The Mahabharata Home
"Janaka said, 'Whence, O great Rishi, does this difference of colour arise among men belonging to the different orders? I desire to know this. Tell me this, O foremost of speakers! The Srutis say that the offspring one begets are one's own self. Originally sprung from Brahmana, all the inhabitants of the earth should have been Brahmanas. Sprung from Brahmanas, why have men betaken themselves to practices distinguished from those of Brahmanas.'
"Parasara said, 'It is as thou sayst, O king! The offspring procreated are none else than the procreator himself. In consequence, however, of falling away from penance, this distribution into classes of different colours has
taken place. When the soil becomes good and the seed also is good, the offspring produced become meritorious. If, however, the soil and seed become otherwise or inferior, the offspring that will be born will be inferior. They that are conversant with the scriptures know that when the Lord of all creatures set himself to create the worlds, some creatures sprang from his mouth, some from his arms, some from his thighs, and some from his feet. They that thus sprang from his mouth, O child, came to be called Brahmanas. They that sprang from his arms were named Kshatriyas. They, O king, that sprang from his thighs were the wealthy class called the Vaisyas. And, lastly, they that were born of his feet were the serving class, viz., the Sudras. Only these four orders of men, O monarch, were thus created. They that belong to classes over and other than these are said to have sprung from an intermixture of these. The Kshatriyas called Atirathas, Amvashthas, Ugras, Vaidehas, Swapakas, Pukkasas, Tenas, Nishadas, Sutas, Magadhas, Ayogas, Karanas, Vratyas, and Chandalas, O monarch, have all sprung from the four original orders by intermixture with one another.'
"Janaka said, 'When all have sprung from Brahmana alone, how came human beings to have diversity in respect of race? O best of ascetics, an infinite diversity of races is seen in this world. How could men devoted to penances attain, to the status of Brahmanas, though of indiscriminate origin? Indeed, those born of pure wombs and those of impure, all became Brahmanas.'
"Parasara said, 'O king, the status of high-souled persons that succeeded in cleansing their souls by penances could not be regarded as affected by their low births. Great Rishis, O monarch, by begetting children in indiscriminate wombs, conferred upon them the status of Rishis by means of their power of asceticism. My grandfather Vasishtha, Rishyasringa, Kasyapa, Veda, Tandya, Kripa, Kakshivat, Kamatha, and others, and Yavakrita, O king, and Drona, that foremost of speakers, and Ayu, and Matanga, and Datta, and Drupada, and Matsya, all these, O ruler of the Videhas, obtained their respective positions through penance as the means. Originally only four Gotras (races) arose, O monarch, viz., Angiras, Kasyapa, Vasishtha, and Bhrigu. In consequence of acts and behaviour, O ruler of men, many other Gotras came into existence in time. The names of those Gotras have been due to the penances of those that have founded them. Good people use them.'
"Janaka said, 'Tell me, O holy one, the especial duties of the several orders. Tell me also what their common duties are. Thou art conversant with everything.'
"Parasara said, 'Acceptance of gifts, officiation at the sacrifices of others, and the teaching of pupils, O king, are the especial duties of the Brahmanas. The protection of the other orders is proper for the Kshatriya. Agriculture, cattle-rearing, and trade are the occupations of the Vaisyas. While service of the (three) regenerate classes is the occupation, O king, of the Sudras. I have now told thee what the especial duties are of the four orders, O monarch. Listen now to me, O child, as I tell thee what the common duties are of all the four orders. Compassion, abstention from injury, heedfulness,
giving to others what is due to them, Sraddhas in honour of deceased ancestors, hospitality to guests, truthfulness, subjugation of wrath, contentedness with one's own wedded wives, purity (both internal and external), freedom from malice, knowledge of Self, and Renunciation,--these duties, O king, are common to all the orders. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas,--these are the three regenerate orders. All of them have an equal right to the performance of these duties, O foremost of men. These three orders, betaking themselves to duties other than those laid down for them, come to grief, O monarch (and fall down from their own status), even as they go up and acquire great merit by taking for their model some righteous individual of their respective classes who is duly observant of his own duties. The Sudra never falls down (by doing forbidden acts); nor is he worthy of any of the rites of regeneration. The course of duties flowing from the Vedas is not his. He is not interdicted, however, from practising the three and ten duties that are common to all the orders. O ruler of the Videhas, Brahmanas learned in the Vedas, O monarch, regard a (virtuous) Sudra as equal to Brahmana himself. I, however, O king, look upon such a Sudra as the effulgent Vishnu of the universe, the foremost one in all the worlds. 1 Persons of the lowest order, desiring to exterminate the evil passions (of lust and wrath, etc.) may betake themselves to the observance of the conduct of the good; and, indeed, while so acting, they may earn great merit by performing all rites that lead to advancement, omitting the mantras that are utterable by the other orders while performing the self-same ceremonies. Wherever persons of the lowest order adopt the behaviour of the good, they succeed in attaining to happiness in consequence of which they are able to pass their time in felicity both here and hereafter.'
"Janaka said, 'O great ascetic, is man stained by his acts or is he stained by the order or class in which he is born? A doubt has arisen in my mind. It behoveth thee to expound this to me.'
"Parasara said, 'Without doubt, O king, both, viz., acts and birth, are sources of demerit. Listen now to their difference. That man who, though stained by birth, does not commit sin, abstains from sin notwithstanding birth and acts. If, however, a person of superior birth perpetrates censurable acts, such acts stain him. Hence, of the two, viz., acts and birth, acts stain man (more than birth). 2
"Janaka said, 'What are those righteous acts in this world, O best of all regenerate persons, the accomplishment of which does not inflict any injury upon other creatures?'
"Parasara said, 'Hear from me, O monarch, about what thou askest me'
viz., those acts free from injury which always rescue man. Those who, keeping aside their domestic fires, have dissociated themselves from all worldly attachments, become freed from all anxieties. Gradually ascending step by step, in the path of Yoga, they at last behold the stage of highest felicity (viz., Emancipation). 1 Endued with faith and humility, always practising self-restraint, possessed of keen intelligence, and abstaining from all acts, they attain to eternal felicity. All classes of men, O king, by properly accomplishing acts that are righteous, by speaking the truth, and by abstaining from unrighteousness, in this world, ascend to heaven. In this there is no doubt.'"
361:1 Kam is Brahmanam. The commentator explains that Brahmana (the Creator) is equivalent to Brahmana; and that Vishnu is equivalent to Kshatriya. What is said, therefore, in this verse (according to him) is that a Sudra, by practising the common duties of all the four orders, succeeds in his next life in becoming a Brahmana. Thus say Brahmanas learned in the scriptures; but the opinion of Parasara is that such a Sudra, in his next life, takes birth as a Kshatriya.
361:2 I am not sure that I have understood these two verses correctly. Verse 33 is evidently a cruce.
362:1 Yathakarman means 'from one stage to another.' Karmapatham is yogam. The stages here referred to are vichara, vitarka, Ananda, and Asmita. What is stated in this verse is that one ho casts off all attachments, and who devotes himself to Yoga, succeeds in attaining to the felicity of Emancipation.
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