“Everyone is eligible for the supreme destination. In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that even the lowest, who are called chandalas (dog-eaters), can be elevated by association with a pure devotee. Therefore devotional service and guidance of a pure devotee are so strong that there is no discrimination between the lower and higher classes of men; anyone can take to it.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32 Purport)
Friend-One: I often hear the concept of a “sinful birth.” I’m not exactly sure what it means. I thought everyone is sinful for having taken birth?
Friend-Two: It just depends on which viewpoint you’re applying. For instance, every person is a purusha.
F1: Which means “person” or “enjoyer.”
F2: Right. This is distinguished from prakriti, or that which is enjoyed. I am a purusha and so are you. In fact, the Sanskrit word to describe human effort is “paurusham.”
F1: And that obviously derives from purusha.
F2: Yet in the Bhagavad-gita at one point Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, refers to the living entities as prakriti. They are a superior kind of nature.
F1: So we’re both purusha and prakriti?
F2: Purusha at the local level. We are the person animating the lifeless body. At the higher level, we are the energy of God, inferior to Him.
F1: Okay, thanks. I forgot my question now. You always do this.
F2: [laughing] The thing about sinful births.
F1: Oh yeah. So I’m guessing this has to do with your definition of sinful.
F2: We use the Bhagavad-gita again to figure this out. We learn that whatever conception of mind there is at the time of death, that state the individual soul attains without fail.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Since we know for a fact that we were born here, it means that previously our consciousness related to this world, which is temporary and miserable.
F1: Hence, we’re sinners for having taken birth. I knew that.
F2: You shouldn’t move from this point so quickly. It gives you a good idea of piety and sin. Piety is what brings you closer to the desired God consciousness at the time of death, and sin is what takes you further away from it. Piety is helpful and sin is not. This is a much better definition than “you should do this and you shouldn’t do that because some book tells me so.”
F1: Okay, but what are the sinful births that I hear about?
F2: So in that realm there is an assessment based on the potential for understanding God and achieving perfection in a single lifetime. As an example, an animal can’t understand God. It can’t follow principles. You can train a dog to do certain things, but it is not like it has decided one day to follow renunciation in order to meet a better end. It only knows animal instincts. So sinful here can mean “lower” and pious “higher.” The animal is in a lower birth and the human being a higher one.
F1: And then within the human species there is sinful and pious in terms of birth.
F2: Yeah. You’ll hear that being born a woman is sinful. The same for taking birth in a family of laborers; even businessmen are included. That’s not what you’d think considering the fact that in the industrialized nations each person is brought up to be a businessman of some kind. That’s really what the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” means. It’s essentially asking what kind of business do you want to go into when you’re an adult.
F1: I could see people getting offended over this, especially the woman thing. Isn’t everyone equal spiritually?
F2: They are. These are just generalizations that factor in tendencies and the sort. The idea is that certain births are more conducive to understanding the difference between matter and spirit. It’s as simple as that.
F1: Doesn’t Krishna also say that for devotion to Him, anyone can practice? Anyone can be rescued through that path.
F2: Exactly. He specifically mentions women, laborers and merchants. We have so many historical examples at which to look. In His incarnation of Shri Rama, His best friends were forest-dwellers. They were like monkeys in behavior. He gave mercy to the female ascetic Shabari and the tribal boatman Kevata. So in both theory and practice any person is eligible to be liberated in this very life. Indeed, when Krishna descended as Lord Chaitanya, many animals were liberated through His grace.
F1: And then I heard that in this age everyone is born in the lowest division, the shudra? They are the laborers, and they are known to easily lament over things, especially the temporary body.
F2: Exactly. Everyone is born into the dualities of desire and hate, which they determine by what gives satisfaction to their temporary body. A man is born with this tendency, as is a woman. The same for a priest and a laborer. It is not until you get some culture, some training in the spiritual science, that your birth really becomes worthwhile. That’s why the higher classes are known as dvija, or twice-born. The second birth is through initiation from a bona fide spiritual master.
F1: Alright, so here’s another question. The person born into a family of dvijas, they would be considered pious by birth. Yet if they don’t take to spiritual life, they would have to be more fallen than the rest, no?
F2: That’s a great point. Yeah, you would have to consider them to be more sinful than the person with the supposed sinful birth. These people are known as dvija-bandhus, which translates to “friends or relatives of a twice-born person.”
F1: I mean they had a great chance and they blew it. They have to be the lowest, in my opinion.
F2: They get the chance to grow up in a culture free of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. They learn about Krishna and Rama at an early age. If they don’t take up bhakti-yoga it is a real shame. And yet Krishna saves them as well. As fallen as they are, He will rescue them if they eventually take up devotion to Him. So that is also proof of the mercy of the Supreme Lord. It doesn’t matter from where you came; it matters to where you are going.
Mattering not from where you came,
All can have destination the same.
Women, laborer, merchant whether,
In bhakti one to other not better.
Example of Shri Rama just look,
How fruits from Shabari took.
Fallen the most the dvija-bandhu is,
Still can become Krishna devotee His.