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Who or what is a Brahmana?
Q: Can a sudra or a mleccha become a brahmana in this birth?
A: In the Gaudiya Vaishnava missions that operate in the western countries we see everyone ultimately receiving brahmana-initiation. But which varnasrama-society has only brahmanas? Qualities and birth are non-different— karanam guna sango’sya sad asad yoni janmasu (Bhagavad Gita 13.22). “The cause of birth in either a good or a bad species is one’s attachment to a certain psychological quality (culture, habit).” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has taught His followers trinad api sunicena “One must consider oneself lower than a blade of grass”, not a mleccha claiming to be equal to a brahmana. Caste is for life, just as one cannot change one’s biological father and mother during this lifetime. Once born a European one cannot suddenly, during this lifetime, become an Asian or African. One cannot change ticket mid-flight. A human being can and should not launch one’s own varnasrama dharma, for it is created by God Himself, and He is the highest authority— catur varnyam maya srishtam (Bhagavad Gita 4.12) “The four castes are created by Me (God, Krishna)”, and not by a human being, who wishes to ‘reform’ society, however elevated he may have been. In Srimad Bhagavata (7.15.14) human concoctions about varnasrama dharma are called abhasa dharma, or fallacious religion – yas tvicchaya kritah pumbhir abhaso hyasramat prithak: “That which has been created by man according to their own whim, separately from the established asramas, is called abhasa.” Finding fault in a brahmana or trying to usurp his position will cost you dear, for Sri Krishna Himself says in the Bhagavata (10.64.41-42):
vipram kritagasam api naiva druhyata mamakah
ghnantam bahu sapantah va namaskuruta nityasah
yathaham praname vipran anukulam samahitam
tatha namata yuyam ca ye’nyatha me sa danda-bhak
“O My relatives! Do not harm a brahmana, even if he mistreats you! Even if he is a sinner, abuses you or abundantly curses you, you should always bow down to him. Even I bow down to the brahmanas. Whoever acts otherwise is punishable by Me!”
The best example is Indra, who had to suffer severely for killing the brahmana Vritrasura, even though he was a demon.
If the river Ganga is considered pure in spite of all dirt, if Go is considered worshipable and inviolable even if it comes to kill, the brahmana must also be considered worshipable right from birth despite his faults. Just like gotva, it is the brahmanatva which is glorified. This brahmanatva is by birth, just as the gotva of the cow is by birth.
The Lord further tells Srutadeva –
brahmano janmana sreyan sarvesham praninam iha
tapasa vidyaya tushtya kim u mat kalaya yutah
dushprajna aviditvaivam avajananantyasuyavah; gurum mam vipram atmanam Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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“The brahmana is superior to all living beings by birth. Let alone when he is austere, learned, content and devoted to Me…..”
“Men of crooked understanding, who do not know this, disrespect a brahmana and are envious of him, who is identical with Me and their very self.” (Srimad Bhagavata (10.86.53, 55)
In his commentary to verse 53, Sri Sanatana Gosvami says: janmana jati matrena – “janmana means, just by jati, caste.”
Nanda Maharaja told Garga Muni:
tvam hi brahma-vidam sreshthah samskaran kartum arhasi
balayor anayor nrinam janmana brahmano guruh
(Srimad Bhagavata 10.8.6)
“You are the greatest knower of the Vedas, so you are qualified to perform this rite on my sons. A brahmana is Guru by birth.”
Jiva Goswami Vaishnava comments in his Toshani tika–janmana jatyeva kim punar jnanadinetyarthah – He is Guru by caste, what to speak of by knowledge and so?
Jiva Goswami Brihad Vaishnava Toshani – janmana janma matrenaiva kim punar jnanadinetyarthah “janmana means only by birth, what to speak of knowledge and so?”
Jiva Goswami Krama Sandarbha – janmana jatyeva “By birth means by caste only.”
The Bhagavata (7.11.13) declares that a brahmana must first be born in a family that has always, throughout the generations, followed all the samskaras for the brahmanas—
samskara yad avichinnah sa dvijo’jo jagada yam
“A twice born brahmana is he in whose family the (16) purificatory rites have been performed in unbroken succession and whom Lord Brahma has denominated as such.”
Sripada Sridhara Svami comments on this verse:
sudram tu na mantravat samskara yuktam jagada na copanayanavantam ato nasau dvijah….ato vivaha vyatirikta samskaranavasyakatvat upanayanasya tu sarvatha nishedhat na tasya dvijatvam
“The sudra is not to be invested with mantras nor with the sacred thread, hence he is not a dvija.” “Other than marriage there is no samskara for the sudra, therefore the sacred thread ceremony is forbidden for him in all respects and he cannot be a dvija.” 1
1 prabhu hasi kohe – svami na mane yei jana; vesyara bhitore tare koriye ganana (C.C. Antya 7.115) Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu smilingly replied, “One [a wife] who does not accept the svami (husband or Sridhara Svami in this context) as an authority I consider a prostitute.” Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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What to speak then of a person who is born entirely outside of varnasrama?
Sri Visvanatha Cakravartipada comments on this verse:
samskara mantravanto garbhadhanadayo yasmin sa dvijah. vichinna samskaro dvijabandhur ityarthah. ajo brahma yam jagadeti brahma srishtyarambhata eva pravrittayam dvija jatau visuddha mata pitrikam janmaiva mukhya lakshanam
“A dvija is a person whose parents have gone through purificatory rites like the garbhadhana samskara. When there is no unbroken succession of samskaras the brahmana is called dvija bandhu. This practise is going on since the creation by the unborn Brahma. The main symptom of the twice-born caste is merely birth from a pure father and mother.”
Those who preach mere meritocracy often quote this verse from Srimad Bhagavata (7.11.35):
yasya yallakshanam proktam pumso varnabhivyanjakam
yad anyatrapi drisyeta tat tenaiva vinirdiset
“If what has been declared as a feature of the grade of society of a man is perceived even in another (person belonging to another caste), the latter should be particularly called by that very denomination (caste).”
Sridhara Svami comments on this verse:
samadibhir eva brahmanadi vyavaharo mukhyah na jati matrad ityaha yasyeti. yad yadi anyatra varnantare’pi tad varnantaram tenaiva lakshana nimittenaiva varnena vinirdiset na tu jati nimittenetyarthah
“One is not just a brahmana by birth – the main symptom is good behaviour like self-control. If such virtue is found elsewhere, in another caste, this determines the person’s varna, not just birth.”
However, Sridhara Svami does not say here that non-brahmanas can receive the sacred thread. If he did, then he would contradict his commentary of verse 13.
This verse from the Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva chapter 163) is often quoted –
na yonir napi samskaro na srutam na ca santatih
karanani dvijatvasya vrittam eva tu karanam
“Neither birth, purificatory ceremonies, nor learning, nor progeny, but one’s mode of life alone is the cause for dvijatva.” Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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The meaning of this is that, if a brahmana leads his whole life in a manner that is not conform to how a brahmana must live (as per sastras), in his next life, he will attain that mode in which he led his life. In the same mode often the Vajra Sucika Upanishad is quoted, but this Upanishad says nothing about giving brahmana-threads to mlecchas or sudras, nor does it say that one should not be first born a brahmana to be considered qualified.
Sripada Bhaktivinoda explains in his Jaiva Dharma (Chapter 6):
“Cudamani: “One must take birth in a brahmana-family to perform yajnas and other such activities, and even one who is born in a brahmana-family must be purified by the ceremony of investiture with the sacred thread before he is eligible to perform the duties of a brahmana. Similarly, a candala may have become purified by the chanting of harinama, but he is still not eligible to perform yajnas until he acquires a seminal birth in a brahmana-family. However, he can perform the limbs of bhakti which are infinitely greater than yajnas.”
Cudamani: “What kind of conclusion is that? That a person not qualified for an ordinary thing can be qualified for an exalted thing! What is the clear proof for that?”
Vaishnava dasa: “There are two types of human activity: material activities that relate to practical existence (vyavaharika); and spiritual activities that relate to the ultimate truth (paramarthika). A person may have attained spiritual qualification, but that does not necessarily qualify him for particular material activities. For example, one who is a Muslim by birth may have acquired the nature and all the qualities of a brahmana, so that he is a brahmana from the spiritual point of view, but he still remains ineligible for certain material activities, such as marrying the daughter of a brahmana.
Cudamani: “Why not? What is wrong with that?”
Vaishnava dasa: “If one violates social customs, one is guilty of secular impropriety, and members of society who take pride in their social respectability do not condone such activities. That is why one should not perform them, even if he is spiritually qualified.”
Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami writes in his Sri Manah siksha:
gurau goshthe goshthalayishu sujane bhu-sura-gane
sva-mantre sri-namni vraja-nava-yuva-dvandva-smarane
sada dambham hitva kuru ratim apurvam atitaram
aye svantar bhratas catubhir abhiyace dhrita-padah ||1||
“O mind, I grasp your feet and beg you with sweet words: please cast away hypocrisy at all times and have unprecedented love for my Guru, Vrajabhumi, the people of Vraja, the Vaishnavas, the brahmanas, the mantras given by my Guru, the holy name and the fresh young couple of Vraja.”
Here he uses two words, sujana (vaishnavas) and bhu-sura-gana (brahmanas). If Vaishnavas are automatically brahmanas in every respect, then there is no need to give two categories. Giving two categories means each is unique and yet both have something in Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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common. If a brahmana is to be worshipped only if he is a Vaishnava, then there is no need to specifically mention brahmana and Vaishnava.
Srimad Bhagavata (3.33.6) states:
yan-namadheya-sravananukirtanad yat-prahvanad yat-smaranad api kvacit
svado ’pi sadyah savanaya kalpate kutah punas te bhagavan nu darsanat
“O Lord! By occasionally hearing and chanting Your divine names, bowing to You or even remembering You, a pariah (a dog-eater) becomes instantly worshipable as a Brahmin that performs a Soma-sacrifice. Who can then imagine the benefit of seeing You directly?”
However, Srila Jiva Gosvami comments on Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu 1.1.22, which is Sri Rupa Gosvami’s comment on this verse:
tasmad durjatir evetyatra savanayogyatve’pi karanam iti tad-yogyata pratikula-papamayity arthah. na tu tad-yogyatvabhava-matra-mayiti. brahmananam saukre janmani durjatitvabhave’pi savana-yogyatvaya punya-visesha-maya-savitra-janmapekshatvat. tatasca savana-yogyatva-pratikula-durjaty-arambhakam prarabdham api gatam eva kintu sishtacarabhavat savitram janma nastiti brahmana-kumaranam savana-yogyatvabhavavacchedaka-punya-visesha-maya-savitra-janmapekshavad asya janmantarapeksha vartata iti bhavah. atah pramana-vakye’pi savanaya kalpate sambhavito bhavati na tu tadaivadhikari syad ity abhipretam vyakhyatam ca taih sadyah savanaya soma-yagaya kalpate. anena pujyatvam lakshyata iti
“Therefore bad birth itself is here the cause of being unqualified for Soma-sacrifice and that means possessing sin that is antagonistic to qualification for that, not merely having an absence of qualification for that. Even though there is an absence of bad birth in being born from the seed of brahmanas there is still the necessity for a surya-birth [ie sacred thread initiation] which possesses the merit suitable for qualifying one for Soma-sacrifice. Therefore though the prarabdha that caused the bad birth that is antagonistic to suitability for soma-sacrifice is gone, like brahmana-boys who because of absence of cultured practice have no surya-birth and must await a surya-birth that possesses the merit that can cut to pieces their absence of suitability for Soma-sacrifice, he (the dog-eater who chants the names of Krishna) must await another birth. This is the position. Therefore, in the statement of authority (S.B. 3.33.6) the words savanaya kalpate, “he becomes fit for Soma sacrifice,” are intended to mean he becomes respected or honored, but not that he has actually become qualified then and there (to perform that sacrifice).”
Sridhara Svami comments on Srimad Bhagavata 3.33.6: anena pujyatvam lakshyate – “This verse just describes how the chanting dogeater is worshipable.”
Sri Jiva Goswami comments on this verse and Sridhara Swami’s comment in Bhakti Sandarbha (128): tasmat pujyatva matra tatparyam ityabhipretya tika-kridbhir apy uktam Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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anena pujyatvam lakshyata iti – “The only purpose of Sridhara Swami’s commentary on this verse is to show how the chanting dog-eater is worshipable (not that he literally becomes a Brahmin).”
Sri Sanatana Gosvami repeats that point in his Dig-darsini tika to Hari bhakti vilasa:
brahmana-kumaranam saukre janmani yogyatve saty api savitra-daikshya-janmapekshavat. savitradi-janmani tu sad-acara-prapter iti savane pravrittir na yujyate. tasmat pujyatva-matre tatparyam ity abhipretya tika-kridbhir apy uktam anena pujyatvam lakshyata iti
“Just as even though there is the eligibility in the son of a brahmana through seminal birth, there is still the dependence on the birth through savitra-diksha (initiation into gayatri mantra), birth through savitra-diksha is but attained through sad-acara and thus, performing soma yaga is not suitable. Therefore, the purport here is only pujyatva (being worshipable) and thus the commentator (Sridhara Svami) too has said “anena pujyatvam lakshyata”.
In his Bhagavata tika named Krama Sandarbha Jiva Gosvami says:
tatra yogyatayam labdharambho bhavatity arthah. tad-anantara-janmany eva dvijatvam prapya tad-ady-adhikari syad
„It just means that there is a beginning made with qualification – he only becomes really qualified by taking a brahmana-birth in the next life.”
From this huge amount of authorised evidence it must be clear that the phrase guna karma vibhagasah, “divided according to quality and activity”, which is often quoted from Bhagavad-Gita 4.12 to prove that mere qualification at this very instant is enough to qualify as a brahmana, refers to previous births’ accumulation of a certain attitude (guna) and activities (karma) that cause one to take birth in a certain caste in the present life. Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana comments on Bhagavad Gita 18.41 that svabhava, or nature, is formed by impressions from previous births – svabhavah praktana-samskaras. You cannot reform the laws of karma, nature and subsequent reincarnation.
Sri Visvanatha Cakravartipada has elaborated further on this point to some degree, stating that since such sacrificial activities are lower on the spiritual hierarchy than direct service to Krishna, they are not to be taken up even by brahmana Vaishnavas. Sanatana Gosvami says in Brihad Bhagavatamrita (2.2.57):
esham yajnaika nishthanam aikyenavasyake nije
jape ca sad guruddishte mandyam syad drishta sat phale
“Maharshis offered Gopa Kumara the status of a brahmana, but he thought to himself: “If I accept the position of a brahmana, I will surely slacken in my practise of the mantra Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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that I received from the bonafide guru, and that is certainly not good. brahmanas are only engaged in yajnas and are not engaged in other matters.”
Second initiation or mantra-initiation is not brahmana-initiation
The brahmana-thread is only for practising the Brahma Gayatri, not for the Vaishnava-diksha-mantras like Gopala mantra and Kama Gayatri. Only the last two are mentioned in Hari Bhakti Vilasa as Gaudiya Vaishnava diksha-mantras. Proof that brahmana-initiation and mantra initiation are two different things is shown in Hari Bhakti Vilasa (2.3-4):
dvijanam anupetanam sva-karmadhyayanadishu
yathadhikaro nastiha syaccopanayanad anu
tathatradikshitanam tu mantra devarcanadishu
nadhikaro’styatah kuryad atmanam siva samstutam
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami quotes this verse in his commentary on Caitanya Caritamrita (Madhya 15.108) and translates it as follows:
“Even though born in a brahmana family, one cannot engage in Vedic rituals without being initiated and having a sacred thread. Although born in a brahmana family, one becomes a brahmana after initiation and the sacred thread ceremony. Unless one is initiated as a brahmana, he cannot worship the holy name properly.”
This is, however, not a correct translation. The proper translation is:
“Just as an anupanita vipra (born brahmana who is not yet initiated with the brahmana thread) does not yet qualify to study the Vedas, but does so after getting the upanayana (sacred thread) samskara, similarly an uninitiated person does not qualify for the Lord’s arcana (temple worship). Hence one should take diksha (siva samstutam iti dikshitam).”
Noteworthy are the words tatha (also) and atra (here), ‘here’ meaning “in practise of arcana”, showing that this verse is a comparison between brahmana-hood on the one hand and Vaishnava-diksha on the other, and that these are two separate things, not one and the same.
A brahmana is called dvija, or twice born. How can you have the second birth (upanayana samskara) without having had the first one (saukra or seminal birth)? brahma gayatri investment is done by the father of a brahmana-boy when he is 11 years old. The boy should not see the sun for many days (since the brahma gayatri is a solar mantra) and is locked up into a room with the windows shut, given only havishyanna (porridge without salt, spices or sugar) to eat. Initiation into Krishna-mantra is a separate initiation which is only given to active Vaishnava-brahmanas. For instance, Mahaprabhu already wore His thread when He received krishna mantra from Isvara Puri and Advaita Prabhu had been doing brahma gayatri for decades when He received Krishna-mantra from Madhavendra Puri. And what if the ‘qualified’ brahmana falls down and starts drinking and engaging in illicit sex? Then we take his sutra away and give it back to him as soon as he follows the principles Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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again? Isn’t this bizarre? Has this ever been shown in any Vedic scripture? We are seeing that western Vaishnava organizations, which have a 100% ‘brahmana’-population, also have the highest divorce rate in the world, women have children from different men – in India even the sweepers’ wives don’t do that. Some ‘qualified brahmanas’ keep dogs in their houses, again something even the sweepers in India won’t do – where is the qualification then?
“Qualified brahmanas” drink beer and “qualified brahmanis” wear bikini.
Considering the dvijatva in the Haribhakti Vilasa-verse that says –
yatha kancanatam yati kamsyah rasa vidhanatah
tatha diksha vidhanena dvijatvam jayate nrinam
“As bell metal is turned into gold through the process of alchemy, similarly a human being attains twice born status through the process of diksha.”
In his commentary Sanatana Gosvami confirms that dvijatva means viprata for everyone (sarvesham eva dvijatva viprata), and this seems a justification for turning everyone into a brahmana. However,
1) This does not mention the brahma gayatri, this statement deals with Vaishnava diksha.
2) If this referred to brahma gayatri, then that would contradict Sridhara Svami’s and Jiva Gosvami’s verdict that this is not attainable for non-brahmanas in their current births.
3) In his Bhakti Sandarbha  Srila Jiva Gosvami has quoted this verse under the heading atharcanadhikari nirnayah – ‘Now follows the designation of eligibility for deity Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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worship.” Then he proceeds by quoting scripture on the eligibility of all castes and genders for deity worship, ending with yatha kancanatam. This is the context in which this verse appears.
4] None of Mahaprabhu’s nitya siddha associates, like Advaita or Nityananda, Gadadhara, Srinivasacarya, Narottama, Syamananda, nor any of Their disciples or grand-disciples have ever put such a ‘brahmana-initiation’ into practise, involving the Brahma Gayatri in the process. mahajano yena gata sa pantha — One must follow in the footsteps of the mahajanas. All the mahajanas have considered such a practise to be an utpata, or social disturbance. Before 1918, 350 years after the compilation of Haribhakti Vilasa, no one has ever given ‘brahmana-initiation’. Shall we assume that Sripad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati knew it better than the Panca Tattva, the Six Gosvamis, and all their successor acaryas?
5] In Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu (1.2.62) Rupa Gosvami quotes the Kasi-khanda —
antyaja api tad-rashtre sankha-cakranka-dharinah
samprapya vaishnavim diksham dikshita iva sambabhuh
“In that country even the outcastes wore conch and disc signs. They received Vaishnava diksha and thus becames just like sacrificial priests.”
Visvanatha Cakravarti comments: dikshita yajnika iva sambabhur – “dikshita means just like sacrificial priests.” iva means ‘just like’, not that they actually became sacrificial priests.
Gaudiya Matha-followers try to dismiss or play down the authority of the Haribhakti Vilasa by writing (as Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta did in his purport of Caitanya Caritamrita. Madhya 1.35:)
“According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the regulated principles of devotional service compiled by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami do not strictly follow our Vaishnava principles….It is Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami’s opinion, however, that to follow the Hari-bhakti-vilasa strictly is to actually follow the Vaishnava rituals in perfect order. He claims that the smarta-samaja, which is strictly followed by caste brahmanas, has influenced portions that Gopala Bhatta Gosvami collected from the original Hari-bhakti-vilasa. It is therefore very difficult to find out Vaishnava directions from the book of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami.”
However, when Sriman Mahaprabhu outlines the contents of Haribhakti Vilasa, he assures Sanatana Gosvamipada; yabe tumi likhiba krishna korabe sphurana, “Krishna will reveal to you what to write.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 24, 340)
It was not written under pressure of smartas but through the inspiration of Sri Krishna. That is an offence to Srila Sanatana Gosvami, Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami and even to Lord Sri Krishna Himself, who has revealed the text to Sanatana Gosvami. Sanatana Gosvami clarifies in the very first verse of Haribhakti Vilasa that he has written this book for the Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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pleasure of the Vaishnavas (and not for smartas and bodily conscious people) – caitanya-devam bhagavantam asraye sri-vaishnavanam pramude’njasa likhan. To say that certain statements of Sanatana’s are for the appeasement of a certain class would be like saying that Sanatana Gosvami is not an acarya at all. This is the biggest aparadha. If indeed, he did appeasement, why did not Gopala Bhatta Gosvami clarify it in the Dig-darsini-tika written on those verses of Haribhakti Vilasa? Why both Gopala Bhatta Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami are silent on this issue both in Haribhakti Vilasa and in Dig-darsini? Jiva Gosvami clarifies in the beginning of his Locana-rocani-commentary on Ujjvala Nilamani that svecchaya likhitam kincit kincit likhitam parecchaya or “Some statements I have written according to my own desire, whereas some statements are written keeping into mind the desire of others”. But, any such statement from the two authors themselves i.e. Gopala Bhatta Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami – have not been issued in the case of Haribhakti Vilasa and its commentary.
Srimad Bhagavata 1.7.43 –
uvaca casahanty asya bandhananayanam sati
mucyatam mucyatam eṣa brahmaṇo nitaram guruḥ
“Draupadi could not tolerate Asvatthama’s being bound by ropes, and being a devoted lady, she said: Release him, for he is a brahmaṇa, our spiritual master.”
The text brahmano nitaram guruh actually means ‘brahmanas are always Guru’. This clearly shows that Asvatthama was still referred to as a brahmana despite his heinous act. He did not get demoted to a sudra or less because of his sinful behavior. Even a dvija-bandhu must be treated differently from others even if he commits the most grievous sins and is an atatayi; he must never be killed – sri-bhagavan uvaca—brahma-bandhur na hantavya. The Lord said: “One should not kill a fallen brahmana.” (Srimad Bhagavata 1.7.53) Thus respect shown to brahmanas is real and a must.
The Bhagavata teaches respect for Guru-families as well, as in this statement by Draupadi (Srimad Bhagavata 1.7.46)-
tad dharmajna maha-bhaga bhavadbhir gauravam kulam
vrijinam narhati praptum pujyam vandyam abhikshnasah
“O knower of dharma! You should not cause suffering to the family of your guru, because they are always praiseworthy and worthy of worship.”
Sridhara Swami and Visvanatha Cakravarti both gloss gaurava as guroh kulam, the family of the Guru.
Drona: He was a brahmana but took to the life of a kshatriya due to his warlike disposition. Was he then referred to thereafter as a kshatriya? No. Anyone who has read the Mahabharata can tell you that the text continued to refer to him as a brahmana. Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
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Arjuna: He demonstrated a propensity towards renunciation when he declined to fight on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He was ready to renounce everything and just live by begging. Did Lord Krishna accept it? No. He argued that Arjuna was a kshatriya and should fight the battle despite his brahminical disposition.
These examples refute the point of view that one’s varna changes on the basis of his “mentality.” Finally, let us quote other sastric evidence that further refutes this point of view:
Bhagavad-gita As It Is 18.41
brahmana kshatriya visam sudranam ca parantapa
karmani pravibhaktani svabhava prabhavair gunaih
“Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and sudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, o chastiser of the enemy.”
The acaryas wrote the following commentaries –
Sridhara Swami – svabhavah purva-janma-samskarah – “svabhava means the cultivation from previous birth.”
Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti – svabhavenotpattyaiva prabhavanti pradurbhavanti ye gunah – “The gunas of the four varnas appear due to svabhava, utpatti (utpattya) or birth.”
Iskcon’s own translations of utpattya –
utpattya — from the beginning of His appearance; SB 5.4.1 utpattya — because of my birth (in a demoniac family); SB 7.10.2 saha utpattya — by our very birth; SB 10.16.56 utpattya eva — simply by birth; SB 11.21.24
Baladeva Vidyabhushana – svabhavah praktana-samskaras – “svabhava means cultivation from previous birth”.
All acaryas here confirm varna is by birth, not merely by quality.
Bhagavad-gita As It Is 18.47
sreyan sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmat sv-anuṣṭhitat
svabhava-niyatam karma kurvan napnoti kilbiṣam
“It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.”
Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana’s commentary to 18.47:
nanu kshatriyadi-dharmanam rajasaditvat teshu ruci-sunyaih kshatriyadibhih sattviko brahma-dharma evanushtheya iti cet tatraha sreyan iti. sva-dharmo vigunah nikrishto’pi samyag-anushthito’pi va para-dharmad utkrishtat svanushthitac ca sreyan atiprasashto vihitatvat. Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
12 December 31, 2013
“If it is said by someone that, only sattvika brahmana dharma must be conducted by those kshatriyas that have no taste for the dharmas of kshatriyas and others because of their being in rajas, it is said, sreyan svadharmo-vigunah – it is better to practice one’s own dharma imperfectly than another’s dharma perfectly….”
Bhagavad-gita As It Is 18.59
yad ahankaram asritya na yotsya iti manyase
mithyaiṣa vyavasayas te prakṛtis tvam niyokṣyati
“If you do not act according to My direction and do not fight, then you will be falsely directed. By your nature, you will have to be engaged in warfare.”
Why did Lord Krishna say it was Arjuna’s nature to fight? And that too despite Arjuna offering to give up everything and take to begging? Because Arjuna was born a kshatriya and he was obligated to follow kshatriya dharma. Arjuna did not get promoted to brahmana status because of his compassion for his family.
Someone may argue:
janmana jayate sudrah samskarat bhaveddvijah
veda-pathad bhaved viprah brahmajanatiti brahmanah.
“The meaning of who is a brahmana is very clear – one who knows brahman. Hence, all scriptural statements that apply to a brahmana can only apply to one who has realised brahman and is completely free of faults such as kama, krodha etc and does not depend on considerations of one’s birth.”
Refutation: The scriptural statements applicable to a brahmana apply only to that person who has directly realised brahman and is completely devoid of kama, krodha, lobha etc. Then, when it comes to practicality the following points are to be considered:
a) Those who directly experience brahman and are free from all six faults are very, very rare. One in a million. So what happens to all the injunctions in the sastras meant for brahmanas? Are they to be done by anyone at all or wait only for those extremely rare personalities to do whenever they become qualified by realising brahman? If they are not done by the millions of so called brahmanas citing disqualification, it then leads to destruction of dharma. A result which will be contrary to the purpose of those injunctions.
b) Once one becomes a true brahmana, what interest does he have in performing the activities in the sastras for all of them are laukika and he will have no laukika sraddha, having directly realised brahman? He practically is a non-starter and these activities will never be performed by anyone at all. If he can do it only after he attains such realisation, it is known that such realisation comes by years of sadhana? What activities does he do till he Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
13 December 31, 2013
gets such realisation? Anything that he pleases or his svadharma? If he does anything that he pleases, there are numerous statements in all scriptures including bhakti-sastras that stand against him. Thus he must only follow his svadharma according to his birth.
So far no source reference is given for the above sloka. Acarya Vamsidhara writes in his tika of Srimad Bhagavata 1.1.2 – adhunikair vipra dvidbhis tu ‘janmana jayate sudrah’ iti pathah kalpitah. sa canadaraniya eva – “Modern quotes by brahmana-haters like ‘janmana jayate sudrah’ are concocted reading, which should be disregarded.” If the meaning is taken literally as “by birth one is born a sudra” and is taken to apply to every human being born on earth, then this contradicts numerous other statements which mention about a brahmana that he is a brahmana right from birth.
Q.: There are numerous non-brahmanas who became brahmanas in the same life. If brahmana-hood is by birth then how did they become brahmanas?
A: It is true that there were non-brahmanas who became brahmanas in the same life, but these were exceptions, not the rule. The scriptures themselves question these exceptions and answer them. For example, in the Mahabharata, Anusasana parva (3.1-2) –
brahmanyam yadi dushprapam tribhir varnair naradhipa
katham praptam maharaja kshatriyena mahatmana
visvamitrena dharmatman brahmanatvam nararshabha
srotum icchami tattvena tan me bruhi pitamaha
‘If, O prince, brahmana-hood is so hard to attain by the three classes (Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and sudras), how then did the high souled Visvamitra, though a Kshatriya (by birth), attain the status of a Brahmana? I desire to know this, O sire. Therefore, relate this matter to me in truth please.”
The description continues wherein, sage Ricika, a son of sage Bhrigu married Satyavati, a princess. Please with her nature, he blessed her that she will have a brahmana-son. Satyavati’s mother, wife of King Gadhi also wanted a child. On Satyavati’s request, sage Ricika gave both of them 2 carus (payasa) along with instructions to embrace two different trees. The mother and daughter exchanged their carus and the trees. Hearing this, sage Ricika explained that he had infused the potency of an effulgent brahmana in the caru meant for Satyavati and that of a fiery kshatriya in the caru meant for her mother. But since they exchanged the carus and also embraced the trees meant for the other, Satyavati would give birth to a fiery kshatriya, though a brahmana by birth and her mother an effulgent brahmana, though a kshatriya by birth. On account of Satyavati’s pleas, he agreed to make her grandson instead of son with the nature of a fiery kshatriya. The grandson was Parasurama. The kshatriya who was actually a brahmana was Visvamitra. Thus Visvamitra became a brahmana because of the grace of sage Ricika. In chapters 28 and 29 of Anusasana parva, Bhishma-deva explained through the story of Matanga that it is not possible to become a brahmana in the same birth even through the fiercest of penances. Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
14 December 31, 2013
In his purport to Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya lila 1, 63, Swami A.C Bhaktivedanta says:
“Sri Rupa, Sri Sanatana and Sri Haridasa were prohibited from entering the Jagannatha Mandir and Lord Caitanya did not approve of such dogmatic prohibitions. To avoid unnecessary turmoil, however, these great personalities would not enter the Jagannatha temple.”
The Caitanya Caritamrita text says, however:
haridasa thakura ara rupa-sanatana
jagannatha-mandire na yana tina jana
“Haridasa Thakura and Rupa and Sanatana, these three men, did not go to the Jagannatha Mandir.”
From this it is clear that they voluntary, out of sheer humility, did not enter the Jagannatha Mandir, not grudgingly, due to prohibition or to avoid turmoil. There is no mentioning anywhere in this Bengali text that they wanted to avoid turmoil, that they were prohibited to enter or that they protested or resisted such prohibitions. If that were so, then why did Sanatana Gosvami prefer to have his foot-soles scorched over having to touch Lord Jagannatha’s pujaris? If Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to overthrow the caste system He could have done so easily. Prataparudra Maharaja was at His feet:
prabhura nikate ache joto bhakta-gana; mora lagi’ ta-sabare koriho nivedana
sei sab doyalu more hoiya sadaya; mora lagi’ prabhu-pade karibe vinaya
ta-sobara prasade mile sri-prabhura paya; prabhu-kripa vina mora rajya nahi bhaya
yadi more kripa na koribe gaurahari; rajya chadi’ yogi hoi’ hoibo bhikhari
In a letter King Prataparudra requested Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, “Please appeal to all the devotees associated with Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and submit this petition to them on my behalf. If all the devotees associated with the Lord are favorably disposed toward me, they can submit my petition at the lotus feet of the Lord. By the mercy of all the devotees, one can attain the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord. Without His mercy, my kingdom does not appeal to me. If Gaurahari, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, will not show mercy to me, I shall give up my kingdom, become a mendicant and beg from door to door.”
With such influence Mahaprabhu could have easily told the king to lift the ban on non-Hindus entering the Jagannath Mandir so that Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami and Haridas Thakur could enter, but there is no evidence from any sastra that He never did that.
During Advaita Prabhu’s feast in honor of Mahaprabhu, when He had just taken sannyasa, Srila Haridas Thakur humbly said:
mui papishtha adhama, bahire eka mushti pache korimu bhojan
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 3.63) Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
15 December 31, 2013
“I am a fallen sinner – I will eat a handful later, outside.”
When Rupa Gosvami’s dramas were about to be read to the Lord, Rupa and Haridas humbly sat at the base of the platform where the other devotees were seated:
rupa haridasa dunhe bosila pindatale; sabara agre na uthila pindara upare
(Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 1.111).
When the brahmana Kalidasa glorified his sudra-friend Jhadu Thakura, stating that a low-caste devotee is greater than a non-devotee brahmana, Jhadu Thakura did not say: “Yes, you see I am greater than or equal to you!” Rather, he said:
suni thakura kohe – sastre ei satya hoy; sei nica nahe – yate krishna-bhakti hoy
ami – nica jati, amar nahi krishna-bhakti; anya aiche hoy, amay nahi aiche sakti
“The scriptures speak the truth, a low caste person is not low if he/she has devotion for Krishna. I, however, am low-born and I have no devotion for Krishna. This may apply to others, but I do not have such a power.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 16, 28-29)
These are perfect examples of maryada-palana, maintaining the etiquette.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was NOT AGAINST THE CASTE SYSTEM. When He heard that Sanatana Gosvami had burned his footsoles to avoid touching Lord Jagannatha’s pujaris, He praised him, saying (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 4, 129-132):
yadyapi tumi hao jagat pavan; toma sparse pavitra hoy deva muni-gana
tathapi bhakta svabhava – maryada rakshana; maryada palana hoy sadhura bhushana
maryada langhane loka kore upahasa; iha loka, para loka – dui hoy nasa
maryada rakhile, tushta hoy mora mana; tumi aiche na korile kore kon jana?
“Although you are the purifier of the whole world and the demigods and sages are purified by your mere touch, still it is the nature of a devotee to follow the social protocol. Maintaining the social protocol is the ornament of a sadhu. When a Vaishnava violates the social protocol people will ridicule him and he will perish in this birth and in the next. By keeping the social standard you have pleased My mind. Who else but you could do such a thing?”
By saying: ‘Although you are the purifier…’, Mahaprabhu acknowledges the spiritual superiority of a Vaishnava, but then He immediately warns that the external social protocol must be maintained. These are two separate worlds, one spiritual and the other material.
On the other hand, a person who violates the social protocol can expect Mahaprabhu’s wrath: maryada langhana ami sohite na pari (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 4.166) “I cannot tolerate violation of the protocol.”2
2 Although the direct context of this statement is Jagadananda Pandit’s treatment of Sanatan Gosvami, Mahaprabhu spoke this as a general statement, applying to all circumstances and relationships. Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
16 December 31, 2013
When Sriman Mahaprabhu travelled Sri Svarupa Damodara and Sri Ramananda Ray wanted to take a brahmana with Him – He would not eat grains from non-brahmanas:
ama dunhara mone tabe boro sukh hoy; ek nivedana yadi dhara, dayamaya
‘uttama brahmana’ ek sange avasya cahi ; bhiksha kori bhiksha dibe jabe patra bohi
banapathe jaite nahi ‘bhojyanna’ brahmana; ajna koro – sange coluk vipra ekjan
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 17.10-12)
“We would both be very happy if you could heed our plea, O merciful One! You should definitely travel with one topmost brahmana, who can beg alms for You, serve You these alms and carry your vessels. When You traverse the forest path You will have no brahmana with You who will cook and serve Your grains. Order us to send a brahmana along with You.”
ye grame rohen prabhu tathaya brahmana; panca sat jan asi kore nimantrana
keho anna ani dey bhattacarya sthane; keho dugdha dadhi keho ghrita khanda ane
jaha vipra nahi taha ‘sudra mahajana’; asi sabe bhattacarye kore vanya vyanjana
bhattacarya paka kore vanya vyanjana; vanya vyanjana prabhura anandita mana
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 17.58-60)
“In whatever village the Lord stayed five to seven brahmanas invited Him. Some gave grains to Bhattacarya, others gave milk, yoghurt, clarified butter or rock candy. Wherever there were no brahmanas the great devotee-sudras came and gave Bhattacarya forest-vegetables to cook for the Lord. Prabhu was very happy to eat these vegetables cooked by Bhattacarya.”
Note here that the Lord accepted only vegetables from the sudra-devotees.
In Caitanya Caritamrita (Antya 10.139-141):
acarya-ratna, acarya-nidhi, nandana, raghava; srivasa-adi joto bhakta, vipra sab
eimata nimantrana koren jatna kori; vasudeva gadadhara, gupta murari
kulina-grami, khandavasi, ara joto jan; jagannathera prasada ani koren nimantrana
“Devotees like Acarya-ratna, Acarya-nidhi, Nandana, Raghava and Srivasa were all brahmanas and they invited the Lord for meals. Vasudeva, Gadadhara, Murari Gupta and the villagers from Kulina and Khanda (who were not brahmanas) brought prasada from Lord Jagannatha.” And later on in that chapter (verses 154-155):
gopinathacarya, jagadananda, kasisvara; bhagavan ramabhadracarya, sankara, vakresvara
madhye madhye ghara bhate kore nimantrana; anyera nimantrana prasade kaudi dui pana Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
17 December 31, 2013
“Gopinathacarya, Jagadananda, Kasisvara; Bhagavan Ramabhadracarya, Sankara, Vakresvara (who were all brahmanas) cooked for the Lord in their homes while others bought prasada for Him for (a price of) 2 kaudis.”
srivasadi joto prabhura vipra bhakta-gana; prabhuke bhiksha dite hoilo sobakara mana
“(When the Lord took His first alms in Advaita Prabhu’s house just after taking sannyasa) Srivasa and all the other brahmana-devotees of the Lord wanted to invite the Lord for a meal.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 3. 168)
Caitanya Caritamrita (Adi 7.45-46):
kasite lekhak sudra candra-sekhara;
tar ghare rohila prabhu svatantra isvara
tapana misrera ghare bhiksha nirvahana……
“When in Benares, the independent Lord (Mahaprabhu) stayed in the house of the scribe Candrasekhara, who was a sudra, but He took His meals in the house of Tapan Misra (who was a brahmana)…”
Also in Caitanya Bhagavata (Antya 9.118-119) it is described that Mahaprabhu ate only from brahmanas –
tatha bhiksha amara, ye hoy lakshesvara; suniya brahmana sab cintita antara
vipragana stuti kori bolen gosai; lakshera ki day sahasreko karo nai
“I will invite invitations only from those who have one lakh. Hearing this, the brahmanas were all worried. The vipras said ‘O Lord, what to speak of a lakh, we don’t have even a thousand.”
It is also very clear from all these quotations that no one in Mahaprabhu’s entourage was initiated as a brahmana without being born one first, otherwise the above distinction would not have been made.
Although Mahaprabhu played the pastime that a brahmana and sannyasi can be enlightened by a sudra and a grihastha like Ramananda Raya, who, in Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya lila chapter 8, took Him to the limit of Vaishnava teachings as a siksha guru (kiba vipra kiba nyasi sudra kene noy ye krishna tattva vetta sei guru hoy), Mahaprabhu would not accept meals from him. First He humbly submitted (Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 8.43):
ei jani – kathin mora hridaya; sodhite sarvabhauma kohilen tomara milite
“I know that My heart is hard, hence Sarvabhauma told Me to meet you.”
But then He did follow the maryada, or external protocol – Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
18 December 31, 2013
heno kale vaidika eka vaishnava brahmana; dandavat kori koilo prabhura nimantrana
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 8.45)
“At that time a Vedic Vaishnava brahmana came and invited Mahaprabhu.” This proves that external protocol and spiritual appreciation are two separate worlds, which should not be mixed.
Sri Krishna proclaimed in Bhagavad-Gita (3.21-24) that He follows the rules, otherwise the worlds would go to ruin. Indeed, even in the ashtakaliya lila Krishna followed the external protocol –
tungi subhadra janani jananiti vijna vijnapita vrajapaya parivesanaya;
bhojyam kramat parivivesa sarohinika vipratmaja svadhava devara putrakebhyah
(Govinda Lilamrita 20.45)
“Subhadra’s mother Tungi was expert in etiquette and serving, so on mother Yasoda’s request and with Rohini’s help she served. First she served the brahmanas, then her husband, then her brothers-in-law and then the boys (including Krishna).”
Krishna was the last to get prasada. If the Supreme Lord can be that humble, should not sudras and mlecchas follow suit by simply accepting the fact that they do not belong to the upper class?
kim punar brahmanah punya bhakta rajarshayas tatha
(Bhagavad Gita 9.33)
“(If the women, vaisyas and sudras can attain the Supreme Destination) What to speak then of the brahmanas, the virtuous and the saintly kings?”
One may challenge here: “But what about these verses then, that are quoted in the Gosvamis’ books?”
sudram va bhagavad bhaktam nishadam svapacam tatha
vikshate jati-samanyat sa yati narakam dhruvam
“A votary of the Supreme Lord may be born a sudra, or nishada, nay, even a dog-eater, but anyone who views such a votary according to pedigree or caste, most certainly percipitates his fall to the infernal regions.” (Hari Bhakti Vilasa 10,119 ), or:
arcye vishnau sila-dhir gurushu nara-matir vaishnave jati-buddhih….yasya vai naraki sah Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
19 December 31, 2013
“Those who consider the deity of Vishnu to be a mere stone, one’s superiors to be mere human beings and the Vaishnava to belong to a certain caste…..are surely hellish persons.” (cited in Srila Rupa Gosvami’s ‘Padyavali’, 114)
To that the response is: These verses are glorifications of the Vaishnavas, that caution us not to treat lower born Vaishnavas with disdain or contempt and urge us to keep them in honour. As in Srila Rupa Gosvami’s ‘Upadeshamrita’ (5)- krishneti yasya giri tam manasadriyeta dikshasti cet pranatibhih, “Mentally honour anyone who says Krishna, and bow down if someone has received initiation”, and the following verse –
drishtaih svabhava janitair vapushas ca doshair
na prakritatvam iha bhakta janasya pasyet
gangambhasam na khalu budbuda phena pankair
brahma-dravatvam apagacchati nira-dharmaih
“Though a devotee may have bad habits or a faulty body he should not be seen (judged) in this mundane way, just as Ganges-water is considered a divine substance though it may be covered with bubbles and foam.”
However, in practical Vaishnava-life we see that distinction is being made. Mahaprabhu would not eat grains from non-brahmana Vaishnavas, including Ramananda Raya (see pages 14-16), and Vaishnavas were mentioned with their caste-adjectives – certainly that wouldn’t make Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu a ‘hellish person’. Examples –
misrera sakha tenho prabhura purva dasa
vaidya-jati, likhana-vritti, varanasi-vasa
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 17.92)
“Candrasekhara was a friend of Tapan Misra and a former servant of the Lord. He was of a Vaidya-caste. His profession was writing and he lived in Benares.”
heno kale ailo vaishnava ‘krishnadasa’ nama
rajaputa-jati,—-grihastha, yamuna-pare grama
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 18.82)
“Just then a Vaishnava arrived named Krishnadas. He was of the rajaput-caste, a householder who lived in a village on the other bank of the Yamuna.”
sudra vishayi-jnane upeksha na koribe
amara vacane tanre avasya milibe
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 7.63) Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
20 December 31, 2013
“Please do not neglect him, thinking he belongs to a sudra family engaged in material activities. It is my request that You meet him without fail.”
yahan vipra nahi tahan ‘sudra-mahajana’
asi’ sabe bhattacarye kore nimantrana
(Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 17.60)
“Wherever there were no brahmanas – nonetheless, great sudra saints came and extended invitations to Balabhadra Bhattacarya.”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had His Raghunathas – one was Raghunatha Vaidya, one was Raghunath Bhatta and one was Raghunath Das – all named according to jati.
Even Nityananda Prabhu, who is considered most liberal, had himself served by brahmanas during the chipped rice festival in Panihati –
ara tina kundikaya avasesha chilo; grase-grase kari’ vipra saba bhakte dilo
pushpa-mala vipra ani’ prabhu-gale dilo; candana aniya prabhura sarvange lepilo
“There was food remaining in the three other big pots of Lord Nityananda, and a brahmana distributed it to all the devotees, giving a morsel to each. Then a brahmana brought a flower garland, placed the garland on Nityananda Prabhu’s neck and smeared sandalwood pulp all over His body.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 6.95-96).
All members of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s entourage followed the social protocol. Sri Gadadhara Pandit was once forced by Vallabha Bhatta to hear his devotional explanations (bhatta jay, tabu pode kori balatkar, Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 7.96), although no one in Puri would hear them because they had already been rejected by Mahaprabhu (prabhur upekshay sab nilacaler jan; bhattera vyakhyan kichu na kore sravan, 7. 91). Thus Gadadhara ended up in a dilemma (sankate podilo pandit, koroye samsoy, 7.95). Nevertheless, because Vallabha Bhatta was of a high birth Gadadhara did not forbid him to speak his rejected theories (abhijatye pandit korite nare nishedhan, 7.97). He followed the protocol, though he risked scorn by his fellow Mahaprabhu-followers because of it, and actually received it too (tathapi prabhur gan kore pranaya rosha, 7.99).
Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami is the raganuga acarya pur sang, but he too kept the protocol, however transcendental raganuga bhakti is to the external world and even to compulsory devotion (vidhi bhakti). Though in the second verse of his Manah Siksha (teachings to the mind) he warned na dharmam nadharmam srutigana niruktam kila kuru “Do not engage in either religious or irreligious activities mentioned in the Vedas” and thus showed himself as being aloof from the world, still in the opening verse, yes even in the Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
21 December 31, 2013
opening line of Manah Siksha he said: gurau goshthe goshthalayishu su-jane bhu-sura gane “Oh mind, worship the Guru, Vraja-bhumi, the Vrajabasis, the saints and the brahmanas.”
In short, there is the internal world of bhakti and there is the external world of maryada (respect, protocol). The 12th Canto of the Bhagavata predicts a decay of Vedic society and the 6 Gosvamis have read the Bhagavata very well and commented upon it as well. They were therefore aware of what was going to happen later on in Kali yuga and could have created an artificial new caste system if they had wanted to, or, as they are puppets in Mahaprabhu’s hands, if Sriman Mahaprabhu had wanted to. But they did not do that and later acaryas should respect that and not speak before their turn.
Who or what is a Guru?
Q: Can a non-Hindu become a Guru in this life?
A: Non-Indian Vaishnava Gurus are falling down from Vedic and Vaishnava principles much more often than their Indian counterparts do. The Vaishnava scriptures show us why. Proponents of casteless Gurus quote this verse from Caitanya Caritamrita (Madhya 8,128):
kiba vipra kiba nyasi sudra kene noy; yei krishna tattva vetta – sei guru hoy
“Whether someone is a brahmana, a sannyasi or even a sudra – whoever knows the thruth about Krishna is a Guru.”
However, the context in which this verse was spoken is as follows: Although Himself a brahmana and a sannyasi, Caitanya Mahaprabhu considered the sudra and grihastha Ramananda Raya to be His siksha guru, since He was on the receiving end of all the enlightenment passed on by Ramananda Raya. In the preceding verses Caitanya Mahaprabhu said about His personal asrama-status:
mayavadi ami to sannyasi; bhakti tattva nahi jani mayavade bhasi
sarvabhauma sange mora mon nirmala hoilo; krishna bhakti tattva koho, tahare puchilo
tiho kohe ami nahi jani krishna kotha; sabe ramananda jane; tiho nahi etha
tomara thai ailam tomara mahima suniya; tumi more stuti koro sannyasi janiya
“I am a mayavadi sannyasi, hence I don’t know about bhakti. I was purified in Sarvabhauma’s company, so I asked him: ‘Tell Me the truth about devotion to Krishna.” He (Sarvabhauma, although he was a brahmana) said: “I don’t know about Krishna. Ramananda knows all, but he is not here.” So I have come here after hearing of your greatness, but you praise Me because I am a sannyasi.” (Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 8.124-127)
And then Mahaprabhu speaks the famous verse, in this context – kiba vipra kiba nyasi sudra kene noy; yei krishna tattva vetta sei guru hoy – Ramananda Raya never gave Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
22 December 31, 2013
diksha to Mahaprabhu. The context of this verse is a personal one, and there is no question here of diksha. The word guru in this verse means siksha guru. The words yei krishna tattva vetta (“Whoever knows the truth about Krishna”) clearly show that this verse refers to the qualification of a siksha guru. After the famous kiba vipra-verse Mahaprabhu continues:
sannyasi boliya more na koro vancana; krishna radha tattva kohi’ purna koro man
“Don’t deprive Me because I am a sannyasi; fulfil My desire my speaking of Krishna and Radha.”
Indeed, throughout the lengthy conversation between Ramananda Raya and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu there is no mentioning of diksha anywhere!
Many westerners, who are not acquainted with Vedic culture, think that this idea of ‘brahmana by quality alone’ has always been the Vedic norm, but, in his comment on Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya 8.128, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami himself confirms that it was introduced by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati:
“Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura therefore introduced the sacred thread ceremony for all Vaishnavas according to the rules and regulations.”
In the Haribhakti Vilasa (chapter 1), Srila Sanatana Gosvami and Gopala Bhatta Gosvami state that the first choice of a qualified guru should be a born brahmana — vipram pradhvasta kama (1.29) avadatanvayah suddhah svocitacara tatparah (1.32) “He must be from a spotless dynasty and dedicated to proper conduct.” brahmanah sarvakalajna (1.36). varnottame’tha ca gurau (1.37) These traits are not secondary requirements of a Guru. They are listed under the heading viseshatah sri guror lakshana – ‘Special characteristics of Sri Guru’. Srila Sanatana Gosvami’s commentary on Haribhakti Vilasa 1.32 –
avadatah suddhah patityadi dosha rahito’nvayo vamso yasya sad vamsa jata ityartha. suddhah svayam api patityadi dosha rahitah.
“The word avadata means that his family is free from the faults of being fallen. That means he comes from a good family. The word suddhah means that he himself is also not fallen.”
Monier Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary translates patita as: “fallen, dropped, descended, alighted, fallen upon or from, fallen (morally), wicked, degraded, out-caste…”
In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Krishna Janma Khanda 83.42) it is also said:
jati hinad guror mantrah grihniyan na kadacana
“Never take mantra from a casteless guru.” Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
23 December 31, 2013
If a qualified brahmana cannot be found, a qualified kshatriya must be sought, and so on downwards:
tad abhavad dvija sreshtha santatma bhagavanmayah
bhavitatma ca sarvajnah sastrajnah sat kriyaparah
siddhi traya samayukta acaryatve’bhishecitah.
kshatra vit sudra jatinam kshatriyo’nugrahekshamah
kshatriyasyapi ca guror abhavad idriso yadi
vaisyah syat tena karyasca dvaye nityam anugrahah
sajatiyena sudrena tadrisena mahamate
anugrahabhishekau ca karyau sudrasya sarvada
“In the absence of a qualified brahmana Guru, one can take a kshatriya Guru, who is filled with God consciousness, peaceful, knows all about the diksha ritual, knows scripture, is conversant with all rites, has the three siddhis (perfection in practise of mantra, worship of the Guru and the demigods, attained through practises like purascarana). Such a kshatriya-Guru can give diksha to his fellow kshatriyas as well as to vaisyas and sudras. Similarly sudras can always give diksha to their fellow sudras.” (Haribhakti Vilasa 1.47)
Furthermore, these verses of Haribhakti Vilasa say that one should not give pratiloma diksha, viz. a low caste Guru giving diksha to a high caste disciple — pratilomyam na dikshayet (1.52). Srila Narottama Das Thakura was an exceptional case – he gave diksha to high caste persons, but at the end he rose from the dead and his body melted like milk into the Ganga. This is not something that every non-brahmana that gives diksha to brahmanas can imitate.
There has never been a prohibition by the Vaishnava Acaryas or the scriptures to calling householder-acaryas ‘Gosvami’.
On the contrary, Sri Narottama Thakura Mahasaya sang: doya koro sitapati, advaita gosai, addressing the householder-Guru, the husband of Sita, Advaita Prabhu as gosai. Advaita is also repeatedly called gosvami in Kavi Karnapura’s ‘Caitanya Candrodaya Natakam’, and in Gaura Ganoddesa Dipika (76) he writes: sa evadvaita gosvami caitanyabhinna vigrahah “He, Advaita Gosvami, is non-different from Lord Caitanya.” To see the ‘caste-‘ Gosvamis as different from the Lords – Nityananda and Advaita – that they directly descend from in family line is an offence to Nityananda and Advaita, for the Vedas teach us atma vai jayate putrah — “So father, so son”, or: “The child is the image of the father.” (CC. Madhya 12.56) Lord Balarama said in Srimad Bhagavata (10.78.36): atma vai putra utpanna iti vedanusasanam; tasmad asya bhaved vakta “O worshipable sages, the Vedas declare that one’s own self is reborn as the son, therefore let Romaharshana’s son recite the Puranas to you!” pituh putro yena jata sa eva sah (S.B. 9.20.21): “The son belongs to the father. Indeed, the son is the father.”
Staying with family-succession, it is not true that one can/should not be initiated by one’s parents: Hemalata Thakurani, guru of Yadunandana Thakura, took initiation from her father Srinivasacarya, Krishna Misra took initiation from his mother Sita-devi and Virabhadra Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
24 December 31, 2013
Prabhu took intiation from his co-mother Jahnava-devi. Virabhadra was a son of Nityananda Prabhu, but according to ‘Advaita Prakasa’ he went to Advaita Prabhu for diksha. Advaita Prabhu, however, sent him back to his own family to take diksha there, which confirms that it was the wish of Nityananda and Advaita Prabhu that these family-guru paramparas would be created.
Family gurus (‘caste Gosvamis’) are sometimes rejected by pointing at Sri Jiva Gosvami’s Bhakti Sandarbha (210) tad etat paramartha gurvasrayo vyavaharika gurvadi parityagenapi kartavyam “One should give up a mundane guru and take a spiritual guru”, but this ‘mundane guru’ refers to a marriage-priest, village elder or parent, not to a family guru, for in Haribhakti Vilasa (4.141) the Brahma Vaivarta Purana is quoted:
upadeshtaram amnayagatam pariharanti ye
tan mritan api kravyadah kritaghnan nopabhunjate
“Even the vultures will not eat the dead corpse of the ungrateful one who abandons the amnayagatam guru.”
In his commentary to this verse Srila Sanatana Gosvami writes: amnayagatam kula kramayatam— This amnayagata guru means a guru who has come in a family succession.” For example, Sri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami was initiated by the family-guru Yadunandana Acarya, but he did not leave him to take diksha from, for example, Sri Rupa Gosvami. On the contrary, in Mukta Caritra  he acknowledged that he had gotten everything from his family Guru Yadunandana Acarya –
nama sreshtham manum api saci-putram atra svarupam
rupam tasyagrajam uru purim mathurim goshtha-batim
radhakundam girivaram aho radhika madhavasam
prapto yasya prathita kripaya sri gurum tam nato’smi
“I bow down to my blessed Sri Guru (Yadunandana Acarya), by whose grace I have received the greatest name in existence, the holy name of Krishna, the 18-syllable Gopala-mantra, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the son of Mother Saci, Svarupa Damodara, Rupa Gosvami, his elder brother Sanatana Gosvami, the great city of Mathura, the pastures of Vraja, Radhakunda, the best of mountains Govardhana, and the hope of attaining Radhika and Madhava…..”
With ‘Sri Guru’ he could not have meant anyone else but Yadunandanacarya, for he lists all his other possible ‘gurus’ like Mahaprabhu, Svarupa Damodara and Rupa Gosvami as his great gifts.
Who or what is a sannyasi?
Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada comments on the famous Bhagavad Gita verse sarva dharman parityajya (18.66), refuting Sankaracarya’s explanation that ‘giving up all dharma’ means that Arjuna should have taken Sannyasa: parityajya sannyasyeti na vyakhyeyam Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
25 December 31, 2013
arjunasya kshatriyatvena sannyasanadhikaran… ”Completely giving up dharma cannot mean sannyasa for Arjuna, for as a kshatriya he had no right to take sannyasa.”
This confirms the Vedic teaching that only brahmanas are eligible for sannyasa, what to speak of sudras or mlecchas?
Srimad Bhagavata (11.17.38) clearly says that sannyasa is only for brahmanas – pravrajed va dvijottamah.
Preaching is not a ground to give sannyasa – a vow of lifelong celibacy – to young westerners. The western audience is anyway not impressed nor does it respect saffron cloth, like Indians. They simply know nothing about it! Indeed, all devotees who opened the temples in America and Europe were white-clad householders!
Who or what is a spouse?
Due to air travel everyone mixes nowadays – Africans marry with Eskimos, Latinos with Chinese and Brahmins with Russians. Spiritual oneness and equality is transported down to the physical plane, with the slogan ‘we are all spirit souls anyway’. If we are all only spirit souls, with no subtle cultural coverings at all, then – 1) Why marry at all, because we are not at all this body (why even dress then?) 2) Why not marry a fly or a pig? They are also spirit souls. Despite spiritual equality there are huge cultural and economic differences between all the peoples that become Vaishnavas – the result of genetically mixing them up is confused children who are part of neither parents’ ethnicity or culture. This is called varna sankara, or a mixed race, in Bhagavad Gita (1.41-43). Spouses from poor countries (especially Indian men) exploit their rich spouses (usually naive gullible western girls). After they flattered them into sending them a plane ticket to the rich west they call them prostitutes and abandon them to start businesses in the west. For material relationships one must follow material rules. Srimad Bhagavata says: (11.17.39) griharthi sadrisim bharyam „A brahmacari who wants to marry should seek a bride like him.” sadrisim (like him) is glossed by Sridhara Swami as savarna, ‘of the same caste’. A marriage CAN be spiritual, as a side effect, but it is never the root cause of marriage. “I want sex, but only with a devotee girl/boy.” But the first motive is sex, not bhakti.
About respect in general
From Caitanya Caritamrita (Antya 4. 135-169) we learn that junior devotees should not instruct senior devotees. In this narration we see that Jagadananda Pandit advised Sanatana Gosvami to go to Vrindavana, but when Mahaprabhu heard that he was very angry, because Jagadananda Pandita was junior to Sanatana not just vyavahare, materially, by being younger in age, but also paramarthe, spiritually, because Sanatana Gosvami was like his Guru (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 4.159, vyavahare paramarthe tumi – tara guru tulya). Mahaprabhu thus set the standard for devotees of all time to act according to maryada, or protocol. He will be very angry when junior devotees instruct senior ones – Who and what is a brahmana? A Guru? Or a sannyasi?
26 December 31, 2013
maryada langhana ami sahite na pari (Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 4.166) “I cannot tolerate breach of the protocol.”
One should note, however, that if a devotee senior in age is inferior in spiritual advancement one need not heed the instructions of such a senior devotee-by-age-only. After all, Mahaprabhu said of Sanatana Gosvami:
kaha tumi – pramanika, sastre pravina; kaha jaga – kalikara batuya navina
(Caitanya Caritamrita Antya 4.167) “Where are you, expert in the scriptures and a great authority, and where is Jagadananda in comparison, a new student?” Sanatana Gosvami was not just superior in age.…….
Giving a ‘brahmana’-thread is meant to give respect to aspirants and flatter them into becoming your follower. It does not change the quality of your semen into brahmana-semen.
Without humility one cannot enter into the kingdom of God, and Vaishnava leaders that encourage their followers in thinking that they are equal to or even higher than brahmanas thus throw up serious barriers for them. Sriman Mahaprabhu kindly gave the keys to the kingdom of God with this formula:
trinad api sunicena taror iva sahishnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniya sada harih
“Lower than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree.
Expecting no honour for yourself, always giving honour to others.
In this way Hari is always to be glorified.”
maryada palana, or observing the protocol, is the way to get there.