In the Indian philosophical sense, the intriguing concept of ‘guna’ can be traced in classical ancient sources like Veda, Upanishad, Purana, and other treatises belonging to shad-darshan. Indic exposition of ‘guna’ is way wider than the term ‘merit’ used in a western context. For Instance, in Samkhya’s school of thought guna is viewed as three components of Prakriti (human nature) termed as; sattva, rajas, and tamas. In the oriental-Indian school of thought values, virtue, and moral excellence, righteous character carries a deeper meaning than the western idea of ‘merit’ and ‘meritocracy’. Western notion of merit got concretized with the advent of industrialization, factory model-based education, and globalization.
In the western scenario, merit is essentially tied to two kinds of capacities; firstly, the capacity of obtaining formal education/learning, and secondly, the capacity of generating material fortune. While the Indic approach perceives guna as the natural essence of life which is more dynamic and seamless in an idea like a flow of the river. The river changes its course, momentum, and amount of water it carries but fundamentally nature and substance of the river remain there. As per western ideas, the standard of life, worth of human life, and the position in the social ladder/hierarchy will be determined based on these two capacities. What if someone does not wish to acquire or not in a condition due to some natural reasons to acquire any of these two capacities? As a civilized society, are we going to deny dignified life to such a person? Constitutionally, legally we assure the dignity of life to everyone to create an egalitarian society. In true sense and spirit are we creating such a conducive environment for dignified, value-based life?
One interpretation can be that the western idea of merit is more outward-looking, more physical, and more material. While on another side, Indic philosophy holds that all humans possess ‘guna’ which is sometimes called ‘Trigun’ that is, the embodiment of three basic, inherent Gunas: Sattva representing knowledge, light; Rajas representing passion and Tamas representing ignorance or darkness. So primarily, one clear distinction between the western idea of merit and the Indic concept of guna is; the western world of education and learning views merit as subjective and selectively available quality of human nature and intellect while the Indic view holds that guna is the universal essence of a person. This Indic view is prevailing for thousands of years. Western factory-based education promoted the incentivizing principle wherein those possessing merits are held entitled to move ahead in the physical world either for the self-interest or interest of others. Those who progress due to merit are sometimes held responsible to take care of other fellow human’s betterment as well. Indic approach says that every human must transform character by the righteous discourse of guna, therefore the Indian view is more inclined to create a system wherein every individual capacity and quality is shaped and harnessed. In this sense Indic approach attempts to seek equal opportunities of progress for all; for instance Gandhian idea of Sarvodaya or classical hymn;
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Sarve santu niramaya,
Sarve bhadarani pashyantu, ma kaschid-dukkha-bhagbhaveta..
There is no doubt that the world needs to adopt that stream of philosophy that strives better to diminish differences and evolve equality-based living in the most possible sense, there is no doubt that we as a civilized democratic society must honor and protect the worth of all lives in true spirit and there is no doubt that this idea of shared sustainable living is more profoundly found in Ganga of Indoprudence.