Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Vajrasuchika Upanishad- The Essence of Varna System

The recent events at Una in Gujarat and the widespread cases of Dalit atrocities all over India have yet again raised the issue of Jati/Varna system and its relevance in the modern world. We are approaching the UP elections in early 2017 when it is expected that polarisation on caste lines will be at its peak. In almost every aspect of life of an ordinary Indian, his caste will play an important role in determining his world view. It's a well known fact that caste has kept the Hindu society divided till this date, worse, these fault lines are used by the "Break India" forces as an instrument of proxy war. Thus, in the larger interest of Hindu society, assimilation and admixture of communities has become a necessity to ensure our survival. 

However, it will be too simplistic to say that the voices for abolition of caste system were raised only in 20th century. Ancient Indian history is ripe with evidences of well learned men questioning the basis of classifying the society on the basis of labour and later, on basis of birth. It is a separate issue whether they were able to change the viewpoint of the society or not. The moot point is that the ill effect of this social stratification was recognised by some in the ancient ages itself. 

Upanishads (Composed between 1000BCE- 600BCE) are the pinnacle of ancient Indian thought. The brilliant concepts of Brahman, Maya, Atman, Transmigration of Soul, Rebirth and Moksha are the gifts of the Upanishads. The central theme of Upanishads is that all are evolved from the supreme, indestructible Almighty and that our final aim is to achieve Him. The Ghosha-Vakyas or commandments of the Upanishads like Aham Brahmasmi, Tat-Tvam-Asi, etc have enthralled the human conscience for ages. The Muktika cannon names around 108 Upanishads out of which we get to hear names of the important Upanishads only like Brihadaranyaka, Chhandogya, Shvetashvatara, Taittiriya, Kena, Ishavasya, etc. However, the smaller and lesser known Upanishads also carry pearls of wisdom in an equal manner. The Upanishad that we are going to see today is called Vajrasuchika Upanishad. 

Vajrasuchika Upanishad is as small as a few pages but has wisdom that even a full studied thesis will not be able to capture. Its tenets might be called as cliche in today's world but a society where casteism was the main rule, this crisp text was a courageous attempt to criticise the norm of the day. It is composed by Ashvaghosha, the famous author of the Sanskrit treatises Buddha-Charita and Saundarananda.  Ashvaghosha was born in Saketa in 2nd century CE and is regarded as the greatest litterateur before the age of Kalidasa. The reader may note the irony- Manu Smriti is also composed in 2nd century CE, same as the time of Ashvaghosha when he was questioning casteism ! 

The interesting name of the Upanishad calls for a clarification.

  • Vajra - Diamond / Iron or hard
  • Suchika - Needle

Thus the word Vajrasuchika means (a doctrine that is) small as a needle but hard as a diamond !

Let's get to the main content of the Upanishad

"Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudras - these are the four Varnas.
Amongst these castes, Brahmins indeed are the supreme (Pradhana)- this accords with the statements of the Vedas and is stated by the Smritis also.

In this regard, the following inquiry is made:
Who indeed has the designation 'Brahmin'? Is he the individual soul (Jiva)? Is he the body? Is it the class based on birth or one’s lineage ? Is it the knowledge (that is responsible for Brahminhood)? Is it the ritualistic karma or fruits thereof ? Is he the performer of meritorious acts (Dharmika)?" 

"Of these options, if the first i.e. 'the Jiva is Brahmin' is considered, then no (i.e., this cannot be true) because the nature (Rupa) of the Jiva remains the same in the bodies it assumed in previous lives and also in the future bodies.
Impelled by the fruit of its actions, the Jiva attains numerous bodies (in different births) and in all these bodies, the nature of the Jiva remains the same.
Therefore, the designation 'Brahmin' cannot apply to the Jiva."

"Then, if it is said that the body has the designation 'Brahmin', then no (i.e., this cannot be true),
Because the bodies of all human beings down to the Chandalas (= Outcastes) have the same nature since they are composed of the same 5 elements;
Because features like death, birth, vice and virtue are seen in all bodies;
Because of the absence of the rule that Brahmins are white, Kshatriyas are red, Vaishyas are yellow and Shudras are black.
Because upon cremating the corpses of their fathers/elders and others , one would get tainted with the sin of Brahminicide.
Because of these reasons, the body cannot bear the designation 'Brahmin'."  

"Then, if is said that the class by birth (or familial lineage or genus) bears the designation 'Brahmin', then no (i.e., this cannot be true), because there are several non-human species from whom numerous great Sages emerged.
We hear from the sacred texts that
- Sage Rsyasrnga was born of a deer,
- Sage Kausika of the Kusa grass,
- Sage Jambuka from a jackal,
- Sage Valmiki from white termite hill,
- Sage Vyasa from a fisher woman,
- Sage Gautama from the back of a hare,
- Sage Vasishtha from Urvashi- the celestial nymph
- Sage Agastya from a pitcher.
Amongst these, there have been many Sages who have been amongst the foremost of men that  have demonstrated spiritual realization.
Therefore, it is not one's class by birth that can be taken as (the determinant of the designation) ‘Brahmin'." 

"Then, if it be said that spiritual knowledge is (the cause of) Brahminhood, no (i.e., this cannot be true), because amongst Kshatriyas and others, there are many who have realized the Supreme Reality and have attained Wisdom. Therefore knowledge does not determine Brahminhood.” 

(Note - Upanishads have multiple references of enlightened kings debating on philosophy like Janaka Videha, Ajatashatru Kashiraja, Ashvapati Kaikeya, etc who even outshone Brahmins)

"Then, if it is said that performance of karma or the fruits thereof (makes one) a Brahmin, no (i.e., this cannot be true), Because association with karma that has been commenced, karma done in the past and karma that will be done, is seen common to all creatures.
(Moreover) good men perform karmas, impelled by (the effects) their past karma.
Therefore, karma does not (make) one a Brahmin.” 

“Then, if it is said that (performance of) meritorious deeds (makes one) a Brahmin, no (i.e., this cannot be true), because there have been many Kshatriyas and others (Vaishyas and Shudras) who have (done meritorious deeds like having) gifted gold (to Brahmins, to religious institutions etc.).
Therefore, the performer of meritorious deeds is not (automatically) the Brahmin.” 

“Who indeed then bears the designation Brahmin? 
  • He (indeed) who, after having all his desires fulfilled as a result of perceiving (realising) directly, as an Amalaka fruit in one’s hand-- The Atman that is One without a second (or is beyond compare), - (That is) bereft of (distinctions of) clan and (is not composed of) the constituents of Prakriti (guNa-hInaM), and actionless, 
  • (That is) free of all defects like the six infirmities (viz. old age, death, sorrow, delusion, hunger and thirst) and the six states of existence/transformations (viz. birth, existence, growth/development, transformation, waning and perishing), 
  • (That is) of the nature of Immutable Reality, of Consciousness, Blissful and Infinite/Eternal, 
  • (That is) an Independent Entity (not deriving its existence and properties from anything else), (That is) devoid of determinations, but (itself) the support  of infinite determinations, 
  • (That is) present in all living and non-living beings as the immanent Soul, (Who) pervades the interior and envelopes the exterior of everything as ether, 
  • (That is) possesses the attribute of perfect and complete (akhanda) Bliss, 
  • (That is) incomparable, (That is) known only through one’s own (spiritual) experience (and not through reading of books or teaching by others) and is inferred only indirectly (because of It cannot be perceived by the senses);
  • Becomes free of the defects of desire, attachment and the like, becomes endowed with the (positive) qualities like tranquility etc., 
  • Becomes free of (negative) behaviours like jealousy, greed, expectations, delusion etc., and leads a life in which the mind  is not tainted  pretensions, ego and the like.He alone, 
  • Who possesses the aforementioned characteristics, is a Brahmin- such is (indeed) the import of Sruti, Smriti, Itihasa and the Puranas. 
  • There is no other way of attaining Brahminhood. Meditate upon Brahman, the Atman, (That is) of the nature of Immutable Reality, of Consciousness, Blissful and One without a second (or is beyond compare! Meditate upon Brahman!

Such is this Upanishad (secret/exalted) doctrine!” 


  1. From Skanda Purana

    जन्मना जायते शूद्रः. संस्कारात् द्विजं उच्यते |
    वेद-पाठात् भवेत् विप्रः ब्रह्म जानाति ब्राह्मणः| स्कंदपुराण ६.२३९.३१

    Great blog and good post too. Will visit again.

    1. There are a lot of scriptures having verses showing the liberal nature of ancient Indians. There is a need to gather them..