cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable. – Bhagavad Gita, Verse 4.13
“The disgraceful caste system! Cast it away!” decries India. The caste system is a perversion of the Varna system that Krishna Himself created. Is Krishna partial? Why does he divide people and label them as Brahmanas, Kstatriyas, Vaisyas, and Shudras? Krishna says in the verse 4.13 of the Bhagavad Gita, “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.”
The caste system we have today is the perverted version of the Varna system in which expert teachers would carefully identify children’s natural abilities, interests, and skills and train them suitably. We find a reference of Varna system in the late Rigvedic Purusha Sukta RV 10.90.11–12 and in Manusmriti. We’re in Kali Yuga where honesty, integrity, sincerity are fast becoming extinct. Over a period of time, scriptures were misused and so was the Varna system. This system started becoming perverted in the Dvapar yuga. We see a reflection of its deterioration in the incident when Duryodhana taunts Vidura about his birth. Another incident is when Sringi muni’s son curses Parikshit maharaj. His son was not a brahmana but a brahmana bandhu, that is, someone who didn’t have the traits of Brahmana but he was born to a brahamna. A doctor’s son is not born a doctor. Unless he becomes a qualified doctor, he has no right to treat sick people. And, if starts prescribing medicines to patients thinking that he is a doctor, too because he’s born to one, we can imagine what would happen to those patients. This is what’s happening today … If we could bring back the varna system, the world would become a happy place. We’ll regain Rama-Rajya.
Srila Prabhupada’s purport on this verse is quite succinct, just like all others purports he has written for the benefit of humanity. “The Lord is the creator of everything. Everything is born of Him, everything is sustained by Him, and everything, after annihilation, rests in Him. He is therefore the creator of the four divisions of the social order, beginning with the intelligent class of men, technically called brāhmaṇas due to their being situated in the mode of goodness. Next is the administrative class, technically called the kṣatriyas due to their being situated in the mode of passion. The mercantile men, called the vaiśyas, are situated in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance, and the śūdras, or laborer class, are situated in the ignorant mode of material nature.
Krishna is supreme intelligent and our seed-giving father (verse 14.4). He doesn’t discriminate between His children. He accepts us as we are even though we’ve forgotten the Truth; we’re living in a dream state. On the contrary, he helps us grow out of our temporary nature. He offers us blessings and support in the form that we can appreciate. Our nature is blended in the modes of goodness (Sattva), passion (Rajas), and ignorance (Tamas). Krishna says (18.41), “Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by their qualities of work, O chastiser of the enemy, in accordance with the modes of nature.” Krishna describes characteristics of the four types of people. “Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness-these are the qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work” (18.42). “Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kṣatriyas (18.43).” “Farming, cattle raising and business are the qualities of work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there is labor and service to others (18.44).”
The four divisions of society don’t cause suffering; it’s our ignorance about them which creates hell on earth. Are all of us identical in our spiritual, mental, and physical makeup? No. Our past karmas determined our present state. Someone who’s spiritually-oriented, studies scriptures, tries sincerely to follow the bonafide teachings is naturally a Brahmana. Those who have solid physical builds and aggressive and fiery nature, and if they fight for the right, they are Ksatriyas. The business-minded are Vaishyas by nature, and those who like to do menial jobs are Shudras by nature. Krishna says we fall into one of these categories according to our nature and skills, and NOT BY BIRTH RIGHT—we don’t come with any. We can live happily if we follow our Varna, that is, our duty according to our nature and skills.
Every country in the world follows this system in a mundane way, but they identify it through different names. Doesn’t America have priests and rabbis, teachers and professors, doesn’t it have warriors, and doesn’t it have business men and sweepers? Even at a mundane level not following our nature causes frustration in individuals and unrest in society. In many countries, youths are forced to join armies for a specific period of time. So many young people run away and go in hiding because of this enforcement. So many people become rebellious because they are forced to do what they are not designed for. It’s not in everyone’s nature to be a warrior. Many creative people become morose when they succumb to the family pressures to take up mainstream careers. By putting pressure on people to do which is against their innate abilities and personality types is like asking them to do someone else’s duty. What does God think about this? Krishna says in the verse 3.35, “It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another’s duties. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.” Krishna, in the verse 18.47, repeats what He says in the verse 3.35 and emphasizes on following our nature, “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Prescribed duties, according to one’s nature, are never affected by sinful reactions.” “By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect.”, says Krishna in the verse 18.45. Krishna tells how we can become perfect, in the verse 18.46, “By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.”
Krishna is not bound by the modes of nature. The modes come from His external energy which is subservient to Him. He is eternal and unchangeable so the modes can’t affect Him. Brahma says in the first verse of the 5th chapter of Brahma Samhita, “Kṛṣṇa who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” If the modes could influence Krishna, He wouldn’t be God. Modes come from Maya, who is Krishna’s illusory energy. “Kṛṣṇa never consorts with His illusory energy. Still her connection is not entirely cut off from the Absolute Truth. When He intends to create the material world the amorous pastime, in which He engages by consorting with His own spiritual [cit] potency Ramā by casting His glance at the deluding energy in the shape of sending His time energy, is an auxiliary activity.” (Brahma Samhita 5.7).
I used to read only transliteration of the Bhagavad Gita published by a well-known press, until sometime in 2012. The readers of this transliterated Gita try to understand the verses according to their conditioning which stems from their random knowledge, material intelligence, belief system, and the influence of the modes of nature. This verse (4.13) used to make me wonder which Varna I belonged to. I had to wait for years to get the right answer. If Srila Prabhupada hadn’t written purports summarizing them from the commentaries of the acharayas in the bhakti Tradition, the world would be bereft of information which is essential to being human and recovering our original identity.
In the new age of misinformation, terms like “follow your nature/heart” are prone to be misunderstood. Following our nature doesn’t mean doing whatever our mind instigates us to do. That we have been doing already and its result is a kaleidoscope of minor and major disasters, inner turmoil and outer havocs. Our original nature is to love the supreme lord and to be enjoyed by Him. What do we get by loving Him? The gift of following our original nature consistently is, eternal love that makes us blissful forever. There are no disappointments when we follow our higher nature. Bhakti acharayas like Srila Rupa Goswami and Srila Prabhupada enlighten us that doing things that appeal to Krishna is the right way to love Him. Don’t we realize this truth even in material relationships? We become happy when we do things that make others happy. How do we know what Krishna likes? We learn this from the genuine spiritual teachers who have been walking the path of devotion themselves. In many verses in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells us what pleases Him. One of them is the verse 9.14, in which Krishna says, “Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” He says “Those who are always thinking of Me, who have dedicated their lives to Me, enlighten each other and feel great satisfaction and joy by always speaking about Me.” (Verse 10.9)
Let’s be determined to follow our nature from moment to moment.