Brindala -- Los Angeles -- J.S. Jayaram, M.D. -- Success and Peace from Holistic Living
Menu -- Writing

Article CXI: Caste in the Gita

Verses 41-44, of the first chapter, speak about destruction of society and banishment to hell arising from the "intermingling of castes." Great controversy exists regarding the philosophical intention and societal manifestation of caste in India. The concept of caste has affected Indian society differently throughout the ages, and it is challenging to historically distinguish how practices existed and changed across time, i.e. modern India, British occupation, pre-British occupation, hundreds of years ago, or thousands of years in the past. Different texts refer to caste in different ways, including the Gita, the Rig Veda, and the Manu Smriti, among others. Nonetheless, modern Vedantins and gurus agree that the current understanding and practice of caste concepts are a misinterpretation of the original philosophical intent. Caste also has different implications in modern times since one's education and occupation are no longer so strongly connected to one's birth and one's parents' education and occupation. Caste, in the Gita and Vedanta, implies one's capacities, both innate and environmentally influenced, reflective of one's attributes (guna), tendencies (vasana), and impressions from past action in this life or previous lives (karma, or more specifically samskara). Caste in this sense of the word is not merely determined by birth. Vedanta posits that one must follow an appropriate path based on one's qualities, in order to ideally nourish society and ascend toward enlightenment.

Gita Full Text:

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter I -- Translated by Swami Chinmayananda

Dhritarashtra said:
1. What did the sons of Pandu and also my people do when, desirous to fight, they assembled together on the holy plain of Kurukshetra, O Sanjaya?
Sanjaya said:
2. Having seen the army of the Pandavas drawn up in battle array, King Duryodhana then approached his teacher (Drona) and spoke these words.
3. Behold, O Teacher! this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, thy wise disciple.
4. Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna, Yuyudhana, Virata and Drupada, each commanding eleven-thousand archers.
5. Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, and the valiant king of Kashi, Purujit and Kuntibhoja and Saibya, the best of men.
6. The strong Yudhamanyu and the brave Uttamaujas, the son of Subhadra and the sons of Draupadi, all of them, divisional commanders.
7. Know also, O best among the twice-born, the names of those who are the most distinguished amongst ourselves, the leaders of my army; these I name to thee for thy information.
8. Yourself and Bishma, and Karna and also Kripa, the victorious in war; Aswatthama, Vikarna and so also the son of Somadatta.
9. And many other heroes also who are determined to give up their lives for my sake, armed with various weapons and missiles, all well-skilled in battle.
10. This army of ours defended by Bhishma is insufficient, whereas that army of theirs defended by Bhima is sufficient. Or, This army of ours protected by Bhishma is unlimited, whereas that army of theirs protected by Bhima is limited.
11. Therefore do you all, stationed in your respective positions in the several divisions of the army, protect Bhishma alone.
12. His glorious grandsire (Bhishma) , the oldest of the Kauravas, in order to cheer Duryodhana, now sounded aloud a lion's roar and blew his conch.
13. Then (following Bhishma) , conches and kettle-drums, tabors, drums and cow-horns blared forth quite suddenly and the sound was tremendous.
14. Then, also Madhava and the son of Pandu, seated in their magnificent chariot yoked with white horses, blew their divine conches.
15. Hrishikesha blew the Panchajanya and Dhananjaya (Arjuna) blew the Devadatta and Vrikodara (Bhima) , the doer of terrible deeds, blew the great conch, named Paundra.
16. King Yudhisthira, the son of Kunti, blew the Anantavijaya; Nakula and Sahadeva blew the Sughosha and the Manipushpaka.
17. The king of Kashi, an excellent archer, Shikhandi, the mighty commander of eleven thousand archers, Dhristadyumna and Virata and Satyaki, the unconquered;
18. Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, O Lord of the Earth, and the son of Subhadra, the mighty armed, blew their respective conches.
19. That tumultuous sound rent the hearts of (the people of) Dhritarashtra's party and made both heaven and earth reverberate.
20-21. Then, seeing the people of Dhritarashtra's party standing arrayed and the discharge of weapons about to begin, Arjuna, the son of Pandu, whose ensign was a monkey, took up his bow and said these words to Krishna (Hrishikesha) , O Lord of the Earth!
Arjuna said:
21-22. In the midst of the two armies, place my chariot, O Achyuta, that I may behold those who stand here desirous of fighting and, on the eve of this battle, let me know with whom I must fight.
23. For I desire to observe those who are assembled here for the fight, wishing to please in battle, the evil-minded sons of Dhritarashtra.
Sanjaya said:
24. Thus addressed by Gudakesha, O Bharata, Hrishikesha, having stationed the best of chariots between the two armies;
25. In front of Bhishma and Drona, and all the rulers of the earth, he said, 'O Partha, behold these Kurus gathered together. '
26. Then Partha saw stationed there in both the armies, fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons and friends too.
27. (He saw) Fathers-in-law and friends also in both the armies. Then the son of Kunti, seeing all these kinsmen thus standing arrayed, spoke thus sorrowfully, filled with deep pity.
Arjuna said: 28. Seeing these my kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed, eager to fight,
29. My limbs fail and my mouth is parched, my body quivers and my hair stands on end.
30. The Gandiva-bow slips from my hand, and my skin burns all over; I am also unable to stand and my mind is whirling round, as it were.
31. And I see adverse omens, O Keshava. Nor do I see any good in killing my kinsmen in battle.
32. For, I desire not victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasures. Of what avail is dominion to us, O Govinda? Of what avail are pleasures or even life itself?
33. They for whose sake we desire kingdom, enjoyment and pleasures stand here in battle, having renounced life and wealth.
34. Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives.
35. These I do not wish to kill, though they kill me, O Madhusudana, even for the sake of dominion over the three worlds; how much less for the sake of the earth.
36. Killing these sons of Dhritarashtra, what pleasure can be ours, O Janardana? Sin alone will be our gain by killing these felons.
37. Therefore we shall not kill the sons of Dhritarashtra, our relatives; for how can we be happy by killing our own people, O Madhava?
38. Though these, with their intelligence clouded by greed, see no evil in the destruction of the families in the society, and no sin in their cruelty to friends; . . .
39. Why should not we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family-units, learn to turn away from this sin, O Janardana?
40. In the destruction of a family, the immemorial religious rites of that family perish; on the destruction of spirituality, impiety overcomes the whole family.
41. By the prevalence of impiety, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt; and women being corrupted, O descendent of the Vrishni-clan, there arises "intermingling of castes" (VARNA-SAMKARA) .
42. 'Confusion of castes' leads the slayer of the family to hell; for their forefathers fall, deprived of the offerings of PINDA (rice-ball) and water (libations) .
43. By these evil deeds of the 'destroyers of the family, ' which cause confusion of castes, the eternal religious rites of the caste and the family are destroyed.
44. We have heard, O Janardana, that it is inevitable for those men, in whose families the religious practices have been destroyed, to dwell in hell for an unknown period of time.
45. Alas! We are involved in a great sin, in that we are prepared to kill our kinsmen, from greed for the pleasures of the kingdom.
46. If the sons of Dhritarashtra, weapons-in-hand, slay me in battle, unresisting and unarmed, that would be better for me.
Sanjaya said:
47. Having thus spoken in the midst of the battle-field, Arjuna sat down on the seat of the chariot, casting away his bow and arrow, with a mind distressed with sorrow.

East-West Counseling & Meditation -- Modern Psychiatry Integration -- Himalayan Philosophy -- Penn & Stanford Medicine
Home About Treatment Appointment Payment Writing FAQ Contact