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Re: varNASrama dharma & bhAgavata dharma

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Tue Oct 01 1996 - 19:19:18 PDT

I did not want to get into this debate, as it is never conclusive, but I
thought of making a few points. 

On Tue, 1 Oct 1996, Krishna Kalale wrote:
> 
> Again a mis-perception of the dharma smritis.  A trivarnika cannot teach a
> NOn-trivarnika vedas. IT does not mean that a non-trivarnika should not hear
> vedas!

In the context of the Vedas, there is an intimate connection between
hearing and teaching them. Hearing the Vedas is the only orthodox way of
learning them. There are quite a few smr.tis prescribing punishments for a
SUdra (by birth) who happens to hear the Vedas. The punishments were
explicitly meant to guard against the possibility that a SUdra would learn
the Vedas surreptitiously by listening to them. 

However, there have always been regional and personal variations. If a
teacher of the Vedas admits a student of non-dvija parentage, and teaches
him the Vedas, the student becomes a dvija after the appropriate
initiation. This is left to the judgment of the teacher. Other teachers
may not agree with this judgment, but that is a different issue. There are
historical instances of such situations. As Mani has pointed out, there
is a legitimate question of conflict of dharma in such cases.

That said, it must be recognized that notwithstanding what Sankaracarya
and Ramanujacarya quote from the dharmasUtras, it has become common
practice nowadays to recite the Vedas in public, at our mathas and 
temples. I have not seen anybody keeping non-traivarNikas away from the
site of a yajna, even in as orthodox a center of Brahminism as the
Sr.ngeri maTha. The Vedas are recited publicly in these yajnas and I have
seen SUdras attending them. I'm sure a similar situation exists in many
other centers today. I also know of a highly respected Srotriya in
Bhadravati (Karnataka), who has taught a girl the yajurveda and also to
recite ghanapATha, and she is reportedly better than his male students.
These may be purely modern phenomena, but obviously, the smr.ti codes are
being violated, and nobody. not even the AcAryas, seem to be too concerned
about it. 

What is prescribed in the smr.tis is subject to change, and in the matter
of SUdras hearing/learning the Vedas, it seems to be changing in the
present time. It may come as a surprise to many that not all authors of
dharmaSAstras are agreed on this issue. I remember reading from the
"History of Dharmasastra" of P. V. Kane, that there is one dharmasUtra
text which allows SUdras to be vAjasaneyakas, i.e. entitled to the
samskAras of Sukla yajurvedins. I'll post the reference later, if anybody
is interested. Different kinds of dharmas tend to conflict. Faced with 
a conflict between two different kinds of dharma, Arjuna turned to
Krishna for advice. Similarly, when there is conflict in dharmas, our
present day AcAryas who hail in the direct traditions of the great vedAnta
teachers are the most competent to decide how the smr.ti prescriptions
must change. These sticky issues are best decided according to their
personal judgment and guidance. Of course, this assumes that there are
people who wish to live according to the dictates of the smr.tis. This is
a population that is becoming quite extinct.  

Best wishes, 

S. Vidyasankar