Brahmin is a term used to refer to members of the highest priestly caste in the Hindu social hierarchy. According to traditional Hindu beliefs, Brahmins are considered to be the spiritual and intellectual elite of society, responsible for the study and teaching of sacred texts, the performance of religious rituals, and the transmission of knowledge and wisdom.
Historically, Brahmins were associated with the occupation of priesthood and were responsible for conducting rituals and ceremonies in temples and households. They were also involved in teaching and scholarship, and many prominent philosophers, writers, and scholars in India have been Brahmins.
The Varna system is a social stratification system in Hinduism that divides society into four major social classes, or varnas. The four varnas are Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and traders), and Shudras (manual laborers).
In the Varna system, Brahmins are considered to be at the top of the social hierarchy, and their role is to perform religious duties, teach and preserve sacred knowledge, and provide guidance to the rest of society. They are traditionally associated with intellectual pursuits, including scholarship, education, and philosophy.
According to the Varna system, an individual's caste or varna is determined by their birth, and it is believed that each varna has its own set of duties and responsibilities.
Where is it mentioned that Brahmins are by birth not deeds?
The idea that Brahmins are born into their caste and cannot change it based on their deeds or accomplishments is a product of the Hindu caste system and is reflected in many ancient texts.
For example, the Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu legal text, describes the caste system and outlines the duties and responsibilities of each varna. It states that the Brahmin varna is determined by birth and that a person cannot become a Brahmin through their deeds or achievements.
The Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu legal text, outlines the caste system and the duties and responsibilities of each varna, including the Brahmin varna. The text clearly states that the Brahmin caste is determined by birth and cannot be acquired through one's deeds or actions.
Here are some verses from the Manusmriti that reflect this belief:
"By the mere fact of their birth, Brahmins are the teachers of all the other castes, even of the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas" (Manusmriti 1.96).
"A Brahmin, whether learned or ignorant, is a great divinity, just as the fire, whether carried forth for the performance of a sacrifice or not" (Manusmriti 2.168).
"From Brahmins, the other castes have sprung: they were created from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of the Creator respectively. Through the observance of their own duties, all the castes will attain the highest goal" (Manusmriti 1.31).
Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, describes the four varnas and states that a person's caste is determined by their birth and the qualities they inherit from their ancestors.
Here are some verses from the Bhagavad Gita that reflect this belief:
"Chaturvarnyam maya sristam guna-karma-vibhagasah, tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam" (Bhagavad Gita 4.13).
This verse can be translated as: "The four varnas were created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work. Although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am not its doer but the immutable."
Another verse from the Gita (18.41) says, "Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy."
These verses reflect the belief that a person's caste is determined by their birth and the qualities they inherit from their ancestors, rather than their deeds or accomplishments. The caste system is seen as a natural and necessary division of labor in society, with each varna having its own set of duties and responsibilities.
The Puranas, a group of ancient Hindu texts, also reflect the idea that caste is determined by birth. They contain stories and myths that reinforce the idea of the Brahmin caste as a spiritual and intellectual elite, responsible for preserving sacred knowledge and guiding society.
The concept that a Brahmin is determined by birth rather than by deeds or actions is reinforced in the Puranas through stories and myths that celebrate the spiritual and intellectual accomplishments of Brahmins.
For example, in the Vishnu Purana, it is said that the four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras) were created from the different parts of the body of the god Brahma. The Brahmins were said to have been created from Brahma's mouth, which represents knowledge and wisdom. This creation story reinforces the idea that Brahmins are inherently superior and destined to be the intellectual and spiritual leaders of society, based on their birth.
Similarly, in the Shiva Purana, there are stories about the great sage Narada who was born into a Brahmin family and was known for his deep knowledge of the Vedas and his spiritual practices. These stories celebrate the spiritual and intellectual accomplishments of Brahmins and reinforce the belief that being born into a Brahmin family is a sign of spiritual purity and superiority.
Sometimes an example is cited where Vishwamitra is said to have become a Brahmin from Kshatriya varna. This is false. Vishwamitra became a Rishi, not a Brahmin. Rishi is considered above any varna system. A person is born a Brahmin. Any varna can become a Rishi but there is no way any varna can convert into a Brahmin. A person's varna or caste is determined by birth and cannot be changed. Becoming a Rishi or a Guru is different to becoming a Brahmin.
Valmiki was a Rishi (sage) rather than a Brahmin. He was by birth a Shudra and became a Rishi afterwards.
While caste was an important aspect of ancient Indian society, it is also believed that spiritual merit and knowledge could transcend caste boundaries. In this sense, Valmiki's status as a great sage and spiritual teacher allowed him to be regarded as greater than a Brahmin.
If we believe in Sri Krishna's teachings, we must accept that our birth is based on our past actions, and that is why we are born into different families and situations. However, nowhere in his teachings does he mention that someone's caste or varna should result in them being mistreated or insulted. In the Mahabharata, we see instances of royal princes living with a potter, working as a cook or helper, or even as a hairdresser. If varna was solely based on one's work, then the Pandavas' varna would have changed that year, but it did not. Similarly, Raja Harishchandra and his wife worked in jobs that were not traditionally associated with their varna, but they did not lose or change their varna because of it. It's important to note that when Vishwamitra and Valmiki underwent tapasya, they did not change their varna but became rishis, who are above varnas and castes.
Conclusion: A person is born a Brahmin due to the virtue of being born into a Brahmin family. A person born in any other Varna can become more than a Brahmin but cannot ever become a Brahmin.