viprataa (was Re: Sadhana)

Charles Wikner WIKNER at NACDH4.NAC.AC.ZA
Tue May 12 05:29:55 CDT 1998

On Fri, 8 May 1998, sadananda <sada at ANVIL.NRL.NAVY.MIL> wrote:

> We may give a
> broader meaning to the sloks 2 and 3  in VivekachuuDamani, but the
> contextual meaning in relation to the existing practices at that time and
> history when the book was written, there is no doubt that Shankara meant
> brahmana by birth as is examplified by his relavent text Upadesha sahasri
> where qualifications of the student is much more eloborately discussed.

Hindu commentators will naturally interpret the Vedas in term of
the own culture and traditions.  Only a brahmana may study the
scripture, therefore only a brahmana will be competent to comment
upon them: this becomes a self-perpetuating circle.  To draw an
unfair analogy from recent Western history: in apartheid South
Africa the blacks were considered inferior by birth, therefore
they were given an inferior education, therefore they remained
inferior; the same circular logic kept the slaves in the USA
illiterate.  I did say it was an unfair analogy!  But it does,
in part, explain a Westerner's reaction to the caste system
(from which he is excluded by birth), and why he will necessarily
interpret the scriptures as referring to the subtle and causal
bodies rather than the gross (and yet admit a connection between
those bodies).

Another objection of the outsider, is that the Vedas apply to the
entire creation and not just the Indian sub-continent: there is
not a separate Reality for the United States, for example.

In a sense, foreigners have an advantage in not being emotionally
caught up in physical and political aspects of tradition, and
approach Advaita intellectually, and seize the opportunity for
spiritual development.  The glory of Advaita is that it is
all-embracing, all-inclusive: it offers an explanation for all
physical and subtle creations; it accepts all philosophies,
even the materialist caarvaaka; it accepts everything very
positively and points out that, whatever it is, is limited
and is not the final Truth.  Then it explains the limitations,
and gives practical advice to transcend those limits in order
to finally realise the Truth.  It is indeed marvellous and
glorious, and is the only system that speaks so clearly of
the Absolute (Nirguna Brahman).

This INclusivity of Advaita is very attractive (yo vai bhuumaa
tatsukham, Ch.7.23.1), but when the subject of caste arises
nowadays it seems to become EXclusive (naalpe sukham).

The oral tradition that has flawlessly preserved the Vedas
over thousands of years, is a miracle.  It is incomprehensible
to the individual mind: I stand in awe before it; it is worthy
of unqualified respect.

Given the quantity of scripture to be learnt by heart, and the
understood and put into practice, before teaching or expounding,
this would mean starting very young.  (That is what I understand
by study of the scriptures, not the part-time dabbling that most
members of the list indulge in.)  To support this implies a
division of labour in society, and since the division needs to
be made at a very young age, the wisdom of a family-based caste
system is obvious.

In the West, before the advent of the industrial revolution and
mass secular education, the son generally followed the trade or
profession of his father: that was a practical and efficient way
of retaining knowledge and skills in society.  (I am not equating
the two systems, merely pointing out that the principle is not
unfamiliar in the West.)  The system does tend to fall away in
a fast-changing and mobile society, which becomes democratic and

For all that, I do accept your gentle rebuke that the "contextual
meaning" of vipra is brahmana.  In fact, given that the list is
now strictly Advaita according to Shankara, I am way out of line:
my apologies for deviating!

> Again, qualifications to the study of scriptures is different from the
> qualifications for moksha. This, one has to be clear.

That is a subtle point that I had not appreciated before the
discussion arose on the list.  I had assumed that the orthodox
view summarised by Jaldhar (Re: Sadhana, Wed 6 May 1998) was
the only one:

> Brahman is known through comprehension of Shruti
> (Cf. Brahmasutra 1.1.3)  Only the male dvija and amongst
> them the Brahmans are eligible to study the Vedas.
> Therefore only they are eligible to know Brahman.

(Jaldhar did stress that this is but _one_ orthodox view.)

Regards, Charles.

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