Shruti Vs Smriti

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Aug 12 17:06:28 CDT 1997

> A couple of questions.  I read and ponder and contemplate material from the
> Upanishads every day.  I wouldn't call myself a Sannyasi, but more of a
> householder.  Therefore I might be doing an enterprise (jnana kanda) that
> I'm not supposed to.  Should I just forget it??  (I won't of course,
> just asking!)

No. Orthodox teachers have said that there is nothing against reading the
upanishads in translation, even if one is not a sannyAsin.

The idea behind saying that one must be a sannyAsin is not that one
should take ritual sannyAsa, but that one should have the required
sAdhana-catushTaya (viveka, vairAgya, SamAdi-shaTka, mumukshutva). These
qualities are not very compatible with being a man of the world with
family responsibilities. However, a person who has these qualities is much
more a sannyAsin than some who wear an ochre robe, irrespective of the
station of life he finds himself in. That is why the jAbAla-upanishad
allows, "yadahareva virajet, tadahareva pravrajet," and does not insist
that one should necessarily go through the four ASramas in order.

> Also, on caste, I've heard two major interpretations.  One seems to have
> its basis in the Gita (no copy at work here, sorry, quotations will have to
> come later).  I might be wrong here, but the Gita seems to derive one's
> caste assignment from the particular distribution of sattva, rajas and
> tamas in the individual.  According to your proportion of the gunas, you
> belong to one of the castes, regardless of what family you were born into.
> The other interpretation might be called more fundamentalist, and has to
> do with the family one was born into.  So take the example of a Westerner

This is a question which has tormented many people in recent times.
However, to me, this seems like a rather artificial distinction, in the
context of the gItA. The notion of three guNas is a contribution of
sAmkhya philosophy, which the gItA includes in its world-view. Now, the
three guNas are qualities of prakRti, i.e. material nature.

It has generally been assumed, at least in the India of a hundred years
ago, that one's family and one's diet determined the material nature.
After all, the body is given by the parents and it grows by food, also
given by parents for a large portion of one's life. Thus, one's family
determines the material composition to a large extent. Even if one
says that the gItA supports an idea of caste based on the distribution of
sattva, rajas and tamas, such a distribution is governed to a substantial
extent by the family one is born into.

This is not very politically correct nowadays, but one should view this in
historical perspective. Caste seems to be an inherent feature of most
human societies, and it has been unquestioned in India, till recent times.
As an aside, in legal terms, the generally held notion that the Indian
constitution abolishes caste is totally false. It only abolishes
discrimination in government/private employment, based on caste. To say
that caste has been abolished is equivalent to saying that Indian society
itself has been abolished.

> like myself.  Works for a living, maintains a home, has some sort of
> sadhana, might study advaita, even with a teacher.  Even so, as a non-Hindu
> or perhaps a non-Indian, this Westerner is an outcaste.  Perhaps in a
> future birth this person might be born into an Indian family and hence into
> one of the other castes.  I have no textual citation for this interpretation,
> but have seen it in newsgroups, BBS's, mail-lists, etc.

Perhaps, if there is a future birth. One cannot really predict in what
family one will be born into, in a future life. Note, however, that except
in dvaita vedAnta, there is no support for a view that only a brAhmaNa can
attain moksha. AtmajnAna can be attained by a (wo)man in any station, and
then there is no more rebirth.


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