Brahmasutrabhashya on adhikara

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Tue May 12 14:16:08 CDT 1998

In the light of the recent discussions we've been having on the subject I
thought it might be interesting to mention the discussion in the
Brahmasutrabhashya on the subject.

First an overview of how the topic arises.  In the third brahmasutra it
 is established that Brahman is to be known through the shastras.  So many
of the following sutras explain seemingly obscure and irrelevant topics
simply because they are mentioned in one upanishad or another.

One such discussion is about the being who is of the size of a thumb who
lives in the heart.  (mentioned in the Kathopanishad I believe.)  It is
established that this refers to Brahman.  A doubt arises.  "Why is Brahman
being compared to a thumb and said to live in the heart?"  The answer is
given that the human body is being referenced because it is only human
beings who are able to know the Vedas and hence Brahman.

Another question arises, "what of the Devas and other sentient creatures?
Do they have the right to study?"  Maharshi Jaimini the author of the
Purvamimamsa Sutras says no.  Maharshi Badarayana , the author of the
Brahma sutras answers yes on account of the Devas also having human-like
forms, desires etc.

Which in turn leads to another question.  "What of the Sudras.  As they
also have human forms they are as entitled as the Devas to learn."  The
Vedantic conclusion is _no_.  Brahmasutra I.3.34-38 and the bhashya
thereon gives the reasons. Please note, this is only a paraphrase (as was
the overview above) translated by me and you need to read and understand
the real thing to get the full picture.

34. it refers to sorrow from hearing his insult.

In the chandogyopanishad King Janashruti approaches the Brahman Raikva to
learn brahmavidya and is called a shudra and rebuffed.  When he asks a
second time he is taught.  Therefore it would appear a Shudra is entitled
to learn.  This sutra refutes this view as shudra in this case means
"sorrowful one" not it's conventional meaning of a member of the Shudra
caste.  Because he was in sorrow when he approached Raikva Rshi, he was
rebuffed and called shudra.  When he transcended his sorrow and came to
him a second time, he was accepted.

35.  And because his Kshatriyahood is known through his relationship with
the son of Chitrarath.

Further proof that he was not a Shudra by caste is the fact that he was
actually a Kshatriya.  How do we know?  Because the Chandogyopanishad
mentions his relationship to the son of the Kshatriya Chitrarath. (who is
called Chaitrarath Abhipratin.)

Incidentally this sutra also disposes of the common modern attempt to
reinterpret caste "ethically."  according to these people, a Shudra should
be interpreted as someone who is "less evolved" (e.g. afflicted by sorrow etc.)
and the other castes represent "higher" states of self-realization etc.
However note that it is on account of being _realated_ to the _son_ of a
Kshatriya that Janashruti is said to be one.  I think that proves that
caste is something inherited by blood.

36. And sanskaras are mentioned but for them their absence is declared.

In the shastras various sanskaras are mentioned for the Dvijas such as
Yagnopavit etc.  But Shudras are explicitly not allowed to perform them.

The Vedas are not some paperback you can pick up at Barnes and Nobles and
peruse in the cafe along with a latte and a piece of cake.  They have to
be learnt in a proper way after the proper rituals.  If Shudras cannot
perform these they cannot study the Vedas.  This sutra also shows that
Vedanta is not "against" rituals.  To be sure Shankaracharya thinks they
are irrelevant for a sannyasi (the only true Vedantin according to him.)
However they are a proper preperation for the study of Vedanta and their
performance or non-performance has a real effect on the type of sadhana

37.  And only after ascertaining the absence of that was he inclined.

He in this case refers to Maharshi Gautama.  The Chandogyopanishad also
tells the story of Satyakama Jabala who learnt the Brahmavidya from
Maharshi Gautama even though he didn't know who his father was.  It was
only after Maharshi Gautama was sure that Satyakama was not a Sudra that
he felt inclined to teach him Vedanta.  How did he know hat Satyakama
wasn't a Sudra.  Because of his devotion to telling the truth even when it
was embarrasing.  The unspoken assumption being that Shudras are incapable
of being that truthful.

Modernists seize on the story of Satyakama as "proving" that caste doesn't
matter but this sutra shows that argument was known and rejected thousands
of years ago and that caste _did_ matter.

38. And their hearing, understanding, and learning is prohibited by the

The smrtis expressly prohibit Shudras from learning, understanding and
indeed hearing the Vedas and hence Brahmavidya.

Another common argument of ignorant modern people is that "casteism" is
just "medieval degeneration" and in the "golden age of the Vedas" everyone
lived in liberty, fraternity, and equality.  But note this sutra
explicitly appeals to the authority of the Smrti.

Shankaracharya finishes his commentary on this discussion by stating the
conclusion:  Shudras are not allowed to study the Vedas (and therfore to
know Brahman.) and then saying something almost paranthetically that
seems startlingly incongrous with which has just gone before.  "But it is
possible for them to attain knowledge through the itihasa (i.e. Ramayana
and Mahabharata including the Gita) and Puranas."

This makes things rather less clear-cut.  It would seem that Moksha _is_
achievable for one who doesn't know the Vedas.  Yet given the preceding
discussion He doesn't seem to be too optimistic about the idea.  To me it
is like saying anyone can become a millionaire.  This may be true in
itself but it is rather less likely for someone who just sits on a couch
watching TV than someone who works hard, studies etc.  In the same way the
theoretical ability of all to achieve moksha doesn't neccessarily
translate to a practical acceptance of that idea.

Btw, if anyone is wondering what women have to do with all this, as they
are also not entitled to Vedic study etc., they are in exactly the same
position as the Shudras for these purposes.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

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