We are essentially divine, but the divinity in us is covered by a veil of thoughts. The differences in the concentration and type of these thoughts give rise to the variety of human beings we see in the world.
The textbooks of Vedanta delineate three thought textures, or gunas गुण , through which the human mind functions:-
- Sattva सत्व = purity: thoughts that are pure and noble
- Rajas रजस् = passion: thoughts that are passionate and agitated
- Tamas तमस् = inertia: thoughts that are dull and inactive
These thought textures, in various permutations, determine individual personalities. And on any one day or during any hour of a day, each of us may have one of the three textures play the predominant role. Every human being experiences all three types of thought currents: sattvika, rajasika, and tamasika. Only the degree to which any one of these textures predominates determines the type to which an individual belongs.
The four gradations in the caste system of India are s. The historic misinterpretation and misuse of those gradations comprise what is generally known as the caste system today.
The four castes were originally determined neither by ancestry nor by vocation, but by a person’s inner temperament:-
The brahmin ब्राह्मिन् (thinker) class is predominantly sattvika सात्त्विक, exhibiting only a little rajas and minimal traces of tamas. The Gita says that this category of people is characterized by serenity, self-restraint; austerity, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, knowledge, and belief in God. Priests, ministers, great thinkers, and subtle poets belong in this category.
The ksatriya क्षत्रिय (leader) class exhibits mostly rajasika राजसिक qualities, with a little of sattva and tamas mixed in. According to the Gita, this category is characterized by prowess, splendor, dexterity, generosity, and lordliness. Leaders of society, such as national presidents or community activists, fall into this category.
The vaisya वैस्य (trader) class has less of sattva and miss and more of tamas. In this classification fall the traders and business people.
The sudra सुद्र (laborer) class has a major share of tamas, with a little of rajas and minimal traces of sattva. This category includes people who work on simple and menial tasks, and who are motivated largely by the direction given by others.
Today, these classifications have lost much of their meaning. They come to designate a hereditary birthright in the society, a mere superficial distinction that divides society into castes. For many years, people have espoused the belief that the four castes are based upon and determined by birth within a given family and by the type of vocation one follows. This confusion arose because the ancient masters of religion, who were also great psychologists, had suggested certain Vocations that they thought would be best suited to persons, belonging to each respective class of mental and intellectual texture. The intention was merely to guide those who were not well versed in psychology in selecting for themselves a gainful field of work wherein their present mental make-up could be put to best use. However, no rigidity was ordained about this selection. Anyone could pick up or even change one’s vocation and transform oneself from a sudra to a vaisya or ksatriya or brahmin, or vice versa. Hindu history is replete with such examples of mental transformation.
As the years rolled by, the basis of classification was forgotten, and people wrongly equated the four grades in the caste system to occupations and birth into families engaged in such occupations. Thus, a priest in a temple is generally considered a brahmin, without any reference to his attainment in study of the scriptures and in practicing the precepts. This is a dismal distortion of the truth. A true brahmin is one who is highly evolved in mind and intellect, has studied and assimilated the scriptural teachings, and daily practices the noble qualities that he has learned. Such a one can be found in any country, religion, or community. He need not be a Hindu or an Indian.
To achieve the mental transformations that catapult us from one classification into another, we have to put forth our own self-effort. A tamasika तामसिक person has to put in a lot of effort and time to shake off his lethargy and inertia and burst himself into activity before he can even dream of reaching the state of sattva. A rajasika person is already active, but that activity is directed to acquiring and enjoying the sense objects of the world. The person has to change the direction of her activity to again self-purification instead of sense gratification. The sattvika person is at the portals of Truth. Such a person is fully prepared to take the flight toward Self-realization; She needs only to contemplate and meditate on the supreme SeIf.