[Advaita-l] RE: Advaita-l Digest, Vol 32, Issue 7

Sanjay Srivastava sksrivastava68 at gmail.com
Wed Dec 7 14:16:40 CST 2005

Sri Rammohan, Chandrashekar wrote:

> My question is
> How do we determine our Swadharma, is it based on our caste ( As in if we
> are born a Brahmin, we are supposed to learn and teach, while if we are born
> a Vaishya, we are supposed to be traders in business) OR
> Is it based on interests ?? Are there any indications or clues to know that
> we have identified our Swadharma correctly ?

We are having a similar discussion on shrauta list. I am taking
liberty to copy from my posting there as it may be relevant in this

varNAshrama dharma is an issue that every conscientious
hindu has to necessarily come to terms with sometime in his life.

Members of a living tradition learn their dharma by observing their
elders and other learned members of the community. However our mind
loves to revel in extremes and create dichotomies. Either I do not
want to follow my varNAshrama dharma at all or I want to follow it
according to some ideal concept described in a book. I submit that
neither of the two extremes are valid choices and the going-by-book
approach is only marginally better than not following at all.

VarNAshrama dharma has come to us not through some vaccuum but through
a living tradition. When I want to understand my dharma independent of
the community practice, I dissociate it from the living element in it.
If I approach shAstra in this way, it becomes difficult to know what
the arthavAda and what was the practice. It is only such followers who
are apt to conclude that in some pristine past all members of the
vedic dharma
adopted sannyAsa towards the end of their life or once upon a time
streets of India were teaming with shUdras filled with molten metal in
their ears. We know from tradition that actually sannyAsa was only an
ideal that few adopted and there is no record of pouring any molten
metal in anyone's ears.

On the other hand, if I approach shAstra from the other end-- i.e.
learning my dharma first hand from the conduct of my elders and other
learned members of the community and philosophizing later-- issues do
not muddle to such extent. My varNAshrama dharma is not what was
followed in some glorious past by the rishis of the yore, but that
which has been handed over to me from my ancestors. Vedic dharma has
become weak but not yet extinct. If the elders of the family do not
have an idea of this dharma usually some members of the community
would have.

I can speak from my experience as my caste would not fit in any of the
varNa and there are thousands of such castes in hinduism. Going by the
book it should mean that the members of my community would not have
any idea of their varNAshrama dharma, but the reality is not so. I can
spot a kAyastha from any part of India through certain distinct
practices such as inclination towards devI worship, taking "pen" as a
deity, earning livelihood through "pen", high emphasis on classical
music training for girls etc. Even today I will be surprised to see a
kAyastha in agriculture or business or army while I would expect a
disproportionately high percentage in government, law or teaching.
Supporting and honoring a vedic scholar would be considered
commendable, however active learning of vedas would be not. While
there may be lip service to veda in community religious services,
shAstras that are actually used and referred are gIta, durgA-
saptashatI and rAmcharitmAnas. It seems that even when members do not
follow their practices, they have a fair idea of what is expected of
them in their varNAshrama dharma.

I submit that our varNAshrama dharma is essentially community
specific. There is no sanitized varNAshrama dharma that is applicable
to all. There are some religions where whatever you have to know about
your dharma is contained in a book. This luxury has not been granted
to the follower of vedic dharma. There are no easy answers for him.
Follower of vedic dharma cannot learn his dharma from books or web
boards. He will have to necessarily go down to the hurly-burly of his
community life to understand his varNAshrama dharma.


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