[Advaita-l] Brahmins and Vaishnavas

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 30 17:21:26 CDT 2010

> This website has questioned Brahmanas today. Have they become Sudras?
> http://gosai.com/writings/the-ontological-position-of-the-vaishnava-over-the-brahmana
> A is a Brahmin settled in USA. He has crossed ocean and he is working
> for foreigners. Sudra Vrutti.
> B is white American come to India and doing devotional service in Iskcon temple.
> C is Indian non dvija doing devotional service in Iskcon temple.
> How is A better than B and C? Iskcon says B and C are converted to
> Brahmanas but A converted to Sudra.
> Any counter arguments from learned members ?

Dear Venkatesh,
I've seen this webpage many years ago and dismissed it without much thought. To raise social
and political issues to the status of ontological debates is a fruitless exercise. In such debates,
as far as they have to do with the social order, one has to first address whether varNa is quite
completely determined by birth or not. To say that A has lost brAhmaNa status and become a 
SUdra presumes that brAhmaNa-tva is determined by birth. To say that B and C have acquired
brAhmaNa status presumes that brAhmaNa-tva is not determined by birth. Which is it?

ISKCON leaders may have a vested interest in privileging those who perform devotional service
in their temples. How about those Indian groups of non-dvija-s who have performed devotional
service for generations over generations in temples that are hundreds and thousands of years
old in India? What about their caste status? These would include cowherds who supply milk, the
women who provide flowers, the devadAsI-s who provided music and dance services in temples,
the shehnai and nAdaswaram players who played music for ritual processions and festivals, the
farmers who donated a portion of their agricultural produce to the temple - the list goes on. And
how about those born in dvija families, who never leave Indian shores, work for multinational
companies, i.e. foreigners, but still find time for devotional service in temples or to keep up their
rituals at home?
One can argue back and forth and ask many such questions and give many answers, for ever
and ever, but how is that going to help gain insight into vedAnta, the primary focus of this mailing
It seems to me that you are highly engaged with brAhmaNa-tva and its attendant privileges and
responsibilities. I would suggest a study of the sanatsujAtIya bhAshya. Those who want to stick
only to the prasthAna trayI bhAshya-s may contest that it is by Sankara bhagavatpAda, but the
fact remains that it is a text accepted within the advaita vedAnta tradition as authentic.

The sanatsujAtIya is a portion of the mahAbhArata epic, containing vidura's dialogue with the blind
king, dhRtarAshTra. At one point, dhRtarAshTra asks for clarifications on adhyAtma vidyA and
vidura uses his yogic powers and summons the Rshi, sanatsujAta, to talk to the king. The reason
is that vidura says that being born a SUdra, it would be better if he did not teach the king himself.
The bhAshya on this introduction is very important to read and keep in mind. Here, vidura is
described as Sruta-vAkya. Clearly, his being a SUdra did not stand in the way of his "having heard
the vAkya-s". Lest you think this is a very nebulous term and does not mean that vidura had heard
the veda-s, he is further described as recalling the nArada-sanatkumAra dialogue in the chAndogya
upanishad and thinking to himself that sanatkumAra would similarly address the king's questions.
Clearly, according to this bhAshya, vidura's SUdra status did not prevent him from not only being
a jnAnI, but also being someone who knew the veda, and specifically the chAndogya upanishad.
If hot molten lead should have been poured into his SUdra ears for having heard and remembered
the veda, the sanatsujAtIya bhAshya is totally silent about such a punishment. Also, in the epic,
vidura's SUdra status did not stand in the way of his having the power to summon an ancient 
Rshi and introduce him to the king. All of which goes to show that one can talk of caste and varNa
and jAti and class and social status and sundry other topics till one is blue in the face, but in the
end, jnAna alone counts.

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