[ This chapter contains an illuminating exposition of the physics and metaphysics of sound. ]
" If the divisions of labour on a hereditary basis is good for all society, what specifically is the benefit gained from the vocation of Brahmins, that is preserving the Vedas? " is a question frequently asked.
The potter makes pots for you; the washerman launders your clothes; the weaver weaves clothes for you to wear; the cowherd brings you your milk; the peasant tills the land to grow rice for you to cook and eat. Everyone does some work or other essential in the life of everybody else. The rice (or wheat ) grown by the tiller sustains us all. The cloth woven by the weaver is indispensable to our modesty, it is also needed to keep us warm in the cold season. We drink the milk brought by the cowherd and also use it to make buttermilk; we cook our food in the pot made by the potter. We find that all jatis provide commodities useful for the society. What is the Brahmin's contribution in this context? What vocation is assigned to him by the Sastras which are the basis of varna dharma?
The Brahmin has to learn the Vedas by listening to his teacher chanting them; this is adhyayana. If adhyayana is chanting the Vedas, adhyapana is teaching the same. The sastras have charged the Brahmin with the additional duty of performing various rites including Vedic sacrifices.
The Vedas contain lofty truths. People in modern times may not be averse to the idea that these truths are worthy of being cherished. Society requires knowledge, arts, etc. The Vedas are a storehouse of knowledge. So the idea that we must have a special class of people to propagate the truths contained in the Vedas may seem reasonable enough. According to the sastras, however, such a special class is needed to preserve the sound of these scriptures. This class is constituted by the Brahmins and they perform their function on a hereditary basis. The idea that propagating the truths of the Vedas will help mankind may be acceptable to many, but not the belief that a small group of people can contribute to the good of the world by preserving the sound of the Vedas. The community stands to lose if the peasant does not till the land and the potter, weaver, carpenter, etc., do not do their respective jobs. But would you say the same thing about the work of the Brahmin? What difference would it make to the society if he ceased intoning the Vedas?
To understand the questions raised above we must first try to find out the nature of the Vedas. No purpose is served by approaching three subject entirely on an intellectual level. We must accept the words of great men who know the Vedas deep in their hearts. "How can we do that, sir? " some people might protest. "We are rationalists and we can be convinced of a truth or statement only on the basis of reason or direct knowledge. "
What do we do then? How can anyone claim, as a matter of right, that all subjects ought to be brought within the ken of human reasoning? Man is but one among countless creatures. Take for instance the experiments conducted by a physicist in his laboratory. Does a cow understand them? If the scientist formulates certain laws on the basis on his experiments, does the cow say that "These laws of physics do not exist"? But how are humans ignorant of physics to know about such laws? They trust the statements made by people proficient in the subject.
To illustrate, take the example of any common appliance. Let us assume that you are told that it works on the basis of certain principles of science. Don't you accept these principles by observing how the appliance works? In the same way we must have faith in what great men say about the Vedas, great men who live strictly adhering to the sastras. We must also place our faith on our scripture on the basis of the fruits or benefits yielded by them, the benefits we directly perceive. One such "fruit" is till there for all of us to see. It is Hinduism itself, the religion that has withstood the challenges of all these millennia. Our religion has produced more great men than any other faith. People have been rewarded with the highest inner well-being [the highest bliss] as a result of their faith in the Vedic tradition. There is no insistence on their part that everything on earth must be brought within the realm of reason or direct perception.
"The sages transcended the frontiers of human knowledge and became one with the Universal Reality. It is through them that the world received the Vedic mantras, " this is one of the basic concepts of our religion. If you do not accept that human beings can obtain such Atmic power as exemplified by these seers, any further talk on the subject would be futile. One could point to you great men whom you can see for yourself, great men who have perfected themselves and acquired powers not shared by the common people. But if you think of them to be cheats or fraudulent men, any further talk would again be useless. In your present state of limited understanding, the argument that denies the existence of anything beyond the range of human reason and comprehension itself betrays the height of rationalism.
You have come here to listen to me instead of going to a political meeting where you can hear interesting speeches. So I believe that few of you here are full-fledged rationalists. You may not therefore refuse to listen to me if I speak to you about why the Vedas should be preserved according to the time-honoured tradition. But it is also likely that even if some of you happen to be rationalists, you may still be willing to listen to me thinking that there may be some point in what the Svamiyar has to say.
Some people are at a loss to understand why the sound of the Vedas is given so much importance. How does sound originate or how is it caused? Where there is vibration, where there is movement or motion, there is sound. This is strictly according to rational science. Speech is constituted of vibrations of many kinds. We hear sounds with our ears. But these are sounds that are converted into electric waves and these we cannot hear. We know this from the working of the radio and the telephone. All that we hear or perceive others are indeed electric waves. Science has come to the point of recognizing all to be electric waves- the man who sees and listens, his brains, all are electric waves.
There are countless numbers of inert objects in the world- land masses and mountains, rivers and oceans, and so on. Also there are sentient creatures of many kinds. All of them must have been created out of something. During creation this something must have vibrated in many different ways and given rise to all that we see today. If all movements are sound, there must have existed numerous different kinds of sound before creation. In this creation one is sustained by another. In the process of mutual sustenance, different movements and sounds must be produced. It is not necessary that vibrations should form a part only of gross activities. Science has discovered that even our thinking process is a kind of electric current or energy. Each thought process is a form of electric current or energy and it must produce a vibration and a sound. This kind of sound being very subtle we do not hear it with our ears. Just as there are bacteria which we do not see with our naked eye, there are many sound that our ears do not pick up. According to science any physical or mental movement must produce a sound.
The idea that each movement produces its own sound may be put differently thus: to create a particular sound a particular movement must be produced. Take the case of vidvan singing. If you want to sing like him or creates birquas like him, you will have produce the same vibrations that he creates in his throat.
Sound and vibration(or motion) go together. The vibrations produce either a gross object or a mental state. We come to the conclusion that creation is a product of sound. This ancient concept is substantiated by science itself.
Creation, the many things connected with it, thoughts and movements and the sound associated with them fill space. What happens to the sound produced by the clapping of our hands? It remains in space. Good as well as bad action produce their own sounds as well as movements associated with them. Conversely, the creation of these types of movements will result in good as well as evil. To produce good thoughts in people, good movements must be created: the sounds corresponding to them must be produced. If we can generate such sounds for the good of mankind than such good thoughts? The mantras of the Vedas are sounds that have the power to inspire good thoughts in people.
One more thing. We need food for our sustenance. And to grow food there must be rain. The formation of clouds and their precipitation are dependent on certain vibrations. Rainfall depends on the production of particular sounds which, in turn, create particular vibrations. The same applies to all our needs in life. It is true that unnecessary and evil objects are also produced by sound. But the one and only goal of the sound of the Vedas is the creation of well-being throughout the world.
But are sound and vibrations spontaneously produced? If vibrations arise on their own they will be erratic and confusing and not related to one another. But what do we see in the cosmos? There is a certain orderliness about it and one thing in it is linked to another. What do we infer form this? That a Great Intelligence has formulated this scheme that we see, that it has created it from its own vibrations.
The Vedas are sounds emanating from the vibrations of this Great Intelligence, the Great Gnosis. That is why we believe that the mantras of the Vedas originate from the Paramatman himself. We must take special care of such sounds too ensure the good of the world. Yes, the Vedic mantras are sequences of sounds that are meant for the good of the world.
Doubts are expressed on this point. People argue: "We hear the mantras of the Vedic distinctly. But we do not hear the sounds in space, the sounds of creation. How can the two be the same? "
What exists in the cosmos in present in the individual being. The belief that the "microcosm" inherits the "macrocosm" is not in keeping with our commonsense view of things. But all people, including atheists, will agree that there are "instruments" in our body in the form of the senses that we can grasp what exists in the macrocosm. The sun in the macrocosm is felt by our body as heat. We perceive the flower in our garden through its scent. We savour the sweet taste of sugarcane with our tongue. With our eyes we learn that one object is red, that another it yellow.
Unless the macrocosm and microcosm are constituted of the same substance the one will not be able to be aware of the other. Indeed the very conduct of life will not be possible otherwise. If we go one step further, the truth will dawn on us that it is not merely that the macrocosm and the microcosm are constituted of the same substance but that it is the same substance that becomes the macrocosm and the microcosm. The yogins know this truth directly from their experience.
Whatever is present in space is also present in the individual being. These elements exists in the human body in a form that is accessible to the senses. The sounds a person makes in his throat have their source in space in a form not audible to us. The radio transforms electrical waves into sound waves. If a man can grasp the sounds in space and make them audible, he will be able to create with them what is needed for the good of the world. Yoga is the science that accomplishes such a task. Through yogic practice (perfection) one can become aware of what is in the macrocosm and draw it into the microcosm. I shall not be able to give you proof of this in a form acceptable to human reason. Yoga transcends our limited reason and understanding. The purpose of the Vedas is to speak about matters that are beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
You must have faith in the words of great men or else, to know the truth of such matters, you must practise yoga strictly observing its rules. It may not be practicable for all those who ask questions or harbour doubts about the Vedas to practice yoga in this manner. Even if you are prepared to accept the words of a true yogin, how are you, in the first place, to be convinced that he in indeed a true yogin and not a fraud? Altogether it means that you must have faith in someone, in something. Later such faith will be strengthened from your own observations, inference and experience. There is no point in speaking to people who have either no faith or refuse to develop it through their own experience.
There is a state in which the macrocosm and the microcosm are perceived as one. Great men there who have reached such a state and are capable of transforming what is subtle in the one into what is gross in the other. I am speaking here to those who believe in such a possibility.
When we look at this universe and their complex manner in which it functions, we realise that there must be a Great Wisdom that has created it and sustains it. It is from this Great Wisdom, that is the Paramatman, that all that we see are born and it is from It that all the sounds that we hear have emanated. First came the universe of sound and then the universe that we observe. Most of the former still exists in space. The space that exists outside us exists also in our heart. The yogins have experience of this hrdayakasa, this heart-sky or this heart-space, when they are in samadhi (absorbed in the Infinite). In this state of theirs all differences between the outward and the inward vanish and the two become one. The yogins can now grasp the sounds of space and bestow the same on mankind. These successions of sounds that bring benefits to the world are indeed the mantras of the Vedas.
These mantras are not the creation of anyone. Though each of them is in the name of a rsi or seer, in reality it is not his creation. When we say that a certain mantra has a certain sage associated with it, all that we mean is that it was he who first "saw" it existing without a beginning in space and revealed it to the world. The very word "rsi" means "mantra-drasta" (one who saw- discovered- the mantra), not "mantra-karta" (one who created the mantra). Our life is dependent on how our breathing functions. In the same way the cosmos functions in accordance with the vibrations of the Vedic sounds- so the Vedic mantras are the very breath of the Supreme Being. We must thus conclude that, without the Vedas, there is no Brahman: To put it differently, the Vedas are self-existent like the Paramatman.
The mantras of the Vedas are remarkable in that they bring blessings to the world in the form of sound- even if their meaning is not understood. Of course, they are pregnant with meaning and represent the lofty principle that it is the One Truth that is manifested as all that we perceive. They also confer blessing on us by taking the form of deities appropriate to the different sounds (of the mantras).
Sound does not bring any benefits, any fruits, by itself. Isvara alone is the bestower of benefits. However, instead of making the fruits available to us directly, he appoints deities to distribute them in the same manner as the king or president of a country appoints officials to carry out his dictates. The mantras represent various deities in the form of sound. If we attain perfection (siddhi) by constant chanting and meditation of a mantra, it should be possible for us to see the deity invoked in his physical form. The deities also arise if we make offerings into the sacrificial fire reciting specific mantras. If a sacrifice is conducted in this manner, the deities give us their special blessings. We do not pay taxes directly to the king or president. In the same way, we pay taxes in the form of sacrifices and Vedic chanting to the aides of the Paramatman for the sake of the welfare of the world. The sounds of the mantras constitute their form.
The Vedas have won the admiration of Western scholars for their poetic beauty. They bring us face to face with many deities- they bring us also their grace. Above all, through the Upanisads they teach us the great truths relating to the Self. The Vedas are thus known for the profundity of the truths contained in them, but their sound is no less important. Indeed their sound has its own significance and power. All mantras, it must be noted have power, not only Vedic mantras.
The sound of some mantras have greater value than their meaning. Their syllables chanted in a particular manner create a special energy, but their meaning has no special significance. Take the mantra recited to cure a man stung by a scorpion. The words, the syllables, constituting the mantra have no special meaning. Indeed, they say, the meaning is not to be told. But by chanting the mantra, the vibrations are caused in space and one stung by a scorpion will be cured: the potency of the syllables of the mantra is such. The efficacy of sounds varies with the difference mantras. Evil is caused by reciting certain mantras or formulae: this is called "abhicara"[understood as the black magic in the West]. In all this the clarity with which the syllables are enunciated is important. There was the practice of knocking off the teeth of those who practiced billi sunyam (a form of black magic). The black magician, if toothless, will not be able to articulate the mantras properly and so his spells will not have the intended effect. If the syllables of the spell are not clearly and properly enunciated, they will not give us the desired benefit. If we appreciate the fact that sounds have such power, the question of the language of the mantras loses it importance. It would be meaningless then to demand that the mantras must be expressed in some other language [that we understand]. It would be equally meaningless to wonder whether the mantras of the sraddha ceremony should be rendered into English, Tamil or some other language so that our departed parents would understand them better.
The Vedic mantras do good to all creatures in this world and the hereafter: we must have implicit faith in this belief. It is not proper to ask whether what we ourselves cannot here with our ears will be heard by the seers. There is such a thing as the divine power of seeing and hearing. Our sight is dependent on the lens in our eyes. Were this lens different what we observe would also be different. Through the intense practice of yoga we can obtain the divine power of seeing and hearing.
We must not inquire into the Vedas with our limited powers of perception and with our limited capacity to reason and comprehend. The Vedas speak to us about what is beyond the reach of our eyes and ears and reasoning- that is their purpose. There are things that we comprehend through direct perception. We do not need the help of the Vedas to know about them. What cannot be provoked by reasoning and what is beyond the reach of our intellect- these the seers have gifted us in the form of the Vedas with their divine perception. How do we learn about the affairs of other countries? We are not eyewitnesses to them but we depend on newspaper reports of these affairs. There is another kind of newspaper which tells us about matters that cannot be known through any worldly means and this newspaper is constituted of the Vedic mantras that are the gift of the seers.
We have to accept the Vedas in faith. Develop a little faith in them and experience for your self the fruits yielded by them. In due course you will be convinced about the truths told about them.
Even today we see how mantras are efficacious though what we see is more often their power to do evil rather than good. The very word "mantrikam" inspires dread in us. If mantras have the power to do evil, they must also have the power to do good. We do hear reports of how mantras are beneficent, for instance how the mantras invoking the god Varuna produce rains.
It may be that sometimes the "Varunajapa" does not succeed in bringing rains. But this is no reason why all mantras should be rejected outright as of no value. Sick people die even after the regular administration of medicine. For this reason do we condemn medical science as worthless? We have an explanation for the patient's failure to recover: his illness and reached such an advanced stage that no medicine could be of any avail. Similarly, no mantra is of any help when it has to contend against the working of powerful karma. There is also another reason. If you are not strict about your diet, the medicine taken may not work. Similarly, if we are lax in the observance of certain rules, the mantras will not produce the desired result.
Yoga is a science. In a scientific laboratory, certain rules have to be observed in the conduct of experiments. If the electrician refuses to wear gloves or to stand on a wooden stool during his work, what will happen? So too, anyone practising yoga has to follow the rules governing it. To return to Varuna japa. If the japa is not always successful, it is because- as I have found out through inquires- of the failure of those performing the rite to observe the rule of "alavana"[taking food without salt].
In Tirivanaikka (near Tirucirapalli) people have seen with their own eyes a tree bare of foliage putting forth green shoots under the spell of mantras. The sthalavrksa here [the tree sacred to a place or temple] in the white jambu. That is why the place (Tiruvanaikka) is also called Jambukesvaram. Once the tree was dead expect for one branch or so. Then the cettiars- the trustees of the temple- had an Ekadasa-Rudrabhiseka conducted for it. And behold, by the power of mantras the tree put forth fresh leaves.
Each sound has a specific impact on the outward world. Experiments were once conducted by a lakeside by producing a certain pattern of svaras on an instrument. It was observed that as a result of the vibrations so created the light on the water shone as particles. Later these particles took a specific shape. From such scientific proof it is possible to believe that we can perceive the form of a deity through chanting the appropriate Veda mantras. It is not that sound is transformed into light alone in the outward world. It is pervasive in many ways and produces various kind of impacts. The sound of the Vedic mantras pervading the atmosphere is extremely beneficial. There are ways in which sound is to be produced to make it advantageous to us. Some notes are to be raised, some lowered and some to be uttered in an even manner. The Vedas have to be chanted in this way. The three different ways of chanting are "udatta", "anudatta" and "svarita". The sound and svara together will turn the powers of the cosmos favourable to us.
The question that now occurs is why there should be a separate caste committed to Vedic learning practices even if it is conceded that Vedic mantras have the power to do good.
In answering this question we must first remember that the Vedas are not to be read from the written text. They have to be memorized by constant listening and repeated chanting. The learner then becomes a teacher himself and in this manner the process goes on from generation to generation. Maintaining such a tradition of learning and teaching is a whole-time occupation. Neither the teacher nor the taught may take up any other work.
We must also remember that the Brahmin is expected to master subjects other than the Vedas also, like the arts and crafts and the various sciences(sastras). He has in fact to learn the vocations of other jatis (but he must not take up any for his own livelihood). It is the responsibility of the Brahmin to promote knowledge and culture. He is expected to learn the hereditary skills of all jatis, including the art of warfare, and pass on these skills to the respective jatis to help them earn their livelihood. The Brahmin's calling is adhyayana and adhyapana (learning and teaching the Vedas). According to the sastras he must live in a modest dwelling, observe strict rules and vows so as to gain mastery of the mantras. He must eat only as much as is needed keep body and soul together. All temptations to make money and enjoy sensual pleasures he must sternly resist. All his actions must be inspired by the spirit of sacrifice and he must pass his days sustaining the Vedic tradition and practices for the good of mankind.
It is the duty of other jatis to see that the Brahmin does not die of starvation. They must provide him with bare necessities of life and such materials as re needed for the performance of sacrifices. Wages are paid to those who do other jobs or a price is paid for what they produce. The Brahmin works for the whole community and serves it by chanting mantras, by performing sacrifices and by leading a life according to the dictates of religion. That is why he must be provided with his upkeep. The canonical texts do not say that we must build him palace or that he must be given gifts of gold. The Brahmin must be provided with the wherewithal for the proper performance of sacrifices. In his personal life he must eschew all show and luxury. It is by taming his senses- by burning away all desire- that he gains mastery over the mantras.
I have said more than once that the Vedas are to be learned by constant listening, that they are not to be learned from the written text. Let me tell you why. The sound of the Vedas must pervade the world. This is of paramount importance, not that the text itself should be maintained in print. Indeed, the Vedas must not be kept in book form. If the printed text is available all the time, we are likely to neglect the habit of memorizing the hymns and chanting them. There is not the slightest doubt about this. "After all it is in the book. When the need arises we can always refer to it. Why should we waste our time in memorizing the mantras? " Thus an attitude of indifference will develop among those charged with the duty of maintaining the Vedic tradition.
Nowadays we have what is called the "pancanngaran" (pancangakkaran), that is the "almanac-man". We understand his job to be that of officiating at the rites performed by members of the fourth varna. But from the term "almanac"-man" we know that this is not his main duty. The pancangakkaran or almanac-man is truly one who determines the five angas" or components of the almanac. Each day has five angas: tithi, vara, naksatra, yoga and karana. To find out whether a particular day is auspicious or whether a certain work or function may be performed on a particular day, all these five factors have to be taken into account. Today astronomers in Greenwich observe the sun, the moon and the stars to fix the timings of sunrise and sunset. Three or four generations ago, every village had an almanac-man who was an expert in such matters. He could predict eclipses, their exact timings, with the precision of present-day astronomers. He inscribed the five angas relating to the day on a palm-leaf and took it round from house to house to help people in their worldly and religious duties. In the past he had also another name "Kuttai Cuvadi"(meaning "Shortened Palm-leaf").
How have the present day almanac-men forgotten their great science? With the advent of the printing press the almanac could be printed for a whole year and made available to people. There was no longer any need for the old, type of almanac to pancanga, an important part of astronomy, is now on the verge of extinction.
The Vedas would have suffered a similar fate had we stuck to a system of learning them from written or printed texts. Their sound would not have then filled the world and created all-round well-being.
forefathers realised that to put anything in writing was not the
best way of preserving it since it bred indifference to the
subject so preserved. One who recited the Vedas from the written
text ("likhita-pathaka") was looked down upon as an
"adhama" (one belonging to the lowest order among those
Vedas). In Tamil the Vedas are known as the "unwritten old text"(ezhutakilavi). In Sanskrit the Vedas are also called "Sruti", which means "that which is heard", that is to say not be learned from any written text. Since listening to the Vedas as they were chanted and then memorizing them was the practice, preserving the Vedic tradition came to be full-time vocation. The teacher taught pada by pada(foot by foot) and the student repeated each pada twice. In this way the sound of the Vedas filled the whole place. It was thus that the study of our own scripture, with all its recessions which are like the expanse of a great ocean, was maintained in the oral tradition until the turn of the century. This treasure, this timeless crop that sustains our inner beings, has come to us through the ages as ordained by the Lord. There can be no greater sin that that of neglecting this treasure and allowing it to perish.
If the Vedic tradition becomes extinct there is no need for a separate caste called Brahmins. Nowadays the cry is often heard, "Brahmin, get out". But do we hear cries like, "Potter, get out" or "Washerman, go away? " If the potter and the washerman leave the village they will be brought back by force and retained. Why so? Because the community need their services.
So long as the Brahmin possessed sattva-guna(the quality of goodness and purity) and so long as he kept the Vedic tradition going and lived a simple life, others recognized his value for society. They regarded him with affection and respect and paced their trust in him. They realised that if society was not afflicted by famine and disease (as in the case today), it was because the sound of the Vedas pervaded everywhere and the performance of Vedic recites created a healthy atmosphere around and brought its own blessings.
This was not the only way in which the Brahmin served society. His personal example was itself a source of inspiration to people. They saw how he curbed his sensual appetites, how he lived a life of peace, how he was compassionate to all creatures, how he mediated on the Lord, how he performed a variety of rites strictly adhering to sastric rules and without any expectations of rewards. They saw a whole case living a life of selflessness and sacrifice. Naturally, they too were drawn to the qualities exemplified by its members. They emulated their example, observed fasts and vows to the extent permitted by the nature of their occupations. It is preposterous to accuse the Brahmin of having kept other jatis suppressed. There is a special way of life that the scriptures have prescribed for him and in remaining true to it he becomes a personal example for others desirous of raising themselves.
It is equally preposterous to suggest that other where kept down because they were denied the right to learn the Vedas. I have already spoken to you that preserving the Vedic tradition is a hereditary and lifelong vocation. Any calling must be pursued on a hereditary basis. Otherwise, there is the risk of society being torn asunder by jealousies and rivalries. The maintenance of the Vedic tradition is a calling by itself. There will be confusion and chaos in the system of division of labour if people whose vocations are different are allowed to pursue one common tradition. Also, as a consequence, will not the social structure be disturbed? Every vocation has as high a place on the social scale as any other. Why should anyone nurse the ideas that the pursuit of the Vedic dharma belongs to a plane higher than all other types of work?
Some castes are not permitted to learn the Vedas but there is no bar on their learning the truths contained in them. This is all that is needed for their Atmic advancement. We need only one class of people charged with the mission of keeping the sound of the Vedas alive in the world. The ideas contained in them for spiritual uplift are open to all. The songs of non-Brahmin saints like Appar and Nammazhvar are replete with Vedic and Vedantic thoughts.
Were it true that Brahmins had monopolised Atmic knowledge and devotion and kept others downtrodden, how would you explain the rise among the non-Brahmin jatis of so many great saints, not only the examples just mentioned above, Appar and Nammazhvar, but a number of other Nayanmars and Azhvars? The Nayanmars included men belonging even to jatis regarded as "low". Where do you find men of inner enlightenment like Tayumanavar and Pattiinattar? Apart from the fact that there were among non-Brahmin men worthy of being lauded by Brahmins for other enlightenment and devotion, there were individuals from the fourth varna who established empires and gave new life and vigour to the Vedic dharma. That Brahmins exploited other castes is a recently invented myth.
I do not claim that Brahmins are free from faults or are not guilty of lapses. Nobody is free from faults. But on the whole the Brahmin has done good to society and has been a guide to all its members. That is why he was enabled to live with dignity all these centuries.
When other communities now see that the Brahmin no longer serves society in any manner, they raise the cry, "Brahmin, get out". If they do not serve society and if all they do is to join others in the scramble for money, where is the need for a separate caste called Brahmins? It occurs to me that, if the caste called Brahmins serves no purpose to society, I shall be the first to seek its destruction. Nothing has any right to exist if it has no utility value. There is no need for a caste called Brahmin if the world does not stand to benefit from it.
Now there are "toll-gates" located in many places but often without any "gate". In the past a toll used to be collected from people crossing the boundary marked by these "gates". Later such a system was discontinued and no purpose was served by the gate. Nothing exists without a purpose. Now, if the Brahmin without Vedic learning has become as purposeless as the toll-gate without any toll actually charged, with what reason or justice can we say that he must not be thrown out?
The Brahmin today deserves to be reproved, if he expects to be treated with any special respect. Criticism, however, should be it. The Brahmin must be faulted for abandoning his dharma, but the dharma itself, the Vedic dharma, is another matter. It is not proper to find fault with the dharma itself and it is the duty of others to help the Brahmin practice it. the Vedic dharma must be sustained so as to ensure the well-being of the world. Other jatis must support the principle that there must be a caste whose hereditary calling it is to maintain the Vedic tradition. If they themselves have lost faith in the Vedic dharma, they cannot find fault with the Brahmin for having forsaken it. If they believe that the Vedic dharma is not wanted, then it would mean (according to their own logic) that the Brahmin is not committing any offence by giving up his hereditary vocation. It also follows that for the sake of his livelihood he will have too take up some other job, competing with the others for the same. So to hold that there is no need for the Vedic dharma and that, at the same time, the Brahmin should not do any work other than the pursuit of that dharma does not stand to reason. On the other hand, it is proclaimed that the Vedic dharma is all wrong and must cease to exist but, on the other, the man whose duty it is to practice that dharma is hated for trying to do some other work. Is this just? It is part of humanity to see that not even a dog or a jackal goes hungry and it is a dharma common to all religions. Even those who maintain that we do not need any religion speak for compassion and the spirit of sacrifice in all our actions. So it is not just to insist that a man must not pursue his hereditary vocation and that he must not, at the same time, do any other work but die of starvation.
Others can help greatly by making the Brahmin true to himself as the upholder of the Vedic dharma. I have heard it said that in the old days some Brahmins would go to the untouchable quarter and tell people there: "You and we, let us become one. " Whereupon the untouchables would reply: "No. no. You keep doing your work. That is for the good of both of us. Don't come here again". They would prevent the Brahmins from approaching them again by breaking their pots in front of them, the pots which were their only asset. Though people then were divided in the matter of work and did not mix together, they had affection for one another and believed that each did his work for the common good.
Even today the common people are not non-believers, nor have they lost faith in the Vedas. I feel that they will continue too have respect for the Vedic dharma and that the propaganda of hate [against Brahmins and the Vedas] is all to be attributed to political reasons. People, I repeat, do have faith in the Vedas, in Vedic rites and customs and if the Brahmin becomes a little better [that is by being true to his vocation] all hatred will vanish. As I said before, instead of expecting respect from others, he must remain true to his dharma even at the risk of his life. It is my belief that society will not allow him to suffer such an extreme fate. But my stand is that, even if it does, he must not forsake his dharma. Whatever the attitude of others, whether they help him or whether they run him down, the Brahmin must uphold the Vedic tradition for the well-being of all.
What I have spoken for the Brahmin community applies in principle too other also. The duties about which I have to speak to them (non-Brahmins) are many. They too are eager to know about them and I am confident that, things are properly explained, they will pursue faithfully their respective dharmas. I must, however, be qualified to give them advice. It is generally believed that I have a special relationship with the Brahmin community. In the Matha a number of Vedic rites are performed. So, rightly or wrongly, the impression has gained around that I have much to do with the case whose duty it is to uphold the Vedic dharma. That being the case, a question will arise in the minds of people belonging to other communities if I speak to them on matters of dharma, even if it is assumed that they will listen to me with affection and respect. The question is this: "Brahmins are so much dependent on his support. Yet we don't see them acting on his advice and correcting themselves. So why should he come to speak to us of our duties? "
As a matter of fact, both are same to me, Brahmins and non-Brahmins. I am indeed more dissatisfied with Brahmins than with the others because they have abandoned the Vedic dharma, the dharma that confers the highest inner well-being on all. Even so, since it is believed that Brahmins are specially attached to me, I keep admonishing them to go back to the Vedic dharma with all their hearth, with all their strength. If Brahmins observe in practice a fraction of what is expected of them, then alone shall I be qualified to remind other communities of their duties. Brahmins must try as best they can to keep up the Vedic tradition. That is how they will help me to speak to other communities of their duties.
All mankind, all creatures of earth, must live in happiness. Everybody must practise his allotted dharma for the good of all with the realisation that there is no question of any work being "higher" than any other or "lower". Preserving the sound of the Vedas must remain the duty of one class so as to ensure plenty in this world as well as to create universal Atmic uplift. To revert to the question I put to you first. Leaving aside the vocation of the Vedic dharma, let us assume that the hereditary system is beneficial in respect of all types of work. But why should the preservation of the Vedic dharma be the lifelong vocation of one class? It is now established, as I conclude, that however it may be with the other vocations, whether or not they exist, whether or not there is a mix-up in them, the pursuit of the Vedic dharma must remain a separate calling.
(See also the chapter entitled, "Can a New Brahmin Caste be Created? " in Part Nineteen; and Part Twenty, "Varna Dharma and Universal Well-being").
For a general background, please see here