All societies sort their members into different groups or classes using some logic. In some, the classes are by wealth and earning. The ancient Indian system created its classes by what people did. Logically, since one always had a choice of what work to do, and could develop skills in that area, one could choose one’s class – called वर्ण in Sanskrit. Gradually this occupation-based system lost its fluidity and choice, and became tied to birth.
Shukracharya, the counsel and Guru of the demons, possessed the skill that even the Gods did not: A technique called “Mrutasanjivani vidya”. Using this technique, Shukracharya could bring the dead back to life. Shukracharya was feared and respected by all, and it is surprising that in spite of being the “Guru of the DEMONS”, his policy guidelines are not demonic. In fact, far from it. Here is what he says about the Varna [Ancient system of social classification is also hierarchical in India. It puts Brahmins at the top, followed by the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and – there is one more, often mentioned classification mostly attached to people from other cultures – Mlechchhas.]
I am sharing here what I found in the book Shukra Nitisaara (शुक्रनीतिसार), the abridged version of policy guidelines given by Shukracharya, which originally had more than a hundred thousand shlokas.
ब्रह्मणस्तु समुत्पना: सर्वे ते किं नु ब्राह्मणा ।
न वर्णतो न जनकाद् ब्राह्मतेज: प्रपध्यते ॥ ३९ ॥
Argues Shukracharya: Since all of us are created by Lord Brahma, why are we all not Brahmins? (But we know we are not the same!) The brilliance of a Brahmin cannot be obtained by birth through one’s father.
न जात्या ब्राह्मणश्चात्र क्षत्रियो वैश्य एव न ।
न शुद्रो न च वै म्लेच्छो भेदिता गुणकर्मभि: ॥ ३८ ॥
No one becomes a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra or Mlechchha. These are differentiated by their actions and attributes – he further asserts and then proceeds to elaborate the actions and attributes of people in each class:
ज्ञानकर्मोपासनाभिर्देवताराधने रत: ।
शान्तो दान्तो दयालुश्च ब्राह्मणश्चगुणै: कृत: ॥ ४० ॥
Then there is the next:Brahmin is the one who is constantly engaged in seeking the higher purpose through developing knowledge and action. Brahmin is peaceful, exercises self-restraint and is merciful. These are the qualities that Brahmins develop. Did you notice, that despite being the Guru of the demons, he classifies the Brahmin as the people who are constantly seeking the divine (देवता)?? Intriguing!
लोकसंरक्षणे दक्ष: शूरो दान्त: पराक्रमी ।
दुष्टनिग्रहशीलो य: स वै क्षत्रिय उच्यते ॥ ४१ ॥
Kshatriya is the one who is highly skilled at preserving/protecting people. A Kshatriya is brave, controls all senses and loves adventure. A constant pursuit of a Kshatriya is to control the evil.
क्रयविक्रयकुशला: ये नित्यञ्च पण्यजीविन: ।
पशुरक्षाकृषिकरास्ते वैश्या: कीर्त्तिता भुवि ॥ ४२ ॥
These are the people who are adept at buying and selling. Vaishyas sustain themselves by trading. These also love and protect animals and grow plants and trees.
द्विजसेवार्चनरता: शूरा: शान्ता जितेन्द्रिया: ।
सीरकाष्ठतृणवहास्ते नीचा: शूद्र संज्ञका: ॥ ४३ ॥
Shudras serve others who are engaged in higher pursuits. They are brave, quiet and do not let their dislikes come in the way of their work. The Shudras also transport things like grass (and other low value objects).
Finally, the Mlechchhas:
त्यक्तस्वधर्माचरणा निर्घृणा: परपीडका: ।
चण्डाश्चहिंसका नित्यं म्लेच्छास्ते ह्यविवेकिन: ॥ ४४ ॥
Mlechchhas are the ones who do not engage in the duties they are meant to carry out. They have low empathy and often torment others. They are angry and aggressive, and they are not polite.
It seems clear that being a Mlechchha is not considered desirable. Also note that their description does not involve any occupation. Also notice that being peaceful, and controlling one’s senses are virtues not exclusive to a single Varna.