“It is certainly a person’s conduct which speaks to whether they are high-born or low-born, heroic or cowardly, or pure or impure.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 109.4)
कुलीनमकुलीनं वा वीरं पुरुषमानिनम्।
चारित्रमेव व्याख्याति शुचिं वा यदि वाऽशुचिम्।।
kulīnamakulīnaṃ vā vīraṃ puruṣamāninam।
cāritrameva vyākhyāti śuciṃ vā yadi vā’śucim।।
1. Pure or impure
“How do we tell if someone is pure or impure? That person over there wears the dress of a religious person. They speak on stage as if they are playing the part. They can quote all the right verses from shastra.
“The thing is, they have some skeletons in their closet. All of the vices are kind of out there, if you are willing to look. That person is into so many sinful behaviors. They squash any dissent or disapproval that others should raise. They treat children horribly. How can we consider such a person to be saintly?”
2. Heroic or haughty
“That person talks a big game. They have the physique to supposedly support their standing. They sure love to walk around without a shirt on.
“The thing is, I have seen them during times of crisis. They run the other way. They are afraid of the slightest confrontation. They are easily agitated. They will throw women and children in front of them, to serve as shields, if they have to.”
3. High-born or low-born
“That person is so proud of their birth. They are in the highest caste, you see. We should respect them. We should feel fortunate when in their presence.
“The thing is, they are not a good person. I mean that in the nicest possible way. They don’t represent their status very well. Moreover, they are sure quick to put down others who might be trying to reach a level of purity and cleanliness, to be free of material attachments.”
Found in the response to the intentionally atheistic plea from Jabali, Shri Rama provides vital insight into different tags and assignments that play a significant role in determining standing within society. The situation to the historical incident is Rama abandoning the kingdom that rightfully belonged to Him. Rama refuses to return to Ayodhya, in the name of protecting the good word of His father, King Dasharatha, who has recently departed.
The younger brother, Bharata, tries his best to get Rama to change course. The people at home are suffering. They want the rightful heir to the throne to return. Several people make an attempt to convince Rama to turn in the other direction, but it is importance of character and conduct which holds the greatest weight of influence.
It is indeed tempting to make the above described determinations on other factors. If I am born into a high family, there is nothing easier than inheriting the status. The honor would forcefully descend. It might even have to divide, in the case there are siblings, children, grandchildren, and the like.
But at least I will not have to do anything. I will not have to put in the hard work to be recognized by others. They will show respect to me because of the assignment, which was made by a previous generation.
The same goes for heroism and purity. Why jump into a burning building to save others? Why take the chance at injury on the battlefield? Why even think about danger? Just inherit the status of hero. Just take it from a name, from a personal assignment, from repeating the same for as many times as it takes to convince others.
The characteristic of shuchi typically refers to the brahmana class. They are expected to be pure and clean, both internally and externally. In fact, taking birth in a family following a culture of shuchi is one potential destination for the sincere yogi who does not quite reach the pinnacle of success in a single lifetime.
प्राप्य पुण्य-कृतां लोकान्
उषित्वा शाश्वतीः समाः
शुचीनां श्रीमतां गेहे
prāpya puṇya-kṛtāṁ lokān
uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
śucīnāṁ śrīmatāṁ gehe
“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.41)
Rama gives the final word, to clear up any confusion or misconception. These tags can only be based on conduct, if they are to have any meaning. Bhagavad-gita explains that the four class divisions, varnas, are based on guna and karma. These are material qualities and fruitive activity. Character and conduct, charitra, is a reflection of guna and karma.
If Rama were to abandon attention to duty, honor, righteousness, truth, and the like, then the conduct would be like invalidating the status of kulinam. The high-birth would be in name only. It would be a record within history, and nothing more. At least this was Rama’s consideration of the matter, in deliberating on what should be done next.
The brahmana is ever dear to the Supreme Lord because of their conduct in shuchi, and the Vaishnava even transcends such temporary designations. Whether one is born in a high family or not, whether they fight valiantly on the battlefield or stay away from conflict, the conduct in devotion to the same Shri Rama is what makes the birth most blessed of all. It is answering the call of the valuable human form of life, which is for transcending the bodily designations and being one with the interest of the greatest benefactor, who is the joy to the people of Ayodhya.
If on high status to stand,
The determination understand.
That not on ancestry based,
With poor conduct effaced.
Mattering what you do,
Not related to who.
Devotion the best character of all,
Where Sita-Rama everything to call.
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