By Niraj Bidawatka
The Vedas recommend the division of human society into four social and spiritual orders for the smooth functioning of the society and to ultimately lead one to the path of liberation from the pangs of material existence. This system is called varnāshrama dharma. There are four varnas (social orders) namely, brāhmana (the intellectual class), ksatriya (the warriors),
vaisya (mercantile men) and the sudra (working class). The four āsramas (spiritual orders) are sannyasa (renunciant), vānaprastha (retired men), grhastha (householder) and the brahmacharya (celibate student).
The brāhmanas are the intellectual class whose duty is to give scriptural guidance to the society at large so that it may function properly. In order to give scriptural guidance, the first qualification is that they must be well-versed with the scriptures. They must also possess all the qualities of a brāhmana, as mentioned in the Bhagavad gita (18.42), namely, full control of the senses and the mind, austerity, cleanliness, truthfulness, mercy, tolerance, knowledge, practical realization of the Absolute Truth, faith in God and honesty. One cannot claim himself to be a brāhmana simply because he has taken birth in the family of brāhmanas.
A person, who is born of a medical doctor, cannot claim to be doctor by birth-right. He has to take proper training in the medical field in order to be accepted as a doctor. Similarly, one cannot be accepted as a brāhmana, solely on the basis of his lineage. He has to be properly trained in order to be accepted as a brāhmana. So, even a person born in the lower orders such as the ksatriayas, vaisyas and sudras can, by proper training, rise to the status of a brāhmana. Vishwamitra, who was ksatriya by birth, rose to become a brāhmana.
In fact there is no lower or higher order in the transcendental varnāshrama system. All the four castes are equally important for the smooth functioning of the society. The brāhmanas are compared to the head, the ksatriyas to the arms, the vaisyas to the belly and the sudras to the legs. All the parts are important for the proper functioning of the body. The legs are as important as the brain. Therefore the sudras, or the labourers are equally important for the society. On the other hand, if there is no brain, then all the other parts of the body are rendered useless. Therefore, the presence of the brāhmanas is of paramount importance for the proper functioning of the society.
At the present moment, since there is a dearth of trained brāhmanas, the society is in chaos because it is not guided by a proper brain. Those who are born in the families of the brāhmanas, have taken to the profession of the vaisyas (business) and the sudras (service), and still proudly call themselves as Brahmins. This is the irony. A real brāhmana is neither engaged in mercantile activities nor in the service of corporate houses. His is engaged in six activities, namely reading the scriptures, teaching them to others, worshipping the Supreme Lord, teaching others the method of worship, taking charity and giving charity.