The Mahabharata Home
"Uma said, 'O holy one, O thou that didst tear off the eyes of Bhaga and the teeth of Pushan, O destroyer of the sacrifice of Daksha, O three-eyed deity, I have a great doubt. In days of yore, the Self-born One created the four orders. Through the evil consequence of what acts cloth a Vaisya become a Sudra? Through what acts doth a Kshatriya become a Vaisya and a regenerate person (Brahmana) becomes a Kshatriya? By what means may such degradation of castes be prevented? Through what acts does a Brahmana take birth in his next life, in the Sudra order? Through what acts, O puissant deity, does a Kshatriya also descend to the status of Sudra? O sinless one, O lord of all created beings, do thou, O illustrious one, dispel this doubt of mine. How, again, can the three other orders naturally succeed in attaining to the status of Brahmanhood?'
"The illustrious one said, 'The status of a Brahmana, O goddess, is exceedingly difficult to attain. O auspicious lady, one becomes a Brahmana through original creation or birth. After the same manner the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra, all become so through original creation. Even this is my opinion 1. He, however, that is born a Brahmana falls away from his status through his own evil acts. Hence, the Brahmana, after having attained to the status of the first order, should always protect it (by his acts). If one, who is a Kshatriya or Vaisya, lives in the practice of those duties that are assigned to the Brahmana, after the manner of a Brahmana he becomes (in his next life) a Brahmana. That Brahmana who casts off the duties of his order for following those assigned for the Kshatriya, is regarded as one that has fallen away from the status of a Brahmana and that has become a Kshatriya. That Brahmana of little understanding, who, impelled by cupidity and folly, follows the practices assigned to Vaisyas forgetful of his status as a Brahmana that is exceedingly difficult to attain, comes to be regarded as one that has become a Vaisya. Similarly, one that is a Vaisya by birth may, by following the practices of a Sudra, become a Sudra. Indeed, a Brahmana, falling away from the duties of his own order, may descend to the status of even a Sudra, Such a Brahmana, falling away from the order of his birth and turned out of it, without attaining to the region of Brahmana (which is his goal if he duly observes his own duties), sinks into Hell and in his next birth becomes born as a Sudra. A highly blessed Kshatriya or a Vaisya, that abandons those practices of his that are consistent with the duties laid down for his order, and follows the practices laid down for the Sudra, falls away from his own order and becomes a person of mixed caste. It is in this way that a Brahmana. or a Kshatriya, or a
[paragraph continues] Vaisya, sinks into the status of a Sudra. That man who has attained to clearness of vision through practice of the duties of his own order, who is endued with knowledge and science, who is pure (in body and mind), who is conversant with every duty and devoted to the practice of all his duties, is sure to enjoy the rewards of righteousness. I shall now recite to thee, O goddess, a saying uttered by Brahma (the Self-born) on this subject. Those that are righteous and desirous of acquiring merit always pursue with firmness the culture of the soul. The food that comes from cruel and fierce persons is censurable. So also is the food that has been cooked for serving a large number of persons. The same is said of the food that is cooked in view of the first Sraddha of a deceased person. So also is the food that is stained in consequence of the usual faults and the food that is supplied by a Sudra. These should never be taken by a Brahmana at any time 1. The food of a Sudra, O goddess, is always disapproved of by the high-souled deities. Even this, I think, is the authority enunciated by the Grandsire with his own mouth. If a Brahmana, who has set up the sacred fire and who performs sacrifices, were to die with any portion of a Sudra's food remaining undigested in his stomach, he is sure to take birth in his next life as a Sudra. In consequence of those remains of a Sudra's food in his stomach, he falls away from the status of a Brahmana. Such a Brahmana becomes invested with the status of a Sudra. There is no doubt in this. This Brahmana in his next life becomes invested with the status of that order upon whose food he subsists through life or with the undigested portion of whose food in his stomach he breathes his last. 2 That man who, having attained to the auspicious status of a Brahmana which is so difficult to acquire, disregards it and eats interdicted food, falls away from his high status. That Brahmana who drinks alcohol, who becomes guilty of Brahmanicide or mean in his behaviour, or a thief, or who breaks his vows, or becomes impure, or unmindful of his Vedic studies, or sinful, or characterised by cupidity, or guilty of cunning or cheating, or who does not observe vows, or who weds a Sudra woman, or who derives his subsistence by pandering to the lusts of other people or who sells the Soma plant, or who serves a person of an order below his, falls away from his status of Brahmanahood. 3 That Brahmana
who violates the bed of his preceptor, or who cherishes malice towards him, or who takes pleasure in speaking ill of him, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood even if he be conversant with Brahman. By these good acts, again, O goddess, when performed, a Sudra becomes a Brahmana, and a Vaisya becomes a Kshatriya. The Sudra should perform all the duties laid down for him, properly and according to the ordinance. He should always wait, with obedience and humility, upon person of the three other orders and serve them with care. Always adhering to the path of righteousness, the Sudra should cheerfully do all this. He should honour the deities and persons of the regenerate orders. He should observe the vow of hospitality to all persons. With senses kept under subjection and becoming abstemious in food, he should never approach his wife except in her season. He should ever search after persons that are holy and pure. As regards food, he should eat that which remains after the needs of all persons have been satisfied. If, indeed, the Sudra desires to be a Vaisya (in his next life), he should also abstain from meat of animals not slain in sacrifices. If a Vaisya wishes to be a Brahmana (in his next life), he should observe even these duties. He should be truthful in speech, and free from pride or arrogance. He should rise superior to all pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, joy and sorrow, etc.) He should be observant of the duties of peace and tranquillity. He should adore the deities in sacrifices, attend with devotion to the study and recitation of the Vedas, and become pure in body and mind. He should keep his senses under subjection, honour the Brahmanas, and seek the welfare of all the orders. Leading the domestic mode of life and eating only twice a day at the prescribed hours he should gratify his hunger with only such food as remains after the needs have been satisfied of all the members of his family with dependants and guests. He should be abstemious in food, and act without being impelled by the desire of reward. He should be free from egotism. He should adore the deities in the Agnihotra and pour libations according to the ordinance. Observing the duties of hospitality towards all persons, he should, as already said, eat the food that remains after serving all others for whom it has been cooked. He should, according to the ordinance laid down, worship the three fires. Such a Vaisya of pure conduct takes birth in his next life in a high Kshatriya family. 1 If a Vaisya, after having taken birth as a Kshatriya, goes through the usual purificatory rites, becomes invested with the sacred thread, and betakes himself to the observance of vows, he becomes, in his next life, an honoured Brahmana. Indeed, after his birth as a Kshatriya, he should make presents, adore the deities in great sacrifices with plentiful Dakshinas, study the Vedas, and desirous
of attaining to Heaven should worship the three fires. He should interfere for dispelling the sorrows of the distressed, and should always righteously cherish and protect those subjects that own his sway. He should be truthful, and do all acts that have truth in them, and seek happiness in conduct like this. He should award punishments that are righteous, without laying aside the rod of chastisement for good. He should induce men to do righteous deeds. Guided by considerations of policy (in the matter of swaying his people), he should take a sixth of the produce of the fields. 1 He should never indulge in sexual pleasure, but live cheerfully and in independence, well-conversant with the science of Wealth or Profit. Of righteous soul, he should seek his wedded spouse only in her season. He should always observe fasts, keep his soul under control, devote himself to the study of the Vedas, and be pure in body and mind. He should sleep on blades of Kusa grass spread out in his fire, chamber. He should pursue the aggregate of Three (viz., Righteousness, Wealth, and Pleasure), and be always cheerful. Unto Sudras desirous of food, he should always answer that it is ready. He should never desire any thing from motives of gain or pleasure. He should worship the Pitris and gods and guests. In his own house he should live the life of a mendicant. He should duly adore the deities in his Agnihotra, morning, noon, and evening every day, by pouring libations agreeably to the ordinance. With his face turned towards the foe, he should cast off his life-breath in battle fought for the benefit of kine and Brahmanas. Or he may enter the triple fires sanctified with Mantras and cast off his body. By pursuing this line of conduct he takes birth in his next life as a Brahmana. Endued with knowledge and science, purified from all dross, and fully conversant with the Vedas, a pious Kshatriya, by his own acts, becomes a Brahmana. It is with the aid of these acts, O goddess, that a person who has sprung from a degraded order, viz., a Sudra, may become a Brahmana refined of all stains and possessed of Vedic lore, One that is a Brahmana, when he becomes wicked in conduct and observes no distinction in respect of food, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood and becomes a Sudra. Even a Sudra, O goddess, that has purified his soul by pure deeds and that has subjugated all his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. This has been said by the Self-born Brahmana himself. When a pious nature and pious deeds are noticeable in even a Sudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three regenerate classes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A
[paragraph continues] Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of Brahma, O auspicious lady, is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in whom the status of Brahma exists,--that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it. The boon-giving Brahma, while he created all creatures, himself said that the distribution of human beings into the four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification. The Brahmana is a great field in this world,--a field equipped with feet for it moves from place to place. He who plants seeds in that field, O beautiful lady, reaps the crop in the next world. That Brahmana who wishes to achieve his own good should always live upon the remains of the food that may be there in his house after gratifying the needs of all others. He should always adhere to the path of righteousness. Indeed, he should tread along the path that belongs to Brahma. He should live engaged in the study of the Samhitas and remaining at home he should discharge all the duties of a householder. He should always be devoted to the study of the Vedas, but he should never derive the means of subsistence from such study. That Brahmana who always conducts himself thus, adhering to the path of righteousness, worshipping his sacred fire, and engaged in the study of the Vedas, comes to be regarded as Brahma. The status of a Brahmana once gained, it should always be protected with care, O thou of sweet smiles, by avoiding the stain of contact with persons born in inferior orders, and by abstaining from the acceptance of gifts. I have thus told thee a mystery, viz., the manner in which a Sudra may become a Brahmana, or that by which a Brahmana falls away from his own pure status and becomes a Sudra."
302:1 Nisargat is literally through creation or original nature, or birth. Of course, what is implied is that one becomes a Brahmana, or Kshatriya, or Vaisya or Sudra, through original creation as such, by the Self-born, that is, birth.
303:1 Ugra means a fierce or cruel person. It is also applied to signify a person of a mixed caste whose occupation is the slaughter of animals in the chase. The commentator is silent. I think, the food supplied by a fierce or cruel person is meant here, What is said in this verse is that the several kinds of food spoken of here should be renounced by a good Brahmana.
303:2 The sense is this: if a Brahmana dies with any portion of the food of a Sudra, a Vaisya, or a Kshatriya in his stomach, in his next life he has to take birth as a Sudra, a Vaisya, or a Kshatriya. If, again, during life he subsists upon food supplied to him by a Sudra, a Vaisya, or a Kshatriya, he has to take birth in his next life as a Sudra, a Vaisya, or a Kshatriya.
303:3 Kundasin means a pander. It may also imply one who eats from off the vessel in which the food eaten has been cooked without, that is, using plates or leaves.
304:1 The sense seems to be this: a Vaisya ultimately becomes a Brahmans by observing the duties indicated in verses 30 to 33. As the immediate reward, however, of his observance of these duties, he becomes a great Kshatriya. What he should next do in order to become a Brahmana is said in the verses that follow.
305:1 This may, besides, imply the taking of a sixth portion of the merits acquired by his subjects through the righteous deeds they perform.
Next: Section CXLIV