What is adhikAra? (fwd)

Nanda Chandran Nanda.Chandran at NBC.COM
Tue Jun 2 12:51:48 CDT 1998

I agree with Jaladhar that whatever one may infer from the scriptures
about castes et al, still there's the reality of what exists and is
practiced. The caste system of today fits quite well with Jaladhar's
pattern and not at all with the idealistic interpretation of the
scriptures. The popular argument is that the current caste system is
just a recent transformation (not for the better) of the original
system. Somehow I don't find it convincing that a group of people
suddenly conspired to take over the society, transformed the existing
system and successfully brainwashed the people who followed meekly like
lambs! To substantiate this argument the scriptures are interpreted in a
idealistic way, saying one who's attained Brahman is a Brahmana. Even
though there's sufficient evidence in our scriptures to refute this
claim, I would like to seek the support of an other source - nastika

The oldest known recorded date in the history of the Bharath is the
death of the Buddha - 483 BC. It's a commonly accepted that the
Compassionate One was a nastika - one who didn't subscribe to the
authority of the shruti. So what was the caste system like during his
day - 2500 years back and a full millennium before Adi Shankara? The
same as today!

The last chapter of the Dhammapada, which is widely considered to
contain the authentic teachings of the Buddha, is called the
Brahmanavaggo or The Brahmana. When one reads this chapter it's quite
obvious that the same questions that we're asking today were asked even
then! The Buddha defines a Brahmana as one who's devoid of all desires
and fear, who's known the uncreated, whose conduct is impeccable, who
considers the well being of others above his own etc Though he doesn't
outright say that a Brahmana cannot obtain the status by birth,
indirectly he states that neither by the origin of the mother nor by
lineage nor by jati (yes, this word is used) can one be a Brahmana. It's
obvious that this was intended to check the authority of the Brahmanas.

No, my point is not to seek support in the teachings of Gautama
Siddhartha to justify the ethical interpretation, but to point out that
the situation was quite the same as today, even 2500 years back. So
what's to say it wasn't the same always? All said and done the Buddha
was a nastika, who's definitely opposed to Brahmanic Vedism. It's widely
acknowledged that though professing to expound the Middle Way, the
Buddha actually took the extreme stand in some cases, which is just not
practical and thus eventually sounded the death knell for Buddhism in
the land of it's origin - encouraging monk hood at any age, no
deification, no metaphysical speculation, a philosophy with a
pessimistic view of life (however true it might be!) expounding only
hard core morals. Will all due respect to the Compassionate One and
despite acknowledging him as the singular greatest Bharathiya
philosopher, I would rather side with the *collective* wisdom of seers
who have taken the opposite stand with respect to the caste system. And
if truth (OK, practical truth :-) is what finally triumphs, then the
seers have obviously had the last word.

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