Caste System as told by Sri Krishna


In the present times, there are lot of misconceptions regarding the caste system. Most of apprehensions are regarding the relevance and the social problems caused by the divisions. It is during this time that we should all be aware of the reason why caste – the four fold order – came into existence. The following is an excerpt from a website and I found it really interesting to know the initial concept behind the four-fold order.

Lord Krishna speaks to Arjuna as he clarifies the origin and purpose of the caste system in sanaatana dharma (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Shloka 13).

cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ .

tasya kartāramapi māṃ viddhyakartāramavyayam  4-13

chaaturvarnyam shloka

The four-fold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. Though I am its creator, know Me to be incapable of action or change.

Cāturvarṇyaṃ: the four-fold order. The four varnas are named – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. They constitute the four-fold order. The three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas – and the law of karma – these four elements were divided by Me to create the four varnas.

Sattva guna predominates in Brahmins – and they are assigned the tasks (karma) of sham, dam, tapas (meditation) etc.

Rajas guna predominates in Kshatriyas – sattva guna is secondary. Their karma is to be warriors and show bravery and tejas.

Rajas guna also predominates in Vaishyas – tamas guna is secondary. Their karma is to be farmers and traders.

Tamas guna predominates in Vaishyas – rajas guna is secondary. Their karma is to serve others.

The emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function) and not on jaati (birth). The varna or the order to which we belong is independent of sex, birth or breeding. A caste is determined by temperament and vocation – not by birth or heredity.

According to the Mahabharata, the whole world was originally of one class but later it became divided into four divisions on account of the specific duties.

chaaturvarnyam shloka

ekavarṇama idama pūrvaṃ viśvama āsida yudhiśthira  karmakriyāviśesena caturvarṇyama pratiśthitama

Even the distinction between caste and outcaste is artificial and unspiritual. An ancient verse points out that the Brahmin and the outcaste are blood brothers.

chaaturvarnyam shloka

antyajo viprajātiśa ca eka eva sahodaraḥ ekayoniprasūtas ca ekasākhena jāyate

In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira says that it is difficult to find out the cast of persons on account of the mixture of castes. Men beget offspring in all sorts of women. So conduct is the only determining feature of caste according to the sages.

The four-fold order is designed for human evolution. There is nothing absolute about the case system which has changed its character in the process of history. Today it cannot be regarded as anything more than an insistence on a variety of ways in which the social purpose can be carried out. Functional groupings will never be out of date. As for marriages – they will happen among those who belong to more or less the same stage of cultural development. The present morbid condition of India broken into castes and sub-castes is opposed to the unity taught by the Gita, which stands for an organic as opposed to an atomistic conception of society.

Akartāram: non-doer. As the Supreme is unattached, He is said to be a non-doer. Works do not affect His changeless being, though He is the unseen background of all works.

[ Source (in part): Bhagavad Gita with commentary by Shankaracharya (in Hindi), Gita Press.
cross posted from: http://www.eaglespace.com/spirit/gita_castesystem.php ]

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3 responses to “Caste System as told by Sri Krishna

  1. Threre is no need for God to classify people into just 4 divisions . It is all created by Men who wrote Gita. Religion is indeed opium for the people

    • That’s a very interesting point that you made. To touch upon the last point that religion is opium for the people, it very much depends on whether you want to hold on to it as a opium or a pain killer.
      Sanathana Dharma is based on a large and almost infinite number and variety of discourses (veda, upanishads, ithihasas…) and lives of Mahatmas who have lived on earth throughout many ages. It is a complex and yet simple way of life for people to realize the true purpose of our lives. In many of the vedic texts there is not even any reference to a religion. The need for religion was in part born out of the samskaras that we have. In this age of Kali, where our thoughts run at the speed of light, most people (like me) need the help of another level of spirituality – that we get from religion. If we follow a path, then it becomes our duty to see the teachings of the religion too. Just like you throw the peel of the banana and eat only what is eatable, religion is only the peel. It will only help us select the best banana. People don’t eat the peel saying that since peel is part of banana I have to eat it. Peel only helps us to reach the eatable part. Likewise, the peel of religion helps us understand the spiritual meanings of Sanathana dharma. For people like me (who are ignorant) to understand these principles, it is easier for us to follow the words of a Mahatma (like Sri. Krishna) rather than to study the veda and upanishads directly.

      Now, Sri. Krishna lived around 5000 years ago (according to most experts), and it is important to know the composition of society at that time. There weren’t father killing their child, there weren’t men raping women, there weren’t bombs beings hurled at innocent civilian in the name of war. Even in Mahabharata war, only the army fought with each other. In such a society, where people knew their duties and dharma, everyone had high esteem about their own occupation. Just like in our societies we have engineers doing the construction work, the doctors treating patients, teachers engaged in teaching, politicians and social workers engaged in societal upliftment, the society during that time too had all these professions.

      This discourse in Gita, about the beginnings of varna based on gunas – tamas, rajas and satva are clear and self explanatory. Even in today’s world we see that some rich businessmen (with rajas) gives birth to some astounding musicians and craftsmen (satvic) and at the same time has a lazy (tamasic) child too. The society was not divided by someone (not the Lord at least). It is our own “vasanas” and karmic results that gave us a different composition of these three “gunas”. But Sri. Krishna never told that one is higher than the other. He sees everyone equally. It is only the ego in us that has made us think that we are greater than the other caste. Of course, in the later days, we have seen the political parties drawing lines and dividing people based on this same inferiority and superiority complex (which are part of our ego). So, to blame the religion for the disintegration of our values is similar to blaming the spectacles for our loss of vision. It is our lack of discrimination that has led to this situation. We are afraid to raise our voice against injustice when we see them in our own house, office and society, but we have become the first one to voice our discontent towards religion. This can only come due to our misunderstanding / ignorance of the true meaning of religion – that is spirituality.

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