Who is a Brāhmaṇa?

Anurādhā dāsī: Some brāhmaṇas say that only a born brāhmaṇa can be a brāhmaṇa, and a person who is born as a śūdra cannot become a brāhmaṇa.

Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja: They are speaking wrongly. What was Śrī Nārada Ṛṣi? He was the son of a maidservant. Śrīla Vyāsadeva also had a very low birth – anuloma-viloma. [Viloma means the child’s father is of a lower caste than the mother. Anuloma means that the mother’s caste is lower than that of the father.] His mother was a fisherwoman. Vasiṣṭha Ṛṣi and Agastya Ṛṣi took birth from a pot, from two discharges of semen that had been kept in the pot, and Gautama Ṛṣi took birth from a rabbit.

Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.13):

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam

 

According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.

The divisions of human society, namely brāhmaṇa (priest or teacher), kṣatriya (warrior or statesman), vaiśya (agriculturalist, merchant, or businessman), and śūdra (laborer), are all allotted according to one’s qualities and work.

Rāvaṇa was born as a brāhmaṇa [His father was the powerful brāhmaṇa Viśravā, the son of Pulastya Ṛṣi, and his mother was a daitya (family of demons).] His father was a sage, but he is accepted as a rākṣasa demon. Prahlāda took birth in a rākṣasa family, but he is worshiped even by brāhmaṇas. What caste was Lord Rāma? He was a kṣatriya, so why do brāhmaṇas eat the remnants of His meals? Kṛṣṇa took birth in a vaiśya caste, and Hanumān took birth in an animal species.

Thus, we should judge one’s classification according to one’s qualities and activities, not by one’s birth.

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.11.35) states:

yasya yal lakṣaṇaṁ proktaṁ
puṁso varṇābhivyañjakam
yad anyatrāpi dṛśyeta
tat tenaiva vinirdiśet

 

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.

If we see someone with the qualities of a different varṇa (type of work) than that of his birth, we should accept him in that varṇa. We should see everyone according to his or her qualities.
There was once a child named Jābāla, and that child approached Gautama Ṛṣi for initiation and learning the Vedas.

Gautama Ṛṣi asked him, “O son, what is your caste? What is your family line?”

Jābāla replied, “I don’t know.”

The Ṛṣi said, “Go and ask your mother.”

The boy asked his mother, Jābāli, and she replied, “When I was a young girl, I had a very bad character. I was a prostitute, and therefore I cannot tell you who your father was.”

Jābāla returned to his guru and said, “In her young age, my respectful mother was a prostitute, so she cannot say who my father is. I don’t know who my father is, therefore how can I tell you?”

Gautama Ṛṣi said, “Oh, you are speaking the truth, and therefore you are actually a brāhmaṇa.”

He then changed Jābāla’s name to Satyakāma Jābāla – one who always speaks the truth – and since then, Jābāla was accepted as a brāhmaṇa.

Excerpted from the Gaudiya Vedanta Publication “Walking With a Saint 2008”

Auckland, New Zealand
6 January

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