Śūdra or Vaiśya?

By Satyanarayana Dasa

I have quite often heard the phrase, “In Kaliyuga everybody is a śūdra,” kalau śudrāḥ sambhvāḥ, although I am unable to trace its source.  However, there is another verse that says that everyone is born as a śūdra:

janmanā jāyate śūdraḥ saṁskārāt dvija ucyate

śāpānugraha-sāmarthaṁ tathā krodhaḥ prasannatā 

(Skanda Purāṇa, Nāgara Khaṇḍa 239.31) 

“A man is born as a śūdra and it is by proper saṁskāra that he becomes a brāhmaṇa. Such a person has the ability to curse and bless in anger or when pleased.” 

Some scholars argue that the verse should say janmanā jāyate brāhmaṇa … (“When born as a brāhmaṇa, one becomes truly twice-born through proper culture”), instead of janmanā jāyate śūdra (“Though born as a śūdra, one becomes a brāhmaṇa by proper culture”). 

I have pondered over the idea that everyone in Kaliyuga is a śūdra. I think that—at least at present—most of us are vaiśyas. Perhaps things will change for better or worse in the future, but at present, the vaiśya mentality seems to take precedence. 

Modern-day vaiśyas can be divided into two categories: explicit and implicit. It is easy to recognize explicit vaiśyas: They run some business, industry, office, or shop, or even a hand-pushed cart on the side of a road, a basket of flowers propped up on a folding stand, or just a few bags hanging on the side of a bicycle. Some approach you on the street with a pamphlet about their product or throw it into your car if your window is open. Some knock on your door. Others send spam: Whenever I open my e-mail, there are always some advertisements trying to sell me something, from flight tickets to self-defense. 

Seeing all this, I wonder where the śūdras are? Aren’t they supposed to be all around?

Let us analyze the professions delegated to the varṇas, as Nārada describes them to King Yudhiṣṭhira (SB 7.11.14-20), which is the most common description of these occupations. Although a pristine form of the varṇas does not exist in the modern world, because no country abides by the principles of the dharma-śāstras, still the varṇas continue to exist in a somewhat mixed-up manner (“varṇa-saṅkara”), because they essentially are intrinsic psychological archetypes with corresponding actions (“guṇa-karma”). Therefore, Nārada’s description of occupations associated with varṇas remains relevant to the modern world:

A brāhmaṇa should study śāstra, teach them to others, do yajña for oneself, officiate as a priest for others, accept charity, and give charity. Charity is a form of remuneration for the other acts. He may beg for it, or accept only what comes automatically.

A kṣatriya is entitled to receive gifts from his subjects and can also levy taxes (but not on brāhmaṇas).  He can perform the brāhmaṇa’s duties, except for receiving charity. 

A vaiśya lives by farming, animal husbandry, and business. 

A śūdra works for the others and is given a salary or stipend in return. 

In emergencies, one can accept occupations delegated to a lower varṇa. A kṣatriya, however, can also accept the duties of a brāhmana, if necessary. Brāhmaṇa and kṣatriya may take to vaiśya occupations in emergencies but may not take śūdra occupations. The interesting thing is that, more than any others, vaiśya occupations can permeate into other varṇas. 

Modern brāhmaṇas might encompass intellectuals, such as poets, writers, teachers, scientists, priests, and gurus. If we study the lives of these people, however, we find almost all of them involved in some way in selling something (a fundamentally vaiśya activity). Maybe they sell tangible objects like books. Maybe they sell intangible things like knowledge, or counseling. 

When you sell something, you have to advertise it. Most modern brāhmaṇas therefore have some presence on social media. 

This is an example of the “implicit vaiśya.” Unlike explicit vaiśyas, implicit vaiśyas do not have showrooms and storefronts, but they spend a substantial amount of time persuading, influencing, and convincing others that their product or service is worth paying money for. This is why every profession, be it typical of a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya or śūdra has taken an implicit vaiśya flavor. All private organisations—be they in education, security, or service— are run like a business. The hospitals and universities of brāhmaṇas run on a business model. The plumbing, maid service, and construction of śudras also run on a business model. Even the military and government of kṣatriyas runs on a business model. Physicians sell remedies and medicines. Lawyers sell arguments. Teachers sell courses. Writers sell books. Scientists and researchers sell hypothesis for funding. Politicians sell themselves and their promises for votes or loyalty.  Even the army has to sell their plans and purposes for funding. 

Non-profit welfare organizations and spiritual or religious organizations all need funding. For this, they have to sell their ideas and advertise their activities. 

Indeed, we have become a product ourselves! We have matchmaking sites, and use Facebook, Instagram and so on to convince others that we are worth their time, attention, and money. No wonder we dress not for ourselves but for others, to entice them to purchase us in some form or another. We do things in our daily life only so that we can be seen as a good product for sale.

For example, ask yourself, “Why do I use Facebook?” 

Do you not have a point you want to promote? Do you not have an “audience” you want to develop? Do you not have some news you are trying to spread? These are all ways to sell yourself, or your views, or your news. 

Think about the emotions you experience when using Facebook. When you post something you think is accurate and important, but someone replies with a contrary, ignorant, or rude remark—how do you feel? Probably disrespected, and that probably makes you angry or sad. Why do we feel emotional about such things? Because these remarks and thumbs-down mean that someone isn’t buying us, they are not buying into our idea, our opinion. 

Almost all of us are implicit vaiśyas, and this has influenced our psyche very deeply. Since it is a very new phenomenon, exacerbated by the internet, it is not well recognized. Thus, I think that in Kaliyuga everyone is a vaiśya, not a śūdra. 

6 thoughts on “Śūdra or Vaiśya?”

  1. Maharaji, I think your position explains in the right way the things around me..Thanks and dandavats pranam!

    1. Anyway, because my behaviour is as a shudra, I think I am one

  2. Respected Babaji,
    Very nice article, as always. However, there are some points that I think are worth considering, and you also touched on them in brief wherein you said that “a pristine form of the varṇas does not exist in the modern world…”

    Firstly, business is not the only quality of a vaisya as per Gita and Manu. It takes more than just doing business to become a vaisya. Cow rearing and cow protection are also a guna of vaisyas and we certainly don’t see that in today’s world. For example, Macdonalds is a business that is based upon cow-slaughter – but we’d never equate Macdonalds with vaisya-dharma.

    Secondly, a sudra accepts payment for work. Most people engaged in business nowadays are working for somebody higher up, which by definition would make them sudras.

    Anyhow, as you said, varnas are not in their pristine form nowadays – but it seems to me that at present the majority of the population is so mixed up, both in India and abroad, that they cannot be categorized in any varna. All glories to Kali-yuga! 🙂

  3. Haribol
    I’m from North America…..the land of 400 million car salesman.
    Best wishes, Bhima

  4. Hari Bol Prabhu!
    Please accept my dandavat pranams, All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

    Prabhu, in Bhagavad Gita As It Is, 18th chapter, 44th verse it is stated:

    vaiśya-karma svabhāva-jam
    paricaryātmakaṁ karma
    śūdrasyāpi svabhāva-jam

    kṛṣi—ploughing; go—cows; rakṣya—protection; vāṇijyam—trade; vaiśya-vaiśya; karma—duty; svabhāva-jam—born of his own nature; paricaryā—service; ātmakam—nature; karma—duty; śūdrasya—of the śūdra; api—also; svabhāva-jam—born of his own nature.

    Farming, cattle raising and business are the qualities of work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there is labor and service to others.

    In the translation “go-rakṣya” is translated as cattle raising. Srila Prabhupada has mentioned that this should be cow-protection.

    Prabhu, I was wondering:

    -Shouldn’t a vaisya at least make sure that Mother Cow is protected?
    -If, we talk about protecting all living entities, isn’t this the duty of the ksatriya?

    In conclusion: Currently, I do not see in the world today that souls in human bodies are properly protected (African continent, middle east, poor sections of societies), let alone the animals (Mother Cow is slaughtered so much, humans now cannot live without eating her meat and alot of other animals are slaughtered for the satisfaction of the tongue).

    -Since there are no proper Brahmana’s, ksatriyas and vaisyas. Then how can there be sudra’s? According to that same verse isn’t someone a sudra when the sudra is in service of the vaisya, ksatriya or brahmana?
    -So, all souls in human bodies today, are not humans. Because Varnasrama dharma is not followed, the souls in the human body today are less then sudra’s.

    Could you help clearify if I misunderstand? Thanks in advance Prabhu.

    Hare Krishna!

    1. If you go by the strict definitions of the varnas as given in the Gita and other shastras, then most of humanity does not fit into any of the four varnas. The varnasrama system has collapsed long ago even in India. So because human beings do not fit into any of the traditional categories, you can say they are different. To call them less than a shudra may be objectionable.

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