Bhagavad-Gita in the Life of Krishna: Society

This article is part 10 of 14 in the series Bhagavad-Gita in the Life of Krishna

The agnishomiya vyuha – the Agni-Soma formation – is the cosmic structure, the eternal arrangement. It is the eternal establishment that binds the consumer and the consumed. This concept has been discussed in the Upanishads and the Yogavasishtha. Krishna speaks about this in the Gita when he identifies himself with the sun, the moon, fire, energy, sap, thought, etc. (BG 15.12-15).

While agni represents the consumer, soma represents the consumed. For sustenance, there should be sufficient soma for the agni. Krishna sees this in himself. For example, he is satisfied with one grain of rice from Draupadi’s akshayapatra. He understands that soma should satisfy agni but the most efficient way is to understand how little of the soma is required to satisfy agni.

Even at the level of society, Krishna’s wisdom is matchless. The finest and most mature definition for varna is possibly found in the Gita. Varna is the traditional four-fold classification of society. Krishna defines varna as being dependent on guna (trait, quality) and karma (work, action), not on birth, gender, or other parameters (see BG 4.13 and 18.42-44). By speaking so eloquently about svadharma (BG 3.35 and 18.45-48), he emphasizes the personal aspect of varna much more than the social aspect. He says that people should do what is best suited to their innate nature and what they really enjoy doing.

Although born as a kshatriya (warrior class), Krishna spends most of his childhood doing activities that are associated with vaishyas (traders, farmers). On many occasions, he has done activities associated with kshatriyas including waging wars, killing wicked people, and ruling kingdoms. He was renowned for his political acumen and strategies. When Arjuna requests him to be his charioteer, he immediately agrees. Riding a chariot and tending to the horses are activities associated with shudras (laborers, workers). Compare this with the episode where Shalya feels humiliated when asked to ride Karna’s chariot (MB 8.23). Then the same Krishna gives the highest truths in the Gita. He becomes a teacher, a philosopher, and a logician – activities typically associated with brahmanas (scholars, teachers).

In the Gita, Krishna has dealt with basic things of life like food, sleep, leisure, work to cultural and social aspects like how to approach a teacher or how to give gifts or what is the right way to speak all the way to the highest truths about the brahman. In his life, Krishna has been an exemplar for all aspects he propounds in the Gita. Since the Gita has been forged in the fire of Krishna’s experience, it has something valuable for all.

To be continued...

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.