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So I know the basics of Varna and the Gunas I have read the Bhagavad Gita, but I am still confused about the nature of Varna. Bhishma in the Anusasanika Parva describes a changing Varna to a Brahmana primarily as practically impossible. "O Matanga, I say unto you, do you name some other boon, for the status of a Brahmana is incapable of being attained by you (that hast been born as a Chandala)!'" https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/the-mahabharata-mohan/d/doc826353.html

Yet in the Tirtha Yantra Parva Yudhishthira states, "Doubts having arisen on this point, O prince; of serpents, Swayambhuba Manu has declared, that the mixed castes are to be regarded as better than the (other) classes if having gone through the ceremonies of purification, the latter do not conform to the rules of good conduct, O excellent snake! Whosoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.'" https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/the-mahabharata-mohan/d/doc7458.html

Yet also in the Tirtha Yantra Parva Narada states how bathing eventually changes one's Varnas, "One should next proceed to the excellent tirtha of Brahma. Bathing there, a person, of the (three) inferior orders, obtaines the status of a Brahmana, and if one be a Brahmana, his soul being purified from every sin, he attains to the highest state."

Now my friend said simply that Varna is threefold, being of Birth, Qualities, and Duties one who does all three is part of that Varna. So does that make Sanjaya who is inferred to be a Shudra by duties and likely birth a Brahmana by qualities? In this case, how does the Gunas work as Sri Krishna describes? If we are to assume Gunas are fixed based on one's current life as Krishna doesn't state Varna can be changed in this life in the Bhagavad Gita only that it's based on qualities and actions. So, how then can Sanjaya be Satvik? Forget Sanjaya what about any person who is spiritually empowered by the Bhagavad Gita's message do they not become Sattvik before being liberated from Gunas fully? I understand each character has his/her own opinion and that Krishna's word is final in this case, but then again how? If we look at Krishna's model alone we can see Varna is just based on one's Karma's previous actions I assume in the context of this and the previous life. As well as Yudhishthira who seems to agree with this. But, then we have Narada who is a great saint who states by doing a series of bathing one can attain a Brahmana status and Bhishma says that this change is impossible. In essence, I will summarize my two questions.

How do gunas work if Varna can change are they fixed in a person's life if they can why does Krishna state, "It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty, though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty, though perfectly? It is preferable to die in the discharge of one’s duty than to follow the path of another, which is fraught with danger." BG 3.35 https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/3/verse/35 I know this verse isn't necessarily contradictory, but how does one when through preforming their duties in a "Krishna consciousness" way that their Varna and prescribed duty has changed versus them simply following another path.

My second question is how does Varna work in general and how are these three systems unified?

Please provide sources thank you!

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You have asked some questions:

'How do gunas work if Varna can change are they fixed in a person's life if they can why does Krishna state, "It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty, though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty, though perfectly? It is preferable to die in the discharge of one’s duty than to follow the path of another, which is fraught with danger." BG 3.35 https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/3/verse/35 I know this verse isn't necessarily contradictory, but how does one when through preforming their duties in a "Krishna consciousness" way that their Varna and prescribed duty has changed versus them simply following another path.

My second question is how does Varna work in general and how are these three systems unified?'

I suggest instead of thinking like that you look at the whole issue from the Gita point of view. The Gita view of Varna has already been explained here: How does Swami Vivekananda's psychological theory of Varna interpret Gita verses 4.13, 18.41-47?

The various varnas, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra, are simply mental states indicating character types and determined by conduct. They are definitely not dependent on birth. They are based on karma and guna.

Maheshwara said, ‘..Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, the conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of a Brahma, O auspicious lady [Uma], is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in which the status of Brahma exists – that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it. The boon giving Brahma, when he created all creatures, himself said that the distribution of human beings in four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification.

Mahabharata Anusasana Parva Section CXLIII

Gunas and thus Varna can be changed through spiritual practice.

Methods to change Varna

  1. Sage Pulastya said, "..by vows, by investiture of the sacred, by fasts, by rites, and by Mantras, one becometh a Brahmana."

Mahabharata, Aranya Parva Section LXXXIII

Only he who has purified himself by means of Gayatri Japa can be called a pure Brahmin. ….

Shiva Purana, Vidyesvara samhita, 15.18

It is thus that Brahmins of controlled sense-organs become liberated gradually. I shall tell you the process in some other cases. Please listen attentively.

……

A Ksatriya must repeat the mantra five hundred thousand times to remove Ksatratva. A further repetition of five hundred thousand times enables him to become a Brahmin.

After the mantrasiddhi he shall gradually become liberated. A Vaisya dispels the Vaisyatva by five hundred thousand japa.

Then he becomes a mantra-Ksatriya by repeating it five hundred thousand times. He then dispels Ksatriatva by five hundred thousand japa.

He then becomes a mantrabrahmin by repeating the mantra five hundred thousand times. A Sudra, repeating the mantra with Namah at the end, for two million five hundred thousand times becomes a mantra-brahmin and so pure enough for liberation. ……

Shiva Purana Vidyesvara samhita17.121–129

The first step in changing the Gunas is to become a divine type. Sattva Guna is the dominant Guna in the mind of a divine type.

The Divine type

Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and devotion, benevolence, control of the senses, worship, study of scriptures, austerity, uprightness;

Gita 16.1

Non-violence, truthfulness, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquility, aversion to slander, compassion to living beings, freedom from sensuality, gentleness, modesty, steadfastness;

Gita 16.2

Vigor, patience, fortitude, purity, harmlessness, freedom from vanity – all these, O scion of the Bharatas, are present in those born to a divine heritage.

Gita 16.3

O son of Prtha! Pretentiousness, arrogance, overweening pride, wrath, rudeness, as also insensitiveness to spiritual values – all these are found in those born to a demoniac heritage.

Gita 16.4

It is deemed that the divine heritage leads to liberation and the demoniac to bondage. Grieve not, O son of Pandu! You are born to a divine heritage.

Gita 16.5

Then continuing spiritual practice eventually helps the divine type person go beyond the gunas and attain moksha.

The embodied spirit (Jiva), having transcended the Gunas from which the body has sprung, gains deliverance from the miseries of birth, death and old age, and attains to Immortality.

Gita 14.20

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  • So does guna composition change or only one transcends them?
    – Haridasa
    Jan 3 at 12:06
  • Guna composition changes and one becomes a divine type as defined in the Gita. This is the first step. Continuing the spiritual practice eventually leads to moksha as suggested by Gita 14.20. I have now edited the answer to make it more clear. Jan 4 at 3:16

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