"Caste" versus "Orders of Social Well-Being"
The following dialogue took place at the University of Moscow in the
Soviet Union in 1971 between Srila Pabhupada and Professor Grigoriy
SP: If a brahmana accepts a salary, it is understood that he has become a dog. That is stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam. He can advise, but he cannot accept employment...The Manu-smriti is an example of the standard of brahminical culture...
PK: I am sorry to interrupt you, but to my knowledge all of Indian society in the second half of the eighteenth century was, by order of the British administration, under a law divergent from Hindu law. There was a lot of change. The actual Hindu law that was used by the Hindus was quite different from the original Manu-smriti.
SP: They have now made changes. Even our late Pandit Jawharlal Nehru introduced his own Hindu code. He introduced the right of divorce in marriage, but this was not in the Manu-samhita. There are so many things they have changed, but before this modern age the whole human society was governed by the Manu-smriti. Strictly speaking, modern Hindus are not strictly following the Hindu scriptures.
But our point is not to try to bring back the old type of Hindu society. That is impossible. Our idea is to take the best ideas from the original idea...If one wants to keep his profession and also at the same time understand our movement, that is allowed. We have many professors following our movement. There is Howard Wheeler, a professor at Ohio State University. He is my disciple. He is continuing with his professorship...
PK: But by creating brahmanas from different social classes of society, you deny the old prescription of the Hindu society.
SP: No, I establish it.
PK: According to all scriptures -- the Puranas, etc. -- every member of one of these four classes of varnas has to be born within it... That is the foundation of all the varnas...
SP: You have spoken incorrectly. With great respect, I beg to submit that you are not speaking correctly. In the Bhagavad-gita [4.13] it is stated, catur-varnyam maya srishtam guna-karma-vibhagasah. "These four orders of brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and sudras were created by Me according to quality (guna) and work or activities (karma)." There is no mention of birth (janma).
PK: I agree with you that this is the addition of later brahmanas who tried to perpetuate these qualities.
SP: That has killed the Indian culture. Otherwise there would have been no necessity of the division of part of India into Pakistan... The other day I was speaking in Bombay with a respectable gentleman. I was telling him that Krishna says, "Even those who are lowborn [papa-yonayah] -- stri, vaishyas, and sudras -- are also included by accepting Me. By accepting My shelter they are also elevated to the transcendental platform."
Now why have the higher classes of Hindu society neglected this injunction of the Bhagavad-gita?...Why wasn't this message propagated by the higher classes of people so that the so-called lowborn could be elevated? Why did they reject them? The result was that instead of accepting the Muhammadans, the Indians rejected them, and now they are partitioned off. They have become eternal enemies of India.
So for the first time we are trying to elevate persons to the higher position of Krishna Consciousness, even if one is lowborn. Because the soul is pure. In the Vedas it is said that the soul is untouched by any material contamination; it is simply temporarily covered. This covering should be removed. Then one becomes pure. That is the mission of human life...
In a July 1975 interview, reporter Sandy Nixon asked Srila Prabhupada, "Are you attempting to revive the ancient Indian caste system in the West? The Gita mentions the caste system..."
Srila Prabhupada responded:
"Where does the Bhagavad-gita mention the caste system? Krishna says, 'chatur-varnyam maya srishtam guna-karma-vibhagasah: 'I created four divisions of men according to their quality and work.' [Gita 4.13] For instance, you can understand that there are engineers as well as medical practitioners in society. Do you say they belong to different castes--that one is in the engineer caste and the other is in the medical caste? No. If a man has qualified himself in medical school, you accept him as a doctor, and if another man has a degree in engineering, you accept him as an engineer.
"Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita defines four classes of men in society: a class of highly intelligent men, a class of administrators, a class of productive men, and ordinary workers. These divisions are natural. For example, one class of men is very intelligent. But to actually meet the qualifications of first-class men as described in the Bhagavad-gita, they need to be trained, just as an intelligent boy requires training in a college to become a qualified doctor.
"So in the Krishna Consciousness movement we are training the intelligent men how to control their minds, how to control their senses, how to become truthful, how to become clean internally and externally, how to become wise, how to apply their knowledge in practical life, and how to become God conscious. All these boys [gestures toward seated disciples] have first-class intelligence, and now we are training them to use it properly.
"We are not introducing the caste system, in which any rascal born in a brahmana family is automatically a brahmana. He may have the habits of a fifth-class man, but he is accepted as first class because of his birth in a brahmana family. We don't accept that. We recognize a man as first class who is trained as a brahmana. It doesn't matter whether he is Indian, European, or American; lowborn or highborn -- it doesn't matter.
"Any intelligent man can be trained to adopt first-class habits. We want to stop this nonsensical idea that we are imposing the Indian caste system on our disciples. We are simply picking out men with first-class intelligence and training them how to become first class in every respect."
In an essay appearing on page 117 of The Science of Self-Realization, Srila Prabhupada says:
"It is this divine varnashrama-dharma that Krishna recommends, not the caste system as it is understood today. This modern caste system isn now condemned in India also, and it should be condemned, for the classification of different types of men according to birth is not the Vedic or divine caste system.
"There are many classes of men in society -- some men are engineers, some are medical practitioners, some are chemists, tradesmen, businessmen, and so on. These varieties of classes are not to be determined by birth, however, but by quality. No such thing as the caste-by-birth system is sanctioned in the Vedic literature, nor do we accept it. We have nothing to do with the caste system, which is also at present being rejected by the public in India. Rather, we give everyone the chance to become a brahmana...
"Because at the present moment there is a scarcity of brahmanas, spiritual guides...and because the entire world is being ruled by sudras, or men of the manual laborer class, there are many discrepancies in society. It is to mitigate all these discrepancies that we have taken to this Krishna Consciousness movement.
"If the brahmana class is actually reestablished, the other orders of social well-being will automatically follow...The ultimate goal of this movement is to educate people in how to love God...No Christian gentleman will be interested in changing his faith from Christian to Hindu. Similarly, no Hindu gentleman...will be ready to change to the Christian faith...But everyone will be interested in understanding the philosophy and science of God and taking it seriously."