[Advaita-l] Teacher Instruction and Student Eligibility

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 13 17:21:10 CDT 2012

I'm not keenly following the recent threads concerning eligibility of the student on Vedic instruction, but would like to point out that according to the scriptures, the "burden" (if it can be called that) of instructing a(n) (un)worthy person on [Vedic] dharma falls on the teacher and not the student. A story from the Mahabharata (13.10) illustrates how in spite of being ineligible, the student actually benefits from such instructions!


Yudhisthira said, 'I wish to know, O royal sage, whether any fault is incurred by one who from interested or disinterested friendship imparts instructions unto a person belonging to a low order of birth! O grandsire, I desire to hear this, expounded to me in detail. The course of duty is exceedingly subtile. Men are often seen to be stupefied in respect of that course.'

Bhishma said, 'In this connection, O king, I shall recite to thee, in due order, what I heard certain Rishis say in days of yore. Instruction should not be imparted unto one that belongs to a low or mean caste. It is said that the preceptor who imparts instruction to such a person incurs great fault. Listen to me, O chief of Bharata's race, as I recite to thee, O Yudhishthira, this instance that occurred in days of old, O monarch, of the evil consequences of the imparting of instruction unto a low-born person fallen into distress.
Possessed of great intelligence, and observant of righteousness, the Sudra received every direction, about the Sraddha, as laid down in the ordinance, from that Rishi endued with penances regarding the manner of spreading the Kusa grass, and placing the Arghyas, and as regards the rites to be observed in the matter of the libations to be poured and the food to be offered. After the rites in honour of the Pitris had been accomplished, the Rishi, was dismissed by the Sudra, whereupon he returned to his own abode. After a long time, the whole of which he passed in the practice of such penances and vows, the Sudra ascetic met with his death in those woods. In consequence of the merit he acquired by those practices, the Sudra in the next life, took birth in the family of a great king, and in course of time became possessed of great splendour. The regenerate Rishi also, when the time came, paid his debt in Nature. In his next life, O chief of Bharata's race,
 he took birth in the family of a priest.
The priest said, 'Every day, on occasions of obtaining my benedictions, when, again, I am engaged in the performance of religious rites on thy behalf, on occasions also of the Homa and other rites of propitiation, why is it that thou laughest upon beholding me? Seeing thee laugh at me on all occasions, my mind shrinks with shame. I have caused thee to swear, O king, that thou wouldst answer me truly. It does not behove thee to say what is untrue. There must be some grave reason for thy behaviour. Thy laughter cannot be causeless. Great is my curiosity to know the reason. Do thou speak truly unto me.'

The king said, 'When thou hast addressed me in this strain, O regenerate one, I am bound to enlighten thee, even if the matter be one that should not be divulged in thy hearing. I must tell thee the truth. Do thou listen to me with close attention, O regenerate one. Listen to me, O foremost of twice-born persons, as I disclose to thee what happened (to us) in our former births. I remember that birth. Do thou listen to me with concentrated mind. In my former life I was a Sudra employed in the practice of severe penances. Thou, O best of regenerate persons, wert a Rishi of austere penances. O sinless one, gratified with me, and impelled by the desire of doing me good, thou, O Brahmana, wert pleased to give me certain instructions in the rites I performed (on one occasion) in honour of my Pitris. The instructions thou gayest me were in respect of the manner of spreading the Vrishi and the Kusa blades and of offering libations and meat and other food to the
 manes, O foremost of ascetics. In consequence of this transgression of thine thou hast taken birth as a priest, and I have taken birth as a king, O foremost of Brahmanas. Behold the vicissitudes that Time brings about. Thou hast reaped this fruit in consequence of thy having instructed me (in my former birth). It is for this reason, O Brahmana, that I smile at sight of thee, O foremost of regenerate persons. I do not certainly laugh at thee from desire of disregarding thee. Thou art my preceptor. At this change of condition I am really very sorry. My heart burns at the thought. I remember our former births, hence do I laugh at sight of thee. Thy austere penances were all destroyed by the instructions thou gayest me. Relinquishing thy present office of priest, do thou endeavour to regain a superior birth. Do thou exert so that thou mayst not obtain in thy next life a birth meaner than thy present one. Take as much wealth as thou wishest. O learned
 Brahmana, and cleanse thy soul, O best of men.'

Bhishma continued, 'Dismissed by the king (from the office of priest), the Brahmana made many gifts, unto persons of his own order, of wealth and land and villages. He observed many rigid and severe vows as laid down by the foremost of Brahmanas. He sojourned to many sacred waters and made many gifts unto Brahmanas in those places. Making gifts of kine unto persons of the regenerate order, his soul became cleansed and he succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of it. Repairing to that very asylum whither he had lived in his former birth, he practised very severe penances. As the consequence of all this, O foremost of kings, that Brahmana succeeded in attaining to the highest success. He became an object of veneration with all the ascetics that dwelt in that asylum. In this way, O best of monarchs, that regenerate Rishi fell into great distress. Unto Sudras, therefore, the Brahmanas should never give instructions. Hence, O king, the Brahmana should avoid
 imparting instructions (to such as are low-born), for it was by imparting instruction to a low-born person a Brahmana came to grief. O best of kings, the Brahmana should never desire to obtain instruction from, or impart instruction to, a person that belongs to the lowest order. Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, the three orders, are regarded as twice-born. By imparting instruction unto these, a Brahmana does not incur any fault. They, therefore, that are good, should never discourse on any subject, for imparting any instruction, before persons of the inferior order. The course of morality is exceedingly subtile and incapable of being comprehended by persons of uncleansed souls. It is for this reason that ascetics adopt the vow of silence, and being respected by all, pass through Diksha (initiation) without indulging in speech.

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