“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. They are born meat-eaters
“They grew up eating the worst possible things. I don’t have to tell you the importance of the cow in our culture. It is the kindest of animals. It provides so much for the human population to use, all while asking barely anything in return. Just be kind. Non-violent. The same compassion and care you people are known to show cats and dogs, extend it to the cow, which produces milk.
“But no, that is too much to ask, apparently. These people are from that culture of cow-killing. How can you expect them to be properly engaged in worship in the temple? How can you expect anything good out of them, in fact? When they repeat the mantras, it will have no effect. The pronunciation must be correct. It is like children having a tea party; only make-believe.”
2. They are drunkards from this lifetime
“You may give the excuse that the cow-killing was a culture they were born into, that they were fed meat from birth, but what about drinking? What about alcohol consumption? Is that not a choice? These people are recent converts to sobriety, if you believe their stories of conversion.
“Someone who eats meat and consumes alcohol is a mleccha or yavana. This is the verdict of the wise; I did not make up the rule. How do you expect such people to see clearly? They will think the deity in the temple is a joke. To them, it is like a cartoon character or an art exhibit to be placed in a museum. They will never understand the potency of the archa-vigraha, and so how can you expect them to worship properly?”
3. They have a low-birth
“Many of these people don’t even know who their father is. The mother was promiscuous to a ridiculous level. The whole thing is a farce. You think they belong to any kind of culture? Are they even civilized people?
“You mean to tell me that we should accept them into our circles? We should respect them on the same level as someone who is a direct descendent of important spiritual leaders from the past? It is a stretch. I extend grace to all of God’s creatures. It is not that I am hard-hearted. There is Supersoul in everyone, but I do believe that birth-placement is a contributing factor to behavior in adulthood. Otherwise, why would a high birth be one of the rewards offered to the unsuccessful yogi?”
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)
4. They barely show respect to anyone
“Have you noticed a trend with these people? They have no respect for their elders. That was what led them to throw aside the conventional route, where people grow up and get a job as adults. These people were loitering in the streets. They never bathed. They kept long beards.
“More importantly, they say the worst things about their parents. That is the culture they come from. How can you expect them to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the guru if they cannot even recognize the gurus within their home?”
5. They are not real brahmanas
“Okay, you will make the argument that Shri Krishna creates the four varnas, divisions, based on guna and karma. These are the material qualities associated with a living being in a particular body and the work that person carries out. This means that a real brahmana must have the gunas for that particular occupation. They must follow the prescribed duties, like pathana, pāthana, yajana, yājana, dāna-pratigraha, and so forth.
चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्
cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
“I am not arguing with any of that. I am just saying that you cannot change someone’s gunas. You have to be born with the proper qualities. That is why we say these people are not genuine brahmanas. They may be following the karma. They may vow before the guru to remain clean internally and externally.
“But they lack the proper qualities. You have to be born with them, in the manner that Krishna confirmed to Arjuna. Krishna let that celebrated bow-warrior know that he had the divine nature. There was nothing to worry over. I am afraid these people trying to gain access into our circles are of the demoniac nature. You will come to regret being so liberal with them.”
दैवी सम्पद् विमोक्षाय
मा शुचः सम्पदं दैवीम्
अभिजातो ऽसि पाण्डव
daivī sampad vimokṣāya
mā śucaḥ sampadaṁ daivīm
abhijāto ‘si pāṇḍava
“The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demonic qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5)
The issue of the caste system and the degraded way it manifests in the modern day is one of the more well-known controversies of the Vedic tradition. Is the caste determined by birth? Or is it based on qualities? Can someone become a recognized brahmana based on a transformation in a single lifetime? Or do they need to wait for elevation in the next life?
Goswami Tulsidas removes the confusion with two lines of poetry. He makes the comparison to the trees that line the streets in the heavenly realm. Whether the tree is high in stature, or so low that you would barely notice it, since there is the association with the heavenly region, svarga-loka, the tree is famous and well-known.
राम नाम सुमिरत सुजस भाजन भए कुजाति |
कुतरूक सुरपुर राजमग लहत भुवन बिख्याति |
rāma nāma sumirata sujasa bhājana bhae kujāti |
kutarūka surapura rājamaga lahata bhuvana bikhyāti |
“By remembering Shri Rama’s holy name, even those who are born into a low caste become worthy of fame, just as the wild trees that line the streets in the heavenly realm are famous throughout the three worlds.” (Dohavali, 16)
In the same way, the devotee of the Supreme Lord is famous because of their association. It does not matter if they are born into a low family. It does not matter if their family ancestry is not a respectable one.
Shri Rama makes a direct reference to the issue of high-birth. He says that the conditions of kulinam and akulinam are based on charitra. This is a person’s character, activities, or conduct. It is what they do; not what box they check on a government form.
This only makes sense. In no other sphere of importance would we make the determination simply based on proximity through family. We expect that the physician has the proper training. The attorney should be certified and licensed to practice law within the jurisdiction in question. The professional earns their marks through conduct, through work, through action on the field of play.
In the same way, the professional that is the celebrated devotee achieves their standing based on what they do. In the same way that the food offered to the Supreme Lord is sacred, considered prasadam, and the land upon which His lotus feet touch a place of pilgrimage, so the person who always thinks of Him and dedicates their life to Him is the highest of all.
Through conduct known,
The determination alone.
Whether of high family to be,
Or low and inclined to flee.
Not mattering the ancestry from,
More on deeds and actions done.
Considered as highest of all,
When Rama everything to call.
Categories: the five