“O noble lady, Rama is the protector of the entire world and the four divisions of human society. He has made the system of etiquette for the people of the world and shows the way in following it.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.11)
rāmo bhāmini lokasya cāturvarṇyasya rakṣitā |
maryādānām ca lokasya kartā kārayitā ca saḥ ||
maryādānām ca lokasya kartā kārayitā ca saḥ ||
Any new nation will have difficulties in the beginning. With the United States of America, the bitter experience of being ruled by a king who lived an ocean away was fresh in the minds of the framers of the Constitution. They tried their best to ensure that the same mistakes wouldn’t be repeated. The guiding principle was liberty, which was defined as loose oversight from a government consisting of ordinary citizens.
Just because you lack a single sovereign leader with full authority doesn’t mean that cheating will be absent. A statesman named Elbridge Gerry became famous for a style of cheating that continues to this day. The practice he started soon came to be named after him. Each state in the union sends two representatives to the upper house of the legislature, the Senate. The size of the state does not matter. There is no wiggle room in this area.
The lower house is where things get interesting. The number of representatives is apportioned based on population. Also, there is no stipulation as to where those representatives must come from, i.e. who their constituency will be. Elbridge Gerry instituted a practice whereby congressional districts were drawn in such a way as to increase the chances of reelection for the representatives. If I know that the majority of the people in a certain area vote for a specific party most of the time, if I draw the boundaries of the district around that area, I can ensure the continued election to the House of Representatives of a certain political party.
Obviously the system is not scientific, and though it has been decried as a form of cheating ever since it started, this style of redistricting, known as gerrymandering, continues to this day. The parties would rather not sacrifice an advantage only to make a show of allegiance to principles.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana Shri Hanuman makes mention of a system of societal divisions that has notably degraded since it was first instituted. Known infamously today as the caste system, we see from Hanuman’s words that the original system is protected by God Himself, who in this case is referred to in His avatara of Shri Rama.
The Bhagavad-gita confirms that the original system was based on factors besides birth. Today it is by birthright. If you are born into a family that can trace its lineage back to a priest at some point in the past, you are part of the priest-caste. The same goes for the warrior, mercantile and laborer castes.
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁguṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥtasya kartāram api māṁviddhy akartāram avyayam“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
Shri Krishna says that the system was originally created by Him and that it is based on guna and karma, which are quality and work. This should only make sense. Most every other division in society, natural or otherwise, is based on the same. You become the head of the company based on the skills that you have. You maintain the position by the work that you do. Just because your father is a doctor it doesn’t mean that you automatically become a doctor at the time of birth.
Hanuman says that Rama protects the four divisions. This is one of the jobs of an ideal ruler. Not everyone is equipped to assume every role. A person who is not very intelligent should not be running the state. A person who is driven by passion, controlled by the senses instead of the other way around, is not fit for reading Vedic philosophy, giving interpretations, or teaching others about it.
The system of four divisions, or varnas, is there to help everyone. The society functions well when the people are properly engaged in the occupation that is best suited for them. The ideal ruler makes sure everyone is in their proper role and fulfilling it. This was one of the duties Rama took very seriously. He was the son of the king of Ayodhya a long time ago.
Since varnas are based on guna and karma, they are still material in nature. From this we see that God takes care of even material happiness, should one be wise enough to follow His instructions. In the end, He looks for what is in the heart. Devotion is what matters most to Him. Shri Hanuman didn’t even belong to the civilized human race, and yet he was so dear to Rama. The Supreme Lord never denies shelter to those who seek it in earnest. Though the scientifically based system of the four varnas is barely implemented today, the path towards happiness is still there. Brave souls like Hanuman show the way.
To the priestly class claiming to be,
But their work and qualities first see.
The varna determined from there,
Not by birth, to whom and where.
The divisions by God Himself made,
Degraded through time by cheaters played.
For material happiness, but higher can go,
Though a monkey, Hanuman as the dearest know.