[Advaita-l] Thoughts of A Novice to Learned People

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Thu Feb 17 07:16:41 CST 2005

On Thu, 17 Feb 2005, Navin Rajaram wrote:

> Yes, I meant to come to this question. If a shudra were to be considered
> a shudra - first by birth - then is following his svAdharma which as per
> the varna system is serving the rest of society - his only way to attain
> moksha.

Is that all you think shudras do/have done?  Yes I know that's what
Manusmrti etc. says.  But again historically is sitting around waiting to
serve other people all that they've done?  I think you'll find that its

> For example, my ancestors were priests. In this age and time, I am an
> engineer who works fulltime, while I manage to devote a small fraction
> of time to the study of shastras - something which my ancestors did full
> time.

Do you know for a fact that all your ancestors were full time priests?
It's possible particularly in Southern India where there was much more
patronage.  But overall most people in India have been farmers first and
foremost and some other occupation on a part-time basis.

In the case of my family, the surname Vyas indicates a reciter of Puranas.
But the only one of my ancestors who seems to have done this fulltime is
the founder Kai. Shri Jagannath Vyas in the 17th century.  Since then they
seem to have been mainly schoolteachers or minor bureaucrats.  Yet they
don't seem to have had an identity crisis about their Brahmanahood.  They
continued doing sandhya, saying kathas and giving dana, and studying
shastras.  A few even took sannyasa.

So I wonder why it is today people feel more inner turmoil about these
issues.  I think the difference is that for many, smrti (i.e. tradition)
is something learned and not "remembered".  But for example my father as I
mentioned in my last message, he may have stopped being a Hindu but he
never stopped being a Brahmana.  So for me it was easy to resume an
identification with tradition with confidence.  (Though only after a
period of questioning I might add.)

> Similarly, if an individual were to find his lineage traces back
> to the shudra varna, yet he finds himself motivated to study the
> shastras by virtue of being a Hindu - what should be his course of action?

Also as I said, the operative social concept is jati not varna.  And
"Hindu" is still only something a tiny westernized segment of Indian
society consider as a valid social concept.

Amongst all human societies, some are just time-passers and some feel a
need to go further.  Those who are motivated to go further should be
encouraged.  But we shouldn't assume their motivations are the same as
ours.  For instance in those "Vedic chanting classes" that were mentioned
before, I suspect most people think they are learning fancy Sanskrit
Bhajans.  Others have this idea that Vedic mantras are mystical vibrations
of energy or some pseudo-scientific nonsense like that.  Mimamsaka
concepts have never entered their mind at all.  So if you tell them they
are not supposed to be doing that, their attitude will be "we have
always sung bhajans.  Why is this Brahmana chauvinist trying to stop us
from singing this sanskrit bhajan?"

So if we want to be respectful, we can still oppose people who are doing
wrong things.  But we have to engage them and help them understand their
own motivations in proper perspective rather than just say "do this" or
"don't do this"

> On a side note, is being born a shudra a consequence of past karmas? I
> do not know. But, if a shudra does indeed follow one's svAdharma (as
> defined by the varna system), then is that also a possible way of
> reaching the same self-realization a Brahmin seeks by performing
> karmas,tapas and sadhana?

Well you'll find that they do have their own karma, tapa, and sadhana but
yes, doing your svadharma imperfectly is better than doing anothers

> In the advaitic sense, I agree with Girishji in the vision that we ought
> to quit discrimination when we talk of mortals. That kind of vision
> cannot happen overnight, but if we were to discriminate like you say,
> would it not  make the process of acquiring that vision even more
> difficult?

On the one hand people don't like to feel inferior.  On the other hand
people like to feel they are unique in some way.  But if everyone is
special no one is.  If only some are, necessarily others are not.  There
is a contradiction there and great minds have not been able to resolve it.
So Advaita Vedantas answer is to seek that vision outside society

> Agreed. So when we say shudras should be following their svAdharma,
> while let a Brahmin do his, a Ksatriya do his - that is the best
> recourse possible for each of these individuals to attain the Source.
> Ideally,yes but I still feel the present social order and time has
> changed things - we are all fulfilling multiple roles, governed by our
> need to survive.  Where then does following the old system perfectly come
> in?

Time always changes things.  Time has never been a stable foundation for
anything.  And I am not arguing for this system on the basis of it being
old.  I am not interested in becoming the curator of a dusty museum of
Indian antiquities.  I am arguing for this system because it is mine.  And
I am telling you (plural) this because I also believe it is yours.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a boy! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/nilagriva/

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