Adi Shankaracharya is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of Indian philosophy. He is known for his contribution to the Advaita Vedanta school of thought, which emphasizes the non-dualistic nature of reality. However, it is also true that some of his teachings have been used to justify casteism in India. In this article, we will explore how Adi Sankaracharya’s teachings indirectly contributed to the spread of casteism in India.
Adi Shankaracharya was born in Kerala in the 8th century CE. He was a prolific writer and commentator on the Vedas, Upanishads, and other ancient Hindu texts. His Advaita Vedanta philosophy emphasized the idea that there is only one ultimate reality, Brahma, and that all other phenomena are illusions. According to Shankaracharya, the caste system was not based on birth but on one’s level of spiritual attainment. He believed that a person’s caste was determined by their karma and not by their birth.
However, it is important to note that while Shankaracharya did not explicitly support the caste system, his teachings indirectly contributed to its spread in India. One of the ways in which this happened was through his emphasis on the importance of the Brahmin caste. According to Shankaracharya, the Brahmins were the custodians of the Vedas and were responsible for upholding the spiritual traditions of India. He believed that they were the only ones who were qualified to perform certain religious rituals and that they had a special role to play in society.
This emphasis on the importance of the Brahmin caste helped to reinforce the idea that they were superior to other castes. It also contributed to the belief that certain spiritual practices and rituals were reserved only for the Brahmins. This led to the marginalization of other castes and further entrenched the caste system in Indian society.
Another way in which Shankaracharya’s teachings indirectly contributed to the spread of casteism was through his emphasis on the concept of varna. According to Shankaracharya, there were four varnas or classes in ancient Indian society – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. He believed that each varna had a specific role to play in society and that they were all interdependent. While he did not believe that one’s varna was determined by birth, his emphasis on the importance of varna helped to reinforce the caste system.
The idea of varna was used to justify the unequal distribution of power and resources in society. It also helped to reinforce the idea that certain occupations and roles were reserved only for certain castes. This led to the marginalization of certain castes and perpetuated the inequalities that are still prevalent in Indian society today.
In short, while Adi Shankaracharya’s teachings were primarily focused on the non-dualistic nature of reality, some of his teachings indirectly contributed to the spread of casteism in India. His emphasis on the importance of the Brahmin caste and the concept of varna helped to reinforce the caste system and perpetuate the marginalization of certain castes. It is important to acknowledge these aspects of his teachings and to work towards creating a more equitable and just society.