18.42 – Those who respect the command of God command the respect of the world
A feature of Vedic culture that often perplexes, even provokes, observers is the immense respect it offers to brahmanas: “Why should someone be respected so much just because of being born in a particular caste?”
Gita wisdom underscores (04.13) that the classification of varnas is based on qualities and activities (guna-karma), not birth. The Gita (18.42) lists the qualities that make the brahmanas so respectable –starting with self-mastery (shama) and ending in fidelity to scripture (astikyam).
The faithfulness of brahmanas is foundational to their respectability. They adhere strictly in word and deed to the scriptural injunctions about the values and purposes of living. Thus, they serve as models for society about how to live for God in a world that allures everyone away from God.
Because the brahmanas respect the command of God, they command the respect of the world – at least the pious world. Actually, the influence of the principle-centered lifestyle of the brahmanas extends far beyond the ranks of the religious. It also poses a living challenge to the doubtfulness that characterizes waverers, agnostics and skeptics: “If these people who are so knowledgeable and intelligent (jnana and vijnana are also defining qualities of brahmanas) are living according to scripture, maybe scripture does contain something substantial.”
When brahmanas start desiring or living materialistically, then they no longer command the same respect. The bhakti scriptures illustrate this repeatedly in the confrontations between ego-centered brahmanas like Durvasa Muni and God-centered bhaktas like Ambarisha Maharaja.
And because the scriptural command culminates in a call for devotion (18.66), the Gita (7.17–18) asserts that enlightened devotees are the most respectable. They command the affection and respect of Krishna himself. In fact, he considers them to be as good as himself (atmaiva me matam).
Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness — these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.