Thursday, November 20, 2014

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. 

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