Sunday, July 27, 2014

The caste system

  A group of people who I occasionally work with were studying Beelzebub's Tales recently and asked about the question of castes. They weren't quite sure about why this subject came up in the book. This particular group of individuals is new to the work and the ideas, and they are not Westerners; so some of the things we take for granted, having been in the West and in various spiritual works for decades, are perhaps not so obvious to them. This is a good thing; because when I re-examine things I think I know about and take for granted, I find out I actually don't know much about them at all. There needs to be some care in thinking; and so often, there isn't.

I crafted the following response to their inquiry, which I thought might be of interest to others.


I have examined in some more detail the portion of Beelzebub's Tales which you have a question about.

Your question is actually very interesting, because the reasons Beelzebub brings up the issue of castes is directly tied to the arising of egoism in mankind, and the subsequent obscuring of the vital factor of conscience.

Put in the simplest terms possible, assigning people varying degrees of importance in society (the creation of castes) leads people to believe that they are more important than others (egoism.) At the same time, it divides their Being into inner (essence) and outer (personality) parts. This creates a tension in Being which leads to dishonesty, because the inner is one way, and the outer is another.

If the inner part is exposed and there is honesty, it cannot act in a way that is cruel or incorrect towards others. But it is hidden in man; and when the inner part (in the west we might call it the soul, but that is a bit inaccurate) acquires corrupted or lower influences, then the outer part (personality, or ego) can hide them, because it is clever at such things.

This is a very simplistic explanation of a complex process that is treated in both chapter 27 (Ashiata Shiemash) and chapter 31 (the sixth and last sojourn of Beelzebub on the planet Earth.) One would need to read both chapters entirely in order to begin to have a serious discussion about this; and I fear that anything I could say about it would take many pages and go into a good deal more detail than you may want me to.

I will note that the 18th-century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg took up exactly the same questions about the dualistic nature of inner and outer Being that Gurdjieff did in the 20th century; and that both of them reached the same conclusions about mankind's dual nature and the corruption of conscience, which is really the critical issue here: if we don't have a connection to our conscience, we can so easily lie about ourselves and who we are.

When I really see who I am, I am uncomfortable with it. This is the beginning of a moment when conscience can touch me, however briefly; and the whole point of seeing myself isn't to see how good I am — because I already congratulate myself on my supposed goodness all the time. The point of seeing myself is to see my bad parts, the things that make me uncomfortable. I need to look at these and put a light on them much more clearly, because this duplicitous, or dualistic, nature is the truth about what I am: not that noble, high-caste individual I think of myself as.

All of that begins with the belief that I am superior to others; and if we remember the person who asked the question about seeing how others were asleep, but not seeing how they were asleep themselves, perhaps we can understand this a little more directly. I look at others and I see all their flaws; but I don't see my own. So I think I'm superior.

It's important to understand that my inner life has a similar arrangement: that is, the spiritual part of me is buried, and the natural, or material, part of me is dominant. It lies all the time; and it wants to run everything. This is why I describe it as an invading army. In other words, I have my own caste system inside me.

The sufi sage Ibn al Arabi wrote a very interesting book called the divine governance of the human kingdom about this subject. 

It's delightful and well worth reading. Arabi was certainly familiar to Gurdjieff— it's quite impossible that he would not have been exposed to his teachings, since he is the single most important Sufi mystic and philosopher in history, and Gurdjieff was deeply involved with Sufis throughout his life.

Conscience plays a huge role in Beelzebub's story of mankind; and this question of castes is, as you can see, deeply linked to it. So if you wanted a single sentence "answering" this question, I would formulate it as follows: we need to examine why our belief in our own superiority damages our conscience.



  1. Some time ago I read a book by Alain Danielou about the caste system in India. It comes from a completely different perspective than the Western perspective of individualism, "freedom" and equal justice for all, as if that were attainable.

    The standard ranking of castes is as follows:

    Kings and Nobility and Warriors
    Those deemed unclean such as lepers, considered the Untouchables.

    However, this august divine division of castes can be looked at in terms of freedoms. In that case the Priests or Brahmans have very little freedom – they are ritually cleansed and if they touched anyone of another caste, or engage in sexual activity, they have to go through cleansing rituals that are complex and time onerous.

    The Kingly Royal caste, has greater freedom, being like a chess player able to command his warriors or nobles to do his bidding. As it was believed that the King was divinely appointed, he was said to be granted healing powers, so although he was protected against being touched against his will, he was allowed to touch anyone to grant them healing.

    The Merchant caste, because of the nature of selling and buying requires contact with all the castes enjoys a great deal of freedom in his private life – he can keep concubines or have intercourse with prostitutes without being sullied or polluted, understanding that the sexual function needs to flow and therefore is granted rights. His wife will understand that her task is to create children for them and tend to the house, cooking and cleaning etc., but she will feel no shame nor embarrassment if her husband has dalliances – it is simply part of the various aspects of his caste.

    Then we have the laborers – this caste has the greatest amount of personal freedom – artists and musicians are considered in this caste, and they have a greater freedom of expression then does any of the so-called "higher castes". Whereas marriages are arranged at birth by the parents of the upper classes, laborers are more free to marry women of their own choosing, and being in such a caste determines one's place in society. For instance, the Sikhs are drivers – even in New York if you get into a cab and the driver is wearing a turban you can almost be certain that if you ask him if he is Sikh, he will say yes and I will say in the words of their original creator Guru Nanak: "there is no Muslim man; there is no Hindu man – – there is only Man".

    Another instance of a caste system is the Chinese laundry and Chinese restaurants – you are not likely to see a Chinese restaurant owned by a Norwegian. And the entertainers – musicians, magicians, Yogins and Yoginis are free to practice tantra or to exist in the forest, sometimes covered in cremation ashes and sometimes in feces, and while they can touch the merchant class and entertain the nobility, the Brahmans suffer the most constraint on their behavior. And this is deemed healthy, because the entire society is looked upon as a single human entity containing various organs and systems that produce a harmonious society, just as health in the body is a harmonious working of all of the various centers.

    And the Untouchables can touch each other but because of their diseases or other karmic afflictions they cannot be in the presence of the Brahman or of the Nobility not because what it will do to the untouchable, but the opposite – if a Brahman priest even looks upon an untouchable – is considered to have touched them, with his eyes, and again is forced into a complex, time-consuming and arduous cleansing.


  2. So in the eyes of the Westerner, and we should not forget that Gandhi became a lawyer in England and then practiced in South Africa before going to India where he desired to eliminate the caste system, was looking at the caste system in a completely different manner than the supernatural creation of a social body that had a direct correlation to the body of God. By this way of thinking, it matches exactly what Immanuel Swedenborg described as the body of heaven and hell as the body of the divinity itself. And with the caste system in place, everyone born was assured a welcome into their caste, and everyone knew what position they were to play in creating this society shaped in the image of the creator.

    I am only trying to offer a different perspective – one that is not considered valid through narrow eye


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