śūdrāṇāḿ ca paran-tapa
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.41
Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
No commentary by Srila Prabhupada.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
However, the living body filled with the three gunas becomes successful by worshipping the Supreme Lord by prescribed activities according to his nature. This is described in six verses. These activities or duties, designated precisely (pravibhaktani) by the gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas, which manifest by birth (svabhavena), are prescribed for the brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
18.41 The nature of Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras are due to their respective inherent dispositions. The meaning is that their past Karma has been the cause of determining births as Brahmanas etc. The Sattva and other Gunas are the result of such Karma. The Sattva-guna is born from the inherent nature of the Brahmana becoming dominant by suppressing the qualities of Rajas and Tamas. The quality of Rajas originates from the inherent nature of the Ksatriyas becoming dominant by suppressing qualities of Sattva and Tamas. Tamoguna arises from the inherent nature of the Vaisya, becoming dominant in a little way by suppressing Sattva and Rajas. The duties and works assigned to them according to the Gunas constituting their inherent nature, are expounded and allotted by the Sastras in the order described. For the Sastras analyse that the Brahmanas etc., possess such and such attributes and such and such are their duties and occupations.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
It could be postulated that if everything physical such as actions, agent, agency, rewards, etc. are comprised of the three gunas or modes of material nature then how is it possible for jivas or embodied beings to achieve moksa or liberation from material existence. In order to resolve such speculations and concisely describe the essence of the entire Bhagavad-Gita which illustrates that jivas can achieve moksa by knowledge from the Vedic scriptures taught by the spiritual preceptor and the grace of the Supreme Lord derived from performing prescribed Vedic activities according to qualification as a matter of duty or worshipping the Supreme Lord Krishna with bhakti or exclusive loving devotion.
Now Lord Krishna commences a new theme with this verse explaining that the duties of the different classes of Vedic society such as brahmana or priestly class, ksatriya or royal and warrior class, vaisya or agricultural and mercantile class as well as sudra or menial worker class which is the only one not qualified to take part in any Vedic activity as they serve the other three classes. The duties enjoined for all the classes are clearly delineated and itemised with distinct divisions. The typical duties of all the four classes will be described according to the predominating influence of the three gunas which manifest the corresponding nature determined by the tendencies acquired in past lives and the impressions from the attendant karma or reactions to actions. The brahmins have a predominance of sattva guna, the ksatriya’s a predominance of raja guna with a little sattva guna, the vaisyas with raja guna mixed with tama guna and the sudras with a predominance tama guna and a little raja guna.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
The word sattvam in the previous verse means the living entities. Those who have achieved moksa or liberation from material existence are not held captive by the three gunas or modes of material nature and are like demigods upon the Earth. Although they move freely in the material worlds they are not bound by the defects of the material worlds just as Vaisnava devotees living in a city are not bound by the sinful activities of the residents of the city. Among those situated in tama guna the mode of ignorance, the ones most despicable are those who obscure the truth from the rest of humanity hindering them from developing and evolving. These evil ones follow the path of darkness and sorcery and offer sacrifices and pay homage to demons for material gains. These demons are situated in raja guna the mode of passion and are very powerful in the material existence manipulating societies, religions, species, planets and even galaxies; but spiritually these demons are just like retarded cripples with no access to sattva guna the mode of goodness and subsequently higher consciousness. Any human who is situated in sattva guna is impervious to them and cannot be influenced or obstructed by the demons nefarious delusions.
The most advanced among all humans are the Vaisnava Brahmins who by their internal potency acquired by bhakti or exclusive loving devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations as revealed in Vedic scriptures, have the ability to free themselves from samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death and can guide others to do the same.
Now begins the summation.
Among the pure ones situated in sattva guna are those known as paramahamsa or one completely absorbed internally in relishing the sublime nectar of the holy names of Lord Krishna realising that He is fully present when His transcendental names are chanted and sung. Parivrajacarya or one who joyously travels extensively preaching the sublime glories of Lord Krishna everywhere they go. Bahudaka or one who dedicates their life to making pilgrimage exclusively to the holy places in India where Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations performed their pastimes. Kuticaka or one who practices renunciation in seclusion continuously reflecting upon the Supreme Lord and learning to depend only upon the Supreme Lord for everything. These four are the divisions in the fully renounced order of life known as sannyasi which can only be awarded to males who have been initiated as Vaisnava Brahmins in one of the four authorised sampradayas or channels of disciplic succession and none other. Brahmacari or those in celibate devotion throughout their lives. Vanaprastha can be male or female and is when husband and wife sever all physical connection and embrace only spiritual activities for the performance of bhakti to the Supreme Lord. All of the preceding are completely celibate. The grihasta ashram is not celibate and consists of married householder devotees who perform some devotion amidst taking care of family obligations. These four main divisions listed in descending order become decreasingly less situated in pure sattva guna and to the degree that there is exposure to external influences one becomes subjected to raja guna the mode of passion.
Paramahamsa’s are known by their tranquillity, self-control and inherent righteousness. The demigods such as Brahma, Surya, Ganesh, etc. even though extremely passionate rarely exhibit any signs of passion because even when engaged in passionate acts their minds are constantly in communion with the Supreme Lord. As far as others are concerned due to the fluctuating nature of their minds their actions are usually equated with raja guna the mode of passion; yet when their minds are fixed upon the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord then they too can be considered situated in sattva guna. Inquiry into the eternal principles of the Vedic scriptures and performing prescribed ritualistic activities are the special attributes of the brahmacari’s aspiring for the ultimate truth. Assuming familial activities, maintaining a wife, producing children are the symptoms of the grihastas. Becoming detached, giving up attachment to grown children and residence along with all conceptions of father, mother, wife, husband and wholly reflecting on the Supreme Lord are the expressions of vanaprasthas. For the sannyasi’s the absolute equanimity expressed towards all living entities is the symbol of their advanced development.
The Brahmins although situated firmly in sattva guna may possess a small degree of raja guna and ksatriyas though anchored in raja guna could have some qualities of sattva guna such as righteousness as was exemplified by King Yudisthira of the Pandavas. Vaisyas are mixed with both raja and tama gunas could have some slight amount of sattva guna even sudras if exposed to good association might be found to have a percentage or two of sattva guna. Amongst those who are devoted to the Lord Krishna such natural distinctions are obvious as they are effulgent from within being empowered by the Supreme Lord. Even those born in non-brahmin dynasties such as meat eating mleechas and dog eating candelas as well as barbarians and other outcastes if they are purified by association with devotees and initiated by a bonafide spiritual master from one of the four authorised sampradayas then they are situated in sattva guna and entitled to be a devotee of the Supreme Lord. Yet those who although born in Brahmin families and perform prescribed Vedic activities are sceptical of the supremacy of Lord Krishna over all other gods are situated or consider other gods as equal to or superior to Lord Krishna are situated in raja and tama gunas. While those who do not know the supremacy of Lord Krishna and are indifferent to Him are situated in tama guna.
The pitris or anscestors, the gandharvas or celestial musicians and singers, the ancient ascetics and the demigods are all situated in sattva guna and influenced by the three gunas with each one more superior then the previous one. The demigods, Indra the king of the heavenly planets, Brahma the secondary creator of the material existence and Shiva the destroyer are also situated in sattva guna, each progressively superior to the previous one. Effulgent amongst even the effulgent is Sri Laksmi, the expanded shakti or feminine energy of every incarnation of the Supreme Lord Krishna simultaneously as an eternal reality. Such progressive gradation exists even after moksa is attained and everyone is eternally blissful. Although the three gunas being material do not exist in the spiritual worlds. After moksa when one attains the spiritual worlds the gradation can be determined by how extensive the bliss is that one expresses and by the location where one is exhibiting this bliss such as Vaikuntha or Svetadvipa, etc.
Among the best of jivas situated in tama guna are those who are neutral and indifferent to the Supreme Lord Krishna. The best of those in raja guna are those who utilise their power and wealth for the service of the Supreme Lord Krishna. Since all jivas possess an atma or immortal soul, they are all to some degree or other connected to sattva guna it is just that some are more obscured then others. Some are so obscured that there is no sattva guna visible. All are differentiated in classification according to the predominance of one of the three gunas. Commencing with the attributes of sattva guna every jiva can become qualified for moksa from Brahma downwards. Spiritual intelligence and wisdom only manifests from sattva guna that is why it is stated in the Vedic scriptures that from sattva guna arises spiritual wisdom and those who have perfected such wisdom are candidates for redemption and achieve moksa and those who have failed descend in darkness to lower existences while those who have neither perfected or failed remain suspended in samsara for another lifetime.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Lord Krishna having concluded an elaborate exposition on the three gunas or modes of material nature and how they influence the jivas or embodied beings; entitling those who are conscious of what is eternally in their best interest to aspire for moksa or liberation from material existence by wholeheartedly cultivating the qualities of sattva guna the mode of goodness. Now a point of contention may be raised that if all jivas are categorised in one of the three modes according to which one is predominant then a jiva for example possessing the virtues that would situate one in sattva guna would have to enjoy the equisite happiness of the heavenly planets with all of the rapturous but transitory pleasures of the celestial demigods and moksa will have eluded them. In such a situation how will they be delivered from samsara th perpetual cycle of birth and death and attain the bliss of moksa. In order to respond to such a question, Lord Krishna specifically introduces the inherent qualifications of the Brahmins as ordained by Vedic scriptures along with the natural duties that are established upon the differentiated degrees of goodness that one possesses. This applies to raja and tama gunas as well according to varnasrama or the status and stage of lfe in which one is situated, In order to to establish that the prescribed Vedic activities enjoined in the Vedic scriptures are by nature dominated by sattva guna if performed without self motivation for the exclusive satisfaction of the Supreme Lord then as such they confer tranquillity, wisdom and devotion which all lead to moksa and heralds the imminent attainment of communion with the Supreme Lord.
The Brahmins the priestly class, the ksatriyas or royal warrior class and the vaisya’s the mercantile and agricultural class are all spoken of in unison because they only have the right to initiation making them qualified to study the Vedic scriptrures, engage in yagnas or ritualistic propitiation and worship. Whereas the sudra or servant class are mentioned separately as they have not the qualification for initiation and study of the Vedic scriptures but all are factually the product of their own innate natures.
To study the Vedic scriptures and perform yagna the prerequisite of initiation essential and required. A sudra is a fourth class citizen who may perform unauthorised activities without sin because they are only once born from the womb not twice born by the spiritual master. It is prohibited in the Vedic scripture to initiate a sudra. If done it will bring calamity upon the spiritual master, his dynasty and the whole kingdom. There are direct references in the Vedic scriptures prohibiting sudras from initiation. Such passages as: The sudra carries the dead body to the cremation ground that is a sudra and if a sudra hears a mantra his ears should be filled with wax, if he recites a mantra his tongue should be cut out and if he memorises a mantra his life should be taken. So it can be understood that in ancient times the prohibitions of a sudra were strictly enforced.
But examples are cited in Vedic scriptures attesting to the fact that if it is discered that a sudra possesses the innate qualities of sattva guna then even he can be eligible to receive initiation if this has been ascertained by the bonafide spiritual master.
There is a famous example in the Javalaopanisad of even an outcaste which is lower then a sudra humbly begging for initiation at the feet of the sage Gautama Rishi who perfunctionarily asked him who his father was. The outcaste boy did not know who his father was and told Gautama Rishi that he would have to ask his mother and come back. When he returned he confessed that his mother had told him that she had slept with many men before he was born and so she could not verify who his father was. Yet as unsavoury as the story was because the outcaste boy had told the truth Gautama Rishi was pleased and told him that total honesty is an undeniable virtue of sattva guna thus qualifying him to receive initiation and immeadiately ordered him to shave his head, take full bath and put on clean cloth, whereby Gautama Rishi initiated him.
The innate characteristic of the Brahmins is predominance of sattva guna. That of a ksatriya is a predominance of raja guna with some sattva guna. That of a vaisya is an equal portion of raja guna and tama guna and that of a sudra is a predominance of tama guna with a little raja guna.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
18.41 Parantapa, O scorcher of enemies; karmani, the duties; brahmana-ksatriya-visam, of the Brahmanas, the Ksatriyas and the Vaisyas; ca, as also; sudranam, of the Surdras-the Sudras have not been included with the others (in the compund word) because, owing to their having a single birth, [Sudras have no right to be invested with the sacred thread which, in the case of the other three castes, symbolizes a second birth.] they have no right to (the study of) the Vedas; pravibhaktani, have been fully classified, have been prescribed by making distinctions among them;-according to what?-gunahi, according to the gunas; svabhava-prabhavaih, born from Nature. Nature means the Praktrti of God, His Maya consisting of the three gunas. ‘Born from Nature’ means ‘born of these three gunas. In accordnace with these the duties such as control of the internal organs, etc. of the Brahmanas and others have been classified. Or (the meaning is): The source of the nature of the Brahmanas is the quality of sattva. Similarly, the source of the nature of the Ksatriyas is rajas, with sattva as a subordinate (quality); the source of the nature of the Vaisyas is rajas, with tamas as the subordinate (quality); the source of the nature of the Sudras is tamas, with rajas as the subordinate (quality); for the natures of the four are seen to be tranquillity. lordliness, industriousness and dullness respectively. Or, svabhava (nature) means the (individual) tendencies of creatures earned in their past lives, which have become manifest in the present life for yielding their own results. The gunas which have that svabhava as their source (prabhava) are svabhava-prabhavah gunah. Since the manifestation of the gunas cannot logically be uncaused, therefore a specific cause [i.e. the tendencies are the efficient cause, and Nature is the material cause.] has been posited by saying that Nature is the cause. Thus, the duties such as control of the internal organs etc. have been classified in keeping with the effects of the gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas, which are born of Nature, born of Prakrti. Objection: Well, are not the duties like controlling the internal organs etc. of the Brahmanas and others classified and enjoined by the scriptures? Why is it said that they are classified according to the gunas sattva etc.? Reply: This objection is not valid. For, the duties like controlling the internal organs etc. of the Brahmanas and others have been classified even by the scriptures verily in keeping with the specific qualities sattva etc.; certainly, not without reference to the gunas. Hence, though the duties have been divided by the scriputres, they are said to have been classified according to the gunas. Which, again, are those duties? They are being spoken of:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
18.41-60 Brahmana – etc. upto avasopitat. Surely the intrinsic nature of the Brahmanas etc., does not voilate what has been difined (above) by way of classifying their duties. Therefore, as far as you are concerned, you have the intrinsic quality of the Ksatriya (warrior), and your nature i.e., intrinsic quality, does, without fail, assume the part of the inciter of yourself, even though you don’t like it. For, a person who acts simply being incited by that (natural condition), there is the strong bondage of the merit or demerit. Therefore, perform actions following the means of correct knowledge, taught by Me. In that case, the bondage would disappear. The intention of the principal sentence (statement of the entire passage under study) is to help to get this idea. The meaning of the subordinate sentences (statements) is evident. Briefly (verse 50) : in short. Knowledge : i.e. the one which has been explained earlier. Nistha conveys, avoiding verbal jugglary, the meaning ‘what has been determined’. He who is endowed with intellect totally pure etc. : All this has been almost explained already. Hence, no more trouble is taken [to comment upon it].
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
sudranam ca paran-tapa
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
brāhmaṇa — of the brāhmaṇas; kṣatriya — the kṣatriyas; viśām — and the vaiśyas; śūdrāṇām — of the śūdras; ca — and; param-tapa — O subduer of the enemies; karmāṇi — the activities; pravibhaktāni — are divided; svabhāva — their own nature; prabhavaiḥ — born of; guṇaiḥ — by the modes of material nature.