“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43)
The kshatriya, or warrior, class is required for there to be peace in any society. Not everyone is kind and nice, and some will take to violence in order to solve their disputes. Many people even take to stealing or committing violence against women and children. To protect the innocent, there must be a class of men willing to risk danger in order to stop the bad guys. Of these protectors, the best ones are those that defend based on the religious principles found in the Vedas.
The Vedas are the original scripture for man, and they represent true and pure knowledge. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, passed down Vedic wisdom to Lord Braham, the first created living entity. Since then, the original Vedas, along with their accompanying texts such as the Mahabharata, Puranas, and Ramayana, have been passed down from generation to generation. The Vedas not only teach us about God, but about how to maintain a peaceful society. They recommend the system known as varnashrama dharma. Breaking down the terms, we see that varnas refer to societal divisions. These divisions actually exist naturally in society based on people’s gunas, or qualities. Varnashrama dharma says that these divisions should exist in society along with an accompanying dharma, or religious duty. The four varnas are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. Brahmanas are the intellectuals or priests, kshatriyas are the fighters and administrators, vaishyas are the farmers and businessmen, and the shudras are the laborer class. For there to be peace in society, the members of each of these divisions should perform their prescribed dharma, as delineated in the Vedas.
To understand the need for the four varnas, the analogy of the body is given. If society as a whole is compared to the body of a human being, the brahmanas represent the brain, the kshatriyas the arms, the vaishyas the stomach, and the shudras the legs. Though one may argue that the brain is the most important of all these, if the body lacks arms, a stomach, and legs, the brain will have no way to feed itself, thus it will eventually die. Therefore all four parts are necessary in society. As the arms of society, the kshatriyas provide defense, give in charity, perform sacrifices, and manage the affairs of government. In order to be a defender, one must possess certain inherent qualities. We see that these qualities naturally exist in a certain segment of people in any society. For example, the policemen and military men of today can be thought of kshatriyas. Many people are in awe of the courage and bravery shown by members of the military. Many of these soldiers are young and they knowingly put their lives on the line in order to protect people they don’t even know. Most of us would have a hard time doing this. But the Vedas tell us that these warriors possess certainly qualities that are inherited from birth.
One may argue that today’s military and police aren’t true kshatriyas because they are fighting to defend materialism. Due to the effects of the Kali Yuga, most people around the world today are under the control of karma, or fruitive activity. Acting solely for the procurement of wealth, fame, and good fortune, many people lack any real religious knowledge. Most people tend to believe in God, but they don’t really know what that means. Some view Him as an order supplier, while others think that they will automatically go to heaven provided that they aren’t overly sinful in this life. These attitudes lead people to act primarily in the mode of passion, whereby they work very hard for the procurement of various fruits. Since almost everyone in society acts this way, the military and police are in essence providing defense for a passion-driven society.
“Those who are purely in the mode of goodness are called brahmanas. Those who are purely in the mode of passion are called kshatriyas. Those who are in the modes of both passion and ignorance are called vaishyas. Those who are completely in ignorance are called shudras.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.13 Purport)
Yet just because someone is not aware of religious principles doesn’t mean that they are not a bona fide kshatriya. By default, a kshatriya lives in the mode of passion. There are three modes in material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Goodness represents knowledge, passion represents fruitive activity, and ignorance represents the lack of both. Most human beings live in the mode of passion, and this is especially true of kshatriyas. For this reason, the kshatriya kings of the past used to engage in activities such as gambling and hunting. They were also allowed to marry multiple times. The incredibly pious and well-respected king of Ayodhya during the Treta Yuga, Maharaja Dashratha, had three wives himself. Lord Krishna, when He personally descended to earth and lived as a king in Dvaraka, had 16,108 wives. Now Krishna can never associate with any of the three material modes, but just to play the part of a king, He pretended to live by the mode of passion.
“Considering your specific duty as a kshatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation. O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.31-32)
One doesn’t even have to be a “good” person in order to be considered a kshatriya. Those who are familiar with Vedic literature, know that a soldier who dies on the battlefield, observing the proper code of conduct, immediately ascends to heaven, regardless of which side they fought for. The Vedas, being the original religion for mankind, introduced the concept of sacrifice which is now part of every religion. Most Vedic sacrifices occur in the presence of a fire, where ghee (clarified butter) is poured onto the fire as an oblation. Each time the ghee is poured, priests utter the word svaha. For management of the material world, God has deputed various living entities known as demigods to take charge. Each demigod manages a specific aspect of the material creation. The demigod Agni is the god of fire. His wife is Svaha. On a prior occasion, she was granted the benediction of being the first one to receive oblations in fire sacrifices. For this reason, svaha is uttered during yajnas.
Since sacrifices play such a large role in Vedic culture, when describing war and the battles that take place, great saints often use the analogy to the fire sacrifice. A soldier who dies on the battlefield is thought of as an oblation in a fire sacrifice, with the battlefield representing the fire itself. Those who fight honorably for their side and meet with death during battle are viewed as being materially very pious. Therefore they are immediately granted entrance into heaven. During the Bharata War, the lead fighter for the Kurus, Duryodhana, went to heaven after death. This really surprised Yudhishthira, the leader of the opposing army. Yudhishthira was a very pious man and well-respected throughout the world. He was also the son of Dharmaraja, the god of justice. When Yudhishthira went to heaven, he saw Duryodhana there and couldn’t believe it. Duryodhana was very sinful during his lifetime, for he had on several occasions tried to kill Yudhishthira and his brothers through backhanded means. Narada Muni had to then explain to Yudhishthira that since Duryodhana died on the battlefield, the laws of karma dictated that he must spend some time in heaven.
Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, also confirmed this fact during His time on earth. Playing the part of a noble kshatriya Himself, Lord Rama once battled fourteen thousand Rakshasa demons in the forest of Janasthana. The last demon he fought in this battle was Khara. There was a little history between Khara and the brahmanas of the time. The Rakshasa race was headed by Ravana, the ten-headed demon and enemy of the demigods. The Rakshasas’ favorite activity was to range the forests in the night and look for brahmanas who were performing sacrifices. The Rakshasas would assume the guise of ascetics and appear before the sages. Having let their guard down, the brahmanas would be attacked by the Rakshasas. Khara and his band of demons would not only kill the sages, but feast on their flesh as well. Just prior to their fight, Lord Rama told Khara that He would kill him and avenge the death of the brahmanas. Lord Rama also mentioned that Khara would be going to heaven, for he would die while fighting nobly in battle.
Based on the examples of Duryodhana and Khara, we see that one doesn’t have to be a learned transcendentalist in order to be considered a noble fighter. Aside from fighting on the battlefield, the main duty of a kshatriya is to serve in government. This makes sense because government itself only exists to provide protection to people. Every person has an inherent right to protect themselves and their property. Government represents the collective right to self defense of a group of citizens.
Since kshatriyas live in the mode of passion, how can they run the government properly? Shouldn’t people in the highest positions of power be knowledgeable? This is certainly true and it is why the Vedas recommend that kshatriyas take advice and consent from brahmanas, the priestly class of men. Brahmanas are non-violent by nature. They spend all their time reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices, and teaching others how to perform sacrifice for Lord Vishnu.
We see that the world situation today is so dire precisely due to the lack of bona fide brahmanas. Kshatriyas certainly do exist. In some countries, people are forced into military service regardless of their inherent qualities. In America, the military is currently an all-volunteer force. Even though they volunteer to defend their citizens, we see that the military is not very well supported. Many citizens openly despise the military, taking their actions to be evil.
As with anything else, the solution to all our problems comes through devotional service to Krishna. People can elevate themselves to brahminical status by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. If kshatriyas can take instruction from pure devotees of the Lord, there is no doubt that we will live in a much more peaceful society.