In the 41st verse of the 18th chapter, after having discussed everything about sattva, rajas and tamas, Krishna talks about the famous or infamous caste system. Krishna has touched upon this earlier and readers will find a post on this in a previous chapter. The post refers to what the caste system was meant to be and what it has become, and there itself I had stated that what it has become is obnoxious, but what it was and what it was meant to be was something noble. Here, Krishna says, let us look at the system again from the point of view of the gunas. What are the types of jobs that people can do in keeping with one’s gunas?
The Brahmana, by guna and not by birth or work, says Krishna, is predominantly sattvic but backed with rajas in the second place and tamas in the third place. Here he does not list out a single job or a profession or a function for the Brahmana, he merely lists out qualities that are natural. For example, he says, they will have what is known as kshama, meaning inner quietude, a calm, mastered mind. They will have dama, physical restraint when necessary, mastery over the body; tapas—willingness to step out of their comfort zone; shaucham meaning inner and external purity, external in terms of body and environment , internal in terms of intentions, emotions etc.; shanti—forbearance, acceptance of people for what they are; arjavam—straightforwardness; jnanam—given to intellectual pursuits; astikyam—a sense of trust in life, in God, and in people. This, he says, is natural karma for the Brahmanas, meaning for those who are predominantly sattvic. These are qualities which can be used in any function, any job, any performance anywhere. Which means if you are predominantly like this, there is nothing you cannot do well. That is why the Brahmana is praised. Whenever the Brahmana is praised in the shastras, you must understand that it is these gunas for which he is praised, and, therefore, he can naturally pick up roles where these can come into greater play. Generally, this sort of person will pick up those types of functions which require a certain amount of intellectual keenness.
Krishna then moves on to the Kshatriya. They are predominantly rajasic but their rajas is backed by sattva. What does such a person have? Again, he doesn’t mention a profession though most people associate Kshatriya with `warrior’. The qualities he mentions are shauryam, courage; tejas—high energy; dhrti—the will to hold on and to get things done; dakshyam—your personal competence to get things done, meaning if this person is in a conflict situation, he will not retreat out of fear. He may have a tactical retreat if necessary, but not out of fear; danam—sharing, charity… this person is large-hearted. You cannot be a warrior and be small-hearted because you have to be willing to give up your life for the country. Ishvara-bhavam—a sense of lordship, a sense of power. All this is Kshatriya karma. This person will gravitate towards a function where these qualities can be exercised. You could be a good industrialist with this type of qualities. Wherever some kind of courage is involved, this person will naturally gravitate to this type of function. Therefore, for both, the person who is a Brahmana by guna and a Kshatriya by guna, Krishna doesn’t mention professions because these two people can do well in any profession.
Further, those who are Vaishya by gunas are rajasic , but their rajas is not backed by sattva and is instead backed by tamas. For such people, Krishna mentions a profession. Agriculture, cow-protection (meaning cattle-herding and not literally cow protection), animal husbandry, trade and commerce are some of this type of person’s roles. These are all profit-oriented and if you are rajasic backed by tamas, then naturally greed is good for this person. The Wolf of Wall Street will fall into this category.
The person who is a shudhra by guna is predominantly tamasic. This sort of person lacks the initiative to start his own entrepreneurship or own industry. Initiative is lacking in his case because he’s too laid-back, too lazy for this sort of thing. Therefore, he says, these people can become the hands and legs in any industry, which is the vast majority of the working class. Krishna mentions jobs only for the vaishya and shudhra by guna because the others can do well anywhere.
As we said in the previous post, you could be a shudhra as far as your karma is concerned, but you could be a sattvic person, a Brahmana, by guna. As I have said in a previous post, a person may be born with few opportunities and, therefore, may not be able to enter a desirable profession, but he can still become sattvic in his life. He may be a garbage collector but with his positive attitudes of karma, yoga, professional pride, dignity etc, he can not only better his lot but become sattvic. We have said this in our earlier post. How is this possible? Krishna makes a very interesting comment in the 46th verse, the most important verse when we are looking at the caste system.
Yatah pravrttirbhutanam yena sarvam idam tatam
Svakarma tamabhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah
Through one’s duty, worshipping Him from whom is the creation of the beings, by whom all this is pervaded, a human being gains success. (Verse 46)
That from which the whole universe is manifest, Krishna says, that from which it is sustained, and that into which it dissolves, that Lord you can worship through your karma. Meaning all your personal and professional actions are offered to the Lord as a worship and the result is taken as prasad. Such a person becomes predominantly sattvic in temperament and will know the truth. Therefore, the highlight is that irrespective of what you are doing, one needs to be more sattvic in temperament. How do you gain that sattvic buddhi? If a person is too tamasic, then he should be inspired with a few desire-prompted activities so that he will become more rajasic in nature. Once he is more rajasic, you bring in Ishvara into his understanding, you bring in the attitudes of ishwara arpana and prasada buddhi, and he then starts to become sattvic. With exposure to this knowledge, he will, sooner or later, gain self-knowledge, self-realization as people call it.
So it’s a flexible and not a rigid system?
Krishna is talking here only about gunas, about qualities, he’s not even talking about a system.
The caste system’s degeneration started from the top. Under foreign rule, those who were intellectual, those who required some learning, education, etc., they were bought over by the foreign rulers. So they had positions of power and were the `experts’ for the foreign government that came to India. Naturally, they wanted to perpetuate that power and position, and, therefore, they started calling themselves the superior castes. Consequently, the other castes became the lower castes. There was no higher or lower in India, but it became corrupted, and I will be the first person to junk the corrupt version.
But the corruption need not always have come from a foreign source?
There were other internal causes also for this degeneration of the system, but foreign rule was a great contributor. Originally, the king would take advice from the intellectual. Soon, it became aspirational for people to become intellectuals, because you could become a person in a position of power. That was only aspirational whereas under the foreign rulers, they were given positions, etc. In the ancient system, a Brahmana had no position. There may be one raja-guru but there was no other position or post given to anyone, but, under foreign rule, they were corrupted by power. It is the system that got corrupted. Here, in the Gita, Krishna is talking only from the standpoint of gunas.
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