Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Vamana Gosvami Maharaja
Your aspiring servants,
The hari-katha team]
Javala was a widow. She had one young son named Satyakama. One day, Satyakama approached her and said, “Mother, I want to adopt a vow of sacred celibacy and take up residence in the school of my guru. But to do so, I must know my family lineage.”
“O my son,” replied Javala. “I do not know which lineage you belong to. In my youth, I was a concubine. I begot you after serving a number of different men. So you see, I do not know to which lineage you belong. You are simply Satyakama, and I am Javala, your mother. When the acarya inquires about your identity, introduce yourself as Satyakama of Javala.”
Satyakama of Javala
Satyakama approached Rsi Hari-drumata Gautama, and expressed to him his resolve to live in his school. Gautama Rsi inquired from the small boy, “O gentle soul, to which lineage do you belong?”I
Satyakama answered, “My lord, I do not know to which lineage I belong. When I asked my mother about this, she replied that in her youth she served many persons as a concubine before obtaining me as her son. My mother’s name is Javala and my name is Satyakama.”
Gautama Rsi became immensely satisfied to see the child’s honesty and steadfast devotion to truth. He therefore said, “One who is not of brahminical lineage could never speak with such simplicity and truthfulness. Gather wood for a sacred sacrificial fire. I shall bestow upon you the sacred thread of a brahmana. You must never sway from the truth.”
Rsi Gautama then granted Satyakama the sacred thread. Thereafter, he entrusted the boy with the responsibility of a special service. The rsi lead four hundred malnourished cows from the cowshed and instructed Satyakama to herd them in grazing pastures and to care for them in all respects. As Satyakama was setting out with the cows, he promised his guru, “I shall not return until the number of cows in this herd has swelled to a thousand strong.”
The Science of the Absolute
Satyakama herded the cows for many years, serving them with all his heart. Gradually, the number of cows in the herd grew until it approached one thousand.
One day, the wind-god entered a bull from the herd. The bull then spoke to Satyakama: “O gentle one, our numbers have reached one thousand. Now you can lead us back to the acarya’s dwelling.”
The bull continued: “The eastern, western, northern and southern directions comprise the first quarter of the opulence of the Absolute Truth (brahma). He who worships the four-fold directions of the Absolute Truth as prakasvan, the source of all illumination, shall attain to the planets of light in the after-life. “Soon, the god of fire will describe the second quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence.”
The next day, Satyakama gathered the cows and set out with them toward his guru’s house. That evening, as dusk drew on, he let the cows rest and then lit a fire. At that time, the fire-god spoke to him from within the fire. He instructed Satyakama regarding the second quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence – the opulence of being the unlimited one, or anantavan – and then told him that the sun-god would soon appear to him in the form of a swan to describe the third quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence.
The next morning, Satyakama gathered all the cows and resumed his journey towards his guru’s house. And at the place where they were met by dusk, he let the cows rest and then lit a fire. As he sat by the fire, facing east, a swan flew toward him and came to rest by his side.
The swan began to instruct Satyakama, especially regarding the third quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence – namely that brahma is jyotisman, the origin of divine light. The swan then informed him that the god of the life-airs would appear to him in the form of a madgu (aquatic bird) to describe the fourth quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence.
The next morning, Satyakama continued his journey and again, when dusk came, he lit a fire and sat facing east. The god of the life-airs then appeared to him in the form of a madgu bird and began instructing him regarding the last quarter of the Absolute Truth’s opulence. He explained that brahma, the Absolute Truth, is ayatanavan – the all-pervading foundation of everything.
His Return to His Guru’s House
Assisted by those four demigods, Satyakama thus learned the science of the Absolute Truth (brahmatattva). Finally, he reached the asrama of his guru. The moment the rsi saw Satyakama, he could understand that Satyakama’s sincere, non-duplicitous service had borne the fruit of divine knowledge; he had become brahma-vit – a knower of the Absolute Truth. Gautama Rsi addressed Satyakama, “O gentle one, you are shining like one who has knowledge of the Absolute Truth. Who has instructed you?”
Satyakama replied, “The beings who imparted these teachings to me were not of human birth. Even so, O master, please personally impart them to me again so that I may achieve perfection and make my life successful, for I cherish these teachings more than anything. I was fortunate enough to have heard that knowledge imparted by the acarya is supremely beneficial, for it rewards the recipient with perfection. I therefore beseech you, please instruct me.”
Seeing that Satyakama was praying with heartfelt sincerity to receive instructions exclusively from the acarya, Gautama Rsi verily imparted all that knowledge to Satyakama a second time.
In due course of time, Satyakama also became an acarya. His students like Upakosala and others, adopted strict twelve year vows of celibacy and resided with Satyakama while he instructed them in the science of the Absolute Truth.
Once they graduated, Satyakama asked all his students to return to their homes – all except Upakosala. Upakosala had become very dear to him and was his intimate servant, so Satyakama wished to reveal to him all the esoteric secrets of divine knowledge of the Absolute Truth. For that end, he tested him repeatedly.
Ultimately, he imparted atma-vidya, divine knowledge of the soul, to Upakosala, and he instructed the people in general with this brief statement:
“Just as a lotus petal never allows a drop of water to cling to itself, but instead causes it to roll off, he who knows the Absolute Truth is never implicated in sinful deeds. The path of worship set out by the gods will enable one to attain the Absolute Truth. One who pursues that path will never have to return to worldly existence.”
From this narration, we glean four lessons:
The First Lesson – There is no virtue like simple-hearted honesty
The Srutis have stated, “Simplicity and honesty are the defining qualities of a brahmana.” Even though worldly society condemns illegitimate progeny as extremely unfortunate and worthy of criticism, Satyakama did not even slightly hesitate to confess his identity to the acarya. His behaviour reveals that the brahminical qualities of truthfulness and simplicity were natural for him. Gautama Rsi recognized this and granted him the sacred thread, thus bestowing upon him the eligibility to serve sri guru and study the Vedas. Those who possess natural brahminical qualities are honoured and worshipped everywhere, regardless of their family lineage.
When Sriman Mahaprabhu – the Personality of Godhead who descended to purify the fallen souls of this degraded age of Kali – delivered Amogha dasa in Sri Ksetra (Jagannatha Puri), He specified how to recognize a brahmana through the following statements:
sahaje nirmala ei ‘brahmana’-hrdaya
krsnera vasite ei yogya-sthana haya
‘matsarya’-candala kene ihan vasaile
parama pavitra sthana apavitra kaile
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila (15.275–276)
The heart of a brahmana, being naturally simple and pure, is a fit place for Sri Krsna to reside. Why have you let the dog-eating savage of envy creep inside such an otherwise supremely pure place and contaminate it?
The Second Lesson – A man’s virtues define him, not his birth
The scriptures establish the superiority of he who is recognized to be a brahmana on account of his virtues. There is no way to please Sri Bhagavan other than to live according to the conduct prescribed by the pure, original system of social castes and roles (visuddha-varnasrama) [*See Endnote 1]. The Bhagavad-gita reveals that all those who fail to accept the system of varna (caste) and asrama (societal roles at different stages of life), which was created by Sri Bhagavan, are in the category of demoniac persons. If a living entity remains inimical to Sri Bhagavan, then no matter how great the position he earns, from the worldly perspective, no matter how great his material qualification may be, his achievements shall never help him attain ultimate wellbeing.
Inner tranquillity, self-restraint, austerity, cleanliness, contentment, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge, compassion, devotion to God, and truthfulness are all among the qualities of a brahmana. The activities allocated for each of the four varnas are prescribed solely in accordance with the innate qualities of four types of individual. And according to these qualities and their coincident prescribed activities, the four asramas (societal roles at different stages of life) were created. This system of four-fold varnas and asramas originated from Sri Bhagavan Himself. Therefore, if someone does not accept it, he disobeys Sri Bhagavan and falls victim to degrading influences.
In Satya-yuga, there was only one varna and it was known as hamsa (swan). Then in Treta-yuga, along with the three Vedas [*See Endnote 2], the four varnas were created. Specific, highly scientific methods, which took into consideration the four human archetypes [*See Endnote 3], were used to ascertain a person’s varna. It was never decided by parentage.
It is never accurate to assign someone to a particular varna based on their parentage, because the reality of birth, death and the necessities of life are common to all four varnas. Neither the soul nor the body, along with its parentage and acquired knowledge; nor even the actions a person performs externally, make him a brahmana. Rather, only he who is self-realized, devoid of attachment and envy, free from conceit and false ego, and endowed with the qualities of inner tranquillity and self-restraint, is in fact a brahmana. Hence it has even been seen that a person born to outcastes has been able to enter the highest varna.
Scripture provides abundant examples of people attaining brahminical status because of their disposition and qualities. If someone has the qualities of a sudra, despite being born to brahmana parents, or the qualities of a brahmana despite being born to sudra parents, then his caste must be assigned according to those qualities, regardless of his parentage.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.11.35), the verse beginning yasya yatlaksanam proktam establishes the superiority of ascertaining brahmanahood through a consideration of one’s innate disposition, or through absolute, spiritual considerations. Determining a person’s varna in accordance with his degree of inner tranquillity, self-restraint and so on, is the subtle, scientific methodology prescribed by scripture. If qualities such as inner tranquillity and self-restraint are evident in someone, scripture dictates that, even if he was not born to brahmana parents, his varna should be determined by his manifest qualities, while his ordinary parentage should be overlooked.
It is written in Mahabharata, “Sri Parvati-devi was pondering how the other three varnas, such as the ksatriyas (warriors), might attain the qualities of a brahmana via their own respective natures. She inquired about this from jagad-guru Sri Sambhu (Siva), the greatest of Vaisnavas, who instructed her on the method of ascertaining a person’s varna according to their nature and characteristics.”
In the context of the story of Dharma-vyadha, the Mahabharata also confirms that even a person born in the lowest caste is to be deemed a brahmana if he is resolute in proper conduct, honesty and religious duty, for it is a virtuous character alone that makes someone a brahmana. Scripture states that those who have twice born brahminical status (dvija) but are violent and greedy, who earn their livelihood by any means, even unscrupulously, who persistently indulge in unholy foodstuffs not fit to be consumed by a true brahmana, who are unclean, and who have abandoned their Vedic dharma, are called sudras. “Matsya-mamse sada lubdha vipro nisada ucyate – so-called brahmanas who are greedy to feast on fish and meat are called isadabrahmanas (wild, out-caste hunters in the guise of brahmanas).”
The scriptures condemn those who know nothing of the Absolute Truth but conceitedly flaunt the threads they ceremoniously received, designating their brahminical status, by calling them pasu-vipras – animals dressed up like brahmanas.
A so-called brahmana who cooks for sudras, sells the holy name for profit, and sells his knowledge for monetary gain is compared to a defanged serpent. In other words, his performance of rituals and sacrificial ceremonies shall bring no good to the household families that employ him. Though he may perform many sacred rituals meant to benefit someone in their next life, those rituals never yield the proper results. This is the version of scripture.
Persons of all four varnas – the priests, the warriors, the businessmen and the artisans – perpetually debate over who among them is superior and who is inferior. Sri Tulasi dasa, a devotee poet, says:
brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra saba koi karata vicara
tulasi kahe—hari na bhaje ta caro ‘camar’
hari bhaje ta caro jata milakara eka varana ho jaya
asta dhatu-me parasa lagaoye eka mul-se bikaya
The meaning of this verse is that if these four classes of man do not perform loving service to Sri Hari, then they are only leather-smiths, all of them, eyeing varieties of skins. Eight kinds of metal can be used to make a murti, and when a murti is sold, its value depends on how much of each kind of metal is present in it. But as soon as the murti is transformed by a touchstone, it inherits a single, high value. In the same way, when people from different varnas engage in loving service to Sri Hari, they all belong to one caste; they all become brahmanas.
The quintessential instruction of all scriptures in this regard is that only those who in fact have the nature of a brahmana are fit to be addressed as such. On the other hand, if a person does not have any of the nature or qualities of a brahmana, he is viewed as a sudra.
The Third Lesson – Ideal Service to Sri Guru
Aspiring devotees who yearn to engage in sincere bhajana should forever strive to follow the ideal of service to sri guru that was exemplified by Satyakama. If a person’s sole concern is his own personal pleasure and leisure, then he cannot possibly immerse his mind in fully serving his guru from the core of his being.
When someone develops the conception that, “I belong to Gurudeva, and everything is an instrument to be used in service to him,” then he experiences a feeling of natural affinity and possessiveness for anything connected with his guru. When that insight awoke in Satyakama’s heart, he exhibited tenacity in dedicating himself exclusively to expanding his gurudeva’s grandeur.
Many individuals leave their homes, claiming that they moved to the matha to perform hari-bhajana. In reality, however, they remain unconcerned with thoughts of service and just make a show of chanting harinama – which in their state of consciousness is riddled with worthless desires (anarthas) – and just indulge in sloth. Satyakama did not follow that path.
Rather, with solid determination, he nurtured a herd of four hundred malnourished cows with so much care that it flourished to a thousand strong, and only then did he return to his guru’s home. By serving his guru earnestly and without duplicity, he became fit to realize the truth about the Supreme Lord (bhagavat-tattva). “Hari-bhakti ache yanra sarva-deva bandhu tanra – he who has devotion for Sri Hari has all the gods as his friends.”
Therefore, in accordance with the intentions of acarya Gautama Rsi the demigods instructed Satyakama on the science of the absolute. Considering one’s own efforts and capacities sufficient for understanding everything or considering oneself to be above accepting any further instruction from anyone are mentalities that almost inevitably lead to the downfall of a living entity engaged in the stage of spiritual practice. On the strength of his guru’s grace, Satyakama realized that when knowledge about a mantra is personally imparted to the disciple by the guru, it swiftly yields the fruit of perfection.
Consequently, he heard the science of the Absolute Truth a second time, directly from his own sri guru. To receive instruction and guidance directly from one’s sri gurudeva is the method advised by scripture. In the absence of that, one may resort to association with the scriptures as a form of saintly company.
The Fourth Lesson – The Guru and Disciple
If sri gurudeva, who bestows divine knowledge, is pleased with the disciple, then he achieves all perfection, along with knowledge of established truths of the Vedas and Vedanta. To pursue the most intimate ambition of gurudeva is the only way to please him.
For a sincere disciple, who is forever surrendered to sri guru, nothing in this world is out of reach. Only a simple, earnest servant of sri guru is fit to benefit the people of the world by his conduct and teachings. He alone becomes a paramahamsa acarya (preceptor in the final stage of spiritual perfection) and vows to propagate the message and inner ambition of sri gurudeva.
The vox populi does not decide one’s eligibility to enter the renounced order of life, nor does it decide one’s eligibility to enter the paramahamsa stage beyond it, which transcends all societal castes and roles. One’s eligibility depends solely on one’s spiritual progress, and this is a permanent fact. The relationship between guru and disciple is eternal, and the succession of bona fide gurus and their disciples, and the flow of divine knowledge therein, is also, therefore, eternal. In fact, there is no division between the relationship of a single guru and his disciple and the entire succession. Rather, they are as inseparable as a body and its limbs.
The modern caste system, which groups people into castes according to birth, diverges from the original varnasrama system, which groups people into social divisions based on their inherent qualities and the work they are fit to perform.
Endnote 2 At the dawn of creation, a single Veda existed – Atharva Veda. Later it was divided and three more Vedas were created – Rg Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda.
Endnote 3 Namely brahmanas (priests), ksatriyas (warriors and rulers), vaisyas (merchants, land-owners and entrepreneurs) and sudras (artisans and skilled labourers).]
Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika
Year 8, Issue 6, 1957
by the Rays of The Harmonist team.
Published in Rays of The Harmonist, No 20,
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