back
Join the author, Brahma Das for a lively discussion here.


FOREIGN-BORN BRAHMINS: SUBSTANCE OVER FORMALITY

Brahma Das


kirata-hunandhra-pulinda-pulkasa abhira-sumbha yavanah khasadayah ye nye ca papa yad-apasrayasrayah sudhyanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah

"Anyone addicted to sinful activities including Huns, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mongolians and Chinese or any of the aboriginal people of India can immediately become purified by taking shelter of Visnu and his devotees." (Srimad Bhagavatam 2-4-18)

vipra ad dvisada guna yutada dara vinda nabha padaravinda vimukhat svapacam baristham manye tadarpita mano vacane hitartha pranam punati sa kulam na tu bhuri manah

"Persons born as dog-eaters who dedicate their mind, endeavor, words, wealth and life to the lotus feet of Visnu are better than persons born as Brahmins because by their devotion they purify their family, an act that proud brahmins are unable to do." (Srimad Bhagavatam 7-9-9)

aho bata svapaco'to gariyan yaj jih vagre vartate nama tubhyam te pusta paste juhuvuh sasnur aryah brahman ucurnar na grinanti ye te

"Oh Lord, Those who constantly chant Your Name, even though they be born in a family of dog-eaters, are the best of all. Those persons who glorify Your Name are understood to have performed all types of penance, done all sacrifices and bathed in all the holy rivers, therefore they are to be counted amongst the Aryans." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3-33-8)

These verses from the Bhagavat Purana illustrate that ancient Hindu society looked down on people born outside its boundaries as well as those born in India who did not follow scriptural standards of living. In that society persons of the lowest character were epitomized by the so-called "dog-eater" considered most vile, this act was practiced by some of the aboriginal tribes of ancient India.

More importantly these verses clearly state that anyone who takes shelter of Visnu, regardless of birth, nationality or cultural background, should be fully accepted into the fold of Hinduism or as it says "counted amongst the Aryans". Aryan refers to a follower of the Vedas and indeed the verdict of Bhagavat Purana is that those who actually "dedicate their mind, endeavor, words, wealth and life to Visnu are certainly Aryans and should even be considered better than persons born as brahmins."

Hindu scripture uses the analogy of a body to describe what it considers the proper structuring of society. Brahmins are supposed to be the head of society because they are to provide proper spiritual direction to the rest of society. Ksatriyas or the warrior classes are the arms whose role is to protect society from disruptive elements. Vaisyas are compared to the stomach because they provide and distribute nourishment to the social body and sudras are seen as the legs that keep society moving by their labor. Bhagavad Gita says that persons are classified in the varnashrama system according to their quality and work (guna-karma). This system gradually deteriorated when birth became a more important consideration then quality and work.

These verses also show that in ancient India persons born as brahmins were not always considered the most spiritually qualified people. The word Brahmin means one who knows Brahman (God). A Brahmin is supposed to be a teacher and a priest. If a person born in a brahmin family does not understand that anyone who takes shelter of Visnu must be counted amongst the Aryans then he is not qualified to teach and is not by definition really a brahmin. Scripture calls him a brahma-bandu or a degraded son of a brahmin.

Although there are many learned brahmins and religious leaders of character in modern India we still find far too many unqualified members of brahmin caste culture masquerading as the guardians of Hinduism. Many of these so-called brahmins’ are functioning superficially as temple priests in order to earn money for family maintenance. Instead of teaching that "anyone who takes shelter of Visnu must be counted amongst the Aryans" these so-called brahmins teach that Aryan refers to only those born in India and that keeping Hinduism pure means keeping Hindu temples and religion free of foreign converts.

Other so-called brahmins work in vocations that have nothing to do with religion. Proud of their birth they think they are brahmins regardless of their lifestyle. Consider this example.

A young man from Daksina Kannada, born in a brahmin family now living in America, wakes up at 7.00am, gulps down his coffee and rushes out to catch the bus into town. He works for a beef-eating manager in a software company in order to send money home to his family in Bangalore, and watches Hindi films and cricket on cable television so that he doesn't become too home sick.

At the office he wears a three-piece suit and at home he wears Levi jeans. He has almost forgotten how to put on a dhoti and is not inclined to put one on anyway because his friends would laugh at him if he did. He is vegetarian "but not always" and has no time to read sastras because he is too busy working. He tries to keep in touch with his culture via a website run by a group of young men in a similar situation and of course, according to him and his family he is a brahmin.

On the other hand we have an American Vaisnava, who wakes up before the sun every morning and chants the name of Krishna 25,000 times daily. Before chanting he applies urdhva-pundra (the marks of Visnu) in twelve places on his body, wears dhoti and kaupina, and worships the Tulasi plant and the Deity form of the Lord according to scriptural injunctions. Living a life of celibacy, he is a strict vegetarian and does not smoke, gamble, drink tea or coffee or take any form of intoxication. He studies the sastras, performs kirtana, fasts on ekadasi, and teaches Bhagavad-gita to anyone who will listen.

According to many orthodox Hindus and the so-called brahmin from Karnataka, this devotee is without brahminical qualification and not even a real Hindu. Such a person is destined to be cast into hell for impersonating a brahmin.

Of course the goal of the Hindu religion is not to become a brahmin but rather to know Brahman (God). But with Hinduism represented by so many so-called orthodox brahmins it is no wonder that people are becoming disinterested in their own religious heritage.

While it is true that the glories of qualified brahmins are sung in the sastras their degraded condition in the age of Kali is described there as well. In the Padma Purana it is written:

brahmanah ksatriya vaisah sudrah papa-parayanah nijacara-vihinas ca bhavisyanti kalau yuge

vipra veda-vihinas ca pratigraha-parayanah atyanta-kaminah krur bhavisyanti kalau yuge

veda-nindakaras caiva dyutacaurya karas tatha vidhva-sanga-lubdhas ca bhavisyanti kalau dvijah

vrttyartham brahmanah kecit mahakapata-dharminah raktambara bhavisyanti jatilah smasrudharinah

kalau yuge bhavisyanti brahmanah sudra-dharmina

"In Kali-yuga all the varnas are degraded. The brahmins are especially degraded being devoid of Vedic knowledge and sacrifice. Giving up the five sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas and all brahminical behavior and consciousness, they engage in inferior activities. They collect charity to satisfy their unlimited appetite for sense enjoyment and are characterized by the qualities of lust and cruelty. Unholy in deed and thought, they take pleasure in malice and envy and as professional thieves they blaspheme the Vedas, drink liquor and exploit women. They also accept sinful means of maintaining their lives and sometimes pose as sadhus by dressing in red cloth and wearing long hair and beards. In this way the wretched so-called brahmins of Kali-yuga accept a dharma that is lower than that of sudras."

On the other hand in the Mahabharata it is written:

sthito brahmana-dharmena brahmanyam upajivati ksatriyo vatha vaisyo va brahma-bhuyah sa gacchati

ebhis tu karmabhir devi subhair acaritais tatha sudro brahmanatam yati vaisyah ksatriyatam vrajet

etaih karma-phalair devi suddhatma vijitendriyah sudro'pi dvija-vat sevya iti brahmabravit svayam

sarvo'yam brahmano loke vrttena tu vidhiyate vrtte sthitas tu sudro'pi brahmanatvam niyacchati

"If ksatriyas or vaisyas become situated in the behavior of brahmins and spend their lives in the occupation of brahmins, then such persons attain the position of brahmins. By the same process, a sudra can become a brahmin and a vaisya can become a ksatriya. By the results of these activities and by following the agamas, even a lowborn person can become a brahmin. A person in this world is a brahmin simply as a result of his nature. A sudra situated in the profession of a brahmin also becomes a brahmin."

na yonir napi samskaro na srutam na ca santatih karanani dvijatvasya vrttam eva tu karanam

"Neither birth, ceremonies, learning, nor progeny are qualifications for brahminical status. Only brahminical conduct is the basis for brahminical status." (Mahabharata‚ Anusasana Parva 143)

While acknowledging the degradation of India’s ancient varnasrama culture we should be aware that no social system is perfect or perfectly spiritual. Democracy or government by the people is by definition a headless system and capitalism with its emphasis on greed and communism with its artificial concept of classless society fare no better as examples of enlightened social systems.

Therefore what is required is that we take the best of varnasrama culture and appropriately apply it to our times. This, even though Bhagavad Gita warns us that every endeavor in this world is covered by fault.

A careful reading of Gita reveals that what is called for is devotion (bhakti) adjusted to the environment. Time moves on and destroys all that is not purely spiritual, kalo smi loka-ksaya-krt…… Time I am the destroyer of the worlds (BG 11.32).

The religious social structure of ancient India may have been appropriate for its time but a true representation of that system exists no longer. Over hundreds of years it was gradually replaced by a perverted reflection, one that has little relevance in the world of today. Still, religious priests and teachers (brahmins) are needed but those religious teachers must be of substance not formality. To meet this standard the concept of brahmin based on birth must be replaced with the concept of brahmin by qualification and training. The more that substance is promoted over formality the more Hinduism will be energized.

In Bhagavad Gita it is written:

yad yad acarati sresthas tat tad evetaro janah sa yat pramanam kurute lokas tad anuvartate

When great leaders walk, common people follow in their footsteps and the standards they set by exemplary acts are accepted as such by all. (BG 3.21)

More than any other religion, Hinduism influenced by the remnants of caste consciousness, resists the idea of foreign-born priests and religious teachers. Ethnocentrism can not help Hinduism face the challenges of the 21st century or make Hinduism relevant to educated persons in the modern world. A progressive interpretation of Hinduism requires that learned brahmins and other Hindu religious leaders reject the outdated concept of caste or brahmin by birth. Rather they should embrace the concept of brahmin by qualification, and doing so welcome with open arms all non-ethnic Hindus into the fold as both priests and laymen. This will do much to keep Hinduism a vibrant living religious tradition.


Some information for this article was copied from www.gosai.com--Brahma Das

back