Varna and one more, Question by Ravi Chandrasekhara MD

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Oct 19 09:14:15 CDT 2001

On Tue, 16 Oct 2001, K. Sadananda wrote:

> I would like to separate the practice of casteism (I am not sure the
> spelling is right!) versus the fundamental basis for casteism.

If you knew the fundamental basis for the caste system, why didn't you
tell us earlier?  It would have saved a lot of typing! :-)

Without facts, any assertions of what is fundamental is just one persons
word against another and will get us nowhere.  How can we determine the
facts in this situation?  Certainly we can look at the texts themselves.
But as I've mentioned before, this is not necessarily enough.  I maintain
we also need to take a phenomonological approach and look at what our
ancestors actually did as well as what they said.

>  We
> have discussed this so many times in this list that it pretty soon
> gets muddled with emotional aspects associated with the caste since
> there are social implications and practice of discrimination on the
> basis of caste. From the point of practice point, most of the rules
> of who is Brahman, etc., I gather, is laid down by Manu dharma
> shaastra.

There are 18 principal smrtikaras as well as sections on Dharma in the
kalpasutras of Apastambha, Bodhayana etc. as well sections in the Puranas.
As well as commentaries on these texts, there are the nibandhas or
compendia which collect all the quotes from dharmashastras and organize
them by topic.

Though atleast theoretically all the texts can be reconciled, different
dharmashastras have been more influential in various parts of India.  In
the west the Yajnavalkyasmrti with the Mitakshara commentary of
Vijnaneshwar, in Bengal the works of Raghunandana Bhattacharya, in South
India the Parasharasmrti with Madhaviyam of Madhavacharya.  The
Vaidyanathadikshitiyam, Dharmasindhu, Nirnayasindhu have also been
mentioned.  The Manvarthamuktavali of Kulluka Bhatta on Manusmrti,
Chaturavargachintamani of Hemadri, the works of Abhinava Vachaspati
Mishra, Kamalakara Bhatta, and Tryambaka Yajvan have also been
been considered authoritative.

The point is there is a voluminous literature on Dharmashastra.
("History of Dharmashastra" by P.V. Kane contains the most thorough
research on this subject.)  All this must be considered when forming an
opinion on the subject.

> On a  fundamental basis- I consider the classification is universal
> (independent of time and place) and scientific.  It is the
> classification of human behavior based on the texture of vaasana-s -
> that reflect in terms of satva rajo tamo guNa-s.  Four combinations
> are predominately the classification intended for ones evolution.  It
> is intended for self-evaluation and self-evolution since evolution
> progresses from tamas to rajas to saatvic nature.  Hence spiritual
> practices will be more successful if one evaluates oneself correctly
> and subscribes to appropriate saadhana-s that is in tune with his
> tendencies - this is part of swadharma that by following one dharma
> one can evolve more rapidly.  It is not intended to judge others
> whether the other one is a Brahmin or not.
> Ones birth is related to ones vaasana-s.  Basis of caste on the basis
> of birth is putting cart before the horse.  The root cause is
> vaasana-s and one knows his own vaasana-s more than other people's
> vaasana-s.

This cannot be because shastras mention both wicked Brahmans like Ajamila
or Ravana, and virtuous Shudras like Vidura or Ekalavya.  If the varnas
were defined "ethically" and a matter of vaasanas or tendencies, a wicked
Brahman would be an oxymoron.  Rather what the shastras put forth is an
ideal.  A Brahman should be truthful, learned etc.  Throughout history,
the best of them have met the ideal.  Those that fall short of the mark
should at least meet them.

> I am not disagreeing with Jaldhar.  He emphasizes certain aspects
> that cannot be denied either.  The example of satyakaama he mentioned
> if one examines, the teacher concludes that the boy must be Brahmin
> because he is not afraid of telling the truth.  Telling the truth is
> a necessary condition of being a Brahman (as Ravi pointed out that it
> is dharma) but not a sufficient condition - in that case everybody
> who tells the truth is a Brahmin.   We have several questions in the
> scriptures that declares that one is Brahman not by birth but by guNa
> and Karma -

Or rather birth is only one of the conditions.

> In Mahabhaarata - YudhishhTara answers questions of
> Nahishaa to that effect.  This is different from what was being
> practiced at that time- Dronaachaarya is one example - Vyasasa was
> born of Brahmin father and fisher-woman.  Vishvamitra was born of
> kshatriya.   Valmiiki himself was an example- People say previously
> he was a Brahmin.  DR^itaraashhTra. PanDu and Vidura -The first two
> are considered as Kshatriya-s and the third one suudra since their
> mothers were of those castes while father for all the three was Vyasa
> himself.   The Vijrasuuchi upanishad provides a classification of
> castes not on the basis of birth but on the basis of guNa and karma.
> Jaldhar does not consider that as an authentic Upanishad and I am not
> qualified to judge its authenticity either way.

If one wants to use a "scientific" approach than any evidence which is
dubious or open to question must be held invalid.

> But the fact is it
> says so very clearly.  Hence I refuse to get into any arguments on
> these other than to learn besides the quoted upanishads and smR^it
> pramaaNa is there any other direct statements in shruti-s in terms of
> classification.  Manudharma shaastra is not pramaaNa it is  law-book
> to laid down for smooth operation of society at that time.

Which time?  And as for smrtis not being pramana, our sampradaya is not
called Smarta for nothing.  Also if Yajnavalkyas words in Yajnavalkya
smrti are only for a certain time, why are the same persons words in
Brhadaranyakopanishad not only valid for a certain time?

> Now having said all these, I must confess something.  I may sound
> like a hypocrite, but I am quite sensitive to the reverse
> discrimination in the name of caste.


> I am
> trying to be practical at the cost of being branded as a hypocrite.

I don't think you are being a hypocrite at all.  You have realized as all
clear thinkers must that any ideology however grand and elaborate and
pleasing to the mind must in the end be judged by practicality.  Both
universalist and particularist ideologies have merits and problems.
Saying "all people are the same" leads to a more open and peaceful
society but it also leads to alienation and everyone being pulled to an
insipid lowest common denominator.  Saying "people are different" leads to
greater tolerance but can also lead to the neglect of the less fortunate.
No human society has yet to achieve the perfect balance between the two,
the successful ones atleast have got close.

So the people reading this should stop thinking about big ideas like
"casteism" and instead ask themselves "Have I treated the people around me
with love and respect?"  If no, then *you*, not society, not God, have to
make amends.  If yes, you needn't feel the slightest bit guilty in
following the path your ancestors have followed for millenia.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

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