the plane of ‘matter’; the shudra is ‘subjective’ on that same plane. The first three castes—the ‘twice-born’ of Hinduism—are therefore distinguished from the shudra either by ‘spirit’ or ‘objectivity’; only the shudra combines ‘matter’ with ‘subjectivity.’ Like the shudra, the Vaishya is a materialist, but his is a materialism of wider interests; like the Brahmana, the Kshatriya is an ‘idealist,’ but his ‘idealism’ is more or less wordly and egocentric.”[1]

In order to distinguish properly between these aspects of human nature, we must learn to distinguish between the active and the passive, the higher and the lower, the qualitative and the quantitative, and so on. Two men may do the same thing or display the same attitude externally, but for entirely different reasons and on the basis of an entirely different underlying nature. A Brahmana and a Vaishya might both be peaceable, but for one it is a conscious choice for the sake of contemplative development while for the other it is a matter of indifference or temperament plain and simple. A nobleman and a shudra might both turn to violence, but the nobleman does this within the context of a code and for the sake of developing virtues in himself, while the shudra is simply acting according to an animal impulse. What we have in both cases is a similar behavior that is for one man active and intentional while for the other it is unconscious and passive. And this is why we call one man noble or his caste superior and the other inferior, since an action consciously chosen for the sake of transcendence has a superior character to one followed passively and as a matter of instinct.

[1] Frithjof Schuon, Language of the Self, p. 122-123.

Characterization of the modern West

It should be blatantly obvious that the modern West has nothing Brahmanic about it. And although it is warlike, the violence in which it is perpetually engaged is not accomplished for the sake of the warrior way, or for the development of nobility, and the fact that wars are fought by any and all, and not restricted to the nobility who make of it an art and carry it out within strict limits, is proof that there is no Kshatriya tendency in the West either. Rather, the readiness to become violence that we see is always in the service of economic interests.

The style of the violence is also telling. A true Kshatriya enlists combat as a means of transcending himself: the samurai are great examples here of the spirituality of combat and the warrior code. Contrast this with the style of combat of the American military, which prefers whenever possible to drop explosives on its enemies from a great distance. A Kshatriya would be horrified. We see then that this is not the violent nature of the nobility, active and artistic, spiritual and poetic, but rather than type of violence carried out by one who has no interest in courage or in physical tests, and prefers avoiding danger altogether through the use of machinery.

In other words, the driving impulses of our civilization straddle the line between the third and fourth castes, vulgar and tasteless and material, driven to achieve and develop through accumulation, and readily violent but in a style that minimizes risk and is as callous as it is pragmatic. Thus, we say that the modern West can most accurately be described as a Vaishya-Shudra civilization.

This is precisely what we should expect, given the traditional doctrine and its eschatology. It is quite in line with the predicted ‘regression of the castes,’ which resembles the collapse of a building from the top down. The sacerdotal caste is consumed by the royal, which in the West played itself out during the Enlightenment and the Reformation; then the nobility is consumed by the mercantile class, which was the industrial revolution. We find ourself on the tail end of the final stage, which amounts to total social dissolution, where even the redeeming qualities of the Vaishya are dissolved and mankind become Shudra without any superior influence—which is to say, barbarism.

Impurity and the outcast

We must also mention those individuals who are without caste, the untouchables, the impure.

The first clarification to be made is that this type of person should not be imagined as “below” the other three castes, because here it is not a matter of hierarchical relation. What is in question is ‘impurity,’ and impurity is not a matter of low caste but of no caste, so that the untouchable is not so much at the bottom of the latter as they are outside of it.

In other words, the child of two Shudra parents is pure, and is in this sense just as pure as the child of two Bhramana parents. There is no discrepancy in his heredity and so he will suffer from the least amount of internal dissonance.

Impurity is a result, not of low caste, but of mingled caste:

“Illicit mingling of castes, marriages contrary to the rules and the omission of prescribed rites are the origin of the impure classes.”[1]

It is important to understand this because it allows one to better appreciate the purpose of caste, which is not to devalue certain groups but to organize individuals in such a way that they can cooperate and relate. It is no degradation to be a part of the lower caste. Impurity, however, is something else.

Impurity is a discrepancy of tendencies within oneself, and in caste theory it results from a discrepancy of caste between the parents. When a Shudra marries a Vaishya, the children will be impure. However, these children will not be considered as impure as the children who would result from the union of a Bhramana and a Shudra, because in the latter case the inner discrepancy, which has to potential to create the maximum of inner dissonance, is most extreme. It is this latter case that is said to result in the chandala, the “untouchable” who is responsible for the disposal of corpses.

We should pause to remark that corpses must be disposed of, so that from a social point of view the untouchable is still necessary and even though the discrepancy of inner tendencies lends to this group a propensity toward transgression, the theory of caste is capable of incorporating such a man into the order of social life in a way that allows him to participate and develop. The dignity of the lower castes and the untouchables themselves is not stolen from them. Their humanity has not, therefore, ever been denied them or their condition as degraded as, for example, the African slaves used in the antebellum United States.

[1] Manava Dharma Shastra, X. 24.

Racism and slavery in the theory of caste

Caste does not concern itself with race, or with the issue of slavery. We would also like to point out that, generally speaking, and even outside Hindu world, in civilizations of the Greek or Roman type, where slavery was a significant institution, the status of slave was not tied to any racial distinctions. It was rather a social status that could be acquired by anyone due to events such as defeat in war, crime, or indebtedness. At any rate, the task of the caste system is to retrace human nature, established a graduated order based on the diversity of human tendencies, which are themselves a kind of secondary determination of spiritual temperament that necessarily manifests itself in several types. The social order that is built upon caste is one that has for its goal the coordination of tendencies, giving each his due and permitting all to cooperate as one social body. Only in modern history, as we found in the antebellum United States, do we find a combination of racism and slavery, or slavery based on race, and this is very telling. It suggests to us that, since this kind of gradation based on race only reared its head and insinuated itself into a social order in the modern world, and, so to speak, in the most modern part of that world at that time, we can say that racism is one of the errors characteristic of the modern outlook: specifically, we can blame modern racism on the modern world’s obsession with evolutionism and its constant search for a ‘missing link’ between man and ape, for which the negro, to a superficial and profane eye, serves as an acceptable substitute. Within such a worldview, the ‘intermediate human form’ would naturally fit into society as less-than-human and serve perfectly as a kind of intelligent beast of burden. Another of the gifts of humanism to humankind.

The rights of society and the rights of the individual

One cannot engage in any discussion of the social order without commenting on the place in that social order of what the modern world calls “individual rights.” This is not because these so-called “rights” deserve a place in every discussion, but because the mental range of our contemporaries is in a way defined by the concept of rights and these rights tend to set the limits of any discussion. If a social order makes no mention of rights, it is illegitimate, incomplete, or else downright evil.

Here the Hindu would reply that it is the modern conception of the political order which is incomplete since it bases itself almost entirely on this notion of right which it has never really gotten around to actually demonstrating. The conversations seem to begin and end by begging the question, or, to refer to the most famous way of putting it, by holding these rights to be “self-evident.” The Hindu would disagree, and the entirety of the traditional world with him.

In fact, even medieval Christendom would have been a bit confused as to why political notions so fundamental to law and the social order should not need to be demonstrated in any way. Being far from metaphysical, they should be demonstrable, so to choose not to demonstrate them or to at least derive them from something demonstrable is either laziness or deceit.

At any rate, perhaps the simplest way of putting it is that the traditional world would acknowledge that “rights,” as understood by moderns, play a role in the social order and in justice, primarily in terms of commutative justice and distributive justice, but that this importance is far from absolute, and far from being the end of the story. The social body has its own real unity and its own collective “good” which it has the right to protect, even if to protect these rights is to acts against the individual wills or relative goods of individuals. This is why St. Thomas and the Catholic Church with him, could claim that the common good is superior to the individual good, since men are “social” by nature and therefore depend on the common good in some degree if they are to realize their full human potential. The good is common because it is everyone’s good and necessary to them, and cannot be possessed by one to the exclusion of others.

Even within the context of individual rights as understood in modern liberal democracies, when an American claims that members of traditional societies lack human rights, we can easily respond in kind. Everyone fails because it is impossible to give each and every individual the absolute freedom they are told they deserve. In the end, what these regimes do is simply sacrifice the rights of some to those of others, so that the majority has their rights only at the expense of some other group. The American claims that Muslim women lack rights in Islamic society; the Muslim would claim, on the contrary, that American children lack rights to an equal degree. In other words, the ease with which husbands and wives dissolve their unions in America is an obvious injustice to the children involved, but the children cannot vote and so their rights as children are irrelevant. The American claims that an individual of the Hindu caste lacks the ability to choose the profession he wishes to pursue and is restricted by birth; the Hindu would claim that the American can choose but only between a myriad of un-meaningful and insignificant pseudo-vocations, none of them suitable to his nature and therefore destined to frustrate more than realize his desires, even if he is permitted to “choose freely.” And so on and so forth.

Bhakti and the effacement of caste

Although the emphasis of caste is on the pseudo-divinity of the intellect, and therefore on objective distinctions, there is also an admission within Hinduism that bhakti is a legitimate path and one that, by its nature, transcends caste. Sri Ramakrishna is known for saying that “through bhakti an untouchable becomes pure and is raised up,” and that “the rules of caste are automatically effaced for the man who has reached perfection and realized the unity of things; but as long as this sublime experience has not been obtained no one can avoid feeling superiority towards some and inferiority towards others, and all ought to observe the distinctions of caste.”

As an example of this in miniature, Ramakrishna cites the invocation of the Divine Name, a universal practice, and says that those who invoke the Name of God becomes saints. By the standard of bhakti—and this is its virtue—an outcaste may please God more fully than the Brahmin.

Exclusion from temples

One thing that strikes modern believers, Protestants more than Catholics, as bizarre about the Hindu system is the exclusive nature of the places that we associate with public worship. If certain groups are equally accepted in the Hindu doctrine and deserve to approach God in their way, why are they not permitted inside the Temples. But this is to misunderstand the nature of the Temple. Here it is not a place of obligatory worship but a dwelling place of the Divine Presence. It has more in common, therefore, with the Holy of Holies of ancient Jerusalem, which was just as exclusive.

Uniqueness of each nature

Traditional society refused to live in the abstract. It could not be fooled by any slogan into believing that each man contained within himself the same nature, characteristics, and potentialities. Thus, it organized its society in such a way as to respond and nurture a variety of “types” or natures, offering unique paths designed specifically to reinforce and assist men in realizing themselves to the fullest. This is the whole logic of the caste: that the undeniable differences in men should be embraced and nourished rather than ignored, abused, and exploited. Tradition would have nothing of the uniformity of our times, in which each man is presumed to be the same, and is therefore offered the same generic path for personal development, which is to say, a path that leads anywhere, and therefore nowhere.

Three gunas, three tendencies

One traditional means of understanding the fundamental differentiation of beings is through the Hindu doctrine of the gunas. This philosophy teaches that there are three primary “tendencies” or forces which exist in all created beings and which combine, in varying degrees, to produce the predominant “orientation” of each individual. These three guans are: sattva guna, rajas guna, and tamas guna.

Sattva. This is the “ascending” tendency; the force whose propensity is toward being, order, and unity. Sattva has also been translated as “lucidity,” as it is identified with “light” and knowledge.

Rajas. This is the horizontal impulse towards “expansion” and action in the manifest world. This principle can also be thought of as that which propels forward in time, which is to say it is responsible for the fact of change.

Tamas. This is the tendency toward disintegration and inertia. This movement is associated with ignorance and obscurity and may be imagined as a descending tendency which checks the other two.

No guna should be imagined as intrinsically more dignified or desirable than the other two. All three tendencies are said to exist in every person. In fact, in man’s primordial state of perfection the three elements were combined in perfect equilibrium. Dissolution only began to characterize man’s inner state after the Fall, and this Paradisal equilibrium is no longer possible to obtain. Therefore, one tendency must always predominate in an individual, becoming the distinguishing feature of that being. Depending on which of the gunas predominates in the person, he will find himself tending toward one of three orientations. Should sattva predominate, he will find himself drawn toward knowledge and contemplation; should rajas predominate, he will be propelled toward action and expansion; should tamas predominate, he will tend toward simplicity and inertia. This doctrine, which any honest man can prove valid by a brief examination of himself and those around him, is the entire basis of the traditional institution of caste, so often completely misunderstood and misrepresented by humanists of every stripe.

Caste is natural

Gandhi has said that “the caste system…is inherent in human nature, and Hinduism has simply made a science of it.” What we call the “caste system” is therefore nothing more than a social framework based on the nature of things, which is to say, based on the idea that each man should be allowed a developmental path corresponding to the inner nature with which he was born. Within the context of caste, an individual was determined by his innate characteristics (remember the gunas), and this distinct nature was something he could be proud of; it was an identity in both the organic and the spiritual senses, or rather it permitted one’s organic and social identity to lend itself to the realization of one’s spiritual identity.

Justice of caste

Typically, those educated in the West will insist that this system must have been wrought with injustice, “holding men back” from achieving what they’ve “always dreamed of doing.” That is, after all, the tale that is presented whenever modern people do hear about the caste. Always there is the protagonist fighting to escape the lot which is doing him such tragic injustice. I must implore you for a moment to be honest with yourself, which on this subject may be difficult. But it is no exaggeration to say that the current democratic system that you are used to does more injustice to man than any caste organization ever did. It is the current homogenous system that sends each man into the world to find whatever work he can, and which usually ends in a career which is just as unfulfilling to him as it is unsuitable for his nature and aptitudes. Modern men are the men from their fanciful tales—held back by a system which cannot abide by differentiation amongst individuals. It is the age of equality which deals man a sorry lot—it only seems different because now there is only one lot. To find sanity (and dignity), we must turn our minds back to our subject. Here, in the caste, each man’s nature was discerned in him rather than arbitrarily chosen by him. Trust in divine providence played a part in this institution (another concept which is quite foreign to the modern spirit), and so it is no surprise that birth was seen as significant evidence of one’s proper path. Yet it is ignorant to assume that birth was the only factor. Aptitude was highly significant, and there was a degree of flexibility in, for example, the Hindu system, that would put the “mobility” of modern societies to shame. If we are to believe those who travelled India during the height of the caste, it was not uncommon for those of the lowest caste to become kings! This is why traditional civilizations held the caste system in such high esteem: it was arranged to help each man realized his specific potentialities according to the God-given aptitudes of his nature.

Four principal castes

The organization usually consisted of four broad “types,” known as the “principal” castes. These provided their respective types with protection, stability, and direction from birth to death. The structure was necessarily hierarchical, and this ordering was always based on logic and function. We can hold this in opposition to the modern social order which is based on purely economic factors, a situation which the traditional world found appalling and therefore took steps to prevent. It might be helpful here to imagine the four traditional castes in relation to the human body, as society was often envisaged in this way to illustrate its ordered unity. First there was the head, responsible for knowledge, occupied by the spiritual authority or the “priestly caste.” This sacred head was supported by warrior-nobility, pictured as the chest and arms, and symbolic of strength. These were responsible for both ruling and war. The legs, supportive and stabilizing, represented those who functioned in economic roles: the craftsmen and merchants. Lastly, there remain the “feet,” which are fundamental in importance and always in the most direct contact with the earth. This symbol represents those in society who contribute primarily their raw productive labor—for example, the subsistence farmer or the peasant. This superstructure, as offensive as it certainly sounds to modern ears, is a manifestation of justice. It was realized and respected in all of the highest traditional cultures, and clear examples of a corresponding caste philosophy can be found universally, from India to Japan to the Christian Middle Ages.

Because it is always helpful to adopt a specific terminology when discussing somewhat foreign concepts, we will adopt, from here on out, names given to the castes by Hindu tradition. We already enumerated them in a previous section, but he four principal castes (or varnas) are as follows: the Brahmins (priests); the Kshatriyas (warrior nobility); the Vaishyas (merchants and craftsmen); the Shudras (serfs, peasants, laborers).

Brahmins. The first caste is concerned with the protection and transmission of spiritual knowledge, which is the source and guide of all other forms of truth. The Brahmins are necessarily distanced from worldly matters, because the temporal realm involves application of doctrine, not doctrine purely speaking. The ruling of society, therefore, involves a “secondary” kind of knowledge which is of a lower order. The concerns of the priests are therefore knowledge and teaching of all other castes.

Kshatriyas. If the function of the priestly caste is knowledge, then the function of the Kshatriyas or “nobility” is power. Members of this class are those whose orientation is toward action and expansion—the realization of potentialities of the temporal order rather than supra-temporal as in the case of the priests. This is why the governing nobility is also tasked with war, and it is a strange situation indeed that rulers are no longer the ones who fight in battle. The path of the warrior is, in fact, the most desirable and fruitful discipline for men of this caste, allowing them their highest realization.

Vaishyas. Those in the Vaishya caste have aptitudes which are best suited to the economic order, such as the design and production of goods, the business of trade, and the art of banking. These are the guildsmen, merchants, and lower nobility. This is the caste which, in modern times, has come to rule, rendering the two superior castes virtually impotent.

Shudras. Shudras are laborers, serfs, or slaves, and are thus functionally subordinate to the Vaishyas.

Vertical interdependence

Any sane civilization must have order, and order implies hierarchy. Abstract notions about popular sovereignty and self-government are illusions which flatter the emotions while fogging the mind. Thus, the hierarchical arrangement of the caste represents a real functional interdependence, and is not the result of privileged groups asserting themselves over the powerless. We tend to see such structures in that light—as inflexible grades of unfounded privilege—only because that is how our regime is arranged, so that we cannot imagine one in which the powerful do not oppress, and in which the wealthy do not hold the highest positions. Proof of this can be seen in the simple fact that the highest caste was the priesthood, and priests do not hold the wealth. The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages held massive amounts of property, it is true, but to suggest that individual priests lived like kings is ridiculous. Thus, materially speaking, the hierarchically supreme caste was never the economically supreme caste, as we see today. Again, the arrangement was based on function, and power was allotted accordingly. The caste which did wield most of the material and economic power, the Kshatriyas, did so because it was necessary to the accomplishment of their function. Medieval kings, it is known, paid servants and administered out of their own funds. Lords of the manor were responsible for the local infrastructure and, as we have already mentioned, the military defense of the region. Had they not had the wealth, they could not have carried out their function. Likewise, the craftsmen and peasants (Vaishyas and Shudras) did not need to accumulate large quantities of wealth. They were secure—more secure than any member of the American middle class—in their stead, and so to accumulate a large degree of property or wealth would have moved them into another caste, carrying with it a new degree of responsibility. Mobility was always possible, but it did not mean extra leisure, but extra responsibility for one’s subordinates. Thus, the men suited to labor did not dream all day long of one day becoming “well-off”—because that would have placed upon them responsibilities of government and philanthropy that they did not desire to take upon themselves. If further proof is needed, we can simply say that the priesthood—the highest and most influential caste in the land—was never terribly exclusive. Anyone from any class could join the clergy in the Middle Ages, provided their desire and faith were believed sincere. And yet, because people believed in serving a function according to their nature rather than in accord with aspirations of great wealth, they usually remained in the more or less humble role which God and tradition had allotted them. And history represents the humble peasantry as an unusually merry demographic indeed—more merry, I dare say, than any modern factory “workforce.”

Knowledge over power

Notice also another corollary of the functional hierarchy which seems strange to the modern perspective: we tend to imagine those at the top of the social hierarchy as the “ruling class,” but in the traditional arrangement, the “ruling class” was a subordinate class, and the superior class did not rule, but simply preserved knowledge and taught what it preserved. This is simply due to natural necessity: the type or caste whose aptitudes are suited toward action is best vested with the tasks of government and warfare. Yet this caste is not the one best suited for the highest types of knowledge, and so for this it must remain dependent on another caste, which is therefore superior. Knowledge always precedes action, or else the action is aimless and absurd. This is why the priests sat at the top, although they did not rule. Their relationship with the nobility was one between spiritual authority and temporal power. Invisible truth informed and guided temporal work, as should always be the case. This relationship between priesthood and royalty can be envisioned in the legend between King Arthur and Merlin. Merlin does not rule, but it is obvious that King Arthur could not rule without the advice of Merlin. The two are equally important, for they are interdependent, but the action must be subordinate to thought. Another traditional fable of this relationship is the tale of the lame man who rides on the shoulders of the blind man. The blind man depends on the lame man in order to do anything, and although the lame man depends also on the blind man for action, it is he who discerns and guides what action is to be taken. He is the guide. This hierarchical role is also embodied in the gospel story of Mary and Martha, in which Christ identifies the contemplation of Mary as “the better part.” Martha was a woman of action—Mary of contemplation. Neither was sinning, but one was still the better part. We will return to the relationship between Mary and Martha later, as it has significant spiritual implications.

Hamsa, primordial unity, and the problem of indistinction

In the beginning, so says the Hindu doctrine, there was but one caste: Hamsa. This is the ideal man, the Paradisal man, this is Adam in his perfection. This notion is also present in the person of Christ, who is said to fulfill to role of both priest and king. Christ manifested the primordial perfection which man had lost. This allows us to see the caste system itself in another light, as a social adaption constructed in order to do justice in a disordered world. Yet, according to the laws of dissolution, fallen man is still falling. The degree of disorder which dictated the structure of the traditional caste has not remained the same, but increased. Therefore, it seems reasonable to expect that sooner or later the four primary types we’ve been discussing will no longer be sufficient. He will split into more and more types of an increasingly indistinguishable character. Eventually man may even be reduced to such a degree that it is difficult to place him within any “type” at all. He will at this point seem to have become a sort of mass of uniformity, and this uniformity will be opposite that of the Paradisal unity known by Adam. Rather than containing a sufficiency of all the types within himself, man will have no type. Rather than all men containing the same perfect equilibrium, all men will decay into material sameness of mere atoms. As a corpse dies and decays, it moves from the unity of life to a dispersion of material particles, each of which are “equal” and “identical,” but at the same time quite inferior to the original being which they composed. This is the direction man moves during the Kali Yuga—from spiritual unity to material uniformity. Thus, if we are right in identifying our age as the Kali Yuga, then we must also acknowledge that the structure of the traditional caste system cannot easily be made to apply to man in his condition worsens. The three gunas may still assert themselves and lend to each a unique orientation, but their power will become weaker, eventually making it unlikely that any person will manifest an orientation well enough defined enough to place him in any caste whatsoever. This is a problem we must keep in mind, acknowledging that, while the principles we’ve stated are still valid, the concrete implementation of a functional caste must become increasingly untenable as we proceed further into the Kali Yuga. This is the significance of the levelling outlook promoted by later Revelations, namely Christianity and Islam.

The law of heredity in the modern world

One of the reasons that modern people cannot properly appreciate the caste system is that is revolves around the laws of heredity. Now even modern psychology admits that temperament and even intelligence are largely determined by hereditary factors. The caste system is simply a social order designed to reinforce and channel these factors in such a way as to decrease the amount of internal dissonance that results from having diverse or competing factors at play in individuals such that they find it more difficult to discern “who they are” and, as a result, realize themselves via a vocation. The caste system does not so much seek to create distinctions as to protect the distinctions that are inherent in human nature.

Such an approach must be ancient—it cannot be implemented retroactively—and if it is ever lost it cannot be forcibly re-established. Once the batch is leavened, it cannot be unleavened. This means that a civilization that establishes itself on a blatant disregard for hereditary considerations will create a situation wherein the laws of heredity become inoperative, not because they do not exist, but because things have become so muddled that hereditary chaos is all that we see. Every birth is a matter of chance, and it is impossible to say with any certainty what kind of person my result from a particular marriage.

This is also why modern people are so horrified at the idea of a hereditary monarchy, or a hereditary aristocracy for that matter. They cannot imagine a situation where a ruler, even if capable, could reasonably expect to generate a capable successor, simply as a matter of birth. Today it is a “crap shoot,” and because that is the case today we assume that this was the case always.

Contemporary values that nullify heredity

Hereditary laws are further rendered inoperative by the basic values of the modern world. We actively discourage behavior that would preserve “hereditary capital.” A man who pursues his father’s calling is not considered worthy of any particular praise, and in fact he might be considered lacking in ambition. The man who “achieves” over his father by “climbing the social ladder” in some way—this man is worthy of praise. It is a characteristic theme of modern fairy tales that a boy begins his adventures by leaving home, where he was being unjustly pressured to take up his father’s mundane business or follow in his footsteps, and it is this backdrop that saddens the modern audience and makes them cheer for him when he rejects his heritage and goes out in the world to “find his own way.” The hero of the modern world is the prodigal son, except that in this narrative the some must never return home, lest he be deemed a failure.

Technology and heredity

We can say that the machine has played a significant role in destroying heredity in the West. Since Europe never really formulated an official caste system but rather arranged itself along the lines of a functional hierarchy wherein the vast majority of individuals pursued a trade or craft, it was the transmission of these crafts that connected generations and stabilized heredity and the social order that is built upon it. With the industrial revolution, which not only abolished the need for craftsmen but also made men interchangeable and able to work in one field or another without much difference, there soon became nothing to transmit except a general set of technical skills that were, by and large, accessible to anyone. Hence the possibility of a public school system, a system that could only be imagined within the context of the modern machine-based world.

The position of the proletariat

With all that has been said, how do we characterize the mass of modern workers who have undergone centuries of casteless intermingling and whose vocations have nothing whatsoever to do with their innate tendencies but could more accurately be described as the paid exercise of their limbs according to certain simple procedures, such as the bagging of groceries or the turning of a wrench?

In order to answer this question—the question of the worker—we have to make an important observation about the worker’s world by stating that is an entirely new creation resulting from the reversal of the traditional relationship between man and work, or man and the tools he used to accomplish his work. We can say that the tools of the trade were once subordinate to the tradesman in the sense that he not only owned but understood them and was in this sense the master of his domain, from the conception of a particular project to its completion. This is why he could also be described as a creator and an artist. In the modern context, the relationship is reversed and man is now dependent on his tools, he does not understand how they work, he does not ‘create.’ He tends to the machines, which do the creating, and he very often only has a partial understanding and a partial participation in the creation of anything. He is, as the saying goes, a cog, except that he is not even that—he is an observer of the cog whose role is to apply grease to it when necessary.

The result is that the tyranny of the machine has created a completely new type of human work and a completely new type of worker, and this is the proletariat, who cannot easily be characterized in terms of caste because caste revolves around human nature and the modern economy does not and cannot. When we speak of caste, we speak of man and what man is and what he needs in order to become more fully a man; when we speak of capitalism, socialism, and the proletariat, we speak of the creation of wealth, the paying of wages, and how man can be fitted into the machine-world.

What we are dealing with, then, is not a “human type” so much as an artificial creation. This does not necessarily mean that human needs will not be met within this context, but it guarantees that if they are not met, it will not matter or will not be noticed, and in fact the whole idea of ‘human work’ as opposed to ‘inhuman work’ or ‘sub-human work’ will not make any sense. Work that pays is worth doing, and anyone who says otherwise must be either an idealistic intellectual or a communist.

Machine, class, caste

We have mentioned that the proletariat is a completely new and artificial human type created by the industrial context. There are others, for example the individual who owns the machines and profits from them. The exploiter-exploited paradigm, which is for the most part a legitimate way of understanding industrial capitalism, is something that depends upon the machine for its existence. Without the machine, the unique relationship that is in question here could not exist. The machine, then, helps to create these artificial types, and this is where we see the birth of the ‘social class.’ Thus, we must make a distinction between the terms ‘caste’ and ‘class,’ the latter pertaining to one or the other of these artificial types that result from the modern context and can only exist for it.

The machine destroys the souls of men by robbing them of all of the qualitative benefits of their labor, even if in some respects it benefits the quantitatively through the efficient production of material wealth.

The machine not only creates a world, which man then populates in a subordinate way, but it creates a new type of man. Modern history is made not so much by man as by the technology he creates. What would World War II be without poison gas, machine guns, and the atomic bomb? This is not even to address the question of propaganda, which is made possible only by technology. The answer is that it would not have been too much different than historical conflicts, and Hitler himself would have been evil and would have accomplished evil deeds, but to a degree not much more severe than anyone before him. But thanks to technology, we are presented with a level of violence and inhumanity that would have been difficult to imagine prior to it happening.

Man has a capacity for evil. This has always been true and always will be. Technology creates a world wherein that potential is empowered and able to actualize itself on a global, catastrophic scale.

The machine world, cunning, and spiritual blindness

Technology is often depicted as a victory for the human intelligence, but what it represents is a victory of human cunning over human intelligence. Human intelligence would never weaponized nuclear technology—human cunning, however, sees this a necessary step, and proceeds to not only create the technology but to use it at the first opportunity.

Man creates the machine, and the machine creates an artificial world and, retroactively, an artificial type of man. This pseudo-reality, being what it is—loud, ‘solid,’ heavy, chaotic—is one in which the soul cannot flourish and men who live in it are insulated from spiritual realities in the sense that they become ‘solidified’ to such a degree that nothing ‘gets through’ to them. The only voice they can here is that one which yells the loudest. It is for this reason that Pope Leo XIII accused the industrial system of not allowing men enough leisure time to pursue spiritual development; but the fact that the complaint could even be framed in such a way proves how far the problem had already progressed. It was already taken for granted that spiritual development could not happen at work and through work, because work had already become toil.

In such a world, the perception of spiritual reality is inverted. It goes from something obvious to something that is obviously an illusion. While the world and its worldly pursuits go from being seen with suspicion and accepted tentatively as subordinate to spiritual pursuits to becoming the end-all-be-all.

If the modern worker does not pray it is because his work nullifies his intelligence (referring here not to reason and learning but to the faculty of knowledge that ennobles humanity above the animals), and without his intelligence he cannot think of God, which is to say, he cannot pray. He does not pursue spiritual development because he has been debased below the human level required in order to do just that.

It was precisely the ‘intelligibility’ of the ancient crafts and of craftsmanship as an art that make of traditional work a vocation and allowed it to have its own theological aspect: it was sacred work only because it was human work, and all human work is sacred.

Could the Hindu world abandon caste?

The conditions of the Kali Yuga make the levelling systems appear more appropriate or ‘adaptable’ to the requirements of the epoch. We have said that Islam is powerful precisely because it counteracts many aspects of this chaotic context. One might suggest, then, if a levelling outlook is not in itself inappropriate, why the Hindus should not just abandon caste and transform their world into something more suitable to present conditions.

This can be answered in several ways, the first of which is that caste is the concrete foundation upon which Hindu doctrine was developed: that is not to say that doctrine is subordinate to social conditions, but that the social conditions of caste have, for thousands of years, supported the development and preservation of metaphysics in such a way that the one cannot be discarded without losing both. The absence of caste means (if we take the Semitic religions as our examples) that exoterism and esoterism are intertwined and metaphysics veiled in such a way that it can protect itself from the encroachment of exoterism that constantly threatens. To remove the distinctions in the social order would in a sense open flood gates on the intellectual plain as well, and it is difficult to see how the metaphysical core of Hinduism would survive. In other words, Hindu civilization would cease to be Hindu if it tried to abandon caste.

From another point of view, we should point out that hierarchy and caste are possibilities and express an aspect of human nature, and in that sense the Hindu system is a necessity of manifestation and must be what it is and cannot be anything else. Much like a person is body and soul and ceases to be that person if either component were replaced, so we say that the ‘body’ of Hinduism could not be anything other than what it is, and that, should it grow sick and wither, this would be along the natural course of things, whereas any attempt to transfer its ‘soul’ to a different, more egalitarian social body, would amount to an abomination.

Positive aspects of casteless traditions

We have spoken of caste as a positive principle in the Hindu context, but we do not wish to give the impression that caste is the only legitimate type of social order. There are positive aspects to the opposite approach, which is that of the ‘casteless traditions.’

By ‘casteless traditions’ we mean primarily Christianity and Islam, and in its own way Buddhism. We allow, then, that these traditions are capable of producing a hierarchical social order, as Christianity did with much success in the medieval period. Yet these Revelations are ‘levelling’ in the emphasis and we call them casteless because the system of caste is not essential to them and in some cases, like that of Islam, it seems almost entirely excluded.

For Islam’s part, we can say that along with its indifference to distinctions of caste it also presents an indifference to race. Islamic egalitarianism being rooted in man’s transcendent (as opposed to his animal) aspect, the resulting social order would be much more immune to racism than Western humanist egalitarian, in which racism is perfectly at home, fitting itself quite easily into the scientific-evolutionary worldview, which is painstakingly searching for ways to connect the human with sub-human species.

In other words, when one’s focus is on the transcendent nature of the spiritual being, race is an accident, and is not of any great importance.

In Christianity (and in Buddhism) we likewise see a rejection of hereditary and racial distinctions, since here any man can become a priest or a monk without having to provide any kind of pedigree.

Celibacy in the absence of caste

Celibacy has a unique significance when viewed from the perspective of caste. In Hinduism, which rigorously concerned itself with the preservation of hereditary qualities, it was nonetheless admitted that a member of the lower caste could become a brahmin—yet this was often on the condition of celibacy. In this way the laws of caste could be transcended in individual cases without casting aside the norm and destroying the structure.

Given the Hindu example, we can see that the condition of celibacy in the Catholic priesthood (applying also to nuns, and for precisely the same reason) preserves this ‘spiritual caste’ from becoming entangled with hereditary difficulties. We find the same attitude in Buddhism. Thus, the opening of the priestly caste to any and all is compensated for by the requirement of celibacy.

We do not intend to portray this as the only or even the most important meaning of traditional celibacy, but is rather one of its more exterior and practical purposes.

Caste and contemporary humanitarianism

Caste, and traditional institutions generally speaking, is concerned with the ultimate end of human life, which is, needless to say, beyond the material order of things. For that reason it is not legitimate to criticize caste or for that matter casteless traditional societies based on how well they provide for the welfare.

For religion, the norm is poverty. That is a fact which can be proved by the Founders of the great religions. Thus, it is again no strike against the religions and the religious world if it does not create an abundance of wealth, since wealth, in the traditional view, an occasion of sin.

Wealth is permissible, and almost all religions permit its accumulation even in extremes, because ownership is a natural right; but religion departs from the modern norm in that it does not see wealth as an ideal.

We can add that poverty, in the religious sense mentioned above, does not concern the lack of necessities: it does not imply starvation and squalor. Rather, it refers to a condition of simplicity, on the assumption that this simplicity—taking what one needs from nature and no more—is both spiritually and socially beneficial. The traditional world would say that it is boundless pursuit of wealth that is responsible for starvation and squalor where it does exist, and this on account of the massive fortunes held by some, which is considered, as much in Christianity as in other doctrines, to be outright theft from the poor.

All that is to say that if Islam and to some degree Christianity have seemed to adopt an egalitarian posture, it is not because they accept the modern ‘humanitarian’ view of man and the social order, which has in view nothing more than material provision and which seems to construe sin as a matter of material resources or social conditions, a position which is preposterous given that the most heinous crimes committed by man against man have not been motivated by fear of starvation. In other words, to explain sin as if it were a matter of lack of food and clothing and clean water and not, on the contrary, the result of a privation in human nature itself, is a fantasy.

Poverty in the machine age

One of the problems surrounding the concept of poverty is that a wide range of conditions are grouped under the term, some of which are irrelevant to actual human well-being. For example, lack of food leads to misery, but lack of an automobile does not. Lack of a microwave does not imply unhappiness or a ‘struggle for existence.’ The products of industrialism are all quite new and it is absurd to assume that everyone who lived prior to the modern era was therefore miserable because they did not have a cell phone and a television. These are luxuries which are only imagined to be necessities because, for the West, they have become precisely that. An American today cannot participate in his society without an automobile and a cell phone. He can get by without these things, but this would normally cause great inconvenience because his society has by now taken the possession of these contraptions to be the norm and has arranged itself accordingly. Roads are no longer made for diverse means of transportation (carts, horse, bicycle, pedestrian) but for the car alone. One of the standard questions on a job application is whether or not one possesses reliable means of transportation, which can only mean an automobile. In such a context, to be unable to afford an automobile is to lack a necessity—an artificial necessity, to be sure, but a necessity without which full participation in society would be a struggle.

Thus, it is true to say that in America, to be without car or cell phone or access to the internet is to be ‘poor,’ and those are ignorant who pretend that this is not the case; but it is also ignorant to pretend that just because this artificially imposed ‘standard of living’ is such for Americans that the same standard holds true elsewhere. In many countries it is not the norm to possess an automobile, but this does not make anyone poor because their society does not base itself on the assumption of such a possession.

Even on the level of education, it is very difficult for the industrial West to comprehend that literacy itself is an artificial ‘need’ and that it has been possible throughout much of history and throughout much of the world today to live a happy and fruitful and fulfilled life without knowing how to read. Literacy does not imply intelligence, but is rather a basic technical skill, and it is a technical skill needed by the machine and its mass of attendants more than, for example, a traditional agrarian society.

The point of all of these observations is to counteract the common association of caste and hierarchy with material misery. Often this perceived ‘misery’ is an unrecognizable simplicity of life that modern observers cannot appreciate. When actual want does enter the picture, it is surrounded by so many confusions and misconceptions and self-projections that inevitably the target country is construed as backwards and ‘underdeveloped’ and its only hope is to passively submit to the plans of the world-developers, who act as little more than evangelists for the pseudo-religion that is capitalism.

Here we will quote Shankaracharya on the idea that every nation ought to raise its ‘standard of living’ to as high a degree as possible:

“the very idea of raising the standard of living…will have the most injurious effects on society. Raising the standard of living means tempting people to encumber themselves with more luxuries and thus leading them ultimately to real poverty in spite of increased production. Aparigraha meant that every man should take from nature only so much as is required for his life in this world.”

On judging the happiness of distant peoples

When appraising the well-being of a traditional social order, whether contemporary or situated at some distant point in history, it is important to remember that, because of the gap that separates one human world from another, it is nearly impossible to properly discern the ‘happiness’ of the people who live in it. For example, the normal way of making such judgements is to apply our standards to them, which is obviously not appropriate since their motivations, their minds, we would even say their natures, differ from ours by being subject to different conditions. We would have to become able to truly identify with their alien ways of reacting to things and evaluating them without our own prejudices and predispositions determining the result. That is not to say that these distant people did not have prejudices, but is simply to acknowledge that ours were not theirs, and so their vision of happiness would differ as well.

What we would immediately discover, if we were truly able to identify with an individual from, let’s say, medieval France, is that many of the ‘advantages’ we take to be desirable would to them appear to be an unfortunate restraint. Even if presented with a vision of today’s world, as an attempt to show them what their missing, they may very well respond to the vision as to a nightmare.

Moreover, it should be acknowledged that the chronicling of history is the chronicling of disasters. Even today, when we do not have to be stingy with our paper and ink, the only thing that makes its way into the news is the extreme and the sensational. One should not expect to find through a reading of recorded history an account of the average person’s peace of mind during a given epoch.

If we cannot look at the historical record of events, then how do we propose to make a judgement? One answer is to turn to the works of art produced by a people, since art is the fruit of spiritual vitality and spiritual vitality is the true form of happiness. Thus, we can say that historical period of Europe that is usually most denigrated as an episode in human misery is also the period that produced the cathedrals. This speaks louder than any recorded famine. In opposition to this, we would suggest that the block-form hives of Europe, America, and China are an open admission of spiritual malaise and generalized depression, a diagnosis that even medical journals write about daily.

Theocratic equality and profane equality

We would like to summarize everything we’ve said as follows: the caste system is, contrary to modern sentiments, a social order structured on the basis of human nature itself; it is healthy, provided it is deployed within a context of sanctity and so long as man’s final end—union with God—is kept as the center point. We could even say that, for a given human type, it is not only healthy but necessary. The above pre-requisite, that it be deployed within a context of sanctity, is also what legitimizes other social orders for other human types, such as those characterized by the absence of castes, for example Islam: this type of equality is legitimate because it is a theocratic equality, an equality of servants under a divine law, and it succeeds insofar as the pursuit of sanctity remains paramount, for this is the only thing capable of neutralizing the disorders that occur in the absence of social distinctions.

The ‘equality’ preferred by modern liberal regimes is both primitive and idealist without being theological, and is therefore something quite different from both extremes in the traditional world. It is based on secularism where each man is respected on the basis of so-called ‘rights’ (a legal invention of the Enlightenment which has never been, even on a theoretical level, demonstrated to be legitimate or true).

Modern equality is a kind of caricature of the traditional form of equality, which retained a respect for man, not as an ‘equal’ but as a potential saint, and this equality itself was but an aspect of religion. In other words, only religion can give a suitable and functional basis to equality because it is acknowledged as a superior, ordering principle supplying a social, moral, and ritual code applicable to all and by which all are judged. Without a sacred context, equality atomizes rather than united, and sets each man against his neighbor in a battle for rights, a war of all against all, where truth extends only so far as the individual who chooses to accept it. Hence, the notion of ‘freedom’ as the paramount ideal in the modern world, an ideal conspicuously absent in traditional egalitarian contexts because of the social chaos it implies.