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VarnA & Its DharmA - 1

From: Anand K Karalapakkam (
Date: Wed Jul 08 1998 - 18:41:43 PDT

                                  Sri :
             Srimate  Sri Lakshmi Nrusimha Para Brahmane Namaha

             Srimate Sri Lakshmi - Nrusimha Divya PAdukA Sevaka - 
         Srivan  Shatagopa  Sri NArAyana Yateendra MahAdesikAya Namaha      

     Dear  bhaktAs of Sriman NArAyanA,
     Namo NArAyanA . kindly accept adiyen's pranAmams. 

    Many bhAgavathAs have posted very nicely regarding the varnAshrama
dharmA , previleges on chanting pranavA/AshtAksharam , rahasya mantrAs
& their connection with AzhwArs & AchAryAs , the modern context , etc .

    Sri Sadagopan swAmi has already dealt in great clarity about the
glories of devotees irrespective of their varnA .  Adiyen would like to
add to that & deal with  varnA & its dharmA , again based on
Srimad Rahasya Traya SAram. Let us see what the sAstrAs says. The
prevailing condition of the society is another issue . SAstrAs are not
limited by time anyway. Its upto one to follow whatever they can .
 Adiyen's motive is to just share the injunctions in the sAstrAs. Please
don't take it otherwise.

   Is VarnA ie. jAtI based on the body ? The answer is "yes" . VarnAs are
just based on the type of body one obtains , which is determined by one's
karmA. Many Smruthis & MahAbhArathA categorically mention this.  The
following pramAnAs would amply explain about the varnA.

    All the karmAs enjoined in sAstrAs are strictly varnA based. So, one
just takes up such kainkaryams according to the varnA & does it with full     
dedication & devotion to Sriman NArAyanA. 

    In the Brahma SootrA (2.3.46) , the sootrakArA affirms that all the
jIvAtmAs are  parts (amsA (**)) of Brahman  ie. jIvAtmAs are sarIrA to
Brahman since they are being supported &  controlled by Brahman , & they
exist only for the pleasure of Brahman . In other words , sarIra sarIrI
bhAvA between the jIvAtmA & the Brahman "Sriman NArAyanA " is established
& thus  jIvAtmAs are only an attribute to Brahman (in that sense they are
also part of Brahman) . But , this gives rise to a very valid doubt . The
sootrakArA ( VyAsar) answers it in the next sootrA .

 (**) amsA : amsA => part . Note that all the parts put together doesn't
make the whole ie. all the jIvAtmAs & achit which are part of Brahman
doesn't become the Brahman , by their totallity . Brahma svaroopam is all
together different . Neverthless , Brahman is always vishistA ie. one
cannot separate the relationship between the Brahman & its attributes
(chit , achit) .Since the chit & achit are eternally the "sarIrA" (body)
of Brahman , they are its parts (amsAs) . 

   Let us see what Bhagavad RAmAnujA says in Sri BhAshyam :

    In the BhAshyam to sootrA 2.3.46 , Bhagavad RAmAnujA puts forth the
question by himself : < start quote > 
  " But , if all individual souls are equal in so far as being alike parts
ie.amsAs (bodies / attributes) of Brahman , alike actuated by Brahman &
alike knowing subjects , what is the reason that , as Scripture teaches ,
** some of them are allowed to read vedAs & act according to its
injunctions , while others are excluded therefrom ** & again some are to
see , feel & so on , while others are excluded from these previleges ?
This question is answered in the next sootrA .

    sootrA 2.3.47 : Anuj~nApariharau dehasambhandhAjjyotirAdivat 
  ( Permission & Exclusion result from connection with the body , as in
the case of fire etc )

   Although all souls are essentially of the same nature in so far as they
are parts of Brahman , knowing subjects & so on , the permissions &
exclusions referred to are possible since ** each individual soul is
joined to some particular body , pure or impure , whether a BrAhmanA or
KshatriyA or VaishyA or SUdrA & so on **.

  'As in the case of fire & so on ' :  All fire is of the same kind , &
yet one willingly fetches fire from the house of a BrAhmanA , while one
shuns fire from a place where dead bodies are burnt. And from a BrAhmanA
one accepts food without any objection , while one refuses food from a low
person "

 -------  <end quote>

      The essence is that with respect to jIvAtma svaroopam , all are
alike. So, no one is either a BrAhmanA or kshatriyA or GruhastA or
sanyAsi etc . One is simply a jIvAtmA , a servant of Sriman NArAyanA . But
, as long as the jIvAtmA is in this material world , it is inseparably
united with a particular type of body . So , the dharmAs for that varnA
has to be followed . sAstrAs are the commands of Sriman NArAyanA to the 
jIvAtmAs in the material world & not for muktAs / nitya soorIs, since it
is only the baddha jIvAtmAs that are associated with material bodies . So,
being in this material world & doing so many actions like eating,sleeping
etc based on body , one should not adopt a double standard & refrain from
the karmA prescribed in the sAstrAs for each varnA , under the pretext
that one is only a jIvAtmA & not the body . It is the same sAstrA that
tells one to be a jIvAtmA apart from body & also instructs one to perform
karmA based on varnA.

    So, a series of questions arises : "If one gets a lowly birth ,
does it mean that he is unfit for performing kainkaryams unto Sriman
NArAyanA ?  Can such a person not attain moksham by the end of that life
itself ? Should a bhAgavathA from low births be eulogized or not ?"

    Because of the birth , one would have to take up the alloted
kainkaryams prescribed in the sAstrAs. This doesn't mean that one is
debarred from performing any sort of kainkaryams unto Sriman NArAyanA.

  In Bhagavad GItA , Sri KrishnA says " Woman , VaishyAs & SUdrAs  -those
who are of sinful birth ,  whoever they might be - they obtain , O pArthA
, the highest state (moksham) , if they seek My protection " (9.32) 

    VishnuDharmA (10.2.29) states : "Though DharmavyAdhA & others belonged
to low & gruesome castes , yet since , in their previous births , they had
performed Bhakti YogA , they continued in their latest life & having
completed therein , attained their goal like Sramani (Sabari) "

  Note : The person starting the bhakti yogA should be of the first three
varnAs. In future births , the jIvAtmA may land up taking any type of body
according to the left over sins.

   Though the caste may be considered low ,everyone is eligible for
moksham through prapatti . There is no restriction in it. Anyone can
become a Sri VaishnavA through samAsrayanam. These things are intimately
tied up with the jIvAtmA . So , there are no restrictions. But ,
restrictions come into play only in the case of karmAs  to be performed
since the type of body acquired is taken into account .

     Once one becomes a devotee of Sriman NArAyanA , irrespective of
his/her caste , one should eulogize them . Any vaishnavA is always 
glorious .
   IthihAsa SamucchayA (27.26) says " Whether a devotee of BhagavAn Sriman
NArAyanA be a soodrA , a huntsman or a man who eats dog's flesh ; the man
who looks upon him as identical with other men of those respective castes
will go to hell" .

    Though a devotee might be from a particular caste which is in general
considered low , he is neverthless far supreme than the other persons of
his caste. 

   SwAmi Desikan quotes lots & lots of pramAnams  to show that a VaishnavA
should be adored irrespective of his caste. Just because of the caste ,
one might be debarred from reciting vedAs. This doesn't mean that he can't
be a supreme devotee ( eg: AzhvArs like NammAzhvAr has no parallel as a
devotee ) .

  A famous quote  from Padmottaram (29.81) : " Of all forms of ArAdhanam
(say homage,adoration etc) , ArAdhanam to Lord Vishnu is the best , but
superior even to this is the excellent ArAdhanam (homage ,adoration etc)
offered to Vishnu's devotees. "

   There are also pramAnAs of the following type which stress the
importance of paying respects/adoration to devotees irrespective of their
caste :

     MahAbhArathA : AswamedhikA parvA (118.32) : "Those sUdrAs who have
devotion to BhagavAn are not sUdrAs ; they who are devotees of BhagavAn
are Brahmins. Those who have no bhakti to BhagavAn (JanArdanA)  , whatever
might be his caste - they alone are sUdrAs " 
    So , by the presence or absence in them of the specific attribute of
bhakti (devotion; not to be confused with bhakti yogA) to Sriman NArAyanA
, men of lower castes are called by the names of the higher , & men of
higher castes are called by the names of lower respectively .

     Then one might possibly come up with the question  " Does the
devotees of Sriman NArAyanA belong to one and the same caste ? "

  If it is so , then it contradicts with all the pramAnams of the type "
Thus  will the devotee of Lord who is a Brahmin conduct himself and thus
will the devotee who is a sUdrA conduct himself etc ". 

  Consider the following pramAnA :

     MahAbhArathA : AswamedhikA parvA (116.8)  :" Auspicious qualities
which carry esteem do not arise from caste . The demigods (devAs) consider
as a Brahmin even a chandAlA who conducts himself in accordance with his
caste "

     It is also evident from many pramAnams quoted above that the caste of
a devotee doesn't change because of his devotion , though he has to be
highly respected & adored for his devotion ( the terms used in the
pramAnAs inherently assumes that a devotee belongs to a particular varnA)
. For that matter , even though a strI (lady) is a great devotee of
Sriman NArAyanA & is a BrAhmini ,  sastrAs doesn't allow her to recite
vedAs, perform Agnihotrams etc. On top of these , yuga dharmA also imposes
restrictions .

There are pramAnams which state that the prapannAs from various castes are
equal ,which is in the sense of attainment of the final goal , namely
moksham . So , there is a kulam called Sri Vaishnava kulam wherein
everyone are so great that all are certain to reach Sri Vaikuntam since
they adopt prapatti . But this word kulam is not be confused with
caste (ie. jAti/varnA ).

    PeriAzhvAr in his Thirup pallAndu says "pandaik kulaththai thavirthu
pallAndu ..." (We will give up our former kulam & sing  pallAndu to
perumAL ). 
   So , instead of being a materialist , now one becomes a Sri VaishnavA
fixed in kainkaryams .

    Let us see  Sri Peria AchAn PiLLai's conclusion on Thirumangai
AzhwAr's pAsurm 1.1.9  " kulam tharum ..." ( "The name "NArAyanA" ,
confers a (higher) kulam .." ) :

  "If a man who is low by birth & by conduct attains contact with BhagavAn
, one who has both should shrink from calling him low , because of the
potency of his devotion to BhagavAn "

   Sri PiLLai LokAchAryA says that one must have high reverence for a
prapannA , whatever may be his caste & is one of the greatest offenses to
treat him with indifference , disregard , ill will or contempt on the
ground of his caste .   

   But these doesn't advocate the change of varnA according to devotion ,
since by very definition varnA is based on body.

  Sri Peria AcchAn PiLLai very categorically states this in his commentry
to the  verse 219.6.5 in Garuda PurAnam :
 verse :
   "Bhakti or devotion is of eight kinds. If bhakti is found in a mleccha
, he should be considered a devout and knowing Brahmin. To him , giving is
proper & taking is proper .He should be treated with the same reverence as
I myself "

 commentry : " This doesn't mean that strIs (ladies) can be given in
marriage to him and the like , but he may be given the gift of knowledge
and the like "

     So AchArya reminds us that inter-dining ,inter-marriage (say between
a BrAhmana strI & a sUdra man , eventhough both of them are devotees )
etc are prohibited in sAstrAs (smruthIs are the main references for these
   For instance in MahAbhArathA: Aswamedhika ParvA 118.14 ,  BhagavAn says  
 " Therefore , a sUdrA shouldn't utter My names with pranavA " . Only a
devotee is going to recite the names of BhagavAn Sriman NArAyanA . But He
Himself instructs such devotees , not to utter pranavA.

  SAstrAs always explicitly mention the dharmAs of a varnA . Consider the
following verse from VarAha PurAnam ( 139.53) :
    "The man born of the caste of those who eat dog's flesh woke up as
soon as the day dawned , finished his observance which consisted in
singing the praise of Bhagavan and returned after uttering the mantra
'Namo NArAyanA ' " 
 According to the specific varnA , the mantrA needs to be recited
with/without pranavam etc. sAstrAs explictly enjoins the recitation of 
the mantrA like "Namo NArAyanA + dative suffix " prefixed by pranavA ,
when the Upadesam is for say a BrAhmanA .  

   The point is that one must have high reverence for a devotee
irrespective of his caste , but the code of conduct between the devotees 
of various varnAs (which in one sense a restriction / limit) is specified
by sAstrAs. 

     For instance , if the sAstrAs eulogizes the devotees of Sriman
NArAyanA as follows ( Vihagendra SamhitA) : "The man who is always
thinking of Sriman NArAyanA - whatever be the calling (vritti) he follows
for his living , that is adoration ; whatever he says (jalpah) is japam ;
whatever he sees is meditation or dhyAnA ; the water that has received
contact with his feet is incomparably holy water ; whatever is left after
he has eaten will purify ; his mere words are a sacred mantrA; whatever he
touches becomes pure " .

    What a grand eulogy of the devotees of Sriman NArAyanA ! All are true
, but the eulogy is restricted by the sAstrAs again ie. it shouldn't
violate sAstrAs .

   "his mere words are a sacred mantrA " : If a devotee speaks on
materialistic affairs , it doesn't become a mantrA .
   "whatever he touches becomes pure " : Can  a devotee touch liquor &
say it has become pure & drink? For instance , in VarAhapurAnam , Lord
VarAhA says " The VaishnavA who touches blood even without knowing what it
is - I never condone his offence , O goddess of earth , even after
thousand apologies " . So , the eulogy is restricted again by pramAnAs. It
holds good as long as it doesn't violate sAstrAs .
    So the pramAnAs which eulogize the devotees from all castes are valid
as long as it doesn't violate other pramAnAs. 

   -- to be continued --

    Namo NArAyanA


    Anantha PadmanAbha dAsan

  		sarvam sri krishnArpanamastu