In our times, the question of why is a brāhmaṇa given more importance has become more and more vociferous. The answer to that is in the description of the above qualities. A brāhmaṇa is devout and truthful; he regards that knowledge is of paramount importance and is always peaceful. All people of all countries respect such a person. Respect for those qualities are not out of drum-beating or force or even encouragement. It is born by itself from within the breast. These qualities are considered respectable by universal humanity that transcends caste, religion and other worldly attributes. If someone says that he does not respect those qualities, we do not fight with him. A brāhmaṇa is calm and merciful. He does not have any strife with anyone. That these qualities are respected by people is itself a praise of human nature. Even a person who is not truthful respects those who always speak truth. What does this show? It shows that even though a man lies because of some reason best known to himself, he respects truth. Even if he lies to others, he wishes that everyone should tell him the truth and not lies. The respect and faith a liar has about truth and truthful people gradually turns into love for truth itself. Similarly, the brāhmaṇic qualities that one respects will eventually be morally beneficial to himself.
A brāhmaṇa does not beg for respect. His venerability is because of his qualities and not because he asked for it. One who says “I am a brahmin, respect me”, shows his unworthiness by this mere statement. Manu says that one who expects reward is not a brāhmaṇa. He says that a brāhmaṇa should crave for contempt instead:
saṃmānād-brāhmaṇo nityam udvijeta viṣādiva ।
amṛtasyeva cākāṅkṣet avamānasya sarvadā ॥
The next aspect to be considered after giving up prestige and conceit is that of money. The greatest assault on our people due to British rule was caused by the revolutionary attack on our moral philosophy. Acquaintance with the British inflamed the desire of the elites or our society, for material wealth. It was natural that the English needed Indian help to establish communication between us and them, and also to keep accounts. It became an opportunity for Brahmins. They had been immersing themselves in education for generations. It thus became easy for them to learn new languages and sciences. Added to the natural proclivity towards knowledge, there was additional encouragement from monetary incentives. They forgot the wealth that Vyāsa prescribed; and sought the wealth that had the queen’s seal on it. Their qualities began slipping from them little by little. Brahminism became merely dynastic. They forgot ancient teachings and used their education, intellect and training to earn money. If they had at least remembered the old “riches”, their plight would not be as sorry as it is now. Because the Brāhmaṇa forgot his true nature and the true wealth of his glorious lineage, it gave an opportunity for others to say “this fellow is the same as others; he is just one among a thousand others. What is so great about him?”. If he had not forgotten his own wealth, he would not have been censured by others. A little brāhmaṇya would still remain in him. When others complain that many official posts are occupied by this caste called brahmins, a real brāhmaṇa should introspect about it with poignancy, and not argue that a brāhmaṇa is just more capable of earning. A brāhmaṇa may be capable and successful in worldly work; but the question is whether he has preserved his dispassion, calmness, penance and friendliness for the whole world. The story of the Brahmin community in the past one hundred and fifty years is testimony to the fact that there is a high possibility of pāpa in worldly transactions.
Valour, courage, power, strength, ability to work, steadfastness in war — these are the characteristics of a kṣatriya. A kṣatriya is one in whom these qualities are inborn. The world needs him to dexterously rule over the state. Just as we cannot include a money-minded brahmin in a group of brāhmaṇas, we cannot consider an incapable man as a kṣatriya.
Similarly, a person skilful in agriculture, commerce and wealth management is a vaiśya.
A śudra is one who is not capable of owning any work, but can perform tasks that are given to him by people more capable than him. It is easier for him to exert himself physically rather than intellectually; and to follow rather than think freely.
There are four services that are absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of any human society: 1. Education 2. Protection 3. Wealth and prosperity 4. Labour. If even one of these malfunctions, there will be deficiencies in the well-being of the society. They are all equally important. The skills required for them are respectively 1. Intellectual labour and self-restraint 2. Courage and strength 3. Mechanisms and strategies for making profit 4. Taking care of one’s bodily health and ability to follow rules. These four qualities are not present in any one man in equal proportion. It is even difficult to find two or three in one person. It is common to see one quality being dominant and that the other qualities are present in small amounts. The karma of a person is decided based on the quality that is predominant, varṇa is decided according to the karma. This is the secret of the system of varṇas. The fundamental concept here is that everyone is not equally capable of doing all work. Therefore, people should introspect about their strengths and qualities and choose a profession accordingly.
This is opposite to the theory of universal equality that is being propounded in recent times. The mainstay of this argument is — “what man has done, man can do”. It can only be a feeling in the mind but not practically feasible. Vāsudevācārya was a musician (a vāggeyakara of the twentieth century, in the court of Mysore Wodeyars.) . Can we all sing like him? Yes, we might — if we practice for a hundred lives. But my throat that sings then is not my throat of today; not that of the present life. A man who is skillful in handling machines should not be asked to become a schoolteacher. A mechanic shows skill with machines. A school teacher has oratory skills that can show the universe on his palm. Society will benefit if people are engaged in tasks that they are skillful at, tasks that they have natural inclination for. That is the right economy — the ability to reap more out of less investment. A pin that is used to pierce paper to set them together is made by some man. I am also a man. Can I make a pin? Yes, it is possible, if I am given a boundless amount of material and infinite time. But a man who has received training for this job can make a thousand pins in a minute. There are some musicians amongst us. Bhagavān Brahma has forgotten to give them a good voice. For some reason, they think that they know music; they struggle to fix their voice. We listen to their struggle; however, we still haven’t had the good fortune to listen to and enjoy any meaningful outcome of the struggle. Thus, our efforts that disregard our natural strengths and weaknesses are not economical.
The vast diversity of human qualities, strengths, propensities and inclinations of humans has great use in the order of the universe. Because there is inequality, one man is curious about, and respects another. Because there is inequality, a man requires another’s help. Because there is diversity and inequality there is opportunity for friendship. We have seen that the Greek philosopher Plato has expressed the same opinion. If everyone becomes a musician, who will listen? If everyone becomes a doctor, who will get treated? If everyone becomes a teacher, who will learn? We need what we lack, from others. This is how we become friends with others. Because of inequality, one person feels friendly and respectful towards others. Because of diversity, we need one another.
In the present times, we are profusely misusing words like unity, equality, freedom, etc. It does not mean that these words do not have any meaning; they indeed have a beautiful meaning. People are merely uttering these words without understanding their true meaning, and with nary a thought to propriety or circumstance. It is similar to tying up the Gītā in a cloth (Texts with powerful mantras are to be tied in silk cloth and kept safe from prying eyes and hands), noting that Bhagavān said —
idaṃ te nātapaskāya nābhaktāya kadācana ॥
This is a great sentence, pregnant with meaning. The word “equality” is like that. It is easy to misunderstand it. One must therefore be careful. Diversity and inequality are the arrangement of prakṛti. Because of them, people need one another, through which friendship and respect grows among people. Swami alludes to this wonderful principle in the chapter about karmayoga:
parasparaṃ bhāvayantaḥ śreyaḥ param avāpsyatha ॥
Some disparity is seen in the system of varṇas and karma. Descriptions such as — brāhmaṇa is the mouth, kṣatriyas are the shoulders, vaiśyas are the thighs and śudras are the feet — have become cause for objection. The objection is born of unthinking folly. From the point of view of the society, all karmas are equally required. What is the objective here? Firstly, the impurity of the three guṇas in an individual should erode. Secondly, his capability and strengths should flourish; thirdly, the workplace for these two objectives is to transact with the world. Fourthly, the world should benefit from the expression of his qualities and strengths. Thus, the objectives of a dharmic karma are individual elevation and the well-being of the whole world. From this perspective, an individual’s wealth, prestige, and authority are not very important. Service to the whole world is important; service to the divine is important; one’s own profit and prestige are not. The path of our karma is what agrees with our nature.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.