Inner and outer discrimination
In the Ramayana, the great epic of India, Rama, the incarnation of God, makes friends with the ferry man, who is one of the lower castes and he embraces him in thanks for the help he’s given. Shri Dada pointed to this, “Look, in our own holy texts, we don’t have this exclusiveness which has gradually built up.” – but he was attacked for this and on one occasion he was thrown into prison on a serious charge which was engineered. I should say this about the so-called caste system – caste is a Portuguese word. It’s the same as the English word, chaste. Megasthenes, who was the Greek ambassador in India – he was there for six or seven years in 300BC – doesn’t report any slaves in India, he doesn’t report the untouchable class at all. He reports that the people were honest. A rich man could go out and leave the house open and nobody inside with perfect confidence – nobody would go in and steal anything. There were no formal contracts – people gave their word and that was enough, people kept their word. Megasthenes said, “If a man doesn’t keep his word, he is branded. Everybody knows about it and nobody would have anything to do with him.” In these ways they were far ahead of what we can produce now. Megasthenes said that in his six years – and he travelled around, not only in the capital – he never came across or heard of a case of theft.
Now there’s a traders’ manual of about 100AD, written in Greek. It was written either by a Greek or Egyptian trader and it gives an account of the ports on the Indian coast and what they sell and buy. India, at that time, was one of the richest countries in the world. They produced this fine lace and the carpentry and woodwork carving couldn’t be reproduced anywhere else. Pliny says that every year a million gold pieces went from the Roman Empire abroad, mostly to India to buy these rare goods from India. One of the precious things was cinnamon which is very much widely used in medicine and also in embalming the dead in Egypt and so on. It was said to be worth more than gold. The traders’ manual, which I’ve seen, reports that the cinnamon was grown in fields in a particular area. The trading manual tells you roughly how to come in and how the currents run and what the prices are and where to go. It says that it’s grown in fields which are next to each other with different owners. He said, “There is no inspection at all but the owner of a field can reap a field any time. Although there is no guard, nobody would ever steal from a neighbouring field.” Now this honesty was as a result of their religious practice which was based not on theology but on actual experiment. Megasthenes reports that some of these yogis would sit motionless for several hours, they didn’t change their posture. When Alexander went, he interviewed them and there is an account of that.
The four castes – the Brahmin, the warrior, the businessman (the vaishyas) and the shudras (people of service) – they are referred to in the Gita. But it nowhere says that the Brahmin is one whose parents were Brahmins, or if your parents were vaishyas, then you are a vaishya. It doesn’t say that. It says you are what your innate qualities are – and it lists them. The innate qualities of the Brahmin are the search, the desire, for transcendental things, an ability to speak the truth fearlessly, an independence of riches. The warrior has a natural authority, a natural generosity, an instinct to protect the weak. The businessman is good at organising. The shudra – it didn’t mean necessarily a man who brings round the milk – it meant somebody who gives their life to service. We have the saying, don’t we, a ‘public servant’. There are people whose instinct is to serve society and they want to be in a position where they can serve and make a profession of that. This is the account in the Gita and you will see that Shri Dada supports this. He says, “The woman who wants to practice the Brahman realisation or the worship of God in this particular way is entitled to do so because this is her innate birth.” Whereas the narrowness which had grown up said, “Oh no, women shouldn’t learn the Gayatri. They shouldn’t have this.” There was nearly a riot when he gave an initiation to two women – but he had no distinction, no discrimination at all. This is again something one can notice carefully. It’s makeup again, as he says.
© Trevor Leggett
Previously “Honesty and Religious practice”
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Mysticism of the heart
Part 2: Study the nature of yourself
Part 3: The cosmic plan
Part 5: Mediate on the form of the lord
Part 6: Slip out of the mind cage
Part 7: Honesty and Religious practice