Most Americans believe in social mobility. Typical
American children think that they can grow up to
become anyone they want — a fire fighter, a brain
surgeon, the president of the United States. Even
kids from poor families have a chance of getting
Under the ancient caste system in South
Asia, though, the idea of social mobility made no
sense. People were born into strict social positions
called castes, and their children belonged to the
same social class. In fact, under the caste
system, parents knew the jobs their kids would
hold even before the kids were born.
The Hindu caste system (VARNASHRAMA-
DHARMA) is ordered hierarchically, with Brahmins at
the top and Sudras at the bottom. Untouchables, also
known as Harijans or Dalits, fall outside of the caste
system all together
According to the Hindu religion, society should be divided into four
broad classes called VARNAS. A person had the same varna that
his or her parents had. And he or she had it from birth to death —
there was no way to change it. Hindus did not question the varna
system. It was simply considered a part of the way the universe
Hindus rank the four varnas from highest to lowest. In descending
order of importance and prestige, they are the BRAHMIN (priests
and teachers), the KSHATRIYA (rulers and warriors), the VAISYA
(merchants, craftsmen, and farmers ) , and the SUDRA (servants).
Each varna must observe certain rules of purity. The Brahmins are
considered so pure that they may never eat food prepared by
anyone but another Brahmin. This means that Brahmins cannot go
to a restaurant where the staff are not also Brahmins.
Also, marriage outside one's one varna is usually forbidden.
Every member of each caste is written in the Rig Veda to be a
manifestation or derivative of the universe symbolized by the
embodied human spirit Purusha:
The Brahmin was his mouth,
Of both his arms was the (Kshatriya) made.
His thighs became the Vaishya,
From his feet the Sudhra was produced. (X.90.1-3)
Hypergamy and Caste
The caste system is structured so that people marry within their
own caste, but it isn't unheard of to marry outside of it. In
fact, having a woman marry a man of a higher varna
(hypergamy) is a way for a family to achieve social mobility.
Untouchables: The 5th
There is a fifth major class in Hinduism, but it is considered so
low that it doesn't even qualify as a varna. Most people call it
the "UNTOUCHABLE" class because its members are
forbidden to touch anyone who belongs to one of the four
varnas. If a Brahmin priest touches an untouchable, he or she
must go through a ritual in which the pollution is washed away.
The caste system is not described in the Hindu scripture. The
system was originally devised to create an understandable
division of labor and identify different groups of people.
Untouchables do all the most unpleasant work in South Asia.
They are forced to live on the outskirts of towns and
villages, and they must take water downstream from and not
share wells with varna Hindus.
Many Hindus in the past believed that untouchables deserved
this treatment — a treatment that is in many ways even harsher
than that inflicted on African Americans before the Civil Rights
Movement. Hindus think that a person is born to this class
because of bad karma he or she earned in a pervious life.
Now for ―Jati‖-Dharma
To a Westerner, this system seems complicated enough, but
Hindus actually divide each varna into many little
subsections. These subsections, called JATIS, work a lot like
the varnas. A person is born in to the same jati as his or her
parents and remains there for life.
There are different jatis for every kind of job, such as
blacksmith, farmer, shoemaker, and accountant. There may
be more than one jati that does a particular job, but most
jatis do only one.
Ideally, a person will marry someone in the same jati. This
can sometimes be a problem when most of the people in the
jati are related in some way. A father in South Asia must take
responsibility for finding a good match for his children, and
will work hard to find someone in the same jati who is not a
close blood relative.
Future of Caste Westerners may find this complicated and sometimes cruel system hard to
understand. A Hindu, however, accepts it as natural. In fact, Hinduism
teaches that in order to be assured of a good life in one's next
reincarnation, a person must do everything he or she can to live up to the
expectations of his or her varna and jati. A Sudra should work hard; a
Brahmin should study religious texts and pray hard.
The caste system has relaxed somewhat over the last hundred years or so.
People can take jobs that are not exactly what their jati requires, especially
as new kinds of jobs — such as computer programming, flying
airplanes, and installing cable television — that have no traditional
In fact, the caste system is officially illegal in India. Affirmative action
programs have been adopted to create new opportunities for lower-caste
Indians. Even the untouchable caste has had some success getting better
jobs, including government positions.
But, the system is not dead. Two of the questions South Asians often ask
about each other when they first meet are "What is your jati?" and "What is
your varna?" Although most Westerners and many modern Hindus don't
believe that the caste system can really say much about a person on the
inside, knowing someone's caste gives one some idea of what his or her life
and family are like.
The caste system existed almost unchanged for at least 2,000 years, and its
effects can still be felt today. But in the last half century, the system has
begun to change and the idea of social mobility has arrived in India.
Laws of Manu & the Braham
Smriti As the longest epic poem in the world, Mahabharata depicts the
actions of Hindu human beings in times of dharmic conflict in a
power struggle between two groups of cousins. (ARJUNA‘S
The incarnate Lord Krishna states that although he has absolute
authority over the universe, human beings must perform the duties
themselves and reap the benefits. Furthermore, in the ideal Hindu
society, human beings ought to accept their "varna" and live life
Krishna's dialogue with the people of different varna in the
Bhagavad Gita, a part of the Mahabharata, instructs self-
realization and reaffirms "varnashrama-dharma". It describes the
human body as a suit of clothes on the atman, for the atman merely
inhabits the body and assumes a new one after the death of the
first. The precious atman must be cleansed and maintained pure by
abiding to regulations set forth in the Vedas.
The God of the Hindu tradition selected human beings, their own
creations, to uphold a system of DHARMA and thus Hindu life. As a
direct consequence, Hindus benefited from their obedience to such
social order and if followed, have a divine right to accomplish
―MOSHKA‖ or liberation.
Laws of Manu
The first chapter deals with the creation of the world by the deities, the
divine origin of the book itself, and the objective of studying it.
Chapters two to six recounts the proper conduct of the members of the
upper castes, their initiation into the Brahmin religion by sacred thread
or sin-removing ceremony, the period of disciplined studentship
devoted to the study of the Vedas under a Brahmin teacher, the chief
duties of the householder - choice of a wife, marriage, protection of the
sacred hearth-fire, hospitality, sacrifices to the gods, feasts to his
departed relatives, along with the numerous restrictions - and
finally, the duties of old age.
The seventh chapter talks of manifold duties and responsibilities of
The eighth chapter deals with the modus operandi in civil and criminal
proceedings and of the proper punishments to be meted out to different
The ninth and the tenth chapters relate the customs and laws regarding
inheritance and property, divorce and the lawful occupations for each
Chapter eleven expresses the various kinds of penance for the
The final chapter expounds the doctrine of karma, rebirths and
The Stage is Set: The Gita
In the epic Mahabharata, SANJAYA, counselor of the
KURU king DHRITARASTRA (blind king), after returning
from the battlefield to announce the death of BHISMA
begins recounting the details of the Mahabharata war.
Bhagavad Gita forms the content of this recollection.
The Gita begins before the start of the climactic
KURUKSHETSTRA WAR, where the PANDAVA prince
Arjuna is filled with doubt on the battlefield.
Realizing that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved
friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer
and guide, Krishna, for advice. (Arjuna‘s Dilemma)
Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral
dilemma, KRISHNA explains to Arjuna his duties as a
warrior and prince, elaborating on a variety of
Arjuna, of the Pandavas
Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer and guru
Sanjaya, counsellor of the Kuru king Dhritarashtra
Dhritarashtra, Kuru blind king.
Themes in the Gita
The first reference to dharma in the Bhagavad Gita occurs in its first
verse, where Dhritarashtra refers to the Kurukshetra as the 'Field of
dharma'. -the eternal order which pervades the whole cosmos and is
ultimately true and right. Therefore, 'Field of action' implies the field of
righteousness, where truth will eventually triumph OR the 'Field of
action' as the world, which is a "battleground for moral struggle"
Early in the text, responding to Arjuna's despondency, Krishna asks him
to follow his swadharma. Swadharma literally means work born out of
one's nature and in this verse, is often interpreted as the varna dharma
or in the case of Arjuna, the duty of a warrior. Eighteenth chapter of the
Gita examines the relationship between swadharma and swabhava or
essential nature. In this chapter, the swadharma of an individual is
linked with the guṇas or tendencies arising out of one's swabhava.
Gandhi found in the concept of swadharma, the basis for his idea of
swadeshi. To him, swadeshi was "swadharma applied to one's
Sometimes viewed as a struggle between DHARMA & AHIMSA
Liberation or moksha in Vedanta
philosophy is not something that can be
acquired or reached. Ātman (Self), the goal
of moksha, is something that is always
present as the essence of the self, and can
be revealed by deep intuitive knowledge.
While the Upanishads largely uphold such
a monistic viewpoint of liberation, the
Bhagavad Gita also accommodates the
dualistic and theistic aspects of moksha.
A synthesis of knowledge, devotion, and
‗desire-less‘ action is given as a
prescription for Arjuna's despondence; the
same combination is suggested as a way
Allegory of war
―The war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every
human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life
victorious", and "The language of battle is often found in
the scriptures, for it conveys the strenuous, long, drawn-
out campaign we must wage to free ourselves from the
tyranny of the ego, the cause of all our suffering and
Arjuna may also be seen as an allegory of Ātman, Krishna
as an allegory of Brahman, Arjuna's chariot as the
body, and Dhritarashtra as the ignorance filled mind.
Here in the Bhagavad Gita, we could find a practical
handbook of instruction on how best we can reorganize
our inner ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in our
everyday life and draw from ourselves a larger gush of
productivity to enrich the life around us, and to emblazon
the subjective life within us.
Ambiguity of decisions: There may be no good choices
in life, so we all MUST ACT according to our ―highest‖
nature. That nature is found in self-reflection and
considers our disposition and dharma.
Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita refers to the skill of union with
the ultimate reality or the Absolute. Sivananda's
commentary regards the eighteen chapters of the
Bhagavad Gita as having a progressive order, by which
Krishna leads "Arjuna up the ladder of Yoga from one
rung to another.―
Upanishadic Learning is followed in the text:
Ready to Listed (deer in the forest)
Ruminating on Teachings (like a cow chewing its cud)
Synthesizing Information (like a bird building a nest)
Upa (―near) ni (below/determination) shad (to sit down) =
guru/sisya relationship of transmitting secret/sacred knowledge
Chapters 1–6 = Karma yoga, the means to the final goal
Chapters 7–12 = Bhakti yoga or devotion
Chapters 13–18 = Jnana yoga or knowledge, the goal itself
Do these account for all the different types of ―people‖ that
can practice yoga? Or is this a progression?
"inaction in action and action in inaction (4.18)".
To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not
the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any
attachment to inaction Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of
wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in
success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga. (2.47-8)
With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the
senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having
abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having
abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace. (5.11)
When a man dwells in his mind on the object of sense, attachment
to them is produced. From attachment springs desire and from
desire comes anger. From anger arises bewilderment, from
bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the
destruction of intelligence and from the destruction of intelligence
The easiest and the highest path to salvation
And of all yogins, he who full of faith worships Me, with his
inner self abiding in Me, him, I hold to be the most attuned
(to me in Yoga). (6.47)
... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding
Me as the Supreme, worship Me... For those whose
thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer
from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep
your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you
shall dwell in Me hereafter. (12.6)
He who does work for Me, he who looks upon Me as his
goal, he who worships Me, free from attachment, who is
free from enmity to all creatures, he goes to Me, O
When a sensible man ceases to see
different identities due to different material
bodies and he sees how beings are
expanded everywhere, he attains to the
Brahman conception. (13.31)
Those who see with eyes of knowledge the
difference between the body and the
knower of the body, and can also
understand the process of liberation from
bondage in material nature, attain to the
supreme goal. (13.35)
The fundamental distinction in Sankhya
philosophy is the separation of Brahman
(oneness of all elements in the universe)
into two distinct parts: Purusha (pure
consciousness) and Prakriti
(nature, primeval matter). Samsara or
bondage arises when Purusha enters
into a state of advidia (not knowing);
losing its identity and confusing itself
with the physical body - which is seen as
a distinct evolute of Prakriti. Purusha
becomes liberated when the
discriminate knowledge of the difference
between conscious Purusha and
unconscious Prakriti is realized.
These 25 elements were further simplified into
two other maps of the body-mind-spirit: the
three Shariras (bodies) and the five Koshas
(sheathes). These both identify layers within
our experience, which correlate with each
other and the tattvas. The Shariras and the
Koshas are both used to draw one‘s
awareness inside, traveling from the
physical, to the energetic and casual
bodies, towards the very essence of our
being, which Sankhya tells us is
Brahman, pure undivided oneness. This
moving from the physical to the subtle
deeper experiences of the body is an
important tool in the practice of meditation
and inner contemplation.
Anna means food. All of the physical aspects of life come and go, and are consumed
by another aspect of external reality. Thus, the outermost of the koshas is called the
sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.
The next of the koshas is Pranamaya kosha. Prana means energy. It is the vital force
that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath, and which are the driving force
behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body. It
allows the invisible indweller, our True Self to be able to animate in the external world.
At the same time, however, it allows the eternally still, silent center of consciousness to
be mistakenly identified as the moving, visible physical body.
The next of the koshas is Manamaya kosha. Mana means mind. It is the level of
processing thoughts and emotions. It is in direct control of the operation, through the
prana, of the physical body and senses. It is like a supervisor in a factory, in that it
gives instructions, but is not supposed to be the manager of the factory of life. Because
of this, it naturally has doubts, and created illusions. When it receives clear instructions
from the deeper level, it functions quite well. However, when it is clouded over by its
illusions, the deeper wisdom is clouded over.
The next of the koshas is Vijnanamaya kosha. Vijnana means knowing. It is the sheath
of wisdom that is underneath the processing, thinking aspect of mind. It
knows, decides, judges, and discriminates between this and that, between useful and
not useful. It is also the level of ego consciousness, meaning the powerful wave of I-
am-ness. This I-am-ness itself is a positive influence, but when it gets co-mingled with
the memories, and is clouded over by the manas, it loses its positive strength.
Anandamaya kosha is the most interior of the koshas, the first of the koshas
surrounding the Atman, the eternal center of consciousness. Ananda means bliss.
However, it is not bliss as a mere emotion experienced at the level of the sheath of
mind. Ananda is a whole different order of reality from that of the mind. It is
peace, joy, and love that is underneath, beyond the mind, independent of any reason or
stimulus to cause a happy mental reaction. It is simply being, resting in bliss called
The Way of
Dualist perspective in which the best known
scholar, Shankara outlines the nature of the
universe in which IGNORANGE (avidya) is the
root of all evil. It has the powers of both
concealment and incarnation. –Samkhaya
In the Vaishnanva tradition in contrast (monist)
the divine is in everything and therefore
everything is divine. (Ramanuja)
If actions are not inherently good or bad, then
how might we discern between ―right action
and wrong action‖? (question of the Gita)
The Way of Action: Ch3
All change/creation/transformation comes through
sacrifice. So here in this chapter, RIGHT ACTION is
understood as sacrifice. Those actions which create
TAPAS and allow transformation. Even Krishna
engages in ―action‖ even though none is ―needed‖
Sacrifice is SELFLESS ACTION
―one acts according to ones own nature, even a
person of knowledge. For beings follow their nature-
what shall repression accomplish?
Better to fulfill ones own dharma impe5rfectly than
attempt to perform the dharma of another.
The Way of Knowledge:
Here Krishna continues to refine his ideas about Sacrifice and
the attainment of knowledge as a “path”
The nature of action based on KNOWLEDGE
Sacrifice is found in Action 4:18, 4:21-23
Kinds of Sacrifice:
5 components of vedic sacrifice
○ Perfect mediataion 4:24
Worshipping divinities-Vedic 4:25
Sacrificing senses-Dhyrana 4:26
Sacrificing Actions of the senses-Pratyahara 4:27
Sacrificing material possessions (renunciators) 4:28
Sacrificing breath (pranayama) 4:29
Sacrifice culminates in knowledge: transformation 4:31-33, 3:37-38