Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book four, verses 12-15

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages. Here are all of the posts on the previous verses for the Gita: Bhagavad Gita Study

bhagavad gita nails

From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Bhagavad Gita

12. Desiring the success of ritual acts,
Men sacrifice here on earth to the Vedic gods.
Quickly indeed in th world of men
Ritual acts bring success.

13. The system of four castes was created by Me,
Accroding to the distribution of the qualities and their acts.
Although I am the creator of this,
Know Me to be the eternal non-doer.

14.Actions do not taint Me;
I have no desire for the fruit of action;
Thus he who comprehends Me
Is not bound by actions.

15. Having known this, the ancients,
Seeking release, also performed action.
Therefore perform action
As it was earlier performed by the ancients.

Notes on the Sanskrit

Qualities is, of course, gunas

The Three Gunas

Commentary From the Gurus

Now one who worships a different Deva, thinking “that Deva is other than Myself” and “I am different from that Deva” does not know…In this world of men, success is quickly gained…prompted by desire for their fruits.

So people can perform rituals and prayers to Gods when they desire a particular result. This is done when you think Gods are outside of Yourself. And it works, but it is not the way to eternal peace and happiness.

In terms of caste, Sri Shankara clarifies:

The works of the Brahmanas, in whom sattva dominates, are quiescence of mind, control of senses, austerity, and so forth; those of the Kshatriyas, in whom rajas dominates subordinating sattva, are heroism, power, and so forth; those oft he Vaishyas, in whom rajas dominates subordinating tamas, are tilling and so forth; and those of the Shudras, in whom tamas dominates subordinating rajas, are forms of menial service…In other realms the order of classes does not exist; hence the qualified expression “in the human world”

If one objects and says that the Lord must have karma accruing to him because he did an action like creating the caste system, the answer is that it is not action itself that makes one bound to the human world. Actions done by those who do not have “the conceit of being agents in respect of their works or yearn for their fruits” do not attach as karma.

Work for the mind’s purification if you are ignorant of Self; but if you know the Truth, work for the world’s well-being, as was done by the ancients.

Bhagavad Gita Bhaasya of Sri Shankaracharya

My Thoughts

Very interesting that we have this mention of caste here. It does seem clear that caste is determined by one’s own nature and guna distribution rather than birth. I suspect the confusion arose because one might assume that with reincarnation people would be born into a family that matched the qualities they would have. Life is not, however, that neat and tidy. You often see people born into families where they don’t fit in. Maybe they have different interests from everyone else or different talents or different types of intelligence. Happens all the time.

It…distresses me to hear that people with higher tamasic levels do the menial physical labor. Tamas is often translated as laziness, though I think it’s a bit more like inertia. Hard to get moving. Which means it is extra challenging for a tamas-dominant person to do physical work! I have actually long suspected that my own guna distribution heavily favors tamas.

I wonder if it’s possible to change your own gunic qualities. It must be, right? In the process of improving your soul part of that must be to move closer and closer to a sattvic state. I hope so. I think that my sattva has been increasing over the years.

Here is more of what I have learned about caste:

The Truth About Caste & Hinduism

Sri Krishna reiterates that that even wise people who understand how to attain moksha still perform actions and it is right to do so. This is the main theme of the Gita: do actions but don’t be attached to the result of the actions.

Previous verses:

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book four, verses 8-11

All verses:

Bhagavad Gita Study

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Amit Agarwal
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Shivakumar Chandramouli

    Varnas does not mean caste. Caste is more of a human created word wrongly equated to Varna. Varna is not Varna and not caste. The profession a person belongs to is Varna and was create by Krishna at the time of inception of the world. He thought that for the world to sustain itself, “chatur varnayam”, in other words Brahmans, kshtriyas, vaishya and sudra must do their works and support each other so that everyone lives happily. Again Varna is based on profession and does not belong to birth. A person belonging to one Varna can change to other Varna and there is nothing wrong in it. Example: sage Valmiki who wrote Ramayana and sage Vyasa who wrote Mahabharata.