By – Sathyakāmā Jabala
Is everyone born a Shudra? Can people change their Varna? We hear that claim very often, but does the Gita support it?
The Gita seems to teach that Varna (often translated as caste) is determined by birth.
The source I’ll be using is, “The Bhagavad Gita, with the commentary of Sri Sankaracharya”
You can find scanned copies here:
Let us start with Gita 18:41–48:
To summarize it, people are divided into Varna based on their Gunas (qualities) by birth. It lists the various duties of each Varna. Verses 46–48 suggests that people must do their duties and must not let go of them even if they are bad at it. Letting go of them is an “undertaking surrounded with evil”. That sounds a lot like Varnas are meant to be rigid.
I request my Hindu friends to show passages FROM THE GITA that say something like “people can change their Varna” or “everyone is born a Shudra”. I tried multiple sources to find any information pertaining to this and couldn’t find any.
Gita 9:32, 33 says something similar:
This aforementioned text (scanned document) is the translation of Adi Shankara’s commentary. He considered women, Vaishyas, and Shudras to be examples of those who were of a “sinful birth”. He is one of the most important scholars of Hinduism (if not the most important) and is credited with unifying the main thoughts of “Hinduism”.
Some translators don’t take “women, Vaishyas and Shudras” to be examples of the preceding phrase “those born of a sinful birth”, they instead use a comma after birth. Even if that were true, the next verse (9:33) clearly distinguishes this group of people from Brahmins, suggesting the latter are superior.
In fact, in his commentary (Gita 18:41), Adi Shankaracharya says Shudras are barred from studying the Vedas.
Swami Swarupananda was a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda and the first president of the Advaita Ashrama. He goes further and calls them of “inferior birth”: In his commentary on Gita 9:32, he explains: (7/n)
“Of inferior birth . . . Sudras — because by birth, the Vaishyas are engaged only in agriculture &c., and the women and Sudras are debarred from the study of the Vedas.” Women are also debarred from studying the Vedas.
Also, Arjuna says in the Gita that women who intermingle with people of other castes are impious, corrupt, and evil. He even calls them the destroyers of families and says their actions will result in their whole family going to hell.
Let me know if Krishna opposed these thoughts (Gita 1:40–46).
Gita 3:35 says something similar: “Better one’s own duty, though devoid of merit, than the duty of another well discharged. Better is death in one’s own duty; the duty of another is productive of danger. “Shudras who don’t serve the other castes (which is their duty, according to Gita 18:44) may face danger, which according to Adi Shankara could be hell (Naraka).
So, in conclusion, yes! Varna is based on birth according to the Gita.
Thank you for reading, your comments are welcome!