As per Hinduism, the ultimate goal for every person is to achieve “Self Realization”. But, there are very few people who achieve this goal, while others are either still trying or not even aware of it. So, during this process, we need to have a progressive society which helps everyone to grow with their potentials and abilities. A society which not just values power of sword, but empowers and respects everyone. A society which does not have a power center, but rather have pillars, with with distributed responsibilities and duties. For this reason, vedic literature created a work structure, where there are four pillars called Varnas.
• Brahmin : These are intellectual people in the society, supposed to provide intellectual and spiritual foundation to the rest of the Varnas. These people spend their time in studying/contemplating on various literatures. These are advisors, teachers, philosophers who guide rest of the society, making sure everyone is on correct path. They are expected to speak truth, and provide right advice, without fear of anything, including death. They are given immense respect for their intellect, and for their conviction of saying and doing right things. In order to balance out, these people are not allowed to have material possessions beyond basic needs and stay ascetic. Given that they don’t produce anything tangible, they are dependent on rest of the society for food and basic needs.
• Kshtriyas : Kshtriyas are the ruling class of the society – the people who work for governments in various capacities. Their job is protecting their locality/country from outside invasion and maintain a law and order. They have power and respect of position and sword. In order to balance out, they are required to have Brahmin advisors, who will advice on various things, and also not own their own businesses, to avoid conflict of interests. They would also be dependent on Vaishya for money and Shudras getting various works done.
• Vaishya : These are business people, entrepreneurs involved in various businesses, which would enable the society to financially sustain. These people have power of Money; and in order to balance out, they need to work with Kshtriya and Brahmins for protection and intellectual advice respectively. They need to rely on Shudras to get their work done.
• Shudras : This is working class, general people, with various skills, who work towards enabling Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishya in getting their work done using own skills and manpower. They have power of skills and volume; but they are dependent on other three three Varnas for the work, money and intellectual support.
Additionally, there is no mention that someone becomes first three (namely Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vaishya) just by birth. In fact there is a mention that everybody is Shudra (or general people)at birth, and only become the dwija (as the first three called) by a ceremony, followed by a prescribed life. While it is natural for someone to follow their parent’s path, i.e. follow activities of family they are born into, but people are allowed to move between Varnas depending upon their own abilities and efforts.
One of notable examples of moving between Varna, is Satyakama Jabala, whose story is mentioned in “Chandogya Upanishad”, one of the primary upanishad. Satyakama was born to a Prostitute, and was raised outside the city limits. From very young age he was very interested in spiritual knowledge, but given that he was a son of a prostitute, no teacher was taking him as a student. One day he saw Gautam Rishi, so he hurriedly went to the Him and put his head on Gautama Rishi’s feet and requested him to take as a student. Gautam Rishi asked him about his family lineage. In response to this the Satyakama told him that he is a son of a prostitute Jabala, and beyond that he does not know anything. Seeing that Satyakama decided to speak truth, one of the most important quality for being a Brahmin, knowing from past experience that it would cost him being rejected, impressed Rishi Gautama who accepts him as a student. Satyakama went on being a great sage by himself, and has written Jabala Upanishad, and is credited with creating Sanyasin as a ethical way of self realization. This way nothing stopped Satyakama to become a Brahmin, and contribute into Upanishad Literature.
In addition to Satyakama’s example, there are countless examples of people moving from one Varna to another in pauranik literature, most notable being Maharshi Viswamitra (Kshtriya to Brahmin) and Maharshi Valmiki (Shudra to Brahmin). During Bhakti movement, there are many saints who were not born to Brahmin parents like, Namdev, Tukaram, Meerabai, Kabir and many other, who went on doing duties of the Brahmin Varna, and were wholeheartedly accepted by people.
In short, Vedic Varna system, unlike today’s caste, doesn’t stamp on one’s forehead what he/she is capable of. It is more like everyone is born as Shudra, and depending on capabilities and efforts, one decides what path or Varna he/she wants to take. While it is natural for a person to follow their parents’s path, but if someone wants to do something different they could do it. If one is inclined to study vedas, shastras and other literature and teaching it others, they would be Brahmins. If someone wants to join the government and interested in governing, he/s he would be Kshtriya. If someone is inclined to start/run business, they would be Varishya. Everyone else, who helps these three do their job, would be Shudras. With this Vedic definitions, 99% of today’s Brahmins (the ones which are born in Brahmin families) are not doing the Job of Brahmin, so they don’t qualify to be called as Brahmins. Hinduism needs us not to be proud of born-Brahmin, Kshatriya or anything else, instead, we are expected to be proud of our abilities, hard word and decide the varna that suites us, and if needed switch between them, as we make progress in life”.
Even today, we can’t have a society without these four pillars. We would always needs intellectual, philosophers, teachers, advisors (a.k.a. Brahmins) who will not be afraid of telling a ruler that he/she is wrong. We will also need the ruling section (a.k.a Kshrtiayas), who will help protect the country and also maintain law and order. We also needs entrepreneurs, business people (a.k.a Vaishya) so that economy of the society/country can grow. Finally, we need working class people with various skills so that they, with the help of others create a progressive society.