The Caste System Of India

The Caturvarna in the Symbolic Stage

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The Caturvarna in the Symbolic Stage :
One of the greatest contributions of Indian psychology represented in the Yogic wisdom is the discovery that there are other ways of acquiring knowledge other than perception and ratiocination. The development of supra-rational faculties of which the foremost is ‘Intutions’ helped Indian Yogis to discover many truths whose secrets are now being understood by Science. A classical example is the description of three types of fire in the Vedic texts – the ordinary fire (Jada Agni), electric fire (Vaidutya Agni) and the solar fire (Saurya Agni). This proves that the Vedic seers knew through intuition the differences between fire, electricity and nuclear fission.

The Vedic Age was essentially characterized by an intuitive knowledge. Later this faculty withdrew because it was necessary for the evolutionary consciousness to develop the rational basis of knowledge. Once this is sufficiently developed, the human mind can again venture for an integrative intuitive faculty and even higher faculties that surpass intuition.

The Vedic seers had to face one practical difficulty. They had acquired the faculty of intuition but knowledge thus possessed could not be communicated to the ordinary people. Neither the repertoire of Reason, nor the higher supra-rational faculties were sufficiently developed in the general masses. Thus, there was no other alternative for the Vedic seers but to express and record their intuitive knowledge as symbols. That is why the first stage of the human cycle is described as a Symbolic stage. The symbol is of something that exceeds man and his life and yet influences his activities. All his religions and social organizations and all his phases of life are to man symbols of a vast gestalt (spiritual, philosophical and mystical) that shape and influence human destiny.

Indian spirituality intuitively discovered that there is an omnipresent Reality that expresses itself equally in man and the cosmos. That is why the macrocosm can be represented in the microcosm. That is also why the individual can dare to venture to universalize oneself. Now this truth has to be lived at different levels of consciousness. It is much more difficult to live out this truth at the collective level than at the individual level. Therefore this truth had to be represented by a living symbol at the collective level. Thus ensued the celebrated hymn in the Purushasukta of the Rig Veda which presents the symbolic imagery of the Universal Spirit, virat – Purusha, who produces from his creative body, from his various limbs, four orders or types of men . The hymn runs:

‘His head was the Brahmana; of His arms Rajanya (Kshatriya) was made; then His thighs were the Vaishyas; of His feet was born the Sudra.’

Sastry(13) points out that all the four orders are organically connected with each other and born out of the limbs of the same Universal Spirit. The parts of the body carry distinctive symbols. The head indicates knowledge, arms imply strength, thighs symbolize production and support and the feet denote service.

The Vedas repeatedly mention that by the sacrifice of the Purusha or the cosmic godhead, man is born and therefore the principles symbolized by the limbs of the Purusha are embodied as human prototypes. There were certain individuals who yearned for wisdom and were best suited to express the Divine as knowledge – they were the Brahmins. There were others for whom it was more spontaneous to express the Divine as power – they were the Kshatriyas. There were also certain people who were harmonious instruments to express the divine through production, enjoyment and mutuality—they were the Vaishyas and there were the Sudras who fulfilled the Divine through service, obedience and work. The natural corollary of the Vedic hymn was that the work which one can best execute at the collective level is determined by the equality and capacity of the individual prototype.

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