In my previous articles (1,2,3) I asserted that all religions came into being to solve some pressing societal problems. In the process, the problem solvers created gods to fulfill their own desires and to take refuge in them for protection from a specific evil. Let us now examine if we can apply these observations to Brahmanism. Around 3500 years ago, Northwest India saw waves of immigrants known as the Arya from north of the Himalayas. Their culture was remarkably distinct from that of the local people whom they disparagingly referred to as the Dasyu. The earliest Arya settlers in the region of the Punjab faced two major questions in their new land: 1. How are we going to cope with and harness the forces of Nature (Prakriti) such as rains, floods, famine, fires and storms? 2. How are we going to deal with the Dasyu who are hostile and evil? They experimented with many solutions over the years and finally came up with a brilliant solution. The result of their experimentation was Brahmanism.
Coping with Prakriti: Creating Devas (gods) and worshiping them by Yajnas
Since Prakriti was too strong to resist and it gave them sustenance such as water and food, and grass for their cattle, they began to view it as their divine ally rather than their adversary. To make sense of the intangible forces of Prakriti such as wind, water, rain, thunder, fire and the like, they created gods (Devas) such as Vayu, Varuna, Parjanya, Indra and Agni to represent them in their consciousness. They created Lord of beings whom they named Prajapati. Even though these entities were Devas (“bright ones”), they were still subject to the fundamental laws of Prakriti (BG: 18:40). They worshiped these gods by fire sacrifices known as Yajna. They burnt their surplus food in the fire believing that the ensuing smoke would carry it to the Devas. The Rig Veda is full of pleadings such as the one below addressed to Indra, the Lord of the Devas:
Rig Veda: Giver of horses, Indra, giver, thou, of cows, giver of barley, thou art Lord and guard of wealth. Man’s helper from of old, not disappointing hope, Friend of our friends, to thee as such we sing this praise. Well pleased with these bright flames (of Yajnas) and with these Soma drops, take thou away our poverty with seeds and cows.
Quid pro quo
The Bhagavad Gita explains this quid pro quo between the Arya and their Devas: BG: 3:10-12:
Having created mankind in the beginning together with Yajna, the Prajapati (Lord of beings of Brahmanism) said: “By this (arrangement) you shall propagate; this shall be the milch cow of your desires. Nourish the Devas with this; and may the Devas nourish you. Thus nourishing one another, you shall reap the supreme welfare (of mankind). Nourished by Yajna, the Devas shall bestow on you the enjoyments you desire.”
The Vedas and Brahmins
The Brahmanic priests praised the Devas in orally transmitted hymns, the massive collection of which came to be known as Rig Veda. The shamans of this Dharma ‘got stoned’ on Soma, a hallucinogenic drink made up of a mountain herb, and claimed that they could communicate and mingle with the Devas. Soma itself became a god. In their drug-induced trance they invoked by means of Mantras a mysterious spirit known as Brahman. The meters of their Vedic verses became a god. Even the word invoking Brahman -OM- became sacred. Since they were capable of being possessed by Brahman, they came to be known as Brahmana or Brahmin. Since Brahmins became the brokers between men and gods, now they too became sacred. Over the years, Brahmins claimed magical and supernatural powers and thus they became holy like the holy cows of Hinduism. Anyone harming them ran the risk of losing his head and going to hell.
Coping with Dasyu
Initially the Arya saw the Dasyu as hostile enemies whom they should conquer or destroy completely. Even though the Arya were better armed on account of their horses, chariots and weapons, the Dasyu were more in number. So, feeling helpless in the face of overwhelming number of Dasyu, they took refuge in Indra, the supremo of the Devas to protect them from the evil Dasyu. Rig Veda is full of petitions of the Arya to Indra seeking his help in destroying the Dasyu:
Rig Veda: With Indra scattering the Dasyu through these (Soma) drops, freed from their hate may we obtain abundant food. He verily, the God, the glorious Indra, hath raised him up for man, best Wonder-Worker. He, self-reliant, mighty and triumphant, brought low the dear head of the wicked Dasa. Indra the Vṛtra-slayer, Fort-destroyer, scattered the Dasa hosts who dwelt in darkness.
This is how the Brahmanic system of fulfilling desire by worshiping gods and taking refuge in them for protection from evil came into being.
The Arya decide to coexist rather than fight
In the course of time, however, the reality dawned the Arya that they must coexist with Dasyu. The challenge before them was how to live in peace with Dasyu while still maintaining their distinct racial identity. So they created a class system based on the color (Varna) of skin, known as Varna Dharma. In its most primitive form there were only two classes: white (immigrant) and black (locals). However, when Aryan men comingled with Dasyu women, they produced children of varying hues of skin color and so it became difficult to classify people by skin color. By now the Arya society had become more complex. A new class system based on one’s profession came into being. The word Varna now took the meaning of Class rather than color. In this more refined Varna system, the Arya considered themselves as the elite and occupied the upper two classes.
The doctrines of the Gunas and destiny of Karma
To justify this Varna system, the brilliant priests of the Arya culture came up with two astounding doctrines: the doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and destiny of Karma. Brahmanic priests claimed that Prakriti manifested itself in the body of humans in the form of three Gunas (Qualities): Sattva (knowledge, culture, joy), Rajas (passion, greed, drive) and Tamas (ignorance, sloth, laziness). Based on these doctrines, Brahmanism divided the society into four classes: Brahmins (the priestly class of Sattva Guna), Kshatriyas (the warrior class of Rajas Guna), Vaishyas and Sudras (the trader and labor class of Tamas Guna) (BG: 18: 41-44).
Brahmanism creates helplessness to repress resistance to its doctrines
They claimed that the Gunas were the source of all Actions (Karma). Everyone was totally helpless in the face of the Gunas. The product of one’s action was known as Karmaphalam (fruit of action). All actions, except for Yajna, accumulated Karmaphalam (BG: 3:9). If one did good deeds, he earned good Karmaphalam (Punyam); if one did bad deeds, he earned bad Karmaphalam (Papam). After death, one’s soul was reborn on earth in a higher or lower social status depending upon the quality of his deeds. They called this cycle of birth, death and rebirth Samsara. Brahmanism brainwashed people into believing that everyone’s life situation, societal status, and quality of action, was determined by the dictates of the doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and destiny of Karma. One who defied this concept was branded as one deluded by Ahamkara (egoism), the worst title one could earn in the Brahmanic society:
BG: 3:5: None can ever remain really action-less even for a moment; for everyone is helplessly driven to action by the Gunas born of Prakriti. BG: 3:27: The Gunas of Prakriti (and not you) perform all Karma. With delusion engendered by Ahamkara, man thinks, “I am the doer.” BG: 3:33: Even a wise man behaves in conformity with his own nature (Guna); being follow nature; what is the point of resisting this notion? BG: 18:40: There is no being on earth, or again in heaven amongst the Devas, that is liberated from the three Gunas born of Prakriti. 18:60: Bound by your own Karma born of your nature (Guna), that which from delusion (of Ahamkāra) you wish not to do, even that you shall do helplessly against your own will!“
Brahmanism forbids class admixture
To protect the purity of their elite status, Brahmanism forbade class admixture (Varnasankara). An upper class man could marry a lower class woman, but vice versa was forbidden. Those who defied this rule were condemned to hell (BG: 1:38-44). In the course of time, Brahmanism came up with an extremely complex Jati system based on distinct trades and professions.
It took about 500 years for Brahmanism to perfect this system. In its mature form, Brahmanism rested on the doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and destiny of Karma; and it was held up by four great pillars: the sanctity of the Vedas, Yajnas as the means of worship of Devas, Varna Dharma consisting of four great classes and supremacy of Brahmins in the hierarchy of class system. The noble goal of this system was to counter chaos and bring Law and Order in the society. Because there was no single ruler who could administer justice, it fell on Brahmanism to develop a primitive Constitution and a System of Justice. Brahmanism had no power to arrest wrongdoers and deliver them corporal punishment. However, they had even greater power than corporal punishment: dishonor here on earth and Papam (bad Karmaphalam) hereafter. Those impertinent people who refused to perform their Varna-designated Karma were sure to face the music like the reluctant Arjuna did on the battlefield. This concept is beautifully illustrated in the following verses, which explain the fate of those who defied the dictates of Varna Dharma:
BG: 33-36: If you refuse to fight this righteous war, forfeiting your own Duty and Honor, you will incur sin (bad Karmaphalam). People will forever recount your infamy. To the honored, infamy is worse than death. The great charioteers will see you as one fled from the war out of fear; you that were highly esteemed by them will be lightly held. Your enemies will slander your strength and speak many unseemly words. What could be more painful than that?
In the next article, we will study how Brahmanism became thoroughly corrupted and became even greater problem than the problem it was supposed to solve.
(To be continued)
Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.