<!--QuoteBegin-Bharatvarsh+Dec 16 2005, 05:06 AM-->QUOTE(Bharatvarsh @ Dec 16 2005, 05:06 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin--><!--QuoteBegin--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->What it means is that the knowledge of Brahman that is in those books is not man made but revealed by Brahman to the authors of the Vedas.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Gangajalji very good post, I basically agree with everything you have said but this statement seems to bracket Sanatana Dharma into the Abrahamic mould, it is like Muslims saying that the Quran is the revealed word of God, the Vedas in my opinion were written by highly spiritual people and they recorded their observations/knowledge about Brahman and passed it on to future generations, once you classify a book as being revealed by God/Brahman then the next step is to claim that every word of Vedas is infallible and cannot be changed as it is the revealed word of God (afterall Brahman cannot be wrong or can he/she/it be wrong?), now all this sounds eerily similar to one so called religion of peace, ofcourse I maybe wrong about this or probably misundertood what you are trying to say, would appreciate your response.
well you stole my lines !!
Here is a question for the gurus. I am very new to this and hence some of my questions are very basic. I attend a study class on the Gita, while covering chapter 3, certain verses on the varnas came and obviously there was a discussion on it. The conclusion were along expected lines that it is a way to segment the type of work you do along with your inner gunas (temperament). My question was does this apply in todays world and the moderator answered YES. We could not have a discussion as we had to move on but I was not satisfied with the answer. I did not understand how or why will it apply in todays world. After all Shri Krishna does not mandate for the world to be looked upon in the Varna mechanism forever. So please enlighten me.
While it may be indigestable to some (including myself at times owing to my ignorance,) here is what Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam says:
<b>Caste according to the Vedas and the Gita</b>
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 quality 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, the stage 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 worldly 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 period of 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 referring to Arjuna's natural character as his svadharma. "
If such an argument is correct, what about the character of Dharmaputra (Yudhisthra)? From the very beginning 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?
<b>Character and Vocation by Birth</b>
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 quality 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 vocation and receives 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 benefited 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 topsy-turvy.
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 and environment - 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.
Who so forsakes the injunctions of the sastras 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.
Thank you Sunder. I do get that and agree that Genetics and our environment play a large role in our temperament and they can change over time but not always.
No arguments there. My question though still remains. How does it matter in the complex world of today. How do we determine who we are by nature and by profession.? Is the Varna system applicable today? How? The world today is way too complex for a simplistic pre-industrial age Varna system classification.
Sri Krishna is otherwise very precise in Gita. Why would he say that he created the four varnas according to Guna (attributes) and Karma (actions) if he meant Jati (birth)? It is much more straightforward to take his words literally. One can argue that "Jati" interpretation is an extrapolation.
Also Gita's message is supposed to be eternal. Why should it be tied down to certain caste system based on birth that may have existed during Sri Krishna's lifetime? Although it probably was true that caste by birth was there during the Mahabharata age.
The justification that a child's attributes may be determined by his childhood experiences etc is very valid. But again we fall back on "guNa", don't we? So, ultimately the "Gunas" and "Karmas" are the true deciding factors.
As a counterexample for Dharmaputra YudhiShthira's example, maharshi Vishwamitra was born kShatriya and became BrAhmaNa.
In Gita there is also a mention of the dangers of VarNa-saMkaratA (mixing of the varNas). What does that mean?
I would say, YudhiShthira is a good example of varNa-saMkaratA. He is a mixture of Brahaman traits and kShatriya traits. Neither here nor there. And one can argue that that can lead to weakening as conflicting tendencies will cause much inner turmoil and take their toll. While someone with no such conflicts can perform his duties much more efficiently. In that sense varNa-saMkaratA may arise not so much from inter-caste marriages but mainly from inter varNa marriages, i.e. marriages where guNa and karma were not matched. If guNa and karma are matched, then marriages even across caste lines may be fruitful and should be considered marriages within the same varNa and not an example of varNa-saMkaratA.
Ashok, I too am in agreement with you. The above mentioned post is that of the Paramacharya and not my opinion. Having come from someone like Him, I have to rethink what I was fed all along.
If your interpretation of Varna Samkara is pertaining purely to Guna and Karma, then why is Arjuna worried about "Kula striyah" ? What does Krishna mean by Sthree, Vaishya and shudra being paapa-yonayah in 9:32 ? It would also lead to the question as to why Vidhura was not allowed to read the Vedas even though he was highly competent, had satvika guna, and was a minister by Karma.
The questions put us as Hindus in a predicament, and given today's society, we may push these under the rug or try to put a spin on it. But Adi Shankaracharya's interpretations were quite contrary to today's perception of Varna/Jaati.
PS: Advaita Vedanta unequivocaly states varna does not matter in case of liberation (at the paaramarthika level). But social order (Vyavahaarika level) seems to promote it.
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Isn't your position too literal? Gita also says, "Thus have I imparted to you wisdom which is more secret (profound) than all that is secret (profound). Reflecting over this whole teaching, do as you think fit." (Gita 18.63) So we have to accept the position of a person who after reflection decides that in today's world one cannot adopt such a strict position on nitya karma.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
It is from Kanchi Acharya that I heard the following interpretation of 18:63. I paraphrase here (except for the tamil quote.)
After telling Arjuna time and again to give up desires, and to be unattached, and to work without expectations, Sri Bhagavaan tells Arjuna to act as he *wishes*. Is Krishna washing his hands off Arjuna by saying "naan sollaradha sollitten, nee ekkedu ketu po?" (I have told you what I have to say, now to hell with you.)? This is not his message. Krishna means "Arjuna, when you were planning on abstaining the battle out of ignorance, you had an excuse (i.e. ignorance), now that you know what is right and what is wrong, you cannot not quit the battlefield without incurring sin (as said in 2:33)." Thus, by saying 'Do what you wish', Krishna is reminding Arjuna of his Duty.
If Arjuna was Atma-gnani, Athmaa-rama, or Atma-santhushta, then then he had no Karma, or Akarma. He could reflect and give up Karma (as mentioned in 6:3.) Until Arjuna became a yogaaruda, he had to resort to Karma.
This is what I too agree with. I hope I this is convincing.
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin--> Hindus are free to reject smritis if they so want since smritis claim that they only interpret the sruti.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Here too I shall provide what I read from the Acharya.
Smritis - not Independent Works
There is a wrong impression about the dharmasastras even among those who treat them with respect. They think that the rules and duties of the Smrtis were formulated by their authors on their own. They call these authors "lawgivers" who, in their opinion, laid down "laws" that reflect their own views. Further they think that the dharmasastras were composed in the same way as our Constitution. Such a view give rise to another idea. We keep amending the Constitution whenever we find that it stands in the way of certain measures being introduced. It is asked, on the same logic, why the dharmasastras too should not be changed according to the beliefs and ideas of the present times.
People ask me :"Why should not the sastras be changed to suit the times? The government changes its laws, does it not? " They sing my praises and tell me: "You are like the sages, the authors of the Smrtis. If only you make up your mind you can change the Smrtis to suit our times. " In effect what they respectfully suggest is this: "Please change the sastras as we would like them to be changed. "
If the Smrtis really represent the views of the authors there is nothing wrong in what these people think about them and about what they want me to do about them. But those who want the dharmasastras changed do not see to know that they (the Smrtis) do not reflect the view of the sages who composed them. What the authors of the Smrtis have done is to present us in an orderly fashion what is already contained in the Vedas. The Vedic word cannot and must not be changed at any time and on any account. The same applies to the rules and laws laid down in the Smrtis.
I may not be capable enough, or worthy enough, to persuade you to live according to the sastras. But changing them is certainly not my function. I have been installed here (in the Matha) to make people perform their duties and rites. That is according to the command of the Acarya. I do not possess the authority to revise the sastras according to what is felt to be convenient to the present times or what is in keeping with the new beliefs.
If the sages had created the Smrtis on their own, to represent their own views, there would be no compulsion to accept them. If the Smrtis are not needed we could reject them outright. If their contents are not based on the Vedas and include rules and directions that reflect the views of the authors, then we can do without them. In this way so many people have written down so much about so many things. We too may write down whatever comes to our mind. The Smrtis must be looked upon as an authority for today and tomorrow and for all time because they are founded on the Vedas. But what is the proof for this claim?
The Source of Smritis is the Vedas
The best testimony to the claim that the Smrtis are founded on the Vedas is provided by the words of mahakavi(great poet). Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, the founders of our religio-philosophical systems, proclaim that our dharmasastras are in accord with the Vedas. But they had, each of them, a doctrine to establish. Besides they had also the goal before them of preserving the tradition and they would not naturally go against it. With a poet it is different. He has no doctrine to establish, no belief to promote. He speaks what he feels to be the truth since he does not have to lend his support to any particular concept or system.
The greatest of the mahakavis, Kalidasa, makes a reference to the Smrtis in his Raghuvamsam.
As all of you know, Dasaratha was the father of Rama. Dasaratha's father was Aja and Aja's father was Raghu. Rama was named Raghurama after his great-grandfather. We do not often come across "Dasarathi" among the names of Rama. Usually one is named after one's grandfather. But Rama did not take the name of Aja and is better known after his great-grandfather. Raghu had such fame and glory. The name Raghava also means one belonging to the family of Raghu.
Raghu's father was Dilipa. For long he did not have a son. The guru of Dilipa's family was Vasistha. Dilipa approached him and said to him: "Svamin, I don't have a child. Bless me that my family will continue and prosper. " Vasistha had a cow called Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu. The sage asked the king to look after the cow and worship her with faith. He blessed Dilipa thus: "A son will be born to you. " Think of it, a king was asked to look after the cow. How humble he must have been.
Dilipa took charge of the cow right away. Like a cowherd he took Nandini to the forest, grazed her, bathed her and looked after with devotion. He carried a bow with just one arrow to protect her from wild beasts. He scratched the cow, stopped on the way if she stopped, lay down if she lay down, walked if she walked. If we sit down our shadow too will seem to sit down, if we stand up so too our shadow will seem to stand up, if we run then too our shadow will seem to run. "Chayeva tam bhupatiranvagacchat, ", says Kalidasa. Dilipa followed the cow like a shadow.
Every day, as Dilipa took the cow to graze, his wife Sudhaksina would follow him to some distance and then return home. Very religiously she would send her husband out with Nandini and wait in the evening for them to return from the forest. Sudhaksina kept caring for Dilipa and, if the king followed Nandini like a shadow, she too followed him in turn like a shadow.
The duties of a Pativrata are described by Janaka during the marriage of his daughter Sita to Rama. He says to Rama: "My child Sita will follow you like a shadow (chayevanugata)". This is in Valmiki Ramayana. Kalidasa retells the story of Rama that Valmiki has told. He speaks about Lava and Kusa who came after Rama and also about Rama's predecessors. And he gives to his great poetical work the title of Raghuvamsam after Rama's great-grandfather Raghu of unsurpassed fame. Verily, to speak of this family is to sanctify one's speech.
In the passage describing how Sudhaksina followed Dilipa as he goes grazing the cow, the poet makes a reference to the sages creating the Smrtis. He does so not in pursuance of any doctrine, not also after any deliberation. He speaks spontaneously about the Smrtis, unpremeditatedly. The poet describes how Sudhaksina follows the cow to some distance. Nandini is in the front and Sudhaksina walks behind. The cow raises a little dust with her hoofs and the queen goes some distance looking at the hollowed dust. Kalidasa excels all other poets in similes. Each poet has some distinction or other. There is a saying: "Upama Kalidasasya" (For similes Kalidasa-Kalidasa excels in similes). It is in the context of Sudhaksina following Nandini that the poet brings in the simile of the queen following the cow like the Smrtis following the Vedas.
Apamsulanam dhuri kirtaniya
-Raghuvamsam, 2. 2
"Pamsu" means dust. As Nandini goes grazing, dust is raised. "Khura" is hoof. "Khuranyasa" means placing of the hoof and "pavitra pamsum" the sacred dust.
The dust raised by the cow is particularly sacred. It sanctifies any place. Such is the case even with the dust raised by an ordinary cow, not to speak of the so sacred Nandini, Kamadhenu's daughter. Sudhaksina is a woman of spotless character - there is not a speck of dust on it - and such a woman has now cow dust on her. "Apamsu" means free of dust and refers to Sudhaksina of unblemished character. She goes step by step along the hollowed path following the dust raised by the hoofs of the cow. How? Like the Smrtis composed by the sages that follow the Vedas - "Sruterivartham Smrtiranvagacchat".
"Anvagacchat" = (she) followed. Here the upamana (that with which a comparison is made) for the cow is Sruti or the Vedas. The "hoof steps" of the cow are to be taken as the meaning of the Vedas.
So Sudhaksina followed in the "hoof steps" of Nandini like the Smrtis following the meaning of the Vedas. Also, like the Smrtis not going in the entire way with the Vedas, she did not go all the distance with the cow. The idea is that the Smrtis do not repeat all that is said in the Vedas. They are "notes from memory", but they truthfully follow the Vedas in their meaning. They do not, of course, represent all thousands of mantras of the scriptures but, all the same, they tell us how to make use of the Vedas.
"Sudhaksina with her pure antah-karana followed her husband and, without deviating even a little, walked along the path of the dust raised by Nandini's hoofs". Having said so much, Kalidasa thought he must bring in a good simile for Sudhaksina following the cow dust and it occurred to him in a flash: "Like the Smrtis following faithfully the meaning of the Vedas. "
The upamana is always superior to the upameya. If a face is compared to the lotus or the moon, the lotus or the moon must be more beautiful than the face. Here Sudhaksina, of matchless purity of character, following her husband Dilipa is likened to the Smrtis closely following the Vedas. No better authority is needed to support the view that the Smrtis are in accord with the Vedas.
<!--QuoteBegin-Sunder+Dec 16 2005, 12:33 PM-->QUOTE(Sunder @ Dec 16 2005, 12:33 PM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->If your interpretation of Varna Samkara is pertaining purely to Guna and Karma, then why is Arjuna worried about "Kula striyah" ? What does Krishna mean by Sthree, Vaishya and shudra being paapa-yonayah in 9:32 ? It would also lead to the question as to why Vidhura was not allowed to read the Vedas even though he was highly competent, had satvika guna, and was a minister by Karma.
I think Arjuna's worries and Vidura's treatment by society are not at the same level as Sri Krishna's sayings. Even then Arjuna's worries about kula-strIs can be understood through the worries about varNa samkaratA.
Regarding Chapter 9 shlokas 32, I read 'pApayoniH' not as an adjective as you have done but as a noun. In fact a anvaya+tranlation that I have has interpreted the word as a noun. In the next shloka Sri Krishna also talks about brahmanas and kshatryiyas. The overall import of shlokas 32,33 is that strIs, vaishyas, shudras, brahmanas, kshatriyas, and even the pApayoniH (people born in sin) are saved if they focus their attention towards God.
Shloka 33 doesn't say that it is any easier for brahmanas and kshatriyas to be saved than others. It says that it is easier for brahmanas who are 'puNyas' that is pious and kshtriyas who are like sages (rAjarShi), to be saved, not just any brahmanas and any kshatriyas. Duryodhana was a kshatriya, but wasn't really a rAjarShi!
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin--> My question though still remains. How does it matter in the complex world of today. How do we determine who we are by nature and by profession.? Is the Varna system applicable today? How? The world today is way too complex for a simplistic pre-industrial age Varna system classification.
Although your question is aimed to Sunder I will give an answer. Varna as traditionally interpreted does not have any relevance in today's world. Such a position will make a portion of the teaching of the Gita also irrelevant and thus undesirable. Gita is after all a universal text applicable for all of mankind and for all time. We need to search for a different interpretation in order to keep the entire teaching of Gita relevant. Is there any other interpretation of varna in our smritis? The answer is yes. The different interpretation is there in Mahabharata itself. I give below an alternative interpretation given in the Mahabharata itself:
The serpent said," O Yudhisthira, say - Who is a Brahmana and what should be
Yudhisthira 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 Yudhisthira, truth, charity, forgiveness, benevolence,
benighnity, 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 Sudra. 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
Yudhisthira said," Those characteristics that are present in a Sudra do not
exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in a Sudra.
AND A SUDRA IS NOT A SUDRA 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 Sudra in whom qualities
do not exist, even though he be a Brahmana by birth. And again, as for thy
assertion that the object be known (as asserted by me) doth not exist, because
nothing exists that is devoid of both (happiness and misery), such indeed is the
opinion, O serpent, that nothing exists that is without (them) both. But as in cold, heat
doth not exist, nor in heat, cold, so there can not exist an object in which both
(happiness and misery) can not exist?"
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."
Yudhisthira 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) begat 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 server may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore,
those that are wise have asserted that CHARACTER IS THE CHIEF ESSENTIAL
REQUISITE. .... WHATSOEVER NOW CONFORMS TO THE RULES OF PURE
AND VIRTOUS CONDUCT, HIM HAVE I, ERE NOW, DESIGNATED AS A
BRAHMANA." (Aranya Parva CLXXIX)
So you see that even during the time of Mahabharata, someone thought that varna
by birth into a jati is irrelevant. I will post a different interpretation of varna by Swami
I am posting here an alternate interpretation of varna that makes it relevant to the modern world. It has been given by Swami Tapasyananda who was a great scholar of the Ramakrishna order.
This interpretation makes more sense to me than the traditional interpretation.
According to the aptitudes resulting from the dispositions of Nature (Gunas)
and works, the social order of fourfold division (CHATURVARNYA) has been
created by Me. Though I am their originator, know Me to not an agent but the
spirit unchanging. (Gita 4.13)
Commentary by Swami Tapasyananda:
Caturvarnya or the social order of fourfold division is NOT the caste system,
which is a system of social grouping solely based on birth. Brahmana,
Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra, as conceived in the Vedas, is a division based
on the natural constitution of man arising from the dominance of Sattva,
Rajas, and Tamas, the constituents of Nature (Gunas), as also the duties
they are fit to perform according to aptitudes arising from their
constitution. They are mere <b>CHARACTER TYPES</b>. In this context, the reference
to chaturvarnya is meant not to single out any particular society, but to
generalize about the institution of society among men. Just as He is the
author of the order of nature, so is He the author of the order of society
among men also.
O great hero! The duties of Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, and also of
Sudras, have been divided according to the qualities born of their nature.
Commentary by Swami Tapasyananda:
A great doctrine of the social philosophy of ancient India, regarding the
foufold class system, is here propounded. There has been no doctrine so much
misapplied, misunderstood, and misrepresented as this doctrine. The four
Varnas of Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra are today and for a long time
past understood as four hereditary castes. But the Varnas as understood by the
best Indian thinkers, are not caste based on birth in particular groups, but
character types based on the domination of the Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika
elements entering into the constitution of their body-mind, and this is
determined by their evolution in their past lives. At least such is the Gita
view. To have identified character types with endogamous social groups is
nothing but an aberration. It is in regard to the fourfold class based on
character that the Lord says in 4.18 Caturvarnyam maya srstam - the order of
four classes is My creation. Here also he speaks of duties pertaining to them
as born of the constituents of Nature forming their body-mind.
These four character types are universal all over the world and the prosperity
of a society will depend on the man of the right nature and character being
put to the right type of duty. For the individuals also doing the duty that
is natural to his psycho-physical constitution is the way of higher evolution.
By being devoted to one's own natural duty, man attains to spiritual
competency. Now hear how devotion to one's own natural duty generates
Commentary by Swami Tapasyananda:
This great verse of the Gita links man's social duties with spiritual
discipline. By cultivating a special attitude towards work, work is turned
into worship, and the distance between the shrine room and the work-spot
disappears. This philosophy is based upon a fundamental faith that this world
and the progress of life in it are all under the guidance of Supreme
Intelligence, who is the master of it all, and whose will is expressed in all
its movements. If man has got this faith, man ceases to be self-centered. He
comes to view himself as a worker of God, and all that he does comes to be
done with a sense of dedication to Him. Such work, as accrues to one according
to one's nature and is done with a spirit of dedication, is called Svadharma,
one's natural duty. This outlook on one's work makes a man free from
corruption and negligence, and induces him to put his best effort into his
work. If an attitude of this type were accepted in a society as a whole, it
will be the best social philosophy, besides being a spiritual doctrine. It
will secure the social good as also bring about the individual's spiritual
A natural objection to this way of understanding chaturvarnya is that all
commentators understand the four Varnas as endogamous groups called castes,
and their natural duty (svadharma) of theirs as the profession that was
traditionally and scripturally alloted to those groups under the four
distinctive names. Such interpretations of the Gita were given at a time
when these endogamous caste groups were a recognized feature of Indian
society, and thinkers considered birth in a group as tantamount to character
type. The mistake of such identification was obvious to many thinkers of the
past. So some of them have made some kinds of amends for it by admitting that
if great disparity in quality is found in the actual quality of a Ksatriya
with the traditionally ascribed qualities, he can become a Brahmana. But all
rationality seems to have been neutralised by the very strong prejudice in
favour of endogamy.
What the Lord speaks of here as chaturvarnya should never be identified with
castes, because the Varna is said to be solely dependent on character formed
by the Gunas of Prakriti. It is only an ideal grouping based on psychological
principle and not on rigid hereditary basis.
Besides the Gita is a universal Gospel addressed to all mankind, for all
time, and not merely to the Indian society of a particular age. In no part
of the world except in India, caste system strictly based on birth seems to
have existed. Loose castes there have been but not rigid castes. So the old
commentators have done great injustice to Sri Krishna in watering down the
significance of his message as relevant only to members of the rigid Indian
The only practical way of applying the Gita teaching in this respect today is
to consider the duty to which one is called, as one's svadharma. Strictly
Svadharma is work according to one's nature. But until an ideal and efficient
social system comes into vogue, it may not be possible to give every one a
work for which he is suited by his character type. What could be done for
today, if one's duty is not according to one's nature, is to change it for
a more suitable one, considering the former as Paradharma, the duty of
another type of character. But today most men are found seeking not a duty
temperamentally suitable for them, but what will bring them maximun income.
When a duty is valued solely for the income it fetches, it ceases to be a
pursuit of a Dharma or spiritual value. Receiving remuneration for services
is unavoidable for man in the world, but what is unspiritual is to value
the work only for its remuneration, forgetting that the work he does is an
offering to God, irrespective of the remuneration he gets.
One's own duty, even if without excellence (i.e. inferior in the scale of
worldy values), is more meritorious spiritually than the apparently
well-performed duty of another. For no sin is incurred by one doing works
ordained according to one's nature, (that is, in consonance with one's own
Commentary by Swami Tapasyananda:
This verse, which was easy for our ancients to understand, pose great
difficulty for us today. So long as Varna was identifies with endogamous
caste, and valid texts ascribed particular works to each caste (18.41-45),
it was easy to find one's Svadharma. But, as already pointed out, the wording
of the Gita about Caturvanya, except as interpreted by old commentators, does
not by itself mean endogamous castes, but the four psychological types. If
this is accepted, Svadharma would mean only work that springs out of one's
nature and therefore adopted to one's natural development.
12-17-2005, 12:08 AM
(This post was last modified: 12-17-2005, 12:44 AM by Shaurya.)
Thank You Ganga Jal. Why do you think that the entire teachings of the Gita has to be made relevant for all time to come. Did not Bhagwan speak with a particular context. Is it not true that in many verses the context and universal principles inter twine and it is our job to understand which of these are universal and which are not?
[quote=Ashok Kumar,Dec 16 2005, 11:00 PM]
[QUOTE]I think Arjuna's worries and Vidura's treatment by society are not at the same level as Sri Krishna's sayings. Even then Arjuna's worries about kula-strIs can be understood through the worries about varNa samkaratA.[/QUOTE]
Yes, no one reads the Gita to read Arjuna's opinions. Gita is read to read Krishna's teachings.
[QUOTE]Regarding Chapter 9 shlokas 32, I read 'pApayoniH' not as an adjective as you have done but as a noun. In fact a anvaya+tranlation that I have has interpreted the word as a noun. In the next shloka Sri Krishna also talks about brahmanas and kshatryiyas. The overall import of shlokas 32,33 is that strIs, vaishyas, shudras, brahmanas, kshatriyas, and even the pApayoniH (people born in sin) are saved if they focus their attention towards God.
Shloka 33 doesn't say that it is any easier for brahmanas and kshatriyas to be saved than others. It says that it is easier for brahmanas who are 'puNyas' that is pious and kshtriyas who are like sages (rAjarShi), to be saved, not just any brahmanas and any kshatriyas. Duryodhana was a kshatriya, but wasn't really a rAjarShi![/QUOTE]
The word Papayoni in Gita 9.32 can not be taken literally as born in sin. After all Gita 9.32 says:
O son of Pritha! Taking refuge in Me, women, Vaishyas, Sudras, and likewise
even papayoni (men born in sin) , attain to the highest spiritual goal. (Gita 9.32)
How can anyone put half of mankind, women, in the same status as papayoni if papayoni is taken literally to mean "men born in sin"? This just doesn't make any sense. The context suggests that
the word papayoni means, "socially handicapped". So what Gita is saying here is that even people who are socially handicapped will attain the highest goal. This is Krishna's answer to Arjuna's statement early in the Gita about women being corrupted and varnashankar occuring. Krishna knew that Arjuna looked down upon women as socially inferior.
This interpretation also jives in with what Gita says next:
Then how much more so in the case of holy Brahmanas and also of devoted royal
sages! Having come into this imparmanent and unhappy world, engage yourself in My
worship. (Gita 9.33)
Krishna knows that Arjuna looks up to Brahmanas and royal sages. So what Krishna is saying
in these two verses is that social background is NOT an obstacle to God realization. There is another question here. If varna is through conduct then why is Krishna talking about holy Brahmanas. The answer is that Krishna has not yet defined the terms Brahmana etc (he will define in chapter 18) and he is using these examples (women, vaishya, holy Brahmanas, Royal sages) to show that social background is NOT an obstacle to God realization.
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->I think Arjuna's worries and Vidura's treatment by society are not at the same level as Sri Krishna's sayings. Even then Arjuna's worries about kula-strIs can be understood through the worries about varNa samkaratA.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Ashok, while I definitely agree that Bhagavaan's sayings are at a different level than Social treatments and Arjuna's worries, you will have to admit that they are not entirely disconnected. For Bhagavaan is addressing those who are already entrapped in the daily worries and social treatments to get out of their present state into a higher state. That being said, your understanding of Varna-Samkara (i.e. based on Guna and Karma) would not fit into Arjuna's worries. His very cause of worry is, if the battle takes place, there is going to be a decimation of Kshatriyas (present in the battle,) the wives of these warriors will be widowed and that may cause Varna Samkara.
If it was purely Karma and Guna that dictates a varna, why was Vidura classified a Shudra (even though born of Vyasa - the compiler of Vedas) and why did Krishna not object to him being called a shudra and hence prevented from access to Vedas? Sukha on the other hand, born of Vyasa, was able to access the vedas.
I sincerely would like to believe birth does not dictate varna. This is healthy for the modern society too. Till a year ago I too was of the same opinion of guna-karma-vibhagaa. But Apasudradhikaranam and other pramanas from Acharyas have made me rethink the modern stance. I am not holding on to a position, but am definitely in quest of why and whence this whole 'jati' came in to the picture.
Gangajal, nice examples from the mahAbhArata!
I think we are basically in agreement regarding the interpretation of pApayoniH, that it doesn't refer to women, vaishyas and shudras as an adjective, but is a separate noun by itself.
We still need to answer Shaurya's questions about the relevance of varNa system/concept in the present times. Many may think that the concept has value even in present times, especially if varNa is not based on birth but on attributes and actions. But the system, i.e. designating people explicitely as brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas etc may not be as relevant. The system would have relevancy if it specified separate rights and duties for each class. But most modern political systems don't do that.
<!--QuoteBegin-Shaurya+Dec 17 2005, 12:08 AM-->QUOTE(Shaurya @ Dec 17 2005, 12:08 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->Thank You Ganga Jal. Why do you think that the entire teaching of the Gita has be made relevant for all time to come. Did not Bhagwan speak with a particular context. Is it not true the in many verses the Context and universal principles inter twine and it is our job to understand which of these are universal and which are not?
The first step in the interpretation of any scripture is to see if there is any way to make it universally relevant and make it relevant for all times. If you can't find any such interpretation then you have to do what you have suggested, to separate the eternal principles from the context. Gita, at least the part that Krishna says, seems to me to be relevant for all times to come. There are pieces of the Gita where Arjuna speaks that are clearly dated and not relevant for us. I realize that others may not agree with my opinion.
Sunder, valid points.
Lets expolore jAti, varNa and guNa-karma matrix a bit more.
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->We still need to answer Shaurya's questions about the relevance of varNa system/concept in the present times.Â Many may think that the concept has value even in present times, especially if varNa is not based on birth but on attributes and actions.Â But the system, i.e. designating people explicitely as brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas etc may not be as relevant.Â The system would have relevancy if it specified separate rights and duties for each class.Â But most modern political systems don't do that.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
You are right. Today it does not make any sense to explicitly designate a person as a Brahmana.
That does not make the varna idea outdated. Remeber that Gita defines Brahmana as a person
with Sattva Guna. Hindu society actually went astray in officially designating people Brahmana,
Kshatriya etc. Today we have to look at the whole varna teaching as a means for us, individuals,
to decide what we should do. Ideally, Gita is telling us that we should seek to do what is in tune
with our swadharma. Strictly Svadharma is work according to one's nature. If one's duty is not according to one's nature, it is better to change it, at least according to the Gita. for a more suitable one, considering the former as Paradharma, the duty of another type of character.
Today the exact opposite thing happens. Most people are found seeking not a duty
temperamentally suitable for them, but what will bring them maximun income.
When a duty is valued solely for the income it fetches, it ceases to be a
pursuit of a Dharma or spiritual value. Receiving remuneration for services
is unavoidable for man in the world, but what is unspiritual is to value
the work only for its remuneration, forgetting that the work he does is an
offering to God, irrespective of the remuneration he gets. Given this situation all one can do
now is to practice the varna teaching for one self.
What do I mean? Let me give an example. Suppose someone offers me a job with a much larger income than my present one. According to secular or wordly dharma I should immediately jump and take the offer. According to Varna teaching I should take a look at my inner nature and see if the job suits my inner nature. As a result I might decline the offer. The secular world might well consider me to be a fool but I might end up happier because that job did not suit my nature. It is in this respect that Gita's varna teaching is still relevant.
How can one classify a profession to a varna though ? Computer programming is brahmana or vaishya ?
<!--QuoteBegin-rajesh_g+Dec 17 2005, 01:17 AM-->QUOTE(rajesh_g @ Dec 17 2005, 01:17 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->How can one classify a profession to a varna though ? Computer programming is brahmana or vaishya ?
I am not sure about it, but here is my take.
Although the word 'Brahmana' does not apply anywhere in software engineering, this is just in jest.
Brahmana - Research and Development. Innovation.
Kshatriya - Security and Admin.
Vaishya - eCommerce.
Shudra - Service and BPO.
12-17-2005, 01:56 AM
(This post was last modified: 12-17-2005, 02:24 AM by Sunder.)
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->A SUDRA IS NOT A SUDRA BY BIRTH ALONE - NOR A BRAHMANA IS BRAHMANA BY BIRTH ALONE.
And people term him a Sudra in whom qualities do not exist, <b>even though he be a Brahmana by birth</b>.
CHARACTER IS THE CHIEF ESSENTIAL REQUISITE. WHATSOEVER NOW CONFORMS TO THE RULES OF PURE AND VIRTOUS CONDUCT, HIM HAVE I, ERE NOW, DESIGNATED AS A BRAHMANA." (Aranya Parva CLXXIX)<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Gangajal ji, I am in agreement with the above. The quotes above (relevant sections taken) shows that Varna still is dictated by birth. But it shows no one is superior or inferior by birth. The keyword "BY BIRTH ALONE" would not be relevant at all if Varna was purely guna/karma oriented. The qualification 'even though a Brahmana by birth' would be meaningless if there is no Jaati.
Like Swami Paramarthananda says. There are three classifications. Guna, Karma, and Jaati.
One can be a Janma Brahmana, Karma Kshatriya, and Guna Vaishya. There is no higher or lower based on Janma (i.e. Janma Brahmana is not higher than Janma Shudra), Karma too cannot differentiate (Karma Kshatriya is not higher or lower than Karma Vaishya as each one is doing only a specific duty.) But GUNA Brahmana is *definitely* higher than a Guna Kshatriya, who is higher than a Guna Vaishna, who is higher than a Guna Shudra.
He goes on to expand each quality in a 45 minute speech (available in two audio .RM files.) the public link on Yogamalika is gone as it it not archived anymore. I can send the rm files if interested.
Once again, let me reiterate my interpretation:
1) There IS a component of Varna dictated by Jaati. (Donât know when this started, but it is there.)
2) There is no high or low in the Varna based on Janma and Karma.
3) There is no limitation for any Varna to attain Liberation. Any and every Varna can attain Paragathih.
4) There has to be a demarkation when talking Paramarthika/Advaita, and when talking about Karma/Social issues. This line in Sanathana Dharma is very thin.
PS: Thanks to you and Ashok ji I am now convinced that papayonayah is a noun rather than an adjective. (I do not have my Sankara Bhashyam with me now, as I lent it to a friend.) Anyone able to post Shankara's interpretation of 9:32 ?