[Advaita-l] shudra

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Aug 19 23:54:00 CDT 2009

On Mon, 17 Aug 2009, Michael Shepherd wrote:

> I would be happy to clear up this matter of 'shudra' with the help of
> members here : it is clearly an aspect of advaita, yet there seems to be a
> confusion about the real meaning of the term -- and thus, whether it has any
> relevance in today's society..
> The confusions seem to be two in particular : first, that varna and jati and
> 'caste' are randomly used in relation to shudra; and second, that by
> translating it as 'labourer' rather than 'servant' there is a sense of
> inferiority implied.

A big problem is the varna system as depicted in books bears little 
relation to the system that actually exists in Indian society.  The Shudra 
varna as a sociological category is meaningless.  Shudra castes include 
economically dominant landholders, professionals and artisans as well as the 
oppressed and downtrodden.  And this is not new, in fact it has been the 
state of affairs for all of Indias recorded history.  Even in the shastras 
it is not cut and dry.  For instance of the two examples Shankaracharya 
gives of Shudras who were jnanis, one Dharmavyadha was a hunter and 
butcher of meat but the other Vidura was the minister of the Kurus, hardly 
a servile position.

> Yet if the definition of 'servant' and 'service' is applied, it is
> immediately obvious that one can serve kings, ministers, brahmins,
> kshatriyas, and anyone else -- paid or unpaid -- with the highest
> faithfulness, skills, devotion, and knowledge.
> How then can any spiritual gifts be denied to shudras ? How can shudra be
> seen as
> next to dalit in some map of society ?

If Shudra means anything at all it is they are not dvija or twice-born. 
That means they are not entitled to initiation into the study of the 
Vedas.  The problem is that the Upanishads are the basis of Vedanta and 
being part of the Vedas, it would prima facie seem to mean that Shudras 
(and women, and foreigners etc.) are not eligible to study Vedanta and 
achieve moksha.  This view was indeed held by some thinkers and even in 
the Smarta tradition, there are some orders that do not accept non-dvija 
or non-Brahmanas.

But this is not the majority view and Shankaracharya 
explains why.  The function of the karmakanda of the Vedas is to 
produce the desired goal (icchita phala) by means of accumulating 
merit and avoiding sin.  This goal once acquired is enjoyed until 
it becomes exhausted whereupon the cycle has to begin again.  Adhikara or 
eligibility for karma legitimately depends on external factors (along with 
caste they could include, gender, age, wealth, region, level of education, 
etc.) because the body itself is the product of this process of karma. 
However jnana is different.  Brahman is not a thing to be acquired neither 
can it be lost as it is the indwelling essence of all that is.  One who 
posesses qualities such as chetana (awareness), viveka (the ability to 
discriminate between real and non-real,) vairagya (renunciation of 
material things) etc. has the adhikara to know Brahman.  And as it is 
plainly evident that the non-dvija are capable of posessing such 

So much for theory but the practical problem still remains.  Without 
access to the Vedas _how_ will non-dvija get the knowledge that leads to 
liberation?  Bhagavan Krishna Dvaipayana who is called Vedavyasa because 
of organizing the Vedas into four, also took the essence of the Vedas and 
composed the Mahabharata (which contains the Bhagavadgita, Sanatasujatiyam 
etc.) and the 18 puranas culminating in the Bhagavata.  By studying these 
(which are therefore collectively known as the fifth veda,) the non-dvija 
can also receive the same spiritual gifts available to the Brahmanas, 
Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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