Shastric Reform: - Varnas, Jaathis and Castes

The discussion on shastric reform with respect to caste in effect addressed four questions.

1. Is caste reform needed considering that the scriptures are freely accessible nowadays and religious leaders are trying to reach out across the divide?
2. Do the Hindu scriptures advocate hereditary caste?
3. Should religious reform with respect to caste follow liberal non-traditional paths?
4. If the reform is to be a mainstream effort what are its goals and what should be the means whereby these are achieved?
This summary will focus on answers to these questions.
Part - 2
2. Do the Hindu scriptures advocate caste by birth or by worth ?
An accesory question would be - who is a Brahman ?
Even if we discard some of the dharmashAstras, it (caste) is embedded in our Ithihasas and even in the Purusha Sukta which is regarded as a part of the Vedas.
Prof. V. V. Raman 2/18/0
I posted some passages from Sankara and Ramanuja where they provided for exceptions; in the Gita Bhashya Sankara is very clear that svadharma is based on svabhava and not on rigid caste-heirarchy as is commonly understood.
Dr. Jaishree G 11/10/02
Here are some quotes from Brahma-sutra Bhashaya of Sankara and SriBhashya of Ramanuja.
"The Sudras are not qualified for that reason also that Gautama having ascertained Jabala not to be a Sudra from his speaking the truth, proceeded to initiate and instruct him. 'None who is not a Brahmana would thus speak out. Go and fetch fuel, friend, I shall initiate you. You have not swerved from truth.' (Ch up 4.4.5) Sankara Bhashya (1:3:37)
"From those Sudras, however, who like Vidura and 'the religious hunter' acquire knowledge in consequence of the after effects of former deeds, the fruit of their knowledge cannot be witheld, since knowledge in all cases brings about its fruit." (Sankara 1.3.38)
"Owing to the effect of former actions, which ahd not yet worked themselves out, they were born in a low caste, while at the same time they possessed wisdom owing to the fact that the knowledge acquired by then in former births had not yet quite vanished." (Ramanuja 1.3.33)
"Even a person who because he does not belong to an ashrama stands between as it were, is qualified for knowledge. 'For that is seen'. For we meet wth scriptural passages declaring that persons of that class such as Raikva and the daughter of Vachanu--possessed the knowledge of Brahman (ch 4.1, Bri 3.6.8)"(Sankara3.4.36)
"Smriti also declares that men not belonging to an ashrama grow in knowledge through prayer and the like. 'Through prayer (japa) also a Brahmana may become perfect May he perform other works or not, who befriends all creatures is called a Brahmana (Manu Smriti 2.17)' " (Ramanuja 3.4.37)
Dr. Jaishree G 11/7/0
According to Swami Guhabhaktananda, president of the Divine Life Society, anyone can elevate themselves to any position they desire. ``For example, if a Sudra dedicates his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge as well as religion, is not interested in acquiring wealth, has high moral values and practises vegetarianism, then he is a Brahmin. ``And if a person born to Brahmin parents does not believe in acquiring education, drinks and commits all kinds of sin, then he does not fall into any of the four classes but is instead an Untouchable.'' Concurs Simeswara Dasa, president of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Temple in Kuala Lumpur: ``According to the Bhagavad-Gita, every individual is prescribed a social duty which is particular to his mode of nature. A man who is by nature attracted to the kind of work done by the Sudras cannot artificially claim to be a Brahmin even if he is born into a Brahmin family. ``We can see that caste is ascertained by qualifications and not by birth. Everyone is given the chance to elect the social class that he is mentally and spiritually most compatible with. ``An Untouchable is not given a place in the social structure -- But even he can qualify to become Brahmin if he turns to God and practises all the virtues which a Brahmin has to cultivate.''
Ms. Wani Muthiah 11/17/02
Valmiki is a hunter and his ramayana is quoted as an authority by acharyas also while it is true that due to one's past activities one takes birth with some prarabhda karma. In that sense birth decided one's basic characteristic. But one's qualities are important in deciding one's varna. more than the views of the acharyas, the views of the vedas itself is very important. rig veda says that this message is for people of all castes,communities and nations. the writings of the acharyas were definitely interpolated. even if one argues that they were not, sanatana dharma has noprovision for blind following. If the writings of acharyas contradict the vedas in any way, then the vedas prevail.
Shri. Rajaram Venkataramani 11/17/0
We know that many clans and tribes once outside the fourfold varna system were absorbed into all the four varnas of the theoretical varna structure. The varna allegiance of castes has been highly fluid and kept changing over time and region. A caste once considered Shudra may rise to Brahminhood or vice versa. A Marava who is a Kshatriya in Tamil Nadu becomes a Chandala in neighbouring Kerala. Is Varna relevant in modern times ?
Shri. Radhakrishna Warrier 11/17/02
What we are saying it is - this is not entirely related to the parents to whom a person is born, but an inborn quality a person gets from birth and from the knowledge one acquires during life. - some of it, according to Hindu belief is that the soul gets
from previous birth, knowledge and experience during previous birth and previous Karma. This was conveniently misinterpreted to the present stage.In Yoga it is explained that the individual acquires knowledge and charecters from four sources - Birth[from previous birth and Karma] -surroundings, food and chemicals and knowledge that is taught. The Four Varnas are also determined by this.
Dr. Bala Aiyer 11/18/02
Varna occur throughout Hindu scriptures, from Shruti to Smriti texts. The chances of convincing the orthodoxy, that this term is totally irrelevant are Nil in my mind. As I indicated it is not really required to convince the traditional leadership that Varna is irrelevant, we have a easier goal, that is to convince them to acknowledge that there is no association between Jati and Varna Once that is done, the question of what to do with Varna would become a interesting topic for discussion by pundits, but probably of secondary significance only to Hindu society.
Shri. Rahul Saxena 11/18/02
Sankara's commentary on Gita 18:46
18.47. Better is one's own prescribed duties, [born of one's nature, even though] it is devoid of quality, than another's duty well executed; the doer of duty, dependent on (or prescribed according to) one's own nature, does not incur sin.
18.47 Svadharmah, one's own duty; though vigunah, defective-the word though has to be supplied-; is sreyan, superior to, more praiseworthy than; paradharmat, another's duty; su-anusthitat, well performed. Kurvan, by performing; karma, a duty; svabhavaniyatam, as dictated by one's own nature-this phrase means the same as svabhavajam (born from Nature) which has been stated earlier-; na apnoti, one does not incur; kilbisam, sin. As poison is not harmful to a worm born it it, so one does not incur sin by performing a duty dictated by one's own nature. It has been said that, as in the case of a worm born in poison, a person does not incur sin while performing his duties which have been dictated by his own nature; and that someone else's duty is fraught with fear; also.
Dr. Jaishree G 11/7/02
On the imagined pains of a 2000 year old text? (Manu Dharmashastras)
I - 91. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the shudra to serve meekly even these other three castes.
IV - 99. He (the twice born) must never read (the vedas) ----- in the presence of the shudras.
VIII - 270. A shudra who insults a twice born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin.
VIII - 271. If he mentions names and castes of the (twice born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers, shall be thrust red hot into his mouth.
VIII - 410. King should order each man of the mercantile class to practice trade, or money lending or agriculture and attendance on cattle; and each man of the servile class to act in the service of the twice born.
Shri. Vikram Masson 11/24/02
To what extent were these principles actually followed? I am not saying that they were not -- we do know observe discrimination even to this day. How much of today's discrimination is a product of say, the past 2-300 years of social change? We know, for instance of many a "poor Brahman" even in ancient tales. If all property really belonged to Brahmans, in practice this last kind of creature would never exist. The cutting off of a Sudra's tongue is usually spoken off as a well-established fact -- did this really happen? This is a genuine question -- I am not trying to claim nothing of the sort happened.
Shri. Murli 11/25/02
In fact, the "I'll pour lead in your ear, I'll hack of your tongue" injunction may have been an acrimonious rhetorical device, but that DOES NOT remove the exclusivist sentiment -- Adi Shankara quotes it in his Brahma Sutra Bhasya.There is a very evident Vedic/Puranic divide coursing through Hinduism: the Vedas are for the dwijas, the Puranas are for everyone else. It is very, very painful to read this, especially if you are a sudra or a dalit with spiritual aspirations.
Shri. Vikram Masson 11/25/02
Manusmrithi became relevant and the law because Manu wrote it keeping in view conditions prevelant in his time period. Recall, it was a social law. Today each coutry has its own social laws guiding them. Manusmrithi today is totally irrelevant. We do regard Manu as a great thinker of his time, but irrelevant today.
gk-tk usa 11/26/02

Sreyan svadharmo viguNaH paradharmAt svanushthitAt
savbhAvaniyataM karma kurvan nA'pnoti kilbisham

Better (to do) ones own dharma (even) imperfectly than another's dharma perfectly.
When actions prescribed by one's own nature Are done, one surely gets not any sin.

These lines (XVIII-47) from the Bhagavad GIta are among the more frequently quoted lines of the work. They have been interpreted by commentators in different ways. First, as was probably originally intended, they could be taken to mean that one should practice the profession of one's ancestors (caste-dharma), for each caste involves its own prescribed duties (which is one meaning of the word dharma). If a Brahmin tries to be like a Kshatriya ,or a Vaishya like a Brahmin, they would cut awkward figures. At least, this was the case in ancient societies where people were taught and trained in specific jobs and social responsibilities in accordance with their family backgrounds.
(Another) interpretation is very different, and certainly universal and more appropriate: We are all born with some intrinsic talents and limitations. Our efforts in life should be to live up to our inherent aptitudes. We must also recognize the limits of our capacities. Actions circumscribed by one's inherited abilities define one's svadharma. Sin is any action that will result in pain to oneself. To say that the practice of svadharma will notresult in any sin means that one will be spared frustration and sense of futility if one does not try to emulate someone who has entirely different in-born capabilities. Thus, for example, if one who has talents for writing tries to become a singer, or one who is scientifically inclined attempts to be sculptor, the results will not only be awkward, but one would also be frustrated and demoralized. Adoption of paradharma means acting in accordance another person's inborn qualities, and this is not wise.
Prof. V. V. Raman 3/24/03


Vedas did not say anything about people belonging to higher or lower caste by birth. The creation of the human beings, as described in "Purushashuktam",started with the earth and sky. Then came the forests and villages followed by Vedas and human beings. This is explained in Purushashuktam as "Brahamanoshyamu kamaseetha bahu rajan yakrudaha. Uruthathasyayathvaisyaha path yagum suthroajayatha" . This verse has been interpreted wrongly by some as brahmins being created from God's face, chatrikas from the arms, vaishyas from the thighs and sutras from the feet. It is further stated wrongly by the same people that the brahmins created from the face of God belongs to higher caste and sutras born
from the feet belong to the lower caste.

Vedas says "Janman JayatheSutraha karmana jayathe thvijeha". The real meaning of this verse in Purushashuktam is that all the human beings are born equal as sutras, belonging to the lowest caste. They are elevated to the higher level of brahmins when and only when they perform selfless service to fellow human beings and the world. It is important to note this real meaning of this verse in Purushashuktam. "Pathpayahum suthro ajayatha". "Ajayatha" means that one turns into one of the four castes rather than being born in one. At the time of birth one is ignorant and innocent and is considered a sutra . When he learns Vedas and becomes fully knowledgeable in sastras and follows it with selfless service he becomes a Brahmin, such as, Vedavyasar.( This does not include those who have only limited knowledge in sastras and perform rituals).

One who becomes strong bodily is a candidate for a king (Kshatriya). Just as the thigh of the body supports the entire body and keeps the body stable, one who learns business and economy which are essential to keep the country stable and
prosperous, becomes a vaishya. It should be noted again that every one is born as sutra and can become any one of the other three castes based on their actions during their life time. A good example is the case of Sri Rama. Sri Rama was prince but not a king. Only after he is qualified and approved through the royal ceremony he becomes a king. If this is understood, it should be clear that "chadhurvarnam" does not refer to caste.
Shri Rajarathina Bhattar 3/24/03
mukham - means the mouth - implying the preservation of the vedas.
Shri. Subrahmanya 3/24/03

1. Then can Varna be determined at Birth ? Sure, It Could be..Each child in my experience is born with a certain innate nature. In fact children within the same family can have widely different natures. Hence the statement that "Varna has something to with Birth" can be very true.

2. Can Karma during change the Varna ? Sure, there have been many Sinners to Saint cases (and the other way round too) in all faiths.3. What about the Scriptures. The only true interpretation is that of 2 and 3 above. Any scripture (including shrutis) should be interpreted as such, if anything cannot be interpreted as such then we have to agree that:
a. We are too far removed from the time the scripture was written to recover its true context or b. We must reject that part of the scripture only, due to its contamination by man. But Jati is a social construct whereas Varna is a spiritual concept.
Dr. Jaishree G 11/10/02

Its hard to tell, but Shankara's orthodox scions think that it has always been based on birth. This is from the official website of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha--considered by many to be the most influential Shankara mutt inIndia. I quote a couple of chapters in extenso.

"Jatis - Why so many Differences ?
There are four varnas - Brahmin, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. We identify"varnas" with "jatis". In point of fact, varna and jati are not the same. The varnas are only the four mentioned above, that is Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Within each there are many jatis. Among Brahmins there are Ayyars,Ayyangars, Raos, and so on. In the fourth varna there are Mudaliars, Pillais,Reddis, Naikkars, Nayudus, Gaundars, Padayacis.

In common parlance jati is used for varna. I am also using the two as interchangeable terms.
The sastras lay down seperate rites and practices for the four jatis (that isthe four varnas). This means that within the fold of the same religion,Hinduism, there are numerous differences. Food cooked by one caste is not to be
eaten by the another. A young man belonging to one jati is not to marry a girlbelonging to another. The vocation practised by one jati is not to be practiced by the another. The differences are indeed far too many.
Apart from the large number of divisions in each varna already existing, more and more divisions (or jatis) are coming into being. Thus Hinduism appears to be a strange religion.

Hindus today feel ashamed of the fact that a religion of which they have otherwise reason to be proud (because it once belonged to the whole world) should have so many differences in it. Other religions too have their dos and don'ts. The Ten Commandments are meant for all Christians. So are the injunctions of the Quran for all Muslims. But in Hinduism the dos and don'ts are not the same for all. What one man does as part of his dharma becomes adharma if done by another. For instance, it is dharma for one man to wear the sacred thread and chant the Vedas, while the same is adharma for another. If
the person who chants the Vedas does not bathe and keep his stomach empty he will be guilty of adharma. Another, however, need not necessarily bathe nor observe fasts. When I see that our religion is still alive with all these differences, Iam reminded of the words of a great man. . "That one day all ofus will die is not to be wondered at. The real wonder is that we have nine openings (or gates) in our body but our life do not escape through any of them.

Navadvare sarire' smin ayuh sravati santanam
Jivatityadbhutam tatra gacchatiti kim adbhutam

Similarly one must wonder at the fact that our religion is still alive in spite of all its differences and in spite of the fact that people are troubled by doubts about the same. For the same it is offence to chant the Vedas, while for the others it is an offence not to chant the same. Why should there be so many differences in our religion and why should it seem to be discriminatory? Some feel that it is shameful even to speak about the differences and believe that they are a blot
on our faith, which has otherwise many worthy features. While some Hindus try to satisfy themselves about these somehow, many find them to be a constant irritant. Then there are also people who feel angry about these differences and turn atheists as a reaction to the same.

Some are at heart proud of Hinduism but want the varna system to be scrapped and all Hindus to form a single class without any distinction as is the case with the followers of other religions. " The Vedas must be thrown open to all and there must be one common form of worship for all", they declare. " We must do away with the system of separate religious rites and practices. " Some go further and claim that such was the concept obtaining in our religion during the time of our forefathers. " The original thinkers of our religion who proclaimed the oneness of the individual self and the Paramatman, "they argue, "would not have believed in such differences among the individual souls. Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita that the vocations are assigned to people according to differences in their nature, not according to their birth. " So they hold caste to be a blot on our religion and believe that the system of hereditary occupations did not originally obtain but was a later invention.

We must examine these views in some detail.
Caste according to the Vedas and the Gita
(HinduDharma: Varna Dharma For Universal Well-Being)

Let us first consider the view that according to the Vedas themselves caste is not based on birth. ( After all, the Vedas are the source of our religion. So it is essential to be clear on this point. ) Earlier I sought to counter the view that there was Vedic sanction for post-puberty marriages. The present contention about what the Vedas say about caste is similar, being based on a passage read out of context. What is mentioned as an exception to the rule is being interpreted as a rule itself. I will give firm proof in support of the view that caste is based on birth and not on the nature or qualiti of individuals. The caula of children belonging to particular caste is performed at the age of three, the upanayana at five or seven. These are samskaras based on birth and performed in childhood. So it would be absurd to claim that one's vocation is based on one's nature of qualities. Is it possible to determine one's qualities or nature in early childhood?

Let us now come to Gita. It is true that the Gita speaks of "samadarsana ","seeing the selfsame thing in everything and everybody. But it would be perverse to argue on this basis that the Gita does not recognise any caste distinctions. When, according to Krsna, do we attain the stage of samatva, thestage when we will look upon all as equal? We must consider the context : The Lord speaks of the samadarsana of the wise man who is absorbed in the Atman and for whom there exists nothing [ other than the Atman] including creation- and even the fact that Isvara is the creator is of no consequence to him. The Lord says that all are equal for a man when he renounces karma entirely to become an ascetic and attains the final state of enlightenment. The Vedas and the Upanisads say the same thing. Only an individual belonging to the highest plane can see all things as One [as one Reality]. Samadarsana is not of this phenomenal world of plurality nor is it for us who are engaged in works. The Lord speaks in the Gita of samadarsana, samacitta and samabhuddhi from the yogin's point of view, but by no means does he refer to "samakaryatva" as applied to our worldy existence.

Some concede that Bhagavan does not deny caste differences, but however argue that, according to the Lord, caste is not based on birth but on the individual qualities of people. In support they quote this line from the Gita. "Caturvarnyam mayasrstam guna-karma-vibagasah". When do we come to know the qualities that distinguish an individual? At what age does he reveal his nature? How are we to determine this and impart him the education and training necessary for the vocation that will be in keeping with his qualities? Take, for instance, the calling of the Brahmin who has to join the gurukula when he is seven or eight years old. His education covers a periodof twelve years; after this alone will he be qualified for his vocation which includes, among other things, teaching. If a man's occupation were to be fixed until after his character and qualities are formed, it would mean a waste of his youthful years. Even if he were to learn a job or trade thus at a late age it would mean a loss not only to himself but also to society. The Lord speaks again and again that we must be constantly engaged in work and that we must not remain idle even a moment. How then would he approve of an arrangement in which every individual has to be without any work until his vocation is determined according to his character?

Does this mean that the Lord lends his support in theory alone to the system of vocations according to the differing qualities of people and that in actual practice he wants occupations to be based on birth? But he is not like a politician [ of these days] speaking one thing and doing something entirely different. What do we see in Krsna's own life as a divine incarnation? When Arjuna refuses to fight saying that it is better to become a mendicant than spill the blood of friends and relatives even if it be to rule over an empire, what does the Lord tell him? He urges Arjuna to fight. " You are born a Ksatriya and you are duty-bound to wage war. Take up your bow and fight". Here too it may be argued thus :"Arjuna was a great warrior and a great hero. His reluctance to take up arms against friends and relatives must have been a momentary affair. His inner quality and temperament were that of a man of valour. So the Lord enthuses him to go to war. What he refers to as Arjuna's svadharma (own duty) cannot be the same as his jati dharma (caste duty). The Lord must be refering to Arjuna's natural character as his svadharma. "

If such an argument is correct, what about the character of Dharmaputra (Yudhisthra)? From the very beggining he is averse to war and anxious to make peace with the Kauravas. Does he not go so far as to say that he would not insist on half the kingdom but he would be satisfied with just five houses? Krsna goes to the Kauravas as his envoy [of peace] but is himself dragged into war by them. Earlier he encouraged Yudhisthra to subjugate all his neighbouring kingdoms to become an imperial ruler and perform the rajasuya. Does Dharmaputra desire such glory? His inner character and temperament show that he is not
warlike by nature nor do they suggest that he desires the status of a mighty imperial ruler. Sri Krsna Paramatman makes such a man practice his dharma of a Ksatriya. All this shows that by svadharma it is jati dharma that the Lord means. Men like Dronacarya were born Brahmins but they took up the duty of Ksatriyas. Bhagavan does not deprecate them since they were otherwise great men, but all the same he does not show any displeasure when Bhima taunts Dronacarya for having forsaken the dharma of his birth. Thus we have confirmation that by svadharma the Lord means the jati dharma of birth.

Then, why does he use the phrase "guna-karma-vibhagasah" in the Gita?

It is jatidharma that goes to make the inner guna (inner quality or nature) of an individual. So Sri Krsna's dictum in the Gita that the caturvana division is in accord with the gunas and the idea that the caste is based on birth are one and the same. There is no conflict between the two. You cannot find fault with Sri Krsna for his practice being at variance with his precept. Parasurama and Dronacarya were Brahmins but they were Ksatriyas by nature. On the other hand, Visvamitra, a valorous Ksatriya king known for his violent and passionate temperament, became a Brahmin rsi. Cases like this are extremely rare, and are exceptions to the rule of jati dharma. On the whole we see that the Lord functions on the basis that, whatever be the outward qualities of individuals, their inner qulaity is in keeping with their hereditary vocations.

How can birth be the basis of the quality on which one's occupation is based?, Before a man's individual character develops, he grows in a certain environment, the environment evolved through the vocation practiced in his family from generation to generation. He adopts this vocatiuon and recieves training in it from his people. It is in this manner that his guna is formed, and it is in keeping with his work. Everybody must have the conviction that he is benefitted by the occupation to which he is born. When people in the past had this attitude in the past they were free from greed and feelings of rivalry. Besides, though they were divided on the basis of their vocations, there was harmony among them. Children born in such a set-up naturally develop a liking and aptitude for the family vocation. So what is practised according to birth came to be the same as that practised according to guna. Whatever the view of reformers today, in the old days an individual's ability to do a job was in accord with his guna; and in the dharma obtained in the past a man practised his calling according to his guna. Now it has become topsyturvy.

What is the view of the psychologists on this question? According to them, heredity and environment play a crucial part in determining a man's character, abilities and attitudes. In the past all vocations were handed down from grandfather to father and from father to son. Besides, each group practising a particular occupation or trade lived in a separate area in the village. The Brahmins, for instance, lived in the agrahara and, similarly, each of the other jatis had its own quarter. So the environment also helped each section to develop its special skills and character. These two factors - heredity andenvironment - were greatly instrumental in shaping a person's guna and vocation. Instead of speaking about the subject myself, I will cite the views of Gandhiji who is much respected by the reformists:" The Gita does talk of varna being according to guna and karma, but guna and karma are inherited by birth. " So the fact that Krsna Paramatman's practice is not at variance with his doctrine is confirmed by Gandhiji. Modernists should not twist and distort the Vedas and sastras and the pronouncements of Krsna Paramatman to suit their own contentions.

Krsna is usually imperative in his utterances. " I speak, you listen, " such is his manner. But when he speaks of people and their duties, he does not inpose himself saying " I speak thus ", but instead he points to what is laid down in
the sastras to be the authority. During Krsna's own time the various castes were divided according to birth : we learn this, without any room for doubt, from the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the Visnu Purana. I mention this because some research scholars today are likely to put forward the view that caste based on birth evolved after the time of Krsna. The epic and the Puranas mentioned above declare categorically that during the age of Sri Krsna Paramatman the sastras dealing with varnasrama were the authority for dharma. It was at such a time, when an individual's vocation was determined by birth, that the Lord declared in clear terms :

Yah sastra -vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah
Na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim
Tasmacchastram pramanam te karyakaryavyavasthitau
Jnatva sastravidhan oktam karma kartum iha'rhasi ----
Bhagavadgita, 16. 23 & 24.

Whoso forsakes the injuctions of the Shastras and lives according to his own desires does not obtain liberation, finds no happiness. (The Sastras determine your work, what is right and what is wrong. You must know the way shown by the
sastras and pursue the work - vocation - according to them.) Sri Krsna establishes that an individual owes his caste to his birth. There should not be the slightest doubt about it".
Shri. Vikram Masson 11/7/02

The Rig vedic concept of genesis of caste is also cited in the Valmiki Ramayan.
"Manu, the wife of great-soul Kashyapa procreated humans, Brahmins,
Kshatriya-s, Vaishyaa-s, and Shuudra-s, oh Rama, the best among men... [3-14-29]

"The Brahmins [emerged] from face, the Kshatriya-s from chest, the Vaishyaa-s
from two thighs, and the Shuudraa-s from two feet...thus we hear from the
sciptures [Veda, i.e., Rig Veda Purusha Shuukta...] [3-14-30]92.

Interpretation per dharmasastra:

Man is stated to be purer above the navel (than below); hence the Self-existent
(Svayambhu) has declared the purest (part) of him (to be) his mouth.

93. As the Brahmana sprang from (Brahman's) mouth, as he was the first-born,
and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation.

As we discussed in an earlier session (Shri R.R Bhattar's mail) such an explanation is untenable and the Rig vedic verse alluded only to professional distinctions based on aptitude and attitude.

My adaptation therefrom:

To the scholar who enlightens others He endows the power of the voice
To the warrior who strives for a rightful cause, the might of the arms
To the merchant who strives for the land's prosperity, his substance
To the peasant who feeds everybody the strength of the legs
This He does that all of human kind may work together as one body- Without conflict.

note: The Hindu faith came into being before the art of writing-hence the "voice"of the scholar Parents only give birth to the body. Only God may give rise to the soul. In Hinduism , God is a formless, omnipresent, omnipotent force. This verse is therefore, only allegoric.

Who is a Brahman

Brahmin is a priest or teacher otherwise the title means nothing. Recognition is only important to the extent that one is preaching or ministering to his flock. The position one gains from priestly garb or title serves as a pulpit from which to help and encourage others. The problem is many religious teachers fall from that pulpit and disgrace their position. This is especially true of those Hindu Brahmins who are only concerned with the false prestige attained by their birth. Only one who truly possesses the qualifications mentioned in Gita should call himself a Brahmin. Not for pride sake but to help others.
Shri. Brahma Das 11/20/02
(Manu Dharmashastras)
I - 93. As the Brahmana sprang from (Prajapati's i.e. God's ) mouth, as he was first-born, and as he possesses the veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation.VIII - 37. When a learned Brahmin has found treasure, deposited in former (times), he may take even the whole (of it); for he is the master of everything.
Shri. Vikram Masson 11/24/02
As per much as i know....One disciplined and learned is known as a brahmin, so any human being capable of following this automatically becomes a brahmin.
Shri. Sishya Guru Rayar 11/27/02

Ideally, everyone in a noble society should strive to understand Brahma-gyana. But a Brahmin is one who has already made *considerable* progress in understanding. He/she exemplifies that gyan and is in a position to guide others. We're all trying to understand Brahma-gyana and applying it as best as possible to our lives. But a Brahmin is one we consult for guidance, as a person who has devoted himself to this subject and who's life IS this subject. He can best suggest how to apply it to our individual lives, as well as social institutions, etc. Everybody can't be Brahmin, because apart from will and temperament, ability is also a criteria. Not all students can fully internalize and conceptualize the Theory of Relativity, or see its applications.
Shri. Carl 11/27/02


In the classical context, a Brahmin was a member of the priest class. He knew the mantras appropriate for the sacraments, for rites and rituals, and for performing daily worship to the deities. All Brahmins could (still do) trace their progenitor to one of the founding rishis of Sanskritic civilization: these are the gotras. Brahmins were respected and held in high esteem, by people and by kings alike, but they did not always have material or political power. In later times, they acquired a dominant position in the caste-hierarchy, arising largely from the view that by virtue of their knowledge of Vedic mantras they were also at a higher spiritual level.

Generally speaking, their inherited reverence for knowledge and commitment to learning have continued. By and large, they are also vegetarians: strict in the South, and no as strict in some other regions of India. Brahmins continue to dominate education and intellectual professions in many parts of India to this day. They also continue to assume that they have caste-purity. Even day, most Brahmins would frown upon their children marrying a Non-Brahmin. We don't know what the future holds. It is difficult to erase the notion of some sort of superiority associated with the world Brahmin in the Hindu world. Even reformist Hindus say that they would willingly convert Shudras into Brahmins, not realizing that in that very statement they imply that Shudras are inferior and Brahmins are superior. Given this, in the context of Navyashastra, I propose a new definition of Brahmins.
Any Hindu (or convert to Hinduism) is entitled to be called a Brahmin if he/she:(a) Makes honest efforts to live up to the highest ideals of Fairness and Justice.(b) Has a commitment for knowledge and learning.(c) Assists others in the observance of important milestones in life's journey.*(d) Respects life forms to the point of being a vegetarian as far as possible.(e) Has learnt some basic prayers/mantras of the Hindu tradition, in Sanskrit or on Tamil.*(f) Respects all faiths in so far as they don't harm or hurt others.(g) Spends a few minutes each day meditating on the Cosmic Substratum of the Universe (Brahman).(h) Refrains as much as possible from using harsh and unkind words to or about others.(i) Spends some time each week in the service of others.(j) Leads a life of self-discipline.
Prof. V. V. Raman 11/28/02
Brahmin points to Brahmo Gnanethi Brahmana: i.e. one who has mastered knowledge of Brahma. A Brahmin's progeny need not be a Brahmana:
Shri.Kesavan Pillai 11/29/02

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