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3. Smartas: caste brahmanas


smartavyah satatam vishnu
vismartavyo na jatucit
sarve vidhi-nisedhah syur
etayor eve kinkarah

"The Padma Purana recommends: somehow or other always think of Vishnu, without forgetting Him under any circumstances. Actually this is the most basic of all regulative principles. For, when there is an order from a superior about doing something, there is simultaneously a prohibition. When the order is that one should always remember Krishna, the prohibition is that one should never forget Him. Within this simple order and prohibition, all regulative principles are found complete." (Nectar of Devotion, Chapter Two)

The word smrti means "that which is remembered." It is a classification of Vedic scriptures including dharma-sastras like Manu-smrti that give rules and regulations for the orders and ashramas of civilized human life, and histories like the Puranas that give practical illustrations of how great personalities did or did not follow these rules and what their fate was as a result. Thus the smrti-sastras can be grouped into two divisions: "law books" and "law journals."

But why are they given the name smrti? Like laws, they are to be considered before doing something that might have legal repercussions. Can I ride my elephant on the expressway? Either I learn the traffic code, section and paragraph that applies to elephant driving, or I review the verdict of a trial that dealt with the same. The point is, I should remember the law before I act, or risk being punished.

The above quote from the Padma Purana concerns, as do all smrti-sastras, the law of karma. Here the verdict is, if we simply remember Vishnu or Krishna before doing anything, we'll not transgress the law. If we forget Him, we unavoidably transgress it even if we remember to observe lesser rules and regulations, because keeping Krishna always in mind is the purpose of all those rules and regulations.

But not everyone understands that purpose. There are three classes of brahmanas: the dvija, the vipra and the vaishnava. The third-class dvija has accepted the sacred thread, the second-class vipra has studied the Vedas and the first-class vaishnava knows the goal of the Vedas: always remember Krishna and never forget Him. A vipra who is not a devotee can never know the real sense of the rules and regulations of scripture; like a crooked lawyer, he'll use the law to enrich himself materially. The non-devotee vipra is what is meant by the term smarta-brahmana. "A smarta-brahmana is always interested in material profit, whereas a vaishnava is interested only in satisfying the Supreme Personality of Godhead." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.19.33, purport)

Smarta-brahmanas completely reverse the instruction of the Padma Purana: rather than always remember Krishna and thus fulfill the rules and regulations, they remember the rules and regulations and always forget Krishna.

There are many traits the smartas share with the jata-gosani. This is because the jata-gosani lost their vaishnava qualifications by slipping back into upper-caste pride or upadhi-bhuta (acceptance of false designation), which is shunned by those on the factual brahma-bhuta platform. The upadhi-bhuta of the jati-gosani is their blood lineage to medieval vaishnava-brahmana families that were somehow connected to Lord Caitanya's movement. Coming under smarta influence, the descendents of these families gradually revived caste rules and taboos from the smrti-sastras in order to assert their supposed congenital superiority over other communities.

"Sometimes a caste guru says that yei krsna-tattva-vettha, sei guru haya means that one who is not a brahmana may become a siksa-guru or a vartma-pradarsaka-guru but not an initiator guru. According to such caste gurus, birth and family ties are considered foremost. However, the hereditary consideration is not acceptable to vaishnavas." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.128, purport)

That the jata-gosani are compromised by smarta conceptions becomes very clear when we consider the following:

"There is a difference between the smarta process and the gosvami process. According to the smarta process, one cannot be accepted as a brahmana unless he is born in a brahmana family. According to the gosvami process, the Hari-bhakti-vilasa and the Narada-pancaratra, anyone can be a brahmana if he is properly initiated by a bona fide spiritual master." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 23.105, purport) Still, if the caste gosvami at least maintains his family tradition of exclusive vishnu-murti worship, he remains distinct from the smarta-brahmana community. The smartas, following the mayavadi pancopasana conception, regard Lord Vishnu as one of five forms of Brahman. Of the five (Durga, Ganesa, Surya, Shiva and Vishnu), Bengali smartas have always preferred goddess Durga because she supplies her devotees with material opulence.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries A.D., the importance of the Bengali smarta community was practically nullified by Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement. Among the great vaishnava-acaryas of that period, Srila Narottama dasa Thakur stands out as the preacher who most cut down their pride. The smartas, considering him just a low-born kayastha, became so infuriated at his making disciples from among their ranks that they enlisted the king, Raja Narasimha, and a conquering pandit named Sri Rupanarayana, to lead a crusade to somehow expose Acarya Thakur as a fraud. The king, the pandit and a large party of caste brahmanas made their way to Kheturi, where Srila Narottama das had his headquarters.

When Sri Ramacandra Kaviraja and Sri Ganga Narayana Cakravarti, two vaishnava-brahmanas, came to know of the smarta conspiracy, they disguised themselves as sudras and set up two small shops in the Kumarapura market: one a pan and betel nut shop and the other a store selling clay pots.

As the party arrived at Kumarapura, the smartas sent their disciples to the market to purchase wares for cooking. When the students came to the shops of Ramacandra and Ganga Narayana, they were dumfounded to find that these "wallas" spoke perfect Sanskrit and were eager not to do business but to engage in philosophical disputation. Finding themselves outmatched, the distressed students called for their gurus, who arrived on the scene with Raja Narasimha and Rupanarayana. When the smartas fared no better than their disciples, Rupanarayana himself was drawn into the debate and soundly defeated.

When, the king demanded they introduce themselves, the two shopkeepers humbly submitted that they were low-born and insignificant disciples of Srila Narottama das Thakur Mahasaya. Smarting in shame, Rupanarayana and the smarta-brahmanas lost interest in proceeding to Kheturi. They all decided to return immediately to their respective homes.

That night at home, Raja Narasimha had a dream in which an angry Durga-devi threatened him with a chopper used for killing goats. Glaring at him with blazing eyes, the goddess said, "Narasimha! Because you greatly offended Narottama das Thakur, I shall have to cut you to pieces! If you want to save yourself, then you had better immediately go and take shelter at his lotus feet."

Frightened out of his wits, his sleep broken, the king quickly took bath and set out for Kheturi. When at last he arrived, he was suprised to meet the pandita Rupanarayana, who sheepishly explained that he'd had a similar dream. They both entered the temple of Sri Gauranga in order to meet Srila Narottama das Thakur. Acarya Thakur was absorbed in his bhajana, but when a disciple informed him of the arrival of the two guests, he came out to meet them. Simply by seeing his transcendental form, the two offenders became purified and fell down to offer their obeisances at the Thakur's lotus feet. Finally he initiated them with Radha-Krishna mantra.

Because their leaders became vaishnavas, many lesser smartas thought it prudent to externally adopt vaishnava customs. This is how the smarta-apasampradaya, or Vaishnavism compromised by caste brahmanism, began. The smartas think they have monopoly rights on initiating persons born in brahmana families, and that only such persons as initiated by them can wear the sacred thread. On this issue they bitterly oppose the spiritual masters of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya, who award the sacred thread to devotees from any background on the basis of spiritual qualification.

Until the time of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, the wearing of the sacred thread was not considered very important by many Gaudiya Vaishnavas because their spiritual lives were centered on bhajana. In his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 8.128, Srila Prabhupada writes, "Sometimes a vaishnava who is a bhajananandi does not take the savitra-samskara (sacred thread initiation), but this does not mean that this system should be used for preaching. There are two kinds of vaishnavas -- bhajananandi and gosthyanandi. A bhajananandi is not interested in preaching work, but a gosthyanandi is interested in spreading Krishna consciousness to benefit the people and increase the number of vaishnavas. A vaishnava is understood to be above the position of a brahmana. As a preacher, he should be recognized as a brahmana; otherwise there may be misunderstanding of his position as a vaishnava." In his revival of the preaching mission of Lord Caitanya, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur performed the savitra-samskara for his disciples; he met opposition even from disciples from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur who thought he was transgressing the sampradaya. But this does not necessarily mean he introduced something before unseen in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Historian Dr. Ramkantha Cakravarti has furnished evidence that the savitra-samskara was previously observed in some vaishnava communities of Bengal, but not all; these communities even awarded the sacred thread to devotees from non-brahmana families. This tradition had  ong been decried by the smarta-apasampradaya  but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saras ati made it the standard.

The smartas also claim exclusive right to worship the saligram-sila. And of course they never marry outside of the brahmana caste: this taboo is followed so rigidly that a smarta father would rather give his daughter to the son of a tantrik-brahmana than a non-brahmana vaishnava.

Smashing all these arrogant notions, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur soundly defeated the smarta-apasampradaya at Valighai Uddharanapura in September of 1911. He presented a work entitled Brahmana o Vaisnavera Taratmya Vishayaka Siddhanta in which he conclusively argued the superiority of vaishnavas to brahmanas. Sambidananda das relates that he read this paper before a gathering of more than ten thousand pandits, and though he was the youngest speaker present, he was acclaimed by the judges as the winner of the dispute. Still, attempts were made to harm him, and he was placed under police protection.

Caste Brahmana Values

According to ISKCON observers, the Bengali caste brahmanas have become so materialistic that they no longer show interest in religious affairs (many have become leaders in the Communist Party of West Bengal). But the smarta contamination has a subtle side that ISKCON devotees would do well to familiarize themselves with. It is a shift of values more than of behavior or even philosophy.

Smarta values are purusarthika. Vaishnava values are paramapurusarthika. The difference between the two are explained by Srila Prabhupada thusly:

"Purusartha ('the goal of life') generally refers to religion, economic development, satisfaction of the senses and, finally, liberation. However, above these four kinds of purusarthas, love of Godhead stands supreme. It is called paramapurusartha (the supreme goal of life) or purusartha-siromani (the most exalted of all purusarthas)." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 7.24, purport)

The vaishnavas value regulated activities prescribed in the scriptures that cultivate pure love of Godhead. Indeed, they are forbidden by Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.9 to value these activities for anything less. The vaishnavas therefore perform their duties according to paramapurusarthika-smrti-sastras like Narada Pancaratra, Hari-Bhakti-Vilasa, Sri Sat-Kriya-Sara-Dipika, and Samskara-Candrika-Paddhati, which reveal the Krishna conscious purport to the duties of the varnas and ashramas. The smartas, on the other hand, follow purusarthika-smrti-sastras like Karma Vipaka Maharnava, Karma-Kanda-Paddhati, Prayascitta Kadamva, Prayascitta-Parijata, Prayascitta-Pradipika, Smarta-Vyavastharnava, and so on. The acara of a strict smarta-brahmana and a strict vaishnava may externally be hardly distinguishable, but the consciousness is completely different. For instance:

a) The smartas observe varnashrama-dharma as a means to engage and satisfy their own worldly desires. The vaishnavas observe it for the satisfaction of Vishnu.

b) Though the smartas officially worship Lord Vishnu, they think Him subject to reincarnation and the regulations of sastra. Side-by-side Vishnu, the smartas worship demigods as equals to Him. Their attitude is offensive, and thus their worship is never accepted by Lord Vishnu.

c) Smartas observe ekadasi to enhance their sense of self-accomplishment. Vaishnavas observe ekadasi to enhance their devotion to the Lord.

d) Smartas bathe in the Ganga to be washed clean of sins. Vaishnavas think of the Ganga as nectar emanating from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu.

e) Smartas establish temples and install Deities for economic considerations. They think they, by their rituals, bring life to the form of the Lord. They utilize temples for self-advertisement and for social and moral welfare, e.g. as hospitals and mundane day schools. Smartas think the only qualification for worshiping the Deity is birth in a brahmana family. The smartas fail to understand that nama-sankirtan is the life and soul of all religion in this age, including Deity worship. They therefore see the Deity as a statue and have no loving reciprocation with Him.

f) Smartas commit the offense of arthavada harinama kalpanam whenever they chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. (This is the offense of considering the chanting of Hare Krishna to be one of the auspicious ritualistic activities offered in the Vedas as fruitive activities).

g) Smartas enjoy prasadam and caranamrta, whereas the Vaishnavas respect these sacred items.

h) Though the smartas accept initiation from a guru, they do it out of social custom with no regard for his qualification or the seriousness of the vows of initiation. The smarta disciple keeps the guru as a pet, and the guru keeps the disciple as a means of maintenance.

i) For the smarta, dharma is a matter of bodily identification and activity. Vaishnavas understand it as devotional service to Krishna, the sad-dharma of the soul.

j) Smartas value Tulasi-devi as a plant of medicinal value. They usually hide their Tulasi neckbeads, wearing them openly only on ceremonial occasions. Sometimes they treat Tulasi with great ceremonial pomp, but only to advertise their own apparent piety. As a part of this exaggerated piety, they offer Tulasi leaves at the feet of the guru, though Tulasi should only be offered to Krishna's lotus feet. They think that by dropping Tulasi leaves on any preparation -- even fish -- it becomes automatically acceptable to the Lord.

k) Smartas cherish all sorts of mundane ideas about the vaishnava scriptures. They agree with the vaishnavas that it is a good thing to memorize Srimad-Bhagavatam, because then one can make money by bhagavat-saptaha recitations. They understand the Bhagavad-gita to be a blend of different religious concepts like karma, jnana, mystic yoga, and bhakti, or a book on war, politics, impersonalism and social liberation.

l) Smartas partake in rites of birth, marriage and death in the ignorant bodily conception, and thus derive great pleasure or pain from them.

m) They observe caturmasya for fruitive gain and liberation, not as a means of dedicating themselves to the service of the Lord.

n) The smartas idea of gotra (family) is totally mundane. For them, gotras facilitate reproduction of the brahmana community. They intermarry only between select family lines, which are listed as 8, 29, and up to 3 crore (30 million). The vaishnavas know only one gotra - the Acyuta Gotra, which is Krishna's own transcendental family of devotees.

o) When smartas visit the holy dhama, they follow external rules such as those prescribed in Astavimsati-Tattva (The Twenty-eight Propositions) by Raghunandana Bhattacarya. Here it is advised that great piety will be gained by visiting Jagannath Puri on the Snana-yatra Day. One's forefathers will be greatly satisfied and sinful reactions eradicated. But there is no instruction on how to satisfy Lord Jagannatha on this day and thus advance in devotional service. Smartas fast and shave their heads in the holy dhama because they believe these activities will relieve them from sins and bring auspiciousness. They fear that they incur sins by accepting maha-prasadam in the holy dhama without first cleaning their mouths. If maha-prasadam is served by a non-brahmana, they think it becomes impure. Likewise, if maha-prasadam or Ganges water is transported away from the dhama by train, bus or car, it loses its potency. Smartas also engage in materialistic calculations about the relative benefits of visiting one holy place instead of another. For obtaining a particular boon, they may visit Puri instead of Vrindavan, thinking that Vrindavan is not so effective in satisfying this specific desire. But another kind of benediction is better sought in Dvaraka than at Puri, and so on. They also believe that there are certain months when it becomes inauspicious to visit a particular holy place. By their hifalutin ways, smartas simply commit offenses at the feet of the holy name, holy dhama, the vaishnavas, the Deity and maha-prasadam.

Vaishnavas have no selfish desires they expect the dhama to fulfill, nor do they have sins to unload there. They know that the places of the Lord's pastimes, the temples and Deities, devotional service, devotees and devotional paraphernalia, and all the times and circumstances thereof, are transcendental.

Maha-prasadam is honorable even if it drops on the ground from the mouth of a hog. Lord Caitanya was very pleased with Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya when he accepted prasadam upon just rising from bed. Sarvabhauma took the role of a smarta-brahmana in Lord Caitanya's pastimes to show this community that their only salvation is the association of a pure devotee.