Vedic literatures clearly say that our birth does not decide our caste or varna, but our activities decide it. A Sudra can become a Brahmana and a Brahmana can become a Shudra. But unfortunately, some people who were born in a Brahmin family but did not have Brahminical qualification started misinterpreting the sacred Vedas and propagated that birth decides our varna or caste.
Many great spiritual leaders have argued that caste or varna by birth is against the spirit of the Vedas. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura one of the foremost scholars on Vedas and founder of Gaudiya Math strongly opposed this understanding. And because of this he faced strong opposition from caste Brahmanas.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura faced opposition from caste Brahmanas
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and his scores of disciples found the doors of seven main temples closed when they arrived in Vrindavan. Even the shopkeepers had closed their shops and some people threw stones at the parikrama party. The local pandits and the orthodox brahmana were upset because Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura had awarded brahmana thread and even sannyas to many who were not just non brahmanas but also belonged to so called lower castes.
When the local pandits had come to meet Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati for a discussion regarding this then he had strongly argued and defeated them by emphasizing that caste by birth is not Vedic injunctions, but it is its distortion. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura gave reference of various scriptures and proved that one should be considered a brahmana not by birth but by qualities.
He quoted verses from Srimad Bhagavatam wherein sage Narada tells Yudhisthira that even if one is born in the family of a sudra but acts like a brahmana he should be accepted as a brahmana and if one is born in the family of a brahmana but acts like a sudra then he should be considered a sudra.
“If one shows the symptoms of being a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra, as described above, even if he has appeared in a different class, he should be accepted according to those symptoms of classification.” Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.35.
Vedas say that anyone can become a Brahmana
In India it is very common to see that sometimes a person born in a brahmana family declare that they are the only ones who have complete understanding of the Vedic knowledge. They claim to have direct access to the mercy of the Supreme Lord possessing the ability to deliver the mankind. Many a times the gullible masses without verifying the character and qualities of such people surrender their life unto them and ruin their spiritual life.
The holy Vedas, the holy sages and Krishna in Gita never said that birth determines a person’s caste or varna. Krishna in Gita clearly state that the four divisions of human society have been created according to the three different modes acquired by the living entities and the type of work they perform. Bhagavad Gita 4.13. This division is scientific, logical and makes lots of sense if implemented in letter and spirit.
Just think, can anyone be a born as an engineer or a judge or a pilot or a musician or a painter? A kid may show some characteristics and symptoms which can give an idea of his future profession. Some may show taste for music, some may like art, some may enjoy dance, some may be found of books and some may have liking for money. But everyone has to be trained to become successful in their fields.
One does not become a doctor just by taking birth in the family where parents are doctors. To become a doctor one has to first get admitted to an authorized medical college, there he has to study under the guidance of learned medical scholars, clear various exams and then only he is awarded the degree of a doctor.
Who is a Brahmana?
Mahabharat, Vana – parva, Chapter 180 tells about the conversation which Maharaj Yudhisthira had with Nahusha, the serpent, in the forest.
Nahusha inquired, “O King please tell me who is a brahmana?”
Maharaj Yudhisthira said, “A person who possesses truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, sobriety, gentleness, austerity, and lack of hatred is called a brahmana.”
The serpent again said, “Sudras also possess truthfulness, charity, freedom from anger, nonviolence, nonenviousness, and lack of hatred.”
Yudhisthira then replied, “If such symptoms are found in a sudra he should never be called a sudra, just as a brahmana is not a brahmana if he does not possess these qualities.”
Chandogya Upanisad tells the story of Satyakama Jabala
Chandogya Upanisad tells the story of Satyakama who was accepted as a brahmana not because of his birth but because of characteristics. Satyakama had a desire to live as a brahmachari, a celibate monk.
He expressed his feeling to his mother, Jabala, and asked, “My dear mother please tell me which dynasty I belong to.”
Jabala replied, “My dear son, it is difficult for me to say which dynasty you belong to because in my youth I worked as a maidservant at various places and had relationships with many men.”
Satyakama Jabala approached Haridrumata Gautam’s hermitage and said, “I wish to live in your ashrama as a brahmachari.”
The sage inquired, “Dear son, please tell me which dynasty you belong to.”
Satyakama Jabala without losing his composure replied, “When I inquired from my mother about my lineage then she said during her youth she worked as a maidservant at many places and had multiple relationships. So, I cannot with certainty tell who my father is.”
Gautam Rishi smiled and said, “It does not matter who your father is, but it is for sure that you are a brahamana because you do not shy away from speaking truth which is the foremost quality of a brahmana. So, I accept you.”
Vedic literature refutes caste by birth theory
There are many references in Vedas which goes on to establish that caste or varna of a person is determined only by one’s quality and not by birth.
- “There are no real differences among varnas. When brahma first created the universe, it was inhabited only by brahmanas. Later on, as a result of their activities , people attained the designation of different varnas.” Mahabharata (Santi – parva, Moksa – dharma, Chapter 188)
- “O brahmana, if a person is born in the family of a sudra and possesses good qualities, he becomes a vaisya or a kshatriya. And if he possesses the quality of simplicity, he is a brahmana.” Mahabharat , Vana Parva, Chapter 211.
- Mahabharata (Anusasana – parva 163.5,8,26,46,48,51,59) describes the conversation which Lord Shiva had with Parvati. Parvati inquired from Shiva, “How can the three castes – kshatriya, vaisyas, sudra – will attain through their own nature the platform of brahmanas.” Lord Shiva explained, “If kshatriyas or vaisyas become situated in the behavior of brahmanas and spend their life in the occupations of brahmanas, then such persons can attain the position of brahmanas…..by the same process a sudra can become a brahmana and a vaisya can become a kshatriya.”
- Varaha purana goes a step further and says that taking advantage of Kaliyuga many demons take birth in the family of brahmana – Rakṣasaḥ kalim asritya jayante brahma-yoniṣu (Varaha Puraṇa).
Krishna sees our heart not our caste
Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and sudra are all material designations which we should transcend. The ultimate purpose of human life is to cleanse our hearts of all material contaminations. Chanting the holy names of Krishna is the ambrosia for all material miseries. Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, confirms this. He asked all to chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
Subuddhi Raya was ostracized by orthodox Hindu community because a Muslim named Hussain Khan sprinkled water on him. The caste Brahmanas said, “You have lost your religion.” Subuddhi Raya was shattered.
He approached many brahmanas to know how he can again become a Hindu. One of the brahmanas suggested him to drink hot ghee. Although it will result in his death but according to the brahmana pure ghee will ensure him birth in a brahmana family in next life. But when Subuddhi Raya approached Lord Chaitanya then he gave him a simple process. “Take shelter of Krishna. Do not get misled by others. And do not worry about these superficial things.” The Lord just asked him to chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra sincerely and serve the devotees selflessly in Vrindavan, this would give him the highest perfection.
Krishna does not care about our externals – like our caste, whether we are Hindus or non-Hindus, Indians or non-Indians, males or females, sannyasis or grihastas. He just looks into our heart to see if it longs for Him or not. He only looks for our love and nothing else.
References: Brahmana and Vaisnava by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta