In this article we will discuss who a Brahmana (or Brahmin) is? We will discuss by taking references from Rig Veda(the earliest known shastra of Hindus), Bhagavat Gita (though Gita forms a part of Mahabharata, many scholars refer Gita as Gito-panishad) and Skanda Purana (one of the 18 Puranas) – essentially spanning from early Vedas to late Puranas.

Many people (Hindus and non-Hindus alike) perceive Brahmana as a temple priest. We will however go back to basics and understand the definition of who is and the qualifications needed to be a Brahmin.

  1. First, the Rig Vedic definition: According to a passage from the Purusha hymn (Rigveda 10.90), the Brahmin was the Purusha’s (Universal Cosimic being’s) head, the Kshatriya his arms, the Vaishya his thighs, and the Shudra his feet. This depiction of the Purusha, or cosmic man, gives an idea of the functions and mutual relations of the four main social classes. Lets understand what it means if the head of Purusha represented a Brahmin. What are the functions of head: First, head holds the brain which gives direction to the body. Second, mouth is located in the head. Mouth takes the food, but doesn’t keep the food for itself, it passes the food to the body which nourishes the full body. Third, Head also holds the nose, whose job is to breathe and thereby providing oxygen (power) for the entire body to function. Fourth, head holds the eyes and ears who pass on information to brain about all good and bad things in the vicinity thereby protecting the entire body. Since, the head is the Brahmin, (s)he is supposed to have the following 3 qualities/functions: First, ability to direct and guide the society (the brain), Second, the ability to renunciate (tyaga) i.e. take the resources (like mouth and nose) but help empower the society (body) and keep little for its own and third, keep the body (society) informed of the surroundings (eyes and ears).
  2. Second, the Bhagvat Gita (GitoPanishad) definition: Lord says in 4-13 “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“. Brahmins are supposed to have the Sattva guna predominant in them. Lord further describes what Sattva Guna in 14-22, 14-23, 14-24 and 14-25. which say “He who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present, nor longs for them when they disappear; who is seated like one unconcerned, …...” Also Lord says in 18-42 “Tranquility, restraint, austerity, purity, patience, integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and belief in a hereafter—these are the intrinsic qualities of work for Brahmins.” In Nutshell, Lord makes it amply clear that a Brahmin is an Austere, Composed, renunciated, devoted and a noble person. He no where says about a “so called Brahmin family”. Again when Devotee Arjuna asks Lord with folded hands in 6-38 and 6-39 that what happens to an unsuccessful transcendentalist who doesn’t attain the supreme in current birth. Lord replies in 6-41 that a failed transcendentalist takes birth in pious and virtuous family which facilitates him/her to pursue his/her further spiritual journey easily. Twisting the interpretation to say that the person will take birth in a dynastic Brahmin family is nothing short of hypocrisy.
  3. Third, the definition as per Skanda Purana(Vol.18 Book VI , Nagar Kanda , Chapter 239 , Verse 31-34): “Everyone is born Sudra, by accepting Samskara (Purificatory process) one becomes a Dvija(Twice Born), By study of Veda one becomes Vipra, Knower of Brahman is Brahmana.” It means a true brahmin has the divine vision, knowledge and powers. These verses clearly demolishes the present definition of who a Brahmin and Shudra is. You, me and every one is born Shudra i.e. ignorant. You, me, he, she has right to bear a sacred thread and become a Dvija. But if one attains the qualities described above, then only (s)he becomes a Brahmin.

In nutshell, No where it is mentioned that Brahmins are others are hereditary. And all the three definitions are consistent.

It is amply clear that Brahmins are never born, they are self-made. Why?

Going by definition #1, one needs to be renunciated to become a Brahmin, it is not easy as it is the natural tendency of a Jiva is to be selfish. One needs to go above and beyond a normal jiva’s tendencies (also called maya by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) to be a Brahmin.

Again going by the Definition #1, I consider Modiji, Guru Nanak, Abraham Lincoln, Issac Newton, Abdul Kalam, Swami Vivekananda etc. as Brahmins.

Do the priests running behind devotees for extorting money fall in to any of the above definitions of a Brahmin?

People also say, Brahmins have become greedy. I blatantly disagree, A greedy/selfish person is not a Brahmin.

It is also argued that Brahmins became corrupt and that’s why India suffered during middle ages. I again blatantly disagree. The Hindu society(during middle ages) became corrupt due to which it did not produce enough Brahmins. And that’s the reason behind the down fall of Hindus.

We Hindus need to go back to our basic definition of a Brahmin and produce more Brahmins.

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