In this verse, the words tantyāṁ guṇa-karma-dāmabhiḥ are very important. We each get a body according to our association with the guṇas, the qualities or modes of material nature, and we act accordingly. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā, the four orders of the social system—namely brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra—are arranged according to guṇa and karma, their qualities and work. There is some controversy about this, however, because some say that since one receives a body according to the guṇa and karma of his past life, it is one's birth that determines his social status. Others say, however, that one's birth according to the guṇa and karma of his past life is not the essential consideration, since one can change his guṇa and karma even in this life. Thus they say that the four divisions of the social order—brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra—should be arranged according to the guṇa and karma of this life. This version is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by Nārada Muni. While instructing Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira about the symptoms of guṇa and karma, Nārada Muni said that these symptoms must govern the division of society. In other words, if a person born in the family of a brāhmaṇa has the symptoms of a śūdra, he should be designated as a śūdra. Similarly, if a śūdra has brahminical qualities, he should be designated a brāhmaṇa.
The varṇāśrama system is scientific. Therefore if we accept the divisions of varṇa and āśrama according to the Vedic instructions, our lives will be successful. Unless human society is thus divided and arranged, it cannot be perfect. As stated in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (3.8.9):
- puruṣeṇa paraḥ pumān
- viṣṇur ārādhyate panthā
- nānyat tat-toṣa-kāraṇam
- (CC Madhya 8.58)
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viṣṇu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varṇa and āśrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One must be situated in the institution of the four varṇas and āśramas." All of human society is meant to worship Lord Viṣṇu. At the present moment, however, human society does not know that this is the ultimate goal or perfection of life. Therefore instead of worshiping Lord Viṣṇu. People have been educated to worship matter. According to the direction of modern society, men think they can advance in civilization by manipulating matter to build skyscrapers, big roads, automobiles and so on. Such a civilization must certainly be called materialistic because its people do not know the goal of life. The goal of life is to reach Viṣṇu, but instead of reaching Viṣṇu, people are bewildered by the external manifestation of the material energy. Therefore progress in material advancement is blind, and the leaders of such material advancement are also blind. They are leading their followers in the wrong way.
It is best, therefore, to accept the injunctions of the Vedas, which are mentioned in this verse as yad-vāci. In accordance with those injunctions, everyone should find out whether he is a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra and should thus be educated accordingly. Then his life will be successful. Otherwise, all of human society will be confused. If human society is divided scientifically according to varṇa and āśrama, and if the Vedic directions are followed, one's life, regardless of his position, will be successful. It is not that brāhmaṇas will be elevated to the transcendental platform but not the śūdras. If the Vedic injunctions are followed, all of them—brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras—will be elevated to the transcendental platform, and their lives will be successful. The injunctions in the Vedas are explicit directions from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The example cited in this verse is that bulls tied by ropes in their nostrils move according to the direction of the driver. Similarly, if we move according to the instructions of the Vedas, the perfect paths for our lives will be set. Otherwise, if we do not move in that way but act according to our whimsical ideas, our lives will be spoiled by confusion and will end in despair. Actually, because people at the present moment are not following the instructions of the Vedas, they are all confused. We must therefore accept this instruction by Lord Brahmā to Priyavrata as the factual scientific direction leading to the success of life. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 16.23):
- yaḥ śāstra-vidhim utsṛjya
- vartate kāma-kārataḥ
- na sa siddhim avāpnoti
- na sukhaṁ na parāṁ gatim
If we do not live according to the injunctions of the śāstras, the Vedas, we shall never achieve success in life, to say nothing of happiness or elevation to higher statuses of living.