Hey Baby, What's Your Caste?
That system actually had a sensible basis. Remember, before the scientific and market revolutions, culture was virtually static. There was no notion of progress; in fact, most cultures thought that the reverse was true--that our ancestors once lived in the mythological "Great Time" of a golden age, but that subsequent generations had somehow deviated from the ideal. The purpose of culture was to try to imitate the ways of the ancestors, otherwise the passage of time would simply lead to more degeneration and chaos.
Obviously human beings all over the world still struggle mightily with the allied notions that dynamic chaos is the source of order and that the application of rigid order generates chaos. Where would the socialist left be, for example, without the primordial distrust of free markets and individual liberty?
In fact, European conservatives are the same way--by and large, they are nothing like the revolutionary conservatives of contemporary America, in that they tend to be elitists who wish to preserve inherited power and privilege (Margaret Thatcher notwithstanding, who was a modern Hayekian "conservative liberal"). Prior to the conservative intellectual movement founded by William F. Buckley in the mid-1950's, American "paleo-conservatives" were similar to their reactionary European counterparts.
Likewise, the Islamists are quite transparent in their desire to impose a caliphate to impose order on the world. They are specifically in revolt against every form of chaos that leads to order and complexity: free markets, democracy, free speech, religious plurality, emancipation of women.
Remember, history is not just horizontal, but vertical. There is a deeply ingrained collective mind parasite that causes human beings to be terrified of disorder and to want to remedy it with rigid solutions applied in a top-down fashion, not just in the past, but today. We are all somewhat susceptible to it.
But in order for human beings to evolve in the post-biological sense, it was necessary for them to break through this particular psychological barrier, which was only accomplished in the Christian West. Before that, human beings were stuck in an evolutionary rut, or world-historical eddy, if you like. But that is the norm--after all, all successful species are basically stuck on a Darwinian treadmill of rigid adaptation.
Now the Hindu caste system was originally based on the banal but accurate observation that individual human beings do indeed belong to different castes--that there are different personality types (for example, consider Jung's typological system of 16 main personality types; see book below). This should surprise no one. It is simply a variant of the idea that "it takes all kinds to make a world." Their mistake was in wedding this idea to the primordial fear of disorder, and creating a rigid system in which one's caste was determined by genealogy instead of inclination.
In a perfectly functioning market system, the same thing will happen spontaneously, as people discover their particular gift, actualize their innate potential, and find their adaptive "niche." (Yes, troll, let me save you some time and say that I realize the system is not perfect.)
Again, the original caste system was based on the idea that a functioning society required very different tasks and skills, and that certain temperaments were better suited than others to discharge those tasks. Warriors, priests, intellectuals, merchants, laborers--all have very different temperaments (in fact, there even appear to be temperamental slaves, but I don't think I'll go there; suffice it to say that there are a great many sheep in the world whose collective energy creates wolves).
It has long been observed that living another man's dharma is a grave spiritual danger. In other words, it is possible for us to get stuck in the wrong caste, so to speak. If this happens, we will never actually be. Rather, we will only seem to be, and our life will pass by unlived before we plunge into the abyss.
Hey, it almost happened to me. When I started college it was as a business major, as I had no earthly notion of what else I might do with my life. I did not know my caste. But I was definitely not a merchant. Thankfully I flunked out after two and a-half years, saving me from a fate worse than death--worse, because it would have been a living death. That is by far the scariest kind of death--hence the universal fear of zombies and vampires, of which there are more than a few in the world. Another man's dharma is not just dangerous--it is death.
It is important to emphasize that our caste is not just a present fact, but a future one. This is another area of confusion. We are all oriented by a ruling idea, and our lives will generally be stationary--even if there appears to be a great deal of movement and commotion on the surface---if we do not search for the way toward this permanent goal, or align ourselves with our highest aspiration.
If someone had told me when I was 10, 20, or even 30, that I was a member of the priestly caste, I would have scoffed at the idea. But that turned out to be the case. It just happens to be what I am temperamentally suited for. There are many people operating as documented and undocumented priests, gurus, holy men and suburban shamans that are not so suited. They are dangerous frauds. But you may know them by their fruits, in the same way that you may know my business acumen by its fruits.
Now, what about humility? Am I saying that the priestly caste is superior? Not at all. Quite the opposite. I think you will find that the person to whom the priestly inclination comes naturally is already humble, whereas the false-priest is full of spiritual pride and vanity. They make outlandish claims and they require followers to confirm their greatness.
These false teachers--Tony "Unlimited Power!" Robbins and Deepak "The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire!" Chopra come to mind, but there are countless others--are somewhat like vampires, feeding on the spiritual substance of their adoring flock. They require the constant flattery of Nobodies in order to feel like a Somebody. The world is full of such characters. Just look! They're everywhere. Their spiritual knowledge never rises above the plane of mere information (usually dis- or misinformation, at that).
Now, my crack about religion being only for the very stupid and very smart probably also sounded elitist. My point was this: there are different kinds of men--emotional men, physical men, intellectual men, spiritual men, and various shades in between. And there is a religion for each.
To put it in yogic terms, for the physical man there is karma yoga, the yoga of action. For the emotional man there is bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. For the intellectual man there is jnana yoga, the yoga of metaphysical and philosophical knowledge. And for the spiritual man, there is raja yoga, the yoga of meditation and ascent. They all work, and no one is better than the others, but one can be worse than the others if you are practicing the wrong one.
To cite just one example, many sophisticated westerners such as JWM have difficulty embracing Christianity because in the West it has largely lost its sapiential (knowledge) and transformational components, and has been reduced to a simple fideism of bhakti yoga, or worship of Christ.
But in fact, all of the major religions are analogous to yoga, in that they have a place for all the castes and temperaments. In Christianity, the sapiential-transformational component was never lost in the Orthodox tradition, whereas by necessity it was under-emphasized in the Catholic West due to the exigencies of worldly power and the need for organization and orthopraxis.
But even then, you don't have to search far in Western Christendom to find the most sublime and unsurpassed spiritual wisdom, for example, in the figure of Meister Eckhart. His corpus is impenetrable to those who are not "resonating" at the same spiritual wave length, which is a good thing, because it protects it from becoming the watered-down gruel of mere intellectual knowing and false teaching. Such teachings are only for the trans-intellectual, which is what I meant by my elitist sounding wisecrack. These teachings cannot be understood by the worldly intellect. But obviously, there's nothing at all wrong with the worldly intellect of the scientist or engineer. The world can get along just fine without me, but where would we be without them?
Well, I've probably rambled for too long. Time to leave the slackitareum and earn my keep by the sweat of my brow, like everyone else. Except for all those scoundrels making a living from the postmodern-day Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.
Almost forgot--my wife is a career transition coach who specializes in helping people who are stuck in the wrong caste, so to speak, find a more spiritually satisfying career. Her book provides a structure to help find your calling if your calling has been calling and you haven't been answering. Her website has excerpts from the book and a link to reviews on Amazon.com:
What's your caste?