cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.13
According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The Lord is the creator of everything. Everything is born of Him, everything is sustained by Him, and everything, after annihilation, rests in Him. He is therefore the creator of the four divisions of the social order, beginning with the intelligent class of men, technically called brahmanas due to their being situated in the mode of goodness. Next is the administrative class, technically called the kshatriyas due to their being situated in the mode of passion. The mercantile men, called the vaishyas, are situated in the mixed modes of passion and ignorance, and the shudras, or laborer class, are situated in the ignorant mode of material nature. In spite of His creating the four divisions of human society, Lord Krishna does not belong to any of these divisions, because He is not one of the conditioned souls, a section of whom form human society. Human society is similar to any other animal society, but to elevate men from the animal status, the above-mentioned divisions are created by the Lord for the systematic development of Krishna consciousness. The tendency of a particular man toward work is determined by the modes of material nature which he has acquired. Such symptoms of life, according to the different modes of material nature, are described in the Eighteenth Chapter of this book. A person in Krishna consciousness, however, is above even the brahmanas. Although brahmanas by quality are supposed to know about Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth, most of them approach only the impersonal Brahman manifestation of Lord Krishna. But a man who transcends the limited knowledge of a brahmana and reaches the knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, becomes a person in Krishna consciousness—or, in other words, a Vaishnava. Krishna consciousness includes knowledge of all different plenary expansions of Krishna, namely Rama, Nrisimha, Varaha, etc. And as Krishna is transcendental to this system of the four divisions of human society, a person in Krishna consciousness is also transcendental to all divisions of human society, whether we consider the divisions of community, nation or species.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
“Indeed, the paths of bhakti and jnana give liberation, but the path of karma leads to bondage. Therefore, there is some inequality in you, the creator of all paths, the Supreme Lord.”
“That is not so at all. I have created the four varnas for people who want their own enjoyment.” The suffix ya in the word catur varna indicates self-interest in the four orders.
The brahmanas, predominated by sattva, perform activities such controlling the senses and mind. The ksatriyas, who are predominated by raja and sattva, perform actions such as warfare and acts of heroism. The vaiysas, predominately tama and raja, do farming and raise cows. The sudras, predominated by tamas, serve others. I have created this system of four varnas divided according to guna and activity, taking shelter of the path of dharma. Know me as the creator (kartaram) of the system, since it is created from the gunas of prakrti which is my energy. In that way I am the creator, but actually I am not the creator, since my svarapa is beyond the gunas and prakrti. Therefore, I am said to be indestructible (avyayam). I am not at all similar to the varnas or matter, though I have created it.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
4.13 The whole universe beginning with Brahma and ending with a cluster of grass, with the system of four stations divided according to Sattva and other Gunas and by actions like self-control corresponding to the Gunas, was created by Me. The mention of ‘creation’ is for illustration. The universe is protected by Me alone and is withdrawn by Me alone. Know Me to be the creator of his manifold actions of creation etc., but at the same time to be non-agent. Sri Krsna explains here how this is possible.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Some beings perform actions with desire and others perform actions without desire. Thus the difference in actions although subtle can be discerned. Amongst the performers of actions without desire like the Vaisnavas and Brahmins there are further classifications such as uttama or superior, madhya or good and kanistha or average. How is it that Lord Krishna who is the originator of all these classifications be free from any partiality. The word catur-varnyam specifically denotes the four classes of Vedic culture only. The Brahmins or priestly class have a preponderance of sattva guna or mode of goodnes and having their mind and senses under control their duties are to spiritually guide mankind in righteousness. The ksatriya or royal warrior class possesses some sattva but have a preponderance of rajas guna or mode of passion and their duties are to protect dharma or righteousness from the influence of evil and to protect humanity from demoniac forces. The vaisya’s possess some rajas but have a preponderance of tama-guna or mode of ignorance and their duties are farming, agriculture, trade and cow protection. The sudra or lower class possess only a preponderance for tama guna and their duty is to serve the three previous classes to earn their livelihood. So although Lord Krishna is the origin of them all it should be understood that He is not affected by any of them the reason being that He is immutable, imperishable, eternal and transcendental to prakriti or material nature.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Lord Krishna is the origin of the four classifications in Vedic culture as spoken here. Those of sattva guna or the mode of goodness are designated as Brahmins or priestly class. Those of mixed sattva guna and rajas guna or the mode of passion are known as ksatriyas or warrior class. Those mixed with rajas guna and tama guna or the mode of ignorance are the vaisyas or mercantile class and those in tama guna are the sudras or servant class. The actions of Lord always possess shama or tranquillity and dama or self- control in their performance thus even if He appears to do nothing He is the performer and if He appears to be the performer He is the non- performer of His actions. Even though He is the origin of the entire creation He has no desires and remains unattached. Thus it has been perceived that those who perform actions without desires, unattached to rewards have developed an attribute of the Lord.
Now begins the summation.
The four orders descending in purity from sattva guna to rajas guna to tama guna have been described here. Those in sattva guna are the Vaisnava devotees of the supreme Lord Krishna possessing tranquillity and self- control. All others as their sattva decreases are in tama guna in descending order. Thus sattva guna is determined by one’s ability and capacity to be a devotee of Lord Krishna and the further away one is from this the deeper one is covered by tama guna . Thus this is the difference between them and occurs naturally due to their character and disposition. The differences and conditions acquired due to birth should be understood to be merely a designation as devotion to the Supreme Lord Krishna has been seen to arise and manifest in all four orders of existence. Amongst some it is more potent and in others less so and even these differences happen naturally according to an individuals inherent attributes. Although the resplendent Supreme Lord reveals He is kartaram or the origin of all creation He also reveals He is akartaram or not originated from any source. He is independent in Himself and not created from anything. The adjective api used here is to show this special at tribute that there is no creator for Him.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
If not everyone worships Lord Krishna and so many more are worshipers of other religions and denominations then why is this unbalance so prevalent in society. This verse refers to the four orders of Vedic culture exclusively being the brahmins or priestly class, the ksatriya’s or the royal and warrior class, the vaisya’s or farming and trading class and the sudra or the servant classs. These were created according to the natural qualities of their prenatal disposition and classified accordingly to their corresponding birth. The Brahmins have the prenatal quality of sattva or goodness, the ksatriya’s have the prenatal quality of rajas or passion being dominant and sattva being subordinate, the vaisya’s have the prenatal quality of tama guna or ignorance with rajas being subordinate and the sudras have the prenatal quality of ignorance. Any other classification outside of these four cannot be claimed to be originated by Lord Krishna. Although Lord Krishna is the originator of these four orders He is not to be held accountable to the unbalance in society as this is due to the prenatal disposition of all beings based on their activities and subsequent reactions each life.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
4.13 Catur-varnyam-meaning the same as catvarah varnah, the four castes; srstam, have been created; maya, by Me who am God, which accords with such Vedic texts as, ‘The Brahmanas were His face…’ (Rg. 10.90.12); guna-karma-vibhagasah, through a classification of the gunas and duties. [A.G. writes: guna-vibhagena karma-vibhagah, classification of the duties, determined by the classification of the gunas.-Tr] By the gunas are meant sattva, rajas and tamas (see note under 2.45; also see Chapter 14). As to that, the control of the mind and body, austerity, etc. are the duties of the Brahmanas, who are sattvika, i.e. have a predominance of the quality of sattva (purity, goodness, etc.). Courage, valour, etc. are the duties of the Ksatriyas, in whom sattva becomes secondary and rajas (passion, attachment, etc.) preponderates. Agriculture etc. are the duties of the Vaisya, in whom tamas (indolence, ignorance, etc.) is secondary and rajas is predominant. Service is the only duty of the Sudra, in whom rajas is secondary and tamas predominates (see chapters 14, 16,17 and 18). In this way, the four castes have been created by Me through a classification of the gunas and duties. This is the idea. And these four castes do not prevail in the other worlds. Hence the specification, ‘in the human world’. ‘Well, in that caste, by virtues of Your being he agent of the acts of creation of the four castes,etc. You become subject tothe consequence of those actions? Therefore you are not eternally free and the eternal Lord!’ This is being answered: Api, even though; I am kartaram, the agent; tasya, of that act, from the empirical standpoint of maya; still, from the highest standpoint, viddhi, know; mam, Me; to be akartaram, a non-agent; and therefore, also know Me to be avyayam, changeless, not subject to the cycle of births and deaths. ‘In reality, however, I am not the agent of those actions of which you think I am the agent.’ Because —
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
4.13 See Comment under 4.14
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
catur-varnyam maya srstam
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
cātuḥ-varṇyam — the four divisions of human society; mayā — by Me; sṛṣṭam — created; guṇa — of quality; karma — and work; vibhāgaśaḥ — in terms of division; tasya — of that; kartāram — the father; api — although; mām — Me; viddhi — you may know; akartāram — as the nondoer; avyayam — unchangeable.