Dealing With Caste
One of the most difficult issues for modern Hinduism is the problem of
caste. Hinduism has been stereotyped as a caste religion in which family of birth is more
important than any individual merit. This anti-caste sentiment has been the main vehicle
of anti-Hindu propaganda. Whether it is leftists, Christians or Muslims when you mention
Hinduism, it is not Yoga and Vedanta with their universal spiritual vision that they
emphasize but caste, as if there was nothing more to Hinduism.
Caste or varna originally refers to the four divisions of traditional
Hindu society as the Brahmin or priestly class, the Kshatriya or noble class, the Vaishya
or merchant class and the Shudras or servant class. Originally it was a threefold division
of the priests, nobility and common people. The word Vaishya for the merchant class
derives from Vish, which means people in general. The Vaishyas were also divided into the
merchants proper and the farmers. Apart from these four castes was a fifth or mixed caste.
Similar social orders dominated the ancient and medieval worlds, like the European
division of the priests, nobility, merchants and common people or peasants. Though in the
modern world caste appears backwards it was probably inevitable given the social and
material circumstances of these previous eras.