The Bhagavad Gita As Social Construct Essay

Short discussion of how the Bhagavad Gita is largely a justification for the Indian social stratification of caste and entrenches the power of the Brahmin caste.

The Bhagavad Gita is an amazing text when its social implications and societal values are deconstructed and viewed in the context of the Indian caste system. The Bhagavad Gita was likely written by an educated member of the Brahmin caste, the caste of religious leaders and highest and most revered caste in India. Viewed from the perspective of the Brahmin, each of the values discussed in the Gita has a far too convenient social implication to be anything other than an elaborately constructed religion to support the power scheme of existing society. This can be well supported by the history of Indian invasion and the Aryan subjugation of the Dravidian people. The very word for caste means "color" in Sanskrit (the conquering Aryans were much lighter than the dark skinned Dravidians).

One of these values is discipline. Throughout the Gita references are made to the emphasis of fulfilling caste "duty" -- probably a translation for dharma. Here are some examples:

Likewise having regard for thine own (caste) duty

Thou shouldst not tremble;

For another, better thing than a fight required of duty

Exists not for a warrior. (II.31)

Perform thou action that is (religiously) required;

For action is better than inacton. (III.8)

Better one's own duty, (tho) imperfect,

Than another's duty well performed; (III.35)

Could one ask for a more structured and rigid social stratification? Religion here is being utilized not only to gain hegemony for the ruling caste of Brahmins, but to impel people to see their social position as defined and set through religious values. The Gita manages an absolute banishment of any type of meritocracy since India's castes are based on birth.

This concept meshes with the Hindu values relating to action. The quotes above display some of this, but the most blatant example follows:

On action alone be thy interest,

Never on its fruits; (II.47)

Can it be anything but another edict for the structure of society?

One very puzzling remark appears in the fourth canto. There seems to be a very definite and comparable relationship between Plato's concept of a tripartite soul and the Gita's description of degradation due to meditation on "objects of sense." One striking difference, however, is in the Gita's remark on knowledge:

As firewood a kindled fire

Reduces to ashes, Ajuna,

The fire of knowledge all actions

Reduces to ashes even so. (IV.37)

This is a puzzling redefinition of knowledge as a contrast to action. How does this redefinition effect the Hindu philosophy? Does it justify the existence of such a structured and anti-egalitarian society?

© High Speed Ventures 2011