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Saturday, 15 April 2017

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


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


The Scriptural Sanction for Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism

Part VI

The Bhagavad Gita, As It REALLY Is

BG4: Detailed Exposition: The Duties of the Different varNas

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 15 April, 2017


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, BG4, I discuss Krishna’s teachings regarding the duties of the four varNas. The duties are determined, according to Krishna, by taking into account the fundamental natures (guNas) of the AtmAs of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. In Part V, the natures of the three guNas were discussed, and it was mentioned that AtmAs with a predominance of sattva are born as Brahmins; those with a predominance of rajas are born as Kshatriyas; those with a mixture of rajas and tamas, with rajas predominating, are born as Vaishyas; and AtmAs with a mixture of rajas and tamas, but with tamas predominating, are born as Shudras.

In keeping with these natures, Krishna explains that the duties of the Brahmins are learning, worship, faith, teaching, and the like; the duties of Kshatriyas are to be brave warriors and wise rulers and leaders; the duties of Vaishyas are trade, agriculture, and cow farming and protection; and the duties of Shudras are to serve the other three varNas, because the tamasik nature of their souls renders them unfit for any other duty. The duties of the different varNas are mutually exclusive. The duties prescribed for one’s own varNa should be followed, even if one cannot perform them perfectly and even if one finds them distasteful; and one must not perform the duties of another varNa, even if one can perform those duties perfectly and even if they are more to one’s liking and natural aptitude.

These verses thus clearly highlight the rigidity in the varNa system, and show convincingly how the varNa system is a birth-based system of discrimination. In particular, since the nature of the duties gets more unpleasant as one goes down the varNa hierarchy, this means that those tasked with unpleasant varNa duties, such as Shudras, must perform them regardless of whether they like them or not, because the path to mOksha for the AtmA in karma yOga consists in performing one's varNa dharma to the best of one's ability and as an offering to the Lord.


Table of Contents

Sources, Methodology, Transliteration Scheme, and Numbering Scheme
The Duties of the Different varNas
Overall Conclusions: The Duties of the Different varNas
Verse 18-41
Verse 18-42
Verse 18-43
Verse 18-44
Verses 18-45 and 18-46
Verses 18-47 and 3-35
Verse 18-48
Summation
Chapter 18, Verse 41
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Madhva
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 42
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 43
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 44
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 45
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 46
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 47
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 18, Verse 48
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Madhva
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Chapter 3, Verse 35
Original Sanskrit Shloka
Transliteration
Word-by-word Translation
Free Translation
Commentaries
Shridhara
Madhva
Ramanuja
Keshava Kashmiri
Adi Shankara
Jnaneshwar
Overall Meaning
Acknowledgments
Caste-Based Discrimination in Hinduism - The Full Series
Indexes


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, including brief backgrounds of the commentators and their philosophical leanings. 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.


The Duties of the Different varNas

Overall Conclusion: The Duties of the Different varNas

Chapter 18 is the concluding chapter of the Gita and, as such, is considered a chapter in which all the arguments of the previous 17 chapters are summarized and emphasized. In Part IV, Krishna talked about how he created the four varNas of society in accordance with the pre-natal guNas of AtmAs, which resulted from the actions of jIvas that the AtmAs had occupied in previous births. In Part V, Krishna talked about the characteristics of the three guNas: sattva, rajas, and tamas; the way they bind to the jIva; their effect on the actions of the jIva; and how having certain guNas result in births in certain varNas. Krishna explained how an AtmA steeped in sattva gains birth as a Brahmin; an AtmA that is rajas-dominated gains birth as a Kshatriya; an AtmA with a combination of rajas and tamas, but with rajas dominating, gains birth as a Vaishya; and an AtmA with a combination of rajas and tamas, but with tamas dominating, gains birth as a Shudra.

In these nine shlOkas, eight of which are from Chapter 18, and one from Chapter 3 but mirroring one of these eight shlOkas, Krishna describes the duties of the four resulting varNas.

Verse 18-41

The rest of the shlOkas in this part of the series deal with exactly what duties are appropriate to which varNa and why; but this shlOka tells us in no uncertain terms that varNa is birth-based.

In 18-41 (brAhmaNa-kshatriya-vishAm shUdrANAm ca parantapa; karmANi pravibhaktAni svabhAva-prabhavaihi guNaihi), Krishna explains that the duties of the four varNas are clearly divided according to the qualities born of their own nature. This is a very important shlOka, because it completes the karma-guNa-varNa-dharma linkage: Actions (karmas) in millions of births give rise to guNas (qualities) in AtmAs (sAttvik actions strengthen the sattva guNa and tAmasik actions strengthen the tamas guNa in a person, for instance); a person’s guNas at the time of death give rise to their next births in varNas (birth-based professional categories) appropriate to those guNas; and professional duties (dharmas) are allotted appropriately to varNas, keeping in mind the guNas of the individual AtmAs who populate those varNas. The rest of the shlOkas in this part of the series deal with exactly what duties are appropriate to which varNa and why; but this shlOka tells us in no uncertain terms that varNa is birth-based.

The commentaries of all the AcAryas are remarkably consistent in the interpretation of this shlOka, and that interpretation is consistent with what Krishna has said in other parts of the Gita. It might be enough to simply mention what Adi Shankara says for this shlOka, for its sheer elegance:

But “divided” by what standard? According to the qualities (guNas) born of nature. Nature (svabhAva) is God’s prakRuti, the mAyA made up of the three guNas. It is in accordance with the guNas of the prakRuti that duties—such as serenity and the like—are assigned to the Brahmanas, etc. respectively.

Or to explain in another way: The source of the Brahmana’s nature (svabhAva) is the guNa of sattva; the source of the Kshatriya's nature is rajas and sattva, the latter being subordinate to the former; the source of the Vaishya's nature is rajas and tamas, the latter being subordinate to the former; the source of the Shudra's nature is tamas and rajas, the latter being subordinate to the former.

Or to interpret in yet another way:—Nature (svabhAva) is the tendency (samskAra, vAsana) in living beings acquired by them in the past births, and manifesting itself in the present birth by way of being ready to yield its effects; and this nature is the source of the guNas, it being impossible for the guNas to manifest themselves without a cause. The assertion that nature (samskAra, vAsana) is the cause (of the guNas) means that it is a kind of specific cause. The duties, such as serenity, are assigned to the four classes in accordance with the guNas of sattva, rajas and tamas, which are brought into manifestation by their respective natural tendencies, and which lead to those duties as their natural effects.

This verse clearly institutionalizes discrimination based on varNa.

In other words, the duties that are specified in the following verses are exclusive: a professional duty meant for a Brahmin must be done by a Brahmin alone; one meant for a Kshatriya must be done by a Kshatriya alone; one meant for a Vaishya must be done by a Vaishya alone; and one meant for a Shudra must be done by a Shudra alone.

This is not a recommendation; it is a rule.

This verse clearly institutionalizes discrimination based on varNa. Until this point, we have talked about how people take birth in different varNas because of the guNas their AtmAs are attached to. But now we begin to see the consequence of this varNa separation – and that consequence is the fact that the Gita separates professional duties in the world based on which varNa one is born in. Again, as Shankara puts it:

The word “divided” is used because the duties are allotted to each class, and are different from those pertaining to the other classes.

In other words, the duties that are specified in the following verses are exclusive: a professional duty meant for a Brahmin must be done by a Brahmin alone; one meant for a Kshatriya must be done by a Kshatriya alone; one meant for a Vaishya must be done by a Vaishya alone; and one meant for a Shudra must be done by a Shudra alone. This is not a recommendation; it is a rule. And the justification for this rule is that the AtmAs of different individuals are only competent to perform certain duties because of the guNas attached to them. And the reason the guNas are the way they are is because of the past actions of the AtmA in its various jIvas. As Shridhara says in his commentary to 18-41:

…the duties of the different classes of Vedic society: Brahmana, or priestly class; Kshatriya, or royal and warrior class; Vaishya, or agricultural and mercantile class; and Shudra, or menial worker class, which is the only one not qualified to take part in any Vedic activity, as it serves the other three classes. The duties enjoined for all the classes are clearly delineated and itemised, with distinct divisions. The typical duties of all the four classes are described, according to the predominating influence of the three guNas which manifest themselves in their corresponding natures. These are determined by the tendencies acquired in past lives and the impressions from the attendant karma, or reactions to actions.

It is also important to mention another observation that Shankara makes, which Jnaneshwar also, echoes, which is that the way this shlOka is composed is deliberate in the way that it separates the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaishyas in one hyphenation, and the Shudras as an addition. This is no accident, as Shankara puts it:

Shudras are separated from others—who are all mentioned together in one compound word—because Shudras are of one birth and are debarred from the study of the Vedas.

The statement about Shudras being debarred from studying the Vedas puts paid to one common defence of the caste system, which is the suggestion that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra are simply markers to indicate a person’s qualities (guNas) after he is born – that is to say, you are not a Shudra because of which family you are born in, but because of what qualities you display. This line of argument continues to say that your innate qualities come out as you grow up, and so if you are brave, and like risk-taking and fighting, you gravitate towards the army, and hence you must have a lot of rajas in you, and are therefore a Kshatriya. And likewise if you gravitate towards politics. If you are academically inclined, then it can be deduced that you are probably strongly endowed with sattva, and hence you are a Brahmin. If you are very good at money matters, then you must have a mixture of rajas and tamas, and so you become a businessman because you are, by the qualities you display, a Vaishya. And if you are stupid and cannot learn anything properly because of your poor intellect, it probably means that your soul is full of tamas, and therefore you are actually a Shudra.

The statement about Shudras being debarred from studying the Vedas puts paid to one common defence of the caste system, which is the suggestion that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra are simply markers to indicate a person’s qualities (guNas) after he is born – that is to say, you are not a Shudra because of which family you are born in, but because of what qualities you display.

This logic falls apart because of the prohibition on study of the Vedas, among other things. One must remember that in Vedic times, this was the only education a person had – his spiritual education. Any secular education (for instance, arithmetic) was adjunct to the spiritual education.

Today we have universal education for everyone in India, regardless of his or her caste or religion. But, as we rightly celebrate that achievement, we must remember that that achievement is not a product of Hindu culture, which specifically denied education to several categories of people – those outside the three varNas of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas; and women.

The fact that women and the lower castes even get an education in India today is due not to Hinduism, but to the civilizing effects of democracy and civil rights agitations by people like Jyotirao Phule and Ambedkar.

This logic falls apart because of the prohibition on study of the Vedas, among other things. One must remember that in Vedic times, this was the only education a person had – his spiritual education. Any secular education (for instance, arithmetic) was adjunct to the spiritual education.

Today we have universal education for everyone in India, regardless of his or her caste or religion. But, as we rightly celebrate that achievement, we must remember that that achievement is not a product of Hindu culture, which specifically denied education to several categories of people – those outside the three varNas of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas; and women. The fact that women and the lower castes even get an education in India today is due not to Hinduism, but to the civilizing effects of democracy and civil rights agitations by people like Jyotirao Phule and Ambedkar.

We can all agree that is quite impossible to understand with certainty what an infant or even a small child’s “innate qualities” are. One would have to wait several years – maybe until the child is 7, 8 or even 10 years old – before one can begin to understand what his characteristics are – whether he is quick of mind; whether he is brave; whether he is adept at commerce; or whether he is dull and lazy.

But if one has to be educated, one has to start quite early in life – probably by age 2 or 3, at most by age 5. Modern educational systems start the child in nursery at age 2, and then pre-school at ages 3 and 4, to start formal school at age 5 or 6. Whether the ancients had a similar formal system or not, a lot of early education occurs informally at a very early age, even at home, as the child is taught from infancy the customs of his varNa and the Vedic customs he is expected to follow in future life.

So the prohibition on Vedic learning begins very early in life. A Shudra is actually barred from even listening to the Vedas. The reason is the same as the prohibition on formal learning of the Vedas for Shudras. The assumption is that the soul of the Shudra is dominated by tamas, the mode of ignorance; and hence, even if he learns or hears something, he will understand the wrong meaning from it. Due to his stupidity, he will misunderstand the Vedas and use his faulty knowledge to cause evil instead of good. An example of this is superstition, which is caused by faulty understanding. As Keshava Kashmiri says,

The Brahmins (the priestly class), the Kshatriyas (the royal warrior class), and the Vaishyas (the mercantile and agricultural class) are all spoken of in unison because only they have the right to initiation, making them qualified to study the Vedic scriptures, engage in yajnas or ritualistic propitiation and worship. The Shudra or servant class are mentioned separately, as they have not the qualification for initiation and study of the Vedic scriptures, but are factually the product of their own innate natures.

To study the Vedic scriptures and perform yajna, the prerequisite of initiation essential and required. A Shudra is a fourth-class citizen, who may perform unauthorised activities without sin, because they are only once born from the womb, not twice born by the spiritual master. It is prohibited in the Vedic scripture to initiate a Shudra. If done, it will bring calamity upon the spiritual master, his dynasty and the whole kingdom. There are direct references in the Vedic scriptures prohibiting Shudras from initiation. Such passages as: The Shudra carries the dead body to the cremation ground that is a Shudra; and if a Shudra hears a mantra, his ears should be filled with wax, if he recites a mantra, his tongue should be cut out, and if he memorises a mantra, his life should be taken. So it can be understood that in ancient times the prohibitions of a Shudra were strictly enforced.

Similarly, Madhvacharya says in his commentary on 18-48,

The Shudras are prohibited from studying the Vedic scriptures, and thus their duty is to offer service to the other classes as a donation or for remuneration.

In the same commentary, Madhvacharya offers some insight to some flexibility in the varNa system, but again reiterates the low status of Shudras:

In times of adversity, Brahmins may perform occupations ordained for Kshatriyas or even Vaishyas. But the Shudras are never permitted to perform the occupations of the Kshatriyas or Brahmins. Kshatriyas, in adversity, may perform the occupation of a Vaishya and, in extreme cases, even the rites of the Brahmins, but they are prohibited to beg for their food. Vaishyas, in times of adversity, may only accept the occupations of Shudras and no other, and become carpenters, blacksmiths, etc., which are known as the occupations of Shudras. The Shudras sometimes must accept the occupation of Vaishyas, but they are prohibited from any endeavour to study the Vedic scriptures.

Is it even remotely conceivable that a Brahmin would think that the son born to him may actually have the guNa of tamas and, therefore, not be fit to learn the Vedas?

If a Brahmana's son turned out to be a stupid, lazy child, would he then say, “My son is by character a Shudra, and so he cannot learn the Vedas; he has to end up being a cobbler or a tailor or a sweeper?” Would he, until that age, prevent his son from hearing him chant the Vedas in his daily rituals, because it is a sin for a Shudra to hear the Vedas?

Now, is it even remotely conceivable that a Brahmin would think that the son born to him may actually have the guNa of tamas and, therefore, not be fit to learn the Vedas? Is it remotely conceivable, in any Hindu society, at any point of time, be that today or 3000 years ago, that a Brahmin father would, therefore, wait until his son turned 5 or 8 or 10 to determine what the underlying dominant guNa of his son is? And, consequently, if his son turned out to be a stupid, lazy child, would he then say, “My son is by character a Shudra, and so he cannot learn the Vedas; he has to end up being a cobbler or a tailor or a sweeper?” Would he, until that age, prevent his son from hearing him chant the Vedas in his daily rituals, because it is a sin for a Shudra to hear the Vedas? And, following his discovery, since Shudras must not live with Brahmins (lest they might accidentally hear the Vedas), and since their duty is only to serve, would he send his son to live with other Shudras and do menial tasks from then on? Is that remotely possible?

Likewise, is it remotely possible that a Shudra, once his son turns 5, 8 or 10, decides he is worthy of being a Kshatriya or a Brahmin, and takes him to a Brahmin’s home, and gets him accepted as a Brahmin because he seems very intelligent? Even if people in this ideal society were so open-minded, how will it work? How can a child be taken care of by someone other than his own parents? How can you defy human nature?

It is one thing to say that everyone gets an equal shot at education and then say that their inherent qualities will decide their professions. It is quite something else to decide at birth that someone is unworthy of education because his fundamental quality is that of tamas, or ignorance. The decision is, essentially, made at birth, and this is one more reason why the caste system is birth-based.

Moreover, the verses in Chapter 13 and 14 (13-22, 14-14, and 14-15) make it abundantly clear that one need not even guess his son’s guNa. A Brahmin does not need to worry that his son may have tamas as his dominant guNa. This is because, as Krishna says in 13-22,

...the beguiling infatuation of these three modes of material nature is the cause of a being’s innumerable births, superior and inferior, in the wombs of variegated life-forms.

It is one thing to say that everyone gets an equal shot at education and then say that their inherent qualities will decide their professions.

It is quite something else to decide at birth that someone is unworthy of education because his fundamental quality is that of tamas, or ignorance.

The decision is, essentially, made at birth, and this is one more reason why the caste system is birth-based.

The implication is that one is not born into a Brahmin womb unless one has earned it, by having sattva guNa in abundance – and thus there is absolutely no possibility that the child of a Brahmin man and woman will ever have a soul that is not steeped in sattva guNa. And this is why it is not necessary to verify if a child has the guNa appropriate for the varNa he is born into – he does so by default. The very reason he is born into a Brahmin family is that his soul is endowed with the sattva guNa. And the very reason a Shudra baby is born to a Shudra couple is that his soul is unclean – it is dominated by tamas guNa, and only a Shudra birth is appropriate for that soul. As Ramanuja says in his commentary on 18-41,

The word svabhAva means one's inherent nature. This inherent nature arises from samskAras, or past impressions, and karma, or reactions from past actions, and is the root cause of determining birth as a Brahmin.

If Krishna's system is an accurate description of how the world works, which any Hindu who believes in the Gita should assume, it means that everyone who has ever been born in the home of a Brahmin, from time immemorial, has had a pure soul, an AtmA steeped in sattva - and this results in a jIva, an embodied soul, who only thinks pure thoughts, who spends his time in the worship of the Supreme, in learning and understanding the Vedas, and in teaching others - and has been this way from the time of his birth. Some Brahmins may make bad choices in their lives, and yield to vices, but the majority of them will be pure-souled. And any children born today to Brahmin ladies must also be of (relatively-speaking) pure AtmAs. And therefore, they are most suited to professions involving learning, teaching, the priesthood, etc. For such a child to be born in the home of a Kshatriya, a Vaishya, a Shudra, or a Dalit would contravene Krishna's own universal law, because that would mean a child would be born with certain guNas into a varNa that is unsuited to it.

The same would be true of a tamas-ridden AtmA. For such an AtmA to be born in the womb of a Brahmin mother would be a violation of Krishna's rules. The environment for such an unclean and impure AtmA is not the pure and virtuous atmosphere (in the ideal situation) of a Brahmin family: being dull, refractory to learning, superstitious, and hostile to the truth of the Vedas, such a child would not be able to successfully take up the traditional professions of the Brahmins - teaching, learning, and worship.

Birth-based discrimination is therefore the cornerstone of the Hindu system of rebirth as explained by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Hindus who believe in the teachings of Krishna must believe that those born as Brahmins have inherently better morals and intelligence than people in other varNas; that those born as Kshatriyas are inherently stronger, braver, and more decisive than those from other varNas; that those born as Vaishyas are better at handling money and agriculture than those from other professions; and those born as Shudras or lower than them (e.g., Dalits) are inherently ignorant, refractory to learning, evil, wicked, untrustworthy, and incapable of performing the duties of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas - for that is what it says in the Gita.

Birth-based discrimination is therefore the cornerstone of the Hindu system of rebirth as explained by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

Hindus who believe in the teachings of Krishna must believe that those born as Brahmins have inherently better morals and intelligence than people in other varNas; that those born as Kshatriyas are inherently stronger, braver, and more decisive than those from other varNas; that those born as Vaishyas are better at handling money and agriculture than those from other professions; and those born as Shudras or lower than them (e.g., Dalits) are inherently ignorant, refractory to learning, evil, wicked, untrustworthy, and incapable of performing the duties of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas - for that is what it says in the Gita.

There can be, and should be no doubt for a faithful Hindu that every Brahmin is a person with a sattva-dominated AtmA, and every Shudra is a person with a tamas-dominated AtmA, just to take the two extremes.

Because if that were not so, the system described by Krishna does not work, and since the system was created by Krishna, as he says in 4-13 (cAturvarNam mayA sRuShTam – created by Me), it must work correctly.

And because of that, both the Brahmin and the Shudra must only perform the duties that are prescribed by Krishna for their varNas.

There can be, and should be no doubt for a faithful Hindu that every Brahmin is a person with a sattva-dominated AtmA, and every Shudra is a person with a tamas-dominated AtmA, just to take the two extremes. Because if that were not so, the system described by Krishna does not work, and since the system was created by Krishna, as he says in 4-13 (cAturvarNam mayA sRuShTam – created by Me), it must work correctly. And because of that, both the Brahmin and the Shudra must only perform the duties that are prescribed by Krishna for their varNas.

As Ramanuja says again, in his commentary on 18-44:

The Brahmins, being naturally endowed with sattva guNa, the mode of goodness, are allotted with shamaha, or control of the mind, which bestows the purity required to perform Vedic rituals and ceremonies. Although qualified for initiation, this was not allocated to Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, due to them having a preponderance of raja guNa, the mode of passion, and tama guNa, the mode of ignorance, which are not compatible with shamaha.

Similarly, Jnaneshwar says in his commentary on the same verse:

And to serve the three twice-born castes, viz. the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, is the function of the Shudra. It is not within the competence of the Shudras to go beyond service of the twice-born.

The three verses that follow 18-41 simply clarify what the duties of the different varNas are, in consonance with their guNa makeup.

Verse 18-42

Krishna explains the duties of the Brahmins in 18-42 (shamO damas tapaha shaucam kshAntir Arjavam Eva ca; jnAnam vijnAnam Astikyam brahma-karma svabhAva-jam): serenity; self-control; austerity; purity; tolerance; honesty; knowledge of the Vedas; wisdom; and firm faith in God. Because a Brahmana’s AtmA is supposed to be loaded with sattva, it makes sense that he pursues professions which have to do with learning, devotion, and purity.

Verse 18-43

Krishna explains the duties of the Kshatriyas in 18-43 (shauryam tEjO dhRutir dAkshyam yuddhE cApi apalAyanam; dAnam Ishvara-bhAvashca kshAtram karma svabhAva-jam): heroism; exuberance; determination; resourcefulness; no trace of cowardice in battle; generosity; and leadership. Because a Kshatriya’s AtmA is assumed to be dominated by rajas (passion/activity/dynamism), it makes sense that he pursues a profession that deals with bravery and leadership, like being a soldier or ruling a kingdom.

Verse 18-44

The duties of the Vaishyas are described in 18-44 (kRushi-gau-rakshya-vANijyam vaishya-karma svabhAva-jam) as agriculture, cow protection, and trade. Because a Vaishya’s AtmA has, according to Krishna, a mixture of rajas and tamas, it makes sense that he pursues professions related to trade, agriculture, and the making of money. Because the Vaishya varNa is entrusted with the profession of agriculture, they are also given the responsibility of cow protection.

The only duties of the Shudra, Krishna explains in 18-44 (paricaryAtmakam karma shUdrasyApi svabhAva-jam), is service to the other three varNas. Because a Shudra’s AtmA has a dominance of tamas, according to Krishna’s theory of guNas, he is generally unfit for any of the three varNas before him, he is equipped only to serve the other three varNas.

Krishna reiterates in every verse that all these duties are a consequence of the inborn nature of individuals, which they have acquired due to past samskAras and karmas, because of which their AtmAs are endowed with certain guNas (the implication of Krishna’s use of the phrase svabhAva-jam: “born of his own nature.”)

Therefore, at birth, a child is born into a family of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, or Dalits (extreme levels of tamas), depending on the level of sattva associated with his soul. Those souls with the highest levels of sattva are born as Brahmins, and then the aforementioned other varNas in decreasing order of sattva guNa. And that birth commits that child in the future, as an adult, to only be able to pursue certain professions, because his AtmA is considered unfit for other professions because of the guNas attached to it.

Verses 18-45 and 18-46

Krishna explains in 18-45 (svE svE karmaNyabhirataha samsiddhim labhatE naraha; sva-karma-nirataha siddhim yathA vindati tacchRuNu) and 18-46 (yataha pravRuttir bhUtAnAm yEna sarvam idam tatam; sva-karmaNA tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati mAnavaha) that the path to mOksha consists in each person performing his divinely ordained varNa-related duty faithfully, and performing it not for the material benefits such duties may confer upon him, but as an offering to God. The teaching here follows the general philosophy of nishkAma karma that is reiterated several times in the Gita, but also emphasizes that to attain mOksha, one must perform faithfully his prescribed duties – and only the duties prescribed for his varNa.

Verses 18-47 and 3-35

… each person must only do the duty that is ordained for him according to his birth, and therefore his varNa (sva-dharmaha); even if he can do another varNa’s duty (para-dharmaha) perfectly (svanuShThitAt), he should not do it. Krishna says that one’s own duty done imperfectly is superior to another’s, done perfectly.

This is a very important shlOka, and it showcases the rigidity of the varNa system.

The idea of everyone performing only the duties prescribed for them in the Gita is reinforced in 18-47 (shrEyAn sva-dharmO viguNaha para-dharmAt svanuShThitAt; svabhAva-niyatam karma kurvan nApnOti kilbiSham) and 3-35 (shrEyAn sva-dharmO viguNaha para-dharmAt svanuShThitAt; svadharmE nidhanam shrEyaha paradharmO bhayAvahaha), which explain that each person must only do the duty that is ordained for him according to his birth, and therefore his varNa (sva-dharmaha); even if he can do another varNa’s duty (para-dharmaha) perfectly (svanuShThitAt), he should not do it. Krishna says that one’s own duty done imperfectly is superior to another’s, done perfectly.

This is a very important shlOka, and it showcases the rigidity of the varNa system. Why does Krishna prefer a person to do his own duty imperfectly rather than doing someone else’s duty perfectly? If one can do another’s duty perfectly, does it not imply that he possesses a natural aptitude for that duty? Might that not be his natural duty? Krishna gives the reason: svabhAva-niyatam karma kurvan nApnOti kilbiSham, meaning that there is no sin incurred in the performance of one’s own duty. But what does this really mean? How might one incur sin in performing another varNa’s duty? Keshava Kashmiri gives the answer in his commentary to 18-47:

Because the natural propensity inherent within is always accurate, it behoves one to perform prescribed Vedic activities unto the Supreme Lord, as this leads to the highest perfection. Such activities should be performed consistently for securing one's own best interests. Thus, Lord Krishna alludes to with the word shrEyAn, meaning better, for it is better to perform one’s own duty with the intention to propitiate the Supreme Lord, even if devoid of merit or deficient in some way; it is still superior to performing the duties of another, even if done exemplary.

So the answer to the question of why one must not follow his heart and do what he is good at is, as Keshava Kashmiri says, “because the natural propensity inherent within is always accurate.” In other words, this is about dogma versus commonsense. If someone is born in a Shudra family, but has a natural love for learning and an aptitude for it, he is told to ignore it, because the aptitude he feels cannot be real. Shudras are supposed to have tAmasik AtmAs, and so a Shudra cannot possibly have an affinity for learning, knowledge, reason, and so on. Even if one succeeds in the short run in a dharma that is not prescribed for one’s varNa, he will fail in the long run, as it is not appropriate to the guNas that he has earned by birth as a Shudra.

Ramanuja gives an explanation that is specific to Arjuna's situation, where the choice for Arjuna is between karma yOga - doing his own divinely-ordained varNa-based duty as a Kshatriya and killing his relatives in the line of duty - and jnAna yOga - performing the divinely-ordained duty of a Brahmin, giving up fighting, going to the forest and meditate on the Supreme - and in the process avoiding killing his relatives. For Arjuna, this seems to be a very good way out of his dilemma. The explanation that Ramanuja gives, although specific to Arjuna's case, explains a lot about this verse:

Perfection in jnAna yOga demands the consistent ability to completely control the mind and conquer the senses, which is a lifetime endeavour and fraught with danger of lapses in constancy. So karma yOga is more fortuitous, as the risks are minimal, and chances for succeeding are greater, even though jnAna yOga is on a superior platform. A jIva, or embodied being, ensconced in a physical body with an appropriate mind and senses, finds it normal to act in accordance with the natural impulses instigated by the senses. This is karma yOga, and fulfilling activities in this manner, if they do not contradict the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures or disregard the prohibitions thereof incur no sin, for actions speak for themselves. Whereas in jnAna yOga, once control of the mind and mastery of the senses has been achieved, they must be kept controlled and mastered, otherwise one will fall down from their position and be subjected again to mundane desires and the influence of objects through the senses, which propel one to sin and lock one in samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death. So, by clearly elucidating the fact that karma yOga is indeed safer and more assured of success, Lord Krishna further corroborates what He previously had promulgated in chapter three. (i.e., 3-35)

This explains what Krishna means by "incurring sin" in the performance of someone else's duty, as well as what he means by saying that doing another's duty is "fraught with danger," as he does in 3-35. What Ramanuja is saying is that while Arjuna may be able to perform the duty of jnAna yOga perfectly for a short time, he will not be able to keep the discipline demanded by jnAna yOga perfectly for his entire life - and that is because only Brahmins inherently possess the self-discipline, due to the sattva guNa attached to their AtmAs, to be able to follow jnAna yOga their entire lives without slipping up; Arjuna, as a Kshatriya, will be unable to maintain this discipline his entire life, even though he may temporarily master it, because his soul, as a Kshatriya, is fundamentally dominated by rajas, i.e., by activity and passion, and so he fundamentally lacks the self-discipline needed to master jnAna yOga for a lifetime.

The implication of Ramanuja's explanation is that the inborn guNas cannot be overcome - that in spite of one's best efforts, in the end, the guNas associated with a jIva, because of which he gains birth in a certain varNa, will always dominate his actions. Even for a person as disciplined and determined as Arjuna, the attainment of a Brahmana's character is impossible.

This verse is clearly written to discourage anyone who even thinks of transgressing his varNa limits.

The implication of Ramanuja's explanation is that the inborn guNas cannot be overcome - that in spite of one's best efforts, in the end, the guNas associated with a jIva, because of which he gains birth in a certain varNa, will always dominate his actions. Even for a person as disciplined and determined as Arjuna, the attainment of a Brahmana's character is impossible.

As Keshava Kashmiri says, in his commentary to 18-44,

The qualities of controlling the mind and senses, physical restraint of the body, etc. are commonly prescribed for all aspirants of mOksha, or liberation. They are naturally present in Brahmins, due to them being inherently predominated by sattva guNa.

This strengthens Ramanuja's interpretation of 18-47 and 3-35 as to the "dangers" of performing another's duty: one is attempting to perform a duty for which one simply is not equipped by nature, in the form of his guNas. Shridhara gives this explanation for 3-35:

One would perhaps like to switch their duties for another’s, but it is very risky, because the duties one was never trained for might not be as successful as the duty that one was well versed in.

The only possible explanation for Shridhara's commentary is Ramanuja's explanation mentioned above: one cannot be truly successful in the long term in another varNa's duties.

Shankara is more direct in his commentary on 3-35:

For a man to die doing his own duty, though devoid of merit, is better than for him to live doing the duty of another though perfectly performed. For, the duty of another leads to danger, such as hell (naraka).

Shankara brings out the sledgehammer. Do not do it because you will go to hell if you do. No means no. End of discussion.

Jnaneshwar gives a similar dogmatic explanation:

To try to follow alien dharmas, considered better than one's own, would be like making one's head do (the work of) walking which is meant for his legs to do.

The implication is that in spite of the words “another’s duty, perfectly done,” Jnaneshwar simply believes that such a thing is not possible. And his belief that such a thing is impossible is very reasonable if one accepts the theory of the guNas, because of which, a person is born only with certain pre-natal qualities. And so he cannot possibly achieve the duty of another varNa, which requires a different set of pre-natal qualities. That is why Jnaneshwar compares the performance of the duty of another varNa with trying to walk with one’s head.

This verse is clearly written to discourage anyone who even thinks of transgressing his varNa limits.

Verse 18-48

And finally, in 18-48 (saha-jam karma kauntEya sa-dOSham api na tyajEt; sarvArambhA hi doShENa dhUmEnAgnir ivAvRutAha), Krishna says that no one should grudge his varNa-based duties, even if he finds them objectionable or defective. He says that all duties have some defects, and so one should not use the excuse that one does not like one’s caste-based or varNa-based duty. Of course, from a practical standpoint, the last assertion (“all duties have some defects”) is simply not credible. A Shudra’s duties are far more unpleasant than that of a Brahmin’s, and endowed with very little social status; a Brahmin’s duties are far more pleasant, his pursuits are loftier, and he enjoys very high status in society. To say that there is no difference is disingenuous.

Summation

The only logical difficulty in this entire karma-guNa-varNa-dharma theory is that no one can actually verify what a person did in his previous life in order to verify the theory.

The conclusion from these shlOkas is that varNa, which is merely a superset of caste, is a birth-based division of labour. Those born into a certain varNa are assumed to deserve their birth because of their actions in past births, which supposedly leads to the dominance of certain guNas in their AtmAs. Their birth in those varNas is considered to be evidence of certain guNas present in them, and therefore certain duties are deemed appropriate for them, concordant with those guNas, and different from the duties of those in other varNas. The assignment of specific dharmas to specific varNas is a clear case of varNa discrimination, albeit with the justification of inborn guNas. Krishna makes it clear that one is not allowed to adopt the duties of another person’s varNa; he has to strictly follow the dharma of his own varNa. The duties of all varNas have some defect or another, says Krishna, so one must not complain about his duties being unfair.

The only logical difficulty in this entire karma-guNa-varNa-dharma theory is that no one can actually verify what a person did in his previous life in order to verify the theory. The assertion is accepted on faith because it has been stated by Krishna – and that is the source of dogma. Rather than the actions of one’s past life being verifiable, and hence, his present varNa being justified in a rigorous way, the reverse is done – his birth in the present life in a certain varNa is used to deduce that a person must have lived a certain kind of life in his past births.


Chapter 18, Verse 41

Original Sanskrit Shloka

ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशां शूद्राणां च परंतप।
कर्माणि प्रविभक्तानि स्वभावप्रभवैर्गुणैः।।

Transliteration

brAhmaNa-kshatriya-vishAm shUdrANAm ca parantapa
karmANi pravibhaktAni svabhAva-prabhavaihi guNaihi

Word-by-word Translation

parantapa – O Arjuna, subduer of enemies; karmANi – the activities; brAhmaNa-kshatriya-vishAm – of the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas; shUdrANAm ca – and Shudras; pravibhaktAni – are clearly divided; guNaihi – according to the qualities of their goodness, passion, and ignorance; svabhAva prabhavaihi – born of their own nature.

Free Translation

O Arjuna, the activities of the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras are clearly divided according to the qualities born of their own nature.

Commentaries

Shridhara

It could be postulated that if everything physical, such as actions, agent, agency, rewards, etc., are comprised of the three guNas or modes of material nature, then how is it possible for jIvas, or embodied beings, to achieve mOksha, or liberation from material existence? In order to resolve such speculations, the Bhagavad-Gita explains that jIvas can achieve mOksha either by knowledge from the Vedic scriptures, taught by the spiritual preceptor and with the grace of the Supreme Lord; or by performing prescribed Vedic activities, according to qualification and as a matter of duty; or by worshipping the Supreme Lord Krishna with bhakti or exclusive loving devotion.

Now, Lord Krishna commences a new theme with this verse, explaining the duties of the different classes of Vedic society: Brahmana, or priestly class; Kshatriya, or royal and warrior class; Vaishya, or agricultural and mercantile class; and Shudra, or menial worker class, which is the only one not qualified to take part in any Vedic activity, as it serves the other three classes. The duties enjoined for all the classes are clearly delineated and itemised, with distinct divisions. The typical duties of all the four classes are described, according to the predominating influence of the three guNas which manifest themselves in their corresponding natures. These are determined by the tendencies acquired in past lives and the impressions from the attendant karma, or reactions to actions. The Brahmins have a predominance of sattva guNa; the Kshatriyas a predominance of raja guNa with a little sattva guNa; the Vaishyas a mixture of raja guNa and tama guNa; and the Shudras a predominance of tama guNa and a little raja guNa.

Madhva

The word sattvam in the previous verse means the living entities. Those who have achieved mOksha, or liberation from material existence, are not held captive by the three guNas or modes of material nature, and are like demigods upon the Earth. Although they move freely in the material world, they are not bound by the defects of the material world, just as Vaishnava devotees living in a city are not bound by the sinful activities of the residents of the city. Among those situated in tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance, the ones most despicable are those who obscure the truth from the rest of humanity, hindering them from developing and evolving. These evil ones follow the path of darkness and sorcery, and offer sacrifices and pay homage to demons for material gains. These demons are situated in raja guNa, or the mode of passion, and are very powerful in the material existence, manipulating societies, religions, species, planets and even galaxies; but spiritually, these demons are just like retarded cripples, with no access to sattva guNa, the mode of goodness, and subsequently, higher consciousness. Any human who is situated in sattva guNa is impervious to them, and cannot be influenced or obstructed by the demons’ nefarious delusions.

The most advanced among all humans are the Vaishnava Brahmins who, by their internal potency, acquired by bhakti, or exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures, have the ability to free themselves from samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death, and can guide others to do the same.

Now begins the summation.

Among the pure ones situated in sattva guNa are those known as

  • paramahamsa, or one completely absorbed internally in relishing the sublime nectar of the holy names of Lord Krishna, realising that He is fully present when His transcendental names are chanted and sung;
  • parivrajAcArya, or one who joyously and extensively travels, preaching the sublime glories of Lord Krishna everywhere they go;
  • bahudaka, or one who dedicates their life to making pilgrimage exclusively to the holy places in India where Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations performed their pastimes; and
  • kuticaka, or one who practices renunciation in seclusion, continuously reflecting upon the Supreme Lord, and learning to depend only upon the Supreme Lord for everything.

These four are the divisions in the fully renounced order (AshRama) of life known as sannyAsa, which can only be awarded to males who have been initiated as Vaishnava Brahmins in one of the four authorised sampradAyas, or channels of disciplic succession, and none other.

Another order (AshRama) of life is that of brahmacArIs, or those who are in celibate devotion throughout their lives.

The order (AshRama) of vanaprastha can be adopted by males or females, and is the stage of life when husband and wife sever all physical connection and embrace only spiritual activities for the performance of bhakti to the Supreme Lord.

All of the preceding orders are completely celibate. The fourth order, the gRuhasta AshRama, is not celibate, and consists of married householder devotees who perform some devotion while taking care of family obligations. These four main AshRamas have been listed in descending level of sattva guNa; and to the degree that there is exposure to external influences, one becomes subjected to raja guNa, the mode of passion.

paramahamsas are known by their tranquillity, self-control and inherent righteousness. The demigods such as Brahma, Surya, Ganesh, etc. even though extremely passionate, rarely exhibit any signs of passion, because even when engaged in passionate acts, their minds are constantly in communion with the Supreme Lord. As far as the others are concerned, due to the fluctuating nature of their minds, their actions are usually equated with raja guNa, the mode of passion; yet when their minds are fixed upon the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, then they too can be considered situated in sattva guNa. Performing inquiry into the eternal principles of the Vedic scriptures, and performing prescribed ritualistic activities are the special attributes of the brahmacArIs aspiring for the ultimate truth. Assuming familial activities, maintaining a wife, and producing children are the symptoms of the gRuhastas. Becoming detached, giving up attachments to grown children and place of residence, along with all conceptions of father, mother, wife, husband, and wholly reflecting on the Supreme Lord are the expressions of vanaprasthas. For the sannyAsIs, the absolute equanimity expressed towards all living entities is the symbol of their advanced development.

The Brahmins, although situated firmly in sattva guNa, may possess a small degree of raja guNa; and Kshatriyas, though anchored in raja guNa, may have some qualities of sattva guNa, such as righteousness, as was exemplified by King Yudhishthira of the Pandavas. Vaishyas are mixed with both raja and tama guNas, and could have a slight amount of sattva guNa. Even Shudras, if exposed to good association, might be found to have a percentage or two of sattva guNa. Amongst those who are devoted to the Lord Krishna, such natural distinctions are obvious, as they are effulgent from within, being empowered by the Supreme Lord. Even those born in non-Brahmin dynasties, such as meat-eating mlEcchas and dog-eating cAndAlas, as well as barbarians and other outcastes, if they are purified by association with devotees, and initiated by a bonafide spiritual master from one of the four authorised sampradayas, then they are situated in sattva guNa and entitled to be devotees of the Supreme Lord. Yet those who, although having been born in Brahmin families and performing prescribed Vedic activities, are sceptical of the supremacy of Lord Krishna over all other gods, or consider other gods as equal to or superior to Lord Krishna, are situated in raja and tama guNas. Those who do not know the supremacy of Lord Krishna, and are indifferent to Him, are situated in tama guNa.

The pitrIs, or anscestors; the gandharvas, or celestial musicians and singers; the ancient ascetics; and the demigods – are all situated in sattva guNa and influenced by the three guNas, with each one more superior then the previous one. The demigods – Indra, the king of the heavenly planets; Brahma, the secondary creator of the material existence; and Shiva, the destroyer; are also situated in sattva guNa, each progressively superior to the previous one. Effulgent amongst even the effulgent is Sri Lakshmi, the expanded Shakti, or feminine energy, of every incarnation of the Supreme Lord Krishna, existing simultaneously as an eternal reality. Such progressive gradation exists even after mOksha is attained and everyone is eternally blissful, even though the three guNas, being material, do not exist in the spiritual worlds. After mOksha, when one attains the spiritual worlds, the gradation can be determined by how extensive the bliss is that one expresses, and by the location where one is exhibiting this bliss, such as vaikuNTha, svEtadvIpa, etc.

Among the best of jIvas situated in tama guNa are those who are neutral and indifferent to the Supreme Lord Krishna. The best of those in raja guNa are those who utilise their power and wealth in the service of the Supreme Lord Krishna. Since all jIvas possess an AtmA, or immortal soul, they are all, to some degree or other, connected to sattva guNa. It is just that some are more obscured then others. Some are so obscured that there is no sattva guNa visible. All are differentiated in classification according to the predominance of one of the three guNas. Spiritual intelligence and wisdom only manifest from sattva guNa. That is why it is stated in the Vedic scriptures that from sattva guNa arises spiritual wisdom, and those who have perfected such wisdom are candidates for redemption and achieve mOksha. Those who have failed descend in darkness to lower existences, while those who have not perfected, or failed in the attempt, remain suspended in samsAra for another lifetime.

Ramanuja

The word svabhAva means one's inherent nature. This inherent nature arises from samskAras, or past impressions, and karma, or reactions from past actions, and is the root cause of determining birth as a Brahmin. The three guNas, or modes of material nature, arising from prakRuti, or the material substratum, pervading all existence, are determined by karma and samskAras as well. The predominating attribute of the Brahmins or spiritual class is sattva guNa, the mode of goodness. The predominating characteristic of the Kshatriya, or administrative class, is raja guNa, the mode of passion. The predominating characteristic of the Vaishyas, or mercantile class, is tama guNa mixed with raja guNa, and the predominating characteristic of the Shudras is only tama guNa. Duties and responsibilities vary according to position and status in society, as assigned by the Vedic scriptures. It is the Vedic scriptures which defines what qualities are possessed by Brahmins and what duties are proper to their status, as well as what occupations they may engage in. This Vedic directive applies to the other orders in society as well.

Keshava Kashmiri

A point of contention may be raised that if all jIvas are categorised in one of the three modes (guNas), based on which of the three is predominant, then a jIva, for example, possessing the virtues that would situate one in sattva guNa, would have to enjoy the exquisite happiness of the heavenly planets with all of the rapturous but transitory pleasures of the celestial demigods, and mOksha will have eluded them. In such a situation how will they be delivered from samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death, and attain the bliss of mOksha? In order to respond to such a question, Lord Krishna specifically introduces the inherent qualifications of the Brahmins, as ordained by Vedic scriptures, along with their natural duties that are established upon the differentiated degree of goodness that they possess. This applies to raja and tama guNas as well, according to varNAshRama, or the status and stage of life in which one is situated. The prescribed activities enjoined in the Vedic scriptures are, by nature, dominated by the sattva guNa, if performed without self-motivation and for the exclusive satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. Then, as such, they confer tranquillity, wisdom and devotion, all of which lead to mOksha and herald the imminent attainment of communion with the Supreme Lord.

The Brahmins (the priestly class), the Kshatriyas (the royal warrior class), and the Vaishyas (the mercantile and agricultural class) are all spoken of in unison because only they have the right to initiation, making them qualified to study the Vedic scriptures, engage in yajnas or ritualistic propitiation and worship. The Shudra or servant class are mentioned separately, as they have not the qualification for initiation and study of the Vedic scriptures, but are factually the product of their own innate natures.

To study the Vedic scriptures and perform yajna, the prerequisite of initiation essential and required. A Shudra is a fourth-class citizen, who may perform unauthorised activities without sin, because they are only once born from the womb, not twice born by the spiritual master. It is prohibited in the Vedic scripture to initiate a Shudra. If done, it will bring calamity upon the spiritual master, his dynasty and the whole kingdom. There are direct references in the Vedic scriptures prohibiting Shudras from initiation. Such passages as: The Shudra carries the dead body to the cremation ground that is a Shudra; and if a Shudra hears a mantra, his ears should be filled with wax, if he recites a mantra, his tongue should be cut out, and if he memorises a mantra, his life should be taken. So it can be understood that in ancient times the prohibitions of a Shudra were strictly enforced.

But examples are cited in Vedic scriptures attesting to the fact that if it is discerned that a Shudra possesses the innate qualities of sattva guNa, then even he can be eligible to receive initiation, if this has been ascertained by the bonafide spiritual master.

There is a famous example in the jAvalOpanishad of even an outcaste, who is lower than a Shudra, humbly begging for initiation at the feet of the sage Gautama, who perfunctorily asked him who his father was. The outcaste boy did not know who his father was and told Gautama Rishi that he would have to ask his mother and come back. When he returned he confessed that his mother had told him that she had slept with many men before he was born and so she could not verify who his father was. Yet as unsavoury as the story was, because the outcaste boy had told the truth Gautama Rishi was pleased, and told him that total honesty is an undeniable virtue of sattva guNa, thus qualifying him to receive initiation. He immediately ordered him to shave his head, bathe and put on clean clothes, following which Gautama Rishi initiated him.

The innate characteristic of the Brahmins is the predominance of sattva guNa. That of a Kshatriya is the predominance of raja guNa, with some sattva guNa. That of a Vaishya is an equal portion of raja guNa and tama guNa, and that of a Shudra is a predominance of tama guNa with a little raja guNa.

Adi Shankara

Shudras are separated from others—who are all mentioned together in one compound word—because Shudras are of one birth and are debarred from the study of the Vedas. The word “divided” is used because the duties are allotted to each class, and are different from those pertaining to the other classes.

But, by what standard? According to the qualities (guNas) born of nature. Nature (svabhAva) is God’s prakRuti, the mAyA made up of the three guNas. It is in accordance with the guNas of the prakRuti that duties—such as serenity and the like—are assigned to the Brahmanas, etc. respectively.

Or to explain in another way: The source of the Brahmana’s nature (svabhAva) is the guNa of sattva; the source of the Kshatriya's nature is rajas and sattva, the latter being subordinate to the former; the source of the Vaishya's nature is rajas and tamas, the latter being subordinate to the former; the source of the Shudra's nature is tamas and rajas, the latter being subordinate to the former. For, as we see, the characteristic features of their nature are serenity, lordliness, activity, and dullness respectively.

Or to interpret in yet another way: Nature (svabhAva) is the tendency (samskAra, vAsana) in living beings, acquired by them in the past births, and manifesting itself in the present birth by way of being ready to yield its effects: and this nature is the source of the guNas, it being impossible for the guNas to manifest themselves without a cause. The assertion that nature (samskAra, vAsana) is the cause (of the guNas) means that it is a kind of specific cause. The duties, such as serenity, are assigned to the four classes in accordance with the guNas of sattva, rajas and tamas, which are brought into manifestation by their respective natural tendencies, and which lead to those duties as their natural effects.

Objection: The duties of Brahmanas, etc., are enjoined by the shAstra (scripture) and are assigned to them by the shAstra. How then can it be said that they are divided according to the sattva and other guNas?

Answer: There is no room here for any such objection. By the shAstra, too, are the duties—such as serenity assigned to the Brahmanas, etc., only in accordance with their respective guNas, such as sattva, but not independently of them. Wherefore, it is said that duties are assigned according to guNas, though it has also been said that they are assigned by the shAstra.

What then are those duties? The answer follows in the next few verses.

Jnaneshwar

If you ask me which the four castes are, the chief amongst them are the Brahmins (priests) in the forefront. Others are the Kshatriyas (warriors) and Vaishyas (producers and merchants), who are also as high in position as the Brahmins, being qualified to perform rituals as laid down in the Vedas. The fourth, O Arjuna, are the Shudras (menials) who are not qualified to act according to the Vedas and have therefore to be dependent on the three others for their living. But because the living of the Shudras is linked with the three other castes, they have been included in the caste system and are made the fourth caste. The shRuti scripture has owned the Shudras along with the twice-born (dvija) in the same way that the rich ones, while inhaling the fragrance of flowers (of a garland etc.) also smell the thread on which the flowers are woven. Such is, O Arjuna, the arrangement of the fourfold caste system.

I now tell you their respective functions, by performing which all these four castes escape the pair of scissors in the form of birth and death and attain Supreme Self (paramAtmA). The three guNa constituents, sattva and others, born of my prakRuti, have distributed in four lots the functions amongst the four castes. The father divides his self-acquired property amongst his sons; the sun shows the different ways to different wayfarers; and the master assigns several duties to his servants. In the same way, the guNa constituents born of the prakRuti have made the distribution of the duties among the four. The sattva quality has put under its supremacy the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, and has divided itself in two equal halves assigning one to each of the two. The Vaishyas have been assigned to sattva and rajas combined together, while the Shudras (have been assigned to) rajas and tamas combined together. In this way, know that the three guNa constituents divide into four distinct castes the entire human order constituting one single group.

The scriptures show in detail the different functions covered by the three guNas, in the way objects kept in the dark are found in lamp light. Now I proceed to explain the respective proper functions of those castes, and you, the fortunate one (lit., the storehouse of good luck), do hear them.

Overall Meaning

Krishna says that the duties of the different varNas – the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras are distinct, and are due to their inborn qualities (“qualities born of their own nature.”)

This is a very important verse, and the various AcAryas have therefore given it much attention.

An important point is the use of the word “divided,” as the AcAryas have commented. This word has been used very precisely, to indicate that the duties are not shared – they are divided and hence mutually exclusive. A Brahmana cannot do the prescribed professional duties of a Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra – he cannot become a soldier, a king, a merchant, a farmer, or for that matter a cobbler (not that he would care to become the last-mentioned); a Kshatriya can only be a soldier – he cannot become a priest or a teacher, or a merchant or farmer; a Vaishya can only be a farmer or a merchant – he cannot become a priest, a teacher, a warrior, or a ruler; and a Shudra cannot become a member of any of the higher professions mentioned here – he is restricted to service occupations like being a cobbler, a carpenter, a mason, a sweeper, and so on. Thus, this shlOka clearly mandates varNa-based discrimination because of a belief in the inherent qualities of people based on their birth.

And why is this so? Because, as the verse says, of the “qualities born of their own nature.” This shlOka ties together the different pieces of Hindu philosophy together that have been mentioned in the Gita so far. It highlights the linkages between karmas, guNas, varNas, and dharmas. We already know, from the discussions in Part V, the effect of the guNas on AtmAs and karmas and the effect of karmas on guNas. It is a two-way interaction. karmas of a certain kind lead to guNas of a certain kind; and guNas of a certain kind lead to the same kind of karmas as those that gave rise to them. The table below explains things very well.

karmas Shown   ⇒ ⇐   guNas   ⇒ ⇒   varNas   ⇒ ⇒   dharmas
Learning, Piety, Honesty sattva guNa Brahmin Priest, Teacher
Bravery, Leadership, Generosity rajas guNa, with some sattva Kshatriya Soldier, King
Business Acumen, Skill with Numbers, Farming Skills rajas guNa and tamas guNa, combined Vaishya Farmer, Businessman
Indifference to Learning, Laziness, Lack of Initiative tamas guNa, with some rajas Shudra Servant, Cobbler, Barber, Carpenter, etc.

In the table, note that the arrows between guNas and karmas are two-way, but the other arrows are one-way: guNa to varNa and varNa to dharma. We know from the verses discussed in Part V that the guNas of a person are decided by his karmas in his past lives, and are inherent in him from the time of his birth - and guNas also influence a person's karmas in the present life in the same way. So a person who has done sAttvik things in the past is born as a Brahmin, and because of this, he has a propensity to do sAttvik things – it is a self-perpetuating cycle. The same is true of Kshatriyas and rAjasik things, and so on. But varNa and dharma are derived attributes: one gains a varNa only because his AtmA is attached to certain guNas, and one is tasked with certain dharmas only because he is born in certain varNas - not the other way around.

Since the system has been designed by the Almighty Krishna himself, it must work correctly, which means that anyone who is born as a Brahmin must be endowed with sattva guNa; and, by the same token, anyone who is born as a Shudra must be dominated by tamas guNa. And therefore they are only fit for those duties that correspond to those guNas. Thus, a Brahmin is fit only for teaching, learning the Vedas, worshipping the Divine, and so on; while a Kshatriya is fit only for being a soldier and a ruler; a Vaishya is fit only for doing agriculture and business; and a Shudra is fit only for servitude. The exact duties are mentioned in detail in the verses that follow, but this is the core philosophy of the Gita.

Chapter 18, Verse 42

Original Sanskrit Shloka

शमो दमस्तपः शौचं क्षान्तिरार्जवमेव च।
ज्ञानं विज्ञानमास्तिक्यं ब्रह्मकर्म स्वभावजम्।।

Transliteration

shamO damas tapaha shaucam kshAntir Arjavam Eva ca
jnAnam vijnAnam Astikyam brahma-karma svabhAva-jam

Word-by-word Translation

brahma-karma – the actions of a Brahmana; svabhAva-jam – arising from his own nature are; shamaha – serenity; damaha – self-control; tapaha – austerity; shaucam – purity; kshAntihi – tolerance; Arjavam eva – honesty; jnAnam – knowledge of the Vedas; vijnAnam – wisdom; Astikyam – and firm faith.

Free Translation

The actions of a Brahmana, arising from his own nature, are serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge of the Vedas, wisdom, and firm faith.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The natural duties of a Brahmin, or priestly class, are given by Lord Krishna. Serenity is control of the mind. Self-control is control of the impulses of the external senses. Purity is internal and external cleanliness. Forbearance is forgiveness. Straightforwardness means being without duplicity. Knowledge is understanding of the Vedic scriptures. Realization is experience of direct cognition. Faith is the conviction that the Supreme Lord Krishna is the supreme controller of all. All these duties of Brahmins are born of their nature in sattva guNa, the mode of goodness.

Ramanuja

The natural duties appropriate for the Brahmins, the priestly class, are the following:

  1. shamaha is control of the inner sense, the mind.
  2. damaha is restraint of the external senses.
  3. tapas is austerity of the body as prescribed in Vedic scriptures, such as fasting.
  4. shaucam is purity, sanctifying oneself to perform Vedic-ordained duties.
  5. kshAntihi is forbearance, maintaining composure from provocation of others.
  6. Arjavam is uprightness, expressing to others what one thinks, without duplicity.
  7. jnAnam is knowledge of the Vedic scriptures.
  8. vijnAnam is realising the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures.
  9. Astikam is absolute, irreversible faith in the veracity of the Vedic scriptures, which is impervious to any attempt to dissuade it.

Such a resolute conviction is aware that:

  1. The Supreme Lord Krishna is the ultimate creator, maintainer and sustainer of all creation; He is localised within every living being throughout all existence as paramAtmA the omnipresent, supreme soul; His all-pervasive impersonal aspect is the Brahman, the spiritual substratum pervading all existence; and His personal sound frequency is the transcendental sound vibration Om.
  2. The Supreme Lord Krishna and any of His authorised incarnations, as revealed in Vedic scriptures, are the indomitable antitheses to all that is evil and unrighteous.
  3. The Supreme Lord Krishna and His incarnations possess unlimited, glorious attributes and resplendent qualities, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, full power, full beauty, full cognizance, full renunciation, full opulence, etc., which are eternal and transcendental.
  4. The Supreme Lord Krishna is the sole object to be known in Vedic scriptures.
  5. He is the sole cause of all creation.
  6. He is the sole foundation of all creation.
  7. He is the Supreme controller of all creation.
  8. All prescribed Vedic activities enjoined to perform are variations of His worship.
  9. Worshipped as such, He confers blessings on humans according to their deeds.

This reality has already been evidenced in verses throughout Srimad Bhagavad-Gita such as: In chapter 5, verse 29: “One who understands that Lord Krishna is the supreme controller of all achieves liberation.” In chapter 7, verse 6: “Lord Krishna is the sole cause of creation and destruction of all existence,” and in verse 7: “There is nothing superior to Lord Krishna. All creation is dependent upon Him.” In chapter 10, verse 3: “One who knows Lord Krishna is the supreme controller of all the worlds is not deluded among mortals,” and in verse 8: “The wise know that Lord Krishna is the source of both the material and the spiritual worlds.” In chapter 15, verse 15: “Lord Krishna is the supreme soul within the heart of all living entities. By the Vedas alone He is to be known,” and in chapter 18, verse 46: “As everything is pervaded by Him, one attains perfection from performing prescribed Vedic activities to Lord Krishna.” In this way this topic has been well evidenced.

Keshava Kashmiri

Lord Krishna first elaborates on the duties of Brahmins according to their respective natures based upon the inherent quality of sattva guNa, the mode of goodness:

  1. Having control of the mind and senses.
  2. Engaging in austerities such as fasting and restraint, as enjoined in Vedic scriptures.
  3. Having external purity by being physically clean, and internal purity by freedom from desire and animosity.
  4. Forgiving those who have been ungrateful and hateful.
  5. Being devoid of duplicity.
  6. Having mutual concordance in body, speech and mind.
  7. Having firm, unshakeable faith in the Vedic scriptures.
  8. Having knowledge of what is real and what is illusory. Realizing the essence of the Vedic scriptures by understanding the actual non-contradictory conclusions of the seemingly contradictory anomalies in various Vedic scriptures.

Such are the duties of Brahmins.

Jnaneshwar
  1. The peaceful state of the intellect which, grasping in its hand the sense-tendencies, meets the soul in private, in the way a wedded wife does (meet) her husband. That peaceful state is called the peace of mind (shama), and all actions (of a Brahmin) have their origin in this quality.
  2. The second (quality) is the restraint of the senses, which keeps under proper control the unruly organs of actions, with the help of the rod in the form of scriptural mandates, and always prevents them from turning to irreligious (forbidden) matters. This restraint of senses (dama) helps the holy peace of mind in all actions, and through it all actions take place according to (the doer's own) religion.
  3. That quality, on account of which there remains ever fresh in mind the memory of God, with the vigilance with which the flame of the burning wick in a lamp is carefully watched (note: It is considered to be an evil omen if perchance the flame of the wick in the lamp is extinguished during that night) on the sixth night (dedicated to the worship of saTavI) of child-birth—is austerity (tapa), the third quality which is traced in all actions (of a Brahmin).
  4. Similarly there is found in the actions, the sinless purity (shucitva): it is two-fold, viz., the mind is full of pure thoughts, while the body is ornamented with good actions, thus making the life pure internally and externally—that state is called “purity,” O Arjuna, and that is the fourth quality found in actions (of a Brahmin).
  5. Now, that all-enduring power, like that of the earth, is called forbearance (kshamA), O Arjuna, and it is the fifth quality, just as sweet and pleasant as the pancama —the fifth – amongst the seven notes in music.
  6. Even though the water course of the holy Ganges be crooked, the water flows straight towards the sea; or even though there be crookedness or bends at the joints of a sugar-cane, yet the sweetness is the same all over. In the same way, to behave in a straight-forward way, even though (other) beings be of adverse tendencies, is what is called “straightforwardness” (Arjava), and it is the sixth quality in the actions (of a Brahmin).
  7. A gardener waters a tree and ceaselessly labours at its base, in the full knowledge that his labours are to be rewarded by the tree bearing fruit. In the same way, knowing well that the performance of actions, strictly according to the scriptural enjoinments, is only for the sake of attaining the Supreme, is what is here called “knowledge” (jnAna) and it is the seventh quality found in the actions (of a Brahmin).
  8. Next comes the “realization” (vijnAna), whose nature is as follows: when steadfast intellect is unified with the essence of God on the strength of the knowledge of the scriptures, or through spiritual meditation, sattva quality being totally purged of the dross adhering to it in the form of rajas and tamas, this is what is called the best “realization,” and it is the eighth of the quality-gems.
  9. A complete spiritual faith is the ninth quality. I define it (spiritual faith) thus: to regard with deep respect all the means sanctioned and approved by the scriptures, even as subjects receive with respect any person or thing (document, coin, etc.) invested with royal insignia. Actions possessing this quality are productive of true good.

Thus, actions consisting of these nine qualities, such as “peace of mind” and others, that are, by nature, spotlessly pure, constitute the natural actions of a Brahmin. One securing the necklace of these nine gems becomes, as it were, an ocean (ratnAkara) of these nine qualities. The sun holds full light, without parting with anything of his own; the ‘champaka flower tree’ gets decorated with its own flowers; the moon becomes lustrous with her own light; and the sandal wood is fragrant with its own fragrance. In that way, this nine-gemmed article is the spotless ornament of the Brahmins, and the person of a Brahmin is never dissociated from this ornament. Now, O Arjuna, I preach what are the proper qualities (duties) of the Kshatriyas, and you hear with all your intelligence.

Overall Meaning

The verse is quite straightforward. Krishna lists the duties of a Brahmana: serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge of the Vedas, and firm faith in God and in the Vedas. The various AcAryas have explained in detail these qualities very well in their commentaries.

What is noteworthy, however, is that Krishna, before listing the qualities, thought it necessary to add the word “svabhAva-jam,” meaning, “born of their own nature,” to emphasize the point that these qualities of Brahmanas are innate, inborn – they are not learned; they cannot be taught. The Brahmana possesses the ability to be serene; to be controlled in mind and body; to be austere and perform penances as ordained in the Vedas; to have purity in speech, thought, and actions; to show tolerance or forbearance even when provoked; to be honest and straightforward; to know the Vedas thoroughly; to understand the real from the illusory; and have firm faith in God and the Vedas – but he can fulfil these duties only because his AtmA is imprinted by the sattva guNa, for that is the reason he is even born as a Brahmana. This is what Krishna means when he says, “The duties of a Brahmana, born of his own nature.”

Chapter 18, Verse 43

Original Sanskrit Shloka

शौर्यं तेजो धृतिर्दाक्ष्यं युद्धे चाप्यपलायनम्।
दानमीश्वरभावश्च क्षात्रं कर्म स्वभावजम्।।

Transliteration

shauryam tEjO dhRutir dAkshyam yuddhE cApi apalAyanam
dAnam Ishvara-bhAvashca kshAtram karma svabhAva-jam

Word-by-word Translation

kshAtram-karma – the actions of a Kshatriya; svabhAva-jam – born of his own nature are; shauryam – heroism; tEjah – exuberance; dhRutih – determination; dAkshyam – resourcefulness; apalAyanam – without a trace of cowardice; yuddhE ca api – in battle; dAnam – generosity; Ishvara-bhAvah ca – and leadership.

Free Translation

The actions of a Kshatriya, born of his own nature, are heroism; exuberance; determination; resourcefulness; no trace of cowardice in battle; generosity; and leadership.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The natural duties of a Kshatriya, or royal warrior class, is given by Lord Krishna. Heroism, valour, boldness, intrepidness, stability, dexterity, fearlessness, and majesty are born of their nature in raja guNa, the mode of passion. Additional qualities of the Kshatriyas are generosity, liberality, and leadership, and are of the nature of sattva guNa, the mode of goodness.

Ramanuja

Lord Krishna describes the natural duties of Kshatriya, the royal governing warrior class.

  1. shauryam is bravery, valour, and intrepidness in conflict without hesitation.
  2. tEjah is a courageous, fiery nature that does not back down.
  3. dhRutih is endurance to persevere in an endeavour, despite difficulties.
  4. dAkshyam is adroitness, dexterity – the ability to adjust in the execution of duties.
  5. apalAyanam is absence of cowardice, even in the case of life or death.
  6. dAnam is benevolence; generosity to others in need.
  7. Ishvara-bhAvah the capacity to lead and govern dependents.
Keshava Kashmiri

The duties of Kshatriyas, or the royal, warrior class, according to their inborn qualities, situated in raja guNa, the mode of passion, are enumerated by Lord Krishna.

  1. Prowess and valour, characterised by fearlessness against all adversaries.
  2. Majesty, or never being subjugated by others.
  3. Steadfastness, or having the absence of anxiety, even in dangerous situations.
  4. Dexterity, or skilfully fulfilling any action without hesitation, even if death is an option.
  5. Generosity, or donating to the pious and saintly.
  6. Kingship, or protecting society from the encroachment of evil and unrighteousness.
Jnaneshwar

The Sun never looks to others for help in displaying his own splendour; the lion never feels the need of a neighbour; in the same way, possession of innate strength, coupled with one's own valour, independent of the help of others, is bravery (shaurya) and is the principal quality of a Kshatriya (in his actions). The sun, through his own splendour, makes crores of stars indiscernible; yet all the stars, combined with the moon, are not able to make the sun indiscernible. In the same way, to storm the world by surprise by one's grandeur, and still to retain a perfect equipoise under all (difficult) circumstances – such a unique power is “high spirit” (tEja) and is the second quality found in a Kshatriya. And now there is the third quality called tenacity (dhRuti). Even with the crashing down of the sky, the mind (the eyes of the intellect) does not get closed; this is real tenacity here. However extensive the floodwater, the lotuses cover it up and spread themselves over it; or, however high a thing be, the sky (always) rises higher above it; in the same way, whatever diverse and serious situations might arise, one is able, through one's own intellect, to overcome them and chalk out a path leading to a fruitful end; this is what is called “mindfulness” (dAkshata) and is the fourth quality (in the Kshatriya); while dexterity in fighting (jhunja) is the fifth quality in him. Standing face to face before the enemy, in the way the sunflower ever faces the Sun; and never fleeing from the battlefield by turning one's back to the enemy; in the way a pregnant lady avoids, in whatever way she can, her husband's bed, is the fifth and the principal quality of the Kshatriya, just as devotion (to God) is the head of the four principal objects of a man's life. Trees freely drop down flowers and fruit (when ripe); the lotus plants freely spread out their fragrance; and anyone can enjoy the moonlight to his heart's content. In all these ways, to give away charities according to the wishes of the recipients is what is called unbounded charity (dAna), and is the sixth quality-gem. So also, to secure obedience to one's command in the world; to protect the subjects; to enjoy (the sovereignty of) the world on the strength of their contentment; this is “princely disposition” (IshvarabhAva), and this seventh quality is the reservoir of all powers as well as the prince among the essential qualities of a Kshatriya. The actions that are rendered holy and variegated with all the seven qualities, such as bravery etc., in the way the sky is adorned by the stars named the “seven sages” (“saptaRushi,” i.e., the Great Bear, or Ursa Major constellation), are the natural qualities of Kshatriyas. Such a Kshatriya is not only a human hero, but is also the Meru Mountain of gold in the form of righteousness, supporting the heavens formed of the seven qualities. This should be considered as similar to the Earth, surrounded by the seven seas, the Kshatriya being the hero enjoying it; or the holy Ganges formed of seven flows in the form of seven qualities, sporting on the person of the great ocean in the form of the Kshatriya.

Enough, however, of this; the only purport being that activism formed of bravery and other qualities constitutes the natural quality of the Kshatriyas. Now I explain to you the duties proper of the Vaishya caste.

Overall Meaning

Again, this verse is straightforward. Krishna lists the duties of a Kshatriya: heroism; exuberance; determination; resourcefulness; no trace of cowardice in battle; generosity; and leadership. And why can the Kshatriya fulfil these duties? Because these duties are, again, “born of his own nature,” meaning that the guNa of rajas that his soul is imbued with enables him to fulfil these duties. As before, one cannot teach a person these duties if his soul is unfit for them. A Kshatriya can do these (and not a Brahmana, a Vaishya, or a Shudra) because his AtmA, steeped in rajas, can fulfil these duties. He can be guided as he grows up on the best way to fulfil these duties, but he can never accomplish them unless his soul has the guNa appropriate to his birth.

Chapter 18, Verse 44

Original Sanskrit Shloka

कृषिगौरक्ष्यवाणिज्यं वैश्यकर्म स्वभावजम्।
परिचर्यात्मकं कर्म शूद्रस्यापि स्वभावजम्।।

Transliteration

kRushi-gau-rakshya-vANijyam vaishya-karma svabhAva-jam
paricaryAtmakam karma shUdrasyApi svabhAva-jam

Word-by-word Translation

vaishya-karma – the actions of a Vaishya; svabhAva-jam – born of his own nature; kRushi-gau-rakshya-vANijyam – agriculture, cow protection, and trade; karma api – also the actions; shUdrasya – of the Shudras; paricArya-Atmakam – consists of service to Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas.

Free Translation

The actions of a Vaishya, born of his own nature, are agriculture, cow protection, and trade; also, the actions of a Shudra, born of his own nature, consist in service to Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The duties of both the Vaishyas, or mercantile agricultural class; and the Shudras, or servant class, are explained by Lord Krishna. The raising and protection of cows; agricultural cultivation; and engaging in buying and selling of products and goods – these are the duties of Vaishyas, born of the nature of raja guNa, or mode of passion, mixed with tama guNa, or mode of ignorance. The duty of Shudras is loyal service to the other three classes and receiving sustenance for their livelihood from them, and these are born of their nature of tama guNa.

Ramanuja

The natural duties allocated to the Vaishyas, or the agricultural, mercantile class are:

  1. kRuShi, or farming.
  2. gau-raksha, or cow protection.
  3. vANijyam, or acts of commerce and trade endorsed by the Vedic scriptures.

The natural duties of Shudras, or the worker class, are amenable service to the upper three classes.

Thus, by defining the duties of the four classes in Vedic culture, the necessary performance of prescribed Vedic activities, and the appropriate participation of each of the four classes is implied. For example, in yajna, or ritualistic performance of propitiation and worship, the Brahmins will perform the ceremony; the Kshatriyas will donate wealth; the Vaishyas will supply the ingredients such as ghee, clarified butter, and cow products; the Shudras will serve the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.

The Brahmins, being naturally endowed with sattva guNa, the mode of goodness, are allotted with shamaha, or control of the mind, which bestows the purity required to perform Vedic rituals and ceremonies. Although qualified for initiation, this was not allocated to Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, due to them having a preponderance of raja guNa, the mode of passion, and tama guNa, the mode of ignorance, which are not compatible with shamaha.

The Brahmins show by example the teachings of the Vedic scriptures, instructing others in the proper way to live a human existence, according to the status of life they are in. The Kshatriya’s duty is to righteously govern and protect the citizens of the country. The Vaishya’s duty is cow protection and cultivating food for the population. The Shudra’s duty is to do all the menial services necessary for the upper three classes to discharge their duties expediently and efficiently, for a fair compensation.

Keshava Kashmiri

Now Lord Krishna reiterates the duties of the Vaishyas, the farmer mercantile class. The breeding of cows and cow protection; tilling the land for crops; trading and selling for business – these are the duties of Vaishyas. Industrious service to the other three classes for fair recompense is the duty of Shudras, the worker class.

The Manu Samhita, Chapter 1, verses 88-91 confirm: Study of the Vedic scriptures, teaching of the Vedic scriptures, performing Vedic rituals, officiating as priests for Kshatriyas and Vaisyas initiated in Vedic culture, giving gifts and accepting donations are the duties of Brahmins. Protection of the citizenry, supporting and organizing Vedic rituals, study of the Vedic scriptures, righteousness in ruling, and giving donations to the Brahmins are the duties of Kshatriyas. Protecting and raising of cows, study of the Vedas, agriculture, gift-making, buying and trading are duties of Vaishyas. Only one service was ordained for Shudras, the worker class, and that was to ungrudgingly serve the three upper social orders.

The qualities of controlling the mind and senses, physical restraint of the body, etc. are commonly prescribed for all aspirants of mOksha or liberation. They are naturally present in Brahmins, due to them being inherently predominated by sattva guNa. The Vedic scriptures cite examples that others, due to samskAras or previous impressions, may also be situated in sattva guNa, if possessing truthfulness, forgiveness, non-violence, humility, and the other qualities of sattva guNa. This is apparent.

Jnaneshwar

To acquire vast profits on the three-fold capital of land, seed and plough; to live on farming; to protect and maintain cows and other cattle; and to sell at high prices commodities purchased at cheaper rates—all these constitute the nature of the Vaishya, and this action group comes within the orbit of the qualities of the Vaishya caste.

And to serve the three twice-born castes, viz. the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, is the function of the Shudra. It is not within the competence of the Shudras to go beyond service of the twice-born.

Thus are narrated to you the qualities of the four castes.

Overall Meaning

Krishna rounds off the description of varNa-specific duties by talking about the duties of the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The duties of the Vaishyas are agriculture, cow protection, and trade; and the duties of the Shudras consist in serving the other three varNas. As before, Krishna makes it a point to emphasize that these duties arise from their own innate natures. As Krishna has described elsewhere, this is because of the mixture of rajas and tamas guNas that envelop the soul of the Vaishya; and the tama guNa that dominates the soul of the Shudra, making him unfit for learning, fighting, governing, or engaging in trade. The Shudra can, therefore, only serve in menial occupations because his soul is steeped in superstition, darkness, laziness, and ignorance, because of the powerful effect of tamas upon his soul.

It goes without saying that, as a result, a Shudra, according to Krishna’s teaching, cannot be taught the Vedas; cannot be made to learn science or mathematics; cannot become a soldier or a leader of men; and cannot even engage in business. He is only fit to be a servant.

Chapter 18, Verse 45

Original Sanskrit Shloka

स्वे स्वे कर्मण्यभिरतः संसिद्धिं लभते नरः।
स्वकर्मनिरतः सिद्धिं यथा विन्दति तच्छृणु।।

Transliteration

svE svE karmaNyabhirataha samsiddhim labhatE naraha
sva-karma-nirataha siddhim yathA vindati tacchRuNu

Word-by-word Translation

abhirataha – following; svE svE – each his own; karmaNi – activity; naraha – a man; labhatE – achieves; samsiddhim – final perfection; shRuNu tat – now hear; yathA – how; sva-karma nirataha – the performer of action prescribed according to qualification; vindati – attains; siddhim – perfection.

Free Translation

Following each his own activity, a man achieves final perfection; now hear how the performer of action prescribed according to qualification attains perfection.

Commentaries

Shridhara

How the acquisition of knowledge is achieved is being stated by Lord Krishna. Fully engaged in duty, by devotion to performing the prescribed Vedic activities, according to what is ordained by one’s particular class in society, and according to qualification, one obtains fitness for advancing in knowledge. The following verse will delineate by what method a sincere aspirant, engaged daily in executing their prescribed duties, gains knowledge of the ultimate truth.

Ramanuja

Every human achieves samsiddhim, or self-realization, by perfectly executing their own natural prescribed duty according to qualification, as ordained by Vedic scriptures. How this is accomplished is explained next by Lord Krishna.

Keshava Kashmiri

One who performs the natural prescribed duties, as ordained by the Vedic scriptures, according to qualification, accomplishes the four goals of human existence which are: kAma, or enjoyment; artha, or wealth; dharma, or righteousness; and mOksha, or liberation from material existence. By devotion and wholehearted commitment to performing one's natural duty, the highest perfection is achieved in the form of self-realization. It may be submitted that so many perform their duties perfectly and yet still do not achieve the highest perfection. This is seen to be true. But the reason for not achieving self-realization is that they have not yet developed devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna wholeheartedly. That is why success has eluded them. So this is how the natural duties of a human should be conducted.

Adi Shankara

Devotion to one's own duty leads to perfection. These duties, respectively enjoined on the several castes, lead, when rightly performed, to svarga (Heaven) as their natural result, as stated in the smRutis. An example is: “Men of several castes and orders, each devoted to their respective duties, reap the fruits of their actions after death, and then, by the residual karma, attain to births in superior countries, castes and families, possessed of comparatively superior dharma, span of life, learning, conduct, wealth, happiness and intelligence.” (Apastamba dharmasUtra, 2-2-2, 3).

And in the purANas, too, are specified the different results and worlds which the several castes and orders attain.

But, from the operation of a new cause (that is, when the same duties are performed, not for the sake of their immediate results, but for the sake of mOksha), the result occurs as stated in this verse.

Each to his own duty: as ordained according to his nature. Man (naraha): he who is qualified (for karma-yOga). Perfection (samsiddhi): which consists in the body and senses being qualified for the devotion of knowledge (jnAna-niShThA), after all their impurities have been washed away by the performance of one's own duty.

Can this perfection be attained directly by the mere performance of one's own duty?

No. How then? Learn how it can be attained, in the next verse.

Jnaneshwar

Now, the different organs, such as the organ of hearing and others, have their proper and respective duties, such as hearing words, etc. Similarly, rainwater descending down from the clouds has as its proper destination, the river; and the rivers, the sea. O Arjuna, in the same way, there are different functions that are “proper” for the four different castes. The due performance of whatever duties come to one’s lot, according to the religious precepts of one’s own caste and creed, is becoming to him, like fair complexion to a fair-complexioned one. The intellect should therefore be steadied for setting it up to perform the prescribed duties that by nature have devolved on one, as laid down in the scriptures. One intending to purchase a gem of his own should have it tested by an expert tester; in the same way, a duty, even though one's own, should be verified as such, by a reference to the scriptures (and also performed as laid down in the scriptures).

Vision is there in its own place, yet it cannot be enjoyed, without a lamp; so also, of what avail are the legs, if the path is not found on which to use them? Therefore, one has to make definite, by a reference to the scriptures, the duties one may be qualified to perform, following his caste-duty. Where can there be any obstacle to take a treasure kept in one's own house, when it is shown by a lamp, O Arjuna? In the same way, he performs his prescribed duties that have by nature come to his lot, and which have the sanction of the scriptures. He gets busy in the performance of those duties, dropping all idleness and pushing far away the desire for fruit. Water joining a water course, runs along that course without diverting itself in any way; in the same way, he proceeds along with the performance of actions in an ordinary way. One performing his prescribed duties in this way, O Arjuna, reaches the bank on this side of liberation. He is liberated from the mundane existence which is hostile to self-knowledge, since he never comes in contact with any objectionable or prohibited actions.

He never casts a wistful glance at actions pregnant with desire for fruit, even by way of curiosity, and thereby he wisely saves himself from falling in stocks (by “stocks” is meant here enjoyments in heaven, which ultimately bind man to the cycle of birth and death) even though made of sandal wood. The fruit-yielding power of other day-to-day actions that he performs is fully exhausted in the absence of motive, with the result that he reaches the borders of the region of liberation. He goes along the way of asceticism, and stands on the very threshold of liberation, since he has in this way freed himself from mundane affairs, good or bad. The seeker lays down his foot gently, like a black bee, on that asceticism which is the very perfection of all pious acts, makes certain the attainment of liberation, (which is a pledge of the fruit of liberation) and which is the climax of activism. The seeker secures nonattachment to mundane affairs, which is the dawn heralding the approach of the sunrise in the form of the light of self-knowledge.

He applies to his inward eye wholeheartedly the unique collyrium in the form of total non-attachment to worldly affairs, which enables him to obtain the buried and unknown treasure in the form of the knowledge of self. In this way, O Arjuna, a seeker makes himself eligible for liberation, by the performance of prescribed actions.

These prescribed duties are, O Arjuna, the sole support to the being, and their performance alone is equivalent to the highest service to my Supreme Essence. A chaste (ideal) wife enjoys all sorts of pleasures in the company of her husband, and considers that by gladdening the heart of her husband through her playful behaviour she has (reaped the fruit of) many hard penances; likewise, a child has no other source of subsistence except its mother, and whose sole duty is, therefore, to render service to her; so also, even if the fish were not to leave the Ganges solely because of her waters, still it would secure, by reaching the sea through the Ganges, the merit accruing from the association with all the holy waters in the world. In the same way, the performance of prescribed duties, with the full faith that there is no other alternative for the seeker, automatically imposes his lien (burden) on the Lord of the universe (God). It is God's intention that each and every being should be doing his own prescribed duties, and if this is done, one invariably attains God. A maidservant, standing the test of risking her own life (in the interest of her lord), attains the status of his mistress; and a servant prepared to sacrifice his very head (i.e., his life) in the service of his master is “borne on his head” (i.e. is highly esteemed and loved) by his master; in the same way, way not failing to render service in consonance with the master's wishes is the greatest service; any other sort, O Arjuna, is a commercial transaction.

Overall Meaning

Having described the duties of the different varNas, Krishna now tells Arjuna that one who faithfully performs his prescribed duty, according to his guNas (i.e., the duty of his varNa), can achieve perfection, viz., mOksha. In the next verses, he explains how.

Chapter 18, Verse 46

Original Sanskrit Shloka

यतः प्रवृत्तिर्भूतानां येन सर्वमिदं ततम्।
स्वकर्मणा तमभ्यर्च्य सिद्धिं विन्दति मानवः।।

Transliteration

yataha pravRuttir bhUtAnAm yEna sarvam idam tatam
sva-karmaNA tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati mAnavaha

Word-by-word Translation

yataha – from whom; pravRuttih – is the existence; bhUtAnAm – of all living entities; yEna – by whom; sarvam – all; idam – this; tatam – is pervaded; abhyarcya – through worshipping; tam – Him; sva-karmaNA – by one’s actions prescribed according to qualifications; mAnavaha – a man; vindati – achieves; siddhim – perfection.

Free Translation

From whom is the existence of all living entities, by whom all this is pervaded; through worshipping Him, by one’s own actions, prescribed according to qualification, a man achieves perfection.

Commentaries

Shridhara

By worshipping the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised avatArs, or incarnations and expansions, as revealed in Vedic scriptures, through the medium of one's own prescribed duty, while knowing that from Him proceed the activities of all jIvas, or embodied beings, and by Him all existence is created and permeated, one achieves perfection in their life.

Ramanuja

It is natural that those spiritually intelligent human beings who worship the source of their very existence, Lord Krishna, who is the root, the foundation from whence all creation originates and by whom all existence is pervaded, will certainly receive His grace and achieve the perfection of self-realization. The Supreme Lord's position has already been established in chapter 7, verses 6 and 7 where Lord Krishna confirms: He alone is the origin of all as well as the demise of all. There is nothing superior to Lord Krishna, for all creation depends upon Him. In chapter 9, verse 4, He states: In an unperceivable manner He pervades all existence, yet everything is in Him but He is not in it. In chapter 9, verse 10, He states: That His external energy manifests all moving and stationary jIvas, or embodied beings, according to His direction. Finally, in chapter 10, verse 8, He reveals: That every aspect of creation, maintenance and existence, as well as the Vedic scriptures, have Him alone as the sole source. Such examples are unique to Lord Krishna exclusively and unprecedented.

Keshava Kashmiri

The perfection of self-realization is only obtained from worshipping the Supreme Lord and offering everything one possesses to Him. This can be also done by following one's natural duties without deviation, as ordained in Vedic scriptures. All jIvas, or embodied beings, manifest from Lord Krishna, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and who creates, maintains and sustains everything in all creation, which is all permeated solely by Him.

Adi Shankara

pravRutti (in the text) may mean either evolution or activity; and it proceeds from the Ishvara, the antaryAmin, the Ruler within. “Beings” refer to living creatures. “His proper duty” means each according to his caste, as described above. Worshipping the Lord by performing his duty, man attains perfection, in so far only as he becomes qualified for the devotion of knowledge (jnana-niShTha).

Jnaneshwar

Therefore, such service is not only a performance of prescribed duties, but is conforming to His wishes — He from Whom is created this universe of beings; He Who prepares the dolls in the form of beings, from rags in the form of ignorance, and makes them (dolls) dance to the movements (pulling) of the string in the form of egotism, made by twisting together the three guNa-constituents; He Who, like a lamp, pervades by His own light the entire universe — if he (the seeker) worships such a God pervading the hearts of all beings, by dedicating to Him flowers in the form of performance of the prescribed duties — such worship propitiates Him very highly. And when the Supreme Soul gets propitiated with such service, He grants to the devotee performing such service the miraculous gift of asceticism, as a token of his favour (prasAda); and when, in such an ascetic state, he keeps on thinking of nothing else but God, he (the being) feels the entire universe as filthy as the very vomit. Such a devotee feels the aggregate of pleasures as pains, in the same way that a virtuous woman with her husband far away, considers her life a burden and torture on account of her intense anxiety for her absent lord.

The importance of the knowledge is so great that, even before the actual attainment of the knowledge of the Supreme, the very intense longing for it makes one identify oneself with it. Therefore, one who prays and practises vows for liberation should follow very earnestly his own religious duty.

Overall Meaning

So here Krishna reveals the secret of karma yOga, or the discipline of action, and how it leads to God. Krishna had, in the five verses before this, explained the duties of the different varNas. Then he mentioned that performance of one’s duty can lead to mOksha. But how? Here he says that faithful performance of one’s varNa-determined duty, which is a consequence of the qualities (guNas) one is born with, but performed not for the rewards accruing from those duties, but as an offering to God, is the way to attain self-realization, or mOksha.

Chapter 18, Verse 47

Original Sanskrit Shloka

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात्।
स्वभावनियतं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम्।।

Transliteration

shrEyAn sva-dharmO viguNaha para-dharmAt svanuShThitAt
svabhAva-niyatam karma kurvan nApnOti kilbiSham

Word-by-word Translation

sva-dharmaha – one’s righteous duty; viguNaha – imperfectly done; shrEyAn – is better; para-dharmAt – than another’s duty; svanuShThitAt – done perfectly; kurvan – by performing; karma – actions; svabhAva-niyatam – predicated according to one’s own nature; kilbiSham na ApnOti – one does not incur sinful reactions.

Free Translation

One’s righteous duty, imperfectly done, is better than another’s duty, done perfectly; by performing actions predicated according to one’s own nature, one does not incur sinful reactions.

Commentaries

Shridhara

The reason Lord Krishna emphasises that it is better to perform one’s own duty imperfectly then another's duty perfectly is because the defective performance of one's own duty is superior in merit to the performance of another's duty perfectly executed. This is to reinforce in Arjuna the futility of concocting any notions that living on alms as a mendicant beggar, which is the duty of Brahmins, is superior to his duty of fighting. Begging is not the path for him to take, as it is inferior in terms of merit compared to fighting in battle and dispatching the enemy, which is Arjuna’s natural duty. By following one's own natural path, no sin is incurred.

Ramanuja

To adhere to one's own natural path of dharma, or righteousness is what is being emphasised by Lord Krishna here. It is not as if one must follow the path of another. Everyone is entitled to perform those activities that are appropriate for their rank and station in life in constituting their propitiation to the Supreme Lord; but one must eliminate all sense of doer-ship and desire for rewards. Such karma yOga, or actions, facilitating communion with the Supreme absolute, expressed in visible activities which conform to the inherent nature of the individual, manifest easily and naturally. Thus, karma yOga, performed in this manner, is factually one’s own path of dharma. By another's dharma is meant jnAna yOga, or facilitating communion with the Supreme absolute by knowledge which, depending on time and circumstance, may or may not be helpful. Perfection in jnAna yOga demands the consistent ability to completely control the mind and conquer the senses, which is a lifetime endeavour and fraught with danger of lapses in constancy. So karma yOga is more fortuitous, as the risks are minimal, and chances for succeeding are greater, even though jnAna yOga is on a superior platform. A jIva, or embodied being, ensconced in a physical body with an appropriate mind and senses, finds it normal to act in accordance with the natural impulses instigated by the senses. This is karma yOga, and fulfilling activities in this manner, if they do not contradict the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures or disregard the prohibitions thereof incur no sin, for actions speak for themselves. Whereas in jnAna yOga, once control of the mind and mastery of the senses has been achieved, they must be kept controlled and mastered, otherwise one will fall down from their position and be subjected again to mundane desires and the influence of objects through the senses, which propel one to sin and lock one in samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death. So, by clearly elucidating the fact that karma yOga is indeed safer and more assured of success, Lord Krishna further corroborates what He previously had promulgated in chapter three. (3-35, shown below).

Keshava Kashmiri

Because the natural propensity inherent within is always accurate, it behoves one to perform prescribed Vedic activities unto the Supreme Lord, as this leads to the highest perfection. Such activities should be performed consistently for securing one's own best interests. Thus, Lord Krishna alludes to with the word shrEyAn, meaning better, for it is better to perform one’s own duty with the intention to propitiate the Supreme Lord, even if devoid of merit or deficient in some way; it is still superior to performing the duties of another, even if done exemplary. The performance of duties not sanctioned for one in the Vedic scriptures is risky and fraught with danger is susceptible to sin; but in the performance of one's own natural prescribed duty, no sin is incurred.

Adi Shankara

Just as a poisonous substance does not injure the worm born in that substance, so, he who does the duty ordained according to his own nature incurs no sin.

One ought not to abandon one’s own duty. It has been said that he who does the duty ordained according to his nature incurs no sin, like a worm born in poison; that the duty of another brings on fear; and that he who does not know the Self cannot indeed remain even for a moment without doing action.

Jnaneshwar

Even though one’s own dharma (proper conduct) be difficult to follow, yet one should look to its ultimate fruit. Should the juice of the bitter neem tree be a remedy for one's own well-being (health), one should not grudge its bitterness. Were one to cut down, by being discouraged, a banana tree before it bears fruit, how could one secure its juicy and tasty fruit? In that way, were one to abandon one's own dharma, it being difficult to follow, he would be deprived of the happiness of liberation. Though one's own mother be hunchbacked, yet her maternal love on which one lives is not crooked.

Of what avail would other, strange women, even if more beautiful than a Rambha (a courtesan of Heaven), be to a child? There are better qualities in clarified butter than in simple water; yet, could a fish live in it (clarified butter)? That which proves a poison to the entire universe becomes the very nectar to the very germs living in it, while that which is jaggery to the world proves the very death to such germs. Therefore, the particular duties and actions prescribed for a particular person, which, if followed, deliver him from all mundane affairs, should, even though difficult to follow, be followed by him. To try to follow alien dharmas, considered better than one’s own, would be like making one's head do (the work of) walking, which is meant for his legs to do. Therefore, whatever duties fall to one's own lot, according to the caste one is born in should be performed by him, and that would make him conquer (cut) the bonds of action. Is it not imperative that it should be made a rule that one should observe one's own dharma and abandon an alien one, O Arjuna?

Could one afford to stop the performance of actions, so long as one has not had a vision of the soul? And where there is action to be performed, there is bound to be physical exertion.

Overall Meaning

The meaning of this very important shlOka is quite clear. One must only perform that duty that is consonant with his own varNa-determined-dharma, even if one is unable to perform that duty perfectly; and one must not perform “another’s duty,” i.e., the duty of another varNa, even if he can do it perfectly. Why? Krishna gives an oblique reason, by saying that “by performing actions predicated according to one’s own nature, one does not incur sinful reactions” – the unsaid implication being that performing actions not according to one’s own nature (meaning, as we know well by now, the guNas one is born with), one would incur sin.

This shlOka is proof, once again, that the caturvarNa system is a birth-based system. The popular argument used by new-age gurus, that one’s varNa can be thought to be determined by one’s manifested qualities, as opposed to the Gita’s view that one’s inborn qualities determine one’s varNa, and therefore his duties in life, is clearly blown out of the water by this shlOka.

Why is this so? Because the new-age gurus will tell us that if you have the aptitude to be a teacher, then you are a Brahmin; if you have the aptitude to be a soldier, you are a Kshatriya; if you have the aptitude for business, you are a Vaishya; and so on. But in this verse, Krishna says, in essence, that it does not matter if you have the aptitude for learning and to be a teacher – if you are not by birth a Brahmana, then even if you can teach better than any other Brahmana (after all, Krishna uses the words svanuShThitAt – performed perfectly), it is wrong. You should only do that which your varNa qualifies you to do.

This clearly shows that the varNa system has nothing to do with merit (as we understand the term today) and everything to do with birth.

This verse is very important because until this point, the argument given for the varNa system was that one is endowed with qualities (guNas) which are the result of previous impressions (samskAra) and the reactions from actions in previous births (karmas), and hence one is born into a family that is suited for the natural qualities one is born with – thus a soul with sAttvika qualities is born a Brahmin; a soul with rAjasik qualities is born a Kshatriya; and so on. In other words, a person is born with a certain aptitude in a varNa that is suited to that aptitude.

But in this verse, Krishna says that even if one has a high aptitude and liking for a certain kind of duty, he must not perform it because it is not his “natural” duty. This suggests that some people might be born into a Brahmin family without the aptitude for learning and devotion that would be expected of Brahmins – yet he must perform the duty of a Brahmin because he was born one.

Thus, in spite of the example in the javalOpanishad, given by Keshava Kashmiri in his commentary on 18-41, where he talks about the sage Gautama initiating a disciple of low caste because he could see the boy was honest and sincere, thereby showing glimpses of sattva guNa, we can see in this verse that Krishna would clearly not recommend such a course of action.

So, a boy born into a Shudra family, according to this verse, even if he showed great intelligence as a child, should not study the Vedas, even if he can understand it perfectly, and even if he has an aptitude for learning. Such is the rigidity of the varNa system.

As mentioned before, Krishna leaves unsaid whether one commits sin by performing another’s duty, but he leaves enough clues – by saying that “one does not commit sin by doing one’s own duty,” and by saying “it is preferable to do one’s own duty.” But it is very clear that Krishna would not want a person to do that duty which is not decreed as his own, based on his varNa.

Jnaneshwar goes even further. He says

To try to follow alien dharmas, considered better than one's own, would be like making one's head do (the work of) walking which is meant for his legs to do. (Therefore) whatever duties fall to one's own lot according to the caste one is born in should be performed by him, and that would make him conquer (cut) the bonds of action.

There can be no doubt that this is compulsion. How do duties “fall into one’s own lot?” By virtue of “the caste one is born in,” as Jnaneshwar explains (by which he probably means varNa, as the Gita speaks mostly about varNa and not jAti - the use of the word "caste" in this and other translations is probably just an artifact of translation and the lack of a suitable translation for varNa.) And one should not transgress his duties; one must not perform the duties of another varNa.

Chapter 18, Verse 48

Original Sanskrit Shloka

सहजं कर्म कौन्तेय सदोषमपि न त्यजेत्।
सर्वारम्भा हि दोषेण धूमेनाग्निरिवावृताः।।

Transliteration

saha-jam karma kauntEya sa-dOSham api na tyajEt
sarvArambhA hi doShENa dhUmEnAgnir ivAvRutAha

Word-by-word Translation

karma – action; saha-jam – prescribed according to one’s nature; na tyajEt – must not be given up; kauntEya – O Arjuna, son of Kunti; sa-dOSham api – even if defective; hi – since; sarva-ArambhA – all endeavours; AvRutaha – are covered; doShENa – with defects; agnihi iva – as fire is covered; dhUmEna – by smoke.

Free Translation

Actions prescribed according to one’s nature must not be given up, O Arjuna, even if defective, since all endeavours are covered with defects, as fire is covered by smoke.

Commentaries

Shridhara

If, according to the philosophy of sAnkhya, or analytical reasoning, the idea of performing the duty of another is appealing, because it is superior to the degradation of killing someone, it should be pointed out that, although superior, it is still fraught with the chance of great demerits if performed improperly. So, with this in mind, one should never abandon their own natural path, which is ordained by one’s inherent nature from past life actions, even if it is attended with inauspiciousness. All actions and activities, yielding visible and invisible results, are always accompanied by some defect or other demerit, just as fire is enveloped by its attendant smoke. Regardless of the smoke, the fire is used to remove darkness, cook food and alleviate cold; in the same way, the meritorious parts of all activities alone are to be accepted for the purification of the mind. This is what Lord Krishna means.

Madhva

Serenity, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forbearance, righteousness, wisdom, knowledge and faith are found to be the inherent attributes of Brahmins and Vaishnavas. Some of the attributes, such as righteousness and wisdom, are found to a lesser extent in Kshatriyas, or the royal, warrior class; and, in special cases, powerful emperors such as Yudhishthira Maharaja, who ruled the entire Earth, possessed these attributes even equal to that of the Brahmins. King Janaka was renowned for possessing great wisdom and forbearance, as well as righteousness. King Kartavirya was known to be a saintly seer with knowledge of past, present and future. The Kshatriyas, in general, are courageous, steadfast, fearless, resourceful and righteous. The Vaishyas, or the agricultural and mercantile class, are less restrained and austere then the Kshatriyas, due to always being involved in activities of profit and gain, and supplying society with the staples of life. Because of their innate qualities, Shudras or the menial class serve the three higher classes. If a Shudra is found to possess superior qualities, then, based on such exemplary attributes, he may become qualified to receive initiation and become a Vaishnava Brahmin. Conversely, if one born in a Brahmin family exhibits degraded qualities, such a meat-eating and wine-drinking, they have lost their caste, and should be known as a Shudra. Among humans, those that follow righteousness and purity, which are divine attributes, follow the path of God.

Now begins the summation.

It is acknowledged that when each class performs their prescribed Vedic activities, some attributes from another class have been known to manifest. For example a Kshatriya may possess the attributes of serenity and self- restraint, for in their absence, propitiation to the Supreme Lord is not possible. Devotional activities unto the Supreme Lord require serenity of mind and restraint of the senses to be considered actual worship. This conforms to the earlier maxim that yajna, or ritualistic activities of propitiation, along with tapas, or austerities, and dAnam, or charity, should never be abandoned. The mind must be tranquil and the senses must be controlled and combined with purity, austerity and righteousness. Yet, the prime duties of Kshatriyas are ruling and protecting the citizenry; to be fearless in times of war; and never fleeing from the battlefield until victory is secured.

The preceding attributes apply to Kshatriyas. The attributes of Vaishyas are cow raising and cow protection, along with farming and mercantile affairs. For the Shudras, it is loyal service to the other three classes for acquiring sustenance. Brahmins, of course, study and teach the Vedas, perform yajnas and receive donations. These are the perennial principles established by the Supreme Lord but do not apply to others outside the pantheon of Vedic culture.

Valour, courage, fearlessness, dexterity, resourcefulness, etc. are to be found primarily in Kshatriyas. But some Brahmins possess such qualities as well; Vaishyas may show a little from them in times of adversity; and in Shudras they hardly exist at all. The Brahmins may exhibit such attributes according to situation, but it is not for the sake of livelihood, but rather to set an example for society and educate the noble-minded. Educating society according to dharma, the eternal principles of righteousness, is the principal activity of the Vaishnavas and Brahmins for the sake of the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who learn from them. The Shudras are prohibited from studying the Vedic scriptures, and thus their duty is to offer service to the other classes as a donation or for remuneration.

Sometimes, in extraordinary circumstances, due to the force and rapidity of events, such as to save one’s life in emergencies, even natural attributes have to be abandoned, and activities contrary to one’s nature performed. At other times, even those opposed to prescribed Vedic activities participate for their best interests and benefit. Yet, for the spiritually qualified and evolved, yajnas, tapas and dAnam must never be abandoned by the Vaishnavas and Brahmins, as they are most auspicious and no other acts are more propitious.

Confiscating wealth obtained by unrighteous means, disciplining the disobedient, destroying parasitical economic power, and imposing punishment and executions for heinous transgressions are the signs of the mighty, and are enforced exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Kshatriyas. The mlEcchas, or low caste meat eaters and other outcastes, who are not followers of the Vedic culture, should be properly governed by the Kshatriyas, according to a minimum standard of adherence.

Vaishnavas and Brahmins can punish their disciples without causing any bodily injury. The disciples who have voluntarily accepted positions as celibate students, to learn the knowledge of the eternal Vedic scriptures, and have been accepted by a Vaishnava spiritual master, will learn their lesson and continue serving the guru. Teachers and relatives can administer punishment, also without bodily harm, according to the degree of the infraction. If a teacher is found to be defective due to following questionable activities, then one should dispense with his services and, according to applicable laws, cancel the engagement. If an ordinary teacher unknowingly challenges one who is superior to him, then this should be brought to his attention. They should be firmly disciplined, but not abandoned, as that would be offensive. Those teachers who are devoted to the Supreme Lord should never be abandoned or penalised, as this would be opposed to righteousness. Disciples never have the right to criticise or chastise the Vaishnava spiritual master who gave them initiation into Krishna bhakti. Even if famous persons are seen performing activities contrary to the Vedic scriptures, they should not be punished, if such actions do not interfere with the mission of the spiritual master.

In times of adversity, Brahmins may perform occupations ordained for Kshatriyas or even Vaishyas. But the Shudras are never permitted to perform the occupations of the Kshatriyas or Brahmins. Kshatriyas, in adversity, may perform the occupation of a Vaishya and, in extreme cases, even the rites of the Brahmins, but they are prohibited to beg for their food. Vaishyas, in times of adversity, may only accept the occupations of Shudras and no other, and become carpenters, blacksmiths, etc., which are known as the occupations of Shudras. The Shudras sometimes must accept the occupation of Vaishyas, but they are prohibited from any endeavour to study the Vedic scriptures. In times of greatest adversity, a Kshatriya may offer service to the Brahmins or other well-to-do Kshatriyas, but they should never offer obeisance to their feet. It is not that such acts of a Kshatriya are unworthy or ignoble, for performed expressly for the purpose of concealing oneself incognito, it is equal to even the activities of the Brahmins. The most meritorious actions are those sanctioned and ordered by the Vaishnava spiritual masters, who are all followers of the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His avatars or authorised incarnations and expansions revealed in Vedic scriptures. It is much more meritorious to follow the spiritual master’s commands rather than to remain neutral without opposing him.

Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa Deva has stated that, by the powerful arms of the Kshatriyas, and the spiritual wisdom and devotion to the Supreme Lord of the Vaishnava Brahmins, the protection and evolution of the world is secured.

Ramanuja

The conclusion Lord Krishna gives for this subject is that actions that are initiated naturally and easily executed, and are beset with no difficulties should be done, even if there may be some fault or defect. The inner purport is that even those situated in jnAna yOga, or facilitating communion with the Supreme absolute by knowledge, they too should adopt the path of karma yOga, or facilitating communion with the Supreme absolute by actions. All endeavours in the material world are accompanied by some sort of fault or defect, and all living beings must perform actions to exist, but the following of one's own natural path is not in the least difficult or beset with unpredictable dangers. Whereas the standard of jnAna yOga being higher, the possibility of mistake and the chance of defect is greater as well as the demerit incurred. So karma yOga is encouraged.

Keshava Kashmiri

It may be postulated that if prescribed Vedic activities qualify one for mOksha or liberation from material existence, then one should abandon deeds which are violent and lethal and strive exclusively for mOksha. Lord Krishna refutes this conception with the word sahajam, or according to one's natural propensity. One should never relinquish their own ordained duty in favour of another’s, because all endeavours are tainted by some defect or blemish, just as fire is tainted by smoke. Although dispelling darkness and cold by providing heat and light, fire is accompanied by smoke which burns the eyes and irritates the nose. Similarly, in the quest for mOksha, there will be some difficulties and irritations, but without clarity of intention and purity of heart, it will not be possible for mOksha to be achieved. Hence, one should perform their natural duty with the intention to propitiate the Supreme Lord, according to qualification, and relinquish all desires for rewards. When the heart becomes pure, then all imperfections are dissolved and disappear. So, by worshipping the Supreme Lord, following one's own natural prescribed duty, one attains self-realization and achieves mOksha. The Isha Upanishad, verse 9-11, beginning with vidyAm cAvidyAm ca yas, states: One who knows what is nescience and what is transcendence can overcome samsAra, the perpetual cycle of birth and death.

Adi Shankara

Born with oneself: born with the very birth of man. Faulty: as everything is composed of the three guNas. All undertakings: whatever the duties are; by context, one’s own as well as others’ duties; for, the reason here assigned is that they are all made up of the three guNas.

Though a man may perform another's duty, abandoning what is called his own duty, the duty born with himself is not free from fault; but another's duty brings on fear.

And since it is not possible for any man who does not know the Self to give up action entirely, therefore he ought not to abandon action (karma).

Jnaneshwar

Since physical labour is involved in whatever action one has to perform, why then find fault with one's own dharma, because physical labour is involved in following it? Oh, it involves one and the same amount of fatigue to the legs whether they walk over a straight road or run along a rarely trodden path; it causes the same sort of fatigue (burden) if one carries (on one's person) a stone or his own food-provision; why not then carry the food- provision, which would serve as the means of relieving the exertions caused by the journey? Pounding either the corn or the chaff involves the same labour; similarly cooking dog’s meat or cooking food for sacrificial purposes entails the same amount of trouble; the churning of curds or churning simple water is one and the same action; the crushing of sand or of sesame seeds in an oil-mill is similarly the same action; the bearing of smoke-nuisance is the same, both in blowing wind with one's own mouth for kindling fire for making daily sacrificial offerings (nitya hOma or for wantonly setting the house on fire. It involves the same (pecuniary) strain to support a wife or a mistress; why then incur the odium of a scandal (by supporting a mistress)? If one cannot avoid death by getting stabbed in the back by turning his back to the enemy, what greater loss could there be incurred by receiving a stab while bravely facing the enemy? If a lady of good breed has to bear the blows of a rod even after taking shelter in a stranger's house, what point has she gained in deserting her husband because of his beating her? In the same way, if one cannot secure, without physical exertions, the successful doing of any action whatever, even one of his own liking, then why complain that only the prescribed actions are difficult to perform?

What (is undesirable therein), if a being loses all (everything) in exchange for even a little quantity of nectar that makes his life immortal?

Similarly, why should one spend to secure poison, consume it and die of it, bringing along with it the sin of suicide? In the same way, what does one gain, other than misery, in the sin one accumulates by troubling the senses and wasting in addition, his own lifetime in it? Therefore, one should follow one's own religious duty which removes all fatigue and helps one to secure liberation—the greatest amongst the four objects of the existence of man. Therefore, O Arjuna, one should follow his own dharma, and should not forget it in the same way one should not, while in difficulty, (forget) the sacred formula which is perfected by repetitions (siddha mantra). One should never abandon one's own duty (action) in the same way that one should not (abandon) a barge while at sea, or a divine medicine when affected by leprosy. God Almighty getting propitiated by worship (on the part of the seeker) in the shape of the performance of one's own duties, drives completely away the rajas and tamas guNa constituents (from such a seeker), leads him along the road of sattva guNa, and makes him feel, as venom, the pleasures of this world as also those of the other (Heaven) in his longing for the attainment of Supreme Self, O Arjuna. And then the seeker attains the goal—the asceticism, fully and clearly described under the term “perfection” earlier (stanza 45, Chapter 18).

Overall Meaning

In this verse, Krishna continues with his exhortation to Arjuna that one’s own varNa dharma should never be given up. Here, he says that one must not give up actions ordained for oneself according to one’s nature – meaning, the duties of his varNa – even if he finds those duties unsavoury or defective in some way. Krishna makes the analogy with fire which, although very useful in giving us light and heat, yet produces smoke which is an irritant – yet we do not reject fire simply because it is accompanied by smoke.

The verse is aimed at Arjuna, but its import is universal. Krishna is seeking to convince Arjuna that he must fight and kill his relatives to fulfil his duty as a Kshatriya. Arjuna might find that the ordained duty of a Kshatriya is an unsavoury one, for it is tainted by the sin of killing. To convince him, Krishna says that all good deeds have some defects, and so Arjuna too, must accept the defects of the duties of his varNa in order that he be true to his character – being born a Kshatriya, he is endowed with raja guNa, and it is his divinely-ordained duty to fight and kill for the victory of good over evil.

But, as before, the Gita teaches eternal principles. What is said in it is not only for Arjuna’s benefit, but for the benefit of all humanity. Else Arjuna himself might consider it unfair that a rule was made only for his benefit.

And that is why the larger ramifications of this shlOka are very disturbing.

What this shlOka is saying is that anyone, belonging to any varNa, should never grudge his divinely-ordained duties, no matter how unpleasant those duties may be.

This may be a philosophical matter for a Kshatriya like Arjuna, who does not want to kill, or for a Brahmin who wants to do business. But it is a much bigger deal for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

A cobbler, a sweeper, a man who cleans the house, or one who washes clothes may find his job demeaning and may want to study the Vedas and become learned and maybe a priest – but he is told through this verse: do not grudge your divinely-ordained duty of service – it is your reward/punishment for your sins in your previous births. Every duty has its faults. You should not give up your duty because of its faults.

But the equivalence is a false one. The Brahmin’s duty is far more enjoyable than the Shudra’s, and the Brahmin enjoys considerably more respect and status than the Shudra ever will. So to claim that “every duty has its disadvantages” is disingenuous.

This verse, therefore, when seen in a broader context (i.e., beyond Arjuna’s immediate concern), appears to have been composed to keep the lower castes in their place, and to stop them from complaining.

Chapter 3, Verse 35

Original Sanskrit Shloka

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात्।
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः।।

Transliteration

shrEyAn sva-dharmO viguNaha para-dharmAt svanuShThitAt
svadharmE nidhanam shrEyaha paradharmO bhayAvahaha

Word-by-word Translation

sva-dharmaha – one’s righteous duty; viguNaha – tinged with faults; shrEyAn – is better; para-dharmAt – than another’s duty; svanuShThitAt – done perfectly; nidhanam – even death; svadharmE – in performing one’s natural prescribed duties; shrEyaha – is better; para-dharmah – prescribed duties of others; bhaya- – is fraught with danger.

Free Translation

Performing one’s natural prescribed duty, tinged with faults, is far better than performing another’s prescribed duty perfectly; even death in performing one’s natural prescribed duty is better; for performing prescribed duties of others is fraught with danger.

Commentaries

Shridhara

One should engage themselves in their duties, overriding one’s normal inclinations, which are seen to be even in the natures of animals. One would perhaps like to switch their duties for another’s, but it is very risky, because the duties one was never trained for might not be as successful as the duty that one was well versed in. Engaging in one’s own duty, one possesses the correct inner mentality to accomplish it; but for engaging in another’s duty, the correct inner mentality would not be present, even if the external action was performed perfectly. There might be worry or indecision, and questions regarding some aspects of another’s duty; unresolved, these would lead to inner conflict, which is very detrimental for one's consciousness and Atma tattva, or soul realization. This is Lord Krishna's meaning.

Madhva

In this verse, Lord Krishna is emphasising the fact that one should perform the duties one is authorised to do, according to one's station and rank in society. Arjuna was a royal prince, educated and trained by the strength of his might, to uphold and protect dharma, or righteousness, and although war enacts terrible suffering, it was necessary and was appropriate for Arjuna to engage in it.

Ramanuja

For obvious reasons, the performance of one's own dharma, or righteous duties, according to karma yOga, or actions performed according to prescribed Vedic injunctions, is the best course to follow, even if they do not possess great virtues. One's own duties are easy and natural to discharge in karma yOga, and unattended with risk. Whereas that person performing jnAna yOga, or the path of cultivating Vedic knowledge (which is most excellent), but who is beguiled by prakRuti, or material nature, finds it extremely difficult to achieve success. Although the path of jnAna yOga is shorter than the path of karma yOga, there are many dangers accosting a person on the path of jnAna yOga. The path of karma yOga is performed by one most easily, as it naturally befits the person performing it. Even if death comes before one has the opportunity to fulfil life’s purpose and attain mOksha, or liberation form the cycle of birth and death, yet one’s progress is not impeded by any obstacle, even death, as one’s merits are applied to the next life, and they are born in a situation where they can easily pick up the thread from where they left off in the last life and continue on. Whereas, one who, although beguiled by prakRuti, attempts to practice jnAna yOga anyway, is surrounded by danger and obstacles on their path, which deter one from easily adopting and putting into practice the cultivation of Vedic wisdom.

Keshava Kashmiri

It should not be presumed that a person, abstaining from a negative direction to pursue the ascetic life of non-violence, meditation, virtuousness, and self-satisfaction, is superior in worshipping the Supreme Lord. Why is it a warrior’s duty to perform cruel deeds upon the battlefield in pursuit of victory and self-preservation? Anticipating such a doubt, Lord Krishna states it is better to follow one’s own duties, according to station and rank in life, as enjoined by the Vedic scriptures. Because, to perform another’s duty is not authorised in the Vedic scriptures and, being prohibited, is fraught with dangers. According to the scriptural injunction: One who exempts themselves from their prescribed actions, as enjoined in the Vedic scriptures, is never qualified to perform the prescribed actions of a higher station. Such actions are prohibited.

Adi Shankara

For a man to die doing his own duty, though devoid of merit, is better than for him to live doing the duty of another though perfectly performed. For, the duty of another leads to danger, such as hell (naraka).

Jnaneshwar

The strenuous pursuit of one’s own religious duty, albeit full of shortcomings or hardships, is superior to another’s duty that may be done easily. However good the other’s duty might appear, yet one should abide by one’s own duty. Just consider, should a Brahmin, however poor, swallow dainties prepared in a Shudra family? How can one do such a hateful thing? How can one wish for such an unworthy thing, and how can one accept it even when such a wish is fulfilled?

Pray tell me if it would look proper for one to dismantle one’s own hay-thatched hut, seeing other peoples’ houses built in mortar?

Let it pass. Mating with one’s lawful wife, even if she be ugly to look at, is the only thing right and proper. So too, one’s own religious duty, however risky and difficult to follow, is one’s true help-mate in life beyond.

Do you not see that the sugar-milk drink, well-known for its sweet taste, is yet harmful when one suffers from worms? How could it (the mixture) be given to such a patient? Notwithstanding this, a patient who takes it will find his obstinacy met with evil in the end.

Therefore, he who desires his own good, must not follow the path which is prescribed for others and yet is not proper for himself. Even death in the act of doing one’s duty is a noble and good thing, both for success in this life and the life beyond.

Overall Meaning

This shlOka is almost identical to 18-47, and the commentaries are very similar as well. I am only including it for completeness, and also to illustrate that this concept of every person sticking to his own varNa dharma was considered so important by Krishna that he repeated in chapter 18 the same message he gave Arjuna in chapter 3.


Acknowledgments

I would first and foremost like to thank my wife, Sandhya Srinivasan, for giving me unstinting support in the many months and years it has taken me to do the research for this article series and write it, even though it took me away from her and our daughter for extended periods. Without her constant, unwavering, and enthusiastic support, this series would not have been possible.

I also owe thanks to Sandhya for being a strong intellectual partner in this endeavor. She has been very kind to spare time from her busy schedule to read every word of every article that I have ever written for my blog, and offer careful, considered, and critical feedback on them. Her inputs on this caste-discrimination series in the form of feedback and suggestions have been invaluable.

One friend without whom this series would not have been possible is Ganesh Prasad. He has been a source of constant encouragement, and his unflagging enthusiasm for the project allowed me to continue with it even at times when I started to wonder if the effort was at all worth it. In addition, Ganesh has been very patient and thorough in proofreading every line of every article in the series, and offering extremely valuable feedback that has greatly improved the series, from as far back as 4 years ago when he read the first draft of this series, to the final posted articles now. I owe him a debt of gratitude.

I would like to thank Dileepan Raghunathan for his help in understanding some passages in the Gita. I would also like to thank Ramdas Menon for helpful comments and feedback on the articles in this series, and for his strong encouragement and support of this series in particular, and my writing in general.

Lastly, I would like to thank the many people with whom I have had vigorous arguments on this topic, on Facebook and WhatsApp. Some of those arguments took up entire weekends, but they ended up clarifying my thinking immensely and helped me sharpen my positions.

Any errors or mistakes in this article, however, should not be attributed to any of these people, for such errors and mistakes are entirely my own fault. The contributions of my kind and patient friends and family 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



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.

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