Also in this Series
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 2
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.1
- Culture and Cosmos – I
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 1
- Culture and Cosmos 3 – Part 3.2 (Continued from TVN 8/3)
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.6
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.2
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.3
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.4
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.5
- Culture and Cosmos – 3 Part 1
- Culture and Cosmos – 3 Part 1.2
- Culture & Cosmos 3 Part 1.3
- Culture & Cosmos – 3 Part 2.2 (continued from TVN 7/6)
- Culture and Cosmos 3 – Part 2.3
- Culture and Cosmos 3 -Part 3.1 (Continued from TVN 8/2)
- Culture and Cosmos -3 Part 2.1 (continued from TVN 7/4)
Caste has been an issue of ongoing contention in contemporary Indian society. In the course of this essay I have referred to this situation and the manner in which inhibiting forces have been exerted on certain traditional castes, resulting in an undermining of the dharma of that particular community. The community in question, the Sikh, presents a rather obvious example. But the same inhibition has been inflicted on most segments of this ancient system of structuring society. In one way or another the essential purpose and function of the various castes has deteriorated, to the point where little is left of that original intention. Added to this, or perhaps as a result of this loss, a fragmentation process set in, or a splintering. Each of the four major divisions of caste – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra, known in Sanskrit as the Chaturvarna, or ‘four colours’ – became divided within themselves, and then again subdivided in a process of fragmentation leading to an increasing differentiation of groups. The India mind has a superb ability to define and codify. This has been one of its most interesting features from ancient times, a capacity which we find reflected in contemporary Indian society by the high percentage of scientists and technicians among Indians – both in the country and residing abroad, placing the nation in the forefront in this regard.
Some believe that the exercise of defining inhibits free expression and development of a society. This is an objection especially prevalent in 20th Century society in which freedom is the foremost concern. It was not a concern during the last Manifestation several thousands of years ago. To define meant to be in a position to harmonise and integrate. Having lost that capacity to some extent, the difficulties contemporary Indian society experiences with integration are understandable.
The capacity to define and codify was thus employed in the ancient division of Hindu society in an important exercise which originally enhanced the caste system’s ability to integrate a people. For integration can only reach its fullest expression when the parts to be integrated are known and defined. A system such as the Chaturvarna was, in essence, an act of ‘putting each thing in its place’. It collected all the segments born of the act of defining and set them in their proper position within the whole.
Indeed, it is that very WHOLE which will be the focus of this analysis, insofar as with the passage of time the original function of the Chaturvarna – the Whole composed of its well-defined Parts – has been lost sight of. Consequently, the two qualities which describe the purpose of such an arrangement and its raison d’etre – integrality and wholeness – have largely disappeared with just the opposite in evidence. There appear to be nothing but the fragments left – isolated, well segregated from one another due to the act of defining. But these parts abide in a void, being deprived of certain essential elements, – i.e., a centre that holds, and a circle or sphere in which that centre may act as a binding or integrating force. In other words, we have the innumerable parts floating in a void, or a chaos not a cosmos. The overall binding energy of the Chaturvarna has vanished almost completely.
In this portion of the essay, we shall therefore concentrate almost exclusively on this question of the Chaturvarna’s essence or essential purpose. In the process, the indisputable cosmic foundation of the system will be explored, for it is this foundation that provides the answer we seek regarding the origin, purpose, function and consequent decline of caste. This essay will also highlight other aspects which need to be dealt with. Once we have established the connection between caste and cosmos, and insofar as Hinduism’s roots lie firmly embedded in the Cosmic Truth, it will be revealed that in any attempt to re-establish Hindu Dharma this question of caste will perforce surface and demand to be dealt with. Amidst the decline and degeneration experienced in India of its ancient civilisational and cultural bases, an analysis of the true foundations of the Chaturvarna will also reveal that caste was perhaps the single element most responsible for providing a binding component to Hindu civilisation, cutting across and through a series of separate kingdoms and fiefdoms.
It is known that the administrative ‘unity’ introduced by the British during colonisation of the subcontinent was the only time that all these kingdoms were gathered under a single administrative umbrella, thus paving the way for a united nation. However, in the course of this essay I have presented certain ancient keys of higher knowledge which, because of their central position in Hinduism, indicate that in a particular dimension of the nation’s collective consciousness this sense of unity existed long before the Moghuls or the British came on the scene. The basis for this all-embracing unity, cutting through the barriers of these multiple kingdoms, was what we call today Hinduism. The Sanatan or Eternal Dharma was the unifying, binding force of the civilisation which has inhabited the subcontinental landmass from prehistoric times.
More importantly, in these pages I have presented the means by which Hinduism was granted the unusual capacity to endure, to hold a civilisation together in spite of these barriers; indeed, to be a civilisation at all. The key lay in the cosmic harmony. Forming as it does the basis of Hindu Dharma, and being a harmony unending in its unfolding, by means of which Hinduism organised its civilisational expressions, it is logical that the Chaturvarna would also reveal its origins to have stemmed from that same cosmic harmony. Given this fact, it is easy to appreciate that when the Divine Maya (Measure) was lost some centuries ago, which provided the enlightened link with that cosmos, the Dharma was fated to decline since its renewing mechanism hinged precisely on that connection. By consequence, the caste system, equally rooted in the cosmic harmony, began to experience a degeneration by virtue of an act of defining and division run rampant, having been cut off from its fount of integrating power.
Essential to an understanding of how this degeneration came to pass is the question of exactly what was lost in the vision and expression of the Chaturvarna. It is apparent that no historian or authority on Hindu civilisation has really been able to pinpoint this failing. Indeed, had it been possible to do so, the decline would have been arrested and the aspired reestablishment of the Dharma would have already taken place. Therefore, a fundamental, central feature of this analysis is that lost element in the perception which alone could hold the system together. This was the all-embracing vision of the cosmic Truth which in ancient times provided the unifying factor. All expressions of the Dharma could be found related to that Cosmic Truth – or the true perception of the cosmic harmony, and, above all, its divine Maya or Measure, as the means to give effective expression in the society to that Truth. The closer this came to a shadowless perception, the nearer was the Satya Yuga or Golden Age of Truth drawn.
The Inadequacy of Mental Formulas
In the second part of this series (TVN, 6/2), the threefold basis of the Hindu Dharma was discussed, also taken from the cosmic harmony. This triune play of energy – creation, preservation and destruction – was seen projected onto the subcontinental landmass via the Capricorn hieroglyph (see page 10, TVN 6/2), or, as it is sometimes called in ancient traditions, the Name of God. In Part II, I made brief mention of the fourfold order. Together with the threefold, this combination provides the essence of Hindu Dharma as mirrored in these celestial exchanges. In the present essay, we shall consider the trinity, Rajas, Sattwa and Tamas, and how it is related to the fourfold caste system. To do this we may use the principle ingredient in the study of cosmic harmonies – the circle. With this simple geometric form it is possible to explain the origins of caste and, at the same time, its relation to the gunas, or the triune play of energies.
If the circle here presented is taken as the circumscribing heavens, we are establishing our first premise: the four castes are perceived as four segments of the heavenly sphere; and this division, in turn, is employed on earth to provide a cosmic basis for the structure of society. Indeed, this circle divided into four is the astronomical symbol of our planet Earth, the four angles indicating the four cardinal points.
It is apparent that the evolution of a civilisation – and indeed the evolution itself – cannot be on the basis of a mental formula. By this we mean a formula that springs from a divisive consciousness. Efforts to impose such a mental formula would be doomed to fail. In fact, this is precisely what has transpired regarding the ancient caste system. When the original formula and measure were lost, substitutes arose from the mind of a humanity which had lost contact with a plane of perception higher than the mental. All on earth was sought to be made ‘in man’s image’ and not the Divine’s as mirrored in the cosmic harmony. The result has been a severe fragmentation of society: the parts seek to assert themselves via these divisive mental formulas, and in so doing their capacity to find their place within the Whole is forfeited. Again we return to our original premise: cosmic harmonies offer a vision of wholeness and integrality. Mental formulas, which are human perceptions disconnected from a higher source, are characterised by an inability to harmonise and integrate, to situate the parts within the whole, insofar as there is no conscious awareness of that totality. Hence, these formulas do violence to a society. Indeed, the increasing violence of our world, and in particular the astonishing display of minds capable of fabricating the most sophisticated instruments for mass destruction, are results of a development devoid of any light higher than the mental. The consequences are an increasing fragmentation, divisiveness, isolation, segregation, splintering – in the name of a search for ‘identity’, or an assertion of national or ethnic rights. These may or may not be connected to religions. When they are, the product is an explosive brand of assertiveness, highly intolerant of diversity, which we label fundamentalism.
These manifestations in contemporary society are representative of minds incapable of a perception of wholeness, or a unified multiplicity. The most accurate description of the aberration is a linear in contrast to a spherical perception. Further on I shall demonstrate graphically how this aberration has played a crucial role in the degeneration of the caste system with its attending disassociation from the cosmic harmony.
In our study the circle represents that spherical capacity of perception – a consciousness capable of seeing the parts within the whole. At the same time, the circle is the celestial sphere comprised of the planetary harmony. We have divided this circle into four parts. Each section corresponds to one of the four castes: Shudra, the labour class; Vaishya, the traders or providers; Kshatriya, the warrior/rulers; and Brahmin, the person of knowledge, adviser of kings and governments.
It may be asked how this division can be effectively connected to or bear any real relation to the cosmic harmony with its planetary/orbital patterns, in any way other than merely a symbolic representation – hence, another mental formula. Indeed, it is legitimate to question whether the factual and not simply symbolic relationship can truly express itself in a civilisation or in the evolution of consciousness on Earth. The argument is similar to what we encounter in the scientific community’s debunking of astrology. For the scientist also claims, How can it be held (and proven) that the planets ‘influence’ mankind or regulate or determine the lives of human beings? I have dealt with this objection elsewhere in my writings and need not reopen the debate. I intend to reveal the existence of this connection in the present analysis by exceeding the boundaries which cage in the contemporary scientist and relegate him or her to a status far inferior to that of the seers of old. The limitation, I may point out, is the linear perception in lieu of the spherical.
An ancient dictum holds that the macrocosmos is equal to the microcosmos, – i.e., the human being, to name just one component of that microcosm, was held by the ancients to mirror or TO BE that cosmic pattern in miniature. Consequently, a penetration into the mysteries of the cosmos, based on the spherical capacity of perception and not the linear, discloses that what holds ‘above’ holds ‘below’. Cosmic harmonies describe the intricate patterns of our solar system, but at the same time they speak of the human being in his or her physical constitution as well as psychological. In a word, these harmonies of which the circle is the geometric symbol, speak of the many layers, dimensions, planes of the embodied consciousness, both individual and collective. ‘As above, so below’. Cosmic harmonies of which the circle is the geometric symbol, speak of the many layers, dimensions, planes of the embodied consciousness, both individual and collective. ‘As above, so below’ would then point to an interconnection, a oneness, a magical fact of unity as the governing principle of our world. This fact of our planetary existence has clearly been overlooked. Contemporary society is a product of that lost perception. The travails of our times, this last decade of the millennium, expose the pressure human societies are feeling to regain that beatific state of wholeness and completion and integration of the parts within the whole.
Thus, having established this fact of oneness and unity, we come closer to understanding the sense behind one of the oldest references to the Chaturvarna, or the Fourfold Order. It is found in the Rig Veda, Hinduism’s most ancient collection of sacred hymns. In the ‘Purush Sukta’ (X, 90), the seer describes the universal Purush, or Being. All parts of creation are seen to emerge from or find their place in this Being. The body of man is used to provide the connecting link between the vast and the minute. At the same time, the sphere that is this Universal Being is divided into four quarters. The seer states that three fourths, however, are ‘above’…
…Such is the measure of his might,
and greater still than this is the Purush.
All beings are a fourth of him,
three fourths are the immortal in heaven.
Three fourths of the Purush ascended high,
one fourth took birth again down here.
From this he spread in all directions
into animate and inanimate things.
Using the Purush as their oblation,
the Gods performed the sacrifice.
Spring served them for clarified butter,
Summer for the fuel, and Autumn for the offering.
And several verses further on, after enumerating all the creatures of the Earth who have originated in this Cosmic Being, the seer proceeds to describe the Chaturvarna…
…When they divided up the Purush,
into how many parts did they divide him?
What did his mouth become? What his arms?
What are his legs called? What his feet?
His mouth became the Brahmin; his arms
became the Kshatriya, his legs
the Vaishya who plies his trade.
The Shudra was born from his feet…
(Translation largely Raimundo Pannikar’s)
The Vedic Experience)
The above is considered to be the first mention of the caste system in Hindu scripture. Its origins can therefore be situated in the bedrock of Hinduism, the Veda. More especially, the Rig Veda. In studying the fourfoldness of the division of the celestial sphere in depth, we come to realise that the zodiac as we know it today, with its major division of four (the four Cardinal points) and overall 12, formed the basis of the order used for the Chaturvarna. In the above hymn the Rishi makes the connection explicit when he refers to the seasons, – interestingly, he mentions only three. We might consider that these correspond to the three fourths ‘above’: Spring, Summer and Autumn. The fourth omitted we may assume to be the one fourth left for the human creation ‘below’. But there seems to be more to this omission considering that the Rishi would have located this creation on the subcontinent, whose astrological ruler is the zodiacal sign Capricorn – or the first Winter month, the only season left out of the hymn. To lay further stress on this point, we have the hieroglyph of Capricorn superimposed on the map of India in a perfect synchronism of symbol and form. This is an immensely important clue to the cosmic rather than the historic context of the Rig Veda; as well, it assists us in piecing together the cosmic Mosaic which forms the backdrop of the Hindu Dharma.
These clues, found in abundance in the Rig Veda, have encouraged me to believe that the origin of the zodiac was the ancient civilisation which inhabited the subcontinent. Indeed, so firmly were the roots of zodiacal wisdom embedded in the civilisation that they have never ceased to exert a predominant influence in Hindu society; not only in Hinduism’s body of ritual but also in contemporary Indian society through an involvement with astrology and other forms of predictive arts which have this cosmic foundation.
The precise origins of the twelve hieroglyphs are unknown. They seem to have always been a part of the civilisations which made use of a system of 12 for the division of the year. Western scholarship has always considered Mesopotamia to be the location of their origins, but this is without foundation. There too the script may have been imported from farther east, just as the concept of the Zero was taken from India by the Arabs and brought to Europe, with many western historians and mathematicians still attributing the discovery to Islamic civilisation. The oldest civilisations which are acknowledged to have fed the evolution of thought in Europe are limited to the Middle East. This has consequently produced a lopsided world, tilted in one direction on this axis of partial seeing.
It is quite possible that the origins of the zodiacal script were in ancient and legendary Lemuria, the submerged continent described in a number of old texts, but particularly in the ancient Sangam literature of Tamil Nadu. The oldest of these books speaks of this submerged continent, dating back more than 30,000 years, where an advanced civilisation dwelt which then migrated to what is now Tamil Nadu at the time of the cataclysm. A pointer to this possibility lies in the Tamil language itself which causes us to believe that it too was a means of conveying higher knowledge of cosmic import, consisting as it does of 12 vowels and 18 consonants. In all there is a combination of 216 letters in the alphabet, or 12 times 18. I have always felt that these 12 and 18 are not sufficient to capture all the sounds of the spoken language. It seemed rather that the structure of Tamil was used by ancient seers as one more key to the Cosmic Truth. Indeed, language and grammar were always considered limbs of the Knowledge, – witness the works of Panini and Patanjali. If we accept this thesis then we see that the vowels and consonants of Tamil point to two basic divisions of the Circle: its division into 12, or the zodiacal signs; and the threefold energy flow of 6+6+6 or 18, which is the same key contained in the division of the books of the Puranas, each 0-section corresponding to a member of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. His division was discussed extensively in Part II of this essay regarding the geography of India (TVN, 6/2, June 1991).
Needless to say, these theses are not accepted by contemporary scholars largely because there are none among them with any grounding in the subtleties of cosmic harmonies, its script, its language. Hence, no coherent sense can be made out of verses such as I have quoted above from the Rig Veda. The conclusion of western scholarship regarding the Purush Shukta seems to be that these verses have provided exemplary proof of the pagan, animistic roots of Hinduism – with the implication of course that these are inferior expressions of the religious spirit.
Be this as it may, let us proceed a step further with our unveiling of the cosmic foundation of the Chaturvarna. The Purush Shukta describes the Manifest as a fourth of the fourfold sphere. Three quarters are above, one quarter below. Yet, as the hymn develops and the evolution of material creation is described, when the seer comes to the caste system he does indeed mention the FOUR quarters and their connection with that same Cosmic Purush. The head with its mouth is allotted to the Brahmin. This clearly refers to the power of the Word the Brahmin is meant to possess. The arms are allotted to the Kshatriya, referring to power – the warrior’s power, yes, but also the ability to WIELD power, to rule as well as to protect. For example, the many arms of the Gods and Goddesses, particularly the Goddess of Victory, Durga, who conquers the embodiment of evil with her many arms, each of which wields a different weapon representative of different aspects of that power.
The seer goes on to mention the legs and feet in the lower hemisphere (of the circle – see page 16), the support of the body/system. This, it must be emphasised, is the vision from above, from the position of the three quarters. When this is played out below a reversal takes place. The zodiac, or the sacred script describing the evolution of the species, presents us with that vision below. Consequently, the flow of time is added, which regulates the processes of manifestation, which gestates the creation the zodiac describes. It is the key to this flow of time that was lost and hence the present inability to make the connections we have made in these pages, insofar as Time is the bridge between that ‘above’ and this ‘below’. The means to translate the Vision into material reality is by an enlightened perception of Time’s essence, purpose and methods. This knowledge was a central feature of the ancient Dharma. Today only its shell exists, certain fragments which serve to inform us that the foundations of Hindu Dharma are to be found and explained in this Cosmic Harmony.
In another ancient text of the subcontinent the portion above is expressed by a different image: the primordial, inverted Tree with its roots in ‘heaven’ and its trunk and branches extending downward to form or become the material creation. This symbol intends to convey that the source of manifest creation lies in the subtle dimension of ‘heaven’. The human being sees only its external form; the sage perceives what is hidden but essential.
Regarding the caste system and the zodiac, we find this same concept conveyed, diverting from the Purush Shukta’s classification of the Brahmin as the mouth of the Cosmic Being. In the zodiac the fourfold order is more pointedly given a cosmic backdrop, inasmuch as the zodiac is the division we know and employ of that same heavenly sphere, with the additional ingredient of Time. But zodiacal tradition reverses the allocation, while yet maintaining the same fourfold division. The divine Purush is projected onto the Wheel head first (Aries), and then through the rest of the signs which all correspond to a portion of his Body in a downward movement. But though there is the same fourfold division, the zodiac begins with the Shudra as the first (hence the head, throat, etc). Finally, at the last quarter of the signs Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces, corresponding to the knees, ankles and feet, respectively, we have the Brahmin caste. Thus, similar to the primordial Tree with its roots ‘above’, we see that the cosmic harmony considers the Brahmin equally to be the support of the system, the element which allows the body to stand erect and hence to be distinguished from the animal and other species.
The reason for this reversal is also borne out by the fact that the Brahmin caste, while being the ‘highest’ of the four, was traditionally deprived of ownership of material possessions. The Brahmin’s right of possession was Knowledge and the heavenly attributes of wisdom and truth-seeing. And these were used in the society to furnish it with those flawless foundations, or the Tree sustained by its roots in heaven, fed by that highest Source.
Twashtri’s Bowl: the Journey into the Integral
The Rig Veda also describes this celestial sphere divided into four as Twashtri’s Bowl, Twashtri being another name of the Divine Architect, Vishwakarma (see The New Way, Volume 2). Differing from these four designations, the four sections are related to the four planes of existence – the Physical, the Vital, the Mental, and the Spiritual. Again it can be observed that they also correspond faithfully to the four casts: Physical/Shudra, Vital/Vaishya, Mental/Kshatriya, and Spiritual/Brahmin.
The last section of Twashtri’s ‘bowl’ is the Vedic heavenly Swar. With the decline of the Knowledge this highest plane of consciousness, the attainment of which was the main purpose of the Yoga described in the Rig Veda (called variously the ‘journey’, the ‘sacrifice’, and so forth), came to be considered another dimension or plane of consciousness disconnected from the remaining three. Swar was attained by a disassociation of the consciousness from the body and from material creation with all its interconnections and interrelatedness. However, its true meaning was to be found in the inverted Tree. In other words, the embodied consciousness of the Vedic seer was rooted in that Swar, while yet engaged in the Earthly evolution. Indeed, the meaning was quite clear: this highest plane was the source of the Brahmin’s vision, which was then used in support of the kingdom by translating that Knowledge into a system upon which the civilization could flourish as a harmonious, mutually enhancing body.
With the decline of the Dharma the oneness of manifest and unmanifest or subtle was lost. The stark divide between Spirit and Matter arose which has been humanity’s affliction for the past several thousand years. In such a worldview, based on the principle of division, it can hardly be expected that the Brahmin will serve society according to the dictates of his/her inherent dharma or inner truth. Similarly, the other castes cannot hope to find their correct place and expression in a society which has lost its connection with those roots, borne out by the relegation of Swar/Brahmin to a plane apart from this creation and a resulting chasm (which the Brahmin is meant by destiny to bridge) dividing this world and that ‘heaven’.
On this basis, however, it is simple enough to understand how the Brahmin came to occupy an isolated, privileged and special place in Hindu civilization. I shall now present a GRAPHIC image of the distortion which the hierarchical, exclusivist approach introduced into the caste system during the period of decline, or when the linear consciousness entirely displaced the Vedic spherical perceptive capacity. The higher then had no contact with the lower, just as Swar/spirit had no relation to Earth/matter. The twain, indeed, could never hope to meet. In addition, the highest at the apex of the structure could be construed as ‘closer to heaven’ than the lower, thus indubitably enjoying a tremendous advantage and hold over the people, especially in a society solidly grounded in spiritual tradition and reverence for higher knowledge and for those who have attained the divine Consciousness. At later, more degraded stages, the upper echelons acquired additional ‘top-heaviness’ due to an inner decay and loss of the dharma; that is, when material wealth replaced the spiritual and the Brahmin, having lost the knowledge and contact ‘above’, with his legendary obesity, virtually became the physical reflection of that accumulated MATERIAL wealth, filling the void the loss of the spiritual engendered. Then the lower levels began to feel the pressure as they had to bear this top-heaviness due to the loss of the dharma of the upper castes which sat heavily upon the lower. The degenerated form is described in this symbol:
This pyramidal form is a faithful graphic representation of the decline of the Chaturvarna; as well, it provides us with the understanding of WHEN and HOW poverty began its steady and slow march to deaden the civilization in centuries to come. The Chaturvarna does not take poverty and backwardness into account, since it forms no part of the vision for obvious reasons. But we shall deal with this particular aspect of the decline further on. At this point, the pyramid is meant to impress upon the student the LINEAR and UNI-DIMENSIONAL consciousness that came into being during the Hindu civilisation’s dark age. Above all, it is separative and serves to foster divisiveness and segregation in a society, contrary to the Chaturvarna’s most important function. The Shudra may come into contact with the Vaishya, but nothing beyond; or the Vaishya with the Kshatriya, and so on. But the lowest can never hope to reach the highest. In a word, the pyramid demonstrates the total and complete loss of the Chaturvarna’s purpose of setting each element in its place in the sublime experience of a harmonious integration of the parts within the whole.
With the spread of the linear consciousness the Divine Maya was very quickly lost, the sacred Measure whereby Hindu civilisation maintained its contact with that Source, or the truth-consciousness of the cosmic harmonies. This true purpose and function can be properly conveyed only through the circle, thus:
The key to understanding this diagram and its connection to caste is that each segment converges on the centre. That is, each segment has EQUAL access to the Source; while each of the four castes among themselves join at the centre. The Centre being the shadowless domain of the Truth-Consciousness, it is only in its proximity that ALL ARE EQUAL.
This is one of the most important conclusions drawn from a study which connects caste to cosmos. It is not that differences do not exist in creation. Diversity, degree, gradation – indeed, hierarchy – are facts of life; nay, they describe the beauty and fullness of life and the divine Consciousness in manifestation. The multiplicity, where differentiation has its play, is unity carried through the various dimensions of creation, where that same unity expresses itself in an infinitude of forms. But that immense variety can return to the Source, for indeed it had never left it; just as Silence does not cease when Sound arises, the latter being simply the movement of the Silence. Similarly, diversity is the flowering of unity through the multiple dimensions of cosmic existence. The Breath of Brahman is said to be indrawn when those layers of creation are gathered back into the Source, to be then exhaled as the Seed of Unity fills creation with infinite expressions of the flowering of Itself.
The Chaturvarna, having this cosmic foundation, is also an expression of that perfect blending of diversity within unity. All human beings are not equal in the sense of uniform. Thus, caste defines certain varied expressions of the Cosmic Purush as organs and limbs of a single Body; and with the correct spherical perception, one can appreciate that each segment has an entirely equal relationship to the central Source, a horizontal convergence, and this is important to note, of all parts onto single binding Point. Once that Source is attained or realised, the individual of whichever of the four segments may be said to have exceeded his or her original boundaries and realised the integral nature of God in humanity. Because of these roots of the Chaturvarna in this truth-seeing, it has been held from very ancient times in Hindu civilisation that the person of God-realisation steps out of the limitations caste may impose. The realised individual, be he or she a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, or whatever, is thus free of the boundaries of caste. However, this noble precept of the system has also suffered considerable degeneration which we must now deal with, insofar as it is the causal agent of the decline.
Into the Beyond: Dissipation of the Power
When Nothingness, the Void, the Beyond became the summit of the spiritual quest, those who had attained these realisations considered themselves to be beyond time and space or material creation, since their consciousness was placed OUTSIDE of the cosmic border, which by then was equated with the lesser Maya, the Mother divested of her divine attributes. Thus they were also beyond caste, since it is in a creation of time and space that the Purush comes into being. The Divine Maya is precisely the formative power of the Absolute, in the macrocosm and moving into and through the countless dimensions of creation to the minutest point. The distortion that overtook the realiser was the attempt to escape from the confines of this superlative Body of the Absolute. It can visualised in this way: each segment instead of converging onto or moving into the centre, moves outward (the arrows in the diagram, page 25). That is, the direction changed and instead of the consciousness converging ever inward, into the Source, or that central Bija or Seed, it moved outward and experienced dispersion, dissolution, decentralisation, disintegration. Indeed, the realiser, being beyond the cosmos, no longer had the power to influence the creation he or she had left behind. With the passage of time, that orphaned creation was overtaken by the darkness resulting from a withdrawal of that light: the human creation it had abandoned fell thoroughly under the control of the Ignorance.
The central Seed is the immanent Transcendent in the heart of each created thing, the Hiranyaretas, or the golden Seed, light of the worlds. It was in that sacred, centremost space that the individual could come to realise the integrality of all the parts and planes of his or her embodied consciousness, made in God’s own image, for this was the divine Purpose of caste within cosmos. Thus, to move INTO THAT CREATION rather than out of it was the purpose of caste and life on Earth within such a superior structure. To assist the individual in that integral attainment, rather than dissolution (nirvana) of the consciousness because the mis-direction outward implies that there cannot be a concentration of the power or energy sufficient to explore and integrate all the parts and levels of embodied being. This, in concise terms, is the real description of the decline of Hindu Dharma and consequently of caste. In view of that decline regarding this essentiality of direction or poise of consciousness, it is understandable that a society which continues nonetheless to embrace caste faithfully can only be a shadow reflection of that Truth, that divine Cosmic Purush. It must, therefore, display in the subsequent evolution of the civilisation under aegis of this Shadow, all the distortions such as mis-direction and poise must engender. Poverty is one result, a leprotic disease afflicting the Purush with ugly eruptions covering its skin, and which, because of the mis-direction, came to be synonymous with the Divine. In God’s image then meant the poor are closer to God’s kingdom, in some way more expressive of the ‘true’ nature of God. This exaltation of poverty and renunciation is a direct consequence of the wrong direction, a direction outward, beyond a creation in matter, into the nirvanic Void rather than the rich and intensely blissful fullness of the Mother, particularly in her aspect of the divine Lakshmi, goddess of plenty, wealth and increase, of beauty and harmony in a physical creation fashioned in her image.
Diversity was then the bane of human existence, with all its avenues of expression such as the body and its senses. One dissolved one’s consciousness in the Beyond, one renounced the world and material creation, or the divine Mother, and attained a naked realisation, denuded of the luxuriant robes of the manifest creation. This, we must repeat, was not the original aim of the Chaturvarna, and it could never allow for the fulfilment of its main function: harmony and integration.
The purpose of such a system is to allow the individual the possibility to realise his or her inner truth, in material creation, in a body, on this planet Earth. Birth on Earth and into the caste system, or into the magnificent harmonies of the cosmos as one more note of the Infinite, was not intended to be a means of escape from that material creation and a plunge into nirvanic Nothingness or the indifferentiated Absolute. The process would thus be a senseless exercise if the only goal was to shed each and every vestige of this diversity. Yet, this is the ‘truth’ of every philosophic system, every religion, every path of yoga: birth may be a privilege, but only because it provides us with the possibility of dissolving whatever we may have had the misfortune to accumulate during the process of birth and the evolution of consciousness on Earth, finally returning to the source whence we came in an unfettered condition. In other words, we enter baggageless, we accumulate baggage, and then we are obliged and expected to follow the spiritual paths which will help us to shed that baggage and attain that pristine state of nakedness in order to merge with that original source once more.
But the Divine Consciousness is not such a senseless thing. This is simply the human inability to cope with diversity, multiplicity, richness and fullness – with life in its totality. It is simply a projection of God ‘in man’s image’, – i.e., purposeless and inane.
This perception, which took hold of India in the early centuries of this Manifestation, had to produce a decline in the Chaturvarna. A ‘God realisation’ of this sort could only undermine one’s faith in life on Earth. Thereafter, what sense could there be to a system such as the Chaturvarna? It was then that a very heavy blanket of inertia began to descend upon the consciousness of the people of Bharat, of ‘high’ caste and ‘low’ in equal measure, since the function of such a System had been corrupted.
The caste system’s essential purpose was to offer the individual an ideal FIELD and CONDITIONS within the System to explore the many layers of consciousness and make contact with one’s inner dharma or truth. That is, the individual in any of the four segments, starting from the periphery of the diagram, from birth to birth moves closer to the Centre. In the process the richness of his or her temperament, psychology, and even physical attributes and potentials were unveiled and integrated. The act of ‘setting each thing in its place’ within oneself could then be extended from microcosm to macrocosm. These attributes and aspects of one’s consciousness can be said to exist equally in all beings, but in seed form. The experience of the Chaturvarna was an aid to the development of that potentiality according to the overall dictates of the individualised destiny: the harmony of the parts within the whole.
Closer to the divine Source, the heart of the process was reached, the inner Chamber where the divine Purpose stands as the cosmic pillar of creation, as the immobile Agni amidst the mobile, or the divine Skambha. The Vedic journey in the sacrificial period of the year unveiled the magnificent diversity of creation and offered this at the feet of the Divine Mother, each part an instrument expressive of the highest realisation of her diversity in unity. Caste like cosmos was not divisive. Rather it was the path to wholeness and completion.
In the next portion of this essay, we shall explore Time’s function in the Chaturnarna and why the Year was of such singular importance in the Vedic vision – both the Earth year and Cosmic, and its relation to caste.
Skambha, June 1991
(to be continued)