Caste, Women and Vedas

This is one of those ageless, endless, inconclusive debates of what Hindu's caste is all about, why are shudrAs and women treated as inferior, why are some allowed to learn and chant the Vedas, while others aren't, and such things that pop up in passing these topics. You may ask if its inconclusive, where do I get the ego and guts to write on it? Interesting question and I do say that the debate is fruitless... my intention is only to establish my opinion and conviction that the shAstras say what they say, we understand what we understand and that doesn't change the shAstras. One may say that he or she understood a point properly or improperly, but saying that the shAstras are not applicable in this era, they are backward in this modern scientific knowledgeable world and such is all utterly foolish. I may well be smart in this age, for this age, but calling the entire tradition as wrong, directly or indirectly, without even having data of when the Vedas were formed (they are timeless, whether or not it fits my stupid modern logic), being a frog in the well, thinking that "this is all the logic I'll ever need", "I've learned all that there is to learn; there cannot be anything else", "All that doesn't pass my test is wrong", is an arrogant ego-satisfying feed, nothing more. In fact, its a destructive thinking that will not only not take me anywhere closer to freedom, but also tie me up in things that I'll myself have to painstakingly untie in years or lives ahead.

Before moving on to repeat what Vedas proclaim as caste, a few words of caution:
  • Vedas are to be learned from the tradition to understand the real meaning... that in itself takes decades, if not a lifetime!
  • The Sanskrit used in the Vedas could be much different than what exists today. Also, some of the Vedas have their own grammar covered in separate sections provided therefor! Sanskrit, unlike English, has many different meanings for each word and the meaning is contextual. Most of the arguments are due to such interpretation, with individual biases and fanaticism.
  • It is impossible that a person will understand the true cryptic meaning of scriptures without faith in them, God and Guru, *equally*. Revelation by the scriptures is a thumb rule, mostly beyond understanding for many of us. The Veda mantras, etc, are attributed to a seer to whom the mantra was revealed!
So what the caste is, is defined by the capability of the person. The capability is identified in the childhood when many branches of knowledge are taught. Based on these, we have the brahmins or priests, kshatriyas or warriors, vaishyas or businessmen and shudras or worker class. Now, this classification is utterly and ridiculously misunderstood as based-by-birth alone in this age; however, it is on birth-and-ability. You may well ask why is birth *also* to define the class, and the answer to that is clear in my mind as:
  • Birth defines the family, relations, geography, friends, opportunities, etc... in fact, everything, based on purva karma. Without the karma theory, no one can justify why one person is born poor and the other rich; one handicapped while the other has an additional intuitive sixth sense too; else it ends up in a flaw of calling the God as a racist! (Atheists do not have a place for an argument at all here! They are stuck with explaining the law of averages too!) So too, birth defines the work recommended for the person in this life, for his own spiritual growth.
  • A person born in one family usually learns the family caste better than others and so better fits the caste.
  • Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but extremely rare.
  • Mixing up the above has resulted in the confused society as it exists today!
Lastly, it is not to be understood as a privilege of one caste to do something, but a responsibility and a liability to do it, failing which, one becomes a dharma brashTa that results in bad prArabdha in the following life/ lives. So a brahmin's is not a privilege to learn and teach Vedas, but he is obliged to do it. Only then will he and the society with his caste and others' benefit largely. That is a brahmin is duty-bound to chant the Vedas, perform rites, and teach others, while using the kshatriya's protection, vaishya's business provisions and shudra's services in exchange. Similarly: a kshatriya protects everyone as his inherent nature in return of brahmin's chantings, prayers, rites, and teachings for his and his family's benefit, vaishya's provisions and shudra's services; a vaishya meets for the society's demand for commercial enterprise, using shudra's services, kshatriya's protection and brahmin's teachings; and a shudra serves with various works in return for brahmin's chanting, kshatriya's protection and vaishya's provisions. Thats how a tightly-coupled society is.

The purusha-sukta describes Narayana to be a conglomerate of all of these castes. Imagine that Narayana as a society, as a person in the society: whose productive and sustaining forces are his shudratva, commercial and business enterprise are his vaishyatva, administrative and military prowess are his kshatriyatva, while his spiritual wisdom and splendor are his brahminatva. It would be ridiculous, then, to say that one quality is better than the other. But to give one example, can the Purusha even stand tall without his legs?

Even so, I reckon the problem arises when any person looks at one thing as a privilege and not as a duty. Its also an issue when one wants to do what the other does, without even caring as to why! These two things, IMO, are the cause for the downfall of man and society as it stands today. Everyone wants to do what the other does, so to say as a fashion statement and a good example of that is the way everything has come under the umbrella of yoga. Let me quote here that the caste comes from the Vedas on what is now famous as: Better his own path though imperfect than the path of another well made!

Similarly, women are exempted from following the Vedic injunctions due to the way they are made by God! There is a clear physiological and psychological difference between man and woman that I think is obvious for all. Those are the reasons why women have a clear edge on some things where men are hopelessly lacking and vice versa on others. No amount of a man's wanting to learn motherhood, inclusive of carrying a child, is going to bring him that. In that way the woman has been blessed more with emotions. There are more Gopis, Radhas and Meeras than Tukarams, since bhakti is natural to women. A child is naturally attached to his/ her mother while s/he learns about the father. But its foolish to say that the nature is biased towards women. So too, Vedas are prescribed to be chanted by the man as his duty since he has more of what is termed as dhAraNa[1] than the woman. Now, this is not a biased statement against women, please, since the woman is exempted from doing it while still getting the benefit of Vedic chanting by father/ husband. If anything, its a bias favoring women! Why women have less dhAraNa is because women mature earlier than men and undergo very many changes in their physiological and emotional states during the monthly periods. This reduces the time that women could devote otherwise to Vedic learning in terms of continuous effort on a daily basis as needed! Its to be remembered at this juncture that the Veda mantras were *seen* by the seer; thats the perfection called for in a Vedic pandit of being able to *see* the mantras, mandating continuous revision. Chanting without mouthing the words, but just mentally, also is to be avoided during these days and its almost impossible to avoid if a woman is learning the Veda mantras, since its more of a continuous effort to retain and improvise dhAraNa. Even among men, only those who start learning Vedas at a very young in childhood can use their dhAraNa to learn, memorize and chant the Vedas without errors, after over a decade of learning at least; its not something meant to be read off the book! Any error in chanting can bring about negative effects since the mantra words carry a potential power (shabda brahma).

None of doing-what-the-other-does is necessary for moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. dharmo rakshati rakshatah doesn't simply mean protection; it also means that the dhArmik following itself will take one ahead into the greatest good, naturally. The Vedas form the basis of dharma, artha, kAma and moksha. Without following the prescribed dharma, the money earned is adhArmik and so are the desires met; how then will it lead to moksha? Its important to note that balance is an essential feature of nature and whenever things have forcibly been taken out, it has resulted in the imbalanced nature to retort with greater force! I'm well-convinced that lack of following one's own dharma has led to a disastrous social and moral order today, that is clear to most. Of course, some may see that as a wonderful progress [including the technology that allows me to blog this :) ] and I have no arguments with them!

I'm also aware that there are a good many exceptions of women pandits in the scriptures, since they overtook all boundaries imposed by womanhood, physiologically and psychologically, and therefore, are a rarity. The way the tradition is by discounting the exceptions, by and large. All said and done, the women carry the respect of a mother through the Vedas, the Vedas themselves called as shruti mAtA, barring a few extracts taken out of context and/ or ridiculously translated by fanatics and people with ill intentions!

[1] I'm thankful to Shri Syam-ji, a Vedic pandit, for his scholarly contribution on this subject on Orkut's Adi Shankaracharya community.
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