[Advaita-l] Determination of Varna - Focus on Satyakama

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Mon Aug 13 15:29:21 CDT 2012

First of all,  my apologies to those who think that this topic in
unnecessary especially after 200 posts online and offline has not resolved
the issue. It is for the very reason that I think it is very important. It
shows the rigidity in the views held by different people. I think this
topic is very important for a number of reasons. We may be studying
vedanta or even consider ourselves practising vedantins but most of us do
not have the qualification (viz. renounciation) to do so. But we all have
the right to develop citta suddhi leading to aparoksha jnana where the
correct performance of vaidhika karma or serving those who perform is
necessary. Without citta suddhi, acquired only through participation
in vaidhika karma, we cannot have realisation of saguna or nirguna brahman.

Those who are ineligible should not be asked to perform vaidhika karma or
renounce it through sannyasa. But this is happening today in neo-vedantic
schools. Today, it is easy to learn the procedures for popular vaidhika
karmas from Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission, Arya Samaj etc. These
teachers may still not know the still secret srauta rituals but all the
common grhya rituals are known to them. On the other hand, we have
Bhagavatha schools such as ISKCON, Jnaneshwaris etc. who rightly stress the
importance of nama sankirtana but wrongly de-stress the importance of
vaidhika karma. There one can consider oneself a dwija but not know even
basic vaidhika karma.

The root of the problem is rigid stand taken by casteist brahmanas. I am
all for a rigid stand but not for one without a basis in texts or
traditions. The casteist brahmanas take a rigid stand that even one who has
not undergone any samskara, who has not even chanted gayatri for three
generations etc. can acquire the right to perform vaidhika karma if he is
born in what is considered a brahmana jati. But they will deny it to even
the most qualified exceptions contemporary non-dwija families. I believe
that the tradition used lineage as the natural means to determine varna but
made exceptions. If jati were the only means to determine varna, there is
no need for jyotisha, a vedanga, to provide means to do so. Also, those who
think "I am a brahmana" should be ready for the litmus test of
verification through jataka.  I do not see how brahmanatvam can be
maintained without samskaras. We see that parayas were once kshatriyas but
became sudras over time. The same will happen to corporate brahmanas of
today if they continue to neglect vaidhika dharma.

The importance of the satyakama incident in the upanishads in relation to
this topic cannot be sufficiently emphasised. The very incidence shows that
Gautama made a decision about Varna based on the quality of telling the
truth irrespective of the consequence. For a sudra in pursuit of material
happiness, that material happiness is greater than truth. For a vaishya in
pursuit of wealth, that wealth is greater than truth. For a kshatriya in
pursuit of victory, that victory is greater than truth. But for brahmana
who is in pursuit of truth, what can be greater than truth? So, only a true
brahmana can be truthful under all circumstances.

Sri Jaldhar has been kind enough to offer argument in favour of no
exception rule. It is better than those who make exception with no regard
for rules and do not respect the astika community enough to defend their
position based on sastras. But I dont think his arguments stand the test of
logic nor do I think it is traditional. First, he argues that Gautama
determined Satyakama's gotra from his mother's name. He has not explained
how exactly this was done and what is satyakama's gotra. Second, he argues
that the sutra is not important for great rishis because they "saw" the
vedas, which includes procedures for yajnas. According to Cambridge
University Press book on Early History of Brahmins, there is a reference to
pravaras and sutras is in Yajur Veda. Irrespective of that, satyakama was
not a mantra drshta. Even if a rishi were a mantra drshta, he (assuming a
historic personality for the sake of discussion) has to learn the mantras
that he did not see himself from others. So, it is not possible that he
knew all the procedures for all the rituals without being taught. There is
no pramana for that. Third, he argues that the base material for sakhas was
present in the Vedas but they became four part only after Vyasa split them.
And they became many parts only after his disciples further split them. But
we see that the Purusha suktam itself talks about divisions such as yajus,
sama etc. So, it is only right to say that the ever existent sakhas were
protected by Vyasa by reducing the load on his disciples, who further
reduced the load on his disciples. (This trend has continued to this day :))

Hence I hold that satyakama was an exception and Gautama decided his gotra,
sutra and sakha. He might have learnt all the Vedas but followed the
procedures for rituals as per what his guru ordained him to do. I am happy
to be corrected as always with reference to facts.

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