The Four Kinds of People -Bhagavad Gita, Ch 18, Vs 40-45

The Four Castes

There is nothing on earth among living beings, or even in heaven among the gods, that can exist free of the three gunas of Nature. The innate actions of people — Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras — are therefore determined according to the gunas of Nature.

1. Brahman (God-person) – Priest, spiritual leader, teacher, scholar.

2. Kshatriya (Warrior) – Warrior or leader of the People.

3. Vaishya (Tradesman) – Merchant, journeyman, businessman.

4. Shudra (Servant) – Laborer. (Originally part of the Kashatriya caste but since degraded. For more details, read “Who Were the Shudras?”).

“Nothing on earth … can exist free of the three gunas” says that there is no such thing as not acting, for the gunas are forms of action in Nature. As beings we have bodily forms that exist in the realm of Nature, so we are not exempt from Action. So there is no one, not even among the gods, who can exist free of Action and its effects.

  • The gods – deva (m) or devi (f) — Divine Individuals on a higher plane of being than our own.

As long as you are being something, you are not exempt from Action. 

When a yogi is ill or suffering, it is often believed by others that he cannot really be a yogi, or even an avatara; he would be immune to such maladies, or would simply cure the problem and remain solidly in Divine Bliss. But they forget that his physical body, which is a part of nature, is as vulnerable to nature’s effects and maladies as anyone else. Bodies do not exist in the Absolute. Bodies can only exist in Relative realms. 

“The innate actions of people” refers to the way people tend to carry out action according to their natural traits, abilities, talents, interests, etc. We are all born with something that we can do well. It is only natural that we use this as an occupation in life. It was once believed, and probably still is, that these traits are inherited, and therefore set in stone.

There was probably a time when people naturally tended to stick to their own kind of people. However, with the descent from a more enlightened time into a darker and overpopulated age, this is no longer as prominent. Nowadays, likenesses are more likely to be based on intolerance. Standards are more likely to be based on class (money), religion and race. But the four kinds of people mentioned here, still have something equally valuable to teach us.

Four Castes

This verse is introducing us to the caste system. It is my opinion that the caste system as we know it today, was not originally meant as a hard rule to be followed at all costs, but as a guide. I also think that it is essentially correct. It provides us with some practical understanding of people and how people are ‘wired’ in general — their characteristics, traits and tendencies, and their various talents and abilities. But one must always leave room for exceptions. Even in the Mahabharata, which was written not so long ago (8th and 9th centuries BCE), and in which this Bhagavad Gita appears, there are instances of these exceptions. 

42  — The Actions of Brahmans (God-People)
Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, patience, integrity, knowledge, discrimination and faith, are the inherent actions of Brahmans.

Speaking in general where ‘people’ are concerned, I think of Brahmans as God-people, and God-people as those who practice God-action and therefore know God, and consequently have the above characteristics.

43 — The Actions of Kshatriyas (Warriors)
Valor, strength, fortitude, skill, not fleeing in battle, generosity and leadership, are the innate actions of Kshatriyas.

“Not fleeing in battle” Not quitting when the going gets rough.

The picture of a warrior is one of valuable traits, whether war is concerned or not. Kshatriyas are leaders of people, kind and wise whether in war or peace. In battle, they adhere to traditional rules, i.e., warriors on elephants battle with other warriors on elephants, not archers; an archer will do battle with other archers, not swordsmen; when an archer runs out of arrows his enemy stands down until he has replenished them.

Well, it starts like that. But in the story of the Mahabharata war, as with all wars, honor in battle ultimately falls apart. But it is interesting to know that these ideals existed among Kshatriyas, passed down from times long forgotten.

44 — The Actions of Vaisyas and Shudras
Agriculture, cow-herding and commerce are the innate actions of Vaishyas, and services are the innate actions of Shudras.

The Brahmans are the teachers, scholars and priests of the spiritual, and the Kshatriyas are the barons, warriors and leaders of the people. The Vaishyas are tradesmen who sell their products in large or small businesses, and the Shudras provide services ranging from healing to house-cleaning.

(It is my opinion that the caste system comes down to us from a more enlightened time, and that what was probably original has degraded. In our present age (kali yuga), we are at the bottom of the bucket, and our so-called traditions must surely be corrupted and misunderstood, for this is a characteristic of this age. I believe these four categories of people came down the slide from the satya yuga, the Golden Age, where intolerance and inequality did not exist, and have been degraded, ranked, and set in stone over time.)

Content in the performance of one’s own innate kind of action, one attains success. Hear now how one who is contented in his own innate action finds perfection.

We are being reminded that to do our own dharma poorly is better than doing another’s well, and that by doing this, we will ultimately succeed in our endeavors.

It is clear that the teaching here are centered on success, and that doing what you are best qualified to do is essential for attaining it and living a happy life.

Your Life Purpose lies within one of these four general kinds of people. Once you have determined this, you will consider your options within that category, choose one, and succeed. This places you in a position to attain perfection (siddhi – success, perfection and special powers).

Namaste (I bow to the divine one that you really are),
Durga Ma