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Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part IX.


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part IX.


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Part IX

The Bhagavad Gita, As It REALLY Is

BG7: Detailed Exposition: Summary and Conclusions

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 16 April, 2017

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Bhagavad Gita Series Abstract

This series on the Bhagavad Gita is part of a larger series of articles which examine the important question: Is caste-based discrimination in Hindu society an intrinsic part of Hinduism? Is it sanctioned in Hindu scripture? Or is it simply a social custom arrived at by distorting the scriptures?

A key attendant question is: Is caste, according to Hindu scripture, a rigid status that accrues to an individual only by virtue of birth in that caste, and hence unchangeable during that person's life? Or, is it a more fluid descriptor of a person that can change during a person's lifetime? In other words, is caste birth-based, or can it be earned?

To examine this question, I investigated every verse in the Bhagavad Gita that has any relationship to the issue of varNa, the overarching concept that contains the concept of caste, and subjected each of these verses to a detailed analysis, using both the literal meaning of the Sanskrit shlOkas as well as the commentaries of highly respected commentators on these verses. I viewed the verses both in isolation and in the overall context of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in the overall context of Hindu theology and philosophy. The results of my study are presented in this seven-part series (BG1 to BG7), which is part of my larger series on caste in Hinduism.

I conclude that caste and caste-based discrimination are fundamental to the very foundation of Hinduism as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita.

They are not a distortion of the scriptures of Hinduism. Far from being an added social custom, the birth-based caste system is at the very basis of Hindu thought.

The caste system, as seen today, is largely a faithful representation of Lord Krishna’s words and intended meaning in the Bhagavad Gita. The central arguments in the Bhagavad Gita itself would collapse without the support of caste-based discrimination. The system, therefore, is expressly sanctioned in the Bhagavad Gita.

In this seven-part series, I present the original Sanskrit text of each verse discussed, its transliteration, its word-by-word meaning, its free translation, and the commentaries of six major interpreters of the Gita: Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Shridhara Swami, Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, and Sant Jnaneshwar. Based on all these, I draw overall meanings for each verse, and overall conclusions for each group of verses. Finally, I draw overall conclusions on the scriptural sanction for caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita.

A concise summary of the ideas in the Gita discussed in this seven-part series can be found in BG0 (Part II of the larger series.)

Current Article Abstract

In the present article, BG7, I present the summary of the six preceding parts (BG1 to BG6) of this detailed exposition. Following this, I present the summary and overall conclusions of this detailed study of caste-related verses in the Gita.

From the conclusions, it is evident that varNa-based (and therefore caste-based) discrimination is at the foundation of Krishna’s message in the Gita, because it is birth in a certain varNa that defines the divinely-ordained duty of a person. And this divinely-ordained, varNa-based duty is deemed just and appropriate by Krishna, because it corresponds to what is believed to be the inborn quality (guNa) of that person, which is a result of good or bad actions (karmas) performed in past births. The Bhagavad Gita therefore gives divine sanction, through Lord Krishna, to the institution of varNa-based discrimination.

Because of this assumed causality, there is no injustice seen in the Hindu psyche for a person’s birth in a low caste and the social consequences of that low birth.

The caste system, far from being seen as an oppressive and unjust system by the Gita and its author, Lord Krishna, is instead seen to be a fair and just system that rewards or punishes souls for their actions in past births.

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Table of Contents

Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme
BG1: The Intermixture of varNas
BG2: The Creation of the Four varNas
BG3: The Three guNas of Human Nature
BG4: The Duties of the Four varNas
BG5: The Nature of the Shudras
BG6: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life
Overall Summary and Conclusion - Bhagavad Gita
The Plight of the Dalits
Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism
Acknowledgments
Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism - The Full Series
Indexes for All Gita Series Shlokas

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Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme

The methodology and sources used for the analysis of the verses in the Bhagavad Gita have been already presented in Part III. The overall framework of this entire series has been presented in Part I of this series. The transliteration scheme used here can be seen in Part II of the series. A Glossary can also be found in Part II.

The numbering scheme followed in this entire "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series is that each article has an number in the overall sequence of articles in the "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series, represented by Roman numerals. Within the larger series, individual series articles, dealing with individual scriptures, are numbered using scripture initials and Arabic numerals. For instance, the articles in the Bhagavad Gita series are numbered as BGN, where N is the number of the article in the Bhagavad Gita series.

Under no circumstances should mixed-varNa marriages be allowed.

BG1: The Intermixture of varNas

In BG1, Part III of the Caste Series, Krishna explains that inter-varNa unions are a bad thing, because the children from these unions are cast out of the varNas of both parents. This means that there is no one among the offspring of such unions to perform the rituals that need to be performed monthly and yearly for the souls of the departed ancestors. If these rituals are not performed, then the souls of the ancestors sink into hell. Thus, under no circumstances should mixed-varNa marriages be allowed.

(Lord Krishna) is not to blame for who falls in what varNa, for individual souls have their own actions over millions of births to blame or thank for their present births.

BG2: The Creation of the Four varNas

In BG2, Part IV of the Caste Series, Krishna tells Arjuna that he has created the four-varNa system (the superset of the modern caste system – each varNa encompasses several castes) of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. He tells Arjuna that individuals are born into different varNas depending on the past actions (karmas) of the AtmAs of those individuals during millions of past births, and the pre-natal qualities of their AtmAs (their guNas) as they arrive in this birth, that have been accumulated over those millions of births as a result of those karmas. Although Krishna is the creator of the varNa system, He is not to blame for who falls in what varNa, for individual souls have their own actions over millions of births to blame or thank for their present births.

So someone with a predominance of sattva guNa is reborn in a Brahmin family … and someone with a predominance of tamas guNa is reborn as a Shudra.

BG3: The Three guNas of Human Nature

In BG3, Part V of the Caste Series, Krishna explains to Arjuna in detail the differences between the three guNas of sattva, rajas, and tamas, and how they ensnare the AtmA and attach it to the body in the jIva. He explains that the attachment of the AtmA to the body comes about because the jIva confuses the body with the AtmA, and so starts to think that what he experiences with the body is really who he is.

So the jIva enjoys learning and scholarship as a sAttvik person, and thinks that is who he is; he enjoys bodily pleasures, such as good food, sexual intercourse, and intoxicants, and thinks his life is about bodily pleasures (the effect of rajas guNa); he loves sleep, ignorance, superstition, and laziness, and believes that is his self (tamas guNa). The pleasures that the body provides him through his five senses prevent him from seeing the soul as distinct from the body. So the guNas influence a person’s thinking and his actions, typically leading to the strengthening of the same guNa in a person.

Because of all these actions, one guNa in him is strengthened at the expense of the others, and because of this, when he dies, he is reborn into a family and a varNa which is suited to the guNas his soul possessed all his life, and at the time of its death. So someone with a predominance of sattva guNa is reborn in a Brahmin family; someone with a predominance of rajas guNa is reborn in a Kshatriya family; someone with rajas guNa and tamas guNa mixed, but with rajas dominant, is reborn as a Vaishya; and someone with a predominance of tamas guNa is reborn as a Shudra.

The Shudras, because they have no positive qualities in their souls, and because they are unfit for the duties of the aforementioned three varNas owing to the fundamental defect in their AtmAs, which are dominated by tamas, have only one duty – to serve the other three varNas without complaining, and depend on them to take care of their needs.

BG4: The Duties of the Different varNas

Now that we understand that a person is born into a certain varNa because of the quality of his AtmA – i.e., to match the guNas he is born with, Krishna explains in BG4, Part VI of the Caste Series, what the duties of that varNa are, and why they are a good match for that soul.

Krishna explains that, because the Brahmins are born with high levels of sattva in their souls, they must engage in learning the Vedas; have firm faith in God; live a life of serenity, self-control, austerity, and purity; and show tolerance, wisdom, and honesty. The Kshatriyas, because they are born with high levels of rajas, need to display heroism, exuberance, determination, resourcefulness, generosity, leadership, and show no trace of cowardice in battle. The Vaishyas, because they are born with a mixture of rajas and tamas, need to engage in agriculture, trade, and cow-protection. The Shudras, because they have no positive qualities in their souls, and because they are unfit for the duties of the aforementioned three varNas owing to the fundamental defect in their AtmAs, which are dominated by tamas, have only one duty – to serve the other three varNas without complaining, and depend on them to take care of their needs.

Krishna explains that, as per the path of karma yOga, or the discipline of duty to attain mOksha, a person born in a certain varNa, if he performs these varNa-determined duties that Krishna has laid out, to the best of his ability, and performs them, not for the material benefits that performing such duties might confer upon him – whether those be money, land, or status for a Brahmin; wealth, conquest, and power for a Kshatriya; or profits for a Vaishya – but as service to God, then he will attain mOksha.

Krishna further adds that one must only do one’s own varNa-determined duty; He says that doing the duty of another varNa, even if one can do such a duty perfectly, is wrong. He goes on to say that one must not grudge his duties even if one finds them objectionable or unpleasant (such as a Shudra might).

Thus, the inborn qualities of a Shudra automatically disqualify him from the professions of the other three varNas. Due to his defective and sinful birth, he is only fit to do menial tasks and take orders, according to Krishna.

BG5: The Nature of the Shudras

In BG5, Part VII of the Caste Series, Krishna explains the qualities of a tamas-ridden being in the verses presented here. The tamas-dominated person, i.e., the Shudra, has no redeeming features, according to Krishna. He is stupid, evil, wicked, untrustworthy, irresponsible, lazy, vulgar, vain, etc. He is also given to erroneous conclusions and always believes the opposite of what a thing’s true nature is – he mistakes good for evil and vice versa; righteousness for urighteousness and vice versa; and so on.

With such severe character defects, and from birth (as stated by Krishna earlier), why would any society entrust such people with any duty other than servitude? The verses in this part, therefore, justify the duties assigned to the Shudra in Part VI. Why would you entrust the governance of a nation or the running of an army to a lazy, irresponsible person? Why would you allow a stupid person who always takes the wrong conclusion from a teaching to be educated? Why would you entrust the running of a business or a farm to someone who is lazy, procrastinating, unreasonable, and irresponsible?

Thus, the inborn qualities of a Shudra automatically disqualify him from the professions of the other three varNas. Due to his defective and sinful birth, he is only fit to do menial tasks and take orders, according to Krishna.

(Those born in low varNas) must endure the consequences of their karmas in previous births.

BG6: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life

The verses presented in this part explain how, in order to attain mOksha, a person needs to see the Universal Consciousness, or paramAtmA, in every living being, whether that being be a high-born Brahmin, a sacred cow, an animal, or a low-caste, dog-eating shvapAka. The ability to see God in every living being is an essential prerequisite for attaining mOksha. This is explained in BG6, Part VIII of the Caste Series.

However, this does not contradict the rest of the Gita in terms of caste discrimination. What this means is that one should be able to recognize that God is everywhere; but individual AtmAs, even though they are just a portion of the paramAtmA, have to endure the consequences of their past births as long as they are attached to prakRuti, to the material world, and as long as they have not seen through the veil of the physical world. They must endure the consequences of their karmas in previous births. The enlightened one cannot help the person who has been born in a low caste, short of helping him understand how to see through the veil of illusion.

The Plight of the Dalits

No discussion of the caste system is complete without considering the plight of the Dalits, or the outcastes from the caturvarNa system. The Gita does not talk much about those outside the caturvarNa system – it confines itself to discussions of the four varNas – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.

But this does not mean that Dalits did not exist in the world of the Gita. In at least one verse, there is reference made to an outcaste, an untouchable – the shvapAka. Ironically, the mention of this untouchable caste comes in one of the more enlightened verses in the Gita, 5-18, which talks about how the Supreme Consciousness, the Ultimate Truth, brahman, is present equally in all life forms. To make the point abundantly clear, an example is chosen from the highest stratum of Hindu society – a Brahmana. To show the other extreme – a person from the lowest stratum, Krishna chooses to mention the shvapAka, an untouchable varNa whose job it was to serve at crematoria, and the members of which eat dogs for food. The other examples chosen in this verse are animals: a cow, an elephant, and a dog.

This example is significant because

  1. It acknowledges that these untouchable outcastes did exist in the world of the Gita.
  2. It acknowledges that their status is very low in the society of those times (by acknowledging that these people were dog eaters.)
  3. Verse 5-18, while stating that the same brahman exists in both the Brahmin and the shvapAka, does not say there is anything wrong in the wretched state of the shvapAka person, who has to work in crematoria and eat dogs. Like the Shudra, the shvapAka has deserved his fate.
  4. The shvapAka is only one of several outcaste varNas mentioned in the Mahabharata, the parent epic within which the Gita is contained. The Mahabharata mentions more than a dozen outcaste varNas that are formed from inter-varNa unions. These varNas were not allowed to mix with the rest of society. So Dalits were a reality in the world of the Mahabharata and the Gita.
  5. From 5-18, it is clear that the shvapAka represents the lowest of the low in terms of merit – even lower than a Shudra. The shlOka is clearly constructed to mention the Brahmin as one end (the high end) of the stick of merit, and the shvapAka as the other end (the low end) of that stick. We already know, from Part VII, how low the status of Shudras, who are part of the caturvarNa system, was in the Gita – the descriptions of the guNa of tamas, which the Shudra is supposed to be full of, leave no doubt that they represent the lowest in human qualities. Yet, there are varNas, such as the shvapAka, who are even lower than the Shudras.

From this, the low status of Dalits during the time of the Gita can be gauged.

Overall Summary and Conclusion: Bhagavad Gita

To motivate Arjuna to fight in the war against his own relatives, Krishna explains the entire foundation of Hindu thought, and explains to Arjuna why it is absolutely essential that he fight in order to follow his divinely-ordained duty.

The essence of that foundation is as follows.

  • All living beings are made of matter infused with a soul, an AtmA, which is immortal, and part of the immortal, Supreme, all-pervading spirit of the divine, the paramAtmA.
  • The AtmA, fused with the physical body, gives rise to an embodied being, the jIva.
  • Through the jIva, the AtmA experiences the world. The jIva performs actions (karmas) good or bad, as part of its life.
  • These give rise to guNas, or qualities, that are attached to the soul. There are three kinds of guNas – the sattva guNa, or mode of goodness; the rajas guNa, or mode of passion and action; and the tamas guNa, or mode of darkness and ignorance. sattva, rajas, and tamas form a hierarchy of decreasing merit and goodness.
  • When a jIva dies, only the physical body dies. The AtmA, being immortal, eventually takes birth in another body as another jIva.
  • When the AtmA takes birth as a new jIva, the accumulated guNas from its past life (which bear the influence of all the actions in all of its previous lives) attach to it.
  • The imprint of the guNas on the soul is very strong. An AtmA with a high level of sattva will tend to act in virtuous ways, whereas an AtmA with a high level of tamas will tend to act in wicked ways.
  • After an AtmA takes birth as a jIva, its actions in the new life can further strengthen the guNas it was born with, or can weaken them.
  • Depending on the guNas of an AtmA, it is born into an appropriate varNa (a superset of caste – a varNa encompasses many castes of a similar kind). sAttvik AtmAs are born as Brahmins; rAjasik AtmAs are born as Kshatriyas; AtmAs with both rajas and tamas, but with a preponderance of rajas, are born as Vaishyas; and AtmAs with both rajas and tamas, but with a preponderance of tamas, are born as Shudras. This is done to match an AtmA’s dominant guNa with its surroundings.
  • Because of the nature of the guNas, certain duties are prescribed for certain varNas. Since sattva is the mode of goodness, and sAttvik souls are born as Brahmins, the duties of Brahmins, consistent with their guNas, are learning the Vedas, having firm faith in God, and displaying serenity, self-control, and the like. Since rajas is the mode of passion and action, and rAjasik souls are born as Kshatriyas, the duties of Kshatriyas are to show heroism, bravery, exuberance, determination, leadership, generosity, etc. Because rajas and tamas are both present in Vaishyas, with rajas as a more dominant guNa, Vaishyas need to engage in trade, agriculture, and cow protection. And because tamas is the mode of ignorance, and tamas-dominated souls are born as Shudras, Shudras are not fit for any of the duties of the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, or the Vaishyas. They are fit only to be servants.
  • The varNa system has been created by God, by Krishna himself, so it must not be taken lightly. It must be followed very faithfully.
  • The spiritual goal of life is to attain mOksha, or salvation – release from this cycle of birth and death, and merging of one’s AtmA with the paramAtmA.
  • The way to mOksha is to follow your divinely-ordained duty, as per your varNa, as stated by Krishna. One must perform only the prescribed duties of his varNa, even if he is not good at them, and even if he is better at doing the duties of another’s varNa, because it would be sinful not to do so. One must also not grudge his duty as his varNa determines, because one has only oneself to blame for his present birth – it is the consequence of all one’s own actions in his past births. Whatever is one’s duty (dharma) in life, determined by his varNa, he must do to the best of his ability and do it as service to Krishna. This is the way to salvation.

This is the Hindu way of life. And because of all this, Arjuna, who is born a Kshatriya, must fight, because fighting for good is his duty as a Kshatriya. He has no choice. It is also the way for him to obtain mOksha for his soul – by fighting as an offering to Krishna.

The same is true for all Hindus. According to the teaching of the Gita, one must perform those duties, and only those duties, that are deemed appropriate for his varNa. One has no choice.

It can therefore be seen that caste-based discrimination is at the heart of Hindu philosophy and of the Bhagavad Gita. Without a divinely-ordained duty for a caste (or a varNa), there would be no way to convince Arjuna that indeed, he must fight. Arjuna must fight, because it is his sacred duty as a Kshatriya, and he would commit sin by not fighting, even though jnAna yOga is a superior path to attaining mOksha, and even though it is nonviolent, because it is not Arjuna’s varNa dharma to follow jnAna yOga.

People are born into varNas; they cannot earn it. The duties of one born in a varNa are mandatory, not optional. One varNa cannot do the prescribed duty of another. There are restrictions on inter-varNa marriages. This is, therefore, a system of discrimination based on birth.

The Bhagavad Gita, therefore, clearly endorses caste-based discrimination. Indeed, its entire message would collapse without it.

Although it has been mentioned earlier in this series, it bears repetition to say that, although most discussions in Hinduism are with reference to varNa, and not jAti (caste), the conclusions still apply broadly to castes. This is because jAtis are simply a subset of varNas. Hence, if there is a prohibition, for example, on Shudras, that prevents them from engaging in occupations involving learning or leadership, it applies to all jAtis in the Shudra varNa. Similarly, any prohibition on intermarriage between the Shudra varNa and the Brahmana or Kshatriya varNa applies to all jAtis within those varNas. However, the Gita says nothing about superiority or inferiority of jAtis within a varNa. That may well be a social custom inspired by the varNa system.


Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Having said all this, however, one could fairly make the argument that those who believe in the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, and run a society according to the principles of the Hindu religion, described herein, do not consciously discriminate against their fellow humans.

Let me explain.

Our modern idea of discrimination stems from our fundamental modern belief in the equality of human beings. In the words of the American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776:

In the Hindu scheme of things, all men (and women) are not created equal.

Since, in the Hindu view, people are unequal, the fair thing to do is to treat them unequally.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Similarly, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, written in 1949, reads (capitalization as in the original):

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought , expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

These principles are common among all liberal democracies, whether or not such statements are explicitly written: the idea that all citizens of a country are entitled to equal rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as the American Declaration states, or as the Indian Preamble further qualifies, the idea that all citizens are entitled to liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship, and equality of status and of opportunity.

Viewed through this lens, the Hindu caste system appears to be a highly unfair and discriminatory system, in that it restricts education only to some; in that there is certainly no equality of status or opportunity – professions are restricted to certain varNas; in that people are not allowed to marry whom they wish; and in that all citizens clearly do not have the same right to the pursuit of happiness.

But the fundamental assumption in this view – the reason that the Hindu restrictions on people are considered discriminatory – is the assumption that, as the American Declaration puts it, that “all men are created equal.”

In the Hindu scheme of things, all men (and women) are not created equal.

By “creation,” if we mean the embodied soul, the jIva, then it should be clear to the reader from all the discussions in this article series on the Gita that all men and women are certainly not created equal in the religious system described in the Bhagavad Gita. Hindus believe that different human beings are created unequal because of the guNas they are born with. Those with high levels of sattva guNa are superior to those with high levels of raja guNa, and both these are superior to those with high levels of tama guNa. Those guNas are a consequence of AtmAs’ own actions in past lives. So one has deserved his unequal status by one’s own actions in previous lives.

Since there is no equality of humans in the Hindu worldview, there is no discrimination according to the Hindu. Discrimination only arises when people who are equal are treated unequally.

Since, in the Hindu view, people are unequal, the fair thing to do is to treat them unequally.

… the views presented in the Bhagavad Gita were expressly codified in this way, in a post-hoc fashion, to preserve the privileges of a pre-existing, entrenched elite. By

  • Postulating that certain groups (to which the elites belonged) were superior to others;
  • Asserting that this superiority was obtained only by birth; and
  • Proscribing inter-group marriage (and excommunicating those who did marry between groups),
  • these groups were able to preserve the existing hierarchy for all time and for all future generations.

    If one believes in the teaching of the Gita, then one must believe in a society where all humans are born unequally. It stands to reason (and follows from an argument of meritocracy) that a Brahmin, being superior to the other varNas, should have more privileges and more status. He should be more entitled to privileges as he is closer to God. In sharp contrast, a Shudra whose soul (according to Hindu belief), from the time he is born, is steeped in darkness, superstition, evil, and ignorance, should certainly not be valued at all. To value highly a worthless and wicked person, and give him the same status as a highly intelligent, morally pure, honest, and spiritually sublime person such as a Brahmin (again, according to the assumptions of Hindu belief) would be stupid and ridiculous in the extreme. If you genuinely believe in the teachings of Hinduism – that people are born with unequal innate qualities, which only allow them to do certain jobs well – then you would feel completely justified in only letting them do those jobs and not other jobs.

    In the modern world, we value people who we consider wise and intelligent far more than we value idiots and fools. We pay them much more, because they are intelligent and wise, than we pay the idiots and fools.

    The difference between our modern liberal societies and ancient Hindu society is that we measure inequality of people based on manifest abilities, such as their ability to solve practical, everyday problems and their ability to understand temporal concepts; the ancient Hindus measured inequality of people based on their guNas, which they determined based on which family one was born into.

    Many Hindus, even today, believe in the Hindu varNa system, described in the Bhagavad Gita, and therefore believe that humans are created unequally at birth, and therefore deserve to be treated unequally. Not surprisingly, many of those who believe in the system happen to belong to the so-called "higher" varNas in Hindu society - those who have the most to gain from such an assumed superiority.

    One could argue fairly that the view just presented is a charitable one.

    A more cynical view would argue that the views presented in the Bhagavad Gita were expressly codified in this way, in a post-hoc fashion, to preserve the privileges of a pre-existing, entrenched elite. By

  • Postulating that certain groups (to which the elites belonged) were superior to others;
  • Asserting that this superiority was obtained only by birth; and
  • Proscribing inter-group marriage (and excommunicating those who did marry between groups),
  • these groups were able to preserve the existing hierarchy for all time and for all future generations.

    To add to this, they also had a philosophical justification for this inequality. They could (and did) justify it as the result of actions done by people in "past births" — actions that they did not and could not know anything about — thus absolving those at the top of the pyramid of any blame or guilt for the misery experienced by those at the bottom of the pyramid.

    … the caste system does have divine sanction — it is sanctioned by the Almighty Lord Krishna Himself in the holy Bhagavad Gita.

    It is a most ingenious system for controlling and subjugating people — one that has stood the test of time for millenia.

    To destroy such a system, one must first understand the foundation of that system. It is hoped that this exegesis on caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita will have helped in that understanding.

    Further, it his hoped that this study will help people in understanding why the caste system is so deep-rooted in Hinduism, and why it has resisted efforts at reform for centuries. The idea that one is, by birth, superior to others in a divinely-sanctioned way, makes for powerful adherents. Even if that same system means that you are inferior by birth to someone else (as everyone is, except the Brahmins at the top), it is something very hard for a lot of people to give up - except those at the very bottom, who have nothing to gain from it.

    What this study has shown is that indeed, the caste system (or more precisely, the varNa system, from which the caste system is derived) does have divine sanction - it is sanctioned by the Almighty Lord Krishna Himself in the holy Bhagavad Gita.

    Acknowledgments

    I would like to thank my wife, Sandhya Srinivasan, for reading several drafts of this document and giving me valuable feedback. I would like to thank Ganesh Prasad for reading an early draft of this document and offering some valuable suggestions. I would also like to thank Dileepan Raghunathan for helpful discussions in understanding certain passages.

    Any errors or mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to these people, for such errors and mistakes are entirely my own fault. The contributions of these kind and patient friends have been only to enhance this humble work.

    Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism – The Full Series

    This is an evolving list. More titles will be added as they are published. This list is the current list of published articles.

    Indexes for All Gita Series Shlokas


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    Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

    The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part VIII.


    The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism. Part VIII


    The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

    Part VIII

    The Bhagavad Gita, As It REALLY Is

    BG6: Detailed Exposition: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life

    Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 16 April, 2017

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    Bhagavad Gita Series Abstract

    This series on the Bhagavad Gita is part of a larger series of articles which examine the important question: Is caste-based discrimination in Hindu society an intrinsic part of Hinduism? Is it sanctioned in Hindu scripture? Or is it simply a social custom arrived at by distorting the scriptures?

    A key attendant question is: Is caste, according to Hindu scripture, a rigid status that accrues to an individual only by virtue of birth in that caste, and hence unchangeable during that person's life? Or, is it a more fluid descriptor of a person that can change during a person's lifetime? In other words, is caste birth-based, or can it be earned?

    To examine this question, I investigated every verse in the Bhagavad Gita that has any relationship to the issue of varNa, the overarching concept that contains the concept of caste, and subjected each of these verses to a detailed analysis, using both the literal meaning of the Sanskrit shlOkas as well as the commentaries of highly respected commentators on these verses. I viewed the verses both in isolation and in the overall context of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in the overall context of Hindu theology and philosophy. The results of my study are presented in this seven-part series (BG1 to BG7), which is part of my larger series on caste in Hinduism.

    I conclude that caste and caste-based discrimination are fundamental to the very foundation of Hinduism as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita.

    They are not a distortion of the scriptures of Hinduism. Far from being an added social custom, the birth-based caste system is at the very basis of Hindu thought.

    The caste system, as seen today, is largely a faithful representation of Lord Krishna’s words and intended meaning in the Bhagavad Gita. The central arguments in the Bhagavad Gita itself would collapse without the support of caste-based discrimination. The system, therefore, is expressly sanctioned in the Bhagavad Gita.

    In this seven-part series, I present the original Sanskrit text of each verse discussed, its transliteration, its word-by-word meaning, its free translation, and the commentaries of six major interpreters of the Gita: Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Shridhara Swami, Acharya Keshava Kashmiri, and Sant Jnaneshwar. Based on all these, I draw overall meanings for each verse, and overall conclusions for each group of verses. Finally, I draw overall conclusions on the scriptural sanction for caste-based discrimination in the Bhagavad Gita.

    A concise summary of the ideas in the Gita discussed in this seven-part series can be found in BG0 (Part II of the larger series.)

    Current Article Abstract

    In the present article, BG6, I present the “other side of the coin” – verses in the Gita that speak to a higher and more enlightened plane. In these verses, Krishna teaches Arjuna that one who has realized the truth about life understands and can perceive the Supreme Soul, the brahman, in every living being equally, whether that be himself; a high-born Brahmin; a low-born outcaste, such as a shvapAka; or even an animal such as a cow, an elephant, or a dog.

    These verses are often quoted by those who wish to defend the Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism against charges of caste-based discrimination.

    While these verses do offer a more enlightened view – the view that God is present in every living thing – they do not, unfortunately, change the lot of those in the lower castes, because the theology of the Gita holds that those who obtain low births do so because of the sins committed in millions of previous births, and must pay the price for their misdeeds. The one who has attained mOksha may see God in the soul of the shvapAka, but he also recognizes that that same soul has to pay the price in this birth for the sins of past births, and therefore must undergo the punishment of a low birth in this life, including the ostracization, humiliation, and exploitation that it entails – because that is the law of the Universe.

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    Table of Contents

    Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme
    Verses: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life
    Overall Conclusions: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life
    Chapter 5, Verse 18
    Original Sanskrit Shloka
    Transliteration
    Word-by-word Translation
    Free Translation
    Commentaries
    Shridhara
    Madhva
    Ramanuja
    Keshava Kashmiri
    Adi Shankara
    Jnaneshwar
    Chapter 6, Verse 29
    Original Sanskrit Shloka
    Transliteration
    Word-by-word Translation
    Free Translation
    Commentaries
    Shridhara
    Madhva
    Ramanuja
    Keshava Kashmiri
    Adi Shankara
    Chapter 6, Verse 32
    Original Sanskrit Shloka
    Transliteration
    Word-by-word Translation
    Free Translation
    Commentaries
    Shridhara
    Madhva
    Ramanuja
    Keshava Kashmiri
    Adi Shankara
    Jnaneshwar
    Chapter 13, Verse 29
    Original Sanskrit Shloka
    Transliteration
    Word-by-word Translation
    Free Translation
    Commentaries
    Shridhara
    Madhva
    Ramanuja
    Keshava Kashmiri
    Adi Shankara
    Jnaneshwar
    Chapter 13, Verse 31
    Original Sanskrit Shloka
    Transliteration
    Word-by-word Translation
    Free Translation
    Commentaries
    Shridhara
    Madhva
    Ramanuja
    Keshava Kashmiri
    Adi Shankara
    Jnaneshwar
    Acknowledgments
    Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism - The Full Series
    Indexes

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    Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme

    The methodology and sources used for the analysis of the verses in the Bhagavad Gita have been already presented in Part III. The overall framework of this entire series has been presented in Part I of this series. The transliteration scheme used here can be seen in Part II of the series. A Glossary can also be found in Part II.

    The overall conclusion for this set of verses is first presented, followed by a discussion of individual verses and their meanings.

    The numbering scheme followed in this entire "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series is that each article has an number in the overall sequence of articles in the "Caste Discrimination in Hinduism" series, represented by Roman numerals. Within the larger series, individual series articles, dealing with individual scriptures, are numbered using scripture initials and Arabic numerals. For instance, the articles in the Bhagavad Gita series are numbered as BGN, where N is the number of the article in the Bhagavad Gita series.

    Verses: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life

    Many people consider the verses presented here as the most important in the Bhagavad Gita, because they speak to the omnipresence of God in all living creatures. This is particularly important for followers of the Advaita philosophy. The verses have an uplifting character, as they talk about how the same God is present in a Brahmin or a low-caste person. Hence it is important to mention them in an analysis of caste-based discrimination in the Gita, for completeness.

    Overall Conclusion: Seeing the Universal Consciousness in All Life

    The five verses quoted reinforce each other, and are different ways of saying the same thing: by seeing the same universal spirit, the Ultimate Consciousness, the paramAtmA, in each and every living thing – which, of course, includes every human being, but also includes animals, such as dogs, elephants, and cows – one attains mOksha, or the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This is the ultimate truth in the world. One of the verses specifically names the dog-eating shvapAka caste, whose function it is to guard over the dead, and are considered extremely impure.

    How does one reconcile these apparently enlightened verses with so much else in the Gita (as discussed in this article) that encourage caste-discrimination?

    The answer is that these verses are not actually contradictory. Even though they testify to the omnipresence of the paramAtmA, they do not speak against caste discrimination.

    The explanation is in the Gita itself. AtmAs are born again and again because they have not achieved mOksha. Their attachment to the material body and the senses attached to the body clouds their ability to see that their true self is not the jIva, it is the AtmA within. The soul fails to realize itself, and so performs actions that go further and further away from sattva, and deeper and deeper into rajas and tamas. Because of the guNas attached to their souls, they are born into lower births, such as Shudra births, or even lower, as animals, and have to suffer the indignities associated with that birth.

    Thus, one who is enlightened and has achieved mOksha, while he or she can see the Supreme Soul, the paramAtmA, in those who have not, still understands that the unenlightened have to pay for the sins they have committed in their previous births. Their present births as lower-caste persons is only because their AtmAs are chained to their body and their guNas; and as long as their guNas are rajas- and tamas-dominated, they have to endure the consequences of those guNas.

    As evidence of this interpretation, note that 5-18 (vidyA-vinaya-sampannE brAhmaNE gavi hastini; shuni caiva shvapAkE ca paNDitAha sama-darshinaha) only says that an enlightened person should be able to discern paramAtmA in both these categories: a high-born Brahmin as well as an untouchable (Dalit) shvapAka (dog-eater). It does not ask the enlightened one to ask why the shvapAka person has to lead such a miserable life (guarding over dead bodies in a crematorium), or to pull that person out of such an existence where he has to eat dogs to survive. It is sufficient for the enlightened one to see that brahman exists even in the shvapAka. The plight of the shvapAka is sad, no doubt, but it is the result of his sins in his past lives, and so the enlightened one cannot help him. People have to pay for their past behavior.

    When Krishna himself says in 4-13 that He cannot be blamed for which varNa someone is born in – that such a birth is simply a consequence of a person’s past karmas and the resultant guNas his/her soul is imprinted with, what can be said then of an ordinary human being, albeit an enlightened one? Such a person can see that a Shudra or a shvapAka has the same paramAtmA in him, but unless that AtmA of the Shudra or the shvapAka is able to see through the mists of illusion and rise up, the enlightened one cannot help him. He (the Shudra or the shvapAka) must endure the punishment for his past karmas.

    It is no different from how we think of criminals today in our relatively enlightened and more humane world. In the modern world, we respect every human being, and believe every human being has a right to dignity. However, when someone commits a crime, we do not hesitate to punish him, deprive him of his liberty, and sometimes even award him capital punishment – for, while we do respect the person as a human being, we believe he has to pay for his crimes. The same is true in Hinduism as well – an enlightened being would recognize even the lowest caste person as having brahman within him – but because of his sins in millions of births (as is believed), this jIva with an immortal AtmA within, although a part of the paramAtmA itself, still has to undergo the humiliation that comes with being born in a low varNa. The difference is that we today punish people for crimes that are clearly seen to be done; the only visible crime of the low-caste person in Hinduism is to be born in a low varNa.

    One might ask, then, what the meaning of Madhvacharya's commentary on 6-32 (AtmaupamyEna sarvatra samam pashyati yo Arjuna; sukham vA yadi duhkham saha yOgI paramO mataha) is, when he says,

    Those who are devotees of the Supreme Lord treat everyone as they would treat themselves.

    The answer to this question, again, can be seen from the same morality we apply in today's world. If someone were to say that "any law-abiding citizen must treat everyone as he would treat himself," what does that mean when that person himself commits a crime? If this person is truly honest and law-abiding, then he must be willing to undergo punishment for the crime he has committed, even though he himself will suffer. So it is with the Gita. An enlightened soul understands that every person's misfortune or fortune in his present life is a consequence of good or bad deeds done in past lives, and so such a person would (or at least, should) accept the consequences of those actions in his present birth. Therefore, by discriminating against someone else who is low-born, they are not treating him any differently than they would treat themselves, for all are accountable to the divine Law.

    The essential point is that these enlightened verses do not present a contradiction to the other discriminatory verses, and do not negate them.

    Chapter 5, Verse 18

    Original Sanskrit Shloka

    विद्याविनयसंपन्ने ब्राह्मणे गवि हस्तिनि।
    शुनि चैव श्वपाके च पण्डिताः समदर्शिनः।।

    Transliteration

    vidyA-vinaya-sampannE brAhmaNE gavi hastini
    shuni caiva shvapAkE ca paNDitAha sama-darshinaha

    Word-by-word Translation

    sama-darshinaha Eva – only those who see with equal vision the Ultimate Truth; brAhmaNE – in a Brahmana; vidyA-vinaya-sampannE – endowed with Vedic knowledge and humility; gavi – in a cow; hastini – in an elephant; shuni – in a dog; ca – and; shvapAkE – in the lower animal-eating members of humanity; paNDitAha – learned in genuine wisdom.

    Free Translation

    Only those who see with equal vision the Ultimate Truth in a Brahmana, endowed with Vedic knowledge and humility; in a cow; in an elephant; in a dog; and in the lower animal-eating members of humanity, are learned in genuine wisdom.

    Commentaries

    Shridhara

    Now the question may arise: what kind of persons are those who achieve mOksha, or liberation? Lord Krishna uses the word panDitaha or the wise. Who are the wise? Those with the inner eye of wisdom, who perceive the brahman, or spiritual substratum pervading all existence, in things that appear dissimilar. The example of a humble, learned Brahmin, and an outcaste dogeater shows dissimilarity in conduct; and the examples of a cow and an elephant show dissimilarity in species; but the spiritually awakened sees all with equal vision.

    Madhva

    Due to this supra-conscious awareness illuminating one's intelligence, Atma tattva, or realization of the soul, is attained, and once this happens, then one realises the soul as a manifestation of the Supreme Lord, existing equally in all living beings. This is purport Lord Krishna is giving in this verse.

    Now begins the summation.

    Even though there are external differences in the forms among embodied beings including humans, aquatics, animals and plants, the Supreme Lord Krishna is ever present in each and every being as a witness, energizing them all as the Supreme Soul, from which a minuscule portion comprises the eternal individual soul.

    Ramanuja

    The name Brahmana refers to the saintly and spiritual class in India, possessed of moral conduct and Vedic knowledge. The mention along with them of a cow, an elephant, a dog, and an outcaste person who eats dogs, is to illustrate the great differences in the physical bodies of all the various species of life in which the embodied AtmA, or soul, resides in. The variegated appearances of different species of life is due to prakRuti, or material nature, not the AtmA. The compound word sama-darshinaha, meaning equal vision, is how those in AtmA tattva, or soul realization, regard all the AtmAs residing in unlimited bodies as being equal, due to the AtmA’s essential nature of being eternal and of being an infinitesimal part of the Supreme Lord Krishna.

    Keshava Kashmiri

    Lord Krishna uses the word panDitaha, meaning wise or learned, for those who perceive the reality as it is, and behold the nature of the AtmA, or soul, equally in all beings. From a Brahmin, endowed with spiritual knowledge, and a cow, the best of all animals, both being in the mode of goodness; as well as a dog and an outcaste person of the lowest order, all are seen with an equal vision. The purport is that the apparent unevenness between the highest and the lowest is the characteristics of their bodily designation, which is the product of material nature, but never reflective of the eternal, pure state of the AtmA. Such a wise being always perceives the intrinsic nature of the soul as it is, unaffected by the degradation of any bodily conception.

    Adi Shankara

    Humility is tranquillity, the condition of a well-disciplined soul. Of the creatures mentioned, the highest is the Brahmana, who is spiritually regenerated and highly sAttvik. Next comes the cow, not spiritually regenerated, and rAjasik. Last come the elephant, etc., which are purely tAmasik. In all of them, the sages see the same – the One who is immutable in Himself and quite untouched by sattva and other energies, or by the tendencies born of those energies, whether sAttvik, rAjasik, or tAmasik.

    Jnaneshwar

    How could then there exist within them (those with genuine wisdom) any distinction such as a fly against an elephant; or an untouchable against the twice-born; or a stranger against one's own kith and kin; or a cow against a dog; or a big thing against a small one; and, apart from all these, could there be anything like a dream to one fully awake? Distinctions would be seen only if there would exist any sense of separate egoistic individuality in them; but having already gotten rid of that, how could there remain any distinction?

    Chapter 6, Verse 29

    Original Sanskrit Shloka

    सर्वभूतस्थमात्मानं सर्वभूतानि चात्मनि।
    ईक्षते योगयुक्तात्मा सर्वत्र समदर्शनः।।

    Transliteration

    sarva-bhUta-stham AtmAnam sarva-bhUtAni cAtmani
    IkshatE yOga-yukta-AtmA sarvatra sama-darshanaha

    Word-by-word Translation

    yOga-yukta-AtmA – one perfectly realized and perfected in the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness; sarvatra sama-darshanaha – identifying with this consciousness everywhere and in everything; IkshatE – perceives; AtmAnam – the realized self; sarva-bhUta-stham – situated in all living entities; ca – and; sarva-bhUtAni – all living entities; Atmani – in the realized self.

    Free Translation

    One perfectly realized and perfected in the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness, identifying with this consciousness everywhere and in everything, perceives the realized self situated in all living entities and all living entities in the realized self.

    Commentaries

    Shridhara

    The necessity of realization of the brahman, or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence, is being given by Lord Krishna. The mature yOgI, whose mind is spiritually enlightened by the practice of yOga, or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness by dhyAna, or meditation, perceives the brahman everywhere, and sees omniscience and omnipresence of the AtmA, or soul, without any limitations, equally existing in all beings, from the highest demigod to an inanimate tree; such a person realizes the Supreme Being existing within himself, and himself existing within the Supreme Being.

    Madhva

    The objective and goal to be gained is given here by Lord Krishna. The AtmA, or eternal soul residing within all beings, is the omnipresent and omniscient Supreme Lord. All creatures also exist within the Supreme Lord as the AtmA. One who perceives this, sees the Supreme Lord equally in everything from a blade of grass to the brahman, or spiritual substratum pervading all existence. Therefore it has been said that one sees the Supreme Lord abiding in all creatures and all creatures abiding in the Supreme Lord.

    Now begins the summation.

    The Supreme Lord abides in equal measure in all beings along with the AtmA, or soul, and is known as paramAtmA, the Supreme Soul.

    Ramanuja

    The words sarvatra sama-darshanaha means equal vision everywhere. This means realising that the AtmA, or soul that abides in oneself and abides in other beings is of the same transcendental essence in all beings equally. This is perceived by spiritual consciousness, and this transcendental essence is an attribute equally present in all AtmAs. The equality, sameness and luminosity of the AtmA has been perceived by those recipients of mOksha, or liberation, when the AtmA is divested of its connection with the physical body and material nature. Inequality, as well as indifference and indolence, arise from designating the AtmA as not being different from the myriads of multifarious physical manifestations the AtmA is embodied by. The yOgI, or one perfecting the science of the individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness, who is mature in dhyAna, or meditation, and has achieved Atma tattva, or realization of the soul, does not discern any differences in the myriad of multifarious physical manifestations but perceives the AtmA, wherever it may reside, and in whatever physical or subtle body it manifests in. This is perceived by the AtmA's inherent and essential attribute of transcendental consciousness, existing equally in all beings. Such is actual equal vision. One who perceives that the AtmA abiding within oneself is of exactly the same essence, nature and quality as the AtmA perceived to be abiding in other beings realises that such beings are equal in this respect. The conclusion of what Lord Krishna is stating is that all AtmAs are eternal, from one eternal essence, and that when one's own AtmA has been realised and perceived, then every being’s AtmA is realised and be perceived.

    Keshava Kashmiri

    Now Lord Krishna presents the four-fold divisions of the subsequent results of such a firmly established yOgI, or one perfected in the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness. Such an advanced being has become united with the AtmA, or soul, thus perceiving the AtmA in all beings of multifarious, diverse natures and variegated physical and subtle bodies. This applies from the highest demigod, known as Brahma, down to an inanimate tree. How can such a yOgI perceive his AtmA existing in all beings, and all beings existing in his AtmA? The words yOga-yuktAtmA means united with the nature of the brahman, or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence. One sees all things with equal vision, without any distinction between them, knowing that all forms are veritable products of prakRuti, or material nature. The purport is that such a yOgI sees all forms, even his own, as manifestation of the brahman, and therefore there is no distinctive difference in his AtmA and the AtmA of others. The AtmA is eternal and pure, and distinctly different from the physical body. So, firmly adhering to self-realization, such a yOgI becomes enlightened in all respects. Yet, even the different physical bodies are equal, as they all manifest from the same primordial matter and all have a beginning and an end. In this way, there is no contradiction if the yOgI perceives his AtmA existing in all beings and all beings existing in his AtmA.

    Adi Shankara

    He sees all beings—from Brahma, the Creator, down to a clump of grass—as one with the Self; and in all the different beings—from Brahma, the Creator, down to inanimate objects—he sees the same; i.e., he sees that the Self and brahman (the Absolute) are one.

    Chapter 6, Verse 32

    Original Sanskrit Shloka

    आत्मौपम्येन सर्वत्र समं पश्यति योऽर्जुन।
    सुखं वा यदि वा दुःखं सः योगी परमो मतः।।

    Transliteration

    AtmaupamyEna sarvatra samam pashyati yo Arjuna
    sukham vA yadi duhkham saha yOgI paramO mataha

    Word-by-word Translation

    arjuna – O Arjuna; yaha – one who; pashyati – perceives; aupamyEna – in comparison; Atma – with the self; sarvatra – all beings; samam – equally; sukham vA yadi vA duhkham – in happiness or in sorrow; saha yOgI – such a person, perfected in the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness; mataha – is considered; paramaha – the highest.

    Free Translation

    O Arjuna, one who perceives, in comparison with the self, all living entities equally, in happiness or in sorrow; such a person, perfected in the science of uniting the individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness, is considered the highest.

    Commentaries

    Shridhara

    Lord Krishna specifies that, among the different yOgIs, or those perfecting the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness, those who worship the Supreme Lord, and who are compassionate to all living entities, are the most exalted. Such a yOgI empathises with all living entities, regarding them as oneself and, by this vision, wishes only the best for all created beings.

    Madhva

    Lord Krishna here explains equal vision differently then He did in previous verses.

    Now begins the summation.

    Those who are devotees of the Supreme Lord treat everyone as they would treat themselves.

    Ramanuja

    One advanced in yOga, or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness by dhyAna or meditation, realises the intrinsic uniqueness and sublime sameness of all AtmAs, or souls; and as having the nature of omniscience and omnipresence, although residing in unlimited variegated physical and subtle bodies. Fully comprehending that the AtmA has no connection with material nature, the yOgI looks upon all dualities, such as happiness and affliction, as alike; and this applies whether circumstances befall unto such a yOgI or befall unto others, such as the happiness of an infant being born, or the affliction of a parent dying. This means that it is one and the same for such a yOgI regarding their own offspring and parents as it is regarding other people’s offspring and parents. Such a yOgI, who is so far advanced as to regard both happiness and affliction equally with the same sublime indifference, is qualified to be known as the best of yOgIs.

    Keshava Kashmiri

    Now Lord Krishna speaks of the most exalted yOgIs, who perceive the AtmA in all created beings and view them as not different from themselves. Just as a person does not like to create difficulties for themselves, and at all times wish the best for themselves; in the same way, such a yOgI does not want difficulties created for any being, and at all times wishes the best for all beings. Such a yOgI is completely free from passion and desire, and is the most exalted of all yOgIs. All persons, due to their previous actions, are caught in the current of reactions of merits and demerits, which create obstacles in achieving communion with the Supreme Lord. Those whose knowledge is veiled by nescience, birth after birth since time immemorial, have no idea that the highest goal of human existence is first Atma tattva, or realization of the soul, within the etheric heart, and second, the perception of the AtmA, or soul, in all created beings, and the ultimate unity of all created beings. This unity is absolute inseparable unity with the Supreme Lord.

    By chance, a fortunate individual receives the unconditional mercy of the Supreme Lord, reflects on the purpose of human existence and, gaining the association of pious people, comes into contact with a qualified spiritual preceptor; and, following their instructions concerning realization of the AtmA, and the path to mOksha, or liberation from the material existence, they purify their mind and very existence. Then, such a person engages themselves wholeheartedly in the practice of meditation, which culminates into realization of the embodied self, being the AtmA or soul, and paramAtmA, the Supreme Soul, both residing within the etheric heart. From this time on, one only experiences the actions dictated by destiny until all past accumulated reactions are finished. One comprehends that both happiness and unhappiness are temporary, and caused by the merits and demerits from past actions, and present obstacles on the path to mOksha, or liberation to the Supreme Lord. Just as those fettered in golden chains or iron chains are both in bondage, and both feel the same type of relief when released and freed – in the same way, the pleasure one receives from obstacles due to merits, and the pain one receives from obstacles due to demerits, both have the same effect of relief when they are finally exhausted, and a person is set free by achieving mOksha. This mentality one applies also to all created beings, because one sees everything with the same vision as one perceives themselves.

    Adi Shankara

    He sees that whatever is pleasant to himself is pleasant to all creatures, and that whatever is painful to himself is painful to all beings. Thus seeing that what is pleasure or pain to himself is alike pleasure or pain to all beings, he causes pain to no being; he is harmless. Doing no harm, and devoted to right knowledge, he is regarded as the highest among all yOgIs.

    Jnaneshwar

    He who ever views the entire universe, including all moveables and immoveables, as himself; whose mind never makes any distinctions, such as pain and pleasure, or actions auspicious and inauspicious; to whose intellect, all the three worlds appear to be his own form; such a person, even though possessing a body, and considered in the worldly affairs as subject to pleasure and pain, according to the respective occasions, still is really the very form of the essence of Supreme brahman.

    Therefore, O Arjuna, you should develop in yourself such evenness of temper that you do view the entire universe within yourself, and be yourself the entire universe. I have repeatedly been preaching this to you with the sole object being to show that there is nothing beyond evenness of temper to attain in this universe. It is the only Supreme thing to be attained.

    Chapter 13, Verse 29

    Original Sanskrit Shloka

    समं पश्यन्हि सर्वत्र समवस्थितमीश्वरम्।
    न हिनस्त्यात्मनाऽऽत्मानं ततो याति परां गतिम्।।

    Transliteration

    samam pashyan hi sarvatra samavasthitam Ishvaram
    na hinasti AtmAnAtmAnam tatO yAti parAm gatim

    Word-by-word Translation

    pashyAn hi – by seeing; Ishvaram – the Ultimate Consciousness; samam – equally; sarvatra – everywhere; samavasthitam – impartially situated; na hinasti – does not degrade; AtmAnam – the embodied self; AtmAnA – by the self; tataha – thus; yAti – reaching; param gatim – the supreme goal.

    Free Translation

    By seeing the Ultimate Consciousness equally everywhere, impartially situated, one does not degrade the embodied self, by the self; therefore reaching the supreme goal.

    Commentaries

    Shridhara

    Why is an enlightened person said to see samam or equally? This is being explained by Lord Krishna. By seeing the resplendent Supreme Lord everywhere, within oneself, within all beings and within all things, one does not perform any activity that will degrade the AtmA, or immortal soul, of themselves, nor degrade the AtmA of others. This means they have recognised the Supreme Being within all beings, and do not deny, through capriciousness or ignorance, the presence of paramAtmA, or the Supreme immortal soul, whose very nature is sat, or eternal existence, cit, or unlimited consciousness, and Ananda, or never-ending bliss. Such an enlightened being is qualified to achieve mOksha, or liberation from material existence, and attain the eternal spiritual worlds which are param gati, the supreme destination. But one who is unable to see equally in this manner, erroneously looks upon their physical body as being the same as the AtmA, thinking that when the physical body perishes, the AtmA perishes with it. The Isha Upanishad, verse III, says, beginning with “asurya nAma tE lOkA andhEna,” meaning: The demoniac and the demons degrade the AtmA, totally ignorant of its eternal divine nature and are forced to enter the dark, gloomy hellish worlds in their next life.

    Madhva

    Lord Krishna is explaining that one who perceives and recognises the Supreme Being in every being is one who actually sees reality. The jIva, or embodied being, practically witnesses death and destruction in material existence everyday, along with its associated misery. The Padma Purana states that, as a form of misery, the jIva sees itself; yet, devoid of misery is the Supreme Lord residing within every jIva, equally from Brahma, the highest material being, down to an ant. The Supreme Lord’s expansion as paramAtmA, or the Supreme Soul, is present within all jIvas throughout all dimensions of creation, and does not diminish or degrade His transcendental position whatsoever, whether abiding in a demigod, human, animal etc. Perceiving the reality of the Supreme Lord in this way, one is not subject to illusion.

    Ramanuja

    The Supreme Lord Krishna, known as Ishvara, is residing samam, equally, and sarvatra, within all beings. This includes demigods, humans, animals, etc. The word pashyati here, meaning perceives, denotes that the AtmA, or immortal soul, is recognised wherever it may abide. By thus comprehending the actual nature of the AtmA, one never degrades themselves, and na hinasti, never causes harm to oneself. Contrarily, if one insists on identifying the AtmA as the physical body in the differentiating light of unlimited bodily forms, one injures and degrades their eternal self. This understanding saves one from acquiring karma, or reactions to actions, which is the main cause of confinement to samsAra, or the perpetual cycle of birth and death. By gaining this basic realization, one achieves the goal of Atma tattva, or soul realization, and then becomes eligible for param gatim, the supreme destination and highest attainment.

    Keshava Kashmiri

    Lord Krishna now presents the results of the afore-stated realizations, viz., of perceiving the Supreme Lord present within all bodies, demigod, human, animal, etc.; and of perceiving His imperishable nature everywhere. Such a jIva, or embodied being, “na hinasti,” never degrades, “Atmanam,” their immortal soul, by being attached to material desire, and prolonging their imprisonment in material existence. The essence is that one who sees created beings separate from the Supreme Lord, and separate from themselves, will be compelled to revolve in samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death in the material existence, and continue to perform sinful and degraded activities that keep them shackled permanently in the prison of material existence. This is corroborated by Shakuntala's statement in Moksha Dharma: “Such a person, who has not realised the AtmA, or immortal soul, inherent within all beings – what sinful activity would such a self-deluder deign not to commit? The Isha Upanishad, verse III, reveals the resultant consequence due to the greatest ignorance for those that degrade their own AtmA, and the soul of other living entities, by engaging in evil activities of unrighteousness beginning: “asurya nAma tE lokA andhEna,” meaning such sinful demons, oblivious of their inherent divine nature, enter the dark, gloomy, hellish planets when their life has ended.

    Adi Shankara

    prakRuti is the Lord's mAyA, composed of the three guNas. So the mantra reads,

    Let him know that mAyA is the prakRuti, and that the Great Lord is the possessor of mAyA. (Svetasvatara Upanishad 4-10.)

    By prakRuti, i.e., mAyA, the shakti, or inherent energy of the Lord – not the other, i.e., not the (pradhAna, the self-existent) prakRuti (of the sAnkhyas) described as transforming itself into causes and effects such as the mahat — are done all sorts of actions, whether done in speech, thought, or deed. He sees, who realises this truth, and also the truth that the Self (kshEtrajna) is devoid of all upAdhis or conditions – he sees the Supreme Truth. There is no evidence to show that there is any variety in Him who is non-agent, unconditioned, and free from all specialities, just as there is no variety in the akAsha (sky).

    Jnaneshwar

    He truly perceives, who realises that the various actions are all performed by prakRuti, through the agency of the mind, intellect and the organs of actions. It is the occupants of a house that move about in the house, the house itself doing nothing; so also, the clouds run about in the sky, while the sky itself remains inactive. In the same way, prakRuti, enlightened by the soul, and with the help of the guNas, plays all these games, the soul remaining firm like a pillar, in no way knowing the games played by prakRuti. One in whom there has arisen the Light of Knowledge of these decisions, has truly perceived the theory of the soul being the non-agent.

    Chapter 13, Verse 31

    Original Sanskrit Shloka

    यदा भूतपृथग्भावमेकस्थमनुपश्यति।
    तत एव च विस्तारं ब्रह्म सम्पद्यते तदा।।

    Transliteration

    yadA bhUta-pRuthag-bhAvam Eka-stham anupashyati
    tata Eva ca vistAram brahmA sampadyatE tadA

    Word-by-word Translation

    yadA – when; anupashyati – (one) actually perceives; vistAram – the expansion; ca – and; bhUta-pRuthak-bhAvam – diversity of all life forms; Eka-stham – as situated in the unity of material nature; tataha Eva – thereafter; tadA – at that time; brahmA – the Ultimate Truth; sampadyate – is attained.

    Free Translation

    When one actually perceives the expansion and diversity of all life forms as situated in the unity of material nature – thereafter, at that time, the Ultimate Truth is attained.

    Commentaries

    Shridhara

    Since all jIvas, or embodied beings, emanate from prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, there is no difference between them in substance at the root level. Therefore, there is absolutely no difference between AtmAs as the AtmA precedes this root level. One who perceives this inherent non-difference between AtmAs, regardless of diversity of form, achieves the realization of the brahman, or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence. This inherent non-difference applies to all things in creation, animate and inanimate, which manifest again after the pralaya, or periodic universal dissolution, as they were before, and commence their emanation into prakRuti once more. Realising this, one realises the brahman.

    Madhva

    The word Eka-stham, meaning situated in the single material nature, is singular, and denotes the Supreme Lord Krishna, because He is all pervading throughout all creation. One who sees all jIvas, or embodied beings, regardless of form or species, as being part of prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, which is a modification of the Supreme Lord; and can realise the difference and gradation between all three; such a person experiences direct realization of the brahman, or spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

    Ramanuja

    Lord Krishna is stating that one must realize that the diversity of forms throughout creation is manifested by the medium of prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, which gives rise to unlimited bodies and their correlating senses. All jIvas, or embodied beings, whether demigods, humans or animals, are constituted of the dual natures of purusha, the supreme spirit, and prakRuti. The compound word Eka-stham, meaning situated in one, refers to the singularity of prakRuti, which the kshEtra, or sphere of activity, exists within. The word vistAram, meaning expansion, refers to the variegated myriads of differentiated existences in successive form manifestations such as children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, all uniquely emanating from the same principle of prakRuti.

    Whosoever understands that all external appearing differences have their origin in prakRuti; and not in purusha, or the supreme spirit; nor paramAtmA, the supreme soul; such a person attains the realization of the brahman, or spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

    Keshava Kashmiri

    Thus, by irrefutably establishing the fact of the AtmA, or immortal soul, as existing equally within the etheric heart of each and every living entity; and the reality that paramAtmA, or the Supreme Soul, is residing equally within the etheric heart of all living entities simultaneously; Lord Krishna categorically refutes any and all conceptions that different shapes and forms of the physical body are relevant to the AtmA. Now He confirms that prakRuti, or the material substratum pervading physical existence, is the source of all variegated species and forms of the physical bodies of the jIvas, or embodied beings. When one can see and understand that all jIvas in material existence are in possession of the AtmA, whether they are demigods, human, animal, etc., and are all rooted in the same absolute reality, and appear only as different manifestations of the same absolute nature, expanded at the commencement of creation; then one achieves infinite knowledge and realization of the brahman, or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence.

    Adi Shankara

    The Self has no beginning, no cause. That which has a cause perishes by itself, whereas this (Self) does not perish, because, having no cause, He is without parts. Further, He does not perish because He is without qualities; for that which has qualities perishes by loss of qualities; whereas the Self does not perish, because He is devoid of qualities. Thus the Supreme Self is imperishable. He suffers no destruction. Therefore, though dwelling in the body — the Self is said to dwell in the body because the Self is manifested in the body — yet He does not act.

    Because He does not act, He is not affected by the results of acts. The meaning is this: He that is an agent is affected by the fruit of the act; but this (the Self) is a non-agent, and is therefore not tainted by the fruit of action.

    Objection: Who, then, in the bodies, acts and is tainted? If, on the one hand, an embodied self, distinct from the Supreme Self, acts and is tainted, then the identity of kshEtrajna with the Ishvara spoken of in such places as 13-2 would be inexplicable. If, on the other hand, there be no embodied self distinct from the Ishvara, then tell me who acts and is tainted; or say that the Ishvara is not Supreme.

    On the ground that the doctrine of the Upanishads taught by the Lord is thus in every way difficult to understand and difficult to explain, it has been abandoned by the Vaiseshikas, as well as by the Sankhyas, the Arhatas, and the Buddhists.

    (Answer): As regards this objection, the following answer has been afforded by the Lord Himself. “It is Nature that acts.” (13-2). The idea that there is one who acts and is tainted is a mere illusion (avidyA) and nothing else. Action does not really exist in the Supreme Self. It has, for this very reason, been pointed out by the Lord here and there that there is no necessity of performing works (karma) for those devotees of Wisdom, for the order of paramahamsa-parivrajakas, who adhere to this doctrine of Supreme Truth (paramArtha-sAnkhya-darshana) and have risen above avidyA and vyavahAra, nescience and all experience (due to avidyA).

    Jnaneshwar

    What is called Supreme Soul is like the sun, who is not covered with water (even when it is reflected in it). The sun has already been in existence, O Arjuna, both before and after (his) reflection; he only appears to others reflected in water between these two stages.

    In the same way, it is not true to say that the soul exists in the body. He is permanently there where he is all by himself. Just as what appears in the mirror as a face is only its reflection there, in the same way is the habitation of the soul in the body. It is a meaningless talk to affirm that the body and soul meet each other. Could the sand and wind ever meet together? How could fire and cotton be inwoven on a thread?

    How could the sky and earth be joined together? This connection (between the soul and the body) is like the meeting together of two persons, one going to the East and the other to the West. The relationship between the soul and the body is that existing between light and darkness, or between a dead and a living (standing) body. The same relationship exists between the two (soul and body) as that existing between the night and the day or between gold and cotton. The body is formed of the five gross elements and is tied with the rope or thread in the form of actions (of the previous and present lives), and is ever revolving on the wheel of births and deaths. It (body) is (like) a small lump of butter placed in the mouth of the fire in the form of time (spirit – mahAkAla) where it is consumed in a trice, in that duration of time as is taken by a fly for shaking its wings. This body, if it perchance falls into a fire will be reduced to ashes; but if it gets into the jaws of a dog, it will be transformed into dung. Escaping both these fates, it will get reduced to a cluster of germs and insects — in short, whatever end it may meet with, would be quite repulsive. Such is the condition of the body; while the soul is such that being beginning-less, he is eternal and self-same. (He) is neither possessed of quality nor is quality-less, and is neither lean nor fat. He is neither felt nor unfelt, neither luminous nor non-luminous, neither minute nor extensive, and he transcends form. He is neither empty nor full, neither alone nor in company, neither with form nor without form and abides in the zero (void) state (which is the negation of all attributes). He is neither joyous nor joyless, neither singular nor plural, neither free nor fettered, and exists as self-same. He is neither “this much” nor “that much,” neither self-made nor made by any body else, neither talkative nor dumb, and is above any characteristic mark. He is neither created along with the universe nor is he exhausted (finished) with the end of the world, and is himself the constituent ground and source of both existence and non-existence. He can neither be measured nor described, he neither increases nor decreases, and neither fades nor is finished, being immutable. Such is the aspect of the soul; and those that say, Oh dear, that he dwells in the body, talk of the sky as having the dimensions (as seen through) of a hut (hermitage).

    Thus his (the soul’s) all-pervading nature makes the creation and the end of different bodies possible, but he remains unaffected by their varying conditions; he exists (intact) as he is. The day and the night rotate in the sky, and in the same way, bodies come and go under the supremacy of the soul. Therefore, even while abiding in the body, he neither acts nor causes (any one) to act; nor does he take upon himself the responsibility of any actions confronting him, remaining quite neutral.

    Consequently, there is no change in his aspect; and even though abiding in the body, he is not affected by bodily attributes.

    Acknowledgments

    I would like to thank my wife, Sandhya Srinivasan, for reading several drafts of this document and giving me valuable feedback. I would like to thank Ganesh Prasad for reading an early draft of this document and offering some valuable suggestions. I would also like to thank Dileepan Raghunathan for helpful discussions in understanding certain passages.

    Any errors or mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to these people, for such errors and mistakes are entirely my own fault. The contributions of these kind and patient friends have been only to enhance this humble work.

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    Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.