Indian Social Structure.

0. Introduction

The Indian social structure is closely linked to the traditional beliefs of the Indians. Much of the old stuctures have lost their relevance today. Still, keeping in mind that the structure held its relevance for a few thousand years, till a few decades back, it is worth studying. However different the modern Indian society might look, it is based on the old systems. To have a deep understanding of the social structure, it is necessary to understand some basic Indian philosophy. What I try to present here is what is agreed upon by almost all the systems of philosophy in India. Then we come to the actual social struture of the past. The breakdown of the old structures and the means by which India is recovering are slightly touched upon.
1. Immortality of the soul

The soul is immortal. It is the experiencer of the events in life. The body, the senses, the mind and the intellect are its instruments. The joys and sorrows which it experiences in the world are due to its misunderstanding that it depends on the world and its own instruments for joy. It is deluded that it is mortal, though it is immortal. By 'person', we mean the soul. He leads his life in this world by using his instruments of knowledge, cognition, decision and action. 2. Carry-over of experiences Just as a person grows from childhood to youth to old-age to death, he continues to grow - from death, to birth and the cycle continues. Every action (which is always accompanied by experience) of the soul creates two things: a potential for result (Karma), a sub-conscious taste (Samskara). Samskara is also called Vasana. The karma decides the environment which the soul will face in future and the samskara gives a background from which the soul will tend to react to the environment. Independent of these two is the free-will, decides the exact way in which the soul reacts. This in turn generates fresh karmas and samskaras. Thus, according to the Indian view, there is no place for a destiny independent of free-will. What a person faces in life is entirely due to the manner he had exercised his free-will in the past, and the manner he exercises his free-will now decides his future.
3. Aim of human life

The ultimate aim of human life is to realise the freedom of the soul. The soul is deluded that it is bound. Just as any other form of delusion, the soul is not in a position to recognise that it is bound. And, just as any other form of delusion, the soul becomes free the moment it recognises the delusion. By going through joys and sorrows in the world, the soul recognises the fleeting nature of phenonmenal existence and searches for something permanent.To get this initiative, the soul needs an extent of maturity, which can be gained only by performing actions and facing

6.their fruits. This is due to the very nature of the delusion. 2. The final goal is Moksha. A person is to gain Artha by exerting himself in righteous ways. As we saw before. etc where the soul is born. These lead to the initiative in him to the quest for Moksha. So.the four castes Every soul is different from an other in five ways: 1. Dharma: righteousness Artha: wealth. 5. 4. The four castes are described below. The society is sectioned into four divisions or castes. intermediate goals are defined. and thus help in the development of the soul. The Indian system defines four goals of human life. Brahmana: . which covers itself. which he strives and attains. 4. The ground line is Dharma. family. Opportunity to develop The environment which a soul faces is so designed by nature. 2. Handling differences . 3. The Indian social structure is a work-back. The 'Purpose' is what the society expects from the person. Graded goals Moksha as the sole goal of life cannot be appreciated by everyone. Janma (birth) Shakti (strength) Buddhi (intellect) Karma (fruits to be reaped) Samskara (mental tendencies) The social structure has to provide appropriate opportunities to the souls. that it can reap the fruits of some of its accumulated karma. He can use the so gained Artha to fulfil his desires within the circle of righteousness. including the 'ultimate' goal. The duties are fixed for each caste. The 'Aim' is what the person aspires for. 1. The duty of the society is to keep open the avenues for the soul to action and fruits. inspite of the differences. 5. 3. so that the souls with a particular type of karma and samskara naturally take birth into the caste which bests suits its dynamics of development. 1. the environment is decided by nature depending on the karma and samskara of the soul. power and fame Kama: fulfilment of desires Moksha: freedom (as mentioned earlier) The order is vital. 4. The environment includes the place.

Aim: knowledge Purpose: repository of arts. 2. Within the same caste. there is no place for conflicts or competition between castes. 7. as expected by his caste. Then. research and teaching o Requisites: highly developed intellect 2. Vaishya: o Aim: wealth o Purpose: management of wealth in the society movement of items within the society trade with other societies o Requisites: capacity of management 4. philosophy and religion study. he practises and develops the trade. sciences. Kshatriya: o Aim: power o Purpose: administration of the society maintenence of law and order protection from external aggression o Requisites: physical strength and courage capacity of administration 3. there is competition. philosophy and religion. These are common to all castes. The teacher. is a Brahmana. Brahmacharya: This is the learning phase. In this stage. As a guideline to this. ethics. Grhasta: This is the phase where he serves actively in the society. Focussing on the ultimate goal . The person lives as a student in the teacher's house. four stages of life (ashramas) are defined. 1. 3. as mentioned before. He learns various arts. He acquires the necessary skills needed for his trade from the other practitioners of his trade. Vanaprasta: This is the phase where he serves as the link between the past and the coming generation of people. Aim: perfection in any undertaking Requisites: willingness to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of the society righteousness • • By this organisation of the society. the individual aspirations and social expectations are fulfilled in a natural way. Sudra: o Aim: skill o Purpose: catering of products and services production of wealth o Requisites: skill in the particular work o o The following are expected from everyone. irrespective of the caste. The teacher is materially supported by the society and not by the pupils. different castes aim at different things. This is the stage which caters to the material needs of all the other stages.the four stages By catering to personal interests and to social commitments in this manner. So. sciences. he does not contribute to the society in terms of . which is healthy and helps in development of the society. a person develops naturally according to his own dynamics. In this scheme of things.

Also. out of which India is still recovering. Thus. Persons of any caste. it assumes Kama as the goal. Though a person is born as a Brahmana. The day he enters into the first Ashrama . or when he attains Moksha. but this stage is exclusive for this pursuit. he may pursue after wealth. except the pursuit of spiritual wisdom. India has adopted the founding of Sannyasin institutions. which strip the genuine Sannyasins from their source of bare necessities for life. power and wealth. The caste distinctions apply only to the Grhasta and Vanaprasta stages. 10. the society faces the danger of losing its scientific. Breakdown of the ashrama system The stage of a Grhasta is as important to the society. The rest of the society supports him with the bare necessities of life. the person is free from all other duties. This causes confusion in the society and caste loses its relevance. This is the ceremony of Upanayana. This is cut when he enters the Sannyasa Ashrama. As the result. the person cannot be fixed to a particular caste. as we see it now. the absence of their close inter-relation creates unbalanced development in the individuals. can skip the Grhasta and Vanaprasta stages and take to Sannyasa after Brahmacharya. which is a big hinderance to the development of the Indian society. in the exclusive pursuit of spiritual attainment. which leads to their downfall. This has been made up to a large extent by the establishment of modern universities and religious institutions. He is given a thread. The failure of this during the late Buddhist period has resulted in a national decay. technical and spiritual heritage. It has been a good success. the same soul strives after knowledge. as is the stage of Sannyasa. the soul starts yearning for means other than its natural course of development. A Vaisya-born may pursue after power. and as the result the whole of India is recovering. As a measure of recovery from this decay. which he wears. He transfers the professional knowledge and experience gained to the coming generation. he is taken care of by his parents. . This is because. The restriction towards a person entering into Sannyasa straight from Brahmacharya has to be very stringent. Sannyasa: In this stage. 4. Entry into the social structure .Upanayana When a person is born.products or regular services. The absence of stringency to Sannyasa leads to half-baked sannyasins. whenafter the society does not expect any returns from the person. It is indicated to the person that his aim is to attain Moksha through service to the society.the Brahmacharya marks his acceptence into the general stream of the society. But. whichever occurs earlier. which uproots the faith of the rest of the society in Sannyasins. This pursuit is not exclusive to this stage. who fulfil some stringent requirements. 9. This results in the greying of the demarcation between the castes. Breakdown of the caste system When the soul is not given proper orientation towards the final goal. This marks the social and spiritual birth of the person. 8. With the breakdown of the caste system. the aim of the person in the other two stages is the same for all castes.

12. Now. the ceremony of Upanayana lost its spiritual importance. The Indian society faced one phase of dark ages around the 6th century and another during the 19th century. The traditional ceremony of Upanayana is conducted by a few Indians only. Then it lost its social importance also. They give initiation to anyone who wants to follow the spiritual path. . Most of the information presented is what I have gathered though discussions with authorities in this area. mostly just as a ritual.11. which is given by some institutions. The spiritual initiation has been revitalised by a few spiritual institutions. it is on a forward march with a modern approach based on its experience accumulated over a few thousand years. The vanaprasta system is replaced by a concept called Karma Sannyasa. I hope it helps you to think on these lines. the age old systems of India are giving way to new developments. Modern forms of initiation and vanaprasta With the course of time. Conclusion Thus.

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