What is adhikAra? (fwd)

Prashant Sharma psharma at BUPHY.BU.EDU
Wed Jun 3 21:08:03 CDT 1998

Nanda Chandran wrote:

> 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
> literature.

    The current caste system includes  social ills like untouchability.
Are you trying to say that these things existed even in the time of the
Buddha?  These ills are  considered by sociologists to be a spin-off  of
the desire for political power and  dominance of the "upper" caste, rather
than as something which has been practiced from day one.  Besides, the
practice of the sanAtana dharma has not even the remotest connections to
exploitation of one group of people by another. In other words the part of
orthopraxy that has direct bearing to a regions body politik has to arise
with changes in the political system and cannot be independent of it.
Therefore it can be discarded without any loss of "dharmic" activity.   On
the other hand issues like vedadhikAra, brahmanatva, etc., seem to have
nothing whatsoever to do with the politics of an era, and it is reasonable
to assume that they are an important part of dharma and have been so since
quite a long time.

> 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.

    If you think of the caste system as some kind of an artificial tool,
one has to realise that the 'triumph' has come with  its own cost--the
confusion that is it really a tool or does it imply some genuine
preconditions on the attainment of jnana?

Prashant Sharma.

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