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etan me samshayam deva vada bhuta-pate 'nagha
trayo varnah prakrityeha katham brahmanyam apnuyuh
sthito brahmana-dharmena brahmanyam upajivati
kshatriyo vatha vaishyo va brahma-bhuyah sa gacchati
ebhis tu karmabhir devi shubhair acaritais tatha
shudro brahmanatam yati vaishyah kshatriyatam vrajet
etaih karma-phalairi devi nyuna-jati-kulodbhavah
shudro 'py agama-sampanno dvijo bhavati samskritah
karmabhih shucibhir devi shuddhatma vijitendriyah
shudro 'pi dvija-vat sevya iti brahmabravit svayam
svabhavah karma ca shubham yatra shudro 'pi tishthati
vishishtah sa dvijater vai vijneya iti me matih
na yonir napi samskaro na shrutam na ca santatih
karanani dvijatvasya vrittam eva tu karanam
sarvo 'yam brahmano loke vrittena tu vidhiyate
vritte sthitas tu shudro 'pi brahmanatvam niyacchati
etat te guhyam akhyatam yatha shudro bhaved dvijah
brahmano va cyuto dharmad yatha shudratvam apnuyat
“Uma said: O Lord, O sinless master of the living entities, I have some doubt about how members of the three castes-kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra-will attain through their own nature the platform of brahmanas.
“Maheshvara replied: If kshatriyas or vaishyas become situated in the behavior of brahmanas and spend their lives in the occupations of brahmanas, then such persons can attain the position of brahmanas.
“O goddess, by the same procedure a shudra can become a brahmana and a vaishya can become a kshatriya.
“By the results of these activities and by becoming an adherent of the agama scriptures, or in other words, by taking initiation through the pancaratrika system, then a low-born shudra also becomes a brahmana.
“O goddess, Lord Brahma has personally declared that by performing pure activities, a self-controlled shudra is fit to be served just like a brahmana.
“In my opinion, if pious activities and good character are found in a shudra, it should be understood that he is better than a brahmana.
“Birth, purificatory processes, study of the Vedas, and good birth are not the criterion for being a brahmana. The only criterion is one's behavior.
“A person is born as a brahmana in this world simply as a result of his nature. A shudra situated in the profession of a brahmana also becomes a brahmana.
“I have thus explained to you the secret of how a person who is born as a shudra becomes a brahmana and how by deviating from his occupational duties a person born in the family of a brahmana becomes a shudra.”
In the Brahma-sutras (1.3.37) it is stated: tad-abhava-nirdharane ca pravritteh-“Whether a person belongs to a varna other than that of his birth may be ascertained by considering his qualities.”
Purnaprajna Anandatirtha (Shri Madhvacarya) has written in his commentary on the story of Jabala in the Chandogya Upanishad as follows:
naham etad veda bho yad gotro 'ham asmiti satya-vacanena satyakamasya shudratvabhava-nirdharane haridrumatasya na etad abrahmano vivaktum arhatiti tat-samskare pravrittesh ca.
“By Satyakama's truthful statement, `I do not know, sir, which dynasty I belong to,' Haridrumata ascertained that he was not a shudra and therefore said, `A non-brahmana cannot speak like this.' He then proceeded to perform the purificatory rituals for him.”
Although there was no evidence that Satyakama Jabala was a brahmana by birth, Gautama Rishi accepted him as a brahmana upon hearing his truthful words.
In his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, Madhvacarya quotes the following verse from the Sama-samhita:
arjavam brahmane sakshat shudro 'narjava-lakshanah
gautamas tv iti vijnaya satyakamam upanayat
“A brahmana possesses the quality of simplicity, and a shudra possesses the quality of crookedness. Knowing this fact, Gautama awarded sacred thread initiation to Satyakama and made him a first-class brahmana.”
Furthermore, Tribandhana was born in the family of the kshatriya king Mandhata. Although his son, Trishanku, was born as a kshatriya, he became a candala. This is confirmed in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (9.7.5) as follows:
tasya satyavratah putras trishankur iti vishrutah
praptash candalatam shapad guroh kaushika-tejasa
“The son of Tribandhana was Satyavrata, who is celebrated by the name Trishanku. Because he kidnapped the daughter of a brahmana when she was being married, his father cursed him to become a candala, lower than a shudra.”
In the narration regarding Pautrayana in the Chandogya Upanishad (4th prapathaka, 2nd khanda) it is stated that although he was not born in the family of a shudra, he became a shudra.
In the Brahma-sutras (1.3.34) it is stated:
shug asya tad-anadara-shravanat tad-adravanat sucyate hi.
“When he [Janashruti Maharaja] heard words of condemnation against himself, he became overwhelmed with sorrow and immediately went to take revenge.”
In the Purnaprajna school of philosophy, Shri Madhvacarya has written in his commentary on this sutra of Vedanta:
nasau pautrayanah shudrah. shucad dravanam eva hi shudratvam. kambara enam etat santam ity-anadara-shravanat. sahasam jihana eva kshattaram uvaceti sucyate hi.
“King Pautrayana was not actually a shudra. One is a shudra if he is overly affected by lamentation. When Pautrayana heard the disrespectful words, `This person is a spotted deer,' he immediately wanted to retaliate and reply accordingly to the chariot driver. This implies that he was like a shudra.”
In his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, Shri Anandatirtha Madhvacarya has written:
shuca dravanac chudrah. raja paturayanah shokac chudreti muninoditah. prana-vidyam avapyasmat param dharmam avaptavan iti padme.
“One who is overwhelmed by lamentation is a shudra. In the Padma Purana it is described that although Pautrayana Maharaja was a kshatriya, he became overwhelmed with lamentation and thus was declared a shudra by Raikva Muni. Later the king attained the goal of life by learning the confidential meditation on prana from Raikva Muni.”
Again [from the Brahma-sutras (1.3.35)] it is stated:
kshatriyatvavagatesh cottaratra caitrarathena lingat.
“As previously understood from the concluding words of this incident and by using the word caitraratha, it is understood that Janashruti was a kshatriya.”
In his commentary on this sutra, Shri Madhvacarya has written:
ayam ashvatari-ratha iti citraratha-sambandhitvena lingena pautrayanasya kshatriyatvavagatesh ca. rathas tv ashvatari-yuktash catra ity abhidhiyata iti brahme. yatra vedo rathas tatra na vedo yatra no ratha iti ca brahma-vaivarte.
“It is stated in the Brahma Purana that because Maharaja Pautrayana had a mule-driven chariot it is understood he was a kshatriya. The chariot was called a citraratha because it was pulled by mules. According to the Brahma-vaivarta Purana wherever the Vedas are present a chariot is also, and wherever the Vedas are not present, a chariot will not be present.” Because the citraratha was present, he is considered a kshatriya. From all these Vedic narrations it is understood that a person's varna is known by his symptoms.
Prishadhra, the son of Manu, was the only kshatriya to become a shudra because of unknowingly killing a cow. As stated in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (9.2.9):
na kshatra-bandhuh shudras tvam karmana bhavitamuna
evam shaptas tu guruna pratyagrihnat kritanjalih
“`In your next life you shall not be able to become a kshatriya. Instead, you shall take birth as a shudra because of killing the cow.' When the hero Prishadhra was thus cursed by his spiritual master, he accepted the curse with folded hands.”
Dishta was a son of Manu. The son of the kshatriya Dishta was Nabhaga, who became a vaishya. As stated in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (9.2.23):
nabhago dishta-putro 'nyah karmana vaishyatam gatah
“Dishta had a son by the name Nabhaga. This Nabhaga, who was different from the Nabhaga described later, became a vaishya by occupational duty.”
Moreover, his descendants gradually became kshatriyas. As described in the Hari-vamsha (10.30):
nabhagorishta-putrash ca kshatriya vaishyatam gatah
“Nabhaga and the sons of Arishta were kshatriyas but they became vaishyas.”
One's varna is currently ascertained only by seminal consideration. But the ancient and rational system approved of by scriptures is to ascertain one's varna by considering one's symptoms. This is not the new imagination of selfish persons.
In his commentary on the Mahabharata (Vana-parva 180.25, 26), Shri Nilakantha clearly says:
shudra-lakshma kamadikam na brahmane 'sti. napi brahmana-lakshma shamadikam shudre 'sti. shudro 'pi shamady-upeto brahmana eva. brahmano 'pi kamady-upetah shudra eva.
“The symptoms of a shudra, such as lust, are not present in a brahmana. Similarly the symptoms of a brahmana, such as peacefulness, are not present in a shudra. A shudra who possesses the quality of peacefulness is certainly a brahmana, and a brahmana who posesses the quality of lust is certainly a shudra.”
In his commentary on Shrimad Bhagavatam (7.11.35), Shrila Shridhara Svamipada has clarified the above statement as follows:
shamadibhir eva brahmanadi-vyavaharo mukhyo na jati-matrad ity aha yasyeti-yad yadi anyatra varnantare 'pi drishyeta tad varnantaram tenaiva lakshana-nimitenaiva varnena vinirdishet na tu jati-nimitenety arthah
“The brahmanas' main characteristics are qualities such as peacefulness, not birth. If these main characteristics are seen in persons other than those born as brahmanas, then such persons should be considered brahmanas. They should not be considered according to their caste by birth.”
Many persons who were not born in brahmana families have become brahmanas by proper initiation. Innumerable incidents illustrating this fact are known to those who read Indian history. After such persons became qualified and initiated brahmanas, their descendants became known as brahmanas by virtue of their birth. Today the whole of India is filled with such descendants of brahmanas. Even though one became a qualified and properly initiated brahmana, he was still considered a brahmana simply on the basis of his birth. But since nowadays the social system is deformed, such qualified, initiated, seminal brahmanas are rarely found.
We heard that in Varanasi there was a learned, unrivaled sannyasi whose name was respected by educated people throughout India. He bestowed brahmana initiation on one of his disciples in whom he saw brahminical qualities. When speaking the name of his gurudeva, this disciple would announce that he was awarded the purified status of a brahmana by the power of the sacred thread initiation.
We are now presenting an incomplete list of intellectuals who were born in families lower than brahmana but who were considered brahmanas on the strength of their qualifications and thus conferred the status of brahmana on their descendants.
Gadhi was the son of Kushika of the Candra dynasty. He was the king of Kanyakubja, and his son, Vishvamitra, although born a kshatriya, became a brahmana on the strength of his austerities.
In the Mahabharata (Adi-parva, Chapter 174) it is stated:
kshatriyo 'ham bhavan vipras tapah-svadhyaya-sadhanah
sva-dharmam na prahasyami neshyami ca balena gam
dhig balam kshatriya-balam brahma-tejo-balam balam
balabalam vinishcitya tapa eva param balam
tatapa sarvan diptaujah brahmanatvam avaptavan
“Vishvamitra said to Vashishtha: You are a brahmana, endowed with the qualities of austerity and Vedic study. I am a kshatriya, so on the basis of my nature I will forcebly take this cow, Nandini.
“Later, when Vishvamitra was defeated, he declared that the strength of the kshatriyas was inferior to the strength of the brahmanas. He thus decided that the performance of austerities endowed one with superior strength.
“The greatly effulgent Vishvamitra thus performed all kinds of austerities and attained the position of a brahmana.”
In the Mahabharata (Anushasana-parva, Chapter 30) there is the following description of how the kshatriya-born Maharaja Vitahavya became a brahmana:
evam vipratvam agamad vitahavyo naradhipah
bhrigoh prasadad rajendra kshatriyah kshatriyarshabha
tasya gritsamadah putro rupenendra ivaparah
sa brahmacari viprarshih shriman gritsamado 'bhavat
putro gritsamadasyapi suceta abhavad dvija
varcah (sutejasah) sucetasah putro vihavyas tasya catmajah
vihavyasya tu putras tu vitatyas tasya catmajah
vitatyasya sutah satyah santah satyasya catmajah
shravas tasya sutash carshih shravasash cabhavat tamah
tamasash ca prakasho 'bhut tanayo dvija-sattamah
prakashasya ca vagindro babhuva jayatam varah
tasyatmajash ca pramitir veda-vedanga-paragah
ghritacyam tasya putras tu ruru-namodapadyata
pramadvarayan tu ruroh putrah samudapadyata
shunako nama viprarshir yasya putro 'tha shaunakah
“This is how Maharaja Vitahavya attained the position of a brahmana: O best of the kshatriya kings, although Vitahavya was a kshatriya by birth, by the mercy of Bhrigu he became a brahmana. His son Gritsamada was equal in beauty to Indra. He became a brahmacari and a brahmana sage. Suceta, the son of Gritsamada, also became a brahmana. The son of Suceta was Varca, whose son was Vihavya. The son of Vihavya was Vitatya, and his son was Satya. The son of Satya was Santa, whose son was Rishishrava. The son of Rishishrava was Tama, and his son, Prakasha, was the best of the brahmanas. The son of Prakasha was Vagindra, whose son, Pramiti, was learned in the Vedas and Vedic supplements. Pramiti begot Ruru in the womb of Ghritaci. In his wife, Pramadvara, Ruru begot a son named Shunaka, who became a viprarshi. The son of Shunaka was Shaunaka Rishi.” This is the dynasty of Gritsamada. The dynasty of Vitahavya is found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (9.13.1, 12-27) as follows:
nimir ikshvaku-tanayo vasishtham avritartvijam
deham mamanthuh sma nimeh kumarah samajayata
janmana janakah so 'bhud vaidehas tu videha-jah
tasmad udavasus tasya putro 'bhun nandivardhanah
tatah suketus tasyapi devarato mahi-pate
tasmad brihadrathas tasya mahaviryah sudhrit-pita
sudhriter dhrishtaketur vai haryashvo 'tha marus tatah
maroh pratipakas tasmaj jatah kritaratho yatah
devamidhas tasya putro vishruto 'tha mahadhritih
kritiratas tatas tasman maharoma ca tat-sutah
svarnaroma sutas tasya hrasvaroma vyajayata
tatah shiradhvajo jajne yajnartham karshato mahim
kushadhvajas tasya bhrata tato dharmadhvajo nripah
dharmadhvajasya dvau putrau kritadhvaja-mitadhvajau
kritadhvajat keshidhvajah khandikyas tu mitadhvajat
kritadhvaja-suto rajann atma-vidya-visharadah
bhanumams tasya putro 'bhuc chatadyumnas tu tat-sutah
shucis tu tanayas tasmat sanadvajah suto 'bhavat
urjaketuh sanadvajad ajo 'tha purujit sutah
arishtanemis tasyapi shrutayus tat suparshvakah
tatash citraratho yasya kshemadhir mithiladhipah
tasmat samarathas tasya sutah satyarathas tatah
asid upagurus tasmad upagupto 'gni-sambhavah
vasvananto 'tha tat-putro yuyudho yat subhashanah
shrutas tato jayas tasmad vijayo 'smad ritah sutah
shunakas tat-suto jajne vitahavyo dhritis tatah
bahulashvo dhrites tasya kritir asya mahavashi
ete vai maithila rajann atma-vidya-visharadah
yogeshvara-prasadena dvandvair mukta griheshv api