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Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas versus Smārta Brāhmaṇas
Articles by Satyanarayana Dasa Gaudiya Vaishnavas

Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas versus Smārta Brāhmaṇas

Question: As you know, the Smārtas, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, and Madhvas differ philosophically. While people at times engage in polemical attacks on Smārtas, the attack on them has become a street fight. What is the attitude of traditional Gauḍīyas toward Smārtas? Do you think it is proper for Vaiṣṇavas to attack Smārta brāhmaṇas?

Answer: Let us first understand who a Smārta brāhmaṇa is. The word Smārta is derived from the word smṛṭi by applying the suffix aṇ. It means a rule prescribed in the Smṛti, or someone who studies, knows, or adheres to Smṛṭi. Therefore, a Smārta brāhmaṇa knows Smṛti and leads his life according to the injunctions of Smṛṭi. What is a Smṛti? The word smṛti means memory or remembrance. Therefore, it is literature given by a sage remembering the meaning of the Vedas. In other words, it is a book that describes how to apply the injunctions of the Vedas in our daily lives. This is defined by Manu (2.10):

śrutistu vedo vijñeya dharma-śāstraṁ tu vai smṛtih
te sarvātheṣv amīmāṁsye tābhyāṁ dharmo hi nirbabhau

“Vedas are called Śruti, and the books delineating dharmic principles, i.e., dharma-śastra, are called Smṛti. One should not argue against them because dharma has manifested from both.”

Thus Śruti, or Veda, is a direct revelation to a sage, while Smṛti, or dharma-śāstra, is his composition based upon revelation. There are many Smṛtis, such as those given by Manu, Yājñavalkya, Vaśīṣṭha, Parāśara, Vyāsa, Nārada, Hārīta, and so on. In a wider sense, Smṛṭi also includes the six Vedāṅga, Śrauta-sutra, and Gṛhya-sutra. And in its widest sense, it consists of literature other than Vedas, such as the Purānas and Itihāsas.

Here, it may be noted that Vaiṣṇavas also follow the principles of dharma derived from the Smṛṭi literature. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu ordered Sanātana Gosvāmī to write a Smṛtī for Vaiṣṇavas (Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā24.229 [The reference is as per Śrī Haridāsa Śāstri Mahāraja’s edition]):

Prabhu ājñā dilā vaīṣṇava smṛti karibāre— “The Master ordered him to compose a Vaiṣṇava Smṛti.” Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa is the outcome of this order. Thus, although Vaiṣṇavas follow Smṛṭi, they are not called Ṣmārtas. The word Smārta is used explicitly for a non-vaiṣṇava following Smṛti.

The bone of contention is due to a difference in Iṣṭa-devatā. But this should not become a cause of animosity. From the Vaiṣṇava perspective, all devatas are Vaiṣṇavas. Thus, their worship is ultimately worship of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa says this in Gītā (9.23). Just as the water of all rivers flows to the ocean, all worship culminates in the worship of Kṛṣṇa—sarva-deva-namaskāraṁ keśavaṁ pratigaccgati. 

I think that criticism of Smārta brāhmaṇas springs from an improper understanding or limited vision of śāstra. There are indeed statements that seem to disregard the practice of Vedic rituals. Their true intention, however, is not to criticize the path of karma but to establish the path of jñāna or bhakti. This is Vedic hermeneutics—na hi nindā nindyaṁ nindituṁ prayujyate. kiṁ tarhi? ninditād itarat prasaṁśitum (Śābara Bhāsya on SB 4.2.21). If the path of karma were to be genuinely condemned in an absolute sense, then the natural question would arise, “Why does Vedic literature prescribe karma?” We must understand that different paths have been propagated for those of different adhikārī, or eligibility. Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself says that He has propagated the path of karma, jnāna, and bhakti for the ultimate good of humanity (SB 11.20.6).

Kṛṣṇa also provides the requisite qualifications for all three paths in the following two verses. He states that one can attain perfection by performing one’s prescribed duty, as injuncted by the Vedas, and gives the example of King Janaka (Gītā 18.45, 18.56, 3.20).

Moreover, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is called brahmaṇya-deva or one who worships brāhmaṇas. Therefore, to despise Smārta brāhmaṇas cannot be pleasing to Him. He instructed His sons and family members never to disrespect brāhmaṇas:

“Bhagavan Kṛṣṇa, son of Devakī, a worshiper of brāhmaṇas, the embodiment of dharma, spoke to his relatives while teaching the kṣatriya class. Even the powerful Agni (god of fire) cannot digest a small amount of a brāhmaṇa’s wealth, so what to speak of a king who thinks of himself as a master? I do not consider hālāhala as a poison because it can be counteracted.  But the wealth of a brāhmaṇa is the real poison because there is no remedy for it. Poison kills only a person who eats it; fire can be extinguished with water, but the fire generated from the Araṇi-like wealth of a brāhmanadestroys one’s whole family.” (SB 10.64.31–35)

He concludes His teachings:

“O My people, do not be malicious towards a brāhmana even if he is offends you. Always bow down to a brāhmana even if he hits or curses you. Just as with full attention, I bow down to brāhmaṇas, so also you should bow down. Otherwise, you will be punished by Me.” (SB 10.64.41–42)

Kṛṣṇa equates a brāhmana to Himself. He says: sarva-devamayo vipraḥ sarva-devamayo hyaham, “A brāhmaṇa is the personification of all the devas, and I am also the personification of all the devas” (SB 10.86.54).  He also says that a brāhmaṇa is superior by his very birth (SB 10.86.53). A brāhmana is guru by birth (SB 10.8.6). Nārada Ṛṣi says that a brāhmaṇa is the personification of the Vedas, sarva-vedamayo vipraḥ. The Vedas and Vedic literature are available to us at present only because of brāhmaṇas. Viṣṇu told the Kumāras that He would cut even His own arm if it acted against a brāhmaṇa (SB 3.16.6).

From this, it is clear that criticizing Smārta brāhmanas or any brāhmana is not pleasing to Kṛṣṇa at all and, thus, very offensive. It should be avoided if one wants to progress on the path of bhakti. If some great ācārya has done so in the past, one should carefully study his intentions and the real target of his criticism. To avoid becoming implicated in unnecessary offenses, one should not blindly imitate such an ācārya. I see no gain whatsoever in attacking a brāhmaṇa.


  • Vraja Kishor May 28, 2024

    In the quote from 10.64.31–35, should “wealth” be “wrath”?

    • Malatimanjari May 29, 2024

      No, it is correct. The section deals with the property of a brahmana and the consequences of its misappropriation.

  • Ishan May 31, 2024

    are the Upanishad bhasya written by srila baladeva vidhybhusana paada retrieved or are they lost forever? if they are found where is it now?

    • Babaji May 31, 2024

      They are not available except for Iśopaniṣad.

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