Thursday, November 20, 2014

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth : III

After negating the soul, the physical body, birth ( caste), karma and dharma as being causes of Brahmin-hood, the Upanishads explains who is a Brahmin.

तर्हि को वा ब्रह्मणो नाम । 

Who indeed then bears the name ( designation) of Brahmin ? 

यः कश्चिदात्मानमद्वितीयं जातिगुणक्रियाहीनं षडूर्मिषड्भावेत्यादिसर्वदोषरहितं सत्यज्ञानानन्दानन्तस्वरूपं
स्वयं निर्विकल्पमशेषकल्पाधारमशेषभूतान्तर्यामित्वेन 

अनुभवैकवेद्यमपरोक्षतया भासमानं करतळामलकवत्साक्षादपरोक्षीकृत्य
कृतार्थतया कामरागादिदोषरहितः शमदमादिसंपन्नो भाव मात्सर्य
तृष्णा आशा मोहादिरहितो दम्भाहङ्कारदिभिरसंस्पृष्टचेता वर्तत
एवमुक्तलक्षणो यः स एव ब्राह्मणेति शृतिस्मृतीतिहासपुराणाभ्यामभिप्रायः 

अन्यथा हि ब्राह्मणत्वसिद्धिर्नास्त्येव ।
सच्चिदानान्दमात्मानमद्वितीयं ब्रह्म भावयेदित्युपनिषत् ॥

॥ इति वज्रसूच्युपनिषत्समाप्ता ॥
He who succeeds in perceiving directly the self without a second like an amalaka (gooseberry) fruit in the palm of his hand, who is devoid of (the distinction) of caste, gunas ( or trait) and action,
(who is devoid of ) all the faults such as the six imperfections (old age, death, sorrow, delusion, hunger and thirst) and the six states of being ( birth, existence, growth, transformation, waning  and perishing), (who is) of the nature of satya-gnana-anandha-anantha (truth, knowledge, bliss and infinity), who is independent (or self existent) , without determinations ( nir-vikalpa), but the base for infinite determination, (who) exists in all as the indwelling spirit, (who) is within and without of all like the akash (ether),  (who is ) of the nature of indivisible bliss, immeasurable, known only through ones direct experience, (who ) manifests himself directly as truth, (who) has successfully overcome such imperfections as desire and passion, (who is ) filled with the riches of tranquility, (who ) has eliminated from his being such states as envy, greed and infatuation, (who)  lives unaffected by such things as ostentation and egoism - these aforesaid qualities make up a Brahmin.

This is the opinion expressed by all the srutis (Vedas), smritis (religious books), Puranas (ancient lore) and the Ithihasas (historical works). There is no other way to attain Brahmin-hood. Meditate upon Brahman, the inmost Self, who is of the nature of truth, consciousness and bliss and who is without a second. Meditate upon Brahman, the very Self, who is without a second. 

This is the Upanishad.

There are two main inferences of this Upanishad.

i) The first one is this - that it is not birth or circumstance which decides 'Brahmin-hood'. It is true that here are socio-economic differences between people that arise because of one's birth. Birth and context may hinder somebody from achieving a exalted social or economic status. But the Vedas clearly explain that the attainment of the exalted status of Brahmin-hood from a spiritual perspective is not dependent on any of this. Nobody is a Brahmin by birth ( and by extension , no one is born into a Varna). One becomes a Brahmin and anybody can. To claim 'spiritual' superiority based on birth is the most 'anti -vedic' thing a person can do. It is akin to calling the world (உலகம் / ஜகம் ) false or an illusion and in the same breath ,calling oneself the guru of the world (லோககுரு / ஜகத்குரு) - completely contradictory. 

That there is no difference based on birth was so clearly stated by Poet Tiruvalluvar , who said 

பிறப்பொக்கும்  எல்லா  உயிர்க்கும்  சிறப்பொவ்வா
செய்தொழில்  வேற்றுமை  யான் ( 972) 

All beings are born equal ( as one), diversities of work gives each his special worth. 

ii) The second one is that it is difficult to see how one can easily claim to be a Brahmin. One cannot claim or be certified as a 'Brahmin' in the true sense either by one's parents or by the State's Registration Department. Such a certificate is a mere caste or community certificate - not a certificate of one's Varna. From a strictly spiritual perspective, such a claim or certificate is at best spurious. The only true 'certificate' of brahmin-hood, can obviously be 'issued' by a fully realized soul / or by the Almighty ! So, how does one get to know this ? Whether one is a realized one of not , or one's inner experience of bliss, truth and tranquility can be known only to oneself and the Almighty !. But, a realized  soul experiencing God's grace or a true Brahmin can give only what he has - and will hence naturally be gracious to all beings. So, anybody who discriminates against another person, looks down on others, has greed, ego or hatred can never be a Brahmin that the Vedas extol. And this is so easy to observe. As Saint Poet Tiruvalluvar said 

அந்தணர்  என்போர்  அறவோர் மற் றெவ்வுயிர்க்கும்
செந்தண்மை  பூண்டொழு க லான். (30)

The Anthanar(s) are they who are truly virtuous ; because in their conduct towards all creatures they are clothed in graciousness. 

It is not that I am the first person to pull this Upanishad and present. A great many have possibly read it.  Several great people have time and again quoted / quoted from this Upanishad. And yet the myth of being a Brahmin by birth continues to be perpetuated and believed. 

It can  only be so either because these people who claim or believe to be Brahmins by birth 
i) Are ignorant or in some kind of delusion , in which case we can only pity them or let them continue to live in that state ....அம்மட்டில்  அவர்  மகிழ்க  !
and / or 
ii) Are desirous of using other's ignorance , in which case, we can only arm ourselves with knowledge and handle them.

We will also need to understand the true meaning of becoming a Dvija ( or a twice-born) , the Brahmopadesa , the wearing of the sacred thread or yagnobaveetham etc, about the authority to conduct worship in temples etc...and all these directly from the scriptures...

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth - II

The Vajra Suchika Upanishad : There are minor variations in the texts, but there is no significant difference in the meaning. I have used that the text that has been published the Ramakrishna Mutt. This appears as the 38th in the list of 108 Upanishads.

We will look at the Upanishad. After the customary salutations  to the Preceptor, and wishing peace all around, it begins thus : 

ॐ वज्रसूचीं प्रवक्ष्यामि शास्त्रमज्ञानभेदनम् ।
दूषणं ज्ञानहीनानां भूषणं ज्ञानचक्षुषाम् ॥ १ ॥

Meaning : Om ! I shall expound the Vajra Suchi — the 'diamond needle' doctrine which destroys ignorance, condemns those who are devoid of the knowledge (of Brahman) and exalts those endowed with enlightenment. 

ब्राह्मक्षत्रियवैष्यशूद्रा इति चत्वारो वर्णास्तेषां वर्णानां ब्राह्मण एव प्रधान इति वेदवचनानुरूपं स्मृतिभिरप्युक्तम् ।

Meaning : Brahmin (Brahmana) , Kshatriya , Vaishya and Shudras  — these are the four varnas. That the Brahmin is the chief among these classes is in accord with the Vedic texts and is affirmed by the Smrtis.

तत्र चोद्यमस्ति को वा ब्राह्मणो नाम किं जीवः किं देहः किं जातिः किं ज्ञानं किं कर्म किं धार्मिक इति ॥

Meaning : In this regard, an inquiry is made . Who is this whom we refer by the name Brahmana? Is he the Jiva (soul) ? Is he (so because of ) the physical body? Is he (so based on) his jati ( or caste - i.e., based on one's birth) ? Is he (so because of the possession of) the wisdom? Is he (so because of) the actions he undertakes? Is he (so because of the performance of) the dharma (religious/meritorius rites) ?

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on the Jiva or the Soul

तत्र प्रथमो जीवो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । अतीतानागतानेकदेहानां  जीवस्यैकरूपत्वात्  एकस्यापि कर्मवशादनेकदेहसंभवात् सर्वशरीराणां जीवस्यैकरूपत्वाच्च ।
तस्मात् न जीवो ब्राह्मण इति ॥
अतीतानागतानेकदेहानां जीवस्यैकरूपत्वात् एकस्यापि कर्मवशादनेकदेहसंभवात् सर्वशरीराणां
जीवस्यैकरूपत्वाच्च । तस्मात् न जीवो ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Of these, the first premise that Brahmana is jiva is  not tenable because the  jiva remains the same in the bodies that it entered in previous lives and future lives.Although it is one, based on the impact (fruit) of its actions, the Jiva attains numerous bodies ( in different births). Therefore, a Brahmana is not on account of the Jiva. 

Notes : This argument is based on the following principles / dogmas : 
  • That the soul is immortal, immutable and changeless
  • That souls obtain/ enter the bodies based on the fruits of their karma - or deeds, and hence there life and rebirth after death. 
These are the key principles of accepted by all religions / schools of thought that accept the Vedas.

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on the physical body

तर्हि देहो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
आचाण्डालादिपर्यन्तानां मनुष्याणां पञ्चभौतिकत्वेन देहस्यैकरूपत्वात्

जरामरणधर्माधर्मादिसाम्यदर्शनत् ब्राह्मणः श्वेतवर्णः क्षत्रियो
रक्तवर्णो वैश्यः पीतवर्णः शूद्रः कृष्णवर्णः इति नियमाभावात् ।
पित्रादिशरीरदहने पुत्रादीनां ब्रह्महत्यादिदोषसंभवाच्च ।
तस्मात् न देहो ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then (coming to the statement) that the body is Brahmana, this also is not acceptable. Right down to the Chandalas -  (the lowest of the human class) , the bodies of all human beings is composed of the self same five elements (the earth, the water, the fire, the air and the ether / space), are in the same form and are subject to the same processes of old age and death, good and evil. One cannot also generalize that the Brahmanas have white (fair) complexion, the Kshatriyas red complexion, the Vaishyas brown complexion and the Sudras dark complexion, (because these colors are not uniform among these classes and there is no such stipulation of colours ). Further when a son cremates the body of his dead 'brahmin' father, he is not afflicted by the Brahma-haththi dosha (the sin of killing a Brahmin). Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of the body.

Notes : 
This clarifies that the word Varna - does not mean Colour. 
The Brahma-haththi dosha ( or Brahmana-hatya dosha) is one of the most dreaded sins listed in the scriptures - listed as one of the pancha- ma- papas ( or five grave sins). 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based on caste

तर्हि जाति ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
तत्र जात्यन्तरजन्तुष्वनेकजातिसंभवात्  महर्षयो  बहवः  सन्ति ।
ऋष्यशृङ्गो मृग्याः,कौशिकः कुशात्,जाम्बूको जाम्बूकात्,वाल्मीको वाल्मीकात्,व्यासः कैवर्तकन्यकायाम्,शशपृष्ठात् गौतमः, वसिष्ठ उर्वश्याम्,अगस्त्यः कलशे जात इति शृतत्वात् ।
एतेषां जात्या विनाप्यग्रे ज्ञानप्रतिपादिता ऋषयो बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात्  न जाति ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then it is said that a Brahmana is so because of his  Jati (Caste). This is not acceptable because several Maharishis have come from different communities and even from non-humans. 

We have heard that  Rishyasringa was born of a deer, Kaushika of the Kusa grass, Jambuka from a Jackal, Valkimi from an ant hill, Vyasa from a fisher girl, Gautama from the back of a hare, Vashista from the celestial nymph Urvasi, Agastya from an vessel. (Among these) many have attained enlightenment of the highest rank, despite of their lower birth (or even without being born and given proof of their wisdom. Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of his community.

This verse nails the issue - clearly differentiating Varna from Jati. Jati - which has 'Ja' as its root syllable is used to indicate birth/ emergence. For instance, Ambuja - is that which is born from water ( Appu), and refers to the Lotus. The word Jati hence refers to the clan / linage from which one is born - and has little to do with his Varna. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is by spiritual knowledge

तर्हि ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
क्षत्रियादयोऽपि परमार्थदर्शिनोऽभिज्ञा बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात् न ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति ॥

The argument that knowledge makes a Brahmana is also not acceptable. Because, amongst Kshatriyas and others, there have been many who have  have seen ( realized) the Supreme Reality and attained wisdom. Therefore knowledge does not determine Brahmin-hood.

The implication is that spiritual knowledge is not a preserve of  any one group of people. People who were (originally) from different varnas , have attained realization. King Janaka , Viswamitra ( who is credited to have revealed the famous Gayatri mantra)  were realized sages who were originally Kshatriyas. Rigveda Rishi Bhalandana was a Vaishya. Rishi Matanga was born of Vaishya father and a Sudhra mother. This argument is, in a way, an extension of the previous verse. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is by his deeds

तर्हि कर्म ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
सर्वेषां प्राणिनां प्रारब्धसञ्चितागामिकर्मसाधर्म्यदर्शनात्कर्माभिप्रेरिताः सन्तो जनाः क्रियाः कुर्वन्तीति ।

तस्मात् न कर्म ब्राह्मण इति ॥

That karma (actions) make a Brahmana is not acceptable because we see the existence of prarabdha sanchita and agamiya karma in all beings. Impelled by their past karma (effects of previous karma) only all the saintly people perform their deeds. Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of (present) karma.

Note : 
The performance of karma ( or rituals) does not form basis of Brahmin-hood. There are three types of karma , Sanchita ( that part of the fruits of action that remains to be experienced by the soul), Prarabdha ( that part of the fruits of action that a soul experiences in the current birth) and Aagamiya ( that part of fruits of action that a soul gain, as it lives its current life). The mere fact that a soul comes with a body evidences that it has both Sanchita and Prarabdha - for a soul needs a body to experience its karma. 

Negating that Brahmin-hood is based (his) dharma

तर्हि धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न ।
क्षत्रियादयो हिरण्यदातारो बहवः सन्ति ।
तस्मात् न धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति ॥

Then it is also not true that on performance of dharma (religious or meritorious duty / activity) also does not make one a Brahmin. There are many Kshatriyas  and others ( Vaishyas , Shudras ) who have given away gold as charity ( to Brahmins ) . Therefore Brahmin-hood is not on account of dharma.

To sum up hence, Brahmin-hood is not because of the soul or the physical body or the jati (by birth or caste), or wisdom, or karma or dharma. If these do not make one a Brahmin, the logical question that the Upanishad has to answer is ' Who is a Brahmin ?'. In my next post, we will see how the Upanishad defines one. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The myth of being a Brahmin by birth : I

One of the myths that has been perpetuated for centuries in this country is that some people are born 'spiritually' special - and are hence superior to the others - who were born to serve them in various ways. These people claim (probably believe) and other people have tended to believe that this claim to superiority by birth is enshrined in the Vedas - the most revered scriptures of a large number of people in India. They claim to be the Brahmins (not to be confused with Brahman, a word used commonly to denote the 'Supreme') that Vedas speak about and that they are endowed with this 'Brahmin'-hood by birth. 

For ages, although they revered it, not many people in the country have read the Vedas and even among them, a larger number are more conversant with the Samhita (or recitations in praise) and the portions dealing with the rituals than with the Upanishads. There are three reasons for this -
i)  access to learning the Vedas is restricted strictly. Probably to preserve this myth of 'superiority' at birth, the learning of the Vedas has over time been made an exclusive preserve of a few - who called themselves Brahmins. It was said that ' if a 'Sudhra' hears the Vedas intentionally then (molten) lead has to be poured into his ears !!!
ii) a large focus is on memorizing and recitation than on understanding and
iii) the language is esoteric and interpretations hence difficult

It is only in the relatively recent past when the texts were translated and published (they were earlier passed on from one generation to another by recitation of what was committed to memory), that the texts have became accessible to all. The spread of education, awareness and socio-economic changes in the county post independence, have dented to an extent the superiority that this group of people enjoyed - but they nevertheless, the 'superior' status in the 'spiritual' arena remains significant.

Given the benefits that the claim to Brahmin-hood by birth entailed - in the spiritual space, we need to consider two issues. And they are
i)  Do the Vedas accord such a superior status of 'Brahmin'-hood on a person, by birth and
ii) Who is a Brahmin ?

In resolving a question, three kinds or proofs or pramanas (அளவை ) are brought in. They are pratyaksha pramana - those that are obvious to the senses (காட்சி  அளவை ), anumana pramana - those that can be logically deduced (கருதல் அளவை ), and agama pramana - those that are drawn from scriptures / sacred texts and from words of the enlightened ones (நூல் அளவை). The general principle of any argument is that one uses the same method of pramana or proof that the opponent uses to counter the argument. In this case, as people who claim the superior status of Brahmin-hood by birth , use the agama pramana - arguing that their claim to superiority by birth is enshrined in the Vedas, we will use the same pramana or proof to examine their position. 

The most important pramana that is adduced by the proponents of the 'brahmin-hood by mere birth' is the Purusha-sukta - verse 11, 12 ( 12, 13 in some versions)

यत्पुरुषं व्यदधुः कतिधा व्यकल्पयन् ।
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते ॥११॥
Yat-Purussam Vya[i-A]dadhuh Katidhaa Vya[i-A]kalpayan |
Mukham Kimasya Kau Baahuu Kaa Uuruu Paadaa Ucyete ||11||
11.1: What did the Purusha (i.e. Virat) hold within Him? How many parts were assigned in His Huge Form?
11.2: What was His MouthWhat was His ArmsWhat was His Thighs? And what was His Feet?

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः ।
ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२॥
Braahmanno-Asya Mukham-Aasiid Baahuu Raajanyah Krtah |
Uuruu Tad-Asya Yad-Vaishyah Padbhyaam Shuudro Ajaayata ||12||
Meaning:12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms,12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and from His pair of Feet were born the Shudras.

The premise hence is that as Brahmanas ( Brahmins) came from the head, they are superior to the others - the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras who came from the 'lower' part of the body.  That this is not a valid pramana, comes from the subsequent verses of the Purusha-sukta itself.

चन्द्रमा मनसो जातश्चक्षोः सूर्यो अजायत ।
मुखादिन्द्रश्चाग्निश्च प्राणाद्वायुरजायत ॥१३॥

Candramaa Manaso Jaatash-Cakssoh Suuryo Ajaayata |
Mukhaad-Indrash-Ca-Agnish-Ca Praannaad-Vaayur-Ajaayata ||13|| 

13.1: The Moon was born from His Mind and the Sun was born from His Eyes,
13.2: Indra and Agni (Fire) were born from His Mouth, and Vayu (Wind) was born from His Breath.

नाभ्या आसीदन्तरिक्षं शीर्ष्णो द्यौः समवर्तत ।
पद्भ्यां भूमिर्दिशः श्रोत्रात्तथा लोकाँ अकल्पयन् ॥१४॥

Naabhyaa Aasiid-Antarikssam Shiirssnno Dyauh Samavartata |
Padbhyaam Bhuumir-Dishah Shrotraat-Tathaa Lokaa Akalpayan ||14||
14.1: His Navel became the Antariksha (the intermediate Space between Heaven and Earth), His 
Head sustained the Heaven,
14.2: From His Feet the Earth , and from His Ears the Directions; in this manner all theWorlds were regulated by Him.

Obviously hence, the verses refer to the cosmic being and the position of the body from which they 'emanate' does not in any way make them inferior or superior. Attributing such inferiority or superiority to parts of the Cosmic being is stupid. Such an interpretation can be made only by people who cannot discern truth (உண்மை ) from attributed praise or flattery (உபச்சாரம் / ஏற்றுரை). If the position from which they emanate be in-fact true - then verse 14 says that  Earth that came from the feet the verse 12 says the Sudhras also came from the feet , does it then mean that all inhabitants of the Earth are Sudras ?  But more importantly, there is no mention here that the Brahmin-hood is by birth. 

The other proof that is adduced in support of the argument is the Smritis. We however do not accept or agree with the Smritis for this reason : The Smritis can never be superior proof to the Sruthis or the Vedas. When the question is handled by the Vedas themselves, there is no need to bring in Smritis as proof. There are other reasons for not accepting Smriti - particularly the Manu Smriti, but that is not relevant in this context. 

The four Vedas run through several chapters and some verses may appear contradictory to the others, particularly if they are conveniently torn out of context .So while the Vedas are held as Swapramana (being its own proof), these apparent contradictions are resolved by evaluating how strong the proof or pramana is and a relatively stronger proof is considered more acceptable.Philosophers have a simple guidelines for using the Vedas as a 'pramana' or proof . The guideline are : 

a) Of the four parts of the Vedas ( some call it two parts), the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishads - the last part or the end part ( anth - part) is the part which deals with 'wisdom', and the this anth part, called the Vedantha is held as a stronger pramana than the other parts. 

b) There are several Upanishads, at the end part of each of the four Vedas. There are 108 Upanishads listed on Muktika Upanishad. Some are considered major Upanishads and some minor. Each Upanishad deals with the one or two philosophical questions. For example, the Svetasvatara Upanishad ponders over the questions like  ' Is Brahman the cause (of the world) ? Whence are we born? By what do we live? Where do we dwell at the end? Please tell us, O ye who know Brahman, under whose guidance we abide etc.  The Katha Upanishad ponders over the question of what happens after death....etc. The guideline is that, the Upanishad that deals about a particular question specifically is a stronger pramana than other Upanishads where the question is touched in passing. 

Both these guidelines will appear to be unbiased and fair to anybody seeking such a view. 

The question of who is a Brahmin is dealt in the Vajra Suchika Upanishad. This is the only known Upanishad that deals with this question specifically and in great detail and is logically the strongest pramana or proof in handling this question. The Upanishad is a part of the Sama Veda. It is also one of the 108 Upanishads that is listed in the Muktika Upanishad. Although not among the ten Mukhya Upanishads translated by scholars of yore, it is one of the 18 Principal Upanishads that has been translated and commented on by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Vajra - means diamond/ thunderbolt and Suchi - means needle, indicating that the Upanishad is akin to thunderbolt or a needle in piercing (and removing) ignorance. And it starts handling the question :
Who is this whom we refer by the name Brahmana? 
Is he (the subtle body known as) Jiva ? 
Is he the physical body? 
Is he (the descendent of) the community to which he belongs? 
Is he (the possessor of) the knowledge? 
Is he (the doer of) the actions he undertakes? 
Is he the practioner of Dharma ?

It goes about negating all of the above and finally establishing who a Brahmin is. The entire Upanishad merits consideration - and I will do it in my next post.