Who is a Brahman: Youth  Summary

 By Ravi Chandrasekhar MD

             The WBF convention July 2006 was a monumental success for the gathering of Brahmans from the various subcastes including a large participation of North and South Indian Brahmans and Kashmiri Pundits.   The theme was Sanathana Dharma in the 21st century and the main issue that was discussed was: Who is a Brahmana?  Debates regarding birth versus character took place.  Unconventional opinions were aired such as including those by character or karma. 

     Ms Saroja Hansoge  recommended  those who are on path towards realization of Brahman should be Brahmana without regards  to birth or matrimonial relations. She went on to state one’s diet, lifestyle, or rituals should not matter in this pursuit.    I personally believe her second statement  is true but it should not contradict one’s dharmic obligations by birth according to the shastras or it will lead to state of dharmic anarchy.  For example kshatriyas by birth are allowed to certain activities such as restricted meat eating, but for most Brahmanas this is not allowed.  In addition, all the acharyas of the major sampradayas (Adi Shankaracharya of advaita/smartha tradition, Ramanujacharya of Sri Vaishnava/Vishtadvaita tradition, and Madhvacharya of Dvaita tradition) have stated according to the shastras, varna is by birth.  The former Shankaracharya of Kanchi: Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati in his book Hindu Dharma has elaborated on why varna is by birth and the famous verse from the Gita: chaturvarnam maya shishtam guna karma vibhaghasha; refers to varna is by birth and states guna and karma is by birth dependent on prior karma.    Judging someone only by guna or occupation alone is subjective and everchanging and hence not a standard.  Besides our samskaras are agespecific and based on birth.  Upanayana is recommended as early as 8 years of age for a Brahmana (by birth) at a time when one’s guna has not fully developed, let alone occupation.

Sri Jaldhar Vyas also concurs with our acharyas have stated with regards to our varna .  He states methods may changed but still maintains tradition has not. (e.g. internet facilitating  as a learning medium)   He also states as Brahmanas there are more opportunities in the US to maintain our dharma due to freedom, tolerance, access to education and learning resources and also not being hindered as much financially. 

I also agree as Brahmanas nowadays, we are not dependant on rulers for support and we as best as possible to perform our nitya-karmas and perform other occupations as long as it does not contradict our dharma.  In fact one can argue nowadays, Brahmanas  and Sudras have  more flexibility in occupations.  Our detractors have claimed that we have oppressed people, etc.   Sri Mohan Aiyer in his article Brahmans today in the Brahmodaya 2006 magazine has refuted that claim.  In fact by examining history, if any varna was enviable, it would be the Kshatriyas as pointed out in my Brahmodaya article.

Professor  Ramanath Sharma elucidated the famous dictum:  By birth a Brahmana is Sudra who becomes a Dvija by samskara and attains the status of shrotriya, vipra, and the ideal Brahmana by knowledge, tapas, and realization of the self respectively. This contrary to those who state everyone is born a sudra can become a Brahmana in this very birth.    Traditionalists reaffirmed what are shastras have stated. Honor those (but not  transform) who by birth are not Brahmans but who have noble character and those by birth to live up to the ideal by performing their nitya-karmas and by practicing their dharma to the fullest.    There are degrees of following our dharma to “maintain our Brahmana status after birth”.  There are terms to describe not fully practicing our dharma: Brahmana-Bandhu, Durlab-Brahmana, etc.  Acharyas and dharmashastras declare who may lose the status based on certain performance or omission of acts or matrimonial relations.  A practical point is that those Brahmanas who “lose status by choice or through certain matrimonial relations” do not really care and do not identify themselves as Brahmanas. In this convention there are many present who can show us to up the ideal.