By Bal Ram Singh, PhD
The continuing controversy regarding job reservations based on social discriminatory conditions, that is not only continuing but in fact expanding. There is a rush to belong to one of those protected social groups which get advanced through job reservations, currently at 63.5% (including 10% for the economically weaker section and 4% for physically disabled) in India for jobs.
According to an ABC News report on June 1, 2023, History Professor Anupama Rao of Columbia University, “…members of Shudras were forced to do the worst kind of jobs including hauling carcasses and excrement. She said they are sometimes referred to as Dalit, which is a term of militant self-identification, that means ground down, broken, crushed.”
Any form of indiscriminate discrimination is anyaya, which literally means treating others (anya) not like self, or injustice. This should be considered abhor-able by any and all sections of the society. However, how to address such a discrimination, especially at the social level, needs to be examined carefully, as there are many self serving groups which like to take advantage of the situations, and reverse discrimination could become as bad in the society.
Therefore, it is important to consider the philosophical reasons to address as well to develop more permanent solutions. The most authoritative source of discrimination from the Hindu perspective is a verse in the Bhagvadgita.
परिचर्यात्मकं कर्म शूद्रस्यापि स्वभावजम् ||18.44||
paricharyātmakaṁ karma śhūdrasyāpi svabhāva-jam
Which ordinarily means – serving through work is the natural duty for those with the qualities of Shudras.
However, it is important to pay attention to the word ‘shudrashyapi‘ in this verse that has been either misinterpreted or ignored over the centuries, or at least has not been emphasized by Indian as well International scholars.
Even Adi Shankaracharya misses the point, according to a publication entitled ”श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता में शूद्र की परिभाषा का यथोचितआधुनिक विश्लेषण”, few of such statements listed below:
- Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya – ‘Industrious service to the other three classes for fair recompense is the duty of shudras the worker class. Only one service was ordained for shudras the worker class and that was to ungrudgingly serve the three upper social orders.’
- Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya – ‘The duties of shudras is loyal service to the other three classes and receiving sustenance for their livelihood from them and is born of the nature of tama guna.’
- Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya – ‘The duty and occupation of the Sudra is service to the three stations.’
- Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya – ‘The verse also speaks of the shudras in whom tamas predominates
- and rajas is secondary. Serving the vaisyas, ksatriyas and brahmanas (paricaryatmikam) is the activity of the shudra.’
- Founder of ISKON Acharya A.C. Bhaktivedant Swami Prabhupada – ‘for the śhūdras there is labor and service to others’.
- Former Vice President of India Dr. S. Radhakrishnan – ‘work of the character of service is the duty of a Sudra born of his nature.’
- Sri Aurobindo – ‘All work of the character of service falls within the natural function of the Shudra.’
- The verse Parichayatmakam karmah shudrasyapi swabhavajam (BG 18.44) conveys something almost entirely different. The first thing to pay attention is to the word Api in Shudrashyapi, which means bhi or also, implying that whatever is prescribed for the shudras is automatically also prescribed for those belonging to other varnas. I believe those who perform paricharya, which means a conduct of seva with devotion, consider themselves on the periphery (marginal as a sign of humility). Thus, this seva is prescribed and is part of an inclination of every Varna! This verse of Bhagadgita sets the standard for all
Varna as it says shudrasyapi (शूद्रस्यापि) swabhavajam (स्वभावजम), meaning as a natural inclination.
An additional point needs to be made regarding the word paricharyatamakam, which consists of paricharya and atmakam. The atmakam here means self, implying one should perform service considering others like self (atma or soul). And it has been said in Hitopadesh,
Atmavat sarvbhuteshu yah pashyati sah panditah (Hitopadesh, 2.14).
Meaning when one considers everything, being and non-being, like self, then that person becomes a Pandit, or wise, learned, and scholar. The training of the Shudra that begins at home during the brahmacharya ashrama remains constant throughout the life, thus making them superior. It is like one Sudarshan Chakra equivalent to all other weapons put together.
Balram Singh is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times