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the question of conversion into the "brahmin fold"
Date: Tue Nov 13 2001 - 19:24:53 PST

srImathE SaTakOpAya namah
srImathE rAmAnujAya namah
srImathE anantArya mahAguravE namah
srImathE vara vara munayE namah

dear bhagavathas,

the question that was raised by a member of the list
"whether it is true that ramanuja converted many
non-brahmins into brahimns" needs further discussion.

First of all, the classification "brahmin" is
birth-based only (in practice - in this context,
it does not matter what srI bhagavad gIta says).
Given that as a qualification, there can be
no "conversions" into the brahminical caste.

The important question that naturally arises is
being a brahmin is in anyway better/worse with
respect to the goals that devotees pursue. Our
srIvaishNava AcAryAs, starting with the AzhvArs
(only 3 out of 11 are known to have been born into
a brahmin community) through svami maNavALa 
mAmunigaL have taught us, and demonstrated to us
through their actions that there are no differences
whatsoever among srIvaishNavas, let alone narrow
caste based differentiation.

svami ALavandAr, for example had mAranEri nambi
and thiru-k-kacci nambi as his sishyAs. rAmAnuja,
in his lifetime has shown so many times how
being a "non-brahmin" does not matter at all -
prime examples are the episodes of ramanuja 
holding piLLai urangavilli dasar's hand after
taking bath from cauvery, periya nambi's
response to ramanuja when he enquired about
periya nambi performing funeral rites to 
maranEri nambi is a great lesson for us in
this context. svami piLLai lOkAchAr, in
srivacaha bhUshaNam (that greatest of rahasya
granthas that shows us what a SV life should be
about), very clearly teaches us about these

The following is a paraphrasing of svami PBA's
summary commentary on srIvacanabhUshaNam

SVB:194 - 196:
bhagavatha apacharam is not just one type.
They are things like trying to question/prove
a bhagavtha's community of birth, their 
acara anushtanams, their physical condition, 
their relatives, their place of living. Talking
ill of and/or disrespecting a bhagavatha who
was born in a lower community based on his
birth is one of those. Trying to inquire into
a bhagavathas birth is even worse than tryng
to inquire into the materials that make the
archa form of the Lord.

The apacharas committed by people of
higer birth towards people of lower birth,
and those committed by people of lower birth
towards people of higer birth are all bad. It
is not such that "those of higer birth can
committ sins against other people, and those
of lower birth cannot"

All the sastras eulogize birth in the brahmin
community. While it is so, how can one say that
such a birth is useless - If that question arises,
here is the answer - The reason brahmaNathvam
is eulogized is because one of its characteristics
is learning the vEdAs, understnading their meaning
and then understanding the way to reach the Lord.
Nowhere is it said that "however one may be,
brahmaNathvam is good".

SVB 208:
The highness or lowness of birth is immaterial
for the goal.

SVB 209: 
Then what is necessary? Only bhagavad sambandham
is necessary.

The quintessence of the "brahmin" question is
treated in the following - One cannot but shed
tears over the greatness of our AchAryAs, and
even more tears over the ignorance of all of us
in NOT following their teachings.

SVB 210 - 216:
If the following question is raised:
A person born in a higher community and a 
person born in a lower community both have 
bhagavad sambandham. Then, both are bhagavathas.
At this time, doesn't the one born in a higher
community have more speciality ("siRappu") as
he has both?

Then, the answer is as follows:
Those who raise the above question classify
the highness and lowness of birth based on
the community that one is born. 
The birth that lends oneself easily to servitude
towards the Lord and His devotees (sEsathva)
is the higher birth. A birth that does not lend
oneself toward sEsathva is a lower birth.
If one is born as a brahmin, there is a possibility
that he might take the path of upAyAs other
than the Lord and fail in the endeavour to
reach Him. Moreover, since those born in the 
higher birth have the ingredients (knowledge,
concept of "higher" birth) for ego (ahamkara),
the humility (naichchiyam) tht needs to be
natural for a srIvaishNava has to be acquired
by him. For one who is born in a "lower"
community, he traditionally does not have the
right to learn the different upAyAs towards
goals and cannot have ahamkaram. And that 
lends him to have sEsathva and naichchiyam
IS BETTER (srEstam).

Now, the natural question is, if our AchAryAs
have shown so much open mindedness and so much
reforms, why does the current religion have so
much "brahminical" tendencies (like many
non-brahmin bhagavathas not allowed into the
gOshti, many people not dining with them etc.),
then the simple answer, though however
difficult it is to digest, is that most of
the community (in both the sects) is reluctant
to let go of the assumed "superiority" of a 
brahmin birth. This "brahminisation" of 
srIvaishNavam is not new - It has been happening 
for centuries, and in fact is a major cause of
difference in opinion among many people (not 
among vEdAnta dEsika and piLLai lOkAchAr as
many would immediately assume) of far lower 
stature than our great AchAryAs.

Once certainly does need to ask the question
whether ANYTHING (let alone being born into
a brahmin family) would cause a person to 
be "better" than another? If so, the only 
possible thing might be the helplessness
and complete surrender to God. Then, in 
that case, does birth really matter? Should
we even think about it?

This above mail is not a tirade against anyone,
not especially the bhagavatha who brought up
this question. In fact, I am very happy that
he asked the question as it gave me the opportunity
to re-read the relevant sections of srIvacanabhUshaNam
and marvel at the universality of our religion,
and the greatness of our AchAryAs.

AzhvAr emperumAnAr jIyar thiruvadigaLE saraNam,

adiyEn madhurakavi dAsan,

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