Brāhmaṇa by Birth or Qualification?

Question: Upon study of the Gosvāmī literature it is clear that:

1) Brāhminical initiation is only meant for children born in brāhminical families;

2) Bhakti is meant for everyone;

3) Bhakti can give Kṛṣṇa but still not qualify one as brāhmaṇa in this life. Technically, nobody except Indians can take upanayana and recite Brahma Gāyatrī.

Yet, non-Indians are also under sattva, rajas, and tamas. Gītā 18.40 includes everyone in the universe under this classification and then goes on to classify brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras. (Gītā 18.41 – 43). It appears that the Gītā’s classification is not universally applicable, as mlecchas can become Vaiṣṇavas, but they can never become brāhmaṇas. Is this a limitation of scripture that it excludes anyone without Indian birth who might be sattvic as having the ‘right’ for brāhminical saṁskāras? I am assuming that such a non-Indian child could get all the requisite ritualistic saṁskāras if society so allowed and the parents so desired.

Answer: Yes, the first two points are correct. The third one needs a modification: Anyone born in a brāhminical family, whether Indian or non-Indian, can take upanayana and recite Brahma Gāyatrī because there are brāhmincial families living in Mauritius, the Fiji Islands, etc.

Regarding your next comment, scriptures speak of two types of principles. First, there are the eternal principles, such as the qualities of ātmā, described in the second chapter of Bhagavad Gītā, or the law of karma, explained in the third, fourth and fifth chapters of the Gītā. These principles do not depend on place or time. Then there is a second set of principles, which are primarily related to the application of the first set of principles in contemporary society. What Kṛṣṇa describes in Gītā 18.41- 43 is a universal principle that does not depend on birth in India or anywhere else. The difficulty arises in applying this principle in contemporary society. Unless these two points are understood clearly, there will be confusion about scriptural rules.

The truth at present is that the traditional varṇāśrama system, which flourished in India for thousands of years, has become dysfunctional because the propagation of this system does not depend on a single individual but on the whole society, which is managed by the state government. So, if the state government does not accept it, which is the case at present, it is not possible to apply this system in its complete form. It was the duty of the state government—the kings in the past, who had to enforce the system. You are probably aware of the story of Sudraka from Rāmāyaṇa who was beheaded by Lord Rāma because he was engaged in severe penance, although being a śūdra. Only brāhmaṇas were supposed to perform such kind of austerities, not śūdras, and if a śūdra did it, then there would be a disruption in the society because of not following one’s prescribed duty. At present, this story and many other such stories are the objects of criticism and derision by modern Indologists both Western and Indian, as well as by the Dalit scholars. The reason being that the critics try to impose their understanding of social mechanisms on society based on varṇāśrama system without understanding that these two societies had different goals to achieve. It is just like trying to criticize the etiquette of a particular society by another society that follows contrary principles. For example, in India, eating with the hand is acceptable, but in Western culture, it is a taboo. Or in Indian culture, a male member does not kiss a female friend or relative when they meet, but in the West, it is a norm.

From a practical point of view, if there is a non-Indian child who has brāhminical qualities, who would test that the child actually has brāhminical qualities? I don’t see any system at present for any such test to designate a child as a brāhmaṇa. Moreover, who will perform upanayana for such a child and what would be the purpose of such a ceremony? Why would such a child want to undergo this process? If the purpose is only to study the Vedas, then there is no need of upanayana saṁskāras because at present you can study the Vedas without any such saṁskāras. If the purpose is spiritual, then how does upanayana saṁskāras help? Is it to follow the smarta process, which is part of varṇāśrama? If yes, then the above-mentioned questions will arise and if no, then what is the purpose?

Satya DasThe most efficacious process in the present age is bhakti, which does not need upanayana saṁskāra. Bhakti is not dependent on any varṇāśrama saṁskāra. Bhakti and varṇāśrama are two distinct processes, although varṇāśrama can assist bhakti but is not necessary.

If, however, the purpose is to become a brāhmaṇa and perform brāhminical services, then it has to be thought over seriously. There are two opinions about it. There are some who say that anyone who has the qualification regardless of birth can be a brāhmaṇa. Indeed, this is how it was originally. There are, however, others who are very orthodox and do not accept this principle and go only by birth. Therefore, if someone really has the need, then one can find some qualified people belonging to the first category and undergo the ceremony. There is no point in debating over it because neither one of these two parties will change their opinion.

Now to go a little step further on this topic of a child taking birth in a non-Hindu family and desiring to take upanayana saṁskāra: It may be understood that the reality exists at three levels, adhibhautika (physical), adhidaivika (psychic), and adhyātmika (spiritual). When a child is born in a traditional Indian brāhmaṇa family and has brāhminical qualities, not only is he a brāhmaṇa at the adhibhautika level, he is also a brāhmaṇa at the adhidaivika level. However, a child born to Western parents may have brāhminical qualities and be a brāhmaṇa at the adhidaivika level but not at the adhibhautika level. To be born as a brāhmaṇa at the adhibhautika level, one must be born in a lineage coming from one of the sages mentioned in scriptures, such as Vasiṣṭha, Garga, Bharadvāja. etc. While doing a saṅkalpa in any varṇāśrama ceremony, such as sandhyā vandanam (a compulsory daily ceremony for a dvija), the dvija has to recite his name, gotra, ṛṣi, pravara, and śākhā. Without mentioning these, the ceremony cannot be completed. The child born to a non-Hindu family would not have the last four items. So, it has to be considered who would supply these items. (Note: Dvija, or twiceborn, includes brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, and vaiśya.)

Question: Can you please give some clarity on the term adhidaiva from Bhagavad Gītā? It is explained in one verse as cosmic governance and adhidaivata as the supreme deity of cosmic governance.

Answer: Adhidaivika can relate to the psyche as well as to the devas, who are the controller or the invigorators/potentiators of the psyche.

 

Notify me of new articles

Comments ( 15 )
  1. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Thanks a lot for the excellent explanations on Bramhanas and especially for relating this to present societal situation.

    Reading the article I remembered the exemplary behavior of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Shri Chaitanya followed all the Bramhnical and sannyasa rules very carefully, for example, He would never eat food cooked by non-bramhanas. In CC Antya 4.131 He talks to Shri Sanatana Gosvami about maryada:

    maryādā-laṅghane loka kare upahāsa
    iha-loka, para-loka — dui haya nāśa

    I am uncertain and confused about how to understand the example set by Shri Chaitanya and His instructions on maryada, given that Varnashrama has become dysfunctional and is very difficult to practice.

    1. If Varnashrama is followed (which itself is very difficult), present society might make accusations of caste discrimination or laugh at regressive orthodox mentality, etc (loka kare upahasa). In current situation, it seems that following maryada will generate upahasa.

    2. Can this be understood as following the culture of the society we are part of ? For example, by being liberal and progressive we can earn the respect of the present society (people won’t laugh at us). But it doesn’t seem right to completely give up culture prescribed and followed by Shri Krishna just because society has changed and people will laugh at us.

    3.Or is this as an instruction to simply follow the criminal and civil laws of the society we reside in and our culture/profession/behavior should be aligned with one prescribed by Shri Bhagavan as much as possible?

    Thanks

    • Babaji Post author

      Please supply reference that Śrī Caitanya only ate food cooked by a brāhmaṇa. I am interested in an exact reference where He rejected food cooked by a non-brāhmaṇa devotee.

      He drank water from the pot from Kholāvecā Śrīdhara even when Śrīdhara himself objected to that. So what happened to the maryādā? If Raghunātha Dās Gosvāmī had cooked for Him, do you think He would have refused it?

      First of all, we have to follow the state law, wherever we are. Otherwise we will get into trouble with the state administration. For example, in the state in which I live, if you call a śūdra a śūdra, you can be put into prison. Mahatma Gandhi used the word “harijana” (lit. a devotee of Kṛṣṇa) for a śūdra. But now, by calling a harijana a harijana, can land you in jail. So we have to understand the meaning of the word maryādā. There is śāstra maryādā and there is a state maryādā. We have to strike a balance between them if they contradict each other. Following śāstra maryādā at an individual level does not necessarily or always interfere with the state maryādā. The problem arises when we have to deal with others who are not favorable to śāstra maryādā. Then it is better to keep the śāstra maryādā invisible and externally show state maryādā, if required.

    • scooty ram

      https://www.vedabase.com/en/cc/madhya/17/12

      CC Madhya 17.11 — “Our Lord, please take one very nice brāhmaṇa with You. He will collect alms for You, cook for You, give You prasādam and carry Your waterpot while traveling.
      CC Madhya 17.12 — “When You go through the jungle, there will be no brāhmaṇa available from whom You can accept lunch. Therefore please give permission for at least one pure brāhmaṇa to accompany You.”
      CC Madhya 17.17 — “In addition, You may take another brāhmaṇa who will act as a servant en route and make arrangements for Your food.
      CC Madhya 17.19 — “The other brāhmaṇa can carry Your cloth and waterpot, and Balabhadra Bhaṭṭācārya will collect alms and cook for You.”

    • Babaji Post author

      This is all fine. My question is – did He reject food given by a non-brahmana devotee? My answer is NO.

    • scooty ram

      Wrt kolavecha sridhara, I was thinking he is a pandita brahmana. What is wrong in taking water from a brahmana?

      All said and done, I like the way you have put stress on states law. All these topics are better left as theory . IDharma is two fold – knowing it and following it. Atleast we know what is dharma and can get some sukriti out of it even though we cannot follow it.

    • Babaji Post author

      No, he was not a brahmana, and that is the very reason that this incident is related in CC, to show that He transgressed the social norms in relation to His devotees. Love is beyond law.

    • Bhushan

      Babaji,

      Thanks a lot for your answer, especially on balancing sastra and state maryada.

      Regarding Shri Chaitanya, I accept your point, so I don’t think He would have refused food from his dear associate Shri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. But in general, as scootty ramji pointed out, it does seem that Shri Chaitanya, in general, ate only food cooked by bramhanas.

      My understanding is that from the modern context this behavior would be considered as discriminatory, but in CC, we always find that no one around Shri Chaitanya really experienced this as being discriminatory or offensive. Everyone loved Shri Chaitanya; He is very kind and compassionate. Of course, the actions and behavior of Shri Krishna are always delightful, but from Shri Chaitanya’s example, I guess, one could also say that Varnashrama was not meant for higher classes to show superiority or exploit or discriminate against lower classes, but be kind and compassionate (or respectful towards those who give knowledge).

      So if I understand right then the essence of balancing state-shastra maryada is compassion, respect and the ultimate goal is to please Shri Krishna.

      Thanks Again!

    • Babaji Post author

      “Regarding Shri Chaitanya, I accept your point, so I don’t think He would have refused food from his dear associate Shri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. But in general, as scootty ramji pointed out, it does seem that Shri Chaitanya, in general, ate only food cooked by bramhanas”

      Yes, because that was the norm and He did not flout it unnecessarily. This is what I mean by balancing the state-shastra maryada.

    • scooty ram

      “No, he was not a brahmana, and that is the very reason that this incident is related in CC, to show that He transgressed the social norms in relation to His devotees. Love is beyond law.”

      While some may wish to pay attention to the transgression of dharma by caitanya mahaprabhu and take a cue, some other may choose to see the mental state of kolavecha sridhara(if he is not a brahmana) who never would dream of allowing such an incident or had any such desire. Did kolavecha desire that Caitanya must transgress dharma giving prejudice to himself? Similarly, while durvasa maharishi tried to hold to the Lotus feet of King Ambharisha but the king never gave his feet.

      Stories are present to prompt a pravritti. And I am sure you will agree Caitanya transgressing dharma is never intended to prompt his followers to transgress dharma. What great men do common men follow. His action can be taken as an arthavada to glorify bhakti and does not turn into an instruction to transgress dharma. Infact bhakti nurtures dharma and does not destroy it.

      Btw, I came across this . Is this not authentic?
      kholavechaataya khyaatah
      panditah shridharo dvijah
      aasid vraje haasya kaari
      yo naamnaa kusumaasavah

      “The cowherd boy named Kusumasava, who joked with Lord Krishna and made Him laugh in Vrajabhumi, appeared in Lord Caitanta’s pastimes as the learned brahmana named Kholavecha Shridhar.”
      (Gaura-ganodesh-dipika 133.)

    • Babaji Post author

      Scooty ji, you are right, Sridhara was a brahmana. I was mistaken.

  2. scooty ram

    Wrt the statement that bhakti and VA as two separate and independent path, where does the rule of not looking @ lowborn from the Çata-dhanus story fit into rules of bhakti. It is a dharma sastra rule that one must not look @ a nagna esp amdist nitya karma ritual. Prayaschitta for that is to look @ the sun. This story of Çata-dhanus is emphasised in bhakti sandarbha on warning about laxity in bhakti. Please kindly clarify.
    Dasan
    PS: You had elaborated this story in https://www.jiva.org/influence-of-offenses-from-bhakti-sandarbha-2/ – for other viewers

  3. Mandar

    1. Is institution needed to perform
    bhakti ?

    2. Is it mandatory to be a part of
    institution nowadays to perform
    devotion towards SRIKRSNA.

    3. What is the destination of person
    who practices devotion on
    individual
    basis and not part of institution.
    But takes guidance regarding
    sadhana from genuine sadhus.

    Please elaborate on it.

    Thanks

    • Babaji Post author

      1. Is institution needed to perform bhakti ?

      A: Certainly not.

      2. Is it mandatory to be a part of institution nowadays to perform
      devotion towards SRIKRSNA.

      A: Certainly Not. What is so special about “Nowadays”?

      3. What is the destination of person who practices devotion on individual basis and not part of institution.
      But takes guidance regarding sadhana from genuine sadhus.

      A: When Krsna played on His flute on full moon nights, the Gopis ran to meet Him. They did not go in groups but went individually.
      It said that only their dangling earrings were their guides, java-lola-kundala. The implication is that bhakti or love is not a group dharma.
      Love is not dependent upon others.

  4. Stoka Krsna Das

    Thanks Babaji for bringing out so many clarifications wrt Varnasrama and more so putting them in the modern context.

    With most of the world Governments becoming social and secular it is very unlikely that any of the Governments is going to support Varnasrama. So can we assume that the system of Varnasrama has been buried into the annals of history for the rest of KaliYuga

    But it is mentioned that Kalki Avatar at the end of kaliYuga would appear in a Brahaman family somewhere in Orissa. So would there be some freak revival of Varnasrama by the end of Kali Yuga.

    • Babaji Post author

      > Varnasrama has been buried into the annals of history for the rest of KaliYuga
      yes

      > But it is mentioned that Kalki Avatar at the end of kaliYuga would appear in a Brahaman family somewhere in Orissa. So would there be some freak revival of Varnasrama by the end of Kali Yuga.
      yes

  • Satyanarayana Dasa

    Satyanarayana Dasa
  • Daily Bhakti Byte

    If you really understand Bhagavatam, you will become free from all of this nonsense that is making you suffer – all this envy, jealousy, hatred. All of these ideas will become completely smashed here. You have to hear it properly and then assimilate it. To purify your heart – this is Bhagavatam. And to understand Bhagavatam – this is the Sandarbhas.

    — Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
  • Videos with Babaji

  • Payment

  • Subscribe

  • Article Archive

  • Chronological Archive

© 2017 JIVA.ORG. All rights reserved.