Birth and Caste (was Re: [Advaita-l] RE: Vedic Shakhas ...)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at
Thu Jan 20 17:30:30 CST 2005

Traditionally, birth and caste have gone hand in hand, but here are
some arguments I can think of for the case that caste is not derived
from birth. I'd like to know what list members think of these points:

1) This argument comes from modern genetics. This is one argument that
is not usually given in such a context, but since we (advaitins, etc.)
do accept pratyaksha and anumAna as being valid knowledge in the realm
of vyavahAra, this argument is perfectly sound:

Modern genetics has *proven* that Native Americans, Europeans,
Asian-Indians (such as ourselves), and East-Asians (Chinese, Japanese,
etc.) -- all had a common MALE ancestor about 2000 generations ago!
This has been *established* by genetic research using the DNA obtained
from humans living in various parts of the world. There is even a DVD
(available from for $24) that speaks about it in detail,
called "The Journey of Man" that details the migration of man from one
continent to another, causing the genetic variations. The man who most
closely resembles the ancient ancestor lives in present-day Siberia,
and could easily be mistaken to be Indian, or Chinese or Caucasian!

Given this nugget of information, it is safe to say that there *must*
have been a common ancestor for all Indians who are presently known to
be BrAhmaNas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and ShUdras. Given that all of them
had a common ancestor a long time ago, what could possibly have been
the caste of that ancestor if VarNAshrama dharma is to be believed
wholesale? How can the claim that "the ancestors of BrAhmaNas were all
BrAhmaNas, the ancestors of Kshatriyas were all Kshatriyas, etc." be
believed in such a context, when it is IMPOSSIBLE that a BrAhmaNa and a
Vaishya had a common ancestor (the dharma shAstras specifically say
that an intermarriage between the two castes does not result in either
a BrAhmaNa or a Vaishya)?

2) There are a whole set of texts that say that a BrAhmaNa is one by
character and not by birth. e.g. VajrasUchika upanishhad,
YudhishhThira's dialog with the Yaksha, etc. The MahAbhArata is replete
with examples of people whose birth is dubious, but whose BrAhmaNahood
is certain. One example is Veda VyAsa himself, who is said to be the
son of ParAshara and a fisherwoman. There was a discussion about this a
long time ago with the subject line "brahman by birth or guna and
karma", and one can read some postings a long time ago:



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