I have written a couple of articles on Caste,
How Caste is determined by Disposition and not by birth and
how and why caste is necessary and unavoidable.
There is an Upanishad that speaks on Caste and clarifies any confusion.
It is the Vajrasuchika Upanishad.
The Vajrasuchi Upanishad (Sanskrit: वज्रसूची उपनिषत्, IAST: Vajrasūcī Upaniṣad) is a medieval era Sanskrit text and a minor Upanishad of Hinduism. It is classified as one of the 22 Samanya Upanishads, and identified as a Vedanta text. It is attached to the Samaveda.
The text discusses the four varnas (caste system). It is notable for being a sustained philosophical attack against the division of human beings, and for asserting that any human being can achieve the highest spiritual state of existence….
The Vajrasuchi Upanishad survives into the modern era in several versions. Manuscripts of the text were discovered and collected during the colonial times, and by early 19th-century eight copies of the manuscripts from North India and five copies from South India were known. Most versions were in Sanskrit in Devanagari script and two in Telugu language, in palm-leaf manuscript form, with some in damaged condition.There are differences in the text between these manuscripts, but the focus and central message is the same.
The date as well as the author of Vajrasuchi Upanishad is unclear. The Upanishad is attributed to Sankaracharya in the manuscripts discovered by early 1800s.Sankaracharya, also known as Adi Shankara, was an Advaita Vedanta scholar, but given the Indian tradition of dedicating and attributing texts to revered historical scholars, there is uncertainty whether texts attributed to Adi Shankara were actually composed by him or in the 8th-century he likely lived in.
After the discovery of palm-leaf manuscripts of the Vajrasuchi Upanishad manuscript, a Buddhist text attributed to 2nd-century CE Asvaghosa was published from Nepal in 1835 with the same title Vajrasuchi, which is similar in its message as the Vajrasuchi Upanishad. This added to the complications in dating and in determining the author of the text. However, the authenticity of the Buddhist text, and whether its author was Asvaghosa is considered seriously doubtful, according to many scholars,and most recently by Patrick Olivelle. Schrader states that the Vajrasuchi attributed to Asvaghosa, “though seemingly an independent work, in fact is nothing but a Buddhist commentary on or elaboration of the first part of Vajrasucyupanisad, with many quotations from Sruti and Smriti”.
This text is also sometimes titled as Vajrasucika Upanishad, Vajra suchika Upanishad, Vajrasuci Upanishad, Vajrasucy Upanishad and Vajrasucyupanishad. In the Telugu language anthology of 108 Upanishads of the Muktika canon, narrated by Rama to Hanuman, it is listed at number 36..
The text asserts, in verse 2, that there are four varnas: the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra.The Brahmin, states the text, is declared by Smriti to be chief.But what does this mean, is this social division justified by Jiva (life, soul), Deha (body), Jati (birth), Jnana (knowledge), Karma (deeds), Dharmic (virtues or performer of rites)?
The Jiva does not make anyone a Brahmana, states the text, because with rebirth the Jiva migrates from one body to another, this Jiva remains the same individuality while the body changes. Thus, it is not Jiva which can determine whether one is a Brahmana, asserts verse 3.
The Deha or body does not make anyone a Brahmana, according to the text,because every human being’s body is the same, constituted of the same five elements, everyone ages, everyone dies, people from all classes show various combinations of dharma (virtue) and adharma(vice) characteristics. All color complexions similarly, asserts the text, are found is all castes and those who are outcaste.Thus, states verse 4 of the Upanishad, it is not the body which can determine whether one is a Brahmana.
Does Jati or birth make a Brahmana? It is not so states the text, because sacred books tell of great Rishi (sages) born in various castes and diverse origins, such as Vyasa from a fisherman’s daughter, Kaushika from Kusa grass, Valmiki from an ant hill, Gautama from the hare’s posterior, Vasistha from a celestial nymph, Jambuka from a Jackal and Agastya from a mud-based vessel. Regardless of their birth origins, they achieved greatness.Therefore, asserts verse 5 of the Upanishad, it is not the birth which can determine whether one is a Brahmana.
Jnana or knowledge too does not make a Brahmana, asserts the text. It is not so because among Kshtriyas and others, there are many who have seen the Highest Reality and Truth, and therefore Brahmin knowledge is not what makes the Brahmana.
Karma or deeds do not make a Brahmana, continues the text, because all living beings perform the same deeds, past and future embodiments are common, and everyone is impelled by past. Thus, asserts the text in verse 7, deeds do not make the Brahmana.
The text in verse 8 states that Dharmic action is not the essence of the Brahmana either. Many Kshatriyas give away gold, such virtuous actions and anyone performing religious rituals is not what makes a Brahmana.
Brahmana: the Vajrasuchi doctrine.
Who indeed then is Brahmana, rhetorically repeats the verse 9 of the text. Whoever he may be, answers the Upanishad, he is the one who has directly realized his Atman(innermost self, soul). He is the one who understands that his soul is without a second, is devoid of class, is devoid of actions, is devoid of faults. He knows that the Atman is truth, is knowledge, is bliss and is eternity. He is the one who knows that the same soul in him is in everyone, is in all things, pervading within and without, something that can be felt but not reasoned. He is the one who is free from malice, who fulfills his nature, is not driven by cravings for worldly objects or desire or delusions. He is the one who lives a life untouched by spite, ostentation, pride or the need to impress others,
Vajrasuchika Upanishad Text, Translation.
॥ वज्रसूचिका उपनिषत् ॥
॥ श्री गुरुभ्यो नमः हरिः ॐ ॥
यज्ञ्ज्ञानाद्यान्ति मुनयो ब्राह्मण्यं परमाद्भुतम् ।
तत्रैपद्ब्रह्मतत्त्वमहमस्मीति चिंतये ॥
ॐ आप्यायन्त्विति शान्तिः ॥
चित्सदानन्दरूपाय सर्वधीवृत्तिसाक्षिणे ।
नमो वेदान्तवेद्याय ब्रह्मणेऽनन्तरूपिणे ॥
ॐ वज्रसूचीं प्रवक्ष्यामि शास्त्रमज्ञानभेदनम् ।
दूषणं ज्ञानहीनानां भूषणं ज्ञानचक्षुषाम् ॥ १॥
ब्राह्मक्षत्रियवैष्यशूद्रा इति चत्वारो वर्णास्तेषां वर्णानां ब्राह्मण एव
प्रधान इति वेदवचनानुरूपं स्मृतिभिरप्युक्तम् ।
तत्र चोद्यमस्ति को वा ब्राह्मणो नाम किं जीवः किं देहः किं जातिः किं
ज्ञानं किं कर्म किं धार्मिक इति ॥
तत्र प्रथमो जीवो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । अतीतानागतानेकदेहानां
जीवस्यैकरूपत्वात् एकस्यापि कर्मवशादनेकदेहसंभवात् सर्वशरीराणां
जीवस्यैकरूपत्वाच्च । तस्मात् न जीवो ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि देहो ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । आचाण्डालादिपर्यन्तानां मनुष्याणां
जरामरणधर्माधर्मादिसाम्यदर्शनत् ब्राह्मणः श्वेतवर्णः क्षत्रियो
रक्तवर्णो वैश्यः पीतवर्णः शूद्रः कृष्णवर्णः इति नियमाभावात् ।
पित्रादिशरीरदहने पुत्रादीनां ब्रह्महत्यादिदोषसंभवाच्च ।
तस्मात् न देहो ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि जाति ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । तत्र
जात्यन्तरजन्तुष्वनेकजातिसंभवात् महर्षयो बहवः सन्ति ।
ऋष्यशृङ्गो मृग्याः, कौशिकः कुशात्, जाम्बूको जाम्बूकात्, वाल्मीको
वाल्मीकात्, व्यासः कैवर्तकन्यकायाम्, शशपृष्ठात् गौतमः,
वसिष्ठ उर्वश्याम्, अगस्त्यः कलशे जात इति शृतत्वात् । एतेषां
जात्या विनाप्यग्रे ज्ञानप्रतिपादिता ऋषयो बहवः सन्ति । तस्मात्
न जाति ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । क्षत्रियादयोऽपि
परमार्थदर्शिनोऽभिज्ञा बहवः सन्ति । तस्मात् न ज्ञानं ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि कर्म ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । सर्वेषां प्राणिनां
प्रारब्धसञ्चितागामिकर्मसाधर्म्यदर्शनात्कर्माभिप्रेरिताः सन्तो जनाः
क्रियाः कुर्वन्तीति । तस्मात् न कर्म ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति चेत् तन्न । क्षत्रियादयो हिरण्यदातारो बहवः
सन्ति । तस्मात् न धार्मिको ब्राह्मण इति ॥
तर्हि को वा ब्रह्मणो नाम । यः कश्चिदात्मानमद्वितीयं जातिगुणक्रियाहीनं
अनुभवैकवेद्यमपरोक्षतया भासमानं करतळामलकवत्साक्षादपरोक्षीकृत्य
कृतार्थतया कामरागादिदोषरहितः शमदमादिसम्पन्नो भाव मात्सर्य
तृष्णा आशा मोहादिरहितो दम्भाहङ्कारदिभिरसंस्पृष्टचेता वर्तत
एवमुक्तलक्षणो यः स एव ब्राह्मणेति शृतिस्मृतीतिहासपुराणाभ्यामभिप्रायः
अन्यथा हि ब्राह्मणत्वसिद्धिर्नास्त्येव ।
सच्चिदानान्दमात्मानमद्वितीयं ब्रह्म भावयेदित्युपनिषत् ॥
ॐ आप्यायन्त्विति शान्तिः ॥
॥ इति वज्रसूच्युपनिषत्समाप्ता ॥
॥ भारतीरमणमुख्यप्राणंतर्गत श्रीकृष्णार्पणमस्तु ॥
Translation by Madras Giridhar
giridhar at chemeng.Isc.ernet.in
This is the translation of vajrasUchi upaniShad of sAmaveda . VajrasUchi
means diamond needle . This translation is taken from the book `Thirty
Minor upanishads' translated by Narayanasvami Aiyar and is published by the
Adyar Press, Madras.
I now proceed to declare the vajrasUchi - the weapon that is the
destroyer of ignorance- which condemns the ignorant and praises the man of
There are four castes - the brAhmaNa, the kShatriya, the vaishya,
and the shudra . Even the smritis declare in accordance with the words of
the vedas that the brAhmaNa alone is the most important of them.
Then this needs to be examined . What is meant by the brAhmaNa ?
Is it a jIva ? Is it a body ? Is it a class ? It is j~nAna ? Is it karma
? Or is it a doer of Dharma ?
To begin with : is jIva the brAhmaNa ? No . Since the jiva is
the same in the many past and future bodies (of all persons), and since
the jIva is the same in all of the many bodies obtained through the
force of karma, there jIva is not the brAhmaNa.
Then is the body the brAhmaNa ? No . Since the body, as it is
made up of the five elements, is the same for all people down to
chaNdAla-s, etc., since old age and death, dharma and adharma are found
to be common to them all, since there is no absolute distinction that the
brAhmaNas are white-colored, the kShatriyas red, the vaishyas yellow,
and the shudras dark, and since in burning the corpse of his father,
etc., the stain of the murder of a brAhmaNa, etc., will accrue to the
son, etc., therefore the body is not the brAhmaNa.
Then is a class the brAhmaNa ? No . Since many rishis have sprung
from other castes and orders of creation - RishyashRi.nga was born of
deer; kaushika, of kusha grass; jAmbuka of a jackal; vAlmiki of
valmIka (an ant-hill); vyAsa of a fisherman's daughter; gautama, of the
posteriors of a hare; vasishtha of Urvasi (a celestial nymph in the
court of Indra); and agastya of a water-pot; thus have we heard . Of
these, many rishis outside the caste have stood first among the teachers
of divine wisdom; therefore a class is not the brAhmaNa.
Is j~nAna the brAhmaNa ? No . Since there were many kShatriyas and
others well versed in the cognition of divine Truth, therefore j~nAna is
not the brAhmaNa.
Then is karma the brAhmaNa ? No . Since the prArabdha, sanchita,
Agami karmas are the same for all beings, and since all people perform
their actions impelled by karma, therefore karma is not the brAhmaNa.
Then is the doer of dharma (virtuous actions) the brAhmaNa ? No.
Since there are many kShatriyas, etc., who are givers of gold, therefore
a doer of virtuous actions is not the brAhmaNa.
Who indeed then is brAhmaNa ? Whoever he may be, he who has
directly realised his AtmA and who is directly cognizant, like the
myrobalan in his palm, of his AtmA, that is without a second, that is
devoid of class and actions, that is free from the faults of faults of
the six stains (hunger, thirst, grief, confusion, old age, and death) and
the six changes (birth, existence etc), that is of the nature of truth,
knowledge, bliss and eternity, that is without any change in itself, that
is the substratum of all the kalpas, that exists penetrating all things
that pervades everything within and without as AkAsh, that is of nature
of undivided bliss, that cannot be reasoned about and that is known only
by direct cognition . He who by the reason of having obtained his wishes
is devoid of the faults of thirst after worldly objects and passions, who
is the possessor of the qualifications beginning with sAma (dama,
uparati, titikShA, samadhana, sraddha), who is free from emotion,
malice, thirst after worldly objects, desire, delusion, etc., whose mind
is untouched by pride, egoism, etc., who possesses all these qualities
and means- he only is the brAhmaNa.
Such is the opinion of the veda, the smritis, the itihAsa, and
the purANa-s . Otherwise one cannot obtain the status of a brahmaNa . One
should meditate on his Atma as sachchidAnanda, and the non-dual
brahman . Yea, one should meditate on his Atma as the sachchidAnanda
brahman . Such is the upaniShad.
OM tat sat
Encoded any proofread by H.P. Raghunandan at hpraghu at genius.tisl.soft.net
OR Shrisha Rao shrao at dvaita.org
Translation by Madras Giridhar giridhar at chemeng.Isc.ernet.in
Om ! May my organs and limbs, my speech, my breath, my strength and my sense organs like the ear, the eyes etc., become efficient enough to perform their respective duties properly and without any hindrance. Everything is Brahman as propounded and abundantly made clear in the Upanishads. Brahman cannot leave me aside. And I cannot afford to leave Brahman aside (since both are inseparably dovetailed and also since both are one and the same). I pray further that such an inseparable relation may continue for times to come. May I also pray that the virtues (as described in the Upanishads) of those wise men who dwell in the Atma (or the Soul) become part of me and reside in me.
Om Shanti ! Shanti ! Shanti !
Om! I shall now explain the Vajra-soosi Upanishad. (As the Vajra Soosi – a needle made of diamond – is used to pierce hard metal and minerals, so is) This Upanishad pierces the substance of Ignorance or avidyaa. For those who do not possess the (spiritual) Knowledge, it appears as a blank, useless piece whilst for those who have the bent towards this, it serves as a treasure of knowledge.
The Vedas and the Smrutis, (the secondary remembered texts which are supportive documents to the Vedas) talk about four classes of people viz., the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas and the Sudras and they proclaim that the Brahmanas (not the Brahman – this is the Brahmana) are the most important of these. We should now enquire in to this and make an analytical review. Who is a Brahmanan? Is it the Jivan (the life or the Atma), is it the body, or the sect, or the knowledge, or the duties (cast on him), or is it the dharmas (the virtues he is bound to follow).
Primarily, if we say that the Jivan is the Brahmanan, it is just unacceptable. It is because of the fact that the Jivan is very much the same in all the different bodies that went (died) and are to come (to be born) and also because even if the Jivan is the same, he takes on many different bodies in accordance with the deeds of his and in all such bodies and shapes, the Jivan remains the same. So, one cannot conclude that Jivan is the Brahmanan.
However, if we try to say that the Body is the Brahmanan that again is unacceptable. This is because the body constituted of the five basic elements is very much the same for people of all classes up to those at the lowest level. Also the bodies of all classes of people are subject to almost the same sort of diseases and death and the body of each class is not any different in color so as to help distinction by color. Further, since the sons of a Brahmanan are not discredited with the blemish of “Brahmahathi” when they set fire to their father’s body, the body cannot be the Brahmanan.
But if we try to conclude that because of being (born) in a particular sect, one becomes a Brahmanan, this again is incomprehensible. This is because great wise men (Maharishis) have been given birth to by people of the lowest classes and even by creatures. To quote examples, the Rishi Rushyasrngar was given birth to by a deer, the great sage Kowsika was born of Dharba Grass (a variety of tall grass used for spiritual karmas), the sage Vaalmiki rose out of a mud-clan snakes’ nest, Veda Vyaasa was born to a girl of the fishing community, the sage Gowthama was born to a rabbit, the great rishi Vasishta was born to Oorvasi, who belonged to an artists’ (dancing) family, the sage Agasthya who is also referred to as Kumbha Muni is called so because he is believed to have born out of a pot or a Kumbha. We have heard of all these from the wise men. We have also heard about great men who have attained the spiritual knowledge even without attaining a birth like this. Hence, it is not right to say that one becomes a Brahmanan simply by reason of his being (born) in a particular sect or community.
If we try concluding that someone is a Brahmanan because of his knowledge that again is undependable. This is because there are umpteen examples of people born in the Kshatriya clan who have had a vision of the Supreme Divine and have gained the (spiritual) knowledge thereby. Thus, it will not be an acceptable decision.
If we try to conclude that someone is a Brahmanan because of the duties he is supposed to be performing, that again is invalid. This is because all the beings are guided and forced to do certain acts and duties based on their previous births and based upon their actions therein. Hence, one cannot be called as a Brahmanan even by the duties.
If we try concluding that one becomes a Brahmanan just by making certain gifts etc, that is unacceptable since we know of and have heard of a number of Kshatriya and other community people who have flooded the needy with a lot of gifts. Hence, it is not proper to identify one as a Brahmanan by this measure as well.
So, if there is a question as to “Who is a Brahmanan?”, it is that one who possesses the following qualities: The one who has identified himself with the Supreme Being and has become inseparable with it, the one who has no differentiation of sect, clan, duty or nature, who is out of the six stages of birth and death, who has crossed all the blemishes and curses, who has the aspects of truth, knowledge, happiness, joy and completeness in him, who is without a blemish and forms the basis of all imaginations, who resides within all living beings and controls them, who is all-pervading but undivided and joyous like the sky, who is not reachable to the mind and understandable only by practice and experience, who is of the aspect of Atma itself and who is unaffected by love and hate, who has destroyed the humanly diseases like desire, jealousy, greed etc, the one who is untouched by pride, the one who has the muktha lakshanam or who has satisfied the requirements of one awaiting liberation, such is the one who can be called and identified as a Brahmanan. This is the final understanding and verdict of all Vedas and Smrutis, the Puranas and the Ithihaasas.
There is no Brahmanism even if it goes against just one of these principles. One should understand the Atma as the truly joyous, non-dualistic Brahman. That truly joyous Brahman should be understood as the Atma. Such is the verdict of the Upanishad.
Om Shanti ! Shanti ! Shanti !
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