Caste Brahmanas

[priest performing ritual]“Tulsi says, ‘Listen ojha. You don’t understand the loss in abandoning Rama. Even the pure water that comes from the holy rivers like the Ganga can become impure like wine.’” (Dohavali, 68)

tulasī rāmahiṁ parihareṁ nipaṭa hāni suna ojha |
surasari gata seā’ī salila surā sarisa gaṅgojha ||68||

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When you’re the head of an important institution, one of the difficulties you face is in appointing a successor. You won’t be around forever. Though you may be respected and have knowledge of how to run things, it’s not guaranteed that the person who follows you will be the same. Yet someone must follow, lest your hard work go for naught after your passing. You can choose someone to take the leadership post after you, but your opinion doesn’t automatically maintain their credibility. They must live up to the demands of the role. The same principle is explained in this verse from the Dohavali, which refers to the most important position in society: the brahmana.

The brahmana is like a priest. They can do more than rituals, however. When you need a prayer delivered to the Supreme Lord, you can certainly call on them. If you have a question about a specific verse in any of the many Vedic texts, you can consult them for guidance. A person in their occupation should be capable of guiding the entire society. If you looked at the society as a single human being, the brahmana would be the brain. The other parts are surely important, but if the brain fails to function properly, the other parts become more or less useless.

What makes a brahmana? Is the status earned through assignment? Do you need a recommendation? Can you inherit the title at birth? Any of these can occur, but as in any occupation it is the qualities of the individual that matter. You can get a degree from a medical university, but unless you know how to treat patients, are you really a doctor? A respected doctor may recommend me to run a hospital, but unless I have sufficient knowledge, I won’t be able to do the job. The same goes for taking birth in a family that has a long line of doctors.

Goswami Tulsidas here references ojhas, which in the past were a specific subgroup of brahmanas. In accepting a role that is meant to be the brain of society, the ojhas automatically earned respect. But accepting the role is only one aspect. You must do something with it afterwards. That something is love and devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Without this vital element, you can end up hurting people instead of helping.

Honor ascends; it doesn’t automatically flow to future generations and dependents. This only makes sense, as the people higher up on the chain had something to do with the honor received. The future generations have no such claim; they must earn honor for themselves. Therefore a caste brahmana isn’t automatically pure. They may come from a high family, but unless they have devotion to Hari, the Supreme Lord, their title has little meaning.

[Ganga Devi]Tulsidas gives a nice example to explain how the impurity can arise. He points to water from sacred rivers, like the Ganga. Water is water; the chemical composition is the same no matter where you find it. Yet the Ganga is considered sacred, and this is due only to her association with Hari. She emanates from His lotus feet; she comes from the heavenly region. Ganga water is considered pure; regardless of what might be in it.

At the same time, water can be used in wine. One water is so pure that it makes you think of God, while the other helps you forget Him. One water is so pure that people travel thousands of miles to get it, while the other is so impure that taking too much of it can make you lose your senses. The water is the same in both instances; it’s just the association is different.

[Lord Rama]So one may be in the post of a brahmana, but it doesn’t automatically mean they are pure. If they turn their back on Rama, they don’t understand the kind of loss they will incur. Rama is the same Hari. God is not incorporeal. He has an impersonal aspect, a light of Truth if you will. Those who meditate on this light can merge into it. This is the goal of impersonal worship, known as mayavada.

Intelligence can only come from an intelligent being, however. Power comes from the powerful. Rama is the powerful and Brahman is His power. We are aspects of Brahman, or the light of transcendence. Rama is the source. He is also known as Vishnu and Krishna, but He is always a singular personality. The brahmana is meant to be devoted to God the person; that is what will make them pure. In fact, any person with this devotion becomes pure, regardless of their occupation.

On the other side, if the devotion is lacking, the brahmana can lead people astray. They can guide people into worshiping strictly for material benefits, which actually arrive already through karma. The non-religious can just as easily get material rewards. In this situation, what use does the brahmana serve? The non-devoted brahmana can improperly explain the position of God, robbing innocent people of the chance to feel the bliss that is surrender to the Supreme. Only the devotee of Rama can make the important post of brahmana serve its proper purpose.

In Closing:

Running company but trouble in mind,

How successor for the future to find?

Any person can be recommendable,

But must then act in manner commendable.

Brahmana though having post high,

On devotion to Shri Hari must rely.

Otherwise like wine impure can become,

And serving vital purpose to others none.

Categories: dohavali 41-80

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