Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
Let us first consider the view that according to the Vedas themselves
caste is not based on birth. (After all, the Vedas are the source of our
religion. So it is essential to be clear on this point.) Earlier I
counter the view that there was Vedic sanction for post-puberty
marriages. The present contention about what the Vedas say about caste
is similar, being based on a passage read out of context. What is
mentioned as an exception to the rule is being interpreted as a rule
I will give firm proof in support of the view that caste is based on
and not on the nature or quality of individuals. The caula of children
belonging to particular caste is performed at the age of three, the
upanayana at five or seven. These are samskaras based on birth and
performed in childhood. So it would be absurd to claim that one's
vocation is based on one's nature of qualities. Is it possible to
one's qualities or nature in early childhood?
Let us now come to Gita. It is true that the Gita speaks of "samadarsana",
"seeing the selfsame thing in everything and everybody. But it would be
perverse to argue on this basis that the Gita does not recognise any
distinctions. When, according to Krsna, do we attain the stage of
samatva, the stage when we will look upon all as equal? We must
consider the context: The Lord speaks of the samadarsana of the wise
man who is absorbed in the Atman and for whom there exists nothing
[other than the Atman] including creation - and even the fact that
is the creator is of no consequence to him. The Lord says that all are
equal for a man when he renounces karma entirely to become an ascetic
and attains the final state of enlightenment. The Vedas and the
Upanisads say the same thing. Only an individual belonging to the
plane can see all things as One [as one Reality]. Samadarsana is not of
phenomenal world of plurality nor is it for us who are engaged in works.
The Lord speaks in the Gita of samadarsana, samacitta and samabhuddhi
from the yogin's point of view, but by no means does he refer to
"samakaryatva" as applied to our worldly existence.
Some concede that Bhagavan does not deny caste differences, but
however argue that, according to the Lord, caste is not based on birth
on the individual qualities of people. In support they quote this line
the Gita. "Caturvarnyam mayasrstam guna-karma-vibagasah".
When do we come to know the qualities that distinguish an individual? At
what age does he reveal his nature? How are we to determine this and
impart him the education and training necessary for the vocation that
be in keeping with his qualities? Take, for instance, the calling of the
Brahmin who has to join the gurukula when he is seven or eight years
His education covers a period of twelve years; after this alone will he
qualified for his vocation which includes, among other things, teaching.
a man's occupation were to be fixed until after his character and
are formed, it would mean a waste of his youthful years. Even if he were
to learn a job or trade thus at a late age it would mean a loss not only
himself but also to society. The Lord speaks again and again that we
be constantly engaged in work and that we must not remain idle even a
moment. How then would he approve of an arrangement in which every
individual has to be without any work until his vocation is determined
according to his character?
Does this mean that the Lord lends his support in theory alone to the
system of vocations according to the differing qualities of people and
in actual practice he wants occupations to be based on birth? But he is
not like a politician [of these days] speaking one thing and doing
something entirely different.
What do we see in Krsna's own life as a divine incarnation? When Arjuna
refuses to fight saying that it is better to become a mendicant than
the blood of friends and relatives even if it be to rule over an empire,
what does the Lord tell him? He urges Arjuna to fight. "You are born a
Ksatriya and you are duty-bound to wage war. Take up your bow and
Here too it may be argued thus: "Arjuna was a great warrior and a great
hero. His reluctance to take up arms against friends and relatives must
have been a momentary affair. His inner quality and temperament were
that of a man of valour. So the Lord enthuses him to go to war. What he
refers to as Arjuna's svadharma (own duty) cannot be the same as his
dharma (caste duty). The Lord must be referring to Arjuna's natural
character as his svadharma. "
If such an argument is correct, what about the character of Dharmaputra
(Yudhisthra)? From the very beginning he is averse to war and anxious to
make peace with the Kauravas. Does he not go so far as to say that he
would not insist on half the kingdom but he would be satisfied with just
five houses? Krsna goes to the Kauravas as his envoy [of peace] but is
himself dragged into war by them. Earlier he encouraged Yudhisthra to
subjugate all his neighbouring kingdoms to become an imperial ruler and
perform the rajasuya. Does Dharmaputra desire such glory? His inner
character and temperament show that he is not warlike by nature nor do
they suggest that he desires the status of a mighty imperial ruler. Sri
Krsna Paramatman makes such a man practice his dharma of a Ksatriya.
All this shows that by svadharma it is jati dharma that the Lord means.
Men like Dronacarya were born Brahmins but they took up the duty of
Ksatriyas. Bhagavan does not deprecate them since they were otherwise
great men, but all the same he does not show any displeasure when
Bhima taunts Dronacarya for having forsaken the dharma of his birth.
Thus we have confirmation that by svadharma the Lord means the jati
dharma of birth.
Then, why does he use the phrase "guna-karma-vibhagasah" in the Gita?