Vedas and Shudra
February 24, 2010 By Agniveer
Vedas totally reject Caste System
A commonly held perception regarding Vedas is their prejudice against Shudras. Vedas are accused of being Brahminical texts designed to subdue the Shudras. They are considered to be the source of caste-based discrimination that is touted as the primary characteristic of Hinduism/ Sanatan Dharma or Vedic Dharma. The entire pro-Dalit movement also has its foundation on this baseless notion.
Unfortunately, nothing could be far from truth. In this series of articles, we would provide evidence from Vedas and related texts to establish the following:
a. The meaning of four Varnas and Shudra in particular is completely different from what the Macaulay inspired intellectuals would want us to believe.
b. There is absolutely no element of birth-based discrimination or denial of opportunity for any human being in Vedic way of life.
c. If there is one text that provides evidence of highest level of meritocracy and equal-opportunity, it is the Vedas. Even the most contemporary texts on human rights cannot come closer.
Before we begin our journey of solving the caste-puzzle through Vedas, let us start with certain worship mantras from Vedas that mention Shudras:
Yajurved 18.48:O Lord! Provide enlightenment/ compassion to our Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Provide me also with the same enlightenment so that I can see the truth.
Yajurved 20.17:Whatever crime we have committed against my village, forest or committee; whatever crime we have committed through our organs, whatever crime we have committed against Shudras and Vaishyas, whatever crime we have done in matters of Dharma, kindly forgive us relieve us from the tendency of the same.
Yajurved 26.2:The way I gave this knowledge of Vedas for benefit of all humans, similarly you all also propagate the same for benefit of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Shudras, Vaishyas, Women and even most downtrodden. The scholars and the wealthy people should ensure that they not deviate from this message of mine.
Atharvaved 19.32.8:O Lord! May I be loved by everyone – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Shudra or Vaishya. May I be admired by everyone.
Atharvaved 19.62.1:May all noble people admire me. May kings and Kshatriyas admire me. May all look at me with admiration. May the Shudras and Vaishyas admire me.
It is clear from these mantras that a Vedic person:
- seeks to be forgiven for crimes against all including Shudras
- seeks to propagate Vedas to all including Shudras
- considers all Varnas – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra to be equal and respects them equally.
Thus it is clear that as per Vedas, Shudras deserve the same respect as other Varnas and as per Vedic prayer, Shudras are accorded great esteem.
It is also interesting that in all of these mantras, the word Shudra comes before Vaishya. So one cannot counter-argue that Shudras are given last mention or least preference.
These are sufficient evidence to conclude that Shudra, as per Vedas, imply something quite different from a caste or community that has to be discriminated against. We shall explore the meaning of Shudra and associated terms like Daas, Dasyu and Anarya, which are often confused to be synonyms, in subsequent articles.
Vedas condemn birth-based caste discrimination
Vedas are the foundation of birth-based caste discrimination. It is in Vedas – the oldest scriptures of Hindus – that the seeds of casteism were laid. And since then exploitation of certain sections of population became mainstay of Hinduism. The conditions aggravated further later, but the foundation was in Vedas – the ultimate authority for all Hindus. And because Vedas are ultimate unquestionable authority for a Hindu, there was no way for the rot of caste-system to be eliminated from the society.
The above stated belief system seems to be the predominant opinion regarding origin of caste system infecting a wide diaspora of so-called ‘intellectual’ mindsets.
Win-win for all
Intellectuals from other religions use this as main excuse to hate Hinduism. So those involved in conversion from Hinduism and justifying the conversions done by them or their ancestors would find a convenient justification in blaming it on ‘Vedic’ birth-based caste system. Its a winning proposition for them thus.
Casteist self-proclaimed Brahmins and so-called Upper-castes use Vedas as the tool to defend their ‘divine’ special rights regardless of their actual deeds. For them, of course, nothing could be more lucrative than an order from Vedas to continue giving an MBBS degree to all future generations of a doctor regardless of whether they actually could even spell ‘medicine’!
Dalit leaders including Ambedkar have used this to explain discrimination in society and further their own political agenda. Who would like to destroy the entire vote-bank by destroying the very foundation of caste-system in totality? So even though Ambedkar admitted that the only means for him to interpret Vedas were works of western indologists since his own knowledge was grossly inadequate, he chose to still ridicule the Vedas even though in other areas like Aryan Invasion Theory he vehemently criticized the western view!
Even someone like Mohandas Gandhi – on whose name the recent ‘Gandhian’ movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare made history -was bugged by this syndrome. Despite his other apparently mature views, with regards to birth-based caste-system, Mohandas Gandhi held firm belief that it was divine and essence of Hinduism. So instead to refusing to accept the very foundation of casteism, he chose to legitimize it further by giving a special name to certain people – Harijan. What could be a greater insult to them than giving them a tag in same manner as Arab looters would put chains over their slaves aka Non Arab Muslims and call them ‘Mawali’? And now they say that ‘Mawali’ actually has a noble meaning! But blood-caste theory was so deeply entrenched that calling dark people of Africa as ‘raw naked Kafirs’ or ‘chandals’ or calling for ‘purity of race’ amounted to service of humanity! http://www.trinicenter.com/WorldNews/ghandi4.htm)
In fact the reason why ‘Harijan’ seemed to be the right word for so-called Shudras is that as per foolish neo-Hindu castiest views, Hari Bhakti was the ONLY spiritual option for Shudras as they were disallowed access to any Vedic literature! So by calling them ‘Harijans’ one can serve votebank of bigoted ‘upper castes’, neutral intellectuals and even ‘lower-castes’. And indeed the trick worked if we were to assess the popularity of this word with a demeaning intent.
We do not deny Mohandas’ contribution to society and nation. We admire his charisma. But for sure there are thousands of more unbiased non-dogmatic minds born in this nation who have contributed as much if not more. So despite all that Mohandas Gandhi is claimed to have done for the nation, we can no way admire someone who supported apartheid – the worst of the crimes – so vocally. Our firm belief is that the over-hype and imposition of Gandhi on India at cost of utter negligence of so many other role models that this oldest civilization of world has produced is driven by reasons that are different from an unbiased analysis of personalities and their concrete contributions. We need not elaborate on views of his protege Nehru whose ‘Discovery of India’ clearly proves his intent and wisdom. But all that is not the focus of this article. The crux is that even so-called reformer politicians could not rise over the myth of Vedic caste system for various selfish and non-intellectual reasons.
(None other Swami Dayanand had the guts to proclaim in clear terms, with evidences and reason, that no one is born Brahmin. A duffer born to a so-called Brahmin is worse than a Shudra, and a scholar born in family of even a so-called Chandal is a Brahmin. So those who call certain people ‘Shudra’ on basis of birth are actually duffers and worse than Shudras themselves.)
We are fully with Annaji on the tirade against corruption but pray that he is using Gandhism as a political ploy but unequivocally rejects the casteist and racist views of Mohandas.
Western indologists, of course, found a golden opportunity in the so-called Vedic caste-system to dissuade Hindus from their foundations. They knew that most Indian intellectuals simply parrot what their white-Aakaas (Lords) utter and that is exactly what is happening even till today. They had to do nothing great when foolish Hindus were still clinging to termite-hill of casteism as their foundation despite all the slavery and downfall it had brought to them over last thousand years and even more. All British had to do was to propagate the garbage works on Vedas by their paid indologists in lingua-franca – English – and make it the predominant view on Vedas worldwide. After all a false marketed smartly becomes a truth! Even a toilet cleaner advertised well becomes drink of success!
Thus we see that there were vested interests of all – the loser, the victor, the lawyer, the judge, the neutral observer of drama – in ensuring that caste-system and the blame of its foundation in Vedas be continued and furthered.
But Agniveer cannot tolerate it
There were from time to time voices raised against this stupid caste system. Those were the great men who did so and Agniveer hails them as role models. But even they could not go to the root and question the very foundation of this hoax – ‘that Vedas sanction birth-based caste system’. So their efforts only led to dissuasion of masses away from their own foundation – Vedas – and helped the enemy forces even more.
If someone calls your mother an indecent lady, you do not expel your mother. You instead explore the truth of the allegation, defend your mother if there is no such evidence and reject her only when there is a conclusive evidence to contrary.
But those who can reject their mother at the very first hearsay are simply acting insane. What other adjectives can be used for them is left to readers. However the crux is that Vedas are mother for entire humanity – the first source of knowledge and wisdom and direction like mother’s milk. Those who neglect the mother or abuse her without any logical basis are bound to perish!
The humanity is facing troubles today because it neglected the mother. And we, the natives of this subcontinent, suffer even more ignominy and ironies and tragedies and problems because we were closest to mother in recent history and yet chose to neglect her, or even malign her. We truly deserved greater punishments and we rightly received them!
However there are no surprises that we as foolish Hindus act so insane. After all we derive our inspiration from fake and bogus stories from dubious texts that glamorize Sita’s exile by Rama and Harishchandra selling his wife! Even God can help only those who desire to help themselves!
And that is exactly why legends like Swami Dayanand and their progeny like Agniveer stand so strongly in defense of Vedas. Even if all other children of the mother choose to harm her or neglect her out of intent or foolishness, that does not grant each of us an automatic divine approval to also neglect her and act even more foolish. The Law of Karma never spares anyone.
Note that the above is not an emotional hyperbole. Because such views if understood without depth may lead to blinded fanaticism. Someone may call Quran or Bible his mother and become defensive, other may consider Somalian piracy as its mother and become aggressive and so on. This would lead only to fanaticism.
On contrary, the above is a well-analyzed viewpoint emanating as a result of a reasoning process. And we are very clear that if Vedas indeed are source of anything illogical, we shall reject even the Vedas in same manner as one amputates his own limb if having gangrene.
The articles on the site would give you ample insights into this reasoning process. With regards to caste-system, we have already covered Vedic viewpoint in detail in several other articles. Readers are requested to specially review http://agniveer.com/888/caste-system/
However one popular issue still remains to be explained to complete the puzzle. This is with regards to one particular verse of Vedas appearing in Purush Sukta that is considered to be mother of birth-based casteism. This is perhaps the ONLY alleged reference to casteism in Vedas. All others allegations are too weak to be taken seriously even by detractors of Vedas. But this one, though equally flimsy, surprisingly became a super hit just like many stupid bollywood movies!
So it does merit some special attention.
About Purush Sukta
Purush Sukta is a hymn of 16 mantras from Vedas that appears in all 4 Vedas with slight variations. More PhDs have perhaps happened on Purush Sukta than on any other intellectual aspect of Vedas. The 11th mantra of the Sukta is the one that carries the blame of birth-based casteism.
To explain the mantra and conduct their PhDs, scholars have used a variety of approaches.
- Some simply translated it literally
- Some used their grammar prowess to justify casteism.
- Others (primarily those inspired by Arya Samaj) use the same prowess to reject it.
- Many other conclude that Purush Sukta is a later addition to Vedas because it is found
(Its a different matter that they cannot explain why no version of Vedas without this 10th Mandala exists or how Purush Sukta is then found in other Vedas as well, not necessarily at end?)
(Sometimes we do feel that lack of scientific education has spoiled the entire world. Most people leading opinions in areas like history, literature, media etc are those who were more scared of science and mathematics than ghosts. Be it a Romila Thapar, or Wendy Doniger, or Max Muller or anyone else you may name. Thus destiny did not give them the opportunity to master scientific process of thinking and analytical faculty. Perhaps a serious study of Satyarth Prakash can help them compensate the terrible loss they have made!
We are of firm opinion that we need thoroughly scientific and analytical brains in these fields if we are to save our education system. An aptitude and reasoning test should be a MUST.)
About Casteism in Purush Sukta
in last Mandala of Rigveda. In fact they claim that the entire last Mandala of Rigveda is a later addition simply because they suspect so! So perhaps ghost of Shah Jahan lives in Red Fort because I suspect so!
Coming back to the Purush Sukta, there is this Mantra number 11 who is the culprit.
It literally says:
Brahmin was his mouth. Kshatriya were created from his arms. Vaishyas came from thighs and Shudras were born from his feet.
Thus Shudras are lowly people born from his feet and Brahmins are greatest ones born from his mouth. Hence the mantra is alleged to insult Shudras and glorify Brahmins. Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are somewhere between.
- As we said earlier, you can find a plethora of literature that critically analyzes this mantra and provides a wide amount of perspectives. Many explain in greater detail how this mantra led to modern day caste system through a chain of events and thought process.
- Others try to prove that the mantra itself is interpolation because no other mantra in Vedas can be used to justify caste-system. As we observed earlier, we are always too eager to drive out the mother so as not to offend any allegation-maker!
- The more sincere defenders of Vedas attempt to provide alternative meanings of the various words used in the mantra to justify why it does not talk of birth-based casteism. They showcase evidence from other literature on the alternative usages of these words and attempt to defend the allegations.
To my mind, even this is a fruitless exercise beyond a point. Because Vedas are much more to do with analysis and introspection and very less to do with grammar and etymology. After all language was derived from Vedas and not vice-versa.
(Swami Dayanand thus laid great emphasis on analytical reasoning. In his proposed educational curriculum, only first few years of educations, when intellectual faculty is limited, were dedicated to mugging up the basics. And rest of it was primarily focused upon developing the analytical and introspective faculty. Unfortunately, modern Vedic scholars spent years in only grammar and neglect science and maths completely. Thus their analytical reasoning is limited and they are unable to derive new insights and researches from Vedas. Like other Arts subject, research in these fields primarily implies inconsequential literature survey (Which may soon become obsolete due to advent of search engine technology and digitization!))
Analysis of the casteist mantra of Purush Sukta
Coming back to the main line of discussion, let us now analyze it deeper but a bit logically.
Let us reproduce the meaning again for readability:
Brahmin was his mouth. Kshatriya were created from his arms. Vaishyas came from thighs and Shudras were born from his feet.
1. How does the mantra imply that Brahmins are superior and Shudras are inferior?
In fact if the mantra be literally true then Brahmins are the most disgusting and Shudras much purer.
Because vomit and sputum come from mouth. After perhaps urine and stool, they are the most detestable outputs of human body.
If a cherry falls on feet, you can still pick it up and eat it after washing. In fact most of the grains we eat may have touched ground or feet in some way or other. But if it gets into someone’s mouth and mixes with his saliva or sputum, you will not eat it for sure even after washing!
2. How can something be born from feet, thighs, mouth or arms?
Even for a human being, the organs for reproduction are different. It is thus obvious that the mantra actually means something else. Foolish people take allegories literally.
By this logic, if a son is ‘Aankhon ka tara’ or Gem of the Eyes of his mother, it would imply that he resides in form of a star within an eye of his mother! Perhaps we would send to asylum those who take such similes literally.
3. The same modern ‘orthodox’ Hindu ideology also believes in rebirth of soul. In fact the very foundation of Vedic religion and all its offshoots is belief in rebirth of a soul that is unborn and undying. So the questions are:
- How could ‘unborn’ soul be born from something?
And if it is true, then rest of the Vedas and Vedic literature is false.
- What happens after we die? Now it is an established belief that one can change from Brahmin to Shudra etc in next birth depending upon Karmas or actions. In fact this is the lollypop that bigoted ‘Upper Castes’ offer to so-called Shudras – serve us for this birth and then become Brahmin in next birth.
So if migration of caste is possible in next birth, we would like to understand the mechanism. Is it that after death, soul goes back to Purusha’s feet or mouth or arm or thighs, transfer via the blood circulation system to next organ and take birth again?
- And what about animals and insects and birds? From where are they born and how do they change into Brahmin etc?
Does it not all sound stupid if literal translation were to be taken seriously?
4. And in any case, the Vedic Supreme Lord is always formless and omnipresent. So how can He have face, arms, legs in first place? Refer Yajurveda 40.8 which states so in unambiguous terms.
5. Further even if we assume Supreme Lord to have shape and be able to reproduce from His various organs except the one that is used in humans for this purpose, how does that imply birth-based caste system? How can one conclude from this mantra that Brahmins will take birth in family of Brahmins alone and Shudras in family of Shudras? Brahmins or Shudras or whatever should take birth directly from body of Supreme. As per the literal meaning of mantra, if someone takes birth from womb of a mortal woman and NOT directly from God Himself, then he or she can be neither of the 4 Varnas. They are someone else!
6. What more, the mantra is in past tense. So at best one can conclude that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras were born from various organs of a queerly formed Purusha at inception of creation. But none of them survive till today. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras of today are born hardly a few decades ago. But as per literal meaning of mantra, the birth has already happened. It does not say that God continues to run a factory for future production.
Further none of modern human beings actually came from anywhere except mother’s womb. So none of these modern claimants of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are genuine claimants. They all are fake claimants.
7. Had someone taken birth from some woman’s mouth, we could have still have pretended to act superstitious and assert that ” Since the mother is Supreme God, the newborn is a Brahmin”. But still, the condition of birth from mouth, hands, legs or thighs ALONE constitutes a valid birth to qualify to be called either of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. Rest of us – normal mortals – who originate from womb of our mothers and not from hands, legs, mouth etc are perhaps aliens from outer universe controlled by some other God as per literal meaning of the verse!
8. Since all births on planet earth happen ONLY from mothers, thus if we are to exist (which we all do!) then all women who give birth should be God themselves as per the mantra. And all men should be something other than either of 4 Varnas. We have no objection to people respecting all women as God. But at the same time, all men should be anything but humans since they did not come from mouth, arms or legs of any woman.
Very clearly, the mantra makes no sense if one were to take it literally.
What is pity that such a level of nonsense held sway over us for centuries, made us harassed paupers and yet we refuse to get rid of the crap!
The proper intuitive obvious meaning of the mantra
However if the mantra were to be analyzed in context of rest of the mantras and more intelligently, definitely there is a whole branch of knowledge pertaining to creation that can be researched from the Sukta.
One can review the Chapter on Creation (Srishtividyavishay) in Introduction of Vedas (Rigvedadibhashyabhumika) by Swami Dayanand for a more logical and detailed contextual analysis. You can get it from Download section of agniveer.com
However an intuitive understanding of the mantra is very simple even for a layman if we are willing to remove the glasses of prejudice and mindset. It means exactly what has been stated by all translators:
Brahmin was his mouth. Kshatriya were created from his arms. Vaishyas came from thighs and Shudras were born from his feet.
The only issue is that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra do not refer to any souls or humans.
And ‘He’ refers to not only the Supreme Lord as a whole but any self-enriching ecosystem – be it society, organization, individual or universe. After all everything is inspired by the Supreme Lord!
- So the mantra means that any ecosystem necessarily consists of 4 Varnas or properties or qualities or components – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Brahmin means intellect and knowledge. Kshatriya means strength and valor. Vaishya means management, balance and stability. Shudra means rest of the qualities including ignorance.
- A smart system would utilize the 4 components in most optimized manner.
So a successful society would have intellectuals or Brahmins as head, Warriors or Kshatriyas as protecting hands, Vaishyas or business managers as stability providers or bone marrow producers (femur or thigh bone is the strongest bone of body) and rest of population would be utilized to provide support and basic infrastructure for the society.
A successful company would also organize itself accordingly.
The Supreme also creates the universe in a manner that these 4 components are balanced.
- As human beings, even we have all these 4 within us. But as they are Varnas (choice) we have option to increase or decrease their magnitude in various aspects of our lives. Note however that there is no binary choice of either having or rejecting a property. All the 4 must exist, only their proportions may vary.
- Our brain represents the Brahmin which should be nurtured to extent possible. We should have strong arms to protect ourselves. A very healthy body and good blood circulation to ensure our longevity and powerful feet to be dynamic.
- There is no human who does not have any of these components or properties within him. And there is no meaningful activity that can be performed in absence of all these 4. After all we are a complete being and not parts.
So when we are even studying Vedas – we use the Brahmin to understand the essence, Kshatriya to ensure we can study peacefully and not be disturbed by every other mosquito or nuisance, Vaishya to manage the procurement of Vedic text and lamp, and Shudra to actually sit down, switch on the lamp and perform all manual tasks necessary to successfully complete the study. If even one of the Varnas is ignored, the task may not be successfully and sustainably completed.
Buddhism focused only on Brahmin and hence perished in Afghantistan to attacks from West Asian looters. Wahabis got exclusively into warfare and made world a dangerous place. Hindus became too much of managers/ Vaishyas or Jugaadbaaz and lost their strength and dignity. Pakistan made Shudras out of its population by neglecting education and training and is nearing a failed state due to dominance of barbarians.
- In society, we, for sake of simplicity, call a person Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra based on his predominant profession. However this is only a simplistic approximation. In reality, each of us has a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra within us or else we would not be able to even survive for a while.
You can clearly see that with this very logical interpretation, the entire Varna system as well as the mantra becomes so comprehensible and easy to understand. Of course, with further introspection and analysis including study of language, we can derive even deeper meanings from this vastly intellectual mantra from one of the most wonderful Suktas of Vedas.
But the broad essence is very obvious and intuitive, if observed without any baggage of post-dated bias and preconceived notions.
- That the particular mantra is not to be taken literally but as an analogy.
- That Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra represent 4 properties that pervade all human beings.
- That these 4 properties are Varnas or choices. Which means that we have a choice to increase or decrease their magnitude in various aspects of our lives.
- That the 4 organs of body – head/face/mouth, arms, thighs and legs – represent the qualities of the 4 varnas. And if we consider the broader meaning of Uru used for Vaishya, it implies the entire central system – digestive system to thighs. In fact in Atharvaveda version of the mantra, the word Madhya meaning Center is used instead of Uru to clarify this better.
- Thus any ecosystem which provides appropriate roles & responsibilities to these 4 properties or people representing these properties is bound to be successful – be it an individual or society. Those who try to use feet for head or vice versa are bound to perish.
And that is exactly what happened through birth-based caste system. Even the most dumb witted were made ‘heads’ or ‘face’ of society merely because they were born in certain families that claimed to be Brahmins. The weaklings were warriors because of family tag. And the most brilliant were forced to be in servile positions simply because they were born in some other set of families. So we were destroyed!
However, we clearly see that by any stretch of sane imagination, one can no way interpret the Purush Sukta mantra to have any meaning even remotely associated with birth-based casteism. Vedas stand for complete meritocracy and equal opportunities for all human beings.
So all these PhDs trying to prove or disprove casteism in Purush Sukta mantra 11 are completely irrelevant. They only reemphasize the need for quality aptitude training and examination of those who indulge in such researches. And speak volumes about intellectual capabilities with regards to analysis and logic of those so-called scholars who conducted such researches in past.
As we have also analyzed in other parts of the article series, the whole hoax of Vedas having anything to do with racism or casteism or discrimination in the name of gender or birth is a figment of imagination of selected few. It is true that for quite a significant period in history, such perverted ideology held sway over the sub-continent causing utter loss to world and country. However events do not justify themselves merely by their happenings. Just because something stupid happened in the era of Ashoka or even Ramayan and Mahabharat does not make that justifiable.
(There is a misplaced notion that ancient India was Vedic and now we are non-Vedic. Or that western world is anti-Vedic and we are more Vedic. All these notions emanate from shallow thinking. Vedas represent the best practices manual and fundamental laws of nature and living. There was never a time when all best practices of Vedas were implemented with 100% perfection and there was never a time when a society completely rejected Vedas. All this varies from time to time in different aspects of life. We benefit when we adopt Vedic wisdom in certain aspects of our lives and face miseries when we refuse to do so in some other aspects. Thus we are far more Vedic in certain aspects compared to Ramayan and Mahabharat era. In certain aspects we lag behind. Similarly, western world is far far more Vedic in certain aspects of life like respect for all humans, while we are ahead in some other aspects like family values.This is a multivariate highly non-linear and dynamic function. But Vedas provide us way to attempt to maximize the value of the function in any given point in time.)
So citing examples from history or present era to claim something to be Vedic or anti Vedic is as foolish as rejecting Vedas. We do not reject the concept of circle in Mathematics simply because a perfect circle cannot be drawn in reality!
Thus all we need to do is to seek opportunities for improvements in true spirit of Vedas. That is what ideals are meant for.
Now this caste system has been an anti-Vedic nuisance troubling us for ages. It has been a prime cause for all other troubles we faced and continue to face for last thousands of year. However today is the most golden opportunity to destroy its very roots and become deserving of greater bliss.
The modern era social patterns make it totally outdated to classify a person simplistically into any one of the 4 Varnas. It is time we adopt a more evolved model – where each human has all the 4 Varnas whose proportion vary in different aspects of life at different times in different situations.
And the foundation as well as inspiration for it should rightly come from our roots – the Vedas themselves. Let us together destroy the myth of casteism in Vedas and take it further to destroy all traces of birth-based casteism from our society as guided by Purush Sukta.
We conclude with our interpretation of Purush Sukta mantra 11 in nation’s perspective, as elaborated above:
May only the intellectuals be allowed to become face and heads of our nation. May only the strong, powerful and possessors of noble character be the strong hands that protect and bring us glory through efforts. May the smart trained managers guide our entire processes and ensure a vibrant healthy effective control mechanism. And may we utilize the rest of us to provide foundation and service to keep the system dynamic and powerful.
May we never allow non-intellectual minds to become heads, weaklings to become hands, untrained incompetents to manage the central control system and waste talented resources in doing less productive activities. Let us never allow mismatch of talents and job role on frivolous reasons like birth, family, favoritism, corruption etc. Let no profession – material or spiritual – become fiefdoms of selected few on the basis of any artificial barrier like caste or gender. And if there be any such existing barriers, let us destroy them completely in order to embrace the Purush Sukta!
Casteism is the father of all corruption and let us work for its total annihilation, in theory and practice.
Why can't sudras read vedas according to smritis?
It is a common belief that sudras can"t learn vedas from Hindu scriptures but according to vedas itself a shudra can learn vedas-
Sukla Yajurveda (XXVI. 2). यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यःब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥ Meaning-
The way I gave this knowledge of Vedas for benefit of all humans, similarly you all also propagate the same for benefit of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Shudras, Vaishyas, Women and even most downtrodden. The scholars and the wealthy people should ensure that they not deviate from this message of mine."
Here is how Ralph T Griffith translates this verse-
That I to all the people may address this salutary speech,To priest and nobleman, Sûdra and Arya, to one of our own kin and to the stranger Dear may I be to Gods and guerdon-giver. Fulfilled be this my hope: be that my portion!
Here is what swami vivekananda says about this verse:
Thus says the Shukla Yajur Veda (XXVI. 2). Can you show any authority from this Veda of ours that everyone has not the right to it? The Purânas, no doubt, say that a certain caste has the right to such and such a recension of the Vedas, or a certain caste has no right to study them, or that this portion of the Vedas is for the Satya Yuga and that portion is for the Kali Yuga. But, mark you, the Veda does not say so; it is only your Puranas that do so. But can the servant dictate to the master? The Smritis, Puranas, Tantras — all these are acceptable only so far as they agree with the Vedas; and wherever they are contradictory, they are to be rejected as unreliable. But nowadays we have put the Puranas on even a higher pedestal than the Vedas! The study of the Vedas has almost disappeared from Bengal. How I wish that day will soon come when in every home the Veda will be worshipped together with Shâlagrâma, the household Deity, when the young, the old, and the women will inaugurate the worship of the Veda!( Quoting from the complete works of swami vivekananda volume 3 http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/lectures_from_colombo_to_almora/the_religion_we_are_born_in.htm)
So if according to Veda a shudra can learn vedas,then why do puranas say that sudras are not allowed to learn vedas?
Why did Manu say "A Shudra is unfit to receive Education and hence need not be taught"?
Vivek Arya, I am a follower of Hinduism as per Vedic Doctrine.
Manu Smriti and Caste System: An Analysis
Most of readers might be having opinion about Manu Smriti that it supports Caste System. It says that a Brahmin is superior to a Shudra. Many will advocate to burn such text as it supports Caste System. Let us inquire into the common unfavorable perception that does the Manu Smriti supports casteism?
Swami Dayanand, the great Vedic scholar of the 19th Century, writes: “I believe in that part of Manu Smriti which is not interpolated (appended later) and is in accord with the Vedas.” He concludes that the Manu Smriti we read today is not as originally laid down by Swayambhu Manu, the first Chief of Humanity. As it now is, he found the text as self-contradictory and against the values espoused in Vedas, and hence injudicious. He therefore rejects those prejudicial texts which advocate discrimination against populations with alleged inferior status.
Truth is that Manu proposed Varn Vyastha — which was based on merit and not on account of one’s birth.
Here are the verses from Manu Smriti which says that Varna is based on qualification not on the basis of Birth.
2/157. As an elephant made of wood, as an antelope made of leather, such is an unlearned Brahmana; those three have nothing but the names (devoid of virtues respective to their kind).
2/28. This (human) body is made fit for (union with) Brahman by study of the Vedas, by vows, by burnt oblations, by (recitation of) sacred texts, by (acquisition of the) threefold sacred science, by offering (to gods, sages and manes), by (procreation of) sons, by great sacrifices, and by (the Srauta) rites
(The above texts lays the qualifications to be acquired, with great dedication and effort at specified works, in order to become a Brahmin, and not merely by being born to a Brahmin father.)
The varn of a person (caste or status in society) was decided after completion of his education.
Two births were considered for a person in Vedic period : first, when he was born to his parents, and, next, when he completed his education with due thoroughness. It was after second birth (twice born) that the varn of person was determined.
The following text from Manu Smriti makes it even more clear.
2/148. But that birth which a teacher acquainted with Vedas entire, in accordance with the law, procures for him (the student) through the Savitr (Sun), is real and exempt from his birth, age or death.
2/146. Between him to whom one is physically born and him who gives (the knowledge of) the Vedas, the giver of the Veda is the more venerable father; for birth through arising in the knowledge of the Veda (ensures) eternal (reward) both in this (life) and that (afterlife).
A person who remained uneducated and devoid of the knowledge of Vedas was considered a Shudra.
That is, the Shudra varn was not based on birth but on merit.
10/4. Brahmana, Kshatriya and the Vaisya castes (Varna) are twice-born (educated) but the fourth, the Shudra, has one birth only; there is no fifth (caste).
2/172. He who has not been initiated with teaching of the Vedas is like a Shudra.
Manu also advises not to insult a person of lower Varna.
4/141. Let him not insult those who have redundant limbs or are deficient in limbs, nor those destitute of knowledge, nor very aged men, nor those who have no beauty or wealth, nor those who are of low birth.
Why Manu started Varn Vyastha?
1/31. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Shudra varn origin in form of the body of the society : as its mouth, its arms, its thighs and its feet, respectively.
(Only the ignorant consider the Shudra as being originated from the feet of god.)
1/87. But in order to protect this universe He (God), the most resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and) occupations to those as done in a body by mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.
1/88. To Brahmanas He assigned teaching and studying (the Vedas), sacrificing for their own benefit and for the welfare of others, giving and accepting (of alms).
1/89. The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Vedas), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures;
1/90. The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Vedas), to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate the land.
1/91. One occupation only the Lord prescribed to the Shudra : to serve these (other) three castes.
Manu considered anyone who is without knowledge or capacity for skilled deeds as a Sudra; so any uneducated person is fit only for being in the service, under the guidance, of others who have the requisite knowledge and skills.
Isn’t that how we are organised even today ?
Manu also advises people to exert in order to acquire a higher varna, and change his or her allotted Varna.
The advisory leaves varn vyastha changeable, fluid, and not based on birth but on merit alone.
10/65. (Thus) a Shudra attains the rank of a Brahmana, and (in a similar manner) a Brahmana sinks to the level of a Shudra; and know that it is the same with the offspring of a Kshatriya or of a Vaisya.
9/335. (A Shudra who is) pure, accompanies his betters and is gentle in his speech, free from pride, and always seeks a refuge with Brahmanas, attains a higher Varna (Brahmana, Kshatriya or Vaisya) based on his qualities.
4/245. A Brahmana who always connects himself with the most excellent (ones), and shuns all inferior ones, (himself) becomes most distinguished; by an opposite conduct he becomes a Shudra.
Is it not said : the company one keeps makes a man better or worse ?
2/103. But he who does not worships in morning, nor in the evening, is like a Shudra and he shall be excluded, just like a Shudra, from all the duties and rights of an Arya (one of noble qualities).
2/168. A twice-born man who, not having studied the Vedas, applies himself to other (and worldly study), soon falls, even while living, to the condition of a Shudra; and so do his descendants (after him).
2/126. A Brahmana who does not know the form of returning a salutation, they must not be saluted by a learned man; they must be considered as a Shudra.
A Sudra too can teach the other castes.
2/238. He who possesses faith may receive pure learning even from a man of lower caste (Shudra), the highest law even from the lowest, and an excellent wife even from a base family.
2/241. It is prescribed that in times of distress (a student) may learn (the Vedas) from one who is not a Brahmana; and that he shall walk behind and serve (such a) teacher, as long as the instruction lasts.
Superior rights given by Manu to shudras.
2/136. Wealth, kindred, age, (the due performance of) rites, and, fifthly, sacred learning are titles to respect; but each later-named (cause) is more weighty (than the preceding ones).
2/137. Whatever man of the three (higher) castes possesses most of those five, both in number and degree, that man is worthy of honour among them; and (so is) also a Shudra who has entered the tenth (decade of his life).
In above text Manu gives respect to any Shudra who is in tenth decade of life.
That is, anybody who lives long enough transcends the varna vyavastha.
3/116. After the Brahmanas, the kinsmen, and the servants have dined, the householder and his wife may afterwards eat of what remains.
Householders are advised by Manu to dine after sudras or the servants !
8/335. Neither a father, nor a teacher, nor a friend, nor a mother, nor a wife, nor a son, nor a domestic priest must be left unpunished by a king, if they do not keep within their duty.
8/336. Where another common man would be fined one karshapana, the king shall be fined one thousand; that is the settled rule.
8/337. In (a case of) theft the guilt of a Shudra shall be eightfold, that of a Vaisya sixteen fold, that of a Kshatriya two-and-thirtyfold …
8/338. … that of a Brahmana sixty-fourfold, or quite a hundredfold, or (even) twice four-and-sixtyfold; (each of them) knowing the nature of the offence.
Manu advises strict punishment for a higher varna : punishing the Brahman many times more than a lower varn, say, a Shudra.
The above text is evidence of Manu’s unbiased social hierarchy and structure.
He considered a behavioural error as being more unpardonable in
case of the learned one than for the ignorant.
Following are the examples of changing of varn vyastha in past.
Rishi Brahma, son Manu Swayambhu himself, was born to a Brahmana but became a Kshatriya king.
Manu’s eldest son, Priyavrat, became a king, a Kshatriya.
Out of Manu’s ten sons seven became kings while three became Brahmanas. Their names were Mahavir, Kavi and Savan. (Ref Bhagwat Puran Chap. 5)
Kavash Ailush was born to a Shudra and attained the highest varna of a Rishi. He became mantra-drashta to numerous hymns in Rig-Veda : 10th Mandal.
Jabala’s son, Satyakaam, born from unknown father became Rishi by his qualities.
Matang became a Rishi after his birth in low varna.
Maharishi Valmiki was born in inferior varna and became a Rishi.
Mahatma Vidur was born to a Dasi (maid) and became the prime minister to king Dhritarastra.
Raja Vishvanath, a Kshatriya, became a Brahmana – Rishi Vishwamitra.
There are many examples of varn vyastha to inferior level.
Ravan king of Lanka was son of a Brahmana Rishi Pultasya became a rakshasa.
Shri Ram’s ancestor, Raja Raghu’s son, Pravidh, was declared of inferior varna due to lack of qualities.
Shri Ram’s ancestor, Raja Samar’s son, Asmanjas, was declared a Shudra due to his bad qualities.
Thus the real Manu Smriti supports Varn Vyastha based on Merit not on the basis of Birth. The adulterated part is thus rejectable.
Dr Vivek Arya
Vedic Literature Says Caste by Birth is Unjust
By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)
When it comes to the sensitive topic of Varnashrama, or what many people call the caste system of India, we have seen so many talks over this issue, both pro and con, back and forth, this way and that. We all know that the Vedic system of Varnashrama has been mentioned in the Vedic literature in many places, such as in the Purusha Sukta verses of the Rig-veda (Book Ten, Hymn 90). But there is no indication in these verses that say that birth is the essential quality for one’s varna. Yet, it seems that many people still don’t understand how the varna system was meant to be implemented, as can be seen in the modern form of the caste system of today. The problem is not because of Varnashrama, but because of this misunderstanding of what it really is that has caused so many of India’s social problems. This article contains many quotes from Vedic shastra to clarify what the Varnashrama or caste system is actually supposed to be.
This article is for those more familiar with the topic, but for those who are not we can explain briefly that there are four basic social divisions, namely the Brahmanas (those who are priests, or interested in the study, teaching and practice of spiritual knowledge and intellectual pursuits), Kshatriyas (those who are soldiers, in the military, or police, politicians, managers, etc.), Vaishyas (merchants, businessmen, bankers, farmers, tradesmen, etc.), and Shudras (those who have little interest in the study of the Vedic literature or spiritual pursuits, and would rather engage in simple labor or employment, or technicians and other craftsmen in the service of others, etc.). Outcastes are those who are outside these four. There are also the four ashramas of life, which include Brahmacharis (student life, generally celibates), Grihastas (householders), Vanaprasthas (those who are retired from family life), and Sannyasa (the renounced monks, some of whom travel the world to teach). This is the Vedic system of Varnashrama.
The modern caste system is seen to usually dictate one’s varna or caste merely by one’s birth family, as if one automatically inherits the caste of one’s father, which is why there is a growing dislike for it. This is not the traditional Vedic system of Varnashrama. This is the difference and the problem. The traditional Vedic system calculated one’s occupational class by recognizing one’s natural talents, interests, tendencies, and abilities. It was similar to the modern system of having high school counselors adjust a student’s academic courses by discussing with the students their interests in conjunction with the results of their IQ tests. Thus, such counselors see what occupational direction is best suited for the students so they can achieve a fitting career that is of interest to them and helps them be a contributor to society at the same time. And the four basic divisions of society, as outlined in the Vedic system, are natural classifications and found everywhere, in every society, call it what you want. Plus, the traditional Vedic Varnashrama system was never so inflexible that one could not change from one occupation or class to another. The rigidity of the present-day caste system, based on jati or one’s birth family, is actually leading us away from the flexibility, and the common sense, of the Vedic varnasystem.
For this reason, you could say that the modern caste system that we find today is opposed to the Vedic system of varna. The Vedic process was a matter of bringing experience and wisdom of the ages to assist and direct a person’s life in what would be the most productive and satisfying occupation that would fit the mentality, interests, talents, and level of consciousness of an individual. It was never meant to dominate, stifle, hold down, or demean anyone. Therefore, the modern caste system as we find it today should be thrown out, and the natural system of the Vedic Varnashrama should be properly understood as it was meant to be.
Another problem with the present day caste system is that an increasing number of adults in India, what to speak of Western countries, who come from different varnas, different family lineages, various ethnic backgrounds, are getting married and becoming parents. How is it possible then to determine the caste orvarna of the child they produce based merely or only on its birth or parentage? So when this increases to additional mixed varnas and jatis, caste by birth no longer holds true, if it ever could. It increasingly depends onguna and karma, which molds the tendencies, talents, abilities, intelligence level, attractions, and characteristics of the individual. And this cannot be determined until the child engages in actions and interactions among others. Only then is there some indication for what is a person’s varna or most likely career classification.
So, to show what I’m talking about, here in the shastric quotes that follow I try to provide a clear description of how the varna system was never meant to be based merely on one’s family birth, but by one’s talents, natural interests, proclivities, expertise, and activities. These quotes are from the Bhrama Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana (abbreviated as BP), and no matter how much or how little credit you give to thisPurana, you still cannot deny the logic with which this information is presented. The verses cited herein from the Bhrama Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana is known to be relatively free of corruptions and its antiquity is vouchsafed as well. The same verses are also repeated verbatim in the Skanda Purana (north Indian versions) and a few verses of similar purport are also found in the beginning of the Shukranatisara. Some scholars say that the last is a 19th century forgery, but no less than Swami Dayanand Sarasvati acknowledged it as an ancient text, and most scholars date it between 300-1200 AD. So at a minimum, these verses do represent an alternative opinion and an elaboration on the Vedic varna-jaati system.
There are many other points about the caste system that could be discussed, such as untouchability, etc., but please note, this article is not taking those up, but merely following the outline as brought up in the followingshastric quotes focusing on the Bhavishya Purana. In this portion of the Bhavishya Purana that follows, the answers to the questions are spoken by Sumantu, the disciple of Srila Vyasadeva, to King Shatanika. This was at the suggestion of Srila Vyasadeva [VedaVyasa] who was sitting nearby in the assembly of sages, all of whom were listening to the discussion. (Bhavishya Purana, Bhrama Parva, Chapter 1.28-35)
HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE ONE’S VARNA?
First of all, how do we recognize one’s varna is an ancient question, even asked by the sages of the distant past to Lord Brahma. What is it that really makes the difference between one person and the next? “The sages asked: O Lord Brahma, in the beginning of creation, how was one recognized as a Brahmana? Was it because of his birth in a particular family, his knowledge of the Vedas, the characteristics of his body, his accomplishment of self-realization, his quality of behavior, or the prescribed duties he carried out? Is it the mind, speech, activities, body, or the qualities that determine one’s social status? Surely one’s birth in a certain caste [or family] is not sufficient for one to be recognized as a Brahmana. One’s qualities and work must also play an important part in determining a person’s position in society. The Vedic literature supports this view.” (BP, 38.8-11)
“Different social orders, such as the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas (and others) are directly seen, but simply being born in a particular family does not automatically grant one his social status. An intelligent person can easily recognize a horse in the midst of many cows. Similarly, among many who are born in a particular social status, those who are actually qualified in terms of character and activities can be easily recognized. (BP, 38.19-20)
“Some people say that all of humanity is the topmost caste, and there is nothing more to be said than this. They fail to understand that the various purificatory processes, such as the sacred thread ceremony [initiation into the twice-born status], make a person distinct from those who do not undergo such rituals.” (BP, 38.21)
Such customs certainly help one progress and is recommended, but the fact remains that in spite of such purificatory rites, we are all still very much the same, as described next.
WE ARE ALL QUITE ALIKE
“How can all the living entities who take birth, grow old, become diseased, and then die, who suffer the threefold miseries of material existence, who take birth in innumerable species, such as human beings, birds, dogs, pigs, dog-eaters, insects, and tortoises, who are all placed into very awkward conditions of life, fraught with danger, illness, lamentation, and distress, and who are constantly being drowned by the burden of their grave sinful reactions, be accepted as qualified Brahmanas?” (BP, 38.23-25)
Therefore, there must be some additional means that can help identify one’s mental makeup and high or low level of intellect and consciousness.
IT IS ONLY OUR ACTIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS THAT DIFFERENTIATE US
“Just as one can differentiate between a soldier, an elephant, a horse, a cow, a goat, a camel, and an ass by seeing their colors and forms [as distinguished because of their birth], all living entities have different characteristics and duties that distinguish them from one another.” (BP, 38.30)
“[However] the question, ‘Who is a Brahmana?’ cannot be answered so easily. Actually, there is no question of a person being qualified as a Brahmana simply because he was born in a family of Brahmanas. When a person is designated as belonging to one of the four divisions of the social order [whether it be Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras or Brahmanas]—that [designation] is not eternal. There is no physical characteristic that enables one to determine who is a Brahmana. A fair or dark complexion, which, after all, is temporary, is no real indication of a person’s varna.” (BP, 38.31)
In Goswami Tulsidas's Shri Ramcharitmanas there are many instances when this issue is also addressed. In the 'Sabri episode', Lord Rama speaks to Sabri about the importance of action (Chapter III, Aranya Kand, Verse 34, Line 4,5,6). It is clearly stated that "Bhakti (devotion and unification with the supreme), does not consider caste, religion, etc., rather it is determined by the character and qualities of an individual."
A CASTE SYSTEM BASED ON BIRTH IS UNJUST
“Therefore, the conception of a caste system based solely on birth is artificial and temporary. It may seem to be reality, but that is only due to the influence of the practice of a particular period. A businessman and doctor are both human beings, but their profession is different. Their work is according to their nature and qualities, and not because of the family they were born into.” (BP, 38.32)
“Can a person, thus, claim to be a Brahmana if he does not act according to the codes of good conduct? Can a man claim to be a Kshatriya if he does not protect the citizens? Can a person claim to be a Vaishya if he gives up performing his prescribed duties [in business, trade or farming]? Can a person claim to be a Shudra if he abandons service to the higher three classes?
“There is no physical difference between human beings as there is between cows and horses. Actually, all living beings should be treated with respect, knowing that they are one in quality as spirit souls, although they may temporarily have different varieties of forms and activities.” (BP, 38.33-34)
“Therefore, the caste system in human society that is based solely upon birth should be understood as superficial, because it is not prescribed in the scriptures. Unfortunately, those in ignorance cannot understand that it is a man-made concoction that can be easily refuted by a person in knowledge.” (BP, 38.35)
“If a person considers himself to be a Brahmana by birth but engages in [such things as] taking care of cows, buffalos, goats, horses, camels, or sheep, or acts as a messenger, tax collector, businessman, painter [artist], or dancer, he should be considered as not a real Brahmana, even though he may be very expert or powerful.” (BP, 38.36-37)
“Brahmanas who have deviated from the path of righteousness as propagated by the scriptures are to be considered fallen [from their social status], even though they may belong to a very aristocratic family, and have performed all the required purificatory rituals, and carefully studied the Vedas. No amount of accomplishments gives one the right to justify sinful behavior.” (BP, 38.42-43)
“Thus, it can be understood how a Brahmana can become a Shudra, a Shudra can become a Brahmana, a Kshatriya can become a Brahmana or a Vaishya, and so on.” (BP, 38.47)
Herein we can understand that a Brahmana is no Brahmana if he is not endowed with purity and good character, or if he leads a life of frivolity and immorality. However, a Shudra is a Brahmana if he leads a virtuous and pious life. Varna or caste is a question of character. Varna is not the color of the skin, but the color of one’s character and quality. Conduct and character is what matters and not lineage alone. If one is Brahmana by birth and, at the same time, if he possesses the virtues of a Brahmana, that it is extremely good, because it is only certain virtuous qualifications that determine if one is a Brahmana, just as certain qualities distinguish one as a Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. But if a Brahmana does not have the necessary traits, then he cannot call himself a Brahmana.
“Brahma said: If study of the Vedas is an important criteria for being recognized as a Brahmana, then many Kshatriyas and Vaisyas also deserve to be called Brahmanas, just as Ravana became known as a demon [by qualities and actions]. Similarly, there are many dog-eaters, laborers, hunters, fishermen, sailors, and other people [outside the higher classes] who study the Vedas… Therefore, mere study of the Vedas cannot be the criteria for determining a person’s social position.” (BP, 39.1-2, 6)
The point is that “One who is twice-born and has thoroughly studied the Vedas, along with its six branches, cannot claim to be a purified soul if he does not observe the codes of good conduct. It is the occupational duty of one who is twice-born to study the Vedas, and this is one of the symptoms of a genuine Brahmana. If a person does not perform his prescribed duties after studying the four Vedas, he is like a eunuch who cannot take advantage of having a wife.” (BP, 39.8-9)
Here again we see that the proper classification of an individual is not the status of one’s birth family, but the qualities that he shows in life. Otherwise, even someone who considers himself to be a sophisticated Brahmana may indeed be something far less. As it is further explained: “Just like a Brahmana, a Shudra can have a shikha, chant Om, worship the deities every morning and evening, wear a sacred [Brhamana’s] thread, carry a staff, and wear a deerskin [like a forest sage]. Even Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are incapable of preventing people from becoming Shudras, and so what to speak of human beings. Therefore, wearing a sacred thread, keeping a shikha, and dressing a particular way are not really indications of a person’s position within the Varnashrama society. Who can stop a person’s Shudra mentality, even though he may be well-versed in the Vedic mantras and tantras, and is a very good speaker on these subjects?” (BP, 39.10-13)
“[Generally it can be recognized that] All classes of men are seen to be capable of performing austerities, speaking the truth, worshiping the demigods, and chanting mantras. All classes of men generally avoid and [in some cases] even deceive those who speak harshly. Considering this, it is not possible to actually differentiate between a Brahmana and a Shudra. The power to curse and the exhibition of compassion can also be found in Shudras. One cannot ascertain from a person’s external appearance whether he is a thief, a cheater, or a prince. Just as a Shudra is incapable of relieving himself of his miseries and protecting his family, it is the same for a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.14-17)
THE DAMAGE OF UNQUALIFIED BRAHMANAS
“It is better if there are no Brahmanas at all than to have sinful and unqualified Brahmanas in the kingdom [who thus mislead society by what they say and do], especially in Kali-yuga, because in previous ages such Brahmanas would have been censored.” (BP, 39.18)
Furthermore, it is especially difficult in these days to find anyone who is eligible to be considered a member of the higher classes or varnas of society, for it seems that everyone is materially motivated.
“According to some opinion, the power to curse others, a compassionate nature, and an inclination toward spiritual life are the characteristics of a Brahmana. In spite of that, it is seen that practically everyone is attached to worldly activities, having fallen into the darkness of ignorance, and because of that they are helplessly rushing towards hell, just like flies rush towards a fire.” (BP, 39.19-20)
SO WHO IS A REAL BRAHMANA?
We have now seen by the logic presented in the Bhavishya Purana how the jati or birth of an individual does not justify anyone’s social classification. But also how many of those who take pride in considering themselves of a higher caste or varna are actually not qualified in such a way at all. And yet, even a low-class person, meaning having taken birth from a lower social class, can indeed rise up to be a Brahmama. It all depends on one’s level of consciousness, which generally depends on one’s training and then mental disposition towards a spiritual life, and his natural inclination to follow a code of good conduct.
“Only those who have been PROPERLY trained and who have studied the Vedas [are seen to generally] adhere to a life of piety, whereas those without training [in at least general moral standards], who have not studied the Vedas [nor their spiritual conclusion] engage in sinful activities. Because study of the Vedas is the primary duty of a Brahmana [or one who is seriously on the path to spiritual progress, thus showing Brahminical qualities], one who does not study the Vedas cannot be considered a genuine Brahmana.” (BP, 39.25-26)
This is interesting because how many times have we met people who feel they have duly studied the Vedic conclusions but have yet to know how to apply them, nor have they continued to follow them, giving any number of excuses for their present activities. The above verses make it clear that one has to continue to follow the standards, and if he cannot, then he is no longer to be accepted as a person of a higher social class. And this can go for anyone and anywhere. If they have little respect for others, engage in materialistic pursuits without higher moral standards, then that person is someone with a low consciousness, or low varna.
A BRAHMANA CAN EASILY FALL DOWN,
WHILE A SHUDRA CAN EASILY RISE UP
“A Brahmana can easily be diverted from his brahminical qualities and codes of good conduct if he becomes bewildered by desires for material enjoyment and blinded by pride, just like an ordinary materialistic person. Of course, anyone becomes degraded and goes to hell if he has a sinful nature, even after undergoing the samskaras. On the other hand, those who observe proper etiquette, even though they might not have undergone the samskaras, should be considered as Brahmanas.
“It is a fact that even someone who chants various mantras and has undergone all the purificatory rituals may fall down into illusion and thereby become bereft of brahminical qualifications due to his sinful mentality. People who engage in abominable activities, and who are blinded by pride in their ability, fall down from their position and lose all brahminical qualities.” (BP, 40.15-18)
Here again I am reminded of what I have always said, that the present caste system based on one’s jatior birth is unjust. It is meant to depend on the person’s natural talents, abilities, tendencies, and mentality, which varies from person to person regardless of family, social class, culture, regional jurisdiction, etc. Each person has to be considered individually regardless of family background.
“The caste system based simply on birth does not actually divide people according to their development of consciousness. It is one’s envy and hatred that allows us to place a person in a higher or lower category. If it is not helpful to divide people according to their bodily characteristics, [then why do so]? In the past, many great sages, such as Srila Vyasadeva, observed proper etiquette and became great souls, although they did not undergo the samskaras, such as the garbhadhana.” (BP, 40.19-20)
For example, “Vyasadeva was the son of a fisherman’s daughter, his father Parashara was born from a woman who was a dog-eater. Shukadeva was born from a female parrot, Vashishtha was the son of a prostitute…” and other sages like Kanada, Shringi, Mandapala, and Mandavya all had questionable births, and yet all were highly qualified Brahmanas, and recognized as such.
“Indeed, it is imperative that one strictly follow the instructions of these highly qualified sages, who all possess a spotless character, if one hopes to achieve success in life.
“O King, undergoing the various samskaras certainly plays an important part in raising one to the platform of a qualified Brahmana, but there are many other important considerations. For example, the great sage Shringi achieved the status of a Brahmana on the strength of his austerities. It must be concluded that undergoing samskaras is a principal criteria for becoming a Brahmana. Still, on the strength of their penance and austerity, Vyasadeva, Parashara, Kanada, Vashishtha, and Mandapala became qualified Brahmanas, despite their taking birth from the womb of a fisherwomen, female dog-eater, or prostitute, etc.
“[Therefore] undergoing the various samskaras is not sufficient to qualify one as a Brahmana. Those who are expert in performing the Vedic and tantrik samskaras require the attainment of transcendental knowledge and the performance of penance to support their claim of being qualified Brahmanas. Without such qualifications, one will certainly indulge in sinful activities and thus fall from his high position as a Brahmana. One who is a Brahmana in name only is not really a Brahmana.” (BP, 40.22-32)
Here in these quotations we can see that many great Rishis were born in lower varnas, such as Vashishta was the son of a prostitute; Vyasa was born of a fisher woman; Parashara’s mother was a chandala; Nammalwar was a Shudra. Similarly, Valmiki, Viswamitra, Agastya were Brahmanas in spite of their non-Brahmana origin. In more recent times, for example, Swami Vivekananda, one of the most revered Hindus worldwide, was a non-Brahmana. Or was he? In spite of a non-Brahmana birth he displayed so many high qualities. All this proves that birth is not a major player in attaining the status of Brahmana. It is the intellectual and spiritual level of consciousness that differentiates people.
In the same way, spiritual realization is not dependent on birth or book-learning, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the lives of saints, from the very earliest times to our own day. So, then who is a real rishi? It is the person who has attained through proper means the direct realization of Dharma. That is the one who can be a rishi even if he is a non-Brahmana or mleccha by birth.
The basis of varna is guna or the mode of nature in which a person is situated, and not birth. Therefore, one is a Brahmana not because of one’s birth or caste or heredity or color or profession or acquisition of worldly knowledge, or mere observation of social and moral codes, but because of his spiritual knowledge and insight, and his abidance in the Supreme Reality, his state of self-realization. This is the conclusion of all Vedas,Shrutis, Puranas, Itihasas, and of all great men of India.
Therefore, casteism, meaning judging a person by one’s birth family, is a misguided social custom and not part of any spiritual tradition, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste.
WHEN A BRAHMANA BECOMES LOWER THAN A SHUDRA
“According to Svayambhuva Manu, the principal characteristic of a Brahmana is that he possesses spiritual knowledge, is enriched with the power of penance, and maintains a state of purity. According to this understanding, anyone, whether he belongs to an upper, middle, or lower caste, if he never indulges in sinful activities, he must be considered a Brahmana. It is said that an honest and well-behaved Shudra is better than an arrogant Brahmana, and a Brahmana who disregards the prescribed codes of good conduct is inferior to a Shudra. A Shudra that does not keep wine in his shop or in his house is called an honest Shudra.” (BP, 42.29-32)
HOW EVERYONE CAN ADVANCE
The proper observance of the Vedic system of Varnashrama-dharma is to help one’s growth and self-development. The great sages have explained that this system of division into varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, providing a means so one can rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. Such is our ideal for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of the great ideal of being a spiritual man, who is calm, steady, worshipful, pure, and meditative. In that ideal there is God-realization.
The additional aim of Varnashrama-dharma is to promote the development of the universal, eternalSanatana-dharma, the balanced state of being in which you perceive and live according to your genuine spiritual identity. This is the ultimate goal of the whole Vedic system for all of humanity. Thus, as the saying goes, “if you take care of Dharma, Dharma will take care of you.” If you destroy it, society will become bereft of balance. Therefore, we should never destroy our Dharma. This principle holds true of the individual as much as of the nation. It is Dharma alone which keeps a nation alive and moving forward. Dharma is the very soul of man. Dharma is the very soul of a nation also, even the world. So how can we all move forward together on the sure path of progress? Here it is explained as follows:
“Brahminical prowess progressively increases in pious persons who cultivate godly qualities such as forgiveness, control of the senses, compassion, charity, truthfulness, purity, meditation, respect for others, simplicity, satisfaction, freedom from false ego, austerity, self-control, knowledge, freedom from the propensity to blaspheme others, celibacy, cultivation of knowledge, freedom from envy, faithfulness, freedom from hatred, detachment, renunciation of the thirst for material enjoyment, service to the spiritual master, and control of the body, mind, and speech.” (BP, 42.12-15)
“Many persons in the past became highly advanced and powerful by cultivating these qualities and practicing behavior befitting a saintly person. It is a fact that by such a practice, the heart becomes purified, freeing one from the influence of the modes of passion [raja-guna] and ignorance [tamo-guna].” (BP, 42.16)
“According to learned authorities, those who possess these godly qualities are actually scholars of theVedas and Puranas, and understand the confidential purport of the Bhagavad-gita. By faithfully following the principles of varna and ashrama, people in all four yugas have attained the perfection of life.” (BP, 42.17-18)
CLASSIFICATIONS BASED ON THE BODY ARE COMPLETELY FALSE
By now we should be able to see that even a person who has taken birth from a family who has been considered of a low varna can raise him or herself up to a higher classification by having proper training and showing appropriate codes of conduct and lifestyle.
“When a Shudra has become advanced by undergoing the [Vedic] samskaras, he can no longer be considered a Shudra. The conclusion is that a person’s external dress or appearance cannot be the criterion for his being accepted as a Brahmana.” (BP, 39.29)
However, the samskaras or rituals and training in themselves cannot be the sole means of determining one’s social position. This certainly helps, but there must be more than that, which, as already explained.
“If the undergoing of samskaras is the main criteria for being accepted as a Brahmana, then all those who have undergone samskaras are certainly Brahmanas. If that be the case, how can they be compared with personalities like Srila Vyasadeva, who did not undergo the samskaras. If we consider this, we see that there is no support for the theory of different castes. Although different castes are recognized in society, this is just an artificial conception of materialistic people. The material body is composed of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and sky. These elements cannot be the cause for one being accepted as a Brahmana [or anything else], because they combine for some time and then merge back into their source. Indeed, the body of an atheist, mleccha, or a yavana is made of the same material elements. [Thus, such designations based on the body are completely false].” (BP, 39.30-33)
“Religiosity as described in the Vedas can also be found in people who are sinful, violent, of bad character, and cruel. Therefore the determination of one’s social status does not depend on undergoing [purificatory] samskaras.” (BP, 39.34)
“Therefore, [from the conclusions that have been presented so far] there is no difference between a Brahmana and a Shudra in terms of bodily features, mentality, experience of happiness and distress, opulence, prowess, tendency toward gambling, shrewdness in business, ability to earn wealth, steadiness, restlessness, intelligence, detachment, virtue, accomplishment of the three objectives of life [dharma, artha and kama], cleverness, beauty, complexion, sexual capacity, stool, bones, holes of the body, manifestations of love, height, weight, and bodily hair. Therefore, even if the demigods were to try very hard to find distinctions between Brahmanas and Shudras [and everyone in between] in this way, they would not be able to do so.” (BP, 39.35-39)
“One should not think that all Brahmanas are white like moon rays, that all Kshatriyas have a complexion like the color of a kimsuka flower, that all Vaishyas have a golden complexion like the color of an orpiment fruit, and that all Shudras are black like half-burnt coal. How can there be four classes of human beings when their walking, complexion, hair, happiness, distress, blood, skin, flesh, bone marrow, and fluids are totally identical? There is nothing special about anyone’s complexion, height, weight, figure, period of stay within the womb, speech, wisdom, working senses, life-air, strength, illnesses, objectives of life, and methods for curing diseases.” (BP, 39.41-43)
“A father may have four sons and it is assumed that all of them belong to the same caste as their father. Similarly, all living entities are produced by the one Supreme Father and so, how can His children be divided into different castes? Just as the color, texture, structure, feel, and juice of different portions of a fig are the same, so are the human beings that are emanating from one source, and so it is improper to differentiate between them. The brothers, children, daughters-in-law, births, marriages, beauty, complexion, and artistic ability must be the same for the member of the lineages [or gotras] coming from Kaushika, Gautama, Kaumdinya, Mandavya, Vashishtha, Atreya, Kautsa, Angirasa, Maudgalya, Katyayana, and Bhargava.
“Although some learned scholars accept the material body as being a Brahmana [or something else], this indicates that they are in the bodily concept of life [without spiritual perception], which exists in a condition of dense ignorance. This is like a blind person desiring to treat others’ eyes by applying a black ointment. Both are ludicrous. Because the material body has a beginning, it also has an end. After death, the elements of the body merge into the totality of material elements once again. Therefore, the body [alone] cannot be accepted as a Brahmana [or any other varna].” (BP, 39.45-51)
In conclusion, therefore, “Only ignorant people accept this material body as being a Brahmana. According to their understanding, the position of being a Brahmana cannot be achieved simply by undergoing the various purificatory processes.” (BP, 39.54)
ONE MISSES GOAL OF LIFE WHEN PREOCCUPIED BY CASTE
“If after attaining the human form of life, which enables one to possess things like attractive bodily features, abundant wealth, great power and prestige, one does not live according to the prescribed religious principles, it cannot be predicted what species of life he will thereafter be forced to accept on various planets. This is the fate of one who is so proud that he dares to challenge the supremacy of God. Being intoxicated by pride, thinking that their caste, race, beauty, social status, and education are very wonderful, people do not bother to understand their actual self-interest, and because of that in their next life they will suffer like eunuchs.
“Material existence can be compared to a huge pit in which thousands of millions of living entities are drowning. Knowing this perfectly well, which intelligent person would be very proud of his caste?
“There are many human beings who are presumed to be fully satisfied, having been born in aristocratic families, and yet because of their own misdeeds, after death they will be forced to take birth in this world in some lower species of life. In this world, no one can remain permanently in some situation.” (BP, 39.3-6)
If this does not make it clear regarding the impermanent nature of the living being, and that even one’s high, intermediate or low birth is temporary, then I do not know what can. Yet, we see that so many people are going through life, completely asleep in regard to the real purpose of this existence. Thus, they may think their present position is so grand, not knowing that if they do not use this life properly for real spiritual progress, after death their next life may not be very great at all. But how many lifetimes must we go through this before we learn our lessons about the real truth of the matter, that our real position is as a spiritual being, beyond the body and its superficial designations, and everything else is temporary and secondary?
THE DIFFERENCE OF PROPER CONSCIOUSNESS AND INTENT,
OR MERELY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
In the next few verses it is pointed out that a person must also have the proper concentration and focus, along with the proper intentions in their actions if they are expected to be qualified in their positions. Otherwise, it is seen that anyone can chant mantras and do rituals, but merely going through the motions, especially for adoration, profit and distinction, is not what is needed to suitably accept or be qualified for a higher status in one’s social classification.
“Generally, those who are twice-born—the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas—undergo all the Vedicsamskaras. For this reason, they are certainly to be considered as superior to the Shudras who engage in all kinds of frivolous activities.
“In spite of undergoing the samskaras, if those who are twice-born engage in violent and sinful activities, such as killing a Brahmana [or worse], having sexual intercourse with the wife of the spiritual master, stealing, killing a cow, drinking wine, cheating, speaking lies, exhibiting great pride, speaking atheistic philosophy, blaspheming the Vedas, denying the authority of the Vedas, plundering the wealth of others, acting whimsically, earning money by dancing or cheating, eating all types of abominable food, and performing any other prohibited activity with the body, mind, and speech, they can never be considered purified, even if they perform thousands of sacrifices [rituals].
“Therefore, the ability to chant mantras, perform fire rituals, practice penance, and sacrifices does not make one a Brahmana, just as a Shudra remains a Shudra, despite the ability to perform all these activities [when merely going through the motions].” (BP, 41.5-9)
“Similarly, the Brahmanas who indulge in sinful activities must be considered fallen. Therefore, the only sane conclusion is that the concepts of Brahmana and Kshatriya etc., are temporary designations and not ultimate reality.” (BP, 41.52)
EXPECTED CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIONS
OF EACH PERSON OF THE FOUR VARNAS
What follows are a very few of the qualities, actions and characteristics that are typical of people in each of the four varnas.
“Brahma said: Genuine Brahmanas know very well what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected. They avoid sinful behavior, carefully control their senses, mind, and speech, and carefully observe the prescribed etiquette. They follow the rules and regulations that are prescribed for them in the scriptures, and constantly work for the welfare of others. They work for the protection of religious principles in this world and are fixed in trance, meditating on the Absolute Truth. They restrain their anger, and are free from material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride. They are attached to the study of the Vedas [and their supporting literature], very peaceful, and are the best well-wishing friends of all living entities. They are equal in happiness and distress, reside in a solitary place, observe all the vows prescribed for them with their body and mind, and are pious by nature. They are reluctant to perform any abominable act, and are freed from illusion and false pride. They are charitable, compassionate, truthful, and very learned in the scriptures. They know the Supreme Brahman and have high regard for the revealed scriptures.” (BP, 42.1-7)
From this verse we can understand that if a Brahmana is not free from such things as anger, material attachment, envy, lamentation, and pride, along with the other qualities mentioned above, then such people do not have the real mentality of a Brahmana, even if they do appear to have some expertise in other areas, or are born in a Brahmana family. Thus, they are not genuinely qualified to be spiritual authorities for the rest of society, but, indeed, have much more work to do on themselves for their own progress and development.
Another class of beings are also known as Brahmanas, as explained: “Brahma was born from the navel of the purusha-avatara [Vishnu]. All living entities were manifested by Him, and among them, those who are devotees, surrendered souls unto that Supreme Personality of Godhead, are also known as Brahmanas.” (BP, 42.9)
Furthermore, “Those who have some realization of the Supreme Brahman, and who act according to the prescribed codes of good conduct, are called Brahmanas, and they are glorified by the other members of society.” (BP, 42.11)
In regard to the other main varnas, namely the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, their expected standards are also described: “Those who give protection to others, saving them from all kinds of danger, are known as Kshatriyas. Those who engage in farming, cow protection, and trading are known as Vaishyas, and those who have no capacity to study the Vedas [or deep spiritual knowledge], and are engaged in serving members of the higher three classes are known as Shudras.” (BP, 42.10)
“Lord Brahma has prescribed the methods for members of all the varnas that will enable them to achieve perfection by performing their respective duties.
“Among the human beings, those who are comparatively more powerful and are thus able to give protection to others, saving them from all types of danger, should be known as Kshatriyas. Persons who approach the Kshatriyas to beg some charity after instructing them on the messages of the Supreme Lord as found in the Vedic literature should be known as Brahmanas.
“Those who are almost as powerful as the Kshatriyas but engage in agriculture, cow protection, and trade [such as banking and business], should be known as Vaishyas. Those who, not very capable of working independently, and who are easily overcome by lamentation and illusion, should engage in the service of the higher three classes of men and thus be known as Shudras. In this way, according to their nature and qualities, there are prescribed duties for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.” (BP, 42.19-24)
“The qualities of a Brahmana are peacefulness, austerity, self-control, purity, tolerance, simplicity, knowledge, the practical application of the knowledge, and inquiry into the nature of the Absolute Truth. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the Kshatriyas. Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the Vaishyas, and for the Shudras there is labor and service to others.” (BP, 42.25-27)
In this way, everyone has a natural tendency for some aspect of the particular traits described, and are also a part of the social body of civilization to help contribute to its balance and progress, and the well-being of one and all.
If people can understand the real basis of the Varna system, and be trained in acting accordingly, raising themselves to their original spiritual level, then the false, superficial and bodily based sectarian spirit can ultimately be put to rest. Then there is every possibility that such people can develop a spiritual vision of one another with a mood of love, care, cooperation, sacrifice, and service. This is the real purpose of the Varnasystem anyway, to see that everyone is a part of the larger social body, and part of the Supreme, and that each person, by their actions and occupation, has a contribution to make to the well-being of all. If people actually understood this and saw society in this way, it would tend to nullify what is called caste-based discrimination, which has been part of the misunderstanding and misapplication of what is called the caste system that we find today, which was not a part of the traditional Vedic varnashrama system.
“It is therefore to be concluded that humanity is essentially one, but distinctions of caste have been made according to a person’s qualities and work [mentality and consciousness]. As far as general behavior is concerned, the entire human race is one. There is only a difference in people’s occupations and attitudes. Those who divide society into castes according to birth cannot see that human beings are essentially one.” (BP, 42.33-34)
Another article of mine on my website that can help provide more clarity is Casteism: Is It the Scourge of Hinduism, or the Perversion of a Legitimate Vedic System?
Vedic Study is open for all
(An Analysis Based on Brahma Sutra by Muktipada Behera)
From my college days I am hearing Advaita philosophy which preaches ‘oneness’, is based on Prasthana Traya – Upanishads, Brahma Sutra, Gita. Of late I started reading Brahma Sutra Vasya by Shankaracharya. Interestingly that is a scholarly book and well appreciated by many. To my surprise I encountered a chapter Apasudradhikaranam in same book, which denies Vedic study to Sudra using harsh and cruel words. The author has also quoted various Veda Mantra and Smrti Slokas to justify his view.
This was a shocking revelation for me. The text which begins with – ‘let’s enquiry on Brahman’, starts discussing on – ‘enquiry on caste’. The text which is supposed to talk of ‘oneness’, started talking of human division. And this is coming from scholars like Vyasa and Shankara. What a pity! My head began rotating. It reduced the trust in tradition and got sleepless nights for months. Out of frustration, fear and depression, I was desperate to find a solution to this contradiction. I contacted scholars from many organizations like Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Divine life Society, Arsha Vidya, SAKSHI etc. I also studied myself in more details. Finally I arrived at a conclusion; this inspires me to write this article. And it is worth to spread this to avoid any further conflicts among Advaita seekers.
Hinduism consists of four castes – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra. Out of these Shudra [by birth, not Guna-Karma] is not entitled to study Veda as concluded by South Indian great scholars Adi-Shankaracharya of 8th Century and Ramanujacharya of 10th Century. They analyzed the Shudra eligibility for Vedic study in their books Brahma-Sutra-Vasya in details by quoting Sruti[Veda] and Smrti to prove this point. Shankara opines Sudra caste seekers can only study mythologies like Mahabharat and Puranas etc and follow the path of Saguna Upasana. They are not eligible for Nirguna Brahma Vidya or attributeless Brahman mentioned in Upanishads’s Maha-vakyas. So Shudra caste people can get Krama-mukti after death, but they cannot get Jivan-mukti while alive.
And this depriving of Shudra from Vedic study and consequent Brahma-vidya is questioned by a realized saint and modern scholar Swami Vivekananda of 19th century. Shankaracharya was a caste maker, whereas Swami Vivekananda was a caste breaker. Shankaracharya has supported caste system based on birth, whereas Swami Vivekananda has refuted it because it is illogical. This article presents the view of Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Swami Vivekananda from various angles of Brahma-Sutra-Vasya.
It consists of five sutras from book Brahma-Sutra-Vasya. Each Sutra is followed by comments given by Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda.
Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya have borrowed various quotations from Sruti and Smrti to prove – Shudra is not eligible for Vedic study. Some of these quotations are quite harsh and degrading toward Shudra, like –
He who is a Shudra by birth is like a walking crematorium. He is not fit for any ceremony.
For a Shudra is like a cemetery. Therefore the Veda is not to be read in the vicinity of a Shudra. “Put molten lead in his ears if he hears, his tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.” Shudras like Vidura and the religious hunter Dharma Vyadha acquired knowledge owing to the after effects of virtues in past births.
Upanayana ceremony is meant for the higher castes. With reference to the Shudras on the other hand, the absence of ceremonies is frequently mentioned in the scriptures. “In the Shudra there is not any sin by eating prohibited food, and he is not fit for any ceremony”.A Shudra by birth cannot have Upanayana and other Samskaras without which the Vedas cannot be studied. Hence the Shudras are not entitled to the study of the Vedas.
BRAHMA-SUTRA-SHANKARA-VASYA, CHAPTER-1, SECTION-3, TOPIC-9, अपशूद्राधिकरणम् – PSEUDO-SHUDRA [SUTRA: 34-38]
2. Raikva uttered Janasruti as Shudra (Sutra 1.3.34)
शुगस्य तदनादरश्रवणात्तदाद्रवणात्सूच्यते हि।।1.3.34।।
To him (i.e. Janasruti) , occurred grief on hearing his (i.e. swan’s) disparaging utterance, as is evident from his (Janasruti’s) approaching him (Raikva), for this is hinted at (by Raikva by using the word Shudra).
Story of Janasruti and Raikva
The story of Janasruti and Raikva is described in Chandogya Upanishad (Chapter-IV). King Janasruti was a highly charitable person. One evening he was resting on the roof of his palace and he noticed a couple of swans flying above him in the sky. These swans were actually sages in disguise. Just then the swan flying behind joked with the one ahead about the king, within the king’s hearing – “Hey, you short-sided one! Don’t you see that the brightness of Janasruti has spread all over the sky like daylight? Beware you don’t touch it. See that it doesn’t burn you.” The swan in the front replied: “Say, who is this person? From the way you are talking one would think he was Raikva with the cart.” Raikva was a realized person during that time.
Janasruti was disturbed by what the swans had said about him. He asked his attendants to search for Raikva. He wanted to somehow find out in what respect Raikva was superior to him. The attendants found Raikva sitting under a cart, scratching a rash on his body. Then Janasruti, thinking that Raikva might be poor, and in need of money, went with a gift of six hundred cows, a gold necklace, and a chariot drawn by mules. And he requested Raikva to instruct him about the deity he worshipped.
Raikva said to him, “You Shudra, the necklace and chariot along with the cows – let all these be yours”. Janasruti left and in next visit, he took with him gifts of one thousand cows, a gold necklace, a chariot drawn by mules and his own daughter.
Janasruti said to him, “O Raikva, these are one thousand cows, this gold necklace, this chariot drawn by mules, this daughter of mine to be your wife, and also this village in which you live. Now, revered sir, please teach me.”
Lifting the face of the princess, Raikva said, “O Shudra, you have brought all these! But it is the face of the princess that is making me speak.”
Raikva did not like Janasruti’s offering him wealth. This is why he called him a Shudra. But when Janasruti offered him his daughter in marriage, Raikva was impressed by his keenness. He then agreed to teach him.
Comments by Shankaracharya
It may be argued that, even as any hard and fast rule about the competence of men alone is denied and the competence of the gods as well for different kinds of knowledge is upheld, similarly by denying any monopoly of qualification by the three classes of the twice-born alone, the Shudras also may be accepted as qualified. In order to remove such an assumption is begun the present topic.
Opponent: Now then, the apparent conclusion is that a Shudra also is qualified, for he can have the aspiration and ability. And unlike the prohibition, “Therefore the Shudra is unfit for performing sacrifices” (Tai. S. VII. i. 1.6), no prohibition against his acquisition of illumination is met with. Even the disqualification for sacrifices that arises for the Shudra from the fact of his not being qualified for lighting a sacrificial fire, is no sign of his being debarred from knowledge. For it is not a fact that a man who has no fire – Ahavaniya and the rest – cannot acquire knowledge. Moreover, there is an indicatory sign confirming the Shudra’s competence. In the section dealing with the knowledge of Samvarga (merger of all things), Janasruti, grandson of Putra and an aspirant of knowledge, is referred to by the word Shudra: “Fie, O Shudra, keep to yourself the chariot and the necklace, together with the cows” (Ch. IV. ii. 3). And in the Smrtis are mentioned Vidura and others as born in the Shudra caste but endowed with special knowledge. Hence Shudras have competence for different kinds of knowledge.
Vedantin: Faced with this, we say: The Shudra has no competence, since he cannot study the Vedas; for one becomes competent for things spoken of in the Vedas, after one has studied the Vedas and known these things from them. But there can be no reading of the Vedas by a Shudra, for Vedic study presupposes the investiture with the sacred thread, which ceremony is confined to the three castes. As for aspiration, it cannot qualify anyone unless one has the ability. Mere ability in the ordinary sense also cannot qualify anyone; for scriptural ability is needed in a scriptural matter. But this scriptural ability is denied by the prohibition of the right to study. As for the text, “The Shudra is unfit for performing a sacrifice” (Tai. S. VII. i. 1.6), since it is based on a logic having common application, it suggests that the Shudra has no right to knowledge as well, for the logic applies both ways. And what you take for an indicatory mark occurring in the section dealing with the knowledge about merger, that is no mark at all, for there is no logic behind it. An indicatory mark becomes suggestive when stated logically; but that logic is lacking here. Granted even that this mark qualifies the Shudra for the Samvarga-vidya (meditation on merger) alone, because it occurs there, still it cannot qualify him for all kinds of knowledge. The fact, however, is that this word Shudra cannot guarantee his competence anywhere, because it occurs in a corroborative statement (Artha-vada). On the contrary, this word Shudra can be construed with someone already having the competence.
The answer is: On hearing this utterance of the swan, “Hullo, who is this one, insignificant as he is, of whom you speak as though he were like Raikva of the chariot?” (Ch. IV. i. 3), which was a personal disparagement for him, Janasruti, grandson of Putra, was struck with grief (suk). Raikva hinted at this grief by using the word Shudra, thereby revealing his own power of television. This is what we can understand. For a born Shudra has no right to knowledge.
How, again, is it suggested by the word Shudra that he was struck with grief?
The answer is: “Tat-adravanat”. Because the word Shudra can be split up thus to mean that he (Raikva) approached towards (abhidudrava) that (tat) grief (sucam); or he was approached (abhidudruve) by that (tat) sorrow (suca); or he rushed (abhidudrava) to that (tat) Raikva, because of sorrow (suca). And this derivative meaning has to be accepted because the conventional meaning is inadmissible. Moreover, this meaning is obvious from the story itself.
Comments by Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda has raised the concern in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA,
7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.”
The doctrine of caste in thePurusha-Sukta of the Vedas does not make it hereditary — so what are those instances in the Vedas where caste has been made a matter of hereditary transmission?
The Achârya could not adduce any proof from the Vedas to the effect that the Shudra should not study the Vedas. He only quotes “यज्ञेऽनवक्लृप्तः” (“The Shudra is not conceived of as a performer of Yajna or Vedic sacrifices.”) (Tai. Samhita, VII. i. 1. 6) to maintain that when he is not entitled to perform Yajnas, he has neither any right to study the Upanishads and the like. But the same Acharya contends with reference to “अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा”, (“Now then commences hence the inquiry about Brahman.”) (Vedânta-Sutras, I. i. 1) that the word अथ here does not mean “subsequent to the study of the Vedas”, because it is contrary to proof that the study of the Upanishad is not permissible without the previous study of the Vedic Mantras andBrâhmanas and because there is no intrinsic sequence between the Vedic Karma-kânda and Vedic Janâna-kânda. It is evident, therefore, that one may attain to the knowledge of Brahman without having studied the ceremonial parts of the Vedas. So if there is no sequence between the sacrificial practices and Jnana, why does the Acharya contradict his own statement when it is a case of the Shudras, by inserting the clause “by force of the same logic”? Why should the Shudra not study the Upanishad?
The Purva Paksha argument is a straightforward reading of the story from Ch. U. Shankara, on the other hand, twisted the meaning of Shudra as ‘sorrowful runner’. He denied taking Shudra in direct meaning as Shudra caste. So Shankara proved Janastruti was not from Shudra caste and Upanishad is not taught to a Shudra. Shankara also agreed, even if we consider Samvarga (merger of all things) is given to a Shudra, still it does not guarantee his competence to complete Veda. So he concludes, only this Samvarga Vidya can be taught to a Shudra, not all kinds of knowledge.
It is remarkable that Shankara could not find a single passage in the Vedas to deny Vedic study for Shudra. He quoted Taittiriya Samhita (Tai. S.) verse about a Shudra being unfit for performing a sacrifice. Tai. Saṁhitā, 184.108.40.206 which says “tasmātcchūdro yajñe’navakkṛptaḥ’ – śūdra has no adhikāra in yajña. This section(Tai Sam 7.1.1) starts with Prajapati’s sacrifice with his own body. He formed Horse and Shudra. Shudra need not do any the Yajna(sacrifice), for he was not created after any Gods. Shankaracharya has mentioned this as ‘Shudra is unfit for sacrifice’. – But this mantra does not mention the ineligibility of study or teach by Shudra. Here Shudra is not by birth. Rather based on ‘Guna-Karma’ in Prajapati’s mind.
According to Shankara, since Shudra is not eligible to perform Vedic Karma-Kanda, so he is also not eligible to study the Upanishads. This is quite illogical and inconsistent.
Vivekananda pointed out this inconsistency by mentioning the first Sutra of Shankara Vasya “Athatho Brahmajijnasa (Hence is to be undertaken thereafter a deliberation on Brahman)” (BSB 1.1.1). Shankara concluded – Karma Kanda(Samhita+Brahmana) study is not required for Vedanta study because there is no intrinsic sequence between the Vedic Karma-Kanda and Vedic Jnana-Kanda. Upanishads study has absolutely nothing to do with Vedic religious rites. So even if Shudra is not eligible for sacrifice, He can study Upanishads. Shankara is now contradicting his own commentary on BSB 1.1.1 and saying that a Shudra cannot study the Upanishads since he is not eligible to carry out the rites of the Vedic Karma-Kanda.
3. Veda Pramana for Sudra Adhikaratva
Now we will quote various Sruti [Veda] Mantras as evidence [Pramana] to show, Veda is open for all castes including Shudra. This proves, Shudra has scriptural rights to Vedic study.
Rigveda Purusha sukta also mentions division based on Karma.
brahmanosya mukhamasit bahu rajanyah kritaha
uru tadasya yadvaishyaha padhyagam shudro ajayata
From His face (or the mouth) came the brahmanas. From His two arms came the rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two thighs came the vaishyas. From His two feet came the shudras.
Swami Vivekananda has quoted a mantra from “Shukla Yajurveda 26.2” in which he urges that every Hindu of all castes including Shudra have rights on the Veda. [CW-3, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, THE RELIGION WE ARE BORN IN, Dacca, 31st March, 1901]. Swami Vivekananda challenged – “Can you show any authority from this Veda of ours that everyone has not the right to it?”
यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यः।
ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥
yathomam vacham kalyanimavadani janebhyaha,
brahmarajanyabhyam shudrayacharyaya cha swaya charyaya cha”
“Just as I am speaking these blessed words to people (without distinction), in the same way you also spread these words among all men and women – the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, Shudras and all others, whether they be our own people or aliens(foreigners).”
Another mantra from Shukla Yajurveda 18.48:
Ruchannu dhehi brahmanesu ruchaha rajasu naskrudhi |
Ruchanwisyeshu Sudreshu mayi dheyi rucha rucham ||
O Lord! Provide enlightenment to our Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. Provide me also with the same enlightenment so that I can see the truth.
Similar Mantra is given in Atharvaveda 19.32.8, Atharvaveda 19.62.1 for Shudra eligibility for Vedic study. Here Vedic Rishis are saying, their teachings should be appreciated by all Castes – Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad [1.4.11-15] also mentions castes are manifested based on requirements, both among Gods and Humans.
Brahma ba idamagra asidekameba; …..
[1.4.11]In the beginning this [the Ksatriya and others] was indeed Brahmana [Fire], one only. Being one, he did not flourish. He specially projected an excellent form, the Ksatriya [Indra, Varuna etc]. [1.4.12]Yet he did not flourish. He projected the Vaisya [Vasus, Rudras etc]. [1.4.13]He did not still flourish. He projected the Shudra caste [earth]. For it nourishes all this that exists. [1.4.14]Yet he did not flourish. He specially projected that excellent form, righteousness (Dharma). [1.4.15]So these four castes were projected – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra, both among Gods and humans.
Since Veda reveals which are beyond sense organs [Alaukika pramana], these castes – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra must be referring to manifested qualities [Guna] of Supreme-Self. And castes among deities are referring to various natures [Guna] manifested from Supreme-Self. These cannot be hereditary castes of Human as referred by Shankara. It is a wonder why Shankara ignored all these supportive Vedic mantras for Shudra eligibility for Vedic study. So it is clear all humans including Shudra have eligibility for Vedic study.
4. Janasruti is inferred as Ksatriya from related context (Sutra 1.3.35)
क्षत्रियत्वगतेश्चोत्तरत्र चैत्ररथेन लिङ्गात्।।1.3.35।।
And because his Ksatriyahood is known later on from the indicatory mark of his mention along with a descendant of Citraratha.
Here Shankaracharya is proving in a very roundabout way that Janasruti is a Ksatriya. He has taken below two statements from Veda to prove this.
There was a Ksatriya king by the name Citrarathi. The Brahmins belongs to Kapi gotra [Kapeya Brahmanas], were the priests for the kings belonging to Citraratha Ksatriya family – (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5).
Once Saunaka, the son of Kapi, and Abhipratarin, the son of Kaksasena, were being served their meals when a brahmacarin appeared and begged for some food. – (Ch. U. iii. 5)
First Vedic reference (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5) says – All the descendants of king Citrarathi are called Citraratha. And Kapeyas, descendants of Kapi, were the priests of Citraratha for generations. Next Vedic reference (Ch. U. IV. iii. 5) says – Abhipratarin and Kapeya were eating food together. So Abhipratarin must be the descendant of king Citrarathi, a Ksatriya, due to common Gotra. This reference of Ksatriya-Brahmana pair occurs in Chandogya Upanishad Sarmvarga-Vidya Upasana. Raikva told this example to Janasruti to glorify the Sarmvarga-vidya Upasana. Hence Shankaracharya tried to imply a similar Ksatriya-Brahmana pair among Raikva and Janastruti because they happened to be in same Vedic context – Sarmvarga-Vidya Upasana. Since Raikva is mentioned as a Brahmana in the text, so it can be inferred, Janasruti must be a Ksatriya.
Comments by Shankaracharya
For this further reason Janasruti is not a Shudra by birth, for from a consideration of the topic it transpires that he is a Ksatriya, which fact becomes obvious from his suggestive mention later on along with the Ksatriya Abhipratarin of the line of Citraratha. Later on in the complementary portion of the section on the knowledge about the merger (Sarmvarga-vidya) Abhipratarin of the line of Citraratha is mentioned as a Ksatriya in, “Now then, a Brahmacarin begged of Saunaka of the line of Kapi, and Abhipratarin, son of Kaksasena, when they were being served by the cook” (Ch. IV. iii. 5). That Abhipratarin belonged to the line of Citraratha is to be understood from his association with a descendant of the line of Kapi; for the association of the descendant of Citraratha with that of Kapi is known from the text, “The Kapeyas made Citraratha perform this (Dviratra sacrifice)” (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5). For the people of the same lineage generally have the priests of a common descent. Besides, it is known that he was a Ksatriya from the text, “From him issued one named Citrarathi who was a Ksatriya king”, where we find him to be a Ksatriya king. Accordingly, the mention of Janasruti along with the Ksatriya Abhipratarin, in the context of the same kind of knowledge, suggests that the former is a Ksatriya; for equals are generally found to be mentioned together. Moreover, Janasruti is known to be a Ksatriya from the fact of his despatching a Ksatta and his possession of riches. Hence a born Shudra has no right to knowledge.
Ksatta – ‘One born of a mixed parentage – from a Shudra father and Ksatriya mother or of a slave woman – whose duty was to drive chariots, wait on princes, and so on.
Comments by Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA,
7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.” – Does any narrative occur about Satyakâma, son of Jabâlâ, and about Jânashruti, anywhere else in the Vedas excepting the Upanishads?
Shankarâchârya in his commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras, 1. iii. 34-37, interprets the aphorisms to prove that Upanishadic wisdom was imparted to Janashruti and Satyakama, only because they were not Shudras, as borne out by actual texts. But as these texts are doubtful even after Shankaracharya’s explanation, Swami Vivekananda wants to be referred to other similar Vedic texts.
Here Shankaracharya proved Janastruti as Ksatriya by birth through inference [Anumana Pramana]. There is no direct Vedic statement as Sabda-pramana. So his caste is not conclusive in this context of eligibility to study Veda. Though there is no reference of Janastruti as a Shudra by birth, but his sorrowful mental state and influencing Raikva through riches for knowledge, pointing to his Shudra nature or caste. It remained as a puzzle why Shankaracharya put this much effort through inference to deny Shudra-hood to Janastruti. So we conclude Upanishads are taught to Shudra, so they have eligibility to study Veda.
5. Absence of Upanayana for Shudra (Sutra 1.3.36)
Because purificatory rites are mentioned (for others) and absence of these is declared (for the Shudra).
Comments by Shankaracharya
For the additional reason that, in the contexts where knowledge is spoken of, such actions for acquiring the right to knowledge are declared as investiture with the sacred thread, study, service of the teacher, and so on, for instance, “Him he vested with the sacred thread” (S. B. XI. v. 3.13), “Uttering the sacred formula, ‘Teach me venerable sir’, he approached” (Ch. VII. i. 1), “They, who were adepts in the Vedas, adhered to the qualified Brahman, but were intent on an inquiry about the supreme Brahman, went to the venerable Pippalada with sacrificial faggot in hand, under the belief, ‘This one will certainly tell us about it’ ” (Pr. I.1). And the text, “Even without initiating them” (Ch.V. xi.7), only shows that those (who were exempted from initiation) had it already. The absence of purificatory rites for the Shudra is mentioned in the Smirti thus: “The Shudra belongs to the fourth caste and has but a single birth” (Manu, X. 4), as also in such texts as, “The Shudra has no sins, nor is he fit for any purificatory rite” (Manu, X. 126).
Comments by Swami Vivekananda
Interestingly Shankaracharya quote on ‘Shudra has no sin, etc’ is referred by Swami Vivekananda in his writings. Swami Vivekananda defended his liberal behavior and religious reformation in a letter “ALMORA, 30th May, 1897, to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.” – “I come to see from my studies that the disciplines of religion are not for the Shudra; if he exercises any discrimination about food or about going out to foreign lands, it is all useless in his case, only so much labour lost. I am a Shudra, a Mlechchha, so I have nothing to do with all that botheration. To me what would Mlechchha’s food matter or Pariah’s?” [CW-6]
In same letter ALMORA, 30th May, 1897, Swami Vivekananda also wrote – “The Smrti and the Puranas are productions of men of limited intelligence and are full of fallacies, errors, the feelings of class and malice. Only parts of them breathing broadness of spirit and love are acceptable, the rest are to be rejected. The Upanishads and the Gita are the true scriptures; Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak, Kabir, and so on are the true Avatâras, for they had their hearts broad as the sky – and above all, Ramakrishna. Ramanuja, Shankara etc., seem to have been mere Pundits with much narrowness of heart” [CW-6]
Swami Vivekananda mentioned in a lecture, THE RELIGION WE ARE BORN IN, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, Dacca, on the 31st March, 1901 – “The Purânas, no doubt, say that a certain caste has the right to such and such a recension of the Vedas, or a certain caste has no right to study them, or that this portion of the Vedas is for the Satya Yuga and that portion is for the Kali Yuga. But, mark you, the Veda does not say so; it is only your Puranas that do so. But can the servant dictate to the master? The Smrti, Puranas, Tantras — all these are acceptable only so far as they agree with the Vedas; and wherever they are contradictory, they are to be rejected as unreliable. But nowadays we have put the Puranas on even a higher pedestal than the Vedas!” [CW-3]
In all Vedic contexts, teachers have ensured proper initiation of disciples before teaching. And wherever initiation is exempted in Upanishads that have to be inferred as, initiation is already done previously. Here Shankaracharya took Smriti like Manu Smriti as authority; to justify Shudra is not eligible for Vedic knowledge, because there is absence of Vedic initiation [Upanayana] for Shudra.
śrutismṛtyoḥ param bādhe śrutir-eva garīyasi |
śrutyoḥ parasparam bādhe nyāyopetā garīyasi ||
If there is a contradiction between sruti and smrti, the sruti alone must be taken. When there are two sruti statements which are contradictory, that scriptural statement which has logical support (whose purport is established by śaḍliṅgas) is more valid than the scriptural statement which does not have a logical support. The scriptural statement which is reinforced by logic is more valid than the other one.
While Shankaracharya is unable to justify Shudra ineligibility through Vedic [Sruti] pramana, he depends on Smrti to justify it. And human made Smrtis are of lower order compared to Sruti. Hereditary Jati based division, is NON-VEDIC because Veda does not say so. So it is clear that Shudra has eligibility to study Veda.
6. Prostitute son studying Upanishad (Sutra 1.3.37)
तदभावनिर्धारणे च प्रवृत्तेः।।1.3.37।।
And because (Gautama’s) inclination arose (to initiate and instruct Satyakama) when the absence of that (Shudrahood) had been ascertained.
Story of Satyakama Jabala
The story of Satyakama Jabala is described in Chandogya Upanishad (IV. iv). Satyakama Jabala went to study Upanishad from teacher Gautama, the son of Haridrumata. Teacher Gautama asked Sayakama about his lineage before admitting him as student.
Satyakama returned home and asked his mother Jabala – “Revered mother, I would like to live with a teacher as a celibate student. What is my lineage?”
Mother Jabala said to him – “My son, I don’t know what your lineage is. I was very busy serving many people when I was young, and I had you. As this was the situation, I know nothing about your lineage. My name is Jabala, and your name is Satyakama. When asked about your lineage, say, ‘I am Satyakama Jabala’.”
On hearing this Satyakama went back to teacher Gautama and said – “Sir, I do not know what my lineage is… I am Satyakama Jabala.” Then he informed the teacher about his mother’s prostitution service and his birth without bothering of the consequence. He never tried to hide the truth.
On hearing this, Gautama said to him – “No non-Brahmin could speak like this. Therefore you must be a Brahmin. O Somya, go and get me some fuel for the sacrificial fire. I will initiate you, as you have not deviated from truth.
In this way a prostitute son is considered as eligible for Vedic study by a Rishi.
Comments by Shankaracharya
Here is an additional reason why a Shudra has no right. When owing to the utterance of truth (by Satyakama Jabala), the absence of Shudrahood had been established, then Gautama proceeded to initiate and instruct (Satyakama) Jabala, which fact is gathered from an indicatory sign in the Upanishad: “No non-Brahmana can dare utter such a truth. O amiable one, bring sacrificial faggot, I shall initiate you because you did not depart from truth” (Ch. IV. iv. 5).
Satyakama Jabala, a son of Prostitute accepted by Rishi Gautama because of his Guna or virtues. And Rishi Goutama sets an example for current orthodox people.
Satyakama was not from Brahmin caste by birth. Which caste a prostitute and her son should belong to? The child of a woman who has not been married is considered an outcast; he is not recognized by society and is not entitled to study the Vedas. We cannot find his caste because his father is unknown, unless we are assuming a Brahmin youth went for prostitute Jabala and then Satyakama was born from them.
The fact is, a prostitute son, an outcaste got initiated into Veda, is enough evidence that Veda is open to all irrespective of caste. Here the caste of a person is ascertained by considering his qualities, not by his birth. So everybody has eligibility (Adhikara) to access the Veda including Shudra by birth.
7. Smrti prohibits Shudra (Sutra 1.3.38)
And because the Smirti prohibits for the Shudra the hearing, study, and acquisition of the meaning (of the Vedas).
Comments by Shankaracharya
This is another reason why the Shudra has no right: By the Smrti he is debarred from hearing, studying, and acquiring the meaning of the Vedas. The Smrti mentions that a Shudra has no right to hear the Vedas, no right to study the Vedas, and no right to acquire the meaning of the Vedas (and perform the rites). As for prohibition of hearing, we have the text, “Then should he happen to hear the Vedas, the expiation consists in his ears being filled with lead and lac”[Gau. Dh. Su, XII.4], and ‘He who is a Shudra is a walking crematorium. Hence one should not read in the neighborhood of a Shudra”[Vasistha. 18]. From this follows the prohibition about study. How can one study the Vedas when they are not to be recited within his hearing? Then there is the chopping off of his tongue if he should utter the Vedas, and the cutting of the body to pieces if he should commit it to memory [Gau. Dh. Su, XII. 4]. From this it follows by implication that the acquisition of meaning and acting on it are also prohibited, as is stated in, “Vedic knowledge is not to be imparted to a Shudra”[ Manu, IV. 80], and “Study, sacrifice, and distribution of gifts are for the twice-born”[ Gau. Dh. Su, IX.1]. But from those to whom knowledge dawns as a result of (good) tendencies acquired in the past lives, as for instance to Vidura, Dharmavyadha, and others, the reaping of the result of knowledge cannot be withheld, for the result of knowledge is inevitable. This position is confirmed by the Smrti text, “One should read out to the four castes (keeping the Brahmana in front)” [Mbh. Sa. 327. 49], which declares the competence for all the four castes for the acquisition of the anecdotes and mythologies. But the conclusion stands that a Shudra has no right to knowledge through the Vedas.
Comments by Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA, 7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.”- In most cases where Shankaracharya quotes Smriti in his commentary on the Vedânta-Sutras, he cites the authority of the Mahâbhârata. But seeing that we find clear proofs about caste being based on qualification both in the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata and in the stories there of the Ajagara and of Umâ and Maheshvara, has he made any mention in his writings of this fact?[CW-6]
Notes:- Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA, 17th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi –“Whether Acharya Shankara gives any conclusion regarding caste based on Gunas as mentioned in Puranâs like the Mahabharata. If he does, where is it to be found? I have no doubt that according to the ancient view in this country, caste was hereditary, and it cannot also be doubted that sometimes the Shudras used to be oppressed more than the helots among the Spartans and the negroes among the Americans! As for myself, I have no partiality for any party in this caste question, because I know it is a social law and is based on diversity of Guna and Karma. It also means grave harm if one bent on going beyond Guna and Karma cherishes in mind any caste distinctions.” [CW-6]
Swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter to Swami Akhandananda, GHAZIPUR, February, 1890 – “Only, Shankara had not the slightest bit of Buddha’s wonderful heart, dry intellect merely! For fear of the Tantras, for fear of the mob, in his attempt to cure a boil, he amputated the very arm itself! One has to write a big volume if one has to write about them at all — but I have neither the learning nor the leisure for it.” [CW-6]. In his anxiety to defend the purity of the Vedic religion against the excesses of Tantrikism, which as capturing the rank and file of his countrymen, Shankara neglected the problem of the latter, stigmatized as Shudras by the Vedicists. This is perhaps the meaning of Swami Vivekananda. It seems he could never forgive Shankara for applying in his commentary on the Brahma-Sutras the old logic of forbidding Vedic rituals to the Shudras to the more modern question of their right to higher modes of worship (Upâsanâ) and knowledge (Jnâna) of the Jnâna-kânda. [CW-6]
Swami Vivekananda wrote in HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF INDIA – “The movement of Shankara forced its way through its high intellectuality; but it could be of little service to the masses, because of its adherence to strict caste-laws….” [CW-6]
Swami Vivekananda mentioned while discussion with his disciple Shri Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, who was a great adherent of Shankara, almost to the point of fanaticism – “Shankara’s intellect was sharp like the razor. He was a good arguer and a scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism — much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras that the non-Brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! And what specious arguments! Referring to Vidura he has said that he became a knower of Brahman by reason of his Brahmin body in the previous incarnation. Well, if nowadays any Shudra attains to knowledge of Brahman, shall we have to side with your Shankara and maintain that because he had been a Brahmin in his previous birth, therefore he has attained to this knowledge? Goodness! What is the use of dragging in Brahminism with so much ado? [CW-7]
Swami Vivekananda has mentioned about cutting-killing issue in his writing, MODERN INDIA, Udbodhana, March 1899 – “What is their history, who, being the real body of society, are designated at all times in all countries as “baseborn”? — for whom kind India prescribed the mild punishments, “Cut out his tongue, chop off his flesh”, and others of like nature, for such a grave offence as any attempt on their part to gain a share of the knowledge and wisdom monopolised by her higher classes — those “moving corpses” of India and the “beasts of burden” of other countries — the Shudras, what is their lot in life? [CW-4]”
Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata
Swami Vivekananda has mentioned this section in his letter. Bhagavat Gita occurs in this Bhishma Parva, Bhagavat-Gita Upa Parva. Here Krishna says –
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ [Gita 4.13]
I have created four human castes based on the activities [professions] done due to their aptitudes or qualities, Guna-Karma or Svabhavaja-Karma.
From text it is understood, during Mahabharat time hereditary caste-system was prevalent. Also caste discrimination was present as known from plight of Karna and Vidura etc. In Gita also, Arjuna was in fear of Varna-Shankara due to mixture among various castes. Krishna is trying to correct this social corruption by mentioning the caste division is really based on Guna-Karma, not based on birth.
Yudhishthira discussion with Ajagara(King Nahusha)
This is described in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Tirtha-yatra Upa-Parva, Chapter CLXXIX, which Swami Vivekananda referred in his letter. Nahusha was a very popular king, who through his good merits had acquired the position of Indra in heaven. And slowly he became arrogant, intoxicated by supremacy, insulted seven Rishis. Due to this insult, Rishis Agastya cursed him to be born as a snake [ajagara] on earth.
During the exile of Pandavas, Bhima was attacked by this very ajagara and was held. Yudhisthira, in search of Bhima, reached that place. Seeing the snake holding Bhima and learning the entire story, Yudhisthira agreed to answer the ajagara’s question to free his brother.
The serpent said, “O Yudhishthira, say–Who is a Brahmana and what should be known? By thy speech I infer thee to be highly intelligent.”
Yudhishthira said, “O foremost of serpents, he, it is asserted by the wise, in whom are seen truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, benevolence, observance of the rites of his order and mercy is a Brahmana. And, O serpent, that which should be known is even the supreme Brahma, in which is neither happiness nor misery–and attaining which beings are not affected with misery; what is thy opinion?’
“The serpent said, “O Yudhishthira, truth, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, benignity, kindness and the Veda which worketh the benefit of the four orders, which is the authority in matters of religion and which is true, are seen even in the Shudra. As regards the object to be known and which thou allegest is without both happiness and misery, I do not see any such that is devoid of these.’
“Yudhishthira said, “Those characteristics that are present in a Shudra, do not exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in a Shudra. And a Shudra is not a Shudra by birth alone -nor a Brahmana is Brahmana by birth alone. He, it is said by the wise, in whom are seen those virtues is a Brahmana. And people term him a Shudra in whom those qualities do not exist, even though he be a Brahmana by birth. …”
“The serpent said, “O king, if thou recognize him as a Brahmana by characteristics, then, O long-lived one, the distinction of caste becometh futile as long as conduct doth not come into play.”
Yudhishthira said, ‘In human society, O mighty and highly intelligent serpent, it is difficult to ascertain one’s caste, because of promiscuous intercourse among the four orders. This is my opinion. Men belonging to all orders (promiscuously) beget offspring upon women of all the orders. And of men, speech, sexual intercourse, birth and death are common. And to this the Rishis have borne testimony by using as the beginning of a sacrifice such expressions as–of what caste so ever we may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have asserted that character is the chief essential requisite. …O excellent snake! Whosoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.‘
The serpent replied, ‘O Yudhishthira, thou art acquainted with all that is fit to be known and having listened to thy words, how can I (now) eat up thy brother Vrikodara!”
Uma and Maheswara story
Uma and Maheswara dialogue occurs in The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Chapter CXLIII. This is mentioned by Swami Vivekananda in his letter. Through the question-answer, Maheswara confirms, Caste is established by character, not by birth.
For example in one of many questions, Uma said, “O holy one, How can the three other orders naturally succeed in attaining to the status of Brahmanhood?”
Maheswara said, “He, however, that is born a Brahmana falls away from his status through his own evil acts. It is with the aid of good acts, O goddess, that a person who has sprung from a degraded order, viz., a Shudra, may become a Brahmana refined of all stains and possessed of Vedic lore, One that is a Brahmana, when he becomes wicked in conduct and observes no distinction in respect of food, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood and becomes a Shudra. Even a Shudra, O goddess, that has purified his soul by pure deeds and that has subjugated all his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. When a pious nature and pious deeds are noticeable in even a Shudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three regenerate classes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Shudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana…. I have thus told thee a mystery, viz., the manner in which a Shudra may become a Brahmana, or that by which a Brahmana falls away from his own pure status and becomes a Shudra.”
8. Jivan-mukti vs Krama-mukti
As per Shankara Advaita philosophy, there are two types of liberation – Jivan mukti+Videha mukti and Krama mukti. One is related to Nirguna [attributeless] Jnanam and other is related to Saguna [qualified] Upasana. One is path of Jnanam or knowledge and other is path of Upasana or devotion.
Jivan mukti: This is a path of Nirguna Jnanam. Here the seeker gets liberation while alive. The seeker contemplates through methods of ‘Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana’ on Maha-Vakyas like “Aham Brahmasmi, Tattvamasi etc”. So Jiva gets Jivan-mukti or Sadyomukti. Each Jiva is by nature Brahman – Sat-Chit-Ananda. But Jiva forgot it due to Avidya. When a person realizes its own infinite nature even while alive – known as Jivan-mukta. Knowledge of Nirguna Brahman removes the veil of Maya. Jiva realizes its identity with brahman – a Advaita state.
After Jivan-mukti the Sanchita karma gets destroyed. They don’t accumulate any further Agami karma. But Prarabdha karma continues until their death. When Prarabdha karma exhausts the body falls and the Jivan-mukta get final liberation known as Videha mukti. So Videha mukti is getting of liberation only after fall of this body. There is no travel to devayana, pitriyana or brahmaloka for them.
This is a path of Saguna Upasana. The seeker practices Upasanas on Saguna or qualified Brahman during his lifetime. But seeker does not get liberation directly or immediately because the dualities continue for it. After death, it reaches the Brahma loka or Hiranyagarbha [Brahmaji’s state], the highest heaven. They get Nirguna knowledge there and never again return back to mundane world. When Hiranyagarbha life span completes, all these seekers get liberation there with Brahmaji. So this is called gradual mukti or mukti in stages.
Shankaracharya opines that, Sudra caste seekers can only get Krama-mukti through the path of devotion. They are not eligible for path of knowledge and consequent Jivan-mukti.
Mahabharat 327.49 says – śrāvayeccaturo varṇān kṛtvā brāhmaṇamagrataḥ – a Shudra is ordained to listen to Veda. Few translate ‘Veda’ here as Pancama Veda – Mahabharat and Purana like secondary texts, not Mukhya four Vedas. However if we analyze the context of sloka 327.49 in Mahabharat chapter, it can be easily concluded that here ‘Veda’ refers to Mukhya four Veda, not Mahabharat and Purana like Gaunya Veda. It is unknown why Shankara took the ‘Veda’ as secondary texts like Mahabharat and Purana etc.
Here Shankaracharya opines, Shudra caste seekers can study the anecdotes and mythologies texts like Mahabharat, Purana etc. Let them follow the path of devotion; practice Saguna Brahman Upasana while alive. After death they will get Krama-mukti in Brahma-loka. They cannot get Jivan-mukti here and now while alive because it requires knowledge of Nirguna-Brahman. Since a born Shudra is not eligible to study Veda, so is not eligible for Brahma-vidya or knowledge – ‘Aham Brahmasmi”.
Another funny part is, Shankara considers Vidura as a born Shudra because he was born from a maid servant. His father was Vyasa. And Vyasa is born from a fisher-woman, so a born Shudra. But Shankara ignored this fact. And Shankara is writing commentary on text Brahma-sutra written by Vyasa, but denying Vedic study to his son Vidura. It is shortsightedness. So a born Shudra like Vyasa has studied and preached Veda.
It is great wonder, Shankaracharya in his Gita-Vasya clearly mentions, Caste is decided by “Svabhavaja Karma” or ‘Guna-Karma”. But in Brahma-Sutra-Vasya he made it quite contradictory marking it birth-based.
It is clear Shankara ignored the Mahabharata definition of caste based on Guna-Karma in Brahma-Sutra-Vasya and taken caste by birth. Gita is the Smriti Prashtana taken by Shankaracharya himself. So our conclusion should be aligned to caste definition from Gita.
Shankara in Brahma-sutra vasya [1.1.1 अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा] mentions – qualification for Jnanam is Sadhana-Chatustaya-Sampanna. So a born Shudra with these qualities should be eligible to know Vedic knowledge. Then this chapter Apashudradhikarnam is redundant and out of context. Vedic knowledge works in a refined person [Samskrita Manusya]. This knowledge is secret [Guyam] to unrefined persons [Asamskrita Manusya] even if Veda is imparted to them. [Gita-18.67]. So the goal should be to become refined humans so that our mind will be pure, desire for worldly life will vanish and Knowledge will be evident in us.
As described in text Manisha Panchakam, this is an incident from the life of Shankaracharya during his visit to Kashi. Once, Shankara, desirous of doing his midday rites, walked with his disciples to the Ganga. On the way he met a Candala, an untouchable, on the roadside. This untouchability has gone so deep into the bones of the people of India that even a man of wisdom – of Advaitic realization – became subject to it. On seeing untouchable, Shankara said – ‘Get away, get away – Gaccha, gaccha’. Then the Candala told Shankaracharya his own Vedanta. All over India you can see that ordinary low caste people can speak Vedanta, for they hear various expositions by speakers, through songs etc.
The untouchable said, “O worthy Brahamana, please let me know what exactly you wish to keep away. Is it the physical body from another body, or consciousness from another consciousness?”
Candala continued, “Is there any difference between the reflection of the sun in the waters of the Ganga and that in the water flowing by the Candala’s hut; or between the space within a golden jar and that within a clay pot? Wherefrom has arisen this great delusion, which sees one as a Brahmana and another as a Candala, in this inner Self – this one waveless ocean of self-existing bliss and consciousness?”
Shankara never expected a Candala could challenge him. So he thought for a moment and in his heart of hearts he said, ‘This man has taught me Vedanta correctly.’ Shankara put his reaction through five verses of text Manisha Panchakam. He saluted that untouchable and accepted him as his Guru.
Shankara said, “That Consciousness which shines forth most distinctly in waking, dream, and deep sleep; that which is the one Witness of the Universe that threads all bodies ranging from Brahma’s down to the ant’s; that I am, and not anything phenomenal – whoever possesses this firm wisdom is my Guru, be he a Candala or a person twice-born. This is my conviction.”
This shows, how ignorant and lazy we are in applying Vedantic concept in our daily life, as Practical Vedanta. Shankara taught this to us through this episode. However his followers forgot it at later point of time. They explain this practical Vedanta in a twisted way through different protocols for Vyavaharika and Paramarthika realities.
This is a remarkable verse since here Adi Shankaracharya admits the possibility of an outcaste being illumined through Vedic study, directly contradicting his own commentary on Brahma-Sutra-Vasya 1.3.38 [Sudra like Vidura, Dharmavyadha etc got knowledge from past births]. It is unfortunate that, Shankara’s position on Apasudradhikaranam is widely known while his later change of heart is subsided.
From Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna has also told this event as recorded in Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
On Friday, June 15, 1883, Sri Ramakrishna, “Shankaracharya was a Brahmajnani, to be sure. But at the beginning he too had the feeling of differentiation. He didn’t have absolute faith that everything in the world is Brahman. One day as he was coming out of the Ganges after his bath, he saw an untouchable, a butcher, carrying a load of meat. Inadvertently the butcher touched his body. Shankara shouted angrily, ‘Hey there! How dare you touch me?’ ‘Revered sir,’ said the butcher, ‘I have not touched you, nor have you touched me. The Pure Self cannot be the body nor the five elements nor the twenty-four cosmic principles.’ Then Shankara came to his senses.”
On Monday, March 15, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna told to Swami Vivekananda, “An outcaste was carrying a load of meat. Shankaracharya, after bathing in the Ganges, was passing by. Suddenly the outcaste touched him. Shankara said sharply: ‘What! You touched me!’ ‘Revered sir, ‘he replied, ‘I have not touched you nor have you touched me. Reason with me: Are you the body, the mind, or the buddhi? Analyze what you are. You are the Pure Ātman, unattached and free, unaffected by the three Gunās-sattva, rajas, and tamas.”
Ramanuja in his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya known as ‘Sri-Bhasyam’, (Sutra 1.3.33- 1.3.39) discusses Adhikari [eligibility] for scriptural study and knowledge [Brahma Vidya]. He concluded, Shudra is not eligible to study Veda, so not eligible for Brahmavidya.
Here we will summarize all seven sutras as commented by Ramanujacharya.
Sutra 1.3.33 – Refutes and denies to Shudra by caste, the right to Brahmavidya. Itihasas and Puranas only reiterate the knowledge derived from the Vedic studies and so, there is no chance of the Shudra getting this knowledge from them, without the necessary background from the study of the Vedas. Vidura and others had this knowledge on account of samskaras of a previous life.
Sutra 1.3.34 – Janasruti gave many villages to the sage Raikva. This shows he was a man of position, a Ksatriya, and not a low-born Shudra.
Sutra 1.3.35 – Janasturi is mentioned with Caitraratha Abhipratarin who was a Ksatriya. So the inference is that Janasruti is also a Ksatriya, as equals alone are mentioned together.
Sutra 1.3.36 – Purification ceremonies like Upanayana etc. are for the three higher castes and not for the Shudra. “Shudra do not incur sin, nor have they any purificatory rites’ [Manu XIII.126]
Sutra 1.3.37 – Gautama was convinced that Satyakama, though the son of a prostitute, yet was not a Shudra but a Brahmana.
Sutra 1.3.38 – Shudras are debarred from hearing and studying the Vedas. ‘Therefore the Vedas must not be studied in the presence of Shudras’.
Sutra 1.3.39 – Smrti also prohibits imparting Vedic knowledge to Shudras. ‘He is not to teach him (a Shudra) sacred duties or vows’ [Manu IV.80]
In this Vedic eligibility of Shudra context both Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya are aligned.
If we analyze carefully, Shankaracharya is born in an orthodox priest family, is not introduced to social sigma and caste anomalies. Later point of time he has travelled throughout India, has changed his view on caste – proves he has gone through systematic social learning phase. Even Shankara was not aware of women behavior, learnt that by entering into a dead king. So any inconsistency is attributed to the increasing maturity of a person in due course of time. Hopefully Brahma-Sutra-Vasya was written before this social training. And later he changed his view on caste system, migration from birth based division to Guna-karma based division. Even he accepted a Candala as his Guru during his Kashi visit as described in Manisha Panchakam.
Many believe in, this chapter Apaśūdrādhikaraṇam and previous Devatādhikaraṇam are of later addition. Not commented by Shankaracharya himself. Some feel Shankaracharya was a person of head (intellect), but no heart (compassion like Buddha, who opened the door of Nirvana to all without any Adhikari-veda). Some opine that Shankaracharya to get rid of Buddhist tantra, categorized them as Shudra. Now all Acharyas keep safe distance from this chapter.
With due respect to this great Acharya, we need NOT agree to Sudra ineligibility mentioned through birth-based division in his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya.
Since Apaśūdrādhikaraṇam is a redundant and out of context chapter in Brahma-Sutra itself, Swami Vivekananda is of opinion that – Vyasa’s narrow heart could not encompass Shudra, so he added this restriction on Shudra in his proposed Vedanta Darshana. Swami Vivekananda has criticized the original author Vyasa for creating this confusion in Brahma sutra, a text meant only for Vedanta study. Swami Vivekananda wrote in a prose ‘WHAT WE BELIEVE IN, Written to “Kidi” on March 3, 1894, from Chicago’ – “Whenever the Kshatriyas have preached religion, they have given it to everybody; and whenever the Brahmins wrote anything, they would deny all right to others. Read the Gitâ and the Sutras of Vyâsa, or get someone to read them to you. In the Gita the way is laid open to all men and women, to all caste and colour, but Vyasa tries to put meanings upon the Vedas to cheat the poor Shudras.” [CW-4]
People study Vedanta for Jnanam. There is no gender, no caste for Atma. However they do mistakes in adding Varna-Asrama dharma (caste systems and stage of life) to Jnana Kanda. Varna-Asrama dharma is related to material or worldly life. Jnana Kanda or Vedanta is related to liberation. One is Pravriti Marga and another in Nivriti Marga. Both should not be mixed. The scholars should focus only on pure Vedanta, not to be mixed with Varna-Asrama. We expect from the Vedantins a certain level of maturity to see beyond Vyavahara. It is clear, a person who has realized the oneness [Advaita], cannot accept human division [Dualism]. On the other way, a person accepting human division [Dualism], cannot be established in oneness [Advaita].
A scholar like Shankaracharya quoting these kinds of harsh, cruel, inhuman and degrading feelings toward Shudra, proves during 8th century the caste system and caste discrimination was at highest peak in India. Smrtis like Manu smrti were quite popular and were the constitution of social order. It is a wonder of wonder what forces Shankaracharya to accept this caste prejudice and write these into his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya. Later foreign invaders used these Hindu social stigma and untouchability as our weakness to enslave India for thousand years.
Brahmasutra Shankara Vasya of Shankaracharya, by Swami Gambhirananda, Ramakrishna Mission.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, published by Ramakrishna mission.
Chandogya Upanishad, by Swami Lokeswarananda, Ramakrishna mission.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, by Swami Madhavananda, Ramakrishna mission.
Shankaracharya and an Untouchable, An exposition of Manisha Panchakam of Sri Shankaracharya, by Swami Ranganathananda, Ramakrishna mission.
Brahma Sutras Sri Bhasya according to Sri Ramanuja, by Swami Vireswarananda and Swami Adidevananda, Ramakrishna mission.
Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna Mission.
The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli.
Why does Veda consider Dalits outside of the Chaturvarna system? (Answers from Quora
Ajay Joshi, Wannabe Guru (2016-present)
Answered Dec 11, 2016
One of the most contentious issues in Hinduism.. and on Quora.
There are no clear cut answers available, only scholarly opinions.
The Vedas clearly describe the 4 Varnas.: Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. In other scriptures the four are referred to Savarna. There is also mention of Avarnas and the communities mentioned correspond with today’s dalits. In contemporary India, Shudra is OBC . The communities seen in OBC are Potters, Carpenters, Masons, peasants, blacksmiths etc. The Dalit communities are manual scavengers (referred as harijan by Gandhi), animal skin-flayers (referred as chamars) and people who deal with cremation (referred as Dom or Chandal) . Even today there is a huge social gap between OBC and “dalit’ communities .
An interesting point is that the Zoroastrian religion (contemporary of and very similar to Vedic) also refers to 4 varnas, but no separate Avarnas.
So a possible answer to why Vedic thought considers the dalits outside the varna system is that dalits belonged to a different ethnicity. Perhaps the indigenous people of India (tribals maybe) who were used for the lowest level of work but never accepted as part of the Varna system.
To address 2 points in the details of the question.
Vedic is not the only religion which considered some people outside itself. All religions have a concept of ‘us” and “them’
In the case of the dalits , the Vedas never considered them to be “it’s own”people. SO no question of dividing.
Answered Dec 17, 2016
Really good question.
Kindly go back to history. Veda segregated the population into four - brahman - vysya - raja - sudhras and there is no other community or the so called ‘Dalit’
This one was created much later than the vedic period
That too, if we go in finer lines, there was a fifth community, being populated as those of captured people / migrated people, from outside Bharate - for whom, you will not be in a position to identify into a particular community
In ancient days, Bharath Kings ventured to nearby countries like Afghanistan, east asian and west asian countries and captured many a slaves - those were treated in these fifth clause
Due to political advantages and for getting votes, few have changed their identity into this - which followed by many in recent years.
So to say you the truth, there is VEDA has not shown any classification for Dalits - as such, there was no such classification at that time
Caste system is not vedic
I have been fed up repeatedly being asked the same silly question about caste system in Hinduism, so thought will write a post on it to clarify things once and for all. Caste system as it exists in modern hindu society is definitely bad. It is wrong to label a person as inferior or superior based on his birth. No caste is superior or inferior.
Having said that, let me clarify that this has got NOTHING to do with the teachings of ancient vedas. Vedas have definitely said that ‘Brahmin’ refers to a intellectually superior person, but have never said that a person is ‘brahmin (superior) by birth’
It has been clearly said that ‘Janma Jaat Shudra Sarve, Karmenu Brahman Bhavati.’ – In other words, ‘every person is Shudra (inferior) by Janma (birth) and becomes superior (Brahman) ONLY by his Karma (deeds)’
A brahman or brahmin is a person who understands brahma or brahmand (i.e creation and universe). In other words a person is a brahmin ONLY if he is knowledgeable. Common sense tells us that knowledge is not gained by birth but by our deeds over a period of time.
Note that Valmiki who wrote Ramayana was not a brahmin by birth. Vyasa who wrote Mahabharata was not a brahmin by birth. The great sage Vishwamitra was not a brahmin by birth and yet he became a maharshi. Krishna himself was not a brahmin by birth either! The evil character Ravana in Ramayana WAS A BRAHMIN BY BIRTH i.e he was born to a knowledgeable brahmin father, yet he is said to have been evil and bad.
If ancient vedic hinduism had been discriminating people based on their birth, then would this have been allowed?
Note that a brahmin is also called a Dvija in the vedas. Dvija means twice born. The first birth is his natural birth and the second birth is the new birth he gains through the knowledge he attains. To become a brahmin one has to become a Dvija. To become a dvija one has to gain knowledge. If vedas had said that a person is brahmin by his birth, then they would have never called him a dvija. Note that even if a person is born to a brahmin, if he doesnt get the second birth by gaining knowledge, then he is NOT a brahmin.
Bhagavata clearly says in 7.11.35 that
yasya yal laks?an?am? proktam?
ad anyatr?pi dr??yeta
at tenaiva vinirdi?et
which means “Just because one is born to a brahmin doesnt automatically make him a brahmin. But he has more chances of becoming a brahmin (since his parents can transfer the knowledge and duties to him). But he MUST get all those qualifications of brahmin to become a brahmin. On the other hand if a person born to a non-brahmin possesses all the qualities of a brahmin, he/she should be immediately accepted as a brahmin.”
Varna (called caste today even though they are totally different) system was used where son of a doctor was preferred to be a doctor, son of a warrior was preferred to be a warrior, etc so that expertise gets collected over a period of generations. Knowledge gained in a particular field was passed on from generations to generations, and this kept adding up in every successive generation. But there were no restrictions for children to chose alternate professions.
Remember that vedas have said ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ which means ‘whole earth is a family’ and ‘Sarve jana sukhino bhavantu’ which means ‘May all humans live happily’
Existing caste system in India is a misinterpretation of ancient vedic system where powerful lobbies have mislead the society over a period of time for their own selfish gains. And now so called backward people want to remain backward permanently in the name of reservations.
Unfortunately, India is the only country in the world today where people prefer to be called as those belonging to backward castes due to the benefits and reservations available to them, and are afraid to be called brahmins due to the fear of lack of opportunities. Reservations are creating a second class knowledge society in India.