Caste and Swami Vivekananda

By Yagnesh Patel

Swami Vivekananda has addressed caste system extensively throughout his work.  It is not possible to quote all those things here but I would like to quote few things as they are relevant to most recent discussions.

Swami Vivekananda:

The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is speciallystudies by the monks. In this spiritual portion there is no caste.  A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India, and the two caste become equal. In religion there is no caste, caste is simply a social institution.

Further I would like to mention another often-overlooked dimension during discussion of caste system from Swamiji’s work. This emphasizes that with higher caste one is trading off many things attached with materialistic life:

Swami Vivekananda:

The higher the caste, the greater the restrictions. The lowest caste people can eat and drink anything they like, But as men rise in the social scale, more and more restrictions come, and when they reach the highest caste, the Brahmin, the hereditary priesthood of India, their lives, as I have said are very much circumscribed.  Compare to Western manners, their lives are of continuous asceticism.

Swamiji at various points during his work has also acknowledged degeneration and corruption of original caste system framework and suggested that we have lost the true spirit of it. This is from one of his address to west:

West quoting Swami Vivekananda: He said it was not a granted [graded] system of classes, but that each caste thought itself to be superior to all the others. He said it was a trade guild and not a religious institution. He said that it had been in existence from time immemorial, and explained how at first only certain rights were hereditary, but how afterward the ties were bound closer, and intermarriage and eating and drinking were restricted to each caste.

While Swamiji has quoted many disadvantages (with the corruption and degeneration of original framework) he has also explained advantages of this system over others:

Swami Vivekananda:

Money has made warfare in the world, and caused ‘X’ to trample on each other’s necks. Jealousy, hatred and avariciousness are born of money-getters. Here it is all work, hustle and bustle. Caste saves a man from all this. It makes it possible for a man to live with less money, and it brings work to all. The man of caste has time to think of his soul; and that is what we want in the society of India.

In bottom line, I will just say that be aware that we are trying to judge and analyze this present day corrupted caste system with our Drashti which is seriously infested with modern world views/ideas. Whereas our ancient system (devised few thousands years ago) was very much focused on achieving highest goal i.e GOD.

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