Chapter 23, The Varnas and Ashramas

The verse of Brahmano asya Mukham asit etc., Yaju XXXI. (vide Chapter on cosmogony) had been explained already. What follows is only by way of amplification.

The Nirukta II. 3 says the word varna is derived from the root vri, ‘to choose, to appoint’. It , therefore, means ‘one to be chosen’, ‘worthy of choice’, or, ‘that to which one is appointed or elected with due regard to his attributes and works’.

That man is entitled to the position of a 

Brahmana who knows the Vedas, worships God and is endowed with such noble qualities as learning, etc. That man deserves to be a Kashatriya who is illustrious and devoted to the protection of the people in virtue of his ability to destroy the enemy and eagerness for battle.

The two arms of a Kshatryiya are to minister to the happiness of all and the possession of that excellence while which springs from good qualities; or, the two arms of a Kshatriyas are his strength and prowess. The valor of a Kshatriya increases by conferring the essence of prana, i.e. happiness on the people. The arrows of Kshatriya should always shine (prevail). Shata V.1.1: V.4.3: V.4.

[The word Ishavah has been used here as representative term for weapons and missiles.]

The stages of life also are four (in number), 

viz. (1) the period of studentship, (2) the lie of a householder, (3) residence in the forest, (4) renunciation of the world. In the period of studentship one should devote oneself to the acquisition of true knowledge and training. As a householder one should make progress in good conduct and in acquisition of good things. As a dweller in the forest one should retire into solitude, hold communion with God and ponder over the results of knowledge. And having renounced the world one should devote oneself to the attainment of the highest bliss of emancipation and of communion with God and should minister to the happiness of all by means of preaching the truth.

In this way, a man should duly obtain, be these four stages of life, (the four ends of human existence) virtue, wealth, desire and emancipation. Out of these, in the period of studentship one should duly acquire such good qualities a true learning and good training.

The preceptor, i.e., the teacher of learning having invested a Bramahachari (student), with the sacred thread instructs him to remain firm in his vows and bears him in his womb, as it

were, like fetus for three days and three nights, i.e. gives him all kinds of directions and points out to him the methods of study. When he becomes learned and fully equipped with knowledge, the devas (the learned) assemble to see him. They gladly honor him and praise him by saying: “By our great fortune and the favor of God thou hast become learned amongst us for doing good to all.”

“With the fuel of homa the Brahmanchari renders earth, the shining firmament happy i.e., with learning and homa he confess happiness on the living beings dwelling in those regions. By adopting the symbols of Brahmacharya, viz., the agnihotra, and the girdle, etc., and by his industry as well as by his virtuous conduct, teaching and preaching he makes all beings happy and strong.”

The Brahmachari, who has made it his nature (as it were) to move in (i.e. study) the Vedas, performs the most difficult austerities, knows the Vedas and God, is the first (i.e.) his ashramas being the first point of order he is the embellisher of all the ashramas and remains

firm in good behavior by the practice of virtue (dharma). The learned praise him who is Brahmajeshtha, i.e., who considers God and learning the greatest (most important) of all, is endowed with the highest happiness on account of his knowledge of God and emancipation and knows God.” Atharva XI 3.5.3; 4 and 5.

“The Brahmachari glowing with the aforesaid knowledge, wearing deerskin, etc., with hair and beard which he was worn for a long time, and having been inititated obtains highest happiness and at once passes from the ocean of the practice of Brahmacharya to that of the Grihasthashrama, ‘the life of a householder’ and collecting all worlds that are fit for living in (i.e. performing righteous acts and duties

the result of which is happy states in future existence) preaches the Law (Dharma) aganand again (constantly).

Brahmachari learning the Vedic lore, acquiring a knowledge of the pranas, and of the sensible and visible world, proclaiming God – the Lord of Creatures, Who manifests Himself in many ways, entering into the womb of emancipation, i.e. living regularly in knowledge like a fetus, in the womb equipping himself thoroughly with learning, shining like the sun, and driving away the doers of evil deeds, the ignorant, the hypocrites of malevolent and mischievous disposition, as the sun drives away the clouds and the night, becomes the displayer of all the good qualities and the destroyer of the bad qualities.

By observing Brahmacharya a king acquires special ability to protect his subjects. By acquiring knowledge through the performance of Brahmacharya a teacher is able to take Brahmacharis (as his pupils) but not otherwise.

[The Nirukta I.4 says that an Acharya (preceptor) is so called because he forms the

character (achar), collects the arthus (dharma, etc.) or cultivates the understanding].

By observing Brahmacharya a maiden arriving at the age of puberty (youth) obtains a young husband of similar qualifications. She cannot wed before that age, or can she marry a husband of dissimilar qualifications. The ox and the horse are filled with a desire to conquer their adversaries – the other animals – in battle by means of Brahmacharya. It is, therefore, clear that men must needs observe Brahmacharya.

[The word anadvan, ‘ox’ is here used as a class name to signify all swift and powerful animals].

The learned by the force of Brahmacharya (but not otherwise), i.e., by acquiring learning, the knowledge of God and the Veda, and by performing the dharma-duty or virtuous acts – always overcome the pains of birth and death. Verily, the sun is able to illumine and please the organs of sense by observingBrahmacharya i.e., by obeying the laws (appointed) arya, i.e., by obeying the laws (appointed for him by God). Thus no one can properly

enjoy the pleasure of knowledge without Brahmacharya. for this reason the remaining three stages of life viz., the life of a householder, etc., cannot be full of happiness without the observance of Brahmacharya. For, there can be no branches, in the absence of the root. The strong branches, fruits, flowers, shade, etc. come into existence only when the root is present.

Atharva XI – 3, 6, 7, 17, 18 and 19.

[The particle ha is used in the sense of verily]. 

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