Who is a Brahmana? II
(Continued from August, 1930)
The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
The regulations embodied in the Varnashrama system provide for the literary education of the people under proper safeguards. The scriptures were also taught as literature. Such study of the scriptures under a competent teacher enabled the most successful student to appreciate the Truth up to the level of the teachings of the four Vaishnava Acharyas who preceded Sri Chaitanyadeva. The empiric method by proper handling may impart a symbolic idea of the nature of reverential service of Godhead in terms of the conditions of this world. But the empiric method can never lead to the actual plane of the Absolute which is situated beyond mundane platform.
But it was only the most successful of the twice-born pupil who could be made to reach this lofty altitude of imperfect but genuine reverence for transcendental Godhead. The natural tendency of the empiric study of the Scriptures is to sink the aspiring learner into the depths of intellectual nihilism. This tragedy is set forth in the writings of Sri Sankaracharya.
The aspiring candidate for the empiric knowledge of the Scriptures cannot avoid the fatal fascination of the subtle appeal to the pervert instinct that is inherent in us. But the theory of merging in the undifferentiated One cognition has done a great negative service to the cause of true religion. The theory of the undifferentiated Absolute cognition does not really deny wholly the rationable of theism. It has effected most useful destructive work under the constructive guise. The theory itself was, indeed, called forth by abnormal needs. Under the garb of extending a general, rational and scriptural support to all forms of worships and speculations the system dealt the mortal blow to the fundamentals of all materialistic speculation by the agency of itself. The principle that it tried to establish was that it is not possible for the limited understanding of man to cross the line of the temporal world and that mental speculation can, indeed, usefully destroy its own constructions but cannot build any permanent structure.
Those who suppose that the theory established complete merging with ‘the undifferentiated Great’ as the only inactive cognitive existence as the deside-ratum of all spiritual endeavour, miss the essentially negative quality of such conclusion which the theory itself declares to be inconceivable that is, from its point of view, unsatisfactory. It shows successfully that the empiric method may be used to establish a different conclusion from the finality of matter viz. the finality of one undifferentiated cognitive existence instead of the resolution of the cognitive principle itself into the featureless causal material existence devoid of cognition. This is fighting fire with fire. The empiric rationalistic process involves this eternal self-contradiction within itself, representing the antagonism between the featureless gross and subtle (mental) material existence respectively into which it is inconclusively assumed to be desirable to merge. These are the two apparently contrary poles to which the path of empiric wisdom tends equally to lead. The two poles are represented by the materialistic systems of the finality of the material and mental state respectively. Of these two the former is the properly atheistic and the earlier system. The application of the method for proving the other co-alternative is later and was really suggested by it. This is always possible, nay inevitable, in empiricism and, therefore, need cause no real surprise.
The average student of the Scriptures, unless his study leads him to discover the impossibility of attaining the Absolute by means of the relative, is bound to be landed by such study in the quagmire of gross or subtle material nihilism. The Scriptures themselves contain numerous warnings against the study of the Shastras by the aspiring method. The empiric study of the Scripture is termed the path of (pseudo.) knowledge (jnana marga) leading to self-destruction or merging with the one undifferentiated material or cognitive principle. The Scriptural knowledge acquired by such study is classed as secular knowledge (aparavidya) by the Upanishad. The twice-born, who included the three intellectual classes of the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, were taught all subjects including the Scriptures in the academies of the Brahmanas but under a promise that they were not to confound such empiric knowledge with spiritual enlightenment.
The theories of the finality of the undifferential material and mental state agree in denying the existence of any such line of demarcation between empiric knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. Both regard the empiric process as the sole and sufficient method for attaining the Truth. Both regard the Truth as undifferentiated existence. Both regard the individual cognitive process as a passing phase which is bound to merge into one undifferented existence. The earlier system holds that this ultimate state is identical with the primary and final causal state in cosmic evolution. The contrary system maintains that the cognitive principle survives the material and is the real undifferentiated finality but is then devoid of all activity. This theory does not attach any positive value to any form of activity. Its attitude is one of utter indifference towards all activity. It holds that activity itself is the delusion and must cease to be pursued to avoid its perpetuation. It, however, sanctions all activities as they happen to be unavoidable on condition that the attitude of internal indifference is simultaneously cultivated as the real desideratum. The older theory is less cynical, more ethical and more grossly materialistic. It does not hold the material world to be a mere figment of the imagination as the other does. It, therefore, insists on the necessity and value of positive and specific conduct. But the indifference to form inculcated by the other system appealed to the people and enabled indifferent persons of rival creeds to fraternise with one another to retain amicably the externals of their contrary forms of worship. All variety of form of worship has thus been preserved and even elaborated under the negative sanction of the philosophy of the undifferented cognitive finality. It succeeded in patching up a sort of religious and social peace by tentatively conserving in an internally demolished form all existing popular practices. An appearance of social peace was produced by a policy of worldly expediency backed by an elastic philosophy. There is necessity for such a policy in exceptionally abnormal circumstances. But no positive good can be expected to follow from the pursuit of such a course.
I have thought it necessary to dwell at some length on the effect of the polemical and social activities of the materialistic schools because even the debased Varnasrama system under the tutelage of the pseudo-Brahmanas thought it convenient to fall into line with the system of cognitive inactivity to strengthen itself for its social victory over Buddhism. The system of inactive cognition extended the scriptural support even to the system of caste which came to be identified with the varnasrama institution after the latter has been hopelessly disorganised by Buddhism. This fact will enable the reader to form an idea of the nature of the practical consequences of the theory with the undifferentiated inactive cognitive finality. It would not be exaggeration to say that India of today is under the grip of this deadening philosophy more completely than it ever was in any other period of its history.
There had been formidable antagonists of the materialistic systems in the middle Ages especially in the south. Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhwa are historical personages who vigorously opposed the influence of the materialistic schools by their literary and social activities. They employed the method of polemics which those systems had employed in their attempt to re-establish the theistic interpretation of the Scriptures. Both were giant intellects and their influence continues to this day in the form of a healthy prejudice against materialism in either form especially in the south of India. But even in the South, for want of a systematic culture, the systems of Ramanuja and Madhwa have lost much of their original vitality and have even made unconscious approaches in the hands of pseudo-exponents to the heterodox idealism of Sankara, a process which has been distinctively expedited by the influence of Western culture which in the form in which it has spread in this country has proved to be of the negative idealistic brand.
Sri Chaitanya did not preach the amelioration or reform of secular society. He treats of the eternal spiritual issue which lies wholly beyond the range of mundane interests. Sri Chaitanya restored the spiritual life to such individuals as were disposed to receive it by the method of unconditional submission to the teacher of the Absolute Truth. The associates of Sri Chaitanya accomplished a stupendous quantity of literary work that constitutes the latest and the most significant addition to the revealed literature of the world, mirroring the actual life on the highest transcendental plane. It is not for us to say whether that fortunate day will ever dawn for the world when the living service of the Absolute made available by the causeless mercy of Sri Chaitanya Deva will be accepted by all persons by the method of unconditional submission to the transcendental Acharya.
Sri Chaitanya and His associates abstained from trying to change or reform the practices of society. This sensuous life cannot be reformed into the higher life. One has to enter the higher life by wholly discarding the mundane. Sri Chaitanya enjoins the method of persuasive propaganda by word and conduct to wean the people of this world to the higher life. The literary work of His associates and followers embodying His teachings have come down to us. But the movement has been exploited from an early phase by ambitious worldly persons for anti-social purposes. This departure from the teaching and practice of Sri Chaitanya proved necessarily unfortunate in its results and is even now a great stumbling block in the way of a right understanding of their real nature.
True to the spiritual purpose of the Varnashrama institution Sri Chaitanya authorized the process of initiatory admission into the spiritual life. This was rendered practicable by the simultaneous appearance of a very large number of transcendental teachers in the company of the supreme Lord. They taught the Truth to all those who were attracted by their supermundane personality to receive Him at their hand by the method of unconditional submission. Those who were so inclined were admitted by them into the spiritual life by the sanskaras (purificatory ceremonies) of Diksha and Upanayan prescribed by the Pancha-ratra (the section of the Vedic literature containing the rational treatment of the five-fold spiritual knowledge). Sri Chaitanya did not follow the hereditary method of the Dharma Shastras which they themselves declare to be unsuitable for the present highly polemical Age which is given to hair-splitting arguments for defending rank materialism. Sri Chaitanya and His associates did not try to supplant the hereditary Brahmanas as leaders of secular society. The Lord vanquished their leaders in controversy and in the immortal literary works of His associates and followers transmitted to all succeeding generation a complete and systematic presentation of the life of pure service of the Lord.
Sri Chaitanya recruited His followers from all ranks of the people irrespective of caste, creed or colour. They were initiated into the spiritual life by the ceremonies of Diksha and Upanayana, by the rationalistic method of the Pancharatra. The test of disposition alone was accepted by Him in determining eligibility for Upanayana. The claim of heredity was ignored as being unsuitable and forbidden by the Scriptures for the Iron Age. Thus was formed a vast association of individuals, recruited from all classes of the people, who were admitted into the spiritual life by submitting to receive the same by the method of unconditional submission to the bonafide transcendental Acharya. All this is in strict accordance with the special scriptural dispensation for the Iron Age. All recruits were hereby automatically lifted to the status of a Brahmana in the real sense of the term as possessing the proved spiritual disposition by the testimony of the bonafide transcendental teacher. This is the spiritual varnashrama institution (Daiva Varnashrma Dharma) which can contai as in the Satya Yuga only one Spiritual Varna Viz. that of the Brahmanas, all the rest being Shudras. It is also an association of individuals and is wholly outside and independent of the hereditary social or domestic arrangements which are the products of history. It is the actual realisation in the life of the individual of the pregnant principle of the Geeta which may be rendered by the beautiful words of the Christian Gospel, “Leave all and follow Me.”
(To be continued.)