Hindu Dharma – Part-2
Unity in Diversity
Fastening together a large number of individual fire sticks is not easy: the bundle is loosened quickly and the sticks will give way. The removal of even one stick will make the bundle loose and, with each stick giving way, you will be left with separate sticks. Try to tie together a handful of sticks at a time instead of all the sticks together. A number of such small sheaves may be easily fastened together into a strong and secure larger bundle. Even if it becomes loose, none of the smaller bundles will come away. This is not the case with the large bundle bound up of individual sticks. A bundle made up of a number of smaller sets will remain well secured.
To keep a vast community bound together in a single uniform structure is well-nigh an impossible task. Because of its unmanageable size it is not easily sustained in a disciplined manner. This is the reason why - to revert to the example of the fuel sticks - the community was divided into jatis [similar to the smaller bundles in the analogy of the fire sticks] and each jati assigned a particular vocation. Each varna was divided into a number of jatis [smaller bundles], with each jati having a headman with the authority to punish offenders. Today criminals are sentenced to prison or punished in other ways. But the incidence of crime is on the increase since all such types of punishment have no different effect. In the jati system the guilty took the punishment to heart. So much so that, until the turn of the century, people lived more or less honourably and there was little incidence of crime. The police and the magistrates did not have much work to do.
What was the punishment meted out to offenders by the village or jati headman? Excommunication. Whether it was a cobbler or a barber - anyone belonging to any one of the jatis now included among the "backward" or "depressed" classes - he would feel deeply stung if he were thrown out of his jati: no punishment was harsher or more humiliating than excommunication.
What do we learn from all this? No jati thought poorly of itself or of another jati. Members of each jati considered themselves the supreme authority in managing their affairs. This naturally gave them sense of contentment and satisfaction. What would have happened if some jatis were regarded as "low" and some others as "high"? Feelings of inferiority would have arisen among some sections of the community and perhaps, apart form Brahmins and Ksatriyas, no jati would have had any sense of pride in itself. If each jati had no respect for itself no one would have taken excommunication to heart. When the entire society was divided into small groups called jatis, not only did one jati have affection for another, each also trusted the other. There was indeed a feeling of kinship among all members of the community. This was the reason why the threat of excommunication was dreaded.
Now some sections of the community remain attached to their jatis for the only reason that they enjoy certain privileges as members belonging to the "backward" classes. But they take no true pride in belonging to their respective jatis. In the old days these sections "enjoyed" no special privileges but we know it to be a fact that, until some three or four generations ago, they were proud of belonging to their jatis. We must add that this was not because - as is the case today - of rivalries and jealousies among the various groups. There were indeed no quarrels, no rivalries, based on differences of jati. Apart from pride, there was a sense of fulfilment among members of each jati in pursuing the vocation inherited from their forefathers and in observing the rites proper to it.
Nowadays trouble-makers defy even the police. But in the past, in the system of jatis, there was no opposition to the decisions of the headman. The police are, after all, part of an outward system of discipline and law enforcement. But in jati rule the discipline was internal since there was a sense of kinship among the members of each jati. So in the jati set-up crime was controlled more effectively than in today's system of restoring to weapons or the constabulary. Though divided according to jatis and the occupations and customs pertaining to each of them, society remained united. It was a system that ensured harmony.
Divided by Work but still of One Heart
It is from this social necessity that the concept of division of labour arose. But who is to decide the number of people for each type of work? Who is to determine the proportions for society to function in a balanced manner? In the West they had no answer to these questions. Everybody there competes with everybody else for comfortable jobs and everywhere you find greed and bitterness resulting from such rivalries. And, as a consequence of all this, there are lapses from discipline and morality.
In our country we based the division of labour on a hereditary system and, until it worked, people had a happy, peaceful and contented life. Today even a multimillionaire is neither contented nor happy. Then even a cobbler led a life without cares. What sort of progress have we achieved today by inflaming evil desires in all hearts and pushing everyone into the slough of discontent? Not satisfied with such "progress" there is talk everywhere that we must go forward rapidly in this manner.
Greed and covetousness were unknown during the centuries when varna dharma flourished. People were bound together in small well-knit groups and they discovered that there was happiness in their being together. Besides they had faith in religion, fear of God and devotion, and a feeling of pride in their own family deities and in the modes of worshipping them. In this way they found fullness in their lives without any need to suffer the hunger and disquiet of seeking external objects. All society experienced a sense of well-being.
Though divided into a number of groups people were all one in their devotion to the Lord; and though they had their own separate family deities, they were brought together in the big temple that was for the entire village or town. This temple and its festivals had a central place in their life and they remained united as the children of the deity enshrined in it. When there was a car festival(rathotsava) the Brahmins and the people living on the outskirts of the village[the so-called backward classes] stood shoulder to shoulder and pulled the chariot together. We wonder whether those days of peace and harmony will ever return. Neither jealousy nor bitterness was known then and people did not trade charges against one another. Everyone did his job, carried out his duties, in a spirit of humility and with a sense of contentment.
Considering all this, would it be correct to say that Hinduism faced all its challenges in spite of the divisions in society? No, no. Such a view would be totally wrong. The fact is that our religion has survived as a living force for ages together because of these very divisions. Other great religions which had but one uniform dharma for all have gone under. And there is the fear that existing religions of the same type might suffer a similar fate. What has sustained Hinduism as an eternal religion? We must go back to the analogy of the fuel sticks. Like a number of small bundles of sticks bound together strong and secure-instead of all the individual sticks being fastened together-Hindu society is a well-knit union of a number of small groups which are themselves bound up separately as jatis, the cementing factor being devotion to the Lord.
Religions that had a common code of duties and conduct could not withstand attacks from within and without. In India there were many sets of religious beliefs that were contained in, or integrated together with, a common larger system. If new systems of beliefs or dharmas arose from within or if there were inroads by external religious systems, a process of rejection and assimilation took place: what was not wanted was rejected and what was fit to be accepted was absorbed. Buddhism and Jainism sprang from different aspects of the Vedic religion, so Hinduism(later) was able to digest them and was able to accommodate many other sets of beliefs or to make them its own. There was no need for it to treat other systems as adversaries or to carry on a struggle against them.
After the advent of Islam we adopted only some of its customs but not any of its religious concepts. The Moghul influence was felt to some extent in our dress, music, architecture and painting. Even such impressions of the Muslim impact did not survive for long as independent factors but were dissolved in the flow of our Vedic culture. Also the Islamic impact was largely confined to the North; the South did not come much under it and stuck mostly to its own traditional path.
Later, with the coming of the Europeans, faith in the Vedic religion began to decline all over India, in North as well as South. How did this change occur? Why do all political leaders today keep excoriating the varna system, giving it the name of "casteism"? And how has the view gained ground everywhere that the division of jatis has greatly hindered the progress of the nation? And why does the mere mention of the word jati invite a gaol sentence?
I shall tell you later, as best I can, about who is responsible for this state of affairs. For the present let us try to find out why some people want to do away with varna dharma. To them it seems an iniquitous system in which some jatis occupy a high status while some others are pushed down to low depths. They want all to be raised to the same uniform high level.
Is such a step possible or practicable? To find an answer, all that we have to do is to examine conditions in countries where there is no caste. If there were no distinctions of high and low in these lands, we should see no class conflicts there. But in reality what do we see? People in these countries are divided into "advantaged" and disadvantaged" classes who are constantly fighting between themselves. A true understanding of our religion will show that in reality there are no differences in status based on caste among our people. But let us for argument's sake presume that there are; our duty then is to make sure that the feelings of differences are removed, not get rid of varna dharma itself.
One more point must be considered. Even if you concede that the social divisions have caused bitterness among the different sections here, what about the same in other countries? Can the existence of such ill-will in other lands be denied? The differences there, based on wealth and status, cause bitterness and resentment among the underprivileged and poorer sections. In America, it is claimed that all people have enough food, clothing and housing. They say that the Americans are contented people. But what is the reality there? The man who has only one car is envious of another who has two. Similarly, the fact that one person has a bank balance of a hundred million dollars is cause for heart-burning for another with a bank balance of only a million. Those who have sufficient means to live comfortably quarrel with people better off over rights and privileges. Does this not mean that even in a country like the United States there are conflicts between the higher and lower classes of society?
The story is not different in the communist countries. Though everyone is said to be paid the same wages there, they have officers and clerks who do not enjoy the same status. As a result of the order enforced by the state, there may not be any outward signs of quarrel among the different cadres, but jealously and feelings of rivalry must, all the same, exist in the hearts of people. In the higher echelons of power there must be greater rivalry in the communist lands than elsewhere. The dictator of today is replaced by another tomorrow. Is it possible to accord the same status to all in order to prevent the growth of antagonisms? Feeling of high and low will somehow persist, so too the competitive urge.
It seems to me that better than the distinctions prevailing in the West-distinctions that give rise to jealousies and social discord-are the differences mistakenly attributed to the hereditary of vocations. In the old days this arrangement ensured peace in the land with everyone living a contented life. There was neither envy nor hatred and everyone readily accepted his lot.
The different types of work are meant for the good of the people in general. It is wrong to believe that one job belongs to an "inferior" category and another to a "superior type". There is no more efficacious medicine for inner purity than doing one's work, whatever it be, without any desire for reward and doing it to perfection. I must add that even wrong notions about work(one job being better than another or worse) is better that the disparities and differences to be met with in other countries. We are[or were] free from the spirit of rivalry and bitterness that vitiate social life there.
Divided we have remained united, and nurtured our civilization. Other civilizations have gone under because the people of the countries concerned, though seemingly united, were in fact divided. In our case though there were differences in the matter of work there was unity of hearts and that is how our culture and civilization flourished. In other countries the fact that there were no distinctions based on vocations(anyone could do any work) itself gave rise to rivalries and eventually to disunity. They were not able to withstand the onslaught of other civilizations.
It is not practicable to make all people one, nor can everyone occupy the same high position. At the same time it is also unwise to keep people divided into classes that are like water-tight compartments.
The dharmasastras have shown us a middle way that avoids the pitfalls of the two extremes. I have come as a representative of this way and that is why I speak for it: that there ought to be distinctions among various sections of people in the performance of rites but there must be unity of hearts. There should be no confusion between the two.
Though we are divided outwardly in the matter of work, with unity of hearts there will be peace. That was the tradition for ages together in this land-there was oneness of hearts. If every member of society does his duty, does his work, unselfishly and with the conviction that he is doing it for the good of all, considerations of high and low will not enter his mind. If people carry out the duties common to them, however adverse the circumstances be, and if every individual performs the duties that are special to him, no one will have cause for suffering at any time.
Why only in this Country
It will be conceded that even such countries as do not have any social division based on vocations have produced wise men who have contributed to the growth of knowledge and statesmen, administrators, agriculturists, traders and labourers. But if you look at the matter impartially- and not necessarily as a proud patriot-you will realise that no other country has had such a great civilization as we have had. It is true that great civilizations flourished in other lands too, but they did not last thousands of years like ours. To say this is not to blow our own trumpet. From the time of Alexander until today-when we seem to have fallen into an abyss from the heights of glory-foreigners have been filled with wonder for the Hindu civilization.
Other countries, it is true, have given birth to great men, to men of God, to philanthropists, to men of sacrifice. But if you take a census of all nations, you will see that no other nation would have given birth, generations after generation for thousands of years in an uninterrupted manner, to such a large number of great men, saintly men, wise men, philosophers, devotees and philanthropists. They will outnumber all such men produced in other countries put together. Foreigners refer to India as the "land of saints", as the "land of sages". They express their profound admiration for our Vedanta, for our metaphysics, and all our ancient works.
The whole world acknowledge our unparalleled contributions to art, sculpture, music, poetry, astronomy, medicine. It never ceases to wonder at our great works of philosophy and literature like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, the Sakuntalam, etc. Scholars abroad are of the opinion that there are hardly any devotional works outside India like the Tamil Tevaram and Divyaprabandham. They note the Kural, in the same language, to be an astonishingly profound and lucid ethical work that is yet so brief. Foreigners come to our land, leaving their home and hearth, to find out all about our gopurams, our sculptures, our dances like Bharatanatyam all of which have cast a spell over them. Europeans enslaves us, ascribed all kinds of faults to us and held us in bondage with their policy of divide and rule. But, all the same, out of admiration for our culture they have sought out our sastras, our ancient texts, conducted research into them and translated them into their own languages.
To what special factors are we to attribute the existence of such a great and unique civilization? In looking for an answer you will discover that there was something in our social structure that was not shared by other countries, that is varna dharma. According to our reformers all our ills are due to the caste system. But it is this land with this unique system - varnasrama - that has excelled all other nations in metaphysics, in the arts, in social values and in wisdom. Stability in society and peace go hand in hand. Without them, without an atmosphere conducive to creative work, no arts, no philosophy, no culture could have flourished generation after generation. Philosophers and sages and geniuses in the field of arts would not have otherwise been thrown up in such amazingly large numbers.
The religions that governed life in other countries did not evolve a social structure capable of creating this kind of stability. One might say that the question of creating a sociological foundation was overlooked in them. They did not lay down rules for orderly social life and had but general interdictions and injunctions like "Do not steal"; "Do not tell lies"; "Do not commit adultery"; "Live a life of sacrifice". In Buddhism and Christianity the institutionalized system is meant only for the monks. Unlike in Hinduism in none of these religions was attention directed towards weaving together the entire society into a fabric in which one member formed a support to another.
One does nod deny that there was scientific advancement in other nations. they had a system of defence and they carried on trade and commerce. But the spirit of rivalry vitiated all walks of life in these lands. No community had an occupation entirely to itself. Everyone could compete with everyone else for every kind of job. In our country people had their own hereditary calling and they were assured of their livelihood. This meant peace and stability in society. We must remember that it was because our people were bound together in their unique varna system that they excelled in culture and character, not to mention the fact the stability afforded by the system facilitated the birth of countless numbers of individuals who exemplified all that is noble in mankind. In contrast, in the absence of a similar institution, jealousy and rivalry became disturbing factors in the life of other countries.
Our nation should have witnessed many a revolution if, as claimed by our social reformers, the people were kept suppressed in the varna system. However, the term "social revolution" was new to us until recently. It is only after reading a about the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Soviet Revolution that we have known that compulsions would arise for great masses of people to be plunged in unrest. The common people in other countries were again and again involved thus in revolutionary movements. But we note- and this is important - that no revolution has achieved anything of permanent value. If there is an upsurge today there is another fifty or a hundred years later. we have to conclude from this that people abroad have remained discontented most of the time.
Today's situation is all too obvious to be stated. The whole world is in turmoil. Indiscipline, strikes, social upsets and savage orgies of violence have become the order of the day. It is only in a country like the Soviet Union where there is a dictatorship that comes down heavily on those who voice any opposition to it that there is hardly any unrest. However, it is said that the volcano of unrest might erupt any time there. Now and then an intellectual or writer escapes from that land to tell us about the tyranny from which people suffer there. Obviously in the Soviet Union too people are not happy and contented.
India has seldom had an autocracy or dictatorship of this type. It would not have taken the strides it did in the sciences and arts had it been a slave country or a country ruled by despots. people here never lamented before others that they were kept suppressed. All our works of knowledge and wisdom, all our arts and all our temples would not have been possible if the mind was not enabled to unfold itself in an atmosphere of freedom. It would also be preposterous to suggest that a majority of the common people were victims of superstition and delusion and lived in fear of witchcraft. You could speak thus of the tribes living in the forests of Africa or South America. In these places the priest was like a king. He would be fearsome even to look at and he was able to impress his tribesmen that he could do anything with his utterances(his mantra- like formulae). He had also the power to punish people. Such was not the case in our country. People here were fairly knowledgeable irrespective of the jatis to which they belonged and they were devoted and advances in matters pertaining to the Self.
If you go through the Puranas(including the Tamil Periaypuranam) You will learn that there were great men in all jatis. Imperial rulers like Chandragupta and ministers like Sekkizhar belonged to the fourth varna. Our priests had no authority to punish anyone, According to the canonical texts the priest must be a man of spotless character and, if he commits a wrong, he must punish himself. If a white man happens to come into physical contact with a black man, the latter is taken to task. But if a priest in our country comes into similar contact with an untouchable, it is he (the priest) who is enjoined to have a bath. Let us leave aside for the moment the question of untouchability. The point to note is that it was not by inspiring fear, by the threat of punishment or by suppression, that such customs were practised. a civilization like ours that is glorified all over the world could not have flourished if some sections of the people were suppressed or were victims of deception. it is only when the dharmasastras are advantageous to all that there will be no cause for any section of the people to revolt.
When the ancient varna system was in force, our civilization grew steadily without giving any cause for revolt or discontent among the people. But, that apart, look at the state of India after it broke with the old system of division of labour and took to the new path adopted by other countries on the pretext of "progress" and "equality". Everywhere you se immorality, dishonesty, corruption and prostitution. Agitations, strikes, demonstrations, hartals, curfew, etc, have become the order of the day. Is it not obvious from this that there is much discontent among the people? In matters of trade we have come to such a pass that we are the target of attack and ridicule of other nations for our dishonest practices. The time is past when everyone had nothing but praise for India. Even a small country like Pakistan drags us into war. Does this not show that our spiritual strength has diminished so much?
How did we lose our inner vitality? By giving up what have we become weak? What was it that nurtured our civilization and kept it growing for thousands of years? By parting with what have we descended so low as to be ashamed of calling ourselves heirs to this civilization? The fact is that, so long as we practised varna dharma that is unique to our country, our civilization stood like a rock arousing the admiration of all the world. But after this dharma began to decline we have been on the descent day by day.
Why should this country alone practise varna dharma? Because this dharma is necessary if we want to sustain a civilization that can promote the growth of philosophy, nourish our arts and culture, inspire us more and more in our inward search and help us in the realization of Godhead. If the varna system, is followed at least in this country, it will be an example to the rest of the world.
If there is not varna dharma, it means at once the growth of social disharmony, the rise of jealousies and discontent among the people. Men will compete with one another for the jobs they like or are convenient to them. There will be competition for education on the same lines. Since all will not succeed in their efforts or in their desire or ambition being satisfied, the result will be hatred and resentment everywhere. Look at what is happening now in India. When educated unemployment is on the increase, it is suggested that admissions to colleges must be restricted, that there are too many engineers already in the country and that some engineering colleges must be closed down. Here we see that the theory of throwing open everything to everybody does not work; imposing some restriction on people is seen to be inevitable. In the old days a man's work, whatever it was, became second nature to him and he had a sense of pride in it as an "asset", legacy that had come to him from his forefathers, indeed a prized family "possession". He also did his job efficiently and sincerely. Money was a secondary consideration then. Since everything was done on the basis of trust and with a high degree of personal involvement - the worker was always conscious that he was doing his work- there were no problems. The whole society prospered.
No civilization can flourish in the absence of a system that brings fulfilment to all. Varna dharma brought fulfilment and satisfaction to all.
Is it possible to bring Varna dharma back to life? Whether we fail in during all we can in reviving the system or whether we abandon our efforts finding them to be futile, we must at least recognise that it is this system that our thousands of years brought well-being to all communities of our religion and to our country and throughout them to the whole world outside. Again, we must at least have the good sense not to find fault with such a system.
Who is Responsible for the Decay of Varna Dharma?
These are question that I raised and I shall try to answer them. The wrong ideas that have developed about varna dharma must be ascribed to the Brahmins themselves. They are indeed responsible for the decay of an ages-old system that contributed not only to our Atmic advancement but also to the well-being of the nation as well as of all mankind.
The Brahmin relinquished the duties of his birth-the study of the Vedas and performance of the rites laid down in the Vedic tradition. He left his birthplace, the village, for the town. He cropped his hair and started dressing in European style. Giving up the Vedas, he took to the Mundane learning of the West. He fell to the lure of jobs offered by his white master and aped him in dress, manners and attitudes. He threw to the winds the noble dharma he had inherited from the Vedic seers through his forefathers and abandoned all for a mess of pottage. He was drawn to everything Western, science, life-style, entertainment.
The canonical texts have it that the Brahmin must have no love for money, that he must not accumulate wealth. So long as he followed his dharma, as prescribed by the sastras, and so long as he chanted the Vedas and performed sacrifices, he brought good to the world, and all other castes respected him and treated him with affection. In fact they looked upon him as a guide and model.
Others now observed how the Brahmin changed, how his life-style had become different with all its glitter and show and how he went about with all the pretence of having risen on the scale of civilization. The Brahmin had been an ideal for them in all that is noble, but how he strayed from the path of dharma; and following his example they too gave up their traditional vocations that had brought them happiness and contentment, and left their native village to settle in towns. Like the Brahmin they became keen to learn English and secure jobs in the government.
For thousands of years the Brahmin had been engaged in Atmic pursuit and intellectual work. In the beginning all his mental faculties were employed for the welfare of society and not in the least for his own selfish advancement. Because of this very spirit of self-sacrifice, his intelligence became sharp like a razor constantly kept honed. Now the welfare of society is no longer the goal of his efforts and his intelligence has naturally dimmed due to this selfishness and interest in things worldly. He had been blessed with a bright intellect and he had the grace of the Lord to carry out the duties of his birth. Now, after forsaking his dharma, it is natural that his intellectual keenness should become blunted.
Due to sheer momentum the bicycle keeps going some distance even after you stop pedalling. Similarly, though the Brahmin seeks knowledge of mundane subjects instead of inner light, he retains yet a little intellectual brightness as a result of the "pedalling" done by his forefathers. It is because of this that he has been able to achieve remarkable progress in Western learning also. He has acquired expert knowledge in the practices of the West, in its law and its industries. Indeed he has gained such insights into these subjects and mastered their finer points so remarkably well that he can give lessons to the white man himself in them.
A question that arises in this context is how Vedic studies which had not suffered much even during Muslim rule received a severe set-back with the advent of the European. One reason is the impact of the new sciences and the machines that came with the white man. Granted that many a truth was revealed through these sciences- and this was all to the good up to a point. But we must remember that the knowledge of a subject per se is one thing and how we use it in practice ins another.
The introduction of steam power and electricity made many types of work easier but it also meant comforts hitherto unthought-of of to gratify the senses. If you keep pandering to the senses more and more new desires are engendered. This will mean the production of an increasing number of objects of pleasure. The more we try to obtain sensual pleasure the more we will cause injury to our innermost being. The new pleasures that could be had with scientific development and the introduction of machines were an irresistible lure for the Brahmin as they were to other communities. Another undesirable product of the sciences brought by the white man was rationalism which undermined people's faith in religion and persuaded some to believe that the religious truths that are based on faith and are inwardly experienced are nothing but deception. The man who did not give up his duties even during Muslim rule now abandoned them for the new-found pleasures and comforts. He dressed more smartly that the Englishman, smoked cigarettes and even learned to dance like his white master. Those who thus became proficient in the arts of the white man were rewarded with jobs.
Now occurred the biggest tragedy.
Up till now all members of society had their hereditary jobs to do and they did not have to worry about their livelihood. Now, with the example of the Brahmin before them, members of other castes also gave up their traditional occupations for the jobs made available by the British in the banks, railways, collectorates, etc. With the introduction of machinery our handicrafts fell into decay and many of our artisans had to look for other means of livelihood. In the absence of any demarcation in the matter of work and workers, there arose competition for jobs for the first time in the country. It was a disastrous development and it generated jealousy, ill-will, disputes and a host of other evils among people who had hitherto lived in harmony.
Ill feelings developed between Brahmins and non-Brahmins also. How? Brahmins formed only a small percentage of the population. But they were able to occupy top positions in the new order owing to their intelligence which, as I said before, was the result of the "pedalling" done by their forefathers. They excelled in all walks of life- in administration, in academics, in law, in medicine, engineering and so on. The white man made his own calculations about developing animosity between Brahmins and non-Brahmins and realised that by fuelling it he could strengthen his hold on the country. He fabricated the Aryan-Dravidian theory of races and the seeds of differences were sown among children born of the same mother. It was a design that proved effective in a climate already made unhealthy by rivalry for jobs.
As if to exacerbate this ill-will, the Brahmin took one more disastrous step. On the one hand he gave up the dharma of his caste and joined hands with the British in condemning the old order by branching it a barbarous one in which one man exploited another. But, on the other hand, though he spoke the language of equality, he kept aloof from other castes thinking himself to be superior to them. If in the past he had not mixed physically with members of other castes, it did not mean that he had placed himself on a high pedestal. we must remember that there was a reason for his not coming into physical contact with other castes. There have to be differences between the jatis based on food, work and surroundings. The photographer needs a dark room to develop his films. To shoot a film, on the contrary, powerful lights are needed. Those who work in a factory canteen have to scrupulously clean; but those who dust machinery wear soiled clothes. This does not mean that the waiter in a canteen is superior to the factory hand who dusts machines. The man who takes the utmost care to keep himself intellectually bright, without any thought of himself, observes fasts, while the soldier, who has to be strong and tough, eats meat.
Why should there be bad feelings between the two, between the Brahmin and the Ksatriya? Does the Brahmin have to come into physical contact with the Ksatriya To prove that he does not bear any ill-will towards him? If he intertwined with the Ksatriya he would be tempted to taste meat and such a temptation might eventually drag him into doing things that militate against his own duty. Each community has its own duties, customs and food habits. If all jatis mixed together on the pretext of equality without regard to their individual ways of life, all work would suffer and society itself would be plunged into confusion.
It was with a definite purpose in view that the village was divided into different quarters: the agrahara (the Brahmin quarter), the agriculturists quarter and so on. Such a division was possible in rural life but not in the the new urban way of living. With urbanization and industrialization it becomes necessary for people belonging to various jatis to work together on the same shift, sit together in the same canteen to eat the same kind of food. The Brahmin for whom it is obligatory to observe fasts and vows and to perform various rites was now seen to be no different from others. Office and college timings were a hindrance to the carrying out of these rites. So the Brahmin threw them to the winds. He had so far taken care to perform these rites with the good of others in mind. Like a trustee, he had protected dharma for the sake of society and made its fruits available to all.
All that belonged to the past. Now the Brahmin came forward proclaiming that all were equal and that he was one with the rest. All the same he became the cause of heart-burning among others and -ironically enough- in becoming one with them he also competed with them for jobs. That apart, though he talked of equality, he still thought himself to be superior to others, in spite of the fact that he was not a bit more careful than they about the performance of religious duties. Was this not enough to earn him more hatred?
The Brahmin spoiled himself and spoiled others. By abandoning his dharma he became a bad example to others. as a matter of fact, even by strictly adhering to his dharma the Brahmin in not entitled to feel superior to others. He must always remain humble in the belief that "everyone performs a function in society; I perform mine". If at all others respected him in the past and accorded him a high place in the society it was in consideration of his selfless work, his life of austerity a, discipline and purity. Now he had descended too such depths as to merit their most abrasive criticism.
It is my decided opinion that the Brahmin is responsible for the ruin of Hindu society. Some people have found an explanation for it. The Brahmin, if he is to be true to his dharma, has to spend all his time in learning and chanting the Vedas, in performance sacrifices, in preserving the sastras, etc. What will he do for a living? If he goes in search of money or material he will not be able to attend to his lifetime mission- and this mission is not accomplished on a part-time basis. And if he takes up some other work for his livelihood, he is likely to became lax in the pursuit of his dharma. It would be like taking medicine without the necessary diet regimen: the benign power gained by the Brahmin from his Vedic learning will be reduced and there will be a corresponding diminution in the good accruing to mankind from his work.
This is one reason why Brahmin alone are permitted by the sastras to beg for their living. In the past they received help form the kings_ grants of lands, for instance-in consideration of the fact that the dharma practised by them benefited all people. But the sastras also have it that the Brahmins must not accept more charity than what is needed for their bare sustenance. If they received anything in excess, they would be tempted to seek sensual pleasures and thereby an impediment would be placed to their inner advancement. There is also the danger of their becoming submissive to the donor and of their twisting the sastras to the latter's liking. It was with a full awareness of these dangers that in the old days the Brahmins practised their dharma under the patronage on the rajas(accepting charity to the minimum and not subjecting themselves to any influence detrimental to their dharma).
The argument of those who have found an excuse for the conduct of latter days Brahmins goes thus. "Brahmins ceased to receive gifts from rulers after the inception of British rule. How can you expect them to live without any income? Force of circumstances made them to English education and thereafter too seek jobs with the government. It is unjust to find fault with them on that score. "
There is possibly some force in this argument but it does not fully justify the change that has come over Brahmins. Before the British, the Moghuls ruled us and before them a succession of sultanates. During these periods a few pandits must have found a place in the darbar. But all other Brahmins adhered to their dharma, did they not, without any support from any other ruler? The phenomenon of the Brahmin quarter becoming deserted, the village being ruined, all pathasala (the Vedic school) becoming forlorn and the lands(granted to Brahmins)turning into mere certificates is not more than a hundred years old. Did not Vedic dharma flourish until a generation ago?
The Vedic religion prospered in the past not only because of the patronage extended to the Brahmins by the Hindu rulers. People belonging to all varnas then were anxious that it should not become weak and perish. They saw too it that the Brahmin community did not weaken and contributed generously to its upkeep and to the nurturing of the Vedic tradition. Today you see hundreds of Vedic schools deserted. There are few Brahmin boys willing too study the scriptures. Who had raised the funds for the Vedic institutions? [In Tamil Nadu] the Nattukottai Nagarattars, Komutti Cettis and Vellalas. The work done by Nagarattars for our temples indeed remarkable. Throughout Tamil Nadu, if they built a temple they also built a Vedic school with the belief that the Vedas constituted the "root" of the temple. This root, they felt, was essential to the living presence of the deity in the temple and for the puja conducted there. Similarly, the big landowners among the Vellalas made lavish donations to the Vedic schools.
If the Brahmin had not been tempted by the European life-style and if he were willing to live austerely according to the dictates of the sastras, other castes would have come forward to help him. It is not that the others deserted him. He himself ran away from his dharma, from his agrahara, from his village and from the Vedic school because of his new appetite for the life of luxury made possible with the new technology of the West. He forgot his high ideals and paid scant respect of the principle that the body's requirements are not more that what it takes- in physical terms- to help the well-being of the Self. All told the argument that the Brahmin was compelled to abandon his dharma because he was denied his daily bread does not hold water. We cannot but admit that the Brahmin became greedy, that he yearned far more that what he needed for his sustenance.
Let us concede that the Brahmin left his village because he could not feed himself there and came to a city like Madras. But did he find contentment here? What do we see today in actual practice? Suppose a Brahmin received a salary of Rs1000 in Madras today. If he gets a job in Delhi with double the salary he runs off there. When he goes to Delhi he would abandon totally the dharma he was able to practise at least to a small extent in Madras. Later, if he were offered $4000 a month in America he would leave his motherland for that country, lured by the prospect t of earning a fortune. There, in the United States, he would became totally alienated from his religion, from his dharma, from all his money. The Brahmin is willing to do anything, go to any extent, for the sake of money. Fort instance, he would join the army if there were the promoter of more income in it. If necessary he would even take to meat and to drinking. The usual excuse trotted out for the Brahmin deserting his dharma does not wash.
I will go one step further. Let us suppose that, the following the import of Western technology, other communities also became averse to observing their respective dharmic traditions. Let us also assume that, with their thinking and feelings influenced by the Aryan-Dravidian theory concocted by the English, these castes decided not to support the Brahmins any longer. Let us further assume that to feed himself(for the sake of a handful of rice) the Brahmin had to leave hearth and home and work in an office somewhere far away from his native village. Were he true to his dharma he would tell himself: "I will continue to adhere to my dharma come what may, even at the risk of death". With this resolve he could have made a determined effort to pursue Vedic learning and keep up his traditional practices.
There is no point, however, in suggesting what people belonging to the generation that has gone by should have done. I would urge the present generation to perform the duties that the past generation neglected to perform. To repeat, you must not forsake your dharma even on pain of death. Are we going to remain deathless? As it is we accumulate money and, worse, suffer humiliation and earn the jealousy of others and finally we die losing caste by not remaining true to our dharma.
Is it not better then to starve and yet to be attached firmly to our dharma so long as there is breath in us? Is not such loyalty to our dharma a matter of pride? Why should we care about how others see us, whether they honour us or speak ill of us? So long as we do not compete with them for jobs they will have no cause for jealousy or resentment. Let them call us backward or stupid or think that we are not capable of keeping abreast of the times. As we not now already their but of ridicule? Let us be true to our dharma in the face of the mockery of others, even in the face of death. is not such a lot preferable to suffering the slings of scorn and criticism earned by forsaking our dharma for the sake of filling our belly? People nowadays die for their mother land; they lay down their lives for their mother tongue. They do not need a big cause like the freedom of the country to be roused too action: they court death, immolate themselves, even for a cause that may be seem trivial like the merger of a part of their district in another. Was there any demonstration of faith like this, such willingness to die for a cause or a belief, when the British came here with their life-style? At the same time did we protect our dharma with courage, in the belief that even death was a small pride to pay for it?
The Lord himself has declared in the Gita that it is better to die abiding by one's dharma that prosper through another man's dharma ("nidhanam sreyah"). Brahmins who had seen no reason to change their life-style during the long Muslim period of our history changed it during British rule. Why? New sciences and machinery came with the white man. The motor car and electricity had their own impact on life there. Brahmins were drawn to comforts and conveniences not thought of before. This could be for a reason for their change of life, but not a justification.
The Brahmin is not to regard his body as a means for the enjoyment of sensual pleasures but as an instrument for the observance of such rites as are necessary to protect the Vedas- and the Vedas have too be protected for the welfare of mankind. The basic dharma is that to the body of the Brahmin nothing must be added that incites his sensual appetite. It was a fundamental mistake on the part of the Brahmin to have forgotten the spirit of sacrifice that incites his dharma and become a victim of the pleasures and comforts easily obtained form the new gadgets and instruments. There is pride in adhering to one's dharma even when one is faced with adverse circumstances. Brahmins(during British rule) committed a grave mistake by not doing so and we are suffering the consequences. See the ill-will in the country today among children of the same mother. We have created suffering for others also. At first Brahmins were denied admission to colleges and refused jobs. Now things have come to such a pass that other communities also suffer the same fate.
All was well so long as man, using his own innate resources, lived a simple life without the help of machines. With more and more factories and increasing machine power, life itself has become complicated. The situation today is such everyone is facing difficulties in getting admission to college or in getting a job.
People ask me: "What is the remedy today? Do you expect all Brahmins to leave their new life-style and return Vedic learning? "Whether or not I expect them to do so and whether or not such a step seems possible, I must ask them to do so( to return to their Vedic dharma). Where is the need for a guru-pitha or a seat on which an acarya is installed if I am to keep my mouth shut and watch idly as the dharma that is the source of everything is being endangered? Even if it seems not possible (Brahmins returning to the dharma of their birth) it must be shown to be possible in practice: that is the purpose of the institutions called mathas. They must harness all their energies towards the attainment of this goal.
During the years of the freedom struggle some people wondered whether the white man would quit because of satyagraha. Many things in this world regarded as not being within the realm on possibility have been shown to be possible. It is not for me to say that this(return of all Brahmins to the Vedic dharma) is not possible; to take such a view would be contrary to our very dharma. it is up to you to make it possible in practice or not to make it possible. All I can do is too keep reminding you the message of the dharmasastras.
The Least Expected of Brahmins
Whether or not the present Hindu society changes and whether or not it can be changed, it is essential to have a class of people whose very life-breath is Vedic learning. I do not speak thus because I am worried about the existence of a caste called Brahmins. Nothing is to be gained if there is such a caste and it serves only its own selfish interests. If a caste called Brahmins must exist, it must be for the good of mankind. The purpose of the Vedas, the purpose of the sound of the Vedas, is the well-being of the world. That is the reason why I feel that, hereafter at lease, there ought not to be even a single Brahmin who does not chant the Vedas. The only remedy for all the ills of the worlds, all its troubles is the return of all Brahmins to the Vedic dharma.
In this context I should like to tell you the least expected of Brahmins. I am prepared to ignore that they have neither the courage nor the spirit of sacrifice to come back to their dharma. But they can at least make their children take to it. In the next generation there must not be a single Brahmin who is not conversant with the Vedas. You must work for this goal and make sure that your sons learn these sacred texts.
If you are averse to making your sons mere Vaidikas and are anxious that they should lead a life of comfort like you( what you think to be a life of comfort), I am prepared to come one step further down to make the following suggestion. You would not perhaps like your children to take up Vedic learning as a lifelong vocation and would like to give them an education on modern lines so as to prepare them for office or factory work or to make them doctors, engineers, and so on. I am prepared to go with you so far. But I would ask you to perform the upanayana of your son when he is eight years old. He must then be put in a Veda class held for one hour in the evening after school hours. He must be taught the Vedas in this manner for ten years.
This is the least Brahmins can do to preserve tradition. Arrangements to impart Vedic learning to children must be made in every Brahmin household. I know that there are not enough teachers, a sad reflection on the state of dharma. Considering this and the likely economic condition of parents I would suggest that Veda classes may be conducted for all children together of a locality or. neighbourhood. Children of poor families may be taught on a cooperative basis.
Step by step in this ways the boys will be able to memorize the mantra partof the Vedas and also learn the prayoga to conduct rites like upakarma. I speak here about "prayoga", the conduct or procedure of rites, because in the absence of purohits(priests) in the future everyone should be able to perform Vedic rites himself.
The sound of the Vedas must pervade the world for all time to come. Everyone must sincerely work towards achieving this end. It is your duty to ensure the good not only of the Brahmin community, not only of all the castes of India, but of all the countless creatures of earth. It is a duty imposed on you by Isvara- it is a divine duty.
It is important that we perform this duty we owe to the people of the present. But it is equally important that we perform it so as to be saved from committing a crime against future generations. "As it is nobody cares for the Vedas" you are likely to tell me. "Who is going to care for them in the coming years? What purpose is served by all the efforts we take now to keep up their study? " I do not share this view. When the wheel keeps turning, that part of it which is now down has necessarily to come up. Modern civilization with its frenzied pace is bound to have its fall after attaining its peak. We have been carried away by the supposed comforts made possible by advanced technology. But one day we will realise that they do not give us any felling of fullness and that we have indeed created only discomforts for ourselves through them.
The example of America is enough to drive home this point. People there are believed to have attained the acme of luxury and yet fell empty within. They are anxious to dispel the disquiet created by modern comforts. Americans who have some degree of awareness have been drawn towards Vedanta, yoga, devotional music and so on. Others want to forget sensual enjoyment somehow. They swallow all kinds of tranquilizers and are immersed in a deep stupor.
This fate may overtake our country also. We are always tempted by the feeling that there is some worldly pleasure yet to be savoured and we know no rest until we have done so. After draining pleasures to the dregs we will discover the impermanence of it all. That is the moment when we will turn to matters of the Self, to the quest of enduring bliss. When we realise the peace and harmony that society derived from Vedic practices, we will be keen to take to the path shown by them. If we of this generation create a break in the chain of Vedic study kept for ages, from generation to generation, we shall be committing the unforgivable crime of denying our descendants the opportunity of learning the Vedas.
"There are so many books dealing with the Vedic mantras and sacrifices, volume after volume produced by Indian and foreign scholars, " the suggestions is likely to be made. "Surely future generations can read them and learn the Vedas thus. "
Before I speak about this I have to answer important question, a question that goes to the very heart of the Vedic tradition. It is this: "What do you mean by saying that the sound of the Vedas protects the world" The mantras are certain sounds expressed in the form of words. These words have their own profound meaning. Could we not learn the mantras and their meaning from books? Why should there be a class of people specially devoted to the chanting of the Vedas? If the meaning of these scriptures is to be preserved there is no cause for worry since there are books too serve such a purpose. There is no need for an exclusive caste functioning on a hereditary basis and charged with the duty of preserving these texts. But the question of the meaning of the Vedas apart, why should there be a class of people whose duty it is to chant the Vedic hymns preserve their sound in the form it has come to us from time immemorial? " This question must be answered.
Vedic hymns and preserve their sound in the form it has come to us from time immemorial? " This question must be answered.
Preserving the Vedas: Why it is a Lifetime Mission
[ This chapter contains an illuminating exposition of the physics and metaphysics of sound. ]
" If the divisions of labour on a hereditary basis is good for all society, what specifically is the benefit gained from the vocation of Brahmins, that is preserving the Vedas? " is a question frequently asked.
The potter makes pots for you; the washerman launders your clothes; the weaver weaves clothes for you to wear; the cowherd brings you your milk; the peasant tills the land to grow rice for you to cook and eat. Everyone does some work or other essential in the life of everybody else. The rice (or wheat ) grown by the tiller sustains us all. The cloth woven by the weaver is indispensable to our modesty, it is also needed to keep us warm in the cold season. We drink the milk brought by the cowherd and also use it to make buttermilk; we cook our food in the pot made by the potter. We find that all jatis provide commodities useful for the society. What is the Brahmin's contribution in this context? What vocation is assigned to him by the Sastras which are the basis of varna dharma?
The Brahmin has to learn the Vedas by listening to his teacher chanting them; this is adhyayana. If adhyayana is chanting the Vedas, adhyapana is teaching the same. The sastras have charged the Brahmin with the additional duty of performing various rites including Vedic sacrifices.
The Vedas contain lofty truths. People in modern times may not be averse to the idea that these truths are worthy of being cherished. Society requires knowledge, arts, etc. The Vedas are a storehouse of knowledge. So the idea that we must have a special class of people to propagate the truths contained in the Vedas may seem reasonable enough. According to the sastras, however, such a special class is needed to preserve the sound of these scriptures. This class is constituted by the Brahmins and they perform their function on a hereditary basis. The idea that propagating the truths of the Vedas will help mankind may be acceptable to many, but not the belief that a small group of people can contribute to the good of the world by preserving the sound of the Vedas. The community stands to lose if the peasant does not till the land and the potter, weaver, carpenter, etc., do not do their respective jobs. But would you say the same thing about the work of the Brahmin? What difference would it make to the society if he ceased intoning the Vedas?
To understand the questions raised above we must first try to find out the nature of the Vedas. No purpose is served by approaching three subject entirely on an intellectual level. We must accept the words of great men who know the Vedas deep in their hearts. "How can we do that, sir? " some people might protest. "We are rationalists and we can be convinced of a truth or statement only on the basis of reason or direct knowledge. "
What do we do then? How can anyone claim, as a matter of right, that all subjects ought to be brought within the ken of human reasoning? Man is but one among countless creatures. Take for instance the experiments conducted by a physicist in his laboratory. Does a cow understand them? If the scientist formulates certain laws on the basis on his experiments, does the cow say that "These laws of physics do not exist"? But how are humans ignorant of physics to know about such laws? They trust the statements made by people proficient in the subject.
To illustrate, take the example of any common appliance. Let us assume that you are told that it works on the basis of certain principles of science. Don't you accept these principles by observing how the appliance works? In the same way we must have faith in what great men say about the Vedas, great men who live strictly adhering to the sastras. We must also place our faith on our scripture on the basis of the fruits or benefits yielded by them, the benefits we directly perceive. One such "fruit" is till there for all of us to see. It is Hinduism itself, the religion that has withstood the challenges of all these millennia. Our religion has produced more great men than any other faith. People have been rewarded with the highest inner well-being [the highest bliss] as a result of their faith in the Vedic tradition. There is no insistence on their part that everything on earth must be brought within the realm of reason or direct perception.
"The sages transcended the frontiers of human knowledge and became one with the Universal Reality. It is through them that the world received the Vedic mantras, " this is one of the basic concepts of our religion. If you do not accept that human beings can obtain such Atmic power as exemplified by these seers, any further talk on the subject would be futile. One could point to you great men whom you can see for yourself, great men who have perfected themselves and acquired powers not shared by the common people. But if you think of them to be cheats or fraudulent men, any further talk would again be useless. In your present state of limited understanding, the argument that denies the existence of anything beyond the range of human reason and comprehension itself betrays the height of rationalism.
You have come here to listen to me instead of going to a political meeting where you can hear interesting speeches. So I believe that few of you here are full-fledged rationalists. You may not therefore refuse to listen to me if I speak to you about why the Vedas should be preserved according to the time-honoured tradition. But it is also likely that even if some of you happen to be rationalists, you may still be willing to listen to me thinking that there may be some point in what the Svamiyar has to say.
Some people are at a loss to understand why the sound of the Vedas is given so much importance. How does sound originate or how is it caused? Where there is vibration, where there is movement or motion, there is sound. This is strictly according to rational science. Speech is constituted of vibrations of many kinds. We hear sounds with our ears. But these are sounds that are converted into electric waves and these we cannot hear. We know this from the working of the radio and the telephone. All that we hear or perceive others are indeed electric waves. Science has come to the point of recognizing all to be electric waves- the man who sees and listens, his brains, all are electric waves.
There are countless numbers of inert objects in the world- land masses and mountains, rivers and oceans, and so on. Also there are sentient creatures of many kinds. All of them must have been created out of something. During creation this something must have vibrated in many different ways and given rise to all that we see today. If all movements are sound, there must have existed numerous different kinds of sound before creation. In this creation one is sustained by another. In the process of mutual sustenance, different movements and sounds must be produced. It is not necessary that vibrations should form a part only of gross activities. Science has discovered that even our thinking process is a kind of electric current or energy. Each thought process is a form of electric current or energy and it must produce a vibration and a sound. This kind of sound being very subtle we do not hear it with our ears. Just as there are bacteria which we do not see with our naked eye, there are many sound that our ears do not pick up. According to science any physical or mental movement must produce a sound.
The idea that each movement produces its own sound may be put differently thus: to create a particular sound a particular movement must be produced. Take the case of vidvan singing. If you want to sing like him or creates birquas like him, you will have produce the same vibrations that he creates in his throat.
Sound and vibration(or motion) go together. The vibrations produce either a gross object or a mental state. We come to the conclusion that creation is a product of sound. This ancient concept is substantiated by science itself.
Creation, the many things connected with it, thoughts and movements and the sound associated with them fill space. What happens to the sound produced by the clapping of our hands? It remains in space. Good as well as bad action produce their own sounds as well as movements associated with them. Conversely, the creation of these types of movements will result in good as well as evil. To produce good thoughts in people, good movements must be created: the sounds corresponding to them must be produced. If we can generate such sounds for the good of mankind than such good thoughts? The mantras of the Vedas are sounds that have the power to inspire good thoughts in people.
One more thing. We need food for our sustenance. And to grow food there must be rain. The formation of clouds and their precipitation are dependent on certain vibrations. Rainfall depends on the production of particular sounds which, in turn, create particular vibrations. The same applies to all our needs in life. It is true that unnecessary and evil objects are also produced by sound. But the one and only goal of the sound of the Vedas is the creation of well-being throughout the world.
But are sound and vibrations spontaneously produced? If vibrations arise on their own they will be erratic and confusing and not related to one another. But what do we see in the cosmos? There is a certain orderliness about it and one thing in it is linked to another. What do we infer form this? That a Great Intelligence has formulated this scheme that we see, that it has created it from its own vibrations.
The Vedas are sounds emanating from the vibrations of this Great Intelligence, the Great Gnosis. That is why we believe that the mantras of the Vedas originate from the Paramatman himself. We must take special care of such sounds too ensure the good of the world. Yes, the Vedic mantras are sequences of sounds that are meant for the good of the world.
Doubts are expressed on this point. People argue: "We hear the mantras of the Vedic distinctly. But we do not hear the sounds in space, the sounds of creation. How can the two be the same? "
What exists in the cosmos in present in the individual being. The belief that the "microcosm" inherits the "macrocosm" is not in keeping with our commonsense view of things. But all people, including atheists, will agree that there are "instruments" in our body in the form of the senses that we can grasp what exists in the macrocosm. The sun in the macrocosm is felt by our body as heat. We perceive the flower in our garden through its scent. We savour the sweet taste of sugarcane with our tongue. With our eyes we learn that one object is red, that another it yellow.
Unless the macrocosm and microcosm are constituted of the same substance the one will not be able to be aware of the other. Indeed the very conduct of life will not be possible otherwise. If we go one step further, the truth will dawn on us that it is not merely that the macrocosm and the microcosm are constituted of the same substance but that it is the same substance that becomes the macrocosm and the microcosm. The yogins know this truth directly from their experience.
Whatever is present in space is also present in the individual being. These elements exists in the human body in a form that is accessible to the senses. The sounds a person makes in his throat have their source in space in a form not audible to us. The radio transforms electrical waves into sound waves. If a man can grasp the sounds in space and make them audible, he will be able to create with them what is needed for the good of the world. Yoga is the science that accomplishes such a task. Through yogic practice (perfection) one can become aware of what is in the macrocosm and draw it into the microcosm. I shall not be able to give you proof of this in a form acceptable to human reason. Yoga transcends our limited reason and understanding. The purpose of the Vedas is to speak about matters that are beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
You must have faith in the words of great men or else, to know the truth of such matters, you must practise yoga strictly observing its rules. It may not be practicable for all those who ask questions or harbour doubts about the Vedas to practice yoga in this manner. Even if you are prepared to accept the words of a true yogin, how are you, in the first place, to be convinced that he in indeed a true yogin and not a fraud? Altogether it means that you must have faith in someone, in something. Later such faith will be strengthened from your own observations, inference and experience. There is no point in speaking to people who have either no faith or refuse to develop it through their own experience.
There is a state in which the macrocosm and the microcosm are perceived as one. Great men there who have reached such a state and are capable of transforming what is subtle in the one into what is gross in the other. I am speaking here to those who believe in such a possibility.
When we look at this universe and their complex manner in which it functions, we realise that there must be a Great Wisdom that has created it and sustains it. It is from this Great Wisdom, that is the Paramatman, that all that we see are born and it is from It that all the sounds that we hear have emanated. First came the universe of sound and then the universe that we observe. Most of the former still exists in space. The space that exists outside us exists also in our heart. The yogins have experience of this hrdayakasa, this heart-sky or this heart-space, when they are in samadhi (absorbed in the Infinite). In this state of theirs all differences between the outward and the inward vanish and the two become one. The yogins can now grasp the sounds of space and bestow the same on mankind. These successions of sounds that bring benefits to the world are indeed the mantras of the Vedas.
These mantras are not the creation of anyone. Though each of them is in the name of a rsi or seer, in reality it is not his creation. When we say that a certain mantra has a certain sage associated with it, all that we mean is that it was he who first "saw" it existing without a beginning in space and revealed it to the world. The very word "rsi" means "mantra-drasta" (one who saw- discovered- the mantra), not "mantra-karta" (one who created the mantra). Our life is dependent on how our breathing functions. In the same way the cosmos functions in accordance with the vibrations of the Vedic sounds- so the Vedic mantras are the very breath of the Supreme Being. We must thus conclude that, without the Vedas, there is no Brahman: To put it differently, the Vedas are self-existent like the Paramatman.
The mantras of the Vedas are remarkable in that they bring blessings to the world in the form of sound- even if their meaning is not understood. Of course, they are pregnant with meaning and represent the lofty principle that it is the One Truth that is manifested as all that we perceive. They also confer blessing on us by taking the form of deities appropriate to the different sounds (of the mantras).
Sound does not bring any benefits, any fruits, by itself. Isvara alone is the bestower of benefits. However, instead of making the fruits available to us directly, he appoints deities to distribute them in the same manner as the king or president of a country appoints officials to carry out his dictates. The mantras represent various deities in the form of sound. If we attain perfection (siddhi) by constant chanting and meditation of a mantra, it should be possible for us to see the deity invoked in his physical form. The deities also arise if we make offerings into the sacrificial fire reciting specific mantras. If a sacrifice is conducted in this manner, the deities give us their special blessings. We do not pay taxes directly to the king or president. In the same way, we pay taxes in the form of sacrifices and Vedic chanting to the aides of the Paramatman for the sake of the welfare of the world. The sounds of the mantras constitute their form.
The Vedas have won the admiration of Western scholars for their poetic beauty. They bring us face to face with many deities- they bring us also their grace. Above all, through the Upanisads they teach us the great truths relating to the Self. The Vedas are thus known for the profundity of the truths contained in them, but their sound is no less important. Indeed their sound has its own significance and power. All mantras, it must be noted have power, not only Vedic mantras.
The sound of some mantras have greater value than their meaning. Their syllables chanted in a particular manner create a special energy, but their meaning has no special significance. Take the mantra recited to cure a man stung by a scorpion. The words, the syllables, constituting the mantra have no special meaning. Indeed, they say, the meaning is not to be told. But by chanting the mantra, the vibrations are caused in space and one stung by a scorpion will be cured: the potency of the syllables of the mantra is such. The efficacy of sounds varies with the difference mantras. Evil is caused by reciting certain mantras or formulae: this is called "abhicara"[understood as the black magic in the West]. In all this the clarity with which the syllables are enunciated is important. There was the practice of knocking off the teeth of those who practiced billi sunyam (a form of black magic). The black magician, if toothless, will not be able to articulate the mantras properly and so his spells will not have the intended effect. If the syllables of the spell are not clearly and properly enunciated, they will not give us the desired benefit. If we appreciate the fact that sounds have such power, the question of the language of the mantras loses it importance. It would be meaningless then to demand that the mantras must be expressed in some other language [that we understand]. It would be equally meaningless to wonder whether the mantras of the sraddha ceremony should be rendered into English, Tamil or some other language so that our departed parents would understand them better.
The Vedic mantras do good to all creatures in this world and the hereafter: we must have implicit faith in this belief. It is not proper to ask whether what we ourselves cannot here with our ears will be heard by the seers. There is such a thing as the divine power of seeing and hearing. Our sight is dependent on the lens in our eyes. Were this lens different what we observe would also be different. Through the intense practice of yoga we can obtain the divine power of seeing and hearing.
We must not inquire into the Vedas with our limited powers of perception and with our limited capacity to reason and comprehend. The Vedas speak to us about what is beyond the reach of our eyes and ears and reasoning- that is their purpose. There are things that we comprehend through direct perception. We do not need the help of the Vedas to know about them. What cannot be provoked by reasoning and what is beyond the reach of our intellect- these the seers have gifted us in the form of the Vedas with their divine perception. How do we learn about the affairs of other countries? We are not eyewitnesses to them but we depend on newspaper reports of these affairs. There is another kind of newspaper which tells us about matters that cannot be known through any worldly means and this newspaper is constituted of the Vedic mantras that are the gift of the seers.
We have to accept the Vedas in faith. Develop a little faith in them and experience for your self the fruits yielded by them. In due course you will be convinced about the truths told about them.
Even today we see how mantras are efficacious though what we see is more often their power to do evil rather than good. The very word "mantrikam" inspires dread in us. If mantras have the power to do evil, they must also have the power to do good. We do hear reports of how mantras are beneficent, for instance how the mantras invoking the god Varuna produce rains.
It may be that sometimes the "Varunajapa" does not succeed in bringing rains. But this is no reason why all mantras should be rejected outright as of no value. Sick people die even after the regular administration of medicine. For this reason do we condemn medical science as worthless? We have an explanation for the patient's failure to recover: his illness and reached such an advanced stage that no medicine could be of any avail. Similarly, no mantra is of any help when it has to contend against the working of powerful karma. There is also another reason. If you are not strict about your diet, the medicine taken may not work. Similarly, if we are lax in the observance of certain rules, the mantras will not produce the desired result.
Yoga is a science. In a scientific laboratory, certain rules have to be observed in the conduct of experiments. If the electrician refuses to wear gloves or to stand on a wooden stool during his work, what will happen? So too, anyone practising yoga has to follow the rules governing it. To return to Varuna japa. If the japa is not always successful, it is because- as I have found out through inquires- of the failure of those performing the rite to observe the rule of "alavana"[taking food without salt].
In Tirivanaikka (near Tirucirapalli) people have seen with their own eyes a tree bare of foliage putting forth green shoots under the spell of mantras. The sthalavrksa here [the tree sacred to a place or temple] in the white jambu. That is why the place (Tiruvanaikka) is also called Jambukesvaram. Once the tree was dead expect for one branch or so. Then the cettiars- the trustees of the temple- had an Ekadasa-Rudrabhiseka conducted for it. And behold, by the power of mantras the tree put forth fresh leaves.
Each sound has a specific impact on the outward world. Experiments were once conducted by a lakeside by producing a certain pattern of svaras on an instrument. It was observed that as a result of the vibrations so created the light on the water shone as particles. Later these particles took a specific shape. From such scientific proof it is possible to believe that we can perceive the form of a deity through chanting the appropriate Veda mantras. It is not that sound is transformed into light alone in the outward world. It is pervasive in many ways and produces various kind of impacts. The sound of the Vedic mantras pervading the atmosphere is extremely beneficial. There are ways in which sound is to be produced to make it advantageous to us. Some notes are to be raised, some lowered and some to be uttered in an even manner. The Vedas have to be chanted in this way. The three different ways of chanting are "udatta", "anudatta" and "svarita". The sound and svara together will turn the powers of the cosmos favourable to us.
The question that now occurs is why there should be a separate caste committed to Vedic learning practices even if it is conceded that Vedic mantras have the power to do good.
In answering this question we must first remember that the Vedas are not to be read from the written text. They have to be memorized by constant listening and repeated chanting. The learner then becomes a teacher himself and in this manner the process goes on from generation to generation. Maintaining such a tradition of learning and teaching is a whole-time occupation. Neither the teacher nor the taught may take up any other work.
We must also remember that the Brahmin is expected to master subjects other than the Vedas also, like the arts and crafts and the various sciences(sastras). He has in fact to learn the vocations of other jatis (but he must not take up any for his own livelihood). It is the responsibility of the Brahmin to promote knowledge and culture. He is expected to learn the hereditary skills of all jatis, including the art of warfare, and pass on these skills to the respective jatis to help them earn their livelihood. The Brahmin's calling is adhyayana and adhyapana (learning and teaching the Vedas). According to the sastras he must live in a modest dwelling, observe strict rules and vows so as to gain mastery of the mantras. He must eat only as much as is needed keep body and soul together. All temptations to make money and enjoy sensual pleasures he must sternly resist. All his actions must be inspired by the spirit of sacrifice and he must pass his days sustaining the Vedic tradition and practices for the good of mankind.
It is the duty of other jatis to see that the Brahmin does not die of starvation. They must provide him with bare necessities of life and such materials as re needed for the performance of sacrifices. Wages are paid to those who do other jobs or a price is paid for what they produce. The Brahmin works for the whole community and serves it by chanting mantras, by performing sacrifices and by leading a life according to the dictates of religion. That is why he must be provided with his upkeep. The canonical texts do not say that we must build him palace or that he must be given gifts of gold. The Brahmin must be provided with the wherewithal for the proper performance of sacrifices. In his personal life he must eschew all show and luxury. It is by taming his senses- by burning away all desire- that he gains mastery over the mantras.
I have said more than once that the Vedas are to be learned by constant listening, that they are not to be learned from the written text. Let me tell you why. The sound of the Vedas must pervade the world. This is of paramount importance, not that the text itself should be maintained in print. Indeed, the Vedas must not be kept in book form. If the printed text is available all the time, we are likely to neglect the habit of memorizing the hymns and chanting them. There is not the slightest doubt about this. "After all it is in the book. When the need arises we can always refer to it. Why should we waste our time in memorizing the mantras? " Thus an attitude of indifference will develop among those charged with the duty of maintaining the Vedic tradition.
Nowadays we have what is called the "pancanngaran" (pancangakkaran), that is the "almanac-man". We understand his job to be that of officiating at the rites performed by members of the fourth varna. But from the term "almanac"-man" we know that this is not his main duty. The pancangakkaran or almanac-man is truly one who determines the five angas" or components of the almanac. Each day has five angas: tithi, vara, naksatra, yoga and karana. To find out whether a particular day is auspicious or whether a certain work or function may be performed on a particular day, all these five factors have to be taken into account. Today astronomers in Greenwich observe the sun, the moon and the stars to fix the timings of sunrise and sunset. Three or four generations ago, every village had an almanac-man who was an expert in such matters. He could predict eclipses, their exact timings, with the precision of present-day astronomers. He inscribed the five angas relating to the day on a palm-leaf and took it round from house to house to help people in their worldly and religious duties. In the past he had also another name "Kuttai Cuvadi"(meaning "Shortened Palm-leaf").
How have the present day almanac-men forgotten their great science? With the advent of the printing press the almanac could be printed for a whole year and made available to people. There was no longer any need for the old, type of almanac to pancanga, an important part of astronomy, is now on the verge of extinction.
The Vedas would have suffered a similar fate had we stuck to a system of learning them from written or printed texts. Their sound would not have then filled the world and created all-round well-being.
Our forefathers realised that to put anything in writing was not the best way of preserving it since it bred indifference to the subject so preserved. One who recited the Vedas from the written text ("likhita-pathaka") was looked down upon as an "adhama" (one belonging to the lowest order among those chanting the
Vedas). In Tamil the Vedas are known as the "unwritten old text"(ezhutakilavi). In Sanskrit the Vedas are also called "Sruti", which means "that which is heard", that is to say not be learned from any written text. Since listening to the Vedas as they were chanted and then memorizing them was the practice, preserving the Vedic tradition came to be full-time vocation. The teacher taught pada by pada(foot by foot) and the student repeated each pada twice. In this way the sound of the Vedas filled the whole place. It was thus that the study of our own scripture, with all its recessions which are like the expanse of a great ocean, was maintained in the oral tradition until the turn of the century. This treasure, this timeless crop that sustains our inner beings, has come to us through the ages as ordained by the Lord. There can be no greater sin that that of neglecting this treasure and allowing it to perish.
If the Vedic tradition becomes extinct there is no need for a separate caste called Brahmins. Nowadays the cry is often heard, "Brahmin, get out". But do we hear cries like, "Potter, get out" or "Washerman, go away? " If the potter and the washerman leave the village they will be brought back by force and retained. Why so? Because the community need their services.
So long as the Brahmin possessed sattva-guna(the quality of goodness and purity) and so long as he kept the Vedic tradition going and lived a simple life, others recognized his value for society. They regarded him with affection and respect and paced their trust in him. They realised that if society was not afflicted by famine and disease (as in the case today), it was because the sound of the Vedas pervaded everywhere and the performance of Vedic recites created a healthy atmosphere around and brought its own blessings.
This was not the only way in which the Brahmin served society. His personal example was itself a source of inspiration to people. They saw how he curbed his sensual appetites, how he lived a life of peace, how he was compassionate to all creatures, how he mediated on the Lord, how he performed a variety of rites strictly adhering to sastric rules and without any expectations of rewards. They saw a whole case living a life of selflessness and sacrifice. Naturally, they too were drawn to the qualities exemplified by its members. They emulated their example, observed fasts and vows to the extent permitted by the nature of their occupations. It is preposterous to accuse the Brahmin of having kept other jatis suppressed. There is a special way of life that the scriptures have prescribed for him and in remaining true to it he becomes a personal example for others desirous of raising themselves.
It is equally preposterous to suggest that other where kept down because they were denied the right to learn the Vedas. I have already spoken to you that preserving the Vedic tradition is a hereditary and lifelong vocation. Any calling must be pursued on a hereditary basis. Otherwise, there is the risk of society being torn asunder by jealousies and rivalries. The maintenance of the Vedic tradition is a calling by itself. There will be confusion and chaos in the system of division of labour if people whose vocations are different are allowed to pursue one common tradition. Also, as a consequence, will not the social structure be disturbed? Every vocation has as high a place on the social scale as any other. Why should anyone nurse the ideas that the pursuit of the Vedic dharma belongs to a plane higher than all other types of work?
Some castes are not permitted to learn the Vedas but there is no bar on their learning the truths contained in them. This is all that is needed for their Atmic advancement. We need only one class of people charged with the mission of keeping the sound of the Vedas alive in the world. The ideas contained in them for spiritual uplift are open to all. The songs of non-Brahmin saints like Appar and Nammazhvar are replete with Vedic and Vedantic thoughts.
Were it true that Brahmins had monopolised Atmic knowledge and devotion and kept others downtrodden, how would you explain the rise among the non-Brahmin jatis of so many great saints, not only the examples just mentioned above, Appar and Nammazhvar, but a number of other Nayanmars and Azhvars? The Nayanmars included men belonging even to jatis regarded as "low". Where do you find men of inner enlightenment like Tayumanavar and Pattiinattar? Apart from the fact that there were among non-Brahmin men worthy of being lauded by Brahmins for other enlightenment and devotion, there were individuals from the fourth varna who established empires and gave new life and vigour to the Vedic dharma. That Brahmins exploited other castes is a recently invented myth.
I do not claim that Brahmins are free from faults or are not guilty of lapses. Nobody is free from faults. But on the whole the Brahmin has done good to society and has been a guide to all its members. That is why he was enabled to live with dignity all these centuries.
When other communities now see that the Brahmin no longer serves society in any manner, they raise the cry, "Brahmin, get out". If they do not serve society and if all they do is to join others in the scramble for money, where is the need for a separate caste called Brahmins? It occurs to me that, if the caste called Brahmins serves no purpose to society, I shall be the first to seek its destruction. Nothing has any right to exist if it has no utility value. There is no need for a caste called Brahmin if the world does not stand to benefit from it.
Now there are "toll-gates" located in many places but often without any "gate". In the past a toll used to be collected from people crossing the boundary marked by these "gates". Later such a system was discontinued and no purpose was served by the gate. Nothing exists without a purpose. Now, if the Brahmin without Vedic learning has become as purposeless as the toll-gate without any toll actually charged, with what reason or justice can we say that he must not be thrown out?
The Brahmin today deserves to be reproved, if he expects to be treated with any special respect. Criticism, however, should be it. The Brahmin must be faulted for abandoning his dharma, but the dharma itself, the Vedic dharma, is another matter. It is not proper to find fault with the dharma itself and it is the duty of others to help the Brahmin practice it. the Vedic dharma must be sustained so as to ensure the well-being of the world. Other jatis must support the principle that there must be a caste whose hereditary calling it is to maintain the Vedic tradition. If they themselves have lost faith in the Vedic dharma, they cannot find fault with the Brahmin for having forsaken it. If they believe that the Vedic dharma is not wanted, then it would mean (according to their own logic) that the Brahmin is not committing any offence by giving up his hereditary vocation. It also follows that for the sake of his livelihood he will have too take up some other job, competing with the others for the same. So to hold that there is no need for the Vedic dharma and that, at the same time, the Brahmin should not do any work other than the pursuit of that dharma does not stand to reason. On the other hand, it is proclaimed that the Vedic dharma is all wrong and must cease to exist but, on the other, the man whose duty it is to practice that dharma is hated for trying to do some other work. Is this just? It is part of humanity to see that not even a dog or a jackal goes hungry and it is a dharma common to all religions. Even those who maintain that we do not need any religion speak for compassion and the spirit of sacrifice in all our actions. So it is not just to insist that a man must not pursue his hereditary vocation and that he must not, at the same time, do any other work but die of starvation.
Others can help greatly by making the Brahmin true to himself as the upholder of the Vedic dharma. I have heard it said that in the old days some Brahmins would go to the untouchable quarter and tell people there: "You and we, let us become one. " Whereupon the untouchables would reply: "No. no. You keep doing your work. That is for the good of both of us. Don't come here again". They would prevent the Brahmins from approaching them again by breaking their pots in front of them, the pots which were their only asset. Though people then were divided in the matter of work and did not mix together, they had affection for one another and believed that each did his work for the common good.
Even today the common people are not non-believers, nor have they lost faith in the Vedas. I feel that they will continue too have respect for the Vedic dharma and that the propaganda of hate [against Brahmins and the Vedas] is all to be attributed to political reasons. People, I repeat, do have faith in the Vedas, in Vedic rites and customs and if the Brahmin becomes a little better [that is by being true to his vocation] all hatred will vanish. As I said before, instead of expecting respect from others, he must remain true to his dharma even at the risk of his life. It is my belief that society will not allow him to suffer such an extreme fate. But my stand is that, even if it does, he must not forsake his dharma. Whatever the attitude of others, whether they help him or whether they run him down, the Brahmin must uphold the Vedic tradition for the well-being of all.
What I have spoken for the Brahmin community applies in principle too other also. The duties about which I have to speak to them (non-Brahmins) are many. They too are eager to know about them and I am confident that, things are properly explained, they will pursue faithfully their respective dharmas. I must, however, be qualified to give them advice. It is generally believed that I have a special relationship with the Brahmin community. In the Matha a number of Vedic rites are performed. So, rightly or wrongly, the impression has gained around that I have much to do with the case whose duty it is to uphold the Vedic dharma. That being the case, a question will arise in the minds of people belonging to other communities if I speak to them on matters of dharma, even if it is assumed that they will listen to me with affection and respect. The question is this: "Brahmins are so much dependent on his support. Yet we don't see them acting on his advice and correcting themselves. So why should he come to speak to us of our duties? "
As a matter of fact, both are same to me, Brahmins and non-Brahmins. I am indeed more dissatisfied with Brahmins than with the others because they have abandoned the Vedic dharma, the dharma that confers the highest inner well-being on all. Even so, since it is believed that Brahmins are specially attached to me, I keep admonishing them to go back to the Vedic dharma with all their hearth, with all their strength. If Brahmins observe in practice a fraction of what is expected of them, then alone shall I be qualified to remind other communities of their duties. Brahmins must try as best they can to keep up the Vedic tradition. That is how they will help me to speak to other communities of their duties.
All mankind, all creatures of earth, must live in happiness. Everybody must practise his allotted dharma for the good of all with the realisation that there is no question of any work being "higher" than any other or "lower". Preserving the sound of the Vedas must remain the duty of one class so as to ensure plenty in this world as well as to create universal Atmic uplift. To revert to the question I put to you first. Leaving aside the vocation of the Vedic dharma, let us assume that the hereditary system is beneficial in respect of all types of work. But why should the preservation of the Vedic dharma be the lifelong vocation of one class? It is now established, as I conclude, that however it may be with the other vocations, whether or not they exist, whether or not there is a mix-up in them, the pursuit of the Vedic dharma must remain a separate calling.
(See also the chapter entitled, "Can a New Brahmin Caste be Created? " in Part Nineteen; and Part Twenty, "Varna Dharma and Universal Well-being").
Is Cutting off the Head a Cure for Headache?
Today everybody- from the top leader down to the man in the street- is asking: Why should there be caste? With a little thinking, you will realise that the division of society into various jatis is for the good of all. It serves in two ways. While, on the one hand, it contributes to the progress of the entire community, on the other, it helps each individual to become pure of mind and obtain ultimate liberation.
You do not have to accept this view because it comes from me or because it is that of the sastras. You may think that people like me are reactionaries opposed to progress. But consider the opinion of a man whose goal, all will agree, was the advancement of this nation. This man was determined to do away with all differences among the people, eradicate superstition and elevate the" backward classes" to the level of the rest of society. This man was Gandhiji who extolled the varnasrama system and whole-heartedly accepted it. I mention this because I thought, if not anything else, at least the views of Gandhiji would persuade you to accept the fact that the varna system has good features.
Gandhiji has written an essay entitled, "My Varnasrama Dharma". In it he says:"Varnasrama is a system that has happened on its own. It is natural and inherent in a man's birth. It is a natural law that Hinduism has systematised into a science. This system makes a fourfold division of labour and lays down the duties of each section but not its rights. For any individual to think himself to be superior to others and look down upon another as inferior to himself is against the very spirit of Hindu culture. In the varnasrama system each individual learns to discipline himself and the energies of society are prevented from being frittered away. I keep fighting against untouchability because I consider it an evil but I support varnasrama as healthy for society and believe that it is not the product of a narrow mind. This arrangement gives the labourer the same status as it does a great thinker". Gandhiji supported varnasrama with greater ardour than sanatanists.
It would be pointed out that Gandhiji's actions were such as to suggest that he was opposed to difference in society based on rites and customs. He supported even intercaste marriage. How is all this to be reconciled with the fact that he upheld varnasrama? Gandhiji thought that, though varna dharma was a worthy system, it had broken down and that it was not possible to revive it. What was the use of keeping the remains after the essence had been extracted from a thing, he asked. So he thought that retaining the outward differences in society was not justified after the principles on which these differences were founded were not longer in force.
I do not think like him. Varnasrama is the backbone of our religion. If it is to be abandoned on the pretext that it is beyond repair, we do not require either a matha or a man to preside over it. For any individual to run an institution labelling himself as its head [that is as the head of any matha] after the root of all dharma is gone, is tantamount to exploiting society. If the old system of caste is in reality extinct, there is no need for a matha and it should be disbanded. But I nurse the belief that such a thing has not happened yet. Nor do I think that caste will before long inevitably cease to exist. I am also confident that, if we are awake to the problem at least now and mobilise all our strength and resources to take the necessary steps, we shall be able to impart the varna system new life and vigour.
No matter how the varna system has become muddled with reference to other vocations, Vedic learning which is the life-breath of all occupations still survives in the pathasalas here and there. In these schools the scriptures are taught strictly in the traditional way. There is enthusiastic support for the efforts taken to spread Vedic learning. Students join the pathasalas in fairly large numbers. There is a small group committed to the cause of the Vedic tradition and to its continuance. My duty is the creation of more and more such groups and to work for their growth. If Vedic learning flourishes, a way will open up to counteract the veil consequences of the muddle created in the other varnas. And if Brahmins become an example and a guide- if not all of them, at least a few- by remaining true to their old ways of life, others will return to their hereditary duties.
Since Gandhiji believed that varnasrama dharma could neither be mended nor revived in its true form, he wanted it to be totally scrapped. I think otherwise. Though [the flame of] varna dharma has become dim it is not totally extinguished and I feel that there are some sparks still, left which could be fanned into a bright flame again. We must learn the lesson from our history during the past fifty years that our society will have to pay dearly if it gives up varna dharma. You will learn this lesson from the fate suffered by the great civilisations that flourished in the rest of the world where such a system did not obtain.
The disintegration of the old system of hereditary vocations must be attributed to the introduction of machinery and the establishment of big factories. There is not much scope for machines in a simple life. The old varna system could be saved if poeple live a simple life and are occupied with the old handicrafts and cottage industries. Gandhiji spoke untiringly of his ideal that all work must be done by human power. He was against monstrous machines and urged people to live a simple life, eschewing all luxury. In this respect his views are in conformity with the ideals of varna dharma.
Today the various schemes introduced by the government together with the changed outlook of the people militate against the ideal of a simple life and the system of handicrafts. But, ironically enough, politicians and others keep singing the praises of Gandhiji unceasingly without translating his ideas into action. Gandhiji was a reformer who ardently wished the good of society and worked in the cause of egalitarianism. He was not a hard-nosed sanatanist who tenaciously clung to the canonical texts merely because they were old. People had faith in one like him. I thought that the views of such a man on varnasrama should make a deep impression on you.
Why are people generally opposed to caste? Because they believe that caste is responsible for the differences and disparities in society and the quarrels arising from them. I have told you so often that in reality no jati is inferior to another or superior to it. However, critics of varna dharma argue that, whether or not in reality it has caused differences in society, an impression had gained ground that it has. As you can see for yourself, they add," There are quarrels arising out of them. We want to do away with the system of jatis because we don't want these fights to go on indefinitely and divide society."
To speak thus, however, is to suggest that we must cut of the head to cure headache. If the old dharma suffers from a headache in the form of quarrels in society, it is our duty to restore it to health. How? We must speak to the people concerned about the true principles and remove the misunderstanding that cause quarrels. This is the mode of treatment to keep the old system of varna healthy. It is preposterous to suggest that, because of the disputes, the dharma that is the root and source of our society should itself be done away with.
If there is something that is the cause of a dispute, it does not stand to reason to destroy this something itself. We cannot conduct the affairs of the world in this manner. There will naturally be people for this and against any question. Such differences are inevitable. Today there are two issues which have been the cause of a great deal of conflict. These are languages and ideology. It would be absurd to argue that we want neither any language nor any ideology because they are the cause of conflict.
Nowhere else in the world today do we witness the sort of clashes that we face in our own country on the question of language. The caste of quarrels are not of the same scale as these- the frenzy aroused by language is so intense. The Tamil and the Telugu keep quarrelling with one another, so too the Bengali and the Bihari, the Kannadiga and the Maharastrian. Then there is the English vs. Hindi controversy. People indeed come to blows on the language issue. How would you solve this problem? Would you suggest universal dumbness as a solution, that is abolition of all speech, all tongues? .
Disputes concerning political ideology, about the type of government wanted, are far too numerous. There is the big divide between communism and capitalism: it has been the cause of trouble throughout the world. Without any world war actually breaking out, thousands of people have perished in the clash of ideologies. Apart from the struggle between capitalism and communism you see other kinds of unrest in various parts of the world: monarchy giving way to republicanism; the rise of dictatorial governments. Large numbers of people become victims in these ideological wars. Although everybody claims that he is for democracy, at heart there are so many differences between one man and another on the question of political ideology and hence all the quarrels.
Would it be right to argue that all ideologies must be scrapped merely because they lead to quarrels? Any government is constituted on some ideologies basis or other, is it not? No ideology would mean no government- is it not so? Are we then to abolish the institution of governments and be alike animals [in the absence of any authority to enforce law and order]? If languages are not wanted because they are the cause of trouble and if governments are not wanted because they lead to ideological wars, it follows logically that religions and jatis also are not wanted since they too create disputes. Going a step further we may ask: Is it not because we human beings exist that we keep quarrelling among ourselves? So should we. . . . [the Paramaguru just smiles without completing the sentence].
Though there is a vociferous campaign carried on against caste, jati crops up as a crucial factor in elections. It is on the basis of caste that all parties conduct their electioneering. The cry," We don't want any jati", seems really to mean," we don't want a particular jati".
Maintaining the system of jatis on a nominal basis is not justified if each of the jatis does not have a special social responsibility to discharge. To assign a vocation to each group or jati on a hereditary basis is for the good of all society. It is particularly important that this country has a section of people whose lifetime work is to keep chanting the Vedas, the Vedas which bring happiness to all living creatures through the loftiness of their sound and the profundity of the truths contained in them. Performance of the rites that form part of the Vedic tradition is as much a duty of this section as that of learning the mantras.
Modernists think that it is the varna system that is responsible for quarrels in society over questions of"high" and" low" among the various jatis. On the contrary, I think it is precisely for the purpose of ridding society of feelings of differences in status that we need the caste system." If we are born in this jati, well, it is the will of Isvara. Our vocation has also been handed down to us in the same manner. Let us stick to it and do good to society as best we can. If somebody else finds that he has some other vocation, it is also according to the will of the Lord. Let each one of us do the work allotted to us in a spirit of dedication to Isvara". If such an attitude develops there will be no room to think or feel that one kind of work is better than another kind or worse.
We must try to cultivate this outlook and inculcate it in everybody. We must set an example through our own life- there is no better way of making people understand the true spirit of the system of jatis. Then even our "oral propaganda" will not be necessary. If there is ill-will in society, it is because the concept of varna dharma is not properly understood. We must resolve right now to practise this dharma in its true spirit so that there will be no cause for society to be raven by bitterness.
With the decay of jati dharma, livelihood has become a major problem for everybody. The obsession with money is a natural consequence of this worry. Until 70 or 75 years ago, nobody had any problem about his means of sustenance. The worry or concern then was about one's duty. If obtaining the means of livelihood were the only goal of life, the less well-off would be jealous of those who are affluent and occupy high places in the society. It would also lead to misunderstanding and quarrels. If each man is concerned only about his duty and about doing it well, questions of status will not arise. But if money and status are the objectives, it will naturally mean that the man who has more money and occupies a higher place is superior to the man who is less prosperous and occupies a lower position. The point is such differences do not exist in true varna dharma. Even if the social order of jatis were abolished and together with it the quarrels among the various communities came to an end, society would have to face another problem, that is class conflict. We see this phenomenon all over the world today.
Our society must be one in which there are no differences of high and low. All will then live in harmony as the children of Isvara without fighting among themselves. They will live as a united family helping one another and spreading a sense of peace and happiness everywhere. I ask you to follow the old dharma so that we may achieve such an ideal society. If we take a small step now towards such a goal, Isvara will give us a helping hand for us to go further ahead. I keep praying to him.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)