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Re: VarnAshrama DharmA

From: Greg Jay (gregjay_at_poi.net)
Date: Sun Jan 25 1998 - 04:08:55 PST

>     Adiyen has pledged not to enter any types of discussions which even
>remotely leads to vadakalai vs thengalai.

I don't see why these so-called different views cannot be discussed. I have
studied and discussed these things with both sides and I am convinced that
if they sat down and discussed the differences they would find out just how
close their positions on most issues are. Instead, this last year in Sri
Rangam, we studied with a Vadakalai teacher who insisted that our Tenkalai
teacher hated Desika, even though the man often quoted Desika's words with
respect to us in his classes. There was a similar misunderstanding by our
Tengalai teacher about the Vadakalai man.

I am not saying that there are no irreconcilable differences, just that a
proper presentation of each side would be enlightening. Even if it only
leads to the agreement to disagree. After all "Ramanuja's system of
Visistadvaita recognizes the claims of both faith and reason and aims  at
harmonizing or reconciling them by admitting a free play of reason not only
on the data of sense-perception and inference, but also on the spiritual
intuition or anubhava of the great seers and the doctrines or views
recorded in the scriptures." Page 1 The Philosophy of Visistadvaita by P.N.
Srinivasachari.

>    But Adiyen would like to clarify little bit about VarnAshrama DharmA .
>  as long as a jIvAtmA is in a particular body , he is bound by
>it . The body which is obtained through past karmA ( destines the
>type of birth) poses many restrictions to the jIvAtmA (most of the things
>are not visible to naked eyes) .

Once again I see someone trying to say that Biology is destiny. I agree
that one gets this body because of past karmas. However does that equate to
one acting in a particular varna based solely on birth alone. Surely the
story in the Upanisads of Satya Kama Jabala shows clearly that the boy was
considered a Brahmin due to his quality of Satya or truthfulness. And as
such admitted to the Gurukula, and what is studied in Gurukulas?,
Vedadhyayana, right. Similarly Lord Krishna in the Gita describes
Varnashrama in terms of Guna Karma, not Janma. Also later in the 18th
chapter He describes each varna in terms of their occupations and qualities.

In ancient times even in Europe, the son of a cowherd usually became a
cowherd, and a King's son became a King. However I have seen innumberable
examples of persons in India (and elsewhere) born in "High Caste/Class"
families who have given up the qualities and activities of their birth
castes/classes and have taken to the ways of other castes/classes. And vice
versa.

Please tell me to which caste someone belongs if his or her parents are
Brahmins by birth from India but they are born and raised in America, and
act for all intensive purposes just like regular Americans (watching TV,
eating at Macdonalds, dating, etc.)?

Even if by good upbringing and careful attention by their parents they are
educated in the scriptures, have the samskaras performed, and read the
labels on all the food they eat (a thing which invariablely NRI's forget to
do) to make sure they don't take things with eggs in them or drink the milk
with Vitamin D (fish oil) in it, how many generations do you think they can
continue to remain pure of body in such a society without the determination
of spiritual and moral conviction?

And guess what?, that society is fast coming to India so you don't even
have to go to America any more to become "degraded",  you can do it in your
own country.

The moral behind this is that the real thing that is important is the
qualities of a Vaisnava, not what kind of birth he/she may have taken.  I
would like to be judged on my merits and demerits, by my actions and not by
those of my ancestors. Even today we see many Vaisnavas obsessed with
making sure they receive the Temple Honors awarded to their ancestors
whether or not they themselves continue to fully uphold their ancestors
standards (Of course very many do, and are a wonderful credit to their
illustrious families.)  It's up to each and every one of us, at ever
moment, to choose the type of life we lead.

Actually come to think of it I can count on one hand the number of Sri
Vaisnavas that I know who haven't lost their so-called high caste by birth
status due to any number of small rules and regulations. Who has, no family
members who have not lost caste due to crossing the oceans, eating Videshi
vegetables, biting their food, or drinking Coffee (Videshi) or using
Chilis (Videshi) or taking bath from a pipe instead of a tank or river, or
taking to computer programming or becoming lawyers or servants of others
when they should be studying and teaching the vedas, etc. It is commendable
that some persons are still following all these prescriptions however I
think that none of these things in and of itself seems very relevant to the
determination of Varna today.

The obsession with birth (Varna=Color ?) in India extends even beyond the
idea of particular families. Even if born in a good family skin color can
mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Why else the
obsession with "fairness cream", "face powder", "fair groom", "fair bride",
etc. Surely in Vaisnavism we are trying to get away from such petty
identification with bodily/birth features such as skin color, etc.

Unfortunately in India the quest for "bodily/birth" purity doesn't extend
to the environment. Although people bathe many times a day, as a rule even
the Brahmin neighbourhoods are filthy, and people even feel the need to
answer the calls of nature in the ground of temples. (Yes, I'm talking
about East Uttara St. right by the temple wall in Sri Rangam, I have a
house there.) (And they call themselves Brahmins!)

Varnashrama dharma is a social system which works when people perform their
duties based on their real natures. (Oh and it's a system where the state
is ruled by a Rajarshi or Saintly King, so I guess that leaves India out of
the running, nowadays.)

Our karma is unfolding not just at our time of birth but continues to
unfold during our lifetime. Unfortunately it seems that the Alvars lived in
a time when there was this over emphasis on caste by birth and therefore
they out of humility accepted their roles. Of course this is not the way
Ramanuja felt about Kanchipurna, who he wished to become the disciple of,
even though he wasn't a Brahmin. Nor should it be the way we view persons
of "low birth" and spiritual qualities today.

Just imagine a religion that actually prohibits it's member from performing
religious acts, even though they might be able and eager to do so! Of
course one has to be trained, to be qualified to perform some functions,
and no one expects untrained persons to be presented as qualified for
certain duties.

>       So , sAstrAs prescribe various duties a jIvAtmA has to perform
>because of his connection with this body.

NOT JUST BODY!, but according to his/her Varna. The question is whether
Varna is determined solely by birth.

>So , one has to just take up the kainkaryam assigned to him/her & perform with
>devotion. This is the spirit behind the kainkaryam & thus one shouldn't
>entertain questions like "Why can't I do this ?" , "Why should they only
>do that ? " etc.    ".

Thank you for telling me what I can and cannot do or think based on your
interpretation!

Please tell me (if you can) what your idea of Kainkarya for those born as
Yavana, Mleccha, etc is? Are we to be excluded from the Temple as Tiruppan
Alvar was? And as we are even today from Rangaji Temple in Vrndavana, UP.

Back in the 70s when I first went to Tirupati they wanted me to sign a form
stating that I would not cause offense or disturbance in the temple,
thinking that I was a Christian (I have never been a Christian though my
mother is). I was ready to humbly sign but instead began chanting
Venkatesvara Suprabhatam and Purusha Sukta for the man in the temple
office. Immediately I was escorted back to the temple with the full
blessings of all present, they realised that it was unnecessary for me to
sign their form.

While living in Sri Rangam last year, we attended the Vaikuntha Ekadasi
festival. (Which we have attended on several occasions before. We have been
visiting Sri Rangam since the 70s) My wife and I met a man from out of town
standing near the gate in front of the Garuda Mandapa. (There is a sign
ONLY HINDUS ALLOWED) I was wearing panca kaccha dhoti and angavastram and
yajnopavita (I also have a tuft), my wife wearing 9 yard sari in Madisar
style, both of us with Tengalai Namam. We were just about to go through the
gate (like we do every morning) when this guy calls us over and explains
that we are not allowed in. Well I just looked around and practically
everyone else there knew us and immediately told the guys that we were OK.
But I wonder what he was thinking 'cause we were sure dressed up like
Vaisnavas, or was he only looking at the skin color and not the tiruman.

Surprisingly enough we met a Hindu guy and his Blond Haired White Wife from
Mauritius one day in the Sesaraya mandapa on our way in for darshan. The
guy was wearing pant/shirt and his wife a salwar kameez. They said that
they had been refused entrance by the temple authorities. (Hindus in
Mauritius have given up Caste) The temple guys could not believe that the
Blond girl was a Hindu, so both husband and wife were excluded. Meanwhile
Indian Men and Women wearing tight fitting jeans, etc. just walked on by to
darshan.

After we complained about these people not being allowed in to the temple
authorities, we went to the Chakratalvar Sannidhi. (There is also a big
sign there ONLY HINDUS ALLOWED) While in there we saw a couple of Christian
Nuns from a local Christian School with some school girls taking darshan of
Lord Sudarsana. The Nuns had their full uniforms on, including crosses
hanging around their necks. No one questioned them entering the shrine.
When we brought this to the attention of the temple officials, they just
laughed. Because the nuns were Indian, so because of the nationality or
skin color or something they were OK.

Years ago I met some archakas of the Rangaji Temple in Vrndavana, UP. I
discussed with them about some aspects of Pancaratra Agama and my
experiences in South India. They invited me for darshan in the temple. I
said that I didn't want to make a fuss as I knew that that temple (the only
Vaisnava one I know of) didn't allow western Vasinavas in for darshan. They
said that they would help me get in by taking me to the office. The guy in
charge was related to (the great) PB Anangacharya of Kanchi who I had met
one time. He said that I was not allowed in because I was not a Hindu. The
archakas told him that I was. He then said that entrance was restricted to
only Indians according to Shastra. My friends said they had never heard of
such a thing. And questioned him that persons of Indian descent from
Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius had all been allowed in, so why not me.
Finally after the guy admitted that there was no reason why he couldn't let
me in but it was the temple policy not to admit persons of Non-Indian
descent. They don't even have a sign that says ONLY HINDUS, they just don't
want non-Indians.

I have been seriously told by an Acharya Purusha that since I was born in a
family of meat eaters that my proper dharma could be to be a butcher. After
he told this to my wife and I (Vaisnavas and strict Vegitarians for the
past 26 years), he apologised to us and regretted what he had said and
later told us that he was very happy with our interest and activities in
Vaisnavism. I have known this person for 15 years and have a great deal of
respect for him. This was the only time he ever spoke to me like that.

Another funny incident happened to us while we were living in Sri Rangam
last year. Some of the neighbourhood high school girls (all Vaisnavis) came
to visit us in our house one day. We showed them pictures of our life in
foreign, our murtis and altar in our house in Hawaii, etc. They asked us
whether we were vegitarians in foreign or only while we were in India (Sri
Rangam). We explained to them that although we were born in meat-eating
families that we had both become vegitarians at a young age, and that in
fact we had been strict vegitarians and vaisnavas longer than they had
('cause they were only teenagers). They said that they had heard that many
people who were vegitarians in India took to eating meat and drinking as
soon as they came to the West. (You know the old story that the West is so
cold that you have to eat meat and drink alcohol to survive, also there's
not many vegetables in the West) Well we were glad to clear up that
misconception. And we know that what we said to them got around the whole
of Sri Rangam to those who were concerned about us. We don't blame people
for being sceptical about us, but we just ask that they apply the same
standards to their own relatives.

Another Sri Vaisnava last year was suprised to know that I had studied
Pancaratra and taken Archaka (Chakrabja Mandala) diksha from a Tenkalai
Svayamacharya. He asked if I had had tapta mudra dharana. When I said that
I had, he remarked that "so what, even cattle are branded". Most Vaisnavas
we have met are very pleased to see ANYONE interested in following their
philosophy and way of life.

>    If the spirit of VarnAshrama DharmA is not understood , it leads to
>absurd conclusions.

Unfortunately I believe that you misunderstand the spirit of Varnashrama
and are stuck in the misconception that birth in a particular family
automatically determines one's social status.

Varnashrama is a social system, it works only so long as it is implemented
according to qualities and work, when a person devoid of the necessary
qualities takes on the work (Dharma) of a particular Varna then the whole
system is put into chaos.

This we have seen in history even in the west. When the Kings and Queens of
Europe oppressed their citizens too much the people revolted and
established so-called Democracy. Rule by the masses due to there being no
spiritual leaders (brahmins) and no good Ruling class (ksatriyas).
Socialism was an attempt to make a classless  social system of all Sudras,
whereas in Capitalism the Vaisyas are held as supreme.

Varna is determined by the prominent guna or mode of nature by which one
lives his/her life and the prominent purushartha which one hopes to achieve
by his/her actions.
Predominantly Sattvic/Moksha = Brahmin
Predominantly Rajasic/Dharma = Kshatriya
Predominantly Rajasic Tamasic Mix/Artha = Vaisya
Predominantly Tamasic/Kama = Shudra

janmanaa jaayate shuudrah
karmaNaa jaayate dvijah

sincerely

Keshava das

P.S. I have brought up a lot of stuff in this post, that may offend people.
It is not meant to offend those who wholeheartedly disagree and live their
lives as pure servants of the Lord strictly following all the rules and
regulations of the caste system. However it is meant as a wakeup call to
all those who would hypocritically apply those rules and regulations to
others while disregarding the essential equality of all Jivatmas regardless
of birth, caste, sex, color, race, etc. Usually I only lurk on this list,
as I wish to learn from all the learned Vaisnavas discussions. Please
forgive me for speaking my mind on this subject which I feel very strongly
about. I do visit India regularly (every year) and have lived continuously
there for almost ten years in the 70s and 80s. I have also met and
performed pujas for many NRI's all over the world. So I know the Indian
community both in India and abroad.