Stanza 58 :
चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः ।
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ॥
I have categorised human society in four ways purely based on their natural instincts, traits and tendencies and not by the status of their birth. Though I am the doer of this, I am not bound by them.
NOTE: This stanza has become a bane for the Hindu society. It is difficult to comprehend how this stanza which is more about social structure has suddenly creeped in when Lord Krishna was seriously counselling Arjuna regarding the Action principle (karma yoga) in order to convince him to fight the war. The relevancy of this stanza at this stage for the selfless action phenomena that was being preached to Arjuna, is difficult to comprehend.
However, the four Varnas (basic instincts in human society) are found in reference in other Indian scriptures also, and it is always interpreted as caste system dividing Hindu society. The four Varnas (groups) in the human society are applicable to all human societies in the world as these varnas are purely based on instincts, traits and tendencies of each individual fitting into any one of the groups.
Even though this stanza is purely out of context in the discourse between Arjuna and Lord Krishna, assuming it as being said by Lord Krishna, it is in reference to human society as a whole, as these instincts, traits and tendencies are always found in any of the society of the world.
In any society we find some people irrespective of their status of birth, are always more interested in the spiritual evolution of themselves (not religious which is an sectarian approach to supreme Being wedded to a specific concept) apart from leading normal life like any other. These people have in them the inborn instinct to incline towards the Supreme Being. They follow various spiritual practices to evolve themselves in the path of spiritual evolution. These are the people who acquire cosmic wisdom and pass on this knowledge generation after generation for the benefit of the entire mankind. They go on to become sages, saints and people of spiritual wisdom. It is natural to find these type of people in every society of the world. These spiritual seeker in Hindu scriptural context are called seekers of Brahma Jnana as they seek the realisation of the Supreme Being termed as Brahman or the Universal Consciousness.
Irrespective of their nature and status of birth in any layer of the society, these people carry these instincts , traits and tendencies which is due to a trait called Satwa Guna (benign nature predominant in them).
The other category of people are those who have more courage , fighting spirit, interest in ruling the masses, and ego centric. They tend to become warriors, politicians and rulers, where the instinct to dominate others is dominant in them (this trait is called Rajo Guna).
Another category of people in the society are more interested in trade and commerce, and more interested in the generation of wealth for themselves and in turn for the society. These people have more talent for earning than any other. These people have a combination of the above two traits (Gunas).
The fourth category of people are the humble people who by their instincts are ARTISANS of various aspects like farmers (food givers), blacksmiths, builders etc.. just to name a few. They are the pillars of the society on which the other three categories are mainly sustaining.
Therefore, this category of people can be called as producers and the service providers for the whole society. In vedas, in the Hymn called Purusha Sukta, this category is referred as coming out of the feet of Purusha (comparing the Supreme Being to human form) on which the purusha is standing. If the feet are cut-off, the whole purusha will fall off just as the roots of a tree when cut-off, the whole tree falls. Even the other three categories of human society are also referred as emerging from His body, and as such for the Supreme Being which is symbolically represented in the human form as Purusha, the Head or Feet makes no difference in divinity as it is equally divine all through.
Therefore, the hymn says that the spiritual seekers emerged from the head, the warring and ruling class from the shoulders, the trade and commerce class from stomach and the artisans or humble class from the feet only to categorise the instincts , traits and tendencies of the soul as intended by the divinity.
For the Supreme Being, the head or shoulder, stomach and feet makes no difference as the Supreme Being (GOD) is the purest of the pure, holiest of the holy, Universal and Absolute. Therefore, the souls (individual consciousness) emerging out of any part of the same Supreme Being are as holy and Absolute as the Supreme Being Himself. Another vedic hymn declares more clearly thus “Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnaath Purnamudhachyate” meaning whatever that has come out (creation comprising living and non living) from the Absolute (Purna) is Absolute itself in its nature . It is just like rising of waves (souls) on the sea and the sea is the Supreme Being. The waves are made up of the same sea water but the characteristics of the waves are different than that of the sea. The sea is static, infinite and the source of all waves. But the waves are transient segments of the sea water expressed in terms of time and space. The waves have no independent existence from the sea. The waves are ever dependent on the sea because the sea is their only source. This is the TRUTH we see in the nature (in the physical world). The same truth is also true in the spiritual world where the souls (individual consciousness) have their only source in the Supreme Being. The souls are transient donning the bodies of all sorts in the cosmic time and space until they work out their karma to go back to their source. Whereas the Supreme Being, like the sea, is infinite, static, beyond time and space and everlasting .
Karma is the most important aspect in Hindu philosophy. Hinduism is originally known as Sanathana Dharma (devoid of varnashrama and caste system).
Sanathana Dharma envisages four directive principles, i.e. DHARMA (righteous way of living), KARMA (sum of good and bad actions that binds an entity to the creation or world) and PUNARJANMA (re-birth) and MOKSHA (salvation).
One who leads life in accordance with Dharma (righteous way of living i.e. following the divine principles like love, compassion, honesty, non-violence mentally and physically, charity, doing allotted or accepted duties in right and dedicated way, service to the Supreme Being by way of serving the fellow – beings, practising spiritual practises like devotion to the Supreme Being, Meditation etc.) will not get into Karma which is the cause for re-birth again and again.
Thus one who leads life in accordance with Dharma, for him there is no Karma and therefore no Punarjanma (re-birth). Those who do not lead life in accordance with Dharma will get into the bondage of Karma and take birth again and again (Punarjanma) to work out their Karma.
For those who lead life according to Dharma, they incur no new Karma, and also wipe out the accumulated Karma of the past, and when left with no Karma, there will be no Punarjanma (re-birth) for the soul. Then the individual consciousness (soul) attains eternal rest from the cycle of birth and death in the Universal Consciousness. This is Moksha (Salvation). Freeing oneself from the bondage of Karma is known as Mukti which leads to Salvation (Moksha).
Karma (action) is the intention (sankalpa) of the Supreme Being to manifest itself into infinite number of souls i.e. micro cosmic forces, and they are set into the law of karma (action and reaction chain) to continue as souls in the creation. Therefore, every soul being a part of the Supreme Being with all its traits , continue their journey in the creation based on their cumulative actions and reactions which forms the bondage as law of karma, set in to motion by the Supreme Being. The souls qualifying to manifest as human beings carry their cumulative karma along with their birth expressed as instincts, traits and tendencies , along with their own course of evolution. Given the freedom of action to these souls as human beings with their own karmic background, evolutionary instincts are basic to all the souls , and their levels of evolution is governed by their own karma.
The souls have the freedom to continue their journey with further accumulation of karma or work out their karma to reach the Supreme Being. Therefore, all souls born as human beings are EQUAL with equal opportunity to evolve, with their own carried forward karmic tendencies determining their way of life in the human society, and it is only to provide appropriate opportunity to work out their karma. Anybody born in any one of the above four categories can transpose to any other category through their actions.
This truth is very much a part in Indian spirituality. All the highest spiritual disciplines ( philosophy ) , culture, traditions followed by Hindus today are given by the sages and saints of past who were born in the humblest layers of the society.
The great sage Maharshi Valmiki who gave one of the greatest legends of all times i.e. Ramaayana, the story of Lord Rama ( an incarnation of the Supreme Being ) millenniums ago, was a hard core hunter in the forest. He transformed himself from a sinner to one of the greatest and revered saints of India through penance and tapasya ( Meditation on the Supreme Being ), and having realised the Supreme Being wrote the Ramayana epic, which is not only one of the most revered epic for Hindus but also revered in many south eastern countries in its varied versions even today. But the original is given to mankind by the reformed hunter, God realised saint Valmiki. If Ramayana is rejected because of the humblest birth of the sage Valmiki, then the Hindu scriptural knowledge and the spiritual heritage will suffer from a big void.
Another greatest sage who has given the Hindus all their present spiritual traditions and the way of life is Sage Veda Vyasa, the son of a fisher women born through an improper relationship. Without Sage Veda Vyasa there are no Vedas, Puranas (legends), Bhagavad-Gita, Mahabharata, Brahma sutras, and as such the present Hinduism itself. He too had a birth at the humblest layer of the society but now revered as the only Guru of Hindu spiritual tradition along with Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna and Veda Vyasa were contemporaries in time just as Lord Rama and Valmiki.
Sage Veda Vyasa’s contribution to Indian spiritual knowledge is unmatched by any other. The longest epic of the world Mahabharatha with innumerable characters, reflecting the entire gamut of human behaviour expressed through various characters , is given by Veda Vyasa. The Bhagavad-Gita which is also a part of Mahabharatha , if considered only as a legend, not history (Itihasa), written by Veda Vyasa, then the knowledge of Bhagavad-Gita is the direct contribution of sage Veda Vyasa, because he has written Mahabharatha.
Veda Vyasa has written 18 Maha Puranas ( Great Legends), 18 Upa Puranas ( Additional legends), 18 Ati Puranas (Extra ordinary legends) and 18 Lagu Puranas (Summary legends).
All these legends carry the entire gamut of cosmic knowledge that include Yoga and Meditation which is the ultimate path for human evolution towards the Supreme Being (salvation).
The 18 Maha Puranas ( Great Legends) are
1. Padma Purana
2. Matsya Purana
3. Markandeya Purana
4. Bhagavatha Purana ( propounding the path of Absolute devotion towards God or the Supreme Being . i.e. Bhakti Yoga )
5. Brahma Purana
6. Brahmanda Purana
7. Brahma Vaiavatha Purana
8. Vaayu Purana
9. Vaamana Purana
10. Varaha purana
11. Vishnu Purana
12. Agni Purana
13. Linga Purana
14. Koorma Purana
15. Skanda Purana
16. Garuda Purana
17. Naarasimha Purana
18 Bhavishya Purana
Upa Puranas (Additional Legends)
1. Sanath Kumara Purana
2. Naarasimha Purana
3. Vaayuveeya Purana
4. Shiva Dharma Purana
5. Doorvasa Purana
6. Naaradiya Purana
7. Nandikeshwara Purana
8. Oushinasa Purana
9. Kapila Purana
10. Varuna Purana
11. Shmya Purana
12. Kaalika Purana
13. Maheshwara Purana
14. Kalki Purana
15. Devi Purana
16. Paraashara Purana
17. Marichi Purana
18. Bhaskara Purana
Ati Puranas (Mega Legends)
1. Bruhan Naaradiya Purana
2. Bruhad Vishnu Purana
3. Bruhad Vaamana Purana
4. Bruhan Matsya Purana
5. Bruhad Swayambhu Purana
6. Bruhad Dharma Purana
7. Ganesha Purana
8. Kurma Purana
9. Brahma Purana
10. Bruhad Vishnu Dharma Purana
11. Bruhan Naarasimha Purana
12. Bruhath Oushinasa Purana
13. Bruhad Devi Purana
14. Bhavishyottara Purana
15. Bruhan Nandikeshwara Purana
16. Vaasita Purana
17. Yuga Purana
18. Maanava Purana
Lagu Puranas ( Summary Legends)
1. Lagu Naaradiya Purana
2. Lagu Vaamana Purana
3. Lagu Bharmavaivarta Purana
4. Swalpa Matsya Purana
5. Aatma Purana
6. Shiva Uttara Kanda Purana
7. Vruddha Padma Purana
8. Ruju Purana
9. Pashupathi Purana
10. Paraananda Purana
11. Chandi Purana
12. Angirasa Purana
13. Maagha Purana
14. Vishnu Dharmottara Purana
15. Garga Purana
16. Kaarthava Purana
17. Soura Purana
18. Laghu Bhaghavatha Purana
All these cosmic Legends are huge in compilation running into more than thousand’s of stanzas each.
The great Veda Vyasa has also divided and codified Vedas (which was in one heap) into four branches namely Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Athrvaveda. Vedavyasa has also written Brahma Sutras dealing with the unmanifest Absolute nature of the Universal Consciousness or the Supreme Being (Vedanta aspect). The longest epic of the world Mahabharata is considered as an ancient historical document (Itihasa). Many evidences have been unearthed in the recent excavations purely based on Mahabharata.
Yoga and Meditation is the essence and integral part of the above legends, and also in the Bhagavad-Gita of Mahabharata. Astrology in its pure form is given by him in Naaradiya Purana. All the mantras and the methodology to appease the nine planets to ward off their evil effects is also given by VedaVyasa. Therefore, Sage VedaVyasa’s contribution to Indian spiritual knowledge for the evolution of human beings is complete and it is the backbone of Indian spirituality along with Upanishadhs. This is the contribution of VedaVyasa whose birth is the humblest but rose to greatest heights of spirituality and now regarded as another incarnation of Lord Vishnu or the Supreme Being.
Maharishi Veda Vyasa is also believed to have written several Upanishads and many others which have been lost in the passage of time. In fact, Maharishi Veda Vyasa’s contribution to the spiritual knowledge of this world as a whole is UNMATCHED by any other human being on the planet earth either in the past or may be in the future forever, because such a feat is impossible to human beings. This is the reason why he is regarded as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. It is impossible to comprehend Hinduism (Sanathana Dharma) without Maharshi Veda Vyasa, the son of a fisher woman.
The giver of this Bhaghavad-Gita Lord Krishna is also from the humble group.
Once again humblest by birth but greatest in their spiritual contribution are the sages who gave the Upanishadhs which mainly deal with the Vedanthic concept ( Dealing with the unmanifest absolute nature of the Supreme Being ).
Maharshi Vasista was born to Urvashi (a celestial nymph). His wife Aurundathi, highly revered by Hindus, was from the humblest layer the society .
Sage Vishwamithra who gave one of the Gayathri mantras was a warrior, who later became Brahman (Supreme Being) realised sage.
Maharshi Jabali who gave Jabaloupanishadh and Rudrakshopanishadh, his father is unknown.
Sage Rushya Shrunga was born out of female deer. Sage Agasthya was born to Mitra and Varuna. These are all just to name a few.
Every vedic hymn in Vedas has a presiding deity and a sage (saint) to whom it has been revealed by the cosmic consciousness during their Meditation. Therefore, when each hymn is recited, reverence is paid to the sage who has contributed that hymn. Most of the sages who have given the vedic hymns belong to the humble groups in the society, with some exceptions. These vedic sages became great and immortal through their Tapas (Meditation on the Supreme Being) and for their contribution to the spiritual knowledge of India and the World.
Though this stanza with regard to four varnas suddenly creep in when Lord Krishna was seriously talking about performance of right action ( without attachment of desires behind it ), this classification of the society is also found in other Hindu scriptures. Though this classification is naturally found in any other society of the world, in India this classification has lead to division of Hindu society resulting in sub division into caste system mainly due to its misinterpretation and misuse. Therefore, it has become necessary to take a critical view of it here, because this phenomena has gone deep into the ethos of Hindu society.
The four varnas ( classes) are the four pillars of any society because of their instincts, traits and tendencies. These four classes are the composition of any society in the world and four class are like four legs of a table making it to stand firmly on the ground. Deficiency of any leg makes the table unstable and defective. Similarly the four classes are common to all societies in the world.
In fact the vedic hymn Purusha Sukta where the Supreme Being is described in the human form and the coming forth of the souls and the creation from him (out of him), the holiest of the holy rivers Ganga (Ganges) is described as rising from the feet of the Lord. If the humble group of the Hindu society coming forth from the feet of Lord is not equal with other groups , then the holy Ganges (Ganga) loses its importance to Hindus because of its humble origin.
In the Hindu spiritual tradition bowing down to the feet of the Lord is the fundamental aspect of devotion and reverence to Him. If the feet of the Lord is unholy then the above tradition is meaningless. The feet of any person makes him to stand stably, not allowing him to fall. Similarly the humble group is the supporting group of all other groups because this group fulfills the basic requirements of the society. Therefore, all groups are equally important to any society for its harmonious and collective progress in all directions AND spiritually ALL are entitled to evolution towards the Supreme Being (salvation). No one is deprived off it.
In fact those who have turned towards Brahman (seeking the realisation of the Supreme Being) are categorized as Brahmana Varna. It does not mean that they have attained Brahman.
In Mahabharata, in Aranya parva there is an episode, where Bheema, one of the five brothers of pandavas , when they were hiding in the forest, was caught by a python and it twisted around him so firmly that all his strength could not help him to release himself from its clutches. Yudhistira the eldest brother, not finding his dear brother Bheema grew anxious and started searching for him in the forest. Finally having found him coiled by the python, Yudhistira requested the python to release Bheema. The python which was an evolved soul once upon a time as king Nahusha , by his great deeds had occupied the throne of Indra, the leader of gods in the heaven. But due to arrogant behaviour with sage Agastya he was cursed by the sage to become a serpent and he fell into the forest in the form of python.
The python laid conditions to Yudhistira that if he could correctly answer to the questions put by him, he will release Bheema. Yudhistira who is known for his wisdom agreed. The python asked several questions and Yudhistira answered all rightly. Finally the python said “ Yudhistira, I will ask the last question . If you answer rightly I will release Bheema or else I will swallow him ”. Yudhistira agreed . The python asked “ Who is a Brahmana ? ” Yudhistira answered “ He who stands for truth, character, patience, compassion, charity, nonviolence and, realisation of Brahman ( the Supreme Being ) is a Brahmana. ” Satisfied with this correct answer, the python continued “ Yes, truth, forgiveness, charity, nonviolence and tapas ( Meditation on the Supreme Being ) are the essentials for attaining Yoga (salvation) and definitely not the status of one’s birth ” saying so it released Bheema from its clutches and went off to heaven.
Merely taking birth in a family of that order (Brahma bhuya), one cannot become a Brahmana (Brahman realised person).
This fact is well endorsed by Lord Krishna when he says at stanza 41 of chapter 18 that the four categories are purely based on their NATURE (instincts, trait and tendencies) and not by birth.