Imagine yourself as a fierce Central-Asian Mongol/Turkic warrior in the Middle Ages, who’s a proud soldier in one of the most fearsome armies in history.
Your conquering horde has brought devastation to China, Arabia, Europe and India. You see yourself as the finest specimen of an unbeatable warrior. Let us imagine now that, through the miracle of science, you time-travelled into the 21st century.
Would you be surprised by what you see in terms of social structure? Certainly!
The best lifestyles today are enjoyed not by heads of state (the equivalent of the kings of the soldier’s days) or even army chiefs. Instead, that is the privilege of the greatest businessmen. An army general earns less than a mid-level employee in a multinational today.
Businessmen actually make demands from their political leaders, unlike in the time-travelling soldier’s days when, aware of their inferior status, they approached kings as supplicants.
Most modern people train themselves to join companies or start businesses, unlike in the Middle Ages when they’d aspire to join the army. This may surprise the time-travelling soldier, but not us. Why?
Because we live in the Age of Money, or as our scriptures state, the Age of Vaishya. This is not related to the caste, but the caste-profession. Therefore, the Age of Brahmin is the Age of Knowledge; the Age of Kshatriya is the Age of Violence; and the Age of Shudra is the Age of Individualism.
These ages keep recurring, one after another, in an endless cycle of time. In the Age of Kshatriya, those who are good at violence will be powerful and respected; the ones who make money will be so, in the Age of Vaishya.
Most importantly, the most efficient means of effecting societal change is to use the dominant caste-profession of the age that you live in.
How does this construct help us? We can understand this if we consider the Age of Violence (which we recently emerged from) and the Age of Money (which we live in today).
In the Age of Violence, the most important currency of change was violence. Religions were propagated and defended through violence — most major religions today were supported in the Middle Ages by able warriors.
The most effective way for people to raise their status was through militancy; it is no surprise then, that the most important institution of that age, across most cultures, was the army. Today we see that nations that are excessively violent do not prosper, eg Somalia.
But in the Age of Violence, people who were good at violence became pre-eminent in the world, eg the Central-Asian Mongol/Turkic tribes. Money or knowledge did not get you protection in the Age of Violence.
The art of generating money or knowledge did exist, but it was not the dominant currency of change. The leader of a country was usually not the one with the moneyed or knowledgeable people around him, but one who had the most fearless warriors.
Today, we live in an Age of Money. The most efficient currency of change is money, the way of the Vaishya. Violence is simply not efficient currently. Some accept the rules of the age and prosper; others don’t and suffer.
Has India shifted from the Age of Violence to the Age of Money? I think we’re in a muddle. We have moved on from the Age of Violence, thanks largely to one of the greatest leaders of the last millennium, Mahatma Gandhi.
We Indians have created an illusion for ourselves that we were always a non-violent people. That’s not true. We’ve had our share of violent adventurism for much of known history, eg the brutal Pala-Chola wars.
It’s Mahatma Gandhi’s influence (building on some of our philosophical heritage) that has reduced the attraction for violence among most Indians, thus pulling us out of the Age of Kshatriya.
But have we entered the Age of Vaishya wholeheartedly? No. We have a complicated relationship with money. Many, especially among our older, decision-making generation, hold that money leads to corruption.
We have a Brahminical/Kshatriya disdain for money (although our youth suffer less from this attitude). This exhibits itself in the way we conduct our lives, our relationships, the obscene extravagances of our wealthy class (a symptom of an unhealthy relationship with money).
Can money lead to damage sometimes? Yes. But then, so could violence in the Age of Kshatriya, knowledge in the Age of Brahmin, or individualism in the Age of Shudra. It is not money itself that causes harm, but our reaction to it.
In the Age of Violence, there were dharmic warriors who fought with a code, believing that their mission was to protect the weak. But there were also adharmic warriors, who used their skill to harm innocents. Similarly, today, there are dharmic money-makers and adharmic money-makers.
What should common Indians do in this Age of Money? Firstly, we should sacrifice our hypocrisy about money and accept the rules of this age. Those who preach that money is impure and capitalism is evil, are being as irresponsible as those who preached non-violence in the Age of Violence.
Secondly, we should celebrate our dharmic money makers, like societies in the Age of Violence celebrated their great warriors. Thirdly, we must accept that knowledge, violence and individualism are also used in our age, but they cannot be as efficient as money, at effecting change.
Pakistan is attempting to change its global status by using violence, whereas China has used money as a tool for change. Who’s more successful? Lastly, we must understand that even when knowledge or violence is used today, its likelihood of success increases when backed by money, eg thinkers being ignored today till they are marketed using money!
And what should a money-maker do? Be dharmic and earn money the right way, without breaking laws; spend wisely; control indulgences; contribute towards charity and help the underprivileged. This will earn good karma and you will experience happiness beyond what money can buy.
We live in an Age of Money. Maybe the Age of Knowledge or Violence or Individualism will follow our age; it might most likely be the Age of Individualism. But today, we should understand the rules of our age. With apologies to Deng Xiaoping for twisting his words ever so slightly, our country’s slogan should be: To earn money is glorious!
Amish is the author of the bestselling Shiva Trilogy. His twitter handle is @amisht
The views expressed by the author are personal