“The varna system implies the obliteration of all distinctions of high and low.” ~ Gandhi, Ashram Observances in Action (1955), p. 50
Varna, literally “color,” means essentially “caste.” It often comes as a surprise that Gandhi did not favor eliminating the caste system, but rather purging it of its connotations of superiority/inferiority. This because he felt that there was something natural about caste distinctions, however much they had been abused and exploited, and properly understood they were a way to eliminate divisive competition and guarantee everyone the same living wage. It’s hard to imagine a caste system not being exploited, but for him it was harder to imagine a society not having one. History seems to bear him out. It is unfortunate that this important aspect of his deeply held belief in “heart unity” has been misunderstood.
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Our 2016 Daily Metta continues with Gandhi on weekdays. On weekends, we share videos that complement Michael Nagler’s award-winning book, The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families, and Our World. To help readers engage with the book more deeply, the Metta Center offers a free PDF study guide.
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