Sattva, rajasika and tamasika gunas in different combinations form the basis for the fourfold classification of human beings in a society into Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.
The Lord gives a brief resume of the three spiritual disciplines to reach Brahman - Karma Yoga, path of action for the body, Bhakti Yoga, path of devotion for the mind and Jnana Yoga, Path of knowledge for the intellect.
Pursuing the path of action a seeker drops the bulk of the vasanas, desires. His mind becomes purified. His intellect becomes sharp. He rises to the path of knowledge and acquires spiritual values. He develops commitment to God and thus enters the path of devotion. The three disciplines prepare the seeker for concentration, meditation upon the Supreme through which he realizes Brahman.
Krishna appeals to Arjuna to drop his ego and seek the supreme Self within. Every person functions helplessly according to one’s own nature. Krishna assures Arjuna that He has imparted the knowledge necessary to take the plunge, leaving the choice to him to reflect and decide his course of action.
ONE'S NATURE (SWABHAVA) AND STATION IN LIFE (SWADHARMA)
na tadasti prithivyaam vaa divi deveshu vaa punah
sattwam prakritijairmuktam yadebhih syaat tribhirgunaih // 18.40 //
There is no being on earth or again in heaven among the Devas, who is free from these three Gunas born of prakriti (nature).
This verse concludes the discussion so far made about the three Gunas influencing the personality and the behavioral pattern of the living organisms. Sri Krishna says that there is no creature either on the earth or among the Gods in the heaven who is free from the influences of these three Gunas. The play of these three Gunas is the very expression of Prakriti. Put together they are the manifestations of Maya which make the individuals differ from each other.
With these three measuring rods Sri Krishna classifies the entire humanity under four distinct types. The criterion of this classification of man is the quality of his inner equipments responsible for achievements in the field of his activities.
The fourfold division of society is based on this principle. Certain well defined characteristics determine these four classes in the community. They are never determined by birth. This classification of society is as follows:
•Brahmanas - who have major portion of Sattwa and a little Rajas with minimum Tamas.
•Kshatriyas - who have mostly Rajas with some Sattwa and very little Tamas.
•Vaishyas - who have more Rajas, very little Sattwa and some Tamas.
•Sudras - mostly Tamas, very little Rajas and negligible Sattwa.
braahmanakshatriyavishaam shoodraanaam cha parantapa
karmaani pravibhaktaani swabhaavaprabhavairgunaih // 18.41 //
Of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, as also the Sudras, O Arjuna, and the activities are distinguished in accordance with the qualities born of their own nature.
Sri Krishna applies the characteristics of various Gunas to the social fabric and classifies the entire mankind under four different heads viz. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras.
Different kinds of duties are assigned to each of these categories of individuals depending on their nature (Swabhava) which in turn depends on the Gunas predominating in them. This classification is based on the quality of the inner personality of the individuals and not on the accident of their birth.
The fourfold order is not peculiar to Hindu society. It is of universal application. The classification depends on types of human nature. Each of the four classes has certain well defined characteristics though they are not to be regarded as exclusive. They are not always determined by heredity.
The Gita cannot be used to support the existing social order with its rigidity and confusion. The Gita enlarges the scope and meaning of the theory of the fourfold order. Man's outward life must express his inward being; the surface must reflect the depth. Each individual has his inborn nature-Swabhava- and to make it effective in his life is his duty-Swadharma. Each individual is a focus of the Supreme, a fragment of the Divine. His destiny is to bring out in his life this divine possibility. The Gita lays the utmost emphasis on Swadharma – the dharma or duty of an individual – as determined by his Swabhava, his inner nature formed as a result of his own past actions.
The one Spirit of the universe has produced the multiplicity of souls in the world, but the idea of the Divine is our essential nature, the truth of our being, our Swabhava and not the apparatus of the Gunas, which is only the medium of expression. If each individual does what is appropriate to him, if he follows the law of his being, his Swadharma, then God would express Himself in the free volitions of human beings. All that is essential for the world will be done without a conflict.
But men rarely do what they ought to do. When they undertake to determine events believing that they know the plan of the whole, they work mischief on the earth. So long as our work is done in accordance with our nature, we are righteous and if we dedicate it to God, our work becomes a means of spiritual perfection. When the divine in the individual is completely manifested, he attains the eternal, imperishable status. The problem that human life sets to us is to discover our true self and live according to its truth; otherwise we would sin against our nature.
The emphasis on Swabhava indicates that human beings are to be treated as individuals and not as types. Arjuna is told that he who fights gallantly as a warrior becomes mature for the peace of wisdom. There are four broad types of nature and answering to them are four kinds of social living. The four classes are not determined by birth or colour but by psychological characteristics which fit us for definite functions in society.
shamo damanastapah shaucham kshaantiraarjavameva cha
jnaanam vijnaanam aastikyam brahmakarma swabhaavajam // 18.42 //
Serenity, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness and also uprightness, knowledge, realization and belief in God are the duties of the Brahmanas, born of their own nature.
The duties of the Brahmanas are enumerated:
•Serenity (Shama) - Controlling the mind from running after the world of objects in pursuit of sensual enjoyment.
•Self restraint (Dama) - Controlling the sense organs from conveying the external stimuli to the mind.
•Austerity (Tapas) - Conscious physical self denial to save human energy from sense indulgence and directing such energy towards spiritual awakening.
•Purity (Shaucham)- External cleanliness and internal purity.
•Forgiveness or Forbearance (Kshanti) - To be patient and forgiving even against wrongs committed against oneself.
•Uprightness (Arjavam) - A quality that makes the individual straightforward in all his dealings and thus becoming fearless.
•Cultivating and practicing these six qualities are the life-long duty of a Brahmana. Three more duties are added by The Lord as a code of conduct or duties in the spiritual side of a Brahmana. They are :
•Knowledge (Jnanam) - Knowledge of all that Upanishads deal with.
•Wisdom (Vijnanam) - Personal experience of the knowledge so acquired. Knowledge is that which is imparted while wisdom is that which is experienced within oneself. Wisdom is living the knowledge gained by studies.
•Faith (Astikyam) - Conviction to live what one has learnt and understood.
shauryam tejo dhritirdaakshyam yuddhe chaapyapalaayanam
daanameeshwarabhaavashcha kshaatram karmaswabhaavajam // 18.43 //
Prowess, splendor, firmness, dexterity and also not fleeing even in a battle, generosity and leadership are the duties of Kshatriyas, born of their own nature.
The qualities of a Kshatriya are enumerated:
•Prowess and splendor - Vigor to meet challenges in life.
•Firmness or fortitude - Zeal and consistency of purpose.
•Dexterity - Alertness and foresight.
•Not fleeing even from a battle - Not to accept defeat in any field of activity.
•Generosity- Compassion to those in need of help.
•Lordliness- Self confidence in one's own ability and possessing leadership qualities.
These are the duties of the Kshatriyas, the men of action.