The critics of the birth-based caste system and those who support the behavior-based caste system, cite these verses from the Bhagavad Gita in support of their theory:

Bg 18.41 — Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.

Bg 18.42 — Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness – these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.

Bg 18.43 — Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.

Bg 18.44 — Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there are labor and service to others.

Now at first glance, one might think that someone's outward behavior as listed above determines their predominant guna.

But the problem with this theory is that people's gunas and behaviors constantly change, people can make their behavior change through practice, and people have a mish-mash of the qualities listed above that aren't cleanly divided along those lines.

So, one must resort to determining the person's actual guna composition through some other means.

How do the supporters of behavior-based caste theory go about determing someone's guna composition? Through siddhis?

  • 7
    In modern times, varna has become irrelevant. So what would anybody achieve by trying to determine somebody's guna or varna?
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 19:58
  • 2
    Shudras are the worst affected by the birth-based caste system because they can't attain Jnana even if they are leading a righteous life. As the manusmriti itself says in verse 9.335, if a shudra is possesing all those qualities, they should at least be promoted to a vaishya status to attain Jnana in this life.
    – Ajay Varma
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 21:01
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    @AjayVarma It's not talking about this life, it's talking about a Shudra's next life. Being born is a Shudra is due to committing lots of sins in previous lives.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 21:44
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    @LazyLubber, "In modern times, varna has become irrelevant" - citation required.
    – ram
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 23:42
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    @AjayVarma that may be true for the Manusmirti, but not Shiva Purana which states in Videshwara Chap 17 it states clearly that a Shudra can become a Mantra-Brahmin.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 3:32

1 Answer 1


The Gunas don't necessarily refer to characteristics, but rather one's internal tendencies. As one's life progresses your Gunas can change Arjuna from a king became a saint after all. The Bhagavad Gita's view of looking at it is you essentially do your duty as it is based on your Guna, but with a yogic mindset, and through that you become purified. Here let me find the verse citations. 18.46 By performing one’s natural occupation, one worships the Creator from whom all living entities have come into being, and by whom the whole universe is pervaded. By such performance of work, a person easily attains perfection. Bhagavad Gita 18.51-53: One becomes fit to attain Brahman when he or she possesses a purified intellect and firmly restrains the senses, abandoning sound and other objects of the senses, casting aside attraction and aversion. Such a person relishes solitude, eats lightly, controls body, mind, and speech, is ever engaged in meditation, and practices dispassion. Free from egotism, violence, arrogance, desire, possessiveness of property, and selfishness, such a person, situated in tranquility, is fit for union with Brahman (i.e., realization of the Absolute Truth as Brahman). Rather than the Bhagavad Gita focusing on climbing up the Varna system if you see it as a hierarchy it focuses on through your present Varna how to achieve liberation. Bhagavad Gita 3.9: Work must be done as a yajna to the Supreme Lord; otherwise, work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, for the satisfaction of God, perform your prescribed duties, without being attached to the results.

Essentially the Bhagavad Gita deals with moksha. When one is so situated in this mindset they see no difference between a Shudra's work and a Brahma's work and they do it with one goal in mind salvation. In this way, everyone becomes illuminated. The Bhagavad Gita is neutral on changing Varna and for good reason, it could lead to a sense of attachment to one occupation over another making you forget its message which is moksha for all through yourself in the present. That being said one may certainly advance spiritual occupation. From being a householder to a trancendalist.

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