Sunday, January 7, 2018

How anyone can become a Brahmana - Bhagwan Krishna's insight

            Brahmanas have always remained a fraction and a minority in Indian society. Though their contributions have been stupendous in the past, they have been highly maligned, used as a punching bag for vote bank politicians, some even fake themselves as one making it almost impossible to understand the original flavor in our Indian society. The colonial masters had used Brahmins as their scapegoat to pin all the faults including the Varnashrama dharma. They successfully engineered a caste system based on the defunct Varna dharma. Post independence politicians exploited these fissures and made them into highly polarized votebanks, deep caste lines to facilitate their petty myopic needs without a modicum of morality. The negative narrative is sustained by western indologists like Sheldon Pollock who deliberately misinterpret for their motivated aims; the lies get an Indian megaphone with non practicing mythologists like Devdutt Pattnaik, the left leaning media which is openly hinduphobic besides missionaries, radical elements and politicians.

            Hence this article series is a reminder to make everyone realize who is a Brahmana, how can anyone achieve that, is there a need for us to become one and a litany of questions both critics and believers pose. Knowledge alone can dispel ignorance, just as light removes darkness. We will dive into the wisdom of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita to unearth the guidance for all ages.

            In Kshatriya – do you still exist? article, we saw how Kshatriyata is a mere blend of characters, actions and orientation. We also understood that guna-karma is not hereditary and is a factor of Purushartha. Krishna precedes his insight on Kshariyata with who is a real Brahmana. Krishna clearly sets this definition as a foundational edifice on which the varnas are explained.

ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशां शूद्राणां परंतप।
कर्माणि प्रविभक्तानि स्वभावप्रभवैर्गुणैः।।18.41।।

 brāhmaa-khatriya-viśhāṁ śhūdrāṇāṁ cha parantapa
āṇi pravibhaktāni svabhāva-prabhavair guai

Of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, as also of Sudras, O Arjuna, the duties are distributed according to the qualities born of their own nature.

            Anyone who pays attention to कर्माणि प्रविभक्तानि स्वभावप्रभवैर्गुणैः will understand that Varnas are a mere factor of Gunas and Karmas, which are an interaction of Vasanas and Purushartha.

            Based on this axiom, let us understand Krishna’s idea of Brahmana.

शमो दमस्तपः शौचं क्षान्तिरार्जवमेव च।
ज्ञानं विज्ञानमास्तिक्यं ब्रह्मकर्म स्वभावजम्।।18.42।।

 śhamo damas tapaḥ śhauchaṁ kṣhāntir ārjavam eva cha
jñānaṁ vijñānam āstikyaṁ brahma-karma svabhāva-jam

 Serenity, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness and also uprightness, knowledge, realization and belief in God are the duties of the Brahmanas, born of (their own) nature.

            Krishna gives nine characters of an individual that define a Brahmana. Applying this, most birth based Brahmanas of today will fail this standard and obtaining these characters which can be cultivated by anyone will make them a real Brahmana. These characteristics are not necessarily to be developed in the written order. Interestingly, even if we stick with one, the remaining starts developing without much effort.

            The first six listed are efforts one has to make through Purushartha and the other three are a manifestation of traits borne out of the intensity of practicing the former six. Seeing character from a secular or a western lens will definitely make one miss the depth of this multi-layer information. Hence it is strongly urged to view any Indian scripture only from a traditional point of view, the one given by our rishis.

            Let us dive into each character we need to cultivate, not only for a better self but also for benefit to the society.

शमः – Serenity, Control of mind – The state of mind where it is calm, unperturbed by the events. There is evenness of temper. When vrittis or disturbances arise in the mind, especially in the form of desires, Sama enables us not to be going up and down with the whims of the mental disturbance.

            Sama is the topmost virtue in the group of Shad sampat or six fold wealth of the four fold Sadhana of Jnana Yoga – Swami Sivananda.

            Sama comes through the eradication of vasanas. This gets augmented when the mind which usually goes after the Indriyas(Senses) gets fixated on Japa, dhyana, bhakti, vichara or Brahma-cintana. Viveka and Vairagya are powerful aids to developing Sama. This takes time and practice. It is very easy to be critical of oneself and admit failure, yet to overpower the vasanas arising incessantly in the mind, it takes persistent Sadhana.

            Without Sama, Dama alone will not be sufficient to achieve our objective. The force of a consistently restrained mind only through Dama can be very violent in its expression.

 दमः – Self-restraint, Control of senses – Dama is the restraint of external activities of Indriyas. Dama is also part of the Shad Sampat, which are like a pre-requisite for any spiritual aspirant. Sama and Dama work complimentarily and complete each other. Without one, the effectiveness of the other is highly nullified.

            Let us say someone wants to not eat sweets. Renouncing the desire to eat them will be Sama. This may not be sufficient to overpower the desire. Restraining the legs to go to the shop or hands to purchase or even eyes to see the sweets or ads, redirecting the ears from listening to anything related with sweets, will constitute Dama. So a strong willed person will eventually wilt under the constant assault of Indriyas and without Dama, it is impossible to quell the desire in the mind with Sama alone. The popular three monkeys, one closing its mouth not to speak evil, one blindfolding itself not to see evil and the last one closing it ears not to hear anything evil summarizes Dama

            In practical life we see how many strong new year resolutions to lose weight are lost only by lack of Dama

तपः – Austerity – Tapah is the process where an individual chooses to intensely focus on a single task, by avoiding energy wastage on distractions. Bhagwan Krishna explains this in great detail by classifying Tapah into three categories in Chapter XVII, slokas 14-16 at the body, words and mental levels.

            Tapas at the bodily level is defined as the worship of devas, dvijas (Self realized), gurus and the wise, maintaining exemplary standards of shaucham, arjavam, having constant Brahmacharya (fixated on thoughts of Brahman) and ahimsa.

            Tapas at the speech level is achieved by speaking only Satya which is also expressed with Priya and Hitam as evinced in the Vedic statement – Satyam vada, priyam vada, hitam vada. Speech level austerity is also achieved by constant study and practice of the Vedas and maintaining speech that doesn’t cause excitement to oneself or others.

            Tapas of the mind involves serenity of the mind, being large hearted and compassionate, maintaining mental silence and self control and purity in outlook.

Best grasped in the words of Swami Chinmayananda:- Conscious physical self-denial in order to economise the expenditure of human energy so lavishly spent in the wrong channels of self-indulgence and conserving it for reaching the higher unfoldment within is called Tapas.

शौचम् – Cleanliness, Purity – Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Though the western world bought this religion based idea, they never implemented it as the idea was not organic to them. This idea of cleanliness is very fundamental to Indian civilization. We have lots of evidence starting from Saraswati Valley civilization to puranas, itihasas and other documented literature. Shaucham is always envisioned as both internal and external. One complements the other. Taking bath, wearing fresh clothes, having basic hygiene and practicing common sense civic cleanliness constitute the external element. Internal cleanliness involves cleansing the mind of bad traits, by implementing counter measures like Japa, dhyana, namsankirtan, svadhyaya amongst others.

            Just as even a house locked for months gathers dust, mere living normal lives is enough to get both the external and internal aspects dirty. Hence a daily routine helps a sadak to keep his Bhahishkarana (external instruments) and antahkarana (internal instruments) calibrated for optimal use.

            The fact that in a land where Shaucham was a core daily life ideal, today it is such a travesty where India is the land of open defecation, dirt and sewage flow unchecked and values are topsy turvy. (Read more on Ailing Hinduism – Inversion of values)

            Swami Chinmayananda includes negating disorderliness as cleanliness. Disorderliness increases the Tamas resulting in a diametrically opposite trait. 

क्षान्तिः Forbearance, Forgiveness – Patiently bearing the odds meted without an internal struggle is a much evolved trait. This does not mean be docile or refrain from acting as commonly misunderstood. It only implies that the actions remain true actions and not a reaction borne from any perceived negative stimulus, within and without.

            Thanks to the way Indian Independence struggle was orchestrated by a slight twist of Ahimsa, the majority of Indian populace has a nebulous idea. Inaction and silently suffering, despite of the internal turmoil is understood as Forbearance. Nothing can be farther from truth than such an absurdity. 

            The best example we have is Rama, who advices a reluctant Vibhishana to carry out the last rites for the fallen Ravana. Rama admonishes Vibhishana for harboring thoughts of hate and dislike. Action must not be colored by the stimulus as it sets of a chain reaction.

            At the same time, forbearance allows one to practice mercy, compassion, self-restraint and overlook other’s faults. The silly notion pedaled by New Age groups to do unto others as you want them to do unto you is real distortion. Forbearance is a highly effective weapon to weaken the toughest of opposing egos. Yet, expecting such a fruit based action is contrary to the spirit of forgiveness.

            When contrary stimulus is encountered, staying on values and principles manifests as kshanti. A Dharma centered life enables cultivation and development of forgiveness. Also it teaches the person to live in the NOW. The memory of hurt and anger of a past action can disturb Sama and hence both are connected.

आर्जवम् Uprightness, Straight forwardness – This is a factor of being fearless. Having an innocence and frankness keeps the mind childlike and less prone to picking up bad vasanas. This enables the personality to interact with integrity in all its dealings. In the external world, one can have a poker face and yet hide their true colors. But in Spirituality where one understands the interconnectedness of everything, arjavam becomes default as the thoughts, words and deeds are aligned not only in relation to each other but also with dharma. This congruence manifests in the external world as an upright personality and in the internal world sets the mind in an exalted state, ever ready to expand and realize the paramatma.

ज्ञानम्  - Knowledge –  The ability to understand wisdom of the realized, the teachings in Vedas, Upanishads, the structure of the internal and external equipments to perceive its relationship with the surrounding Universe and the theoretical understanding of Vedanta can be deemed as the Knowledge spoken here. This also includes a good grasp of the Purusharthas.

विज्ञानम्  - Wisdom – When the above theoretical knowledge gets assimilated and manifests as a practical experience, intuition and a deeper understanding borne out of internalization, it reflects wisdom. This wisdom can be imbibed from great masters by living with them constantly as evinced in Upanishads. Wisdom will deepen the knowledge procured by practice of sadhana.

आस्तिक्यम् - Faith – Best understood in the words of Swami Sivananda as, Faith is that personal attitude by which divine revelation is subjectively appropriated. Typically Faith is understood as an outlook towards divinity and cannot be understood in a secular translation. Faith is not a delusion of believing in whatever one chooses to, but is rooted firmly in jnanam and vijnanam. It is rooted in the TRUTH that is absolute and is beyond the isms created by humans. Astikyam not only deepens the understanding but also guides every step of our actions.

            The Faith manifests in all the above eight traits outlined by Krishna, in the scriptures likes Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, in the words and experiences of the realized Mahatmas, in being disciplined in Sadhana. This is not based on blind faith or mindlessly following, but reinforced by in jnanam and vijnanam. In a sense, astikyam is both an entry point as well as an expression of the final outcome just like jnanam and vijnanam.

            Just as sandalwood is defined by the fragrance it carries around, a real Brahmana is defined by these nine characters. As it is very easy to understand that such traits cannot be fully expressed in all sorts of normal professions, unless it is solely centered around a life based on scriptures. 

            In the next part we will have a similar insight from Yudhishtra besides the implications in today’s society. (Continued as part II)

तत् सत्

Suggested Reading

Tapas or Austerity – Swami Krishnananda


  1. Namashkaar Shri.Satchitaanandaji,
    Says the scriptures: "janmana jayate sudrah, samskarat dwij uchchte, veda pathnat bhavet viprah, brahma janati iti brahmanah."
    So before being called as BrahmaNa he has to successfully cross the 3 stages:sudrah,dwijah,vipra and then knowing Brahman,"brahma jaanaathi ithi brahmanah." Shoucham is important. As bahirangashuddhi leads to Antharanga shuddhi. That's why early morning we wake up clean the front of the house and put rangoli. Bathing is Ahlaadakara for our mind and lightness to our body then automatically we will pray/Dhyanam. As you have said, Dama controls our false hunger pangs and cravings. I am sweet toothed! Ofcourse its not food alone many things come under this. Shri.Raamar says to VibhishaNa "मरणान्तानि वैराणि निर्वृत्तं-Hostilities end with death."
    "bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhajamuudhamate" is Jnaanam and vijnaanam. As you have already covered "Asthikyam" "rakshishyathi ithi vishwaasaha."
    In the present day context we will have only countable number of Brahmins. Probably less than 100!
    Very well written, Thankyouji !
    Where can I see part II?

    1. Namaskar Madhaviji,

      Updated the link. Adding it here -

      You are right about creating an external atmosphere conducive, along with habits, traditions and rituals that help us keep on the track of Brahma vichara.

      Plain vedanta alone is not sufficient as the emotional aspect of the mind is left uncatered or unprepared.

    2. Of course, you may see all the articles in the blog -

      You may search using the Labels or the Blog archive (date) on the right side of any article. A more cumbersome option is to search using the search this blog tab on the top right of any article.

      I prefer labels or tipping the date to see the title of interest to navigate.